Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The New Yorker

Trump Sabotages His Own Mideast Peace Process
By Robin Wright
President Trump threw a diplomatic bomb into the Middle East peace process with his twin decisions to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. The decision broke with seven decades of U.S. policy by both Republican and Democratic Administrations. It defied every ally, save Israel, and disregarded a last-ditch global campaign that included key figures from the world’s three monotheistic religions—Pope Francis, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and American Jewish groups. Trump’s decision fulfilled a campaign promise, but it threatened to unravel one of his top foreign-policy pledges: to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, who have already called for “three days of rage” in response.
Read on....
https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trump-sabotages-his-own-mideast-peace-process

Monday, November 6, 2017

The New Yorker

The Saudi Royal Purge--with Trump Consent
By Robin Wright 
With the tacit support of President Trump, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his powerful son launched an unprecedented purge of their own family over the weekend. The major targets were royal brethren who controlled money, the media, or the military. Among the dozens arrested were eleven senior princes, several current or former ministers, the owners of three major television stations, the head of the most important military branch, and one of the wealthiest men in the world, who has been a major shareholder in Citibank, Twentieth Century Fox, Apple, Twitter, and Lyft.
“It’s the equivalent of waking up to find Warren Buffett and the heads of ABC, CBS and NBC have been arrested,” a former U.S. official told me. “It has all the appearances of a coup d’état. Saudi Arabia is rapidly becoming another country. The kingdom has never been this unstable.”
The purge sent shockwaves of fear through the kingdom—one of the world’s two largest producers and exporters of oil—as well as the Middle East, global financial markets, and the international community. The arrests continued on Monday, with no indication when the crackdown might end.
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Thursday, November 2, 2017

The New Yorker

What Does the New York Attack Say About ISIS Now?
By Robin Wright 
Shortly after the terrorist attack in New York on Tuesday, a new account, @cnnbrea, which described itself as “CNN Breaking News,” appeared on Twitter. Its crude, explicit and ungrammatical tweets vowed more ISIS attacks on the United States. One warned: “O, Nation of Cross in America We will continue to terrorize you and ruin your lives.” It attached a photo of American police overlaid with a headline: “RUN The Islamic State is Coming.”
ISIS’s constantly evolving and mischievous propaganda is one of the few tools left for the group to spread its toxic message and inspire lethal attacks. It has now lost about ninety per cent of the territory that made up its pseudo-caliphate, which was the size of Indiana in 2014. Yet ISIS’s propaganda was sufficient to animate Saipov to carry out the worst terrorist attack in New York since 9/11—as he has now confessed, waiving his Miranda rights.
As John Miller, the New York Police deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, told “CBS This Morning,” the United States has not yet figured out how to deal with the arc of radicalization. “This is something that has vexed us since 9/11,” he said. “We have no effective counter-message today.”
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https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/what-the-new-york-attack-says-about-isis-now

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The New Yorker

On Christopher Robin, War and PTSD
By Robin Wright 
Named by my parents after Christopher Robin, I’ve been a lifelong Pooh-ologist. I memorized A. A. Milne’s “Vespers”—an enchanting little poem about his son’s bedtime prayers—as a tot decades ago. I can recite it still. That first poem, published in 1923, paved the way for the quartet of books that launched the winsome boy and his stuffed pal Winnie-the-Pooh, among the most cherished of characters in children’s literature. Last year, I visited the original bear and his chums—Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga, and Roo—where they reside, behind glass, in the children’s reading room at the New York Public Library. The century-old toys had just returned from rehabilitation at the stuffed-animal hospital, the librarian told me. For months now, I’ve eagerly awaited the première of “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” the film based on the real life of Christopher Robin Milne, the son of A. A. Milne and the basis for the mythical child. I hoped it would restore the simple sweetness of the narrative and the characters, from before they were Disneyfied.
In its many layers, the movie does much more. Pooh is largely a prop for a very adult exploration of the clash between reality and innocence, war and peace, privacy and fame, and parent and child. For all the sunny cinematography and British-esque scenes in the re-created woods of Sussex, the movie is candid about life’s cruelties, as well as the illusions that create much-needed escape.
It is antiwar at its core. 
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Monday, October 23, 2017

