TIME world affairs

How Indoor Stoves Can Help Solve Global Poverty

Air pollution in China
Beijing's air pollution reached eight times World Health Organization-recommended safe levels. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Dr. Bjørn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, directs the Copenhagen Consensus Center, ranking the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problems by cost-benefit.

Clean cooking and better sources of energy can have a domino effect on health and education

Last week world leaders at the U.N. began a yearlong conversation about global goals for the next 15 years. Many will rightly talk about poverty, food, water and the environment. Few will mention energy. Yet we should.

The use of wood and coal in steam engines kicked off the Industrial Revolution, which led to today’s prosperous, modern societies. Reliable and affordable energy is just as vital for today’s developing and emerging economies. Driven mostly by its fivefold increase in coal use, China’s economy has grown eighteenfold over the past 30 years while lifting 680 million people out of poverty.

The energy ladder is a way of visualizing stages of development. This starts with what we call traditional biofuels: firewood, dung and crop waste. Almost 3 billion people use these for cooking and heating indoors, which is so polluting that the World Health Organization estimates they kill 1 in every 13 people on the planet.

The next step on the ladder is transition fuels, such as kerosene, charcoal and liquefied petroleum gas. The top rung of the ladder is electricity, which thankfully makes no pollution inside your home. Because the electricity is often powered by fossil fuels, it does contribute to the problem of global warming. Hence an alluring option could be to move to clean energy like wind, solar and hydro. Some are suggesting that developing countries should skip the fossil step and move right to clean energy. However, rich countries are already finding the move away from coal and oil to be a difficult one, and there are no easy answers for developing economies.

Today’s crucial question is: What should the world prioritize? Fifteen years ago, the world agreed upon the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, an ambitious set of targets to tackle poverty, hunger, health and education. Those targets have directed lots of international aid and mostly led to a better world, although much still remains to be done.

For the future, some argue that we should continue pursuing the few, sharp targets from before, since we have clearly not fixed either poverty or health. Others point out that issues like the environment and social justice also need attention. My think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus, is helping bring better information to this discussion. We have asked some of the world’s top economists to make analyses within all major challenge areas, estimating the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of different targets.

So, about the almost 3 billion people cooking with dirty open fires? Should they take higher priority than the broader, long-term objective of cutting back on fossil-fuel use? It turns out there are smart ways to help on both accounts, say Isabel Galiana and Amy Sopinka, the two economists who wrote the main paper on energy.

Burning firewood and dung on open indoor fires is inefficient and causes horrendous air pollution. More than 4 million people die each year from respiratory illness because of smoke from indoor open fires. Most of them are women and young children. Women and children are also the ones who have to spend their time fetching firewood, often from quite far away. Providing cleaner cooking facilities – efficient stoves that run on liquefied gas – would improve health, increase productivity, allow women to spend time earning money and free up children to go to school.

The economic benefits of getting everyone off dung and wood are as high as the human-welfare ones: more than $500 billion each year. Costs would be much lower. Including grants and subsidies to purchase stoves, annual costs would run about $60 billion. Every dollar spent would buy almost $9 of benefits, which is a very good way to help.

The economists also provide a more realistic target, which turns out to be even more efficient. Since it is awfully hard to get to 100%, they suggest providing modern cooking fuels to 30%. This will still help 780 million people but at the much lower cost of $11 billion annually. For every dollar spent, we would do more than $14 worth of good.

While clean cooking is important, electricity can bring different benefits. Lighting means that students can study after dark and family activities can continue into the evening. Clinics can refrigerate vaccines and other medicines. Water can be pumped from wells so that women do not have to walk miles to fetch it.

The value of getting electricity to everyone is about $380 billion annually. The cost is more difficult to work out. To provide electricity to everyone, we would need the equivalent of 250 more power stations, but many rural areas might best be served by solar panels and batteries. This is not an ideal solution, but it would still be enough to make an enormous improvement in people’s lives. The overall cost is probably around $75 billion per year. That still does $5 of benefits for each dollar spent.

If we want to tackle global warming, on the other hand, there are some targets we should be wary of, whereas others are phenomenal. One prominent target suggests doubling the world’s share of renewables, particularly solar and wind, but this turns out to be a rather ineffective use of resources. The extra costs of coping with the intermittent and unpredictable output of renewables makes them expensive, and the cost is likely to be higher than the benefits.

But the world spends $544 billion in fossil-fuel subsidies, almost exclusively in developing countries. This drains public budgets from being able to provide health and education while encouraging higher CO₂ emissions. Moreover, gasoline subsidies mostly help rich people, because they are the ones who can afford a car. To phase out fossil-fuel subsidies would be a phenomenal target because it would cut CO₂ while saving money for other and better public uses. The economists estimate that every dollar in costs would do more than $15 of climate and public good.

With such high-return targets, the economic evidence shows that if carefully chosen, energy targets should definitely be part of the world’s promises for the next 15 years.

Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank ranking the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problems by cost-benefit.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

The Needs of Hong Kong’s Silent Majority Are Being Ignored

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY
Three men on a pedestrian bridge look at an empty six lane road blocked by pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong on October 1, 2014. PHILIPPE LOPEZ—AFP/Getty Images

Regina Ip is a Hong Kong legislator, the city's former secretary for security, and chairperson of the New People's Party

As Hong Kong’s quest for democracy rapidly descended into chaos upon the official kickoff of the Occupy Central movement on Sept. 27, world media united to condemn China’s handling of Hong Kong people’s demands for democracy. Rarely has China’s most international city been the cause of more schadenfreude in the West.

How did Hong Kong’s democratic odyssey come to this pass? China said, in a decision by its highest authority in December 2007, that Hong Kong’s chief executive may be elected by universal suffrage in 2017. But its Basic Law for Hong Kong, enacted in 1990, also says that the method for selecting the chief executive must be specified in the light of “the actual situation and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress.”

Hong Kong’s democracy advocates accuse Beijing of breach of faith, but Beijing officials stress that gradual and orderly progress and compliance with the Basic Law are paramount.

It is not as though Beijing were unaware of the potential for controversy. As 2017 approaches, the Occupy Central movement has been pressurizing Beijing into allowing politicians from the pan-democratic camp — the local term for pro-democracy politicians of different parties — to be nominated for the city’s top post. And since March 2013, Beijing has been sending a steady stream of senior officials to Hong Kong to draw a line in the sand: only those considered patriotic are allowed to be nominated. In a decision on Aug. 31, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee made a decision that the pan-democrats thought had all but ruled out their chance of securing a nomination.

In Beijing’s eyes, the pan-dems are after a form of independence. That is probably why authorities in Beijing took pains to issue a white paper in June, reminding Hong Kong people that the “high degree of autonomy” promised is a lower level of autonomy than full autonomy, let alone self-rule or independence.

Beijing understands too well that a democratically elected Hong Kong chief, who will be appointed by Beijing in name only, will not be answerable to it and might not be trusted to safeguard “China’s sovereignty, security and developmental interests.” Hong Kong’s chief executive is more powerful than a provincial party secretary and cannot be replaced at will by administrative appointment. The risks of installing a chief executive whom Beijing cannot trust in a porous, international city like Hong Kong are too great.

Thus, in Beijing’s eyes, the struggle for a more open system of nomination is a struggle for the control of Hong Kong. Beijing’s opponents will not take this lying down and are mobilizing large numbers of citizens, including many young people, to take to the street, causing massive disruption to the daily lives of Hong Kong people, economic losses and, above all, severe damage to Hong Kong’s image around the world.

Chanting democratic slogans and laying siege to major thoroughfares and government installations, the protesters appear to dwarf even the might of China. Yet, a core question has been left unanswered. What do the silent majority of Hong Kong really want? Do they really want an Umbrella Revolution that radically changes the nature of Hong Kong’s polity, or an open, free and stable environment to get on with building their lives? Will a democratically elected chief, irrespective of competence and relationship with China, be able to cure all ills?

As the two camps and two conflicting ideologies clash, the core interests of the Hong Kong people appear to be ignored.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME world affairs

Hong Kong Is Ready for Democracy, but China Isn’t Ready for a Free Hong Kong

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Police officers face off with pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong on Sept. 28, 2014 Alex Ogle—AFP/Getty Images

Anson Chan was a Chief Secretary of the Hong Kong government, both before and after the city's return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. She is also the founder of the Hong Kong 2020 democracy advocacy group.

China is not ready for a democratically governed Hong Kong it fears it cannot totally control

For me the most heart-breaking aspect of the current unrest in Hong Kong has been to see our police force, kitted out in full riot gear like Star Wars Stormtroopers with gas masks donned, firing pepper spray and tear gas indiscriminately into the faces of crowds of very young unarmed student protesters, most of whom had their arms in the air to show that they were not holding any weapon. These pictures have shamed our city and its government in front of the whole world.

Hong Kong has a long tradition of peaceful protest, dating back to the outpouring of grief following the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, and now including annual June 4 candlelight vigils, and pro-democracy marches that take place each year on the July 1 anniversary of the return of sovereignty to China. Hong Kong protesters don’t hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails, they don’t burn tires or set fire to police vehicles, they don’t smash windows and loot shops. Fulfilling their side of the bargain, they have trusted that the police will fulfill theirs by managing the demonstration with a light touch and supporting their right to peaceful demonstration.

In a few short hours last Sunday, our police sacrificed decades of goodwill; their mandate having clearly changed from one of supporting freedom of expression to acting as a tool of an increasingly repressive and authoritarian government that seems committed to rule by law, rather than the rule of law. These sorts of tactics may be par for the course in mainland China; they are totally unacceptable under the policy of “one country, two systems” laid down by the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration — the treaty signed by China and Britain that paved the way for Hong Kong to be handed back to Chinese rule in 1997.

As I write, the protest is ongoing. This is no longer just about the Occupy Central movement, which planned to block roads in Hong Kong Island’s main business district. Peaceful sit-ins have spread uptown and across the harbor to Kowloon. The numbers of students are being swelled by supporters of all ages and walks of life.

For the time being, our government seems to have recognized the error of its ways. Riot police have withdrawn and the mood of the crowds is more relaxed.

