Posts tagged "Arab World"

A six-part series by New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick destroyed several myths about the September 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, myths often propagated by conservative media and their allies in Congress to politicize the attack against the Obama administration.

Since the September 2012 attacks, right-wing media have seized upon various inaccurate, misleading, or just plain wrong talking points about Benghazi. Some of those talking points made their way into the mainstream, most notably onto CBS’ 60 Minutesearning the network the Media Matters' 2013 "Misinformer of the Year" title for its botched report.

Kirkpatrick’s series, titled "A Deadly Mix In Benghazi," debunks a number of these right-wing talking points based on “months of investigation” and “extensive interviews” with those who had “direct knowledge of the attack.” Among other points, Kirkpatrick deflates the claims that an anti-Islamic YouTube video played no role in motivating the attacks and that Al Qaeda was involved in the attack: 

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

Fox News, scores of Republican pundits, and Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC), among others, dragged then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice through the mud for citing talking points that mentioned an anti-Islamic YouTube video on Sunday morning news programs following the attacks. Despite right-wing media claims to the contrary, however, Kirkpatrick stated that the attack on the Benghazi compoundwas in “large part” “fueled” by the anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube. He wrote (emphasis added):

The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.


There is no doubt that anger over the video motivated many attackers. A Libyan journalist working for The New York Times was blocked from entering by the sentries outside, and he learned of the film from the fighters who stopped him. Other Libyan witnesses, too, said they received lectures from the attackers about the evil of the film and the virtue of defending the prophet.

Another talking point that right-wing media used to accuse the Obama administration of a political cover-up was the removal of Al Qaeda from Rice’s morning show talking points. Kirkpatrick, however, affirmed in his NYTimes report that Al Qaeda was not involved in the attack in Benghazi (emphasis added):

But the Republican arguments appear to conflate purely local extremist organizations like Ansar al-Shariah with Al Qaeda’s international terrorist network. The only intelligence connecting Al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack to a friend in another African country who had ties to members of Al Qaeda, according to several officials briefed on the call. But when the friend heard the attacker’s boasts, he sounded astonished, the officials said, suggesting he had no prior knowledge of the assault.

Kirkpatrick also dispelled the notion that the attack on the compound was carefully planned, writing that “the attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.” 

h/t: MMFA

The NYT investigation on the Benghazi story is yet more proof that the right-wing was using scaremongering tactics about what happened there as a tool to attempt to get Romney elected President in 2012, smear President Obama (and Democrats by extension) with impunity, and to deliberately harm Hillary’s reputation for the 2016 elections.

h/t: TPM

JERUSALEM — Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid Party introduced civil union legislation on Tuesday that would give same-sex couples access to the rights of marriage and free heterosexual ones from the religious strictures imposed on marriage.

Israel has no civil marriages, and some experts estimate that in recent years a quarter of Jewish couples have chosen to either marry abroad or live together without marrying rather than adhere to the chief rabbinate’s requirements for, among other things, proving Jewish ancestry. Hiddush, an Israeli group that promotes religious pluralism, recently placed Israel among the 45 nations in the world with “severe restrictions” on marriage; most of the other 44 are governed by Islamic law.

Arab citizens of Israel are married through either Christian or Islamic authorities, and encounter problems if they wish to marry outside their faith.

Supporters of the rabbinate’s control over marriage, divorce and other family matters say it is essential for the unity of the Jewish people. Jewish law prohibits certain unions — for example, descendants of the ancient tribe of priests cannot marry divorced women — so allowing civil marriage could create problems for religious marriage in future generations.

American Jewish leaders have strongly urged the adoption of a civil marriage law, fearing that many of their constituents would otherwise be unable to marry in Israel because their family histories do not fulfill the rabbinate’s requirements.

H/T: The New York Times



WASHINGTON — When a less-gray-haired Sen. Barack Obama declared, early in his first presidential campaign, that he would be willing to meet with the leaders of estranged nations like Iran and Syria without preconditions, he was roundly chastised by both Democrats and Republicans alike for naivete.

But now, after six arduous, solitary years of standing by a policy of preferring accord with rogue nations over recourse to full-on war, his approach seems to be on the verge of bearing fruit.

In Syria, President Bashar Assad has agreed to open his chemical weapons program to international oversight, and eventual destruction, after a furious round of diplomacy involving Secretary of State John Kerry and top Russian diplomats. And in Iran, a new, moderate president has responded to a personal letter from Obama, engaging in direct communication for the first time in years and hinting that he might be willing to pull back from his country’s controversial nuclear program in exchange for a reduction of painful economic sanctions.

