Turkey’s Coup: Adam Oppenheimer’s Analysis

Adam Oppenheimer, recent graduate of Horace Mann and a very close friend, is a close follower of the situation in Turkey. For his final paper in a history elective called the History of the Islamic World, Adam wrote about Turkey and the role of the military in preserving democracy. The coup attempt that occurred last week seems to break the trend. His thoughts on the situation follow, in edited form. 

I actually find this coup attempt very unexpected, and have many thoughts on it. Overall, I think it was likely a plot by Gulenists to overthrow the government that was forced to act earlier than planned, which led to strategic deficiencies and its ultimate failure.

Given the actions President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took to cleanse the military leadership, I understand why really only lower tier members of the military were involved, but I am still surprised that anybody would be willing to stage a coup (and especially that any would be willing to stage one in such a risky way).

First, when I was writing my paper, I read in multiple scholarly pieces that they considered the younger members of the military to be the least likely to stage a coup, because they hadn’t lived through the historical coups in Turkey. But this seems to contradict that, because those involved in the coup were generally not senior ranking members of the military (although I read that some of the leaders of the coup were higher ranked here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-security-plot-insight-idUSKCN0ZX0Q9).

Further in this vein is that in 2007, members of the military tried to contest the candidacy of the president Abdullah Gul, but failed because of Erdogan’s stubborn, unflinching nature, which would make me think that the only experience with coups seen by younger members would strongly discourage them from attempting one (I read the thing about 2007 here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-security-primeminister-comment-idUSKCN0ZW092).

One other reason the coup confuses me is how sloppily it was executed. (I actually read here (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-security-plot-insight-idUSKCN0ZX0Q9) that part of the reason it was executed so poorly was because its planners suspected the government had caught onto their plans so they acted earlier than expected, but the only evidence backing up this claim is assertions by military members who knew about the investigations – there is nothing quoting those actually involved in the coup). Here are the two real problems I saw with the execution of this coup:

First, I read an article (http://www.vox.com/2016/7/16/12205352/turkey-coup-failed-why) that explained that in order for a coup to succeed, a crucial aspect is the appearance of strength. To do this, communications systems with the public must be controlled, but the best the rebels did was take over the CNN building and didn’t attempt to control social media or effectively take control of senior politicians. Frthermore, it doesn’t seem like there were many members of the military involved, which would be essential for giving the coup an appearance of strength. This article (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-security-plot-insight-idUSKCN0ZX0Q9) argues that the rebels may actually have thought that more members of the military would have been disenchanted with Erdogan given the military cleansings he undertook, but underestimated this effect, which seems like it is possibly an explanation as to why the forces involved were so small. Without large force numbers (actual strength) or a way to at least give the appearance of strength, the coup was doomed to fail from the start, and it doesn’t make sense to me how experienced members of the military would actually plan a coup like this.

But second, they chose to stage it while Erdogan was away, when it would seem to make the most sense to capture the leader as a sign of strength, and when they had the opportunity to shoot down his plane, the rebels didn’t take it (from here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-security-plot-insight-idUSKCN0ZX0Q9). That article actually explains that rebels tried to capture Erdogan and the new PM Yildririm at one point, but failed, but if they truly had the objective of capturing or killing Erdogan, it doesn’t make sense why they would have left his jet in the air.

The most credible reasoning behind the coup I have heard is that it was planned by Fethullah Gulen, but I don’t even know how valid this is. While Gulen has had a rough relationship with the Erdogan regime, it seems like it would be difficult to plan a coup from across an ocean, and aside from that, it feels like an easy scapegoat for Erdogan to blame him (and he blamed him almost immediately at the outset of the coup, likely without real evidence to back up his claim, but it could have been based on the ongoing investigations into the coup). Another issue is that the military claimed to be acting to preserve democracy (as has been the creed behind every coup attempt in Turkey’s history), but Gulenists would be acting to create a more Islamic state rather than to restore secular democracy.

The other explanation I’ve heard is that Erdogan planned the coup himself to consolidate power, which would explain its sloppiness, but I don’t see how this would really be possible the coordinate. There is no way troops would risk their lives and the lives of civilians to help Erdogan consolidate power, especially give that he is already using the PKK to do that. And there was always the risk that the coup would actually succeed – Erdogan would not want to take a risk like that.

But despite my reservations about the Gulenist argument, no other reasonable explanations for the coup have risen, and as this article (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-security-plot-insight-idUSKCN0ZX0Q9) points out, there were already investigations into the coup and the military leaders who had ties to Gulen.

So right now, I feel that it is probable that Gulen plotted the coup, and while little evidence exists to back it up, it is possible that it was executed so poorly as a response to the discovery of the government investigation. This still leaves open questions as to how there could have been quite so many logistical problems, because even acting rashly they should have been more prepared, but this very well may have been because the plan was mostly nascent at the time of execution and was barely fleshed out.

One other thing that I have read is that Erdogan may have to cleanse the military, and I am actually shocked at this and feel like it was driven by some sort of naivete about the subject. Maybe I misunderstand what they mean or the actions Erdogan took against the military, but because he already cleansed the military, I really don’t see how it is possible there would be enough military leaders left who could be viewed as opposing Erdogan’s views to “cleanse” the military, and lower-ranked members are too numerous to take actions against.