The question now is, Can trust be repaired? What will it take to defuse the current standoff?

First, the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing must acknowledge that Hong Kong’s people have a right to be angry. Our constitution, the Basic Law, promises that we will have the right to elect our head of government and all members of our legislature by universal suffrage. Yet, 17 years after the return of sovereignty to China, we are still being told that we are not really ready for full democracy. We can have one person, one vote — to elect our next head of government in 2017 — but the two or three candidates allowed to stand for election must all be prescreened by a nominating committee loaded with pro-Beijing sympathizers.

Having waited so long, Hong Kong people are outraged at this insult to their intelligence. Not surprisingly, it is young people, the students, who are most incensed. They can see that Hong Kong is slipping down a perilous slope toward becoming just another Chinese city. This is about their future, the preservation of their way of life and the core values and freedoms they want to be able to pass on to their children and grandchildren.

The truth is Hong Kong is more than ready for democracy; it is China that is not ready for a democratically governed Hong Kong it fears it cannot totally control.

Hong Kong’s government has paved the way for the current crisis by acquiescing in a phony process of public consultation on constitutional reform, the results of which were completely ignored by Beijing. The vast majority of protesters want nothing less than for our current head of government, C.Y. Leung, and his senior ministers, to step down. Realistically, this won’t happen — at least anytime soon. In the meantime, he and his team must come up with something that will give the protesters a reason to pack up and go home. And they must come up with it soon.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

Dear Fellow Liberals: I’m Done Apologizing for Israel

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border
Overview of a tunnel built underground by Hamas militants leading from the Gaza Strip into Southern Israel, seen on August 4, 2014 near the Israeli Gaza border, Israel. Ilia Yefimovich—Getty Images

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

As a species, we don't seem to cotton to facts—especially when it comes to Jews

Some years ago, I was seated at dinner next to a British law professor, whom my husband, also a law professor, had invited to a conference that he’d organized. The conversation soon turned, as conversation often does among professional intellectuals, to Israel, specifically to the then-recent conflict between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters in the West Bank town of Jenin, which my dinner partner (and much of the European press) referred to as the “massacre of Jenin.”

Oops—forgot about it already? Here’s a refresher: in 2002, the IDF went into Jenin during the Second Intifada, after Israel determined that the town served as a launching pad for missile and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. The 10-day operation claimed the lives of around 50 Palestinian gunmen, and 23 Israeli soldiers. My acquaintance, after repeating Palestinian claims of atrocities committed by Israeli forces—claims that had already been roundly debunked—capped off his assessment by saying, “What happened in Jenin was no more and no less than another Holocaust.”

Really?

As a liberal American Jew, I’m tired of apologizing for Israel’s actions regarding its own security, and as of last month, I’m done with it. I’m done for the following two reasons: my eldest child, Sam, motivated by a desire to do something more meaningful than argue about religion, policy and politics, is currently serving as a lone soldier in the IDF, and he spent much of July in Gaza, as part of a team dismantling terror tunnels. In New Jersey, where the rest of his family lives, we didn’t know, from one day to the next, if we’d ever see him again. The second reason is that Israel, despite its highly imperfect record (unlike that of, say, America or France or England or Pakistan or Kenya or Argentina…) is the world’s sole guarantee against another frenzy of murderous hatred against my people, a hatred that is once again raising its voice, and fists, not only among the dispossessed Muslim residents of Europe, but, most especially, in the official organs of the chattering, and highly influential, classes—so much so that the off-hand remarks of my long-ago dinner companion seem almost reasonable.

Facts are such nifty things, so solid, so sure. Yet we as a species don’t seem to cotton to them, especially when it comes to Jews.

In Pakistan, one human rights group estimates that 1,000 women are murdered in honor killings by their families every year. In Nigeria, Islamic militants have killed more than 1,500 people in 2014, according to Amnesty International. And the death toll from the slaughter in Syria—just spitting distance from Israel—adds up to a robust 191,000. But the world—or at least the world as personified by the British law professor with his fondness for exaggeration—doesn’t pay a lot of attention to these Muslim but non-Palestinian corpses. Nope: you’ve got to be a dead person in Gaza or Hebron to claim the world’s sympathy. Merely being an Arab, or a Muslim, doesn’t cut the mustard, because when Muslims are murdering other Muslims—like more than 2,400 Iraqis killed by other Iraqis in June of this year. The civilized world, or at least the chattering classes, does little more than shrug.

Instead, from the Telegram we get this “Gaza conflict ‘causing PTSD in children’ after seeing dead bodies and witnessing heavy shelling.” From the Times: “UN demands halt to Gaza incursion as tanks smash hospital.” A simple Google search will net you hundreds of like-minded headlines. By the way, guess how many citizens were killed during the second half of last year in Egypt? According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: 3,143.

But it’s more satisfying to focus on Israel, that miniscule sliver of desert with an equally miniscule population (some 6 million Jews and 1.7 million primarily Muslim Arabs), hemmed in on one side by hostile Arab countries whose Muslim populations add up to a healthy 320 million, give or take, and the other by the Mediterranean Sea. Because Israel isn’t just any other imperfect Democracy, with a host of domestic and international problems of its own. Oh no. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’re talking a whole country filled primarily with Jews. So the whole place is only as big as the State of New Jersey, while the rest of the Middle East is about the size of 90 percent of the contiguous United States? So what?