The New Yorker

ISIS Jihadis Have Returned In the Thousands
By Robin Wright
Over the past few months, as the size of the Islamic State’s caliphate rapidly shrunk, the Pentagon began citing the number of enemy dead as an important barometer of longer-term success. “We have killed, in conservative estimates, sixty thousand to seventy thousand,” General Raymond Thomas, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, told the Aspen Security Forum, in July. “They declared an army, they put it on the battlefield, and we went to war with it.”
A high kill rate, which once misled the U.S. military about its prospects in Vietnam, has eased concerns in the U.S. today about future attempts at revenge from isis’s foreign fighters. “We’re not seeing a lot of flow out of the core caliphate, because most of those people are dead now,” Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, Jr., the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, confidently told reporters this month. “They’re unable to manifest the former activities they did to try to pose themselves as a state.”
Yet the calculus is pivotal now that the isis pseudo-caliphate has collapsed: Just how many fighters have survived? Where are they? What threat do they pose? Between 2014 and 2016, the perpetrators of all but four of the forty-two terrorist attacks in the West had some connection to isis, the European Commission’s Radicalization Awareness Network said, in July.
A new report, to be released Tuesday by the Soufan Group and the Global Strategy Network, details some of the answers: At least fifty-six hundred people from thirty-three countries have already gone home—and most countries don’t yet have a head count. On average, twenty to thirty per cent of the foreign fighters from Europe have already returned there—though it’s fifty per cent in Britain, Denmark, and Sweden. Thousands more who fought for isis are stuck near the borders of Turkey, Jordan, or Iraq, and are believed to be trying to get back to their home countries.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The New Yorker

The Ignominious End of the ISIS Caliphate
By Robin Wright 
History will record that the Islamic State caliphate—a bizarre pseudo-state founded on illusory goals, created by a global horde of jihadis, and enforced with perverted viciousness—survived for three years, three months and some eighteen days. The fall of Raqqa, the nominal isis capital, was proclaimed on Tuesday by the U.S.-backed militia that spearheaded the offensive, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab militias advised by U.S. Special Forces. Mopping-up operations were still going on (especially around the Raqqa stadium, which isis fighters had converted into an arms depot and prison), but the liberation of Raqqa marked the symbolic demise of the Islamic State’s rule.
“How far they’ve fallen. It’s a striking contrast to three years ago, when they planted the flag, in the summer of 2014, and proclaimed God’s kingdom on Earth had come again—and now they’ve evaporated,” Will McCants, the author of the best-selling book "The ISIS Apocalypse: the History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic States," told me.
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Friday, October 13, 2017

The New Yorker

Trump Defies World on Iran 
By Robin Wright 
Defying most of the world, President Trump announced on Friday that the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal is no longer in the U.S. interest, and took the first step toward unraveling it. The accord—brokered jointly with Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia, during two years of often tortuous diplomacy—is the most significant agreement stemming proliferation of the world’s deadliest weapon in more than a quarter century. It now faces a precarious future—with the United States, not Iran, shaping up as the first country to violate its terms.
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https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trump-defies-the-world-on-iran

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The New Yorker

Did Trump Just Make Iran More Popular?
By Robin Wright
On Monday, I sat in One U.N. Plaza, the high-rise hotel across the street from the United Nations, and watched a parade of European diplomats head into meetings with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. Boris Johnson, the blond-mopped British foreign minister, sauntered through the lobby in deep conversation with his delegation. The new French President, Emmanuel Macron, led by a military officer wearing the distinctive stovepipe kepi, and accompanied by a dozen aides and several photographers, scurried by next. One by one, the Europeans came to confer with the leader of a country that has been ostracized by the outside world, for decades, as a pariah. No longer.
The outside world now comes calling on Iran.
During his campaign and since taking office, President Trump has targeted the Islamic Republic with some of his most wrathful language. At his U.N. début, on Tuesday, he called Iran “reckless” and a “corrupt dictatorship” on a “path of poverty, bloodshed, and terror.” He has repeatedly implied that he wants to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated by the world’s six major powers in 2015. As required by Congress, the President must certify every ninety days that Iran is complying with the deal. Trump has certified twice but has indicated that he might change course in mid-October, which would undermine the most significant (whether you like the terms or not) nonproliferation agreement in more than a quarter century.
Trump’s tough talk and sophomoric antics may have had the opposite effect of what he intended, however. Across the board, the world’s other major powers, most of America’s closest allies, and the vast majority of governments at the United Nations this week made clear that they favor the deal. They are siding with Iran this time.
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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The New Yorker