Consequentialism and Chilcot

The Chilcot Report, also known as the Iraq Inquiry, is the British Government’s official inquiry into the Iraq War in order to, “establish…what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned.”[1] The report dropped last Wednesday, July 6th, and was pretty—well—damning. Damning, but not really surprising or particularly revelatory; the conclusions reached by the inquiry directly echo the perspectives of writers like Daniel P. Bolger, Emma Sky, and Thomas E. Ricks—whose books I recently read this Spring. The report provides exhaustive clarity and brings an incredible amount of evidence daunting in size and scope to the fore. To call it comprehensive would be woefully inapt; an insult to its 150 page long executive summary. While it does not diverge significantly from past analyses, it rigorously validates them, its whopping 2.3 million words (roughly equivalent to four times the length of War and Peace)[2] joining a chorus of previous works. The reaction to the Chilcot Report, to some extent, was an elaborate exercise in political tribalism, responses dividing on ideological grounds. But most accept what appears to be the Inquiry’s central thesis: the war was an elaborate and expensive mistake. What a surprise! As Max Boot, a conservative military historian and foreign-policy analyst (and Managing Editor Ethan Gelfer’s celebrity crush), admits “Not even the war’s staunchest supporters would deny at this late date the basic thrust of the inquiry’s conclusions.”[3]

By far the most interesting to me of the perspectives offered on the war was the articulation of a peculiar flavor of consequentialism by Boot himself. What separates the “good” wars from the “bad” ones,” Boot argues, “is not in how countries get into them but, rather, how they get out of them.”[4] He echoes this belief on twitter, asserting:

Boot’s framework for producing value judgement of wars is premised on somewhat shaky grounds. Implicit is the assertion that we should look at wars through this lens, simply because we’ve done so in the past. But because something exists in the status quo, does not mean it is correct or effective. Pointing to this type of judgement’s past use without elucidating the reasons for its use is no basis  to accept it.

But Boot’s ultimate conclusions, moreover, the philosophy undergirding those conclusions, are somewhat problematic. The idea that we can judge an act simply on its consequences, known as consequentialism, while an attractive moral doctrine, is a poor guide when it comes to policy and policymaking, because it completely ignores the importance of probability in decision-making. Furthermore, in contrast to Boot’s assertions, for the purpose of gleaning insight from the Iraq War, the decision to enter it is just as important as the conduct of the war itself.

Let’s ask ourselves the question that Shadi Hamid, a Brookings scholar, posed in a Vox article on the merits of Libyan intervention, “If Iraq had quickly turned out “well” and become a relatively stable, flawed, yet functioning democracy, would that have retroactively justified an unjustified war? Presumably not, even though we would all be happy that Iraq was on a promising path.”[5] While the course of the war was not inexorable; if we hadn’t pursued debaathification, if the CPA did more to empower the Iraqi people, if horrible atrocities like Abu Ghraib did not occur, and if we did not back Maliki in the election, the state of Iraq might be entirely different. But even in that case, it does not make the decision to enter the war the correct one. If the decision to invade was most likely going to result in a destabilized region and a negative outcome, a resultant positive outcome would not have made the decision valid.

If you were, say, betting your money on a horse race, and you put your money on a horse very unlikely to win, and by golly, by some freak of nature, you end up winning. Now, would it be sensible to bet on the horse again, even though its still unlikely to win the next race? The same question applies to the Iraq War, if we are presented with a  decision to invade again would we take it? Given that the report demonstrates that British intelligence reliably predicted the collapse of the country and the disorder that followed, I would say we ought not to. To me, is important, because the Chilcot report is nominally about learning and being better prepared for the future, and not about partisan finger pointing. Though, naturally, the reports conclusions will be appropriated for use in the latter.

To be clear, I have not read the entire of the report. I am not absolutely insane, I don’t have the months required to read it in its entirely, and Popular Discourse does not have the army of interns like major publications do. In this article, I rely extensively upon the summaries of organizations like CFR, Vox, the Washington Post, The Telegraph, and other news organizations, and would like to mention their fine work here. However, the parts that I have read about are remarkable, at some points bizarre and at others tragic. But if the report says two things about the decision to invade, it is this. The false pretenses made it immoral and the faulty policymaking made it a bad decision.




[1] http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/the-inquiry/


[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/28/chilcot-inquiry-when-is-the-report-being-published-and-why-has-i/


[3] https://www.commentarymagazine.com/foreign-policy/middle-east/iraq/chilcot-missed-iraq/


[4] Ibid

[5] http://www.vox.com/2016/4/5/11363288/libya-intervention-success






ISIS: Are they really losing?

ISIS. Gone from being the name of an inept fictional spy organization in the TV show Archer to today’s most widely known and widely feared terrorist group. This offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has long since eclipsed its parent organization in its brutality, shocking and turning away literally everyone.


ISIS is losing. As ISIS should. It’s an organization that can’t survive, because while it declared a caliphate, rebranding itself the Islamic State, collecting taxes, owning land, and selling oil, it’s simply not an organization that can survive without war. ISIS’ very existence depends on conflict with literally everyone around them, a situation they have achieved handily. After a dazzling blitzkrieg in 2014 where they broke the back of the American-trained, American-equipped Iraqi Army, taking over key cities such as Fallujah, Tikrit, and Mosul, threatening the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, as well as making key gains in Syria, reaching the Turkish border at Kobani, ISIS’ power has only waned. The intervention by the U.S. Air Force and then the Russian Air Force, as well as the addition of new belligerents including the Kurdish peshmerga and Iranian Shia militias, and the support of the Free Syrian Army by the C.I.A, has complicated the situation in the Middle East even more than usual, but the one victory that seems to be at hand is ISIS’ inevitable doom. Most recently, the Iraqi Army finally liberated the city of Fallujah with American air support, making it the third time in recent memory that it has been involved in such a conflict. By some estimates, ISIS has lost more than half of its land, most importantly losing much of its oil revenue through losing oil fields and through sanctions on the sale of ISIS oil.