Why is it so hard for the world to wake up to its blindness and see that once again it’s easier to focus on the moral shortcomings, real or imagined, of Jews, than to grapple with actual slaughter? From the point of view of the Muslim nations, I get it: let Israel take the heat for the crappy conditions and even worse governance under which vast numbers of Muslims live. Easier to blame Jews than to run your own country with a modicum of basic human decency.

I’m not suggesting that Muslim lives are worth less than Jewish ones. Nor that the mainly Arab occupants of Gaza and the West Bank don’t have legitimate grievances, including—especially—the deaths, mainly from aerial bombing, of citizens. Merely that the magnitude of Palestinian loss, when looked at through the lens of numbers alone, pales compared to that suffered by their co-religionists.

Put another way: what if Israel were a self-professed Maronite country? A country of mainly secular Protestants and lapsed Catholics—or a majority-Arab democracy? Would anyone give a rat’s ass if it used armed force against a terrorist group whose raison d’etre is the destruction of their country and the murder of its citizens?

It’s not just in left-leaning Europe that the anti-Jewish rhetoric is getting louder. Here in America, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), calling for self-determination of Palestinians while denying the right to self-determination for Jews, has offshoots on more than eighty campuses. And in New Haven, here’s what The Rev. Bruce M. Shipman, the (recently resigned) Episcopal chaplain at Yale University, wrote in a letter to the editor that was recently published in The New York Times: “As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.” In other words, recent anti-Semitic violence in Europe, notably Paris, is the fault of Jewish moral failings. In other words: Jews deserve it. And what, after all, did the Jewish State of Israel do? It went after the terror tunnels. It said no to the bombing of its civilians. It said that they meant it when they said “never again.”

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

The State Department’s Twitter War With ISIS Is Embarrassing

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
Reuters

Rita Katz is the director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which studies jihadi extremists’ behavior online.

An English-language outreach program is not only ineffective, but also provides jihadists with a stage to voice their arguments

Thirteen years into the war on terror, it is distressing to see certain ways the U.S. government is combating domestic radicalization by groups like al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS). Among the more embarrassing of these ventures is the “Think Again Turn Away” campaign, launched in English in December 2013 by the United States Department of State as part of an effort to enter the war of ideas and win over hearts and minds of jihadists on social media. (Earlier efforts began in Arabic and Urdu in 2011.) And while the State Department is making a great step in the right direction by recognizing the importance of social media in jihadi recruitment, the Think Again Turn Away campaign has been anything but valiant—particularly on Twitter. This outreach by the U.S. government is not only ineffective, but also provides jihadists with a stage to voice their arguments—regularly engaging in petty disputes with fighters and supporters of groups like IS (also known as ISIS), al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, and arguing over who has killed more people while exchanging sarcastic quips.

U.S. Department of State

The Think Again Turn Away Twitter account has over 7,300 followers and has made more than 1,900 tweets since it was created in December 2013—roughly six to seven tweets per day. The account uses two approaches: tweeting counter messaging material and addressing prominent jihadist accounts.

The account’s counter-message material is mostly taken from the media, with articles related to the jihadi threat. For instance, on September 15 the account sent tweets touting articles such as “Grassroots citizen effort to defeat #ISIS using technology to track them”; “US President condemns murder of David Haines; his brother says #ISIS not about Islam, only terror”; and “Girls marry jihadis, frequently widowed, subject to polygamy; see non-Muslim female slaves.”

Though these messages are unlikely to be effective coming from the State Department, I would accept the argument that they’re not actually doing any harm. However, the account’s second approach of directly addressing and engaging with jihadist accounts is where things start to get ridiculous.

Illustrating these discussions is, for instance, one initiated on September 4 when an IS-supporting account, under the handle @de_BlackRose, showed gruesome pictures of tortured prisoners from the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal in 2003-2004 along with the message: “REMEMBER HOW YOU AMERICA ARRESTED AND HUMILIATED OUR BROTHERS IN IRAQ AND HUMILIATED THEM IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY!!”

Following a couple of messages of support, the Think Again Turn Away account responded, “US troops are punished for misconduct, #ISIS fighters are rewarded,” along with a collage of U.S. soldiers interacting happily with children in the Middle East.

Not surprisingly, the user, along with other IS followers, jumped on the opportunity to drag the U.S. government in a discussion about the Abu Ghraib scandal. @de_BlackRose, along with likeminded others, rebutted to Think Again Turn Away’s response with such replies as, “loool in spilling their bloods only a misconduct? Well that’s not enough,” “poor children where Americans fooling them with their smiles,” and “well only in june did isis crucify one if its fighters for robbing civilians at checkpoint.”

