Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Chris Stevens' Family: 
Don't Blame Benghazi on Clinton
By Robin Wright 
Dr. Anne Stevens, the sister of Ambassador Chris Stevens, has served as a family spokesperson since his death. She is the chief of pediatric rheumatology at Seattle Children’s Hospital. We spoke twice in the past three days, including shortly after the House Select Committee report was issued. Dr. Stevens recalled that her brother had been fascinated by the Middle East since childhood, when he dressed up as Lawrence of Arabia, with a towel and a pot atop his head. He served in the Peace Corps, in Morocco, before joining the Foreign Service, and he served twice in Libya before his final posting there, as well as in Damascus, Cairo, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. My interview with Dr. Stevens has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Whom do you fault for the lack of security that resulted in the death of your brother, in Benghazi?

It is clear, in hindsight, that the facility was not sufficiently protected by the State Department and the Defense Department. But what was the underlying cause? Perhaps if Congress had provided a budget to increase security for all missions around the world, then some of the requests for more security in Libya would have been granted. Certainly the State Department is under-budgeted.

I do not blame Hillary Clinton or Leon Panetta. They were balancing security efforts at embassies and missions around the world. And their staffs were doing their best to provide what they could with the resources they had. The Benghazi Mission was understaffed. We know that now. But, again, Chris knew that. It wasn’t a secret to him. He decided to take the risk to go there. It is not something they did to him. It is something he took on himself.

What did you learn from the two new reports by House Republicans and Democrats?

It doesn’t look like anything new. They concluded that the U.S. compound in Benghazi was not secure. We knew that.
Read on....

Friday, June 24, 2016

Teaching an Orangutan to Breast Pump
By Robin Wright
On June 13th, the National Zoo, in Washington, D.C., tweeted a tantalizing photo of a pregnancy stick. The test was positive. The zoo urged followers to visit its Facebook page at two the next afternoon to find out which animal, from among its three hundred species, was expecting a baby. Thousands did so. In a live video feed, zookeepers led viewers through the nonpublic alleys and cages of the Great Ape House until they reached Batang, a nineteen-year-old orangutan with soulful eyes and shaggy auburn hair who likes to craft makeshift hats from old sheets and towels. She is also well trained—and knows who has the treats. Amanda Bania, a primate keeper, fed grapes to Batang through the cage with one hand as she rubbed a gelled-up ultrasound probe across Batang’s belly with the other. The images of a fetus on a laptop monitor were clear.
“We’re looking at the top of the head,” a zoo veterinarian explained. Batang stuck her long tongue out for another grape.

The baby, due in September, is Batang’s first. For the National Zoo, it’s the first pregnancy of an orangutan—one of the world’s endangered species—in a quarter century. The population of orangutans in the wild has plummeted by eighty per cent in the past seventy-five years. The pregnancy has been more than a decade in the planning, courtesy of a great-ape version of Match.com. 
Read on....

Friday, June 17, 2016

By Robin Wright
The Obama Administration has long been divided over what to do about Syria. The crisis produced one of the biggest differences between President Obama and Hillary Clinton, his first Secretary of State. The policy chasm has only deepened during the five years of conflict, which has now reportedly claimed almost half a million lives. The State Department acknowledged tersely on Friday that more than fifty American diplomats had recently submitted a letter of complaint about U.S. policy in Syria through its Dissent Channel, a sort of complaint box through which employees can voice their disagreement with official policy without fear of reprisal. Travelling in Europe, Secretary John Kerry told reporters, “I think it’s an important statement and I respect the process very, very much, and I will probably meet with people or have a chance to talk when we get back.”