Yet while domestically the Islamic State continues to shrink, it has gained a terrifying new presence on the international stage. A new stage of the worldwide battle against terror in the Middle East was inaugurated by the attacks on the Bataclan nightclub in Paris, France, in November 2015. One hundred twenty eight patrons were murdered by men who claimed allegiance to ISIS. The group took responsibility for the attack. In the intervening months, ISIS has staged more and more attacks directly, as well as influencing so-called “lone wolves” to attack Western countries. The list of names continues to grow, from San Bernardino to Brussels, from EgyptAir to Dhaka. Specifically this month has seen a terrifying spate of attacks, as ISIS declared this holy month of Ramadan to be uniquely violent.

How do we reconcile ISIS’ domestic losses with its international victories (if they can be so described)? Zack Beauchamp of Vox recently published an article that reassures its readers that the only reason the terrorist group is so violent abroad is that it has been lacerated at home, that it is lashing out because it knows it is in its death throes. But unfortunately, this title is too familiar. Reflecting an optimistic sentiment about the state of terror, the “ISIS is losing” sentiment has become a refrain, one that seems designed to keep people calm in the face of terrifying events at home and abroad. It’s really easy to track this sentiment, even in Beauchamp’s own article titles. In February of this year: “Beyond Syria and Iraq: ISIS is losing ground around the world. In February of 2015, a year to the day before, simply: “ISIS is losing.” If ISIS has been losing for so long, how come Americans, Europeans, and Middle Easterners are still dying? Why is the frequency of terror increasing? Why does ISIS still make 25% of its revenue through oil sales?

Part of the reassurances we get from Vox and other (liberal, accusatively) media sources come from a desire to keep terrorism in perspective. After all, the idea of combating terrorism is fundamentally paradoxical, because the more Western countries engage against ISIS, the better their recruitment videos become. The more we try to keep potential terrorists out, or under surveillance, the more we lose the freedoms and civil liberties that are so abhorrent to those very terrorists. In effect, the more we recognize terror, the more we legitimate the issue, and the stronger terror grows. So yes, everything must be kept in perspective. The terrorism the world is experiencing is still dwarfed by many other, larger, more pressing issues, including economic development, food security, income inequality, and others. Stephen Walt elucidates this idea far better than I ever could in an article in Foreign Policy. And yes, ISIS is indeed losing. Kobani, Fallujah, Tikrit, and countless villages that had been conquered and pillaged by the fundamentalists have now been liberated. The Iraqi Army is performing far better than it did in the fateful summer of 2014. After a misadventure in Syria, Russia claims to have pulled out its air force and is no longer seriously engaged. Although the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad remains in power, his is increasingly a rump state.

But the fact that ISIS may be losing is not a reason for us to sit back and look on passively. If we let terror breed fear, fear will breed more terror. Yet if we ignore the consequences of a still powerful terrorist force on the international stage, we will have more and more days of mourning, more family members lost, more insecurity of our day to day fate. The effects of ISIS’ global reach are very real, from influencing Boko Haram in Nigeria, to offshoots in Indonesia, to insurgencies in Mali and other African nations, to hampering humanitarian, empathetic efforts to accommodate and relieve the largest refugee crisis in history.


Liberal (accusatively) viewpoints argue that Republicans and other right-wing groups are being cold blooded and heartless when they invoke nationalist sentiment and prey on fear to convince the public that refugees should not be accepted. And while the manner in which this campaign is conducted often turns on xenophobia and ultra nationalism, it is vitally important to recognize that the Republican Party and the right-wing parties of Europe are not necessarily lying to their constituents. There is a very real threat. That threat needs to be contained. In this kind of an arena, there should be no such thing as “acceptable losses.”

And part of the reason that this situation is so complicated is that ISIS’ status is just a part of the perfect storm that engulfs the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Its fate is just a small part of the endgame of foreign policy for much of the world. ISIS’ downfall means yet another power vacuum, one that is not likely to be filled with a much more palatable organization to Western powers. The refugee crisis does not end with ISIS’ downfall. Assad’s fate is not tied to ISIS’. International terrorism is not stopped with the end of ISIS. Yet part of dealing with the Middle East situation is recognizing that ISIS’ losing doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about it anymore. It doesn’t mean we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that they aren’t winning. The issue of international terror remains a vital question to our policy, with ramifications stretching around the world. ISIS’ losing forces us to ask ourselves the question, non-rhetorically, how do we win a war against terror? We had better come up with a good answer. Because if we don’t, we’re going to keep seeing “Terror Group is Losing” articles for a lot longer.

Trump attempts foreign policy

Spencer and I were surprised when Donald Trump suddenly veered off the course of his usual bluster and instead wrote his bluster onto a teleprompter before reading it. His speech was hailed as the first real foreign policy speech of his campaign, which it is. So naturally we decided to read the transcript, and take it apart word by word, sentence by sentence, and comment on its brilliance or lack thereof.


“It’s time to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy.”


I’m always worried when someone advocates radically redefining American foreign policy. It usually means that the speaker is about to piss off allies or infuriate enemies. Look, say what you want about our international conduct. Advocate for reform. Point out some of the obvious flaws. But the fundamental tenets of American foreign policy actually haven’t really changed since American involvement in WWII, insofar as we’ve become and remained a powerful, active, involved global actor, and while we’ve moved from extension to retrenchment throughout the decades, I’d still argue that on net our foreign policy conduct has been better than we achieved during the interwar years between the first and second world wars.


“My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else. It has to be first. Has to be.”


Cool. So said Obama. So did Obama, in fact. And furthermore, Trump’s “new foreign policy vision” is premised on an orthodox Realpolitik standard of analysis. Nothing new has been introduced so far…


“History will not forget what he did. A very special man and president.”


Hooray for Reagan-god worship. It wouldn’t be a Republican foreign policy speech without it! 10 points to Trump for invoking His glorious name.