Even then, Think Again Turn Away persisted through the conversation, tweeting, “This is what children see under #ISIS rule, this brand of honor and respect,” and included a picture of children standing around a crucified soldier in the street of an unidentified city. From here, over a dozen anti-American tweets were made at the account, most of which from @de_BlackRose, stating, “looool you dont know about shariah.. better think again and turn away..”; and, “i rather my children see this so they know whats their fate when they aganst shariah of ALLAH, than democazy.”

Now, while no one would doubt that the Abu Ghraib scandal was a brutal act of torture on the part of American soldiers in Iraq, the topic is one the U.S. government should probably avoid conversing about on Twitter—especially to an audience it is trying to sway. Yet, the State Department showed no such tact.

Think Again Turn Away’s involvement in counterproductive conversations has been a regular occurrence for some time now. Some of the most tragic of these conversations are often shared with “Amreeki Witness,” a pro-IS user and a follower of late jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki. Amreeki Witness’s Twitter account profile pictures directly mock that of Think Again Turn Away: the Arabic text from the IS banner inside of the Department of State seal and the IS flag on top of the White House. The page info section reads: “Dedicated to raising awareness about the upcoming conquest of the Americas, and the benefits it has upon the American people.

The State Department responded to an August 6 tweet by Amreeki Witness stating, “IS has flaws, but the moment you claim they cut off the heads of every non-Muslim they see, the discussion is over.” Though the discussion was not addressed to them, Think Again Turn Away replied, “#ISIS tortures, crucifies & shoots some- ISIS also gives ultimatums to Christians: convert, pay or die- Some flaws u say?”

Amreeki Witness, thrilled to be noticed by the U.S. Government, and given a stage on which to launch radical jihadist views toward Think Again Turn Away’s thousands of followers, provided a long series of rebuttals, some of which linking to form lengthy attacks. The Think Again Turn Away account, instead of ignoring the claims of a pro-IS jihadist, dignified them by responding, “#ISIS confiscated food, houses, stole millions from banks & has only brought suffering and death to innocents- Join reality!”

Of course, the State Department’s intent here is to hijack the audience of accounts like Amreeki Witness in order to address the moderate Muslims on the fence regarding jihad—their real target audience. However, these exchanges, as illustrated by the overwhelming response from Amreeki Witness as compared to that of Think Again Turn Away, frequently backfire by providing jihadists legitimacy and a stage on which to project their messages.

The State Department account is not only a gaffe machine, but in fact some of its tweets walk dangerous ethical lines. On September 11, for example, Australian cleric Abu Sulayman, an official leader within AQ al-Nusra Front in Syria, tweeted, “On this day, in 2001, the USA’s largest economic shrine, the idol of capitalism was brought to the ground..the toll of injuctice is hefty.”

To this tweet, by the AQ official, the Think Again Turn Away account jumped in, tweeting, “Nobody’s a bigger fan of the fruits of capitalism than so-called #ISIS Caliph” and provided a picture pointing out IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s watch, stating it was a “Rolex.”

Now, al-Muhajir, an AQ and al-Nusra Front religious leader, is among the most prominent opposing figures of Baghdadi and IS, who has been fighting IS and its leadership for more than a year, and constantly fight against the group physically and religiously. So why would the State Department tweet to the AQ leader bashing a figure he already opposes?

Even worse, Sulayman is not just another AQ supporter, but an AQ official! The irony is ugly: When State Department makes a series of tweets about the horrors of 9/11 and attacking those that committed it, it also tweets directly to an AQ leader, providing legitimization to the account of the same people who committed the attacks.

Any competent foreign policy analyst knows that the al-Nusra-IS feud is one all jihadists are attuned to, so the State Department’s tweet to Sulayman and his 18,000 followers could only suggest that the U.S. is clueless to the jihadi landscape.

On July 30, responding to an IS fighter discussing the training of newcomers at IS training camps, the Think Again Turn Away tweeted, “everything #ISIS does is hardest on their victims & families- #alqaeda ideology shames humanity,” and provided a link their video titled, “Welcome to the ‘Islamic State’ land (ISIS/ISIL).” The video, widely discussed by the media in recent weeks, is a grim parody of IS recruitment materials, sarcastically stating that Muslims should come to the Islamic State wherein one “can learn useful new skills for the Ummah [Nation],” which include “Blowing up mosques” and “Crucifying and executing Muslims.”

Videos like this clearly illustrate that the U.S. government lacks the basic understanding of recruitment of young Westerners, that these ghastly scenes of executions and destruction are exactly what groups like IS have been using as recruitment propaganda.

The video prompted anti-American responses, including a counter-spoof video, published on September 7, by jihadi Twitter account of “tawheedvlag,” telling viewers, “Run Do not walk to US Terrorist State…Where you can learn usefull new anti Islam skills.”

In order to counter a problem, one must first study it before adopting a solution. Had the people behind Think Again Turn Away understood jihadists’ mindsets and reasons for their behavior, they would have known that their project of counter messaging would not only be a waste of taxpayer money, but ultimately be counterproductive.

To be fair, I acknowledge that the State Department’s project, at the very least, may serve as a noble undertaking by those in power to fight an idea while preserving free speech. Sadly, though, that’s all the credit I can give it. I would much rather see the State Department’s online ventures involved in projects that explain the great things American policies have achieved—not arguing with jihadi fighters on who killed more innocent Muslims.