Trump Debuts War Doctrine at the U.N.
By Robin Wright
Donald Trump this week made his début on the world stage—on the same elegant green-marble dais, donated by Italy after the Second World War, that he had mocked in a 2012 tweet as ugly. “The 12 inch sq. marble tiles behind speaker at UN always bothered me,” Trump wrote. “I will replace with beautiful large marble slabs if they ask me.” Trump’s thoughts about the United Nations were bigger—and badder—this time around.
“Major portions of the world are in conflict, and some, in fact, are going to hell,” Trump declared. He vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea if it didn’t abandon its nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missiles that deliver them. He came close to calling for regime change in “reckless” Iran, for policies that “speak openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.” Trump called the nuclear deal—brokered by all the veto-wielding nations of the world body—“an embarrassment” to the United States, implicitly insulting the European allies that initiated the effort and the Security Council, which unanimously endorsed it. He implied a willingness to use military action in Venezuela “to help them regain their freedom, recover their country, and restore their democracy.” He blasted Cuba and took sharp digs at China and Russia.
The President also delivered a few campaign-style zingers—like his pledge to “crush loser terrorists.” About North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump pronounced, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
Trump reportedly insisted, over aides’ objections, that he keep the reference to the Elton John song in his speech. The line is sure to become part of U.N. lore—along with the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s quip, in 1987, “Remember, President Reagan, Rambo only exists in the movies,” and the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s insult, the day after George W. Bush’s 2006 U.N. speech, “The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur still.”
For a body more accustomed to nuanced diplomatic speak, and now yearning for leadership in an unsettled world, Trump’s bellicose speech was his America First doctrine on steroids.
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Sunday, September 10, 2017

The New Yorker

On the Anniversary of 9/11:
How Does Terrorism End?
The current spasm of international terrorism, an age-old tactic of warfare, is often traced to a bomb mailed from New York by the anti-Castro group El Poder Cubano, or Cuban Power, that exploded in a Havana post office, on January 9, 1968. Five people were seriously injured. Since then, almost four hundred thousand people have died in terrorist attacks worldwide, on airplanes and trains, in shopping malls, schools, embassies, cinemas, apartment blocks, government offices, and businesses, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. The deadliest remains the 9/11 attack, sixteen years ago this week, which killed almost three thousand people—and in turn triggered a war that has become America’s longest.
I’ve covered dozens of these terrorist attacks on four continents over that half century. After the Barcelona attack and the U.S. decision to send more troops to fight the Taliban, I began to wonder how terrorism ends—or how militant groups evolve. In her landmark study of more than four hundred and fifty terrorist groups, Aubrey Kurth Cronin found that the average life span of an extremist movement is about eight years. Cuban Power carried out several other bombings, but, in the end, it didn’t last a whole year.
In the run-up to the 9/11 anniversary, I reached out to eight terrorism experts who’ve long studied the phenomenon at the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the National Security Council, the State Department, the Rand Corporation, and in academia. They identified six ways terrorism evolves, fades, or dies—and under what conditions it succeeds.
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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The New Yorker

What Would War With North Korea Look Like? 
By Robin Wright
Over the past half century, the United States has fought only one big war—in Kuwait, in 1991—that was a conventional conflict. The combat was quick (six weeks) and successful in its limited goal: expelling Iraqi forces from the small Gulf sheikhdom. Less than a hundred and fifty Americans died in battle.
America’s other big wars over the same period—in Vietnam, in the 1960s and 1970s; Afghanistan, after 9/11; and Iraq, on and off since 2003—have been unconventional. They pitted a well-trained army with the world’s deadliest weapons against insurgents, militias, terrorists, or a poorly trained army, all with far less firepower and no airpower.
In each, asymmetric conflicts stymied the United States. Wars dragged on for years. Death tolls were in the thousands—in Vietnam, tens of thousands. The aftermath—and unintended consequences—were far messier and bloodier. The price tags were in trillions of dollars.
A war with North Korea would probably be a combination of both types of conflict, played out in phases. The first phase would be a conventional war pitting North Korea against American and South Korean forces. It would almost certainly be deadly—producing tens of thousands of deaths just in Seoul, and possibly a million casualties in the South alone. It would likely play out for at least a month, and possibly many weeks more. 
As bad as the scenario for the first phase seems, the second phase could then get worse.
A conventional conflict could then devolve into the now familiar kind of insurgency that U.S. forces face in the Middle East and South Asia. Loyalists to the Kim regime would probably try to fight on in covert cells and costly guerrilla attacks.
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Thursday, August 31, 2017