“Unfortunately, after the Cold War our foreign policy veered badly off course. We failed to develop a new vision for a new time. In fact, as time went on, our foreign policy began to make less and less sense.”


Okay, this is sort of fair. Look especially to Michael Mandelbaum’s newly published magnum opus, Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era for an explanation of what went wrong. Although keep in mind, a lot of the critiques that Mandelbaum and Trump (implicitly) are making are actually dovish liberal positions, perhaps to the left of Hillary. Which makes them hilariously incongruous with Trump’s solutions, which sound like the typical neoconservative Rumsfeldian foreign policy of the Bush era, which (hint, hint) set up a lot of the mistakes Trump critiques in the next sentence.


“We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper.”

Ok. Let’s dissect this one by one. In Iraq, yes, we made a mistake, and yes, that ‘destabilized’ the region, and yes it directly led to the creation of Zarqawi’s AQI that later became Da’ash. In Egypt, one may say we made a mistake in not supporting Morsi and the democratically elected government of Egypt. One may say that we ought to have acted during Sisi’s coup to prevent it. Furthermore, one may say that we ought to have taken action against Sisi’s brazen attempts to disenfranchise voters, to centralize power, and prosecute members of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the number of Egyptian who have joined ISIS has been relatively small (as opposed to the militant groups in the Sinai who are nominally part of Da’ash). And furthermore, there is no reason to believe that the political chaos in Egypt contributed meaningfully to the rise of the Islamic State. On the issue of President Obama’s red line in Syria… suggesting that President Obama’s decision to not consider military action against the Assad regime strengthened ISIL can be interpreted in two ways, each of them equally ridiculous. Way #1: Obama’s inaction, because remember in Trumpland, Obama is WEAK and Trump is STRONG, destabilized the region, creating ISIL. I would caution y’all to remember that Da’ash and the Assad regime are and were actively fighting against each other. In fact, Da’ash grew in strength and numbers by seizing land from the Assad regime, so by taking action against the Assad regime, we would be aiding ISIL. Way #2: Obama is WEAK and he destroyed U.S credibility, and thus ISIL expanded because it knew the U.S wasn’t going do anything about it. ISIL expanded because it wants to create a fucking caliphate. Also this weak articulation of credibility is so easily disposed of—you just need to look at the entire history of the 19th and 20th centuries like say…Darryl Press does.


“Very bad.”




“It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy.”


A pretty standard  indict of the core principles of neoconservatism. Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz are probably crying somewhere. It is a clear demonstration that Trump is the inheritor of Buchanan’s populist paleoconservatism.’


“We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed.”

I feel bad about saying this. But yes! The invasion and furthermore the policy of Debaathification pursued under Ahmed Chalabi, which effectively served as Desunnification, tore up the institutions of the state. Since in order to become a teacher or doctor, it was necessary that one join the Baath party, dismantling Baathism meant dismantling the architecture of the state. It is no wonder that targeting Sunnis lead to sectarianism where there had not been before, and that dismantling the school and hospital system without replacing it led to civil unrest. If it is true, as Francis Fukuyama opines, that political order necessitates a strong, effective government and stable institutions, then undermining the government’s ability to deliver services to its citizenry by eviscerating the institutions that performed those functions will surely engender political disorder.


“Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster. No vision. No purpose. No direction. No strategy.”


It’s so easy to tell when Trump’s own voice starts to come through in his speeches. Two word sentences are Trump’s version of Orwellian doublespeak, and while they’re hilariously simplistic, making him sound like a child, this simplistic language actually has an important psychological effect on people. By making statements that are easy to understand and repeat, they become easy to repeat. Our politicians are stupid. Our foreign policy is a disaster. Trade deals are a failure. No vision. No strategy. No smarts. Not to draw too bold of a historical comparison here, but Trumpian language is starting to sound like the Einheit, treue, gehorsam of Reichs past. And I’d also contest his core statements. We’ve had a lot of strategy in our foreign policy. It’s just that in 1991 the United States found itself in the position of a worker who held the same job for forty-five years and suddenly wakes up in the morning in a glorious forced retirement. That’s why we’ve seen differing views come through, from the coalition building of 41, to humanitarian interventionism under Bill, to nation-building under 41 Jr., to the retrenchment-aux-drone strikes and JTACs under Obama.


“President Obama has weakened our military by weakening our economy. He’s crippled us with wasteful spending, massive debt, low growth, a huge trade deficit and open borders. Our manufacturing trade deficit with the world is now approaching $1 trillion a year.”

Don’t worry! It is Obama’s fault. And let us be clear, Trump isn’t arguing that trade deficits hurt growth because we’re currently in a liquidity trap and thus the increased capital flows are meaningless as Krugman did. He’s arguing that trade deficits hurt growth in normal conditions ceteris paribus because it mean America is losing!


“They look at the United States as weak and forgiving and feel no obligation to honor their agreements with us. In NATO, for instance, only 4 of 28 other member countries besides America, are spending the minimum required 2 percent of GDP on defense. We have spent trillions of dollars over time on planes, missiles, ships, equipment, building up our military to provide a strong defense for Europe and Asia.”


