The New Yorker
A September morning in Baghdad. Traffic halted at checkpoints and roadblocks as bureaucrats filed behind blast walls and the temperature climbed to a hundred and fifteen degrees. At the Central Criminal Court, a guard ran his baton along the bars of a small cell holding dozens of terrorism suspects awaiting trial. They were crammed on a wooden bench and on the floor, a sweaty tangle of limbs and dejected expressions. Many were sick or injured—covered in scabies, their joints twisted and their bones cracked. Iraqi prisons have a uniform code—different colors for pretrial suspects, convicts, and those on death row—but several who had not yet seen a judge or a lawyer were already dressed as if they had been sentenced to death.
Down the hall, the aroma of Nescafé and cigarettes filled a windowless room, where defense lawyers sat on couches, balancing stacks of paper on their laps. Most were staring at their phones; others sat in silence, arms crossed, eyes closed. In terrorism cases, lawyers are usually denied access to their clients until the hearing begins. (Read more)
On the evening of Dec. 16, Britain’s blink-and-you-missed-it former Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, tried to sum up the philosophical differences boiling away beneath the country’s warring political factions. “Remainers,” he wrote, “believe UK prosperity depends on its location, Brexiters believe UK prosperity depends on its character.” Of all the delusions that currently grip British politics, Raab’s faith in “character” is perhaps the most destructive—and widely shared among his fellow Brexiteers. Yet it is nourished by a deep seam of popular memory: a set of myths about British power that depend on a fundamental misunderstanding of its past.
In the children’s book version of history to which Raab and his ilk subscribe, Britain’s glorious past can be traced to a single source: not to geography; not to the global empire that supplied it with wealth, soldiers, and the control of world trade; not even to its abundant harbors and easily mineable coal; nor to the migrants who helped birth the industrial revolution. The secret to British greatness lies simply in this: the sheer pluck and determination of its people. (Read more)
In nearly 50 conflict zones around the world, some one and a half billion people live under the threat of violence. In many of these places, the primary enforcers of order are not police officers or government soldiers but the blue-helmeted troops of the United Nations. With more than 78,000 soldiers and 25,000 civilians scattered across 14 countries, UN peacekeepers make up the second-largest military force deployed abroad, after the U.S. military.
The ambition of their task is immense. From Haiti to Mali, from Kosovo to South Sudan, UN peacekeepers are invited into war-torn countries and charged with maintaining peace and security. In most cases, that means nothing less than transforming states and societies. Peacekeepers set out to protect civilians, train police forces, disarm militias, monitor human rights abuses, organize elections, provide emergency relief, rebuild court systems, inspect prisons, and promote gender equality. And they attempt all of that in places where enduring chaos has defied easy solution; otherwise, they wouldn’t be there to begin with. (Read more)
Michael J. Green and Jeffrey W. Hornung
War on the Rocks
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan may have the clearest strategic vision of any world leader facing China today. In his first National Security Strategy document, issued in 2013, he outlined an approach based on external balancing in the form of a closer U.S.-Japanese alliance and expanded outreach to like-minded states across the region, particularly India and Australia. In 2014, he compelled President Xi Jinping to agree to a meeting without conceding to Xi’s demands that Japan acknowledge there is a dispute over the Senkaku Islands. He turned the corner with China this year in a visit to Beijing in October, during which the Chinese side agreed to Japanese terms for international standards of transparency in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Abe has also taken major steps to enhance Japan’s own capabilities in terms of internal balancing, revising the interpretation of Article Nine of Japan’s constitution to expand the ability of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to operate jointly with U.S. or other maritime democracies. (Read more)
International Crisis Group
What’s new? President Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria followed previous warnings that he justified their presence only as part of the campaign to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS). Trump said the mission is accomplished, though ISIS remains active in both Syria and Iraq.
Why does it matter? The U.S. has not laid the political groundwork for withdrawal without precipitating new conflicts. Its Syrian partners fighting ISIS, led by Kurdish fighters, will be vulnerable to attack by either the Syrian regime or neighbouring Turkey. The ensuing conflict could have devastating humanitarian consequences and provide ISIS with the chance to regroup.
What should be done? The U.S. needs to press Turkey not to attack the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). It should encourage the SDF to reach a stabilising deal with the Syrian regime, as, in parallel, Russia engages the SDF, the regime and Turkey. More space and time granted by Washington, even if limited, could allow for an orderly U.S. exit. (Read more)