Rita Katz is the director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which studies jihadi extremists’ behavior online.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

White House Indicates Preference In Scottish Independence Vote

Josh Earnest
White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

The United States continues to have concerns about the Scottish independence efforts as Thursday’s vote approaches, the White House indicated Monday.

Speaking to reporters at the daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said it was up to the people of Scotland to decide their fate in this week’s referendum, but that the U.S. has a “deep interest” in a united United Kingdom.

“This is a decision for the people of Scotland to make,” Earnest said. “We certainly respect the right of individual Scots to make a decision along these lines. But, you know, as the president himself said, we have an interest in seeing the United Kingdom remain strong, robust, united and an effective partner.”

In at a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron in June, President Barack Obama said “we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains strong, robust, united, and an effective partner. But ultimately these are decisions that are to be made by the folks there.”

Earnest would not explicitly state that the U.S. opposes the effort to create the first independent Scotland in 307 years, saying ” I will certainly respect their right to cast their own ballot without interference from people on the outside.”

Polls paint a conflicting picture leading into Thursday’s ballot, though the voting is expected to be close. The United States has enjoyed a “special relationship” with the United Kingdom since the end of World War II. Earnest said that some elements of the U.S. government were considering the implications of a potential independent Scotland on the relationship.

“I suspect that there’s somebody at the administration who’s been thinking about that at some level,” he said. “I don’t know to what level it has risen.”

TIME foreign affairs

It’s a Huge Mistake to Back Rebel Groups

Mosul Iraq ISIS
Fighters from the Islamic State group parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 23, 2014 AP

Mark Kukis is currently working with Andrew Bacevich on a forthcoming online course called War for the Greater Middle East. It launches Sept. 24 on EdX.

By definition, rebel groups do not answer to authority

President Obama’s first moves in his newly announced campaign against ISIS should be unsettling to us all as we mark another 9/11 anniversary. The Administration has clearly signaled its intent to make Saudi Arabia a key partner in training, arming and supporting so-called moderate Syrian rebels against ISIS. This is a terrible idea and should be abandoned. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have cooperated before in supporting rebel fighters — in Afghanistan in the 1980s. And of course the most famous of those rebels was Osama bin Laden.

Saudi and American officials seeking to stand up rebel forces against ISIS appear to mean well. They do not intend to create future terrorists. But the planners of this strategy in Washington and Riyadh delude themselves about the nature of the fighters they create. American policymakers especially tend to believe that rebels trained and supported by America will respond to U.S. direction and serve U.S. interests, functioning in essence as crude but effective instruments of foreign policy. This has been the consistent belief of American policymakers since the end of WW II and has led the U.S. to support unsavory outfits ranging from the contras to the Kosovo Liberation Army.

By definition, rebel groups do not answer to authority. They tend to take whatever arms, training and funding they can get from friendly governments and pursue their own agenda. Any rebels backed by Saudi Arabia and America can be expected to do the same. True, the interests of anti-ISIS rebels align with U.S. and Saudi policy aims in the sense that all camps yearn for the downfall of the horrific regime presiding now over large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. Mutual interests likely end there, however. Rebel groups backed by Washington and Riyadh can be counted on to pursue their own aims even while they work with America and Saudi Arabia against ISIS.

What goals the rebels might have for themselves will be difficult to know. The fighters who will soon begin arriving at training camps in Saudi Arabia probably will not have a sense themselves of what the future holds beyond the fight against ISIS. But we can all be sure that nothing good will come of the effort apart from any blows these guerrillas manage to land against ISIS. This is because the region as a whole is in such turmoil. Even if the Syrian rebels depart Saudi Arabia as moderates, they will not likely remain so as they wage war in lands where extremism and instability prevail. The rebels backed by Washington against Muammar Gaddafi probably did not plan to begin fighting among themselves immediately upon the Libyan ruler’s downfall. Yet they have, plunging the country into a state of near chaos.

Rebel groups in the Middle East supported now by America and its allies in the region will undoubtedly sow something similar or worse for themselves and their government backers. Once set loose, they might become involved in terrorism, fight one another, prey on civilian populations or contribute to the next regional crisis. In fact, all those scenarios are likely courses for any such rebel groups given the environment in which they are supposed to operate. These are foreseeable outcomes of the policy now pursued by the Obama Administration and should be avoided. Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region have a role to play in confronting the menace of ISIS. But they should do so with regular military forces. Twice in recent decades Arab nations have rallied armies in unison to wage war against Israel. If Middle East nations can form a military coalition against Israel, they can do so against ISIS. And the Obama Administration should press them to do exactly that rather than creating yet more militant groups in the region.

Mark Kukis is currently working with Andrew Bacevich on a forthcoming online course called War for the Greater Middle East. It launches Sept. 24 on EdX.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

Soldiers From Poor Countries Have Become the World’s Peacekeepers

Undated photograph released by Hanin Network, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by The Nusra Front on Aug. 28, 2014, in the Golan Heights.
Undated photograph released by Hanin Network, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by The Nusra Front on Aug. 28, 2014, in the Golan Heights. AP

It is an unfair burden for troops who are less well trained, under-supplied and ill equipped

On Aug. 28, rebels from the al-Qaeda-allied al-Nusra Front stormed the Golan Heights border crossing between Syria and Israel, home to one of the oldest U.N. peacekeeping operations. While two contingents of Philippine peacekeepers managed to flee the rebel attack, 45 Fijian troops were captured and taken away by the rebels to parts unknown.