None of the developments has occurred without context or notes of caution, but it’s nevertheless a remarkable turn of events for a president whose foreign policy, even a month ago, appeared to be in hapless disarray. If the diplomatic tracks in Syria and Iran pan out, proponents say they could point the way to the resolution of two of the most significant international crises facing the nation, without any American-caused warfare.

"The administration’s willingness to show both strength and smarts is paying off," said Joel Rubin, the director of policy at the Ploughshares Fund and a former State Department official, who has worked to promote conflict resolution in the Middle East through discourse.

"On Syria, the president demonstrated that there was a clear point that he did not want the regime to pass, and then took a window of opportunity to cut a deal that actually advances American security interests even more," Rubin added. "An ancillary benefit has been that it’s demonstrated to the Iranians that the U.S. is thinking before it’s shooting, and that’s a pretty new trend for the U.S."

Next week, the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, travels to New York for the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). His arrival brings perhaps the greatest hope for a diplomatic breakthrough between Washington and Tehran in recent memory, and in turn, a possible vindication of Obama’s refusal to condone military strikes against the country.

Egypt’s National Salvation Front announced the appointment of an interim prime minister Saturday to run the country during a transition period in the wake of President Mohammed Morsi’s sudden ouster.

Former United Nations nuclear agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei was scheduled to take his oath of office at 8 p.m. local time on Saturday, a spokesperson for the National Salvation Front told NBC News.

ElBaradei, 72, is poised to join an interim administration headed by Adly Mansour, chairman of the supreme constitutional court, who was sworn in as interim president Thursday.

Meanwhile, supporters of the deposed Morsi again gathered in large numbers Saturday, a day after clashes with security forces and anti-Morsi protesters left 36 dead and more than 1,000 injured.

A Muslim Brotherhood statement said that the movement’s leader Mohamed Badie – who appeared at a rally on Friday after his arrest was ordered earlier in the week – was calling for people to “remain in the public squares of every governorate and every city until power is restored to him [Morsi] as the rightful ruler of Egypt.”

“God is great. He can crush every traitor and every treacherous tyrant. The people of Egypt will protect the Revolution, and will continue to demand their rights,” Badie said, according to the statement.

On Friday, thousands of Morsi’s Islamist supporters marched across a central Cairo bridge in the direction of Tahrir Square, which was also occupied by thousands of protesters whose demonstrations prompted the army to depose Morsi.

The Morsi supporters ended up dispersing after a clash involving a hail of stones, fireworks and sometimes gunfire. There were also clashes in other parts of the country, including Alexandria and the Sinai Peninsula, a hotbed for Islamist militants.

A new Islamist militant group calling itself Ansar al-Shariah in Egypt announced its formation amid the chaos.

The group said it would gather arms and start training its members, in a statement posted on an online forum for militants in the country’s Sinai region on Friday and recorded by the SITE Monitoring organization, Reuters reported.

The group blamed the events on secularists, Egyptian Coptic Christians, state security forces and army commanders, who they said would turn the country into “a crusader, secular freak.”

It denounced democracy and said it would instead champion Islamic law, or sharia, acquire weapons and train to allow Muslims to “deter the attackers, preserve the religion and empower the sharia of the Lord,” SITE reported.

Egypt’s military has been at pains to stress its takeover of power was not a military coup, but an expression of the will of the people as shown by the anti-Morsi protests.

This is key as it would threaten more than $1 billion in annual military aid given by the U.S.



BREAKING: Egyptian military says it has ousted Morsi; crowds celebrate in Cairo

(GIF: Sarah Coffey / NBC News)

The Egyptian military said Wednesday that it had ousted President Mohammed Morsi and suspended the country’s constitution. Armored cars, tanks and troops deployed in the capital in what advisers to the president described as a coup.

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Americans want the U.S. to keep out of Syria conflictMost Americans do not want the United States to intervene in Syria’s civil war even if the government there uses chemical weapons, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Wednesday, in a clear message to the White House as it considers how to respond to the worsening crisis.

Only 10 percent of those surveyed in the online poll said the United States should become involved in the fighting. Sixty-one percent opposed getting involved.

The figure favoring intervention rose to 27 percent when respondents were asked what the United States should do if President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons. Forty-four percent would be opposed.

“Particularly given Afghanistan and the 10th anniversary of Iraq, there is just not an appetite for intervention,” said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark.