Sadly, yes! But this isn’t a problem we can do much about in the status quo. Firstly, Trump’s mention of Asia in the context of NATO is odd but reflects the standard belief that the United States subsidizes the defense budget of the rest of the world. Not to mention that as a result we get things like a non-nuclear South Korea and a greater ability to shape the architecture of the international order in ways that benefit us, I actually agree with Trump that we spend way above an optimal amount. The trouble is…how do you compel these countries to pay more? Through diplomacy and soft power? Well, we’re doing that in the status quo. Through using opportunities for collaboration as bargaining chips? Shitty strategy since those collaborative projects are mutually beneficial and because collective action problems pose the greatest threat to world order. Through sanctioning your allies? Ok, do that, and tell me how it goes over. Through threatening to withhold military assistance, because as Donald suggests “the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice?” Firstly, it is contradictory to suggest that we’re going to have a foreign policy based upon the shared interests of our allies and then suggest we abandon supporting them militarily. Because where there is no deterrence, when America actually declares that it is unwilling to support say its Baltic allies, things like Crimea, South Ossetia, and Georgia happen. Go figure? If it is indeed true that deterring Russia through military obligations is within our self-interest, then Trump’s proposal is at its very least, dangerously counterproductive. Lastly, Trump ignores the benefits we receive from NATO. The benefits relating to power projection and the like. Or how NATO helped us fight our war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Also, the Donald’s solution seems to involve more military spending, so…


“We’ve had a president who dislikes our friends and bows to our enemies, something that we’ve never seen before in the history of our country.”


I also have grandparents, and they also want the U.S to PUNCH our enemies in the MOUTH. Let’s make the sand GLOW, my friends! But no. One of the benefits of being the world’s last superpower is that Pax Americana lets you stop treating every event like an existential threat. As both a realist and a supporter of diplomacy where we can find it, go to bed, would you please. (Also, we will love our friends by threatening to take away all of their military aid! Huzzah! We are such a kind and benevolent nation!)


“Do you remember when the president made a long and expensive trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, to get the Olympics for our country, and after this unprecedented effort, it was announced that the United States came in fourth — fourth place?”


Is it really the best use of your time to comment on the Olympics? A- the IOC is second only to FIFA in sport-institution evil-ness. B- what kind of foreign policy involves the Olympics in the 21st Century? What is this, Twilight Struggle? Also, god dammit! This is the most insignificant point ever made on the topic of foreign policy. Sure, it plays into the narrative of Trump being a WINNER and Obama being a LOSER. Why should I care about this? Furthermore, how would this be any different under President Trump? More importantly, WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT THIS?


“Our president has allowed China to continue its economic assault on American jobs and wealth, refusing to enforce trade deals and apply leverage on China necessary to rein in North Korea.”


*sigh* …chinachinachinachinachina


“Finally, America no longer has a clear understanding of our foreign policy goals. Since the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, we’ve lacked a coherent foreign policy.”


Already said, but not unfair. This is a sort of legit critique that taps into Mandelbaum’s thesis. Although, if you actually want a cogent analysis of what has been happening, please don’t listen to my man Donald. An issue with post-Cold War policy has been that we haven’t had a real enemy since Reagan toppled Gorbachev through sheer force of hair gel and punny Soviet jokes (and of course the all-powerful STAR WARS). We’ve gone from intervention to intervention, never facing an existential threat quite so large as the USSR’s nuclear fleet as some dudes with AK-47s who learned how to yell really loudly on the Internet. This isn’t to downplay the loss of those who’ve been killed in what have been in what are horrific terror attacks. However, since 1998, there have been only around 3,500 U.S citizens have died in terrorist attacks. The U.S is far safer than we believe we are…but foreign policy plays well at home if we have an existential enemy, if the US is locked in a battle for survival. So it’s often the politicians themselves who overblow, overhype, and break down the foreign policy that the NSC, Joint Chiefs, Pentagon, DoD, Department of State, CIA, NSA, and any number of other alphabet soup Cold War holdovers set out for our Commander-in-Chief, who, by the way, the Founders wanted to have ultimate control over foreign policy. So really, Trump is blaming himself here.


“We’re a humanitarian nation, but the legacy of the Obama-Clinton interventions will be weakness, confusion and disarray, a mess.”


Sorry, you’ve lost me, Mr. Drumpf.


“We left Christians subject to intense persecution and even genocide.”


Ooooooookay. Let’s pause for a second here. If you take your worldview and shrink it to the size of a fucking pencil, yeah. In fact I agree! Coptic Christians, and various other Christian minorities have indeed been subject to intense persecution, although I still hesitate at the word “genocide.” But in singling out Christians, Trump ignores the numerous other religious and ethnic groups who are subject to the same persecution and seems to suggests that the Responsibility to Protect is limited only to Christians. If you’re for preventing genocide and persecution, let’s certainly not ignore Christians, but let’s also not ignore Yazidis, let’s not ignore Kurds, let’s not ignore Druze, let’s not ignore Syrian Muslim civilians. So I guess I don’t disagree with Trump here, although this is still a remarkably myopic and narrow view of the multinational, multiethnic, multifaith, globalized world we live in today, no matter how much you’re in love with the idea of English as a national language or the fiction that the U.S was founded on Judeo-Christian morality.


“And now ISIS is making millions and millions of dollars a week selling Libya oil.”


Ooh, look at that. Another lie. ISIS would certainly love to sell Libyan oil, but sadly for Mr. Trump, ISIS doesn’t actually have that oil. (yet.) It is certainly bombing Libyan oil tankers and the prospect of Da’ash controlling Libyan oil is frightening, but it is not what is happening in reality.


“We’re getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability in the world. Our moments of greatest strength came when politics ended at the water’s edge.”


Actually, fuck you. Stop. Politics doesn’t stop at the water’s edge with you, it fucking begins there. You’re the poster child for fucking with the full faith and credit of the United States. Go home. Also, on a more substantive note, how is getting out of nation building and instead focusing on creating stability a thing? Are you planning on having occupation forces throughout the world? Once we have made the decision to invade a certain area and dismantle its political institutions in favor of nation building, withdrawing from the region without actually building up those nations leaves instability in our wake. Because if by Trump’s own admission, dismantling the institutions of a country breeds chaos, then leaving weak and incomplete institutions behind us will breed the same disorder. This is the lesson of the drawdown of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and of the surge and the Sawah  movement. Currently, Iraq faces a crisis of governance. Not only is Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi unable to get his cabinet nominees approved, the Iraqi speaker of the house was just ousted. The legacy of the U.S’ decision to support Maliki over Iyad Allawi and the al-Iraqiya list is clearly demonstrated in the political chaos and gridlock we see today and the feelings of disenfranchisement documented by Emma Sky that led Sunni Iraqis to join Da’ash.