The Fijians were finally released on Sept. 11, but the two-week crisis crystallized a persistent yet under-reported fact: while the U.N. calls upon the international community to act in times of crises, it is often soldiers from developing nations who shoulder the stiffest burden.

In 1994, on the heels of the Rwandan genocide, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (China, Russia, France, the U.K. and the U.S.) provided 20% of all U.N. peacekeeping personnel.

But by 2004, Security Council nations contributed only 5% of U.N. personnel. This July, amid a tumultuous summer of violent conflicts, that figure had dropped to a miserly 4%, while the governments of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Fiji, Ethiopia, Rwanda and the Philippines provided a staggering 39% of all U.N. forces.

Critics can counter this charge with stats of their own. After all, they say, the permanent members contribute 53% of the U.N.’s annual budget, far outstripping financial contributions made by countries of the global south. But recent years have also seen sluggish rates of payment from wealthier nations — delays that further strain an overburdened system supporting 16 peacekeeping missions around the world.

On balance, the troops contributed by developing countries are more likely to be less well trained, under-supplied and ill equipped for the missions. Delays in financial contributions only complicate the challenges of modern peacekeeping.

So does the fractured nature of modern conflicts. Military experts, like General Sir Rupert Smith, have noted the shift from “industrial wars” of the past to today’s “war amongst the people.” Modern conflicts involve combatants whose ends are not merely the control of territory or the monopoly of politics. They wage war with their own rules, without concern for the U.N.’s mission to referee.

In response, peacekeeping has been hurriedly ramped up: more comprehensive mandates are issued and troops are cleared to use force in defense of civilians. But in the end, peacekeepers are redundant where there is no peace to keep.

The Golan Heights are no exception. The U.N. Disengagement Observer Force was set up 40 years ago precisely to observe the contentious border between Israel and Syria. Today, the threats aren’t even nation states. The peacekeepers in Golan must contend with spillover from Syria’s three-year-long civil war, and the aggression of al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front. They are forced to become soldiers on the front lines of a perpetually asymmetrical conflict, treated as mere machine-gun fodder whenever the international community seeks to stem the spread of terror by piling blue helmets in its way.

In a New York Times op-ed of Aug. 29, Secretary of State John Kerry discussed U.S. intentions to use its position as president of the Security Council to coordinate a response to terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East.

“The United States … will use that opportunity to continue to build a broad coalition and highlight the danger posed by foreign terrorist fighters,” Kerry wrote, adding that “President Obama, addressing the Security Council, would construct a plan to deal with this collective threat.”

For observers, however, events in Golan should serve as a warning. If the U.N. and its leading members intend to tackle collective threats, it is time to address how best to equitably divide the collective risk. In service of international stability, leaders of the developed world have become far too comfortable asking developing countries to put their troops in the line of fire.

Adam McCauley is a Canadian writer and photographer currently based in Hong Kong. His work has appeared in TIME, the New York Times, Al Jazeera and online in the New Yorker.

TIME foreign affairs

Obama’s Breathtaking Expansion of a President’s Power To Make War

President Barack Obama delivers a live televised address to the nation on his plans for military action against the Islamic State, from the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington Sept. 10, 2014.
President Barack Obama delivers a live televised address to the nation on his plans for military action against the Islamic State, from the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington Sept. 10, 2014. Saul Loeb—Reuters

President Obama hoped to repeal the Bush-era authorization declaring war on al Qaeda—instead he's expanded it without bound

Future historians will ask why George W. Bush sought and received express congressional authorization for his wars (against al Qaeda and Iraq) and his successor did not. They will puzzle over how Barack Obama the prudent war-powers constitutionalist transformed into a matchless war-powers unilateralist. And they will wonder why he claimed to “welcome congressional support” for his new military initiative against the Islamic State but did not insist on it in order to ensure clear political and legal legitimacy for the tough battle that promised to consume his last two years in office and define his presidency.

“History has shown us time and again . . . that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch,” candidate Barack Obama told the Boston Globe in 2007. “It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.” President Obama has discarded these precepts. His announcement that he will expand the use of military force against the Islamic State without the need for new congressional consent marks his latest adventure in unilateralism and cements an astonishing legacy of expanding presidential war powers.

The legacy began in 2011 with the seven-month air war in Libya. President Obama relied only on his Commander in Chief powers when he ordered U.S. forces to join NATO allies in thousands of air strikes that killed thousands of people and effected regime change. His lawyers argued beyond precedent that the large-scale air attacks did not amount to “War” that required congressional approval. They also blew a large hole in the War Powers Resolution based on the unconvincing claim that the Libya strikes were not “hostilities” that would have required compliance with the law.