The rebellion against Assad’s government has resulted in 70,000 dead and created more than 1.2 million refugees since it erupted in 2011.

Continue reading about the Syrian civil war and American sentiment.

Photo: a Syrian boy plays with an AK-47 rifle owned by his father. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

How this all began

The current crisis in Syria began in 2011, with civilian protests launched during a wave of pro-democracy sentiment known as the Arab Spring. Those protests were met with harsh repression from the Syrian government under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad. Assad’s regime continued to crackdown on protesters, eventually resorting to massive human rights abuses including torture, disappearances, extrajudicial executions and detention of medical patients. In response, civilians began to take up arms against the Syrian government, transforming a peaceful movement to increase democratic freedoms into an all-out civil war. Since the beginning of the conflict, more than 70,000 Syrians have died.

Who’s doing the fighting

Over the past two years, the make-up of the Syrian opposition has shifted considerably. In the beginning, the opposition was composed mostly of civil society leaders and Syrian citizens with a small armed group taking shape across the border in Turkey. Since then, the rebels have spawned an entire network of loosely affiliated groups fighting against the Assad regime — and each other at times. Instead of hiding across the border, rebels now openly control a large swath of territory in the north and west of the country as the Syrian government continues to push back.

While many of the rebel groups are secular, recent months have shown an influx of foreign fighters into the country, seeking to impose a harsh version of Islam upon Syria once the Assad regime falls. The U.S. has labeled one such group — Jabhat al-Nusra — a terrorist group for itsclose ties to Al Qaeda. These murky connections between the rebels and jihadis have proved difficult for Western governments seeking to effect the situation on the ground.

The effect on the Syrian people and the region

As time wore on in the conflict, the Syrian government unleashed more and greater violencewas against civilians, including the use of armored vehicles, fixed-wing aircraft and mortars against whole neighborhoods. Making matters worse, rebels are now accused of taking part in atrocities as well.

This has all led to a massive humanitarian crisis in Syria and the surrounding region. As of March, more than one million Syrians have fled into the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, placing a massive strain on those states’ governments. According to the United Nations, over 4.25 million Syrians are now internally displaced within the country.

Did Syria use chemical weapons?

Whether or not the Syrian government utilized chemical weapons against its people is the primary reason Syria has exploded back into the news. Last week, the United States announced that it has evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria, namely sarin. That revelation comes with several caveats, however: the chain of custody of the evidence the U.S. has isn’t clear, nor is exactly how the samples obtained were exposed to the chemical. The U.S. government has also not declared definitively whether or not it was the Assad regime that used sarin, an act that would cross a “red-line” the administration set forth as an action that would spur greater intervention.

The United States’ response

The Obama administration has declared several times that the Assad regime’s days are numbered and that the Syrian president must go. So far, however, the United States has stuck with its policy of providing humanitarian aid — more than $385 million worth to date — to Syria’s civilians and providing “non-lethal aid” to the opposition. That includes a recent decision to provide items such as night-vision goggles and bullet-proof vests to the rebels. The United States is also heavily involved in coordinating the flow of weapons to Syria from Gulf states while not providing such arms itself.

The question that remains is whether a greater U.S. intervention is necessary, and if so in what form. The range of possible responses under consideration range from directly providing armsto the Syrian opposition to establishing a No-Fly Zone in Syria to protect civilians and give the rebels cover to operate. The debate does not evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, with members on both sides advocating for swift action in Syria and members of both partiesurging caution in proceeding forward. Even hawks like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), however, arecoming out against the idea of American boots being on the ground in Syria.

The current policy towards Syria does not appear to be in the U.S.’ best interests, however. “It is time for a change in policy,” CAP experts said in a report on the situation in Syria released in February. “The United States needs to increase its assistance to the Syrian opposition with the goal of supporting an alternative opposition government that is better organized than at present.” Several CAP experts also last week released a series of recommended courses of action for the U.S. to lead the way in responding to the Assad regime’s possible use of chemical weapons. Such actions include coordinating with NATO and regional allies to provide a major humanitarian aid push for Syrian refugees and calling an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to put the onus on Russia to stand by the Syrian regime publicly in the aftermath of a likely chemical weapons attack.

h/t: Think Progress Security


Obama in West Bank: Palestinians ‘deserve a state of their own’

(Photo: NBC News)

President Barack Obama spoke critically of Israeli settlement activity in Palestinian territories and reaffirmed his commitment to the creation of “an independent and sovereign state of Palestine” in a Thursday news conference in the West Bank. 

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About time that the two-state solution works.