“I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how.”


Ahahahahahah I love it. Vintage Trump. Like a Trump steak. Served with a fresh, steaming side of stupid.


“We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now.”


I really wish this was July 2015, because then this is a joke. It’s a really good joke. It’s hilarious. I love it. Yet it’s actually not July 2015. It’s almost July 2016, and not only has this oompa-loompa not disappeared from American politics, he’s turned the presidential race on its head and become the de facto leader of the Republican Party. So let’s listen to the words of a Soviet soldier after WWII: “One of the serious problems in planning the fight against American doctrine, is that the Americans do not read their manuals, nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine…” Americans are known for not being predictable.


“The Russians and Chinese have rapidly expanded their military capability, but look at what’s happened to us. Our nuclear weapons arsenal, our ultimate deterrent, has been allowed to atrophy and is desperately in need of modernization and renewal.”


I’m in pain. Agh. Please save me from this. The contradictions sear my torn retina.


“We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. It is the cheapest, single investment we can make.”


I amend my previous statement. Now I’m really feeling it. Mr. Trump, how much do we spend on our military? $671 billion. A “measly” 57% of the federal budget. Inténtalo otra vez, Mr. Trump.


“But we will look for savings and spend our money wisely.”


Uh-huh. I see. You clearly have the best words. I guess we just have to concede. 

What We’re Reading: April 18th-22nd

Here at Popular Discourse, we read way too much. So, the Editorial Board has compiled the most interesting, most creative, and best articles we’ve read this week. We highly recommend you check them out, and we hope that you enjoy!


538: “Trust Us: Politicians Keep Most Of Their Promises” by Timothy Hill


Vox on Housing Density and Climate Change by Brad Plumer


Wall Street Journal: Economies of Scale in Banking by Greg IP


Foreign Policy.com: “Saudia Arabia is a Great American Ally” by Michael Pregent


New York Times’ The Upshot: “Obamacare seems to Be Reducing People’s Medical Debt”


New York Times’ The Upshot: “Why There’s Hope for the Middle Class (With Help From China)”


Jon Favreau for The Daily Beast: “Why Electing Hillary in ’16 Is More Important Than Electing Obama in ’08”


Andrew Rosenthal for The New York Times’ Taking Note: “Legislation by Stealth, Republican Style”


Vox: “Here’s Obama’s plan to prevent future IT disasters…” by Timothy Lee


David Brooks for The New York Times Opinion: “What Is Inspiration?” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/15/opinion/what-is-inspiration.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fdavid-brooks

David Brooks for The New York Times Opinion: “The Danger of a Single Story”


Saleh H. Mohamed for The New York Times Opinion: “Democracy Left Out in the Cold”


Matt Flegenheimer for The New York Times: “Ted Cruz’s Conservatism: The Pendulum Swings Consistently Right”


The Economist’s Prospero: “Bernie Sanders, the modern-day Mark Antony” http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2016/04/shakespeare-and-american-elections

Brookings’ Markaz: “What does it mean to sponsor terrorism?”



TPP, TPA, TAA, Angry Democrats, and “The Week that Obama Won”

I like to say that I am economically liberal. For me that means: globalization and trade liberalization are good. If we can involve more people in global trade that will both help developed nations and developing nations. More people will be lifted out of poverty as they get encircled by the ever growing ripples of influence spread out by global trade flows. Globalization prevents conflict, because no one wants to fight someone who keeps giving them money and stuff. Both corporations and workers benefit because the increased availability of jobs in lower income nations allows impoverished people to gain a leg up and begin to enter the middle class while the blue-collar workers in developed Westernized nations can focus on high skilled labor and on intellectual tasks like inventing the products. Overall people benefit. And, if a country starts failing, there are organizations like the IMF and the World Bank that are there to catch them before they fall. Free trade is good. Tariffs and protective taxes shut out countries from the international competition that fosters growth.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is the largest potential trade deal since the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), involving twelve Pacific Rim nations that account for 40% of the world’s economy. It is being negotiated on the precedent of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the Clinton Administration’s signature trade legislation. The TPP opens Asian markets to US imports and exports, maintains US influence in Asia, hedging against the rise of China, and has the potential to jump-start stalled negotiations in Doha that the WTO hosted in 2001 to break down trade barriers. Great! I love it! Let’s go!

Wait, what. Negotiations have been going on for 12 years. How hard can it be to write a simple trade deal? If I had my way, the TPP would just say- I’ll give you stuff if you give me stuff. But I guess its not that simple. It turns out that TPP is huge. Its like an omnibus bill in Congress- anyone can add pork-barrel amendments or poison pills. Congressmen who don’t want the FTA to pass or don’t have another way to get appropriations for their state’s newest death-ray laser cannon mounted on a statue of a cat attach riders onto the TPP that everyone is just going to have to swallow if we’re going to liberalize trade. Ok fine. So can I at least see what kind of toxic discharge has been dumped onto TPP? I want to know what damage is going to be done. NO?Apparently no one can even READ what it says! People speculate that its probably pretty bad for us- the liberal Center for Economic Policy Research estimated in 2014 that 90 percent of Americans would see a decrease in real wages as a result of TPP. Where’s my money going? Oh wait, I can’t know. Only corporations with stakes in the text as well as some labor unions have seen the text, not the public, nor, most importantly, Congress. And according to an op-ed from Democratic Reps. George Miller (Calif.), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), “this agreement would force Americans to compete against workers from nations such as Vietnam, where the minimum wage is $2.75 a day. It threatens to roll back financial regulation, environmental standards and U.S. laws that protect the safety of drugs we take, food we eat and toys we give our children. It would create binding policies on countless subjects, so that Congress and state legislatures would be thwarted from mitigating the pact’s damage.” Ouch.That’s rough.