What does the letter of dissent reflect?
Frustration at the State Department has come to a boil. People don’t write in the Dissent Channel every day. The cessation of hostilities in Syria has broken down completely. The bombings of hospitals in Aleppo and Idlib are a violation of every human norm—and that’s not including the barrel bombs and the chemical weapons. The effort to get a political deal is going nowhere. The Assad government has refused to make any serious concessions. It won’t let in food aid, in violation of U.N. resolutions. And the Americans are watching it all happen. So the Dissent Channel message is a reflection of frustration by the people who are responsible for conducting policy on the ground. I felt that way when I left—and that was after Geneva II, in January-February, 2014.
The existing policy is failing and will continue to fail. Why? I don’t sense, in the message, dissent from the strategic objective, which is a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war, but I sense a sharp disagreement with the tactics the Administration is or is not using. The dissent message says that, without greater pressure on the Assad government, it will be impossible to secure the compromises necessary to win a political agreement and end the war. The message says that the Administration needs to reconsider tactics to generate that pressure. Read on... http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/former-ambassador-robert-ford-on-the-state-department-mutiny-on-syria

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The New Yorker

By Robin Wright
When he was twenty-five, Naveed Merchant, tormented by the tension between his Islamic faith and his homosexuality, swallowed almost three hundred Tylenol pills. His mother and brother found him and rushed him to an emergency room in Southern California. “But the struggle was not over just because I told them I was gay,” he recalled, two decades later. “I believed that I brought enormous shame on my family and that I’d never amount to anything—and so I should just die. Every time I tried to be straight, to fake being straight, I would get more depressed and it would lead me to a suicidal ideation.”

For fifteen years, the New York filmmaker Parvez Sharma attributed the death of his mother, a devout Muslim, to her discovery of his homosexuality. She died shortly after he came out to her, when he was twenty-one. She was livid; he was ashamed. “I always felt the pain I brought her was responsible,” Parvez, who is now forty-one, told me this week. “I carried a lot of guilt around for a long time.” The fact that his mother had cancer seemed beside the point. Reconciling his Muslim and gay identities has consumed him ever since.
Read on....

The New Yorker

Rescuing the Last Two Animals at the Mosul Zoo
By Robin Wright 
Mosul’s forlorn little zoo, a collection of rusted cages in a park near the Tigris River, was abandoned by its keepers in October, as the Iraqi Army began to liberate the city from the Islamic State. For three months, the zoo was a staging ground for isis fighters. More than forty of the zoo animals died, either as collateral damage—trapped between warring combatants—or from starvation. By January, when the eastern half of Mosul was freed, only two animals had survived: Lula, a caramel-colored female bear, and Simba, a three-year-old lion.

Animals, like people, suffer from war psychoses, including P.T.S.D. During the most intense urban combat in history, Lula ate her two cubs from hunger and stress. Simba had been one of three lions. Simba’s father, weak and emaciated, was killed by his mate to provide food for herself and Simba. In the wild, lionesses hunt for the entire pride. She, too, soon succumbed.

Concerned about the fate of Lula and Simba, residents in Mosul sent frantic Facebook messages to Four Paws International, an animal-protection agency based in Austria, appealing for help. In mid-February, the organization dispatched Amir Khalil to Mosul. Khalil is an Egyptian veterinarian who has spent a quarter century saving animals in war zones on three continents.. 
Read on.....

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The New Yorker

American Muslims in Mourning
By Robin Wright  June 12, 2016

Hena Khan, the author of best-selling children’s books, thought Muhammad Ali’s funeral on Friday was going to be a turning point for American Muslins. “Ali spent his life trying to show the real Islam—battling Islamophobia even as he battled Parkinson’s disease. That’s what was highlighted after he died,” she told me this weekend. “It was nice to feel proud—and to see people saying ‘Allahu Akbar’ interpreted in a positive way.”

On Saturday, Khan was herself honored for the publication of “It’s Ramadan, Curious George,” a groundbreaking new book that also tries to span the cultural chasm for a new generation. The Diyanet Center of America packed its auditorium with kids and their parents to hear Khan read from her book. In this latest spin-off, the mischievous simian learns from his friend Kareem about the sacred Muslim month of fasting, good deeds, contemplation, and evening feasts. 

At the end of Khan’s reading, a teen-ager dressed as Curious George raced down the aisles, onto the stage, and fist-bumped Khan. The kids went wild. “It was a weekend of hope and feeling inspired,” Khan told me. “It was a time of reaffirmation,” especially during the first week of Ramadan.

On Sunday, Khan woke up and, as is her habit, checked the news on her cell phone before waking her family. It was consumed with the killings at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. “First it was twenty people, then fifty,” she told me. “I thought, Not another shooting! When is this going to stop? This is insanity.

“Then I saw the name,” Khan said, her voice choking back sobs. Read on...