The New Yorker

I Share Something with Marilyn Monroe--And You May Too
By Robin Wright
Marilyn Monroe had a condition called synesthesia, a kind of sensory or cognitive fusion in which things seen, heard, smelled, felt, or tasted stimulate a totally unrelated sense—so that music can be heard or food tasted in colors, for instance. Monroe’s first husband, Jim Dougherty, told Norman Mailer about “evenings when all Norma Jean served were peas and carrots. She liked the colors. She has that displacement of the senses which others take drugs to find. So she is like a lover of rock who sees vibrations when he hears sounds,” Mailer recounted, in his 1973 biography of Monroe.
I have synesthesia, too. The condition, which has been described in literature for centuries but only recently studied scientifically, takes more than a hundred forms. About four per cent of people are believed to have at least one variation; some have many. We’re called synesthetes.
I see numbers in colors, which is one of the more common forms. For me, three is a sunny yellow, four is bright red, five is a brilliant green, six is pale blue, seven is royal blue, eight is muddy brown, and so on. I do Sudoku puzzles by colors, not by the shapes of numbers. I remember phone numbers by colors, too. If the colors go together, I’ll never forget the number. If they clash, it’s almost impossible to recall. When I went to my home town, Ann Arbor, for my thirtieth high-school reunion, I picked up the phone and called a friend I hadn’t seen in decades—on a number I remembered (and still do). I hate the number nineteen: one is white, nine is black. It’s like good and evil in one number. It makes me shudder.
“Synesthesia is a genuine phenomenon, and people who have it are actually experiencing the world differently,” Dr. David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Stanford, told me. Research into synesthesia has led to a broad reconsideration of perception in general. 

Read on.....
http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/i-have-something-in-common-with-marilyn-monroeand-you-might-too

Monday, August 14, 2017

The New Yorker


Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?
By Robin Wright
Having spent my life covering wars, I've thought a lot about this subject. So I wrote about it for The New Yorker today: "Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?
A day after the brawling and racist brutality in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe asked, “How did we get to this place?” The more relevant question after Charlottesville—and other deadly episodes in Ferguson, Charleston, Dallas, Saint Paul, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria—is where the United States is headed. How fragile is the union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy? The dangers are now bigger than the collective episodes of violence. “The radical right was more successful in entering the political mainstream last year than in half a century,” the Southern Poverty Law Center reported in February. The organization documents more than nine hundred active (and growing) hate groups in the United States.
America’s stability is increasingly an undercurrent in political discourse. The pattern of civil strife has evolved worldwide over the past sixty years. Today, few civil wars involve pitched battles from trenches along neat geographic front lines. Many are low-intensity conflicts with episodic violence in constantly moving locales....
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Friday, August 4, 2017

The New Yorker

Why is Donald Trump Still So Horribly Witless About the World?
By Robin Wright 
Max Boot, a lifelong conservative who advised three Republican Presidential candidates on foreign policy, keeps a folder labelled “Trump Stupidity File” on his computer. It’s next to his “Trump Lies” file. “Not sure which is larger at this point,” he told me this week. “It’s neck-and-neck.”
Six months into the Trump era, foreign-policy officials from eight past Administrations told me they are aghast that the President is still so witless about the world. “He seems as clueless today as he was on January 20th,” Boot, who is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said. Trump’s painful public gaffes, they warn, indicate that he’s not reading, retaining, or listening to his Presidential briefings. And the newbie excuse no longer flies.
“Trump has an appalling ignorance of the current world, of history, of previous American engagement, of what former Presidents thought and did,” Geoffrey Kemp, who worked at the Pentagon during the Ford Administration and at the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration, reflected. “He has an almost studious rejection of the type of in-depth knowledge that virtually all of his predecessors eventually gained or had views on.”
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http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/why-is-donald-trump-still-so-horribly-witless-about-the-world

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The New Yorker

Are We Nearing the End with ISIS?
By Robin Wright
The American diplomat Brett McGurk is the central player in the seventy-two-nation coalition fighting the Islamic State, a disparate array of countries twice the size of nato. He has now worked all of America’s major wars against extremism—in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria—under three very different Presidents: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump. McGurk served in Baghdad after the ouster of Saddam Hussein; he used his experience clerking for the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court to help draft Iraq’s new constitution. President Bush brought McGurk back to Washington to serve on the National Security Council and help run the campaign against Al Qaeda. President Obama tapped him to work Iraq and Iran at the State Department. McGurk was visiting Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, when isis seized nearby Mosul. In 2015, he became Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter isis. President Trump kept him on.
In a sign of how fast the Islamic State is shrinking, McGurk last month visited northern Syria. I called on him Wednesday, at his small whitewashed office on the ground floor of the State Department, to assess the future of isis and the world’s most unconventional nation. McGurk is an optimist, long-term, despite the chorus of skeptics in Washington about extremism, Iraq and Syria, and U.S. foreign policy in the volatile Middle East. The interview has been edited and condensed. McGurk’s most chilling answer was when he talked about how many isis fighters are still alive.
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