So now what? The result has been that even liberal Democrats have run like flies from TPP, siding with labor unions who complain loudly that they’re losing money every time some poor sap in Southeast Asia gets a job that no proud American would want to do. House Democrats sabotaged their own bill, slapping President Obama in the face and voting down the TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance) portion of the TPP- a program that would provide worker retraining for laborers who lost their jobs in the US as a result of the TPP. It seemed that Democrats, already in the minority in Congress, would get pulled to the left much like the Tea Party pulled the GOP way right in 2010 and 2012. A sad end indeed for the hopes of a lame duck president whose greatest achievement in his second term seemed to be the 2015 Correspondents’ Dinner. But our friend in the West Wing was not to be dismayed. President Obama remembered that there are Republicans in Congress. Sure, they have spent the past seven years loudly disavowing and sabotaging Obama, but apparently Democrats hate him even more now. Obama and John Boehner grabbed each other’s hands and pranced into the sunset. The GOP whipped enough votes on the other side of the aisle to smack down the Democratic insurrection before Nancy Pelosi could get a new gavel printed, and in fast succession, the Senate and then the House gave Obama the “fast track” TPA (Trade Promotion Authority). This legislation allows Congress to vote on trade legislation for TPP only as presented- up or down without any pork-barrels or riders. Fantastic. Oh wait. Not only that, but TPA requires disclosure of any agreement 60 days before its signed and way before Congress gets to vote on it. What a win all around.

Interestingly enough, although this alone would have made the past week pretty good for Obama, dry legislation agreements had no place in the news cycle this week. Liberal Americans were hit with a tsunami of good news- Republicans joining in one voice against the Confederate flag flying over the South Carolina State Legislature, the King v. Burwell decision that cemented Obamacare, the Obergefell v. Hodges and other related cases that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, not to mention Obama’s newfound confidence, with his speech on gun control, eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and singing Amazing Grace for 5,500 mourners. With all this hullaballoo- as deserving of such as it may be- the momentous heave forward in TPP negotiations has been largely forgotten. I ask that it not be. This is a big win for liberals, just like Obergefell. Let’s not forget that this week has also had massive ramifications for the liberalization of the entire world, in places that are in dire need of it.

South Sudan cries for help, but who hears them?

We are tired of news of conflict. Hotspots have flared around the world, from the Middle East, to China, to the Ukraine and South America. And yet there are more. The African continent roils in chaos, and coup after coup installs dictators on top of dictators. Decolonization has scarred the savannah. Some news has indeed trickled down to the American public, most vividly with the atrocities in Darfur and the terror group Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 200 Nigerian girls in protest of Western education. And yet the worst conflicts are ignored. Sudan’s, Mali’s, Nigeria’s, South Africa’s, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s, the Central African Republic’s; I have yet to see major news or discussion of. Of the 13 ongoing genocides identified by the Genocide Watch, a human-rights group, seven are in Africa.

The newest nation in the world, South Sudan declared independence only in 2011 following a bloody civil war with Sudan’s Arab north. Born out of chaos, it remains intensely vulnerable. Foreign Policy ranks the country number one on its index of most fragile states. The New York Times reports that 1.5m have fled their homes, nearly half of the population is starving, and although official statistics are impossible to calculate, the dead number in the tens of thousands. South Sudan is in danger of ripping itself apart under the same ethnic tensions that brought about its inception in the first place.

Paradoxically, Africa is the site of most growth. While developed nations grow at rates in the single digits, like the U.S’s 2%, African growth is at an annual rate of 5%. Of the next three billion people to be born on the planet, two billion will be born in Africa. But with that growth comes volatility, some of which is manifested in the nascent South Sudan. download

South Sudan faces a lot of the same problems as the other African nations in the Sahel belt of sub-Saharan Africa. A lack of infrastructure, high temperatures, non arable land, and a dearth of stable government in the wreck of decolonization have combined to exacerbate already existing tensions along ethnic and racial lines. Other countries like Chad and Burkina Faso are also suffering from famine, and Mali is in the middle of a spillover conflict from Libya that has prompted intervention by the French Foreign Legion. Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone have been wracked by the recent Ebola epidemic. And some countries, like Cotê d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) are just recovering from devastating civil wars. South Sudan joins the list of listing countries. And developed Western nations would be wrong to ignore yet another country’s plight. In a time when Europe is hit by waves of economic crisis exacerbated by the rise of far-right nationalism as well as heightened threats from the Russian East, and the United States recovers from disastrous missteps in the War on Terror, this is no time to retreat. Everyone has a responsibility to help. USAID, an organization that provides food and resources to crisis spots around the world, has been operating in South Sudan for decades. Its time for the government to help out. The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and non-government organizations (NGO’s) are there. But nothing has helped, and it would be wrong for the West to stand by. Like it or not, the United States and its allies are the hegemonic power of the world. It is our responsibility to respond to urgent crises because if we do not, we lose two fronts: our own political capital around the world, as well as the lives of our fellow human beings who are in a rough spot and need help. Step up. Raise awareness. And help stop the cycle of violence in an oft-forgot continent that is the cradle of world growth.

Aid to New Nations

The newest nation in the world, South Sudan, was created out of a civil war that has engulfed the area of Sudan over the past half-decade. The Sudanese government has been in anarchy during this time. Tensions and government problems as well as a lack of infrastructure have contributed to the situation. Much like the rest of the region, in the Sahel, a sub-Saharan belt of land that includes other volatile countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso, third world conditions are worsening due to conflict, drought, famine, and economic problems. The aid to the Sahel region comes in two general types: military aid and developmental assistance. Many governments have been providing aid in one form or another to Sudan and the greater Sahel region. The EU and US have contributed greatly, in addition to the many efforts of the UN. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also provided valuable assistance.

The African nation of Sudan is situated south of Egypt and west of Somalia. It is relatively large, and is rich in rare earth minerals (REMs) and oil. Military aid is loosely defined as any form of assistance that benefits either military or paramilitary forces in the region, in addition to aiding foreign troops on site, such as UN peacekeepers in Nigeria or the French Foreign Legion troops on peacekeeping operations in Mali. Military aid is often criticized for not addressing the root cause of the problems that exist in nations receiving such aid. To a certain extent, this criticism is accurate. The primary goal of military aid is not to solve all of the issues in the recipient nation. Rather, its goal is to create and preserve stability in the recipient nation, so that developmental efforts may take place. During the Nigerian Genocide, over 44,000 UN peacekeeping troops were deployed in an effort to create and preserve stability. These efforts were incredibly successful. The genocide was effectively over within a span of only a few months, and now that conditions are more or less stable, other organizations may begin to operate in the region and provide developmental assistance.

Developmental aid is much more strictly defined. The Organization for Economic Coordination and Development (OECD) provides the official definition for developmental assistance, stating that developmental assistance must be “provided by official agencies, including state and local governments, or by their executive agencies; and, each transaction of which; is administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective; and, is concessional in character and conveys a grant element of at least 25%.” Developmental assistance must have economic development and welfare as its primary goal. For example, humanitarian aid is not considered development assistance because its main goal is to respond to a crisis, not to engage in the development of the economy or welfare.

The debate currently under discussion in countries providing aid of either form to Sudan is which one should be prioritized, or used more often. Military aid is often used as a prerequisite to developmental aid because, if successful, it can lead to stability in the recipient nation and pave the way for peaceful organizations that can implement development aid, such as improvements in industry, agriculture, and infrastructure. Margaret Taylor from the Council on Foreign Affairs writes, “Militaries are indispensable for restoring order and maintaining post-conflict security through multilateral peacekeeping missions. In addition, militaries should take the lead in building the capacity of other military forces to contribute to regional and international peacekeeping efforts [and] should also be involved in security-sector reform.” However, this can be problematic, as it involves arming rebels and other militants on the ground, which can lead to more death and violence rather than paving the way to a safer environment.

Development aid is much safer. It involves NGOs such as Doctors without Borders, and governmental organizations like UNICEF. It spans a broad area of aid and development in third world countries. Like many of its neighboring countries, Sudan lacks effective infrastructure and education, and suffers attacks from terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram, a group of individuals who target hospitals and schools operating out of Sudan and neighboring unstable countries. Development aid can provide a more peaceful approach to preventing and obstructing existing terror groups. Joseph Young of American University and Michael Findley of Brigham Young University published a study that found that, “on average, a one standard deviation increase in education aid is expected to decrease the count of terrorist attacks by 71%… health aid is expected to cause [similar decreases] by 39% [and] governance and civil society aid is expected to cause [similar decreases] by almost 40%.” The Journal of International Affairs “confirms the effectiveness of foreign aid to reduce the number of terrorist attacks originating from the recipient country…[while] foreign military interventions are also counter-productive and seem to be a strong attraction factor for terrorists.”

As well as economic problems, the nations of the Sahel and specifically Sudan do not have infrastructure that can support an economically developed nation. Infrastructures are in serious need of aid. According to President of the African Development Bank Donald Kaberuka, “the current needs of infrastructure in Africa are about U.S. $92 billion a year. At the moment we can monetize from all sources only half that amount – about $50 billion.” According to Tim McCully of the Huffington Post, “If we are ever going to break the cycle of hunger and malnutrition that threatens lives every few years in West Africa, we have to scale up the investment in resilience, starting with stable and strong agricultural foundations in vulnerable communities.” And according to African Union Commission Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, “If we connect communities and countries through infrastructure and market linkages…we will create the conditions for lasting peace, prosperity and the renaissance of the Sahel.”

Even though developmental assistance has a lot of benefits, it is very difficult to implement and execute. According to Martin C. Steinwand of Stony Brook University, “aid flows are often unstable and uncertain. Foreign aid revenues are up to forty times more volatile than government revenue.” This volatility in the aid itself destabilizes the dependents of this aid, as they are unable to function without it. As a result, recipient governments are put in a tenuous position, without reliability in promising future resources. According to Richard A. Nielson for Political Science, “During aid shocks, potential rebels gain bargaining strength vis-à-vis the government. To appease the rebels, the government must promise future resource transfers, but the government has no incentive to continue its promised transfers if the aid shock proves to be temporary. With the government unable to credibly commit to future resource transfers, violence breaks out.” In fact, recipient governments will even abuse donor nations for their own corrupt benefit. Sudan, being in a civil war, is simply too unstable to support developmental assistance without military aid being implemented first in order to promote stability. The two need to be used in conjunction in order to be effective.

The United States, the EU, the UN, and NGOs provide billions of dollars a year in aid to Sudan and Africa. Most of it is split between military and development aid. As time goes on, we will see which form of assistance proves most effective; for now, both forms have had beneficial effects, whether in conjunction with each other, like in Cote D’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast, a nation in the west of Africa), or alone, such as the military operations in Mali and Nigeria and development assistance efforts in Burkina Faso. Sudan will require both forms of aid, as it is in a turbulent period of history. It is the duty of the organized nations of the world to provide aid to stabilize Sudan and create a nation that may develop into an industrialized economic force.