Although he backed down from his threat to invade Syria last summer, President Obama proclaimed then the power to use unilateral force for purely humanitarian ends without congressional or United Nations or NATO support. This novel theory, which removed all practical limits on presidential humanitarian intervention, became a reality in last month’s military strikes to protect civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar and in the town of Amirli.

Yesterday’s announcement of a ramped-up war against the Islamic State in Iraq and possibly Syria rests on yet another novel war powers theory. The administration has said since August that air strikes in Syria were justified under his constitutional power alone. But yesterday it switched course and maintained that Congress had authorized the 2014 campaign against the Islamic State in the 2001 law that President George W. Bush sought to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The administration’s new approach allows it to claim that it is acting with congressional approval. It also lets it avoid the strictures of the War Powers Resolution because that law does not apply to wars approved by Congress.

The problem with this approach is that its premise is unconvincing. The 2001 law authorized force against al Qaeda and its associates. The Islamic State once had associations with al Qaeda, but earlier this year al Qaeda expelled it and broke off ties. The administration nonetheless insists that the 2001 law applies to its new military action, primarily because the Islamic State claims to be “the true inheritor of Usama bin Laden’s legacy” and is supported by “some individual members and factions of [al-Qaeda]-aligned groups.” But if this remarkably loose affiliation with al Qaeda brings a terrorist organization under the 2001 law, then Congress has authorized the President to use force endlessly against practically any ambitious jihadist terrorist group that fights against the United States. The President’s gambit is, at bottom, presidential unilateralism masquerading as implausible statutory interpretation.

The largest irony here is that President Obama has long hoped to leave a legacy of repealing the Bush-era authorization and declaring the “war” against al Qaeda over. “I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal” the 2001 law’s mandate” he said in a speech last May at the National Defense University. “I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further,” he added, before insisting that “history” and “democracy” demand that “this war, like all wars, must end.”

President Obama never did engage Congress to refine the 2001 law. The violent reality of the Islamic State has quickly belied the supposed demands of history and democracy. And the President, all by himself, has now dramatically expanded the 2001 mandate.

Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and a member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law, served as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel, from 2003-2004, in the George W. Bush Administration.

TIME foreign affairs

Iraqi Refugee: ISIS Wouldn’t Exist Under Saddam

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014.
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. Reuters

"It is my worst nightmare that an extremist group like the Islamic State has support in Iraq"

When people ask me how I feel about the latest events in Iraq, I tell them I feel sad. All these people—both Americans and Iraqis—have died since 2003 for nothing. As the Islamic State insurgency unfolds, I’m mourning not just those who have died over the past decade, but for a country that I haven’t been able to recognize for a very long time.

I grew up in Baghdad in a middle-class family. My father served in the Iraqi Air Force and traveled often internationally; my mother was a math teacher; my siblings all attended college. I graduated from the most prestigious high school in Baghdad before getting my degree at pharmacy school.

I grew up reading Superman and Batman comics, playing with Legos, and swimming at the pools of the fancy clubs where my parents were members. I was 12 during the first Gulf War in 1990. And until then, my childhood was uneventful: I was a happy kid.

Until 1990, I never heard a mosque call for prayer. I almost never saw a woman covering her hair with a hijab. My mom wore make-up, skirts, blouses with shoulder pads, and Bermuda shorts.

Since moving to Los Angeles in 2009, I’ve realized that most Americans don’t understand that Iraq used to be a Westernized, secular country. From the 1930s to the 1980s, Iraq’s neighbors used to look to it as the example. The country had an excellent education system, great healthcare, and Iraq was rich—not the richest, but rich.

Of course, Iraq is not like this today.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait, 24 years ago last month, the United States destroyed most of Iraq’s infrastructure during the Persian Gulf War. Bridges were bombed, along with power stations, railroads, dams, and oil refineries.

I remember that we would turn on the faucet, and barely any water would come out. In order to take showers, we had to rely on water tanks on the roof, which supplied extra water to our home. The water would come out boiling hot because it had been sitting in the sun. We also had limited electricity—which remains a problem, even 20 years later. Sleeping was difficult. You would wake up, sweating, in the middle of the night.

In 1990, an embargo was imposed, which prohibited Iraq from exporting oil. Iraqis suddenly found themselves poor. People’s values changed after 1990, too. Robberies increased. If you parked your car by the street—even for just three minutes—you risked your hubcaps being stolen.

Neither of the United States wars changed life in Iraq the way the U.S. government had intended.

I think the United States wanted Iraqis to revolt against Saddam Hussein and depose him. That wasn’t going to happen.

The notion of democracy is foreign to the Arab world. Although the West saw the “Arab Spring” protests as movements for democracy, they were really uprisings against various dictators, which are not the same thing. What we know is that for countless generations, we’ve lived in a society of hierarchy. It’s not about individualism or personal freedoms. It’s about following your father, your family, and your tribe. There’s no culture of respecting different opinions.

So, when Iraqis were given their freedom, instead of turning to democracy, they, like many other in the region, turned to religion—and religious leaders for guidance, and political advice.

Shiites voted for Shiite candidates. Sunnis voted for Sunnis. The Shiites came to power because they were the majority.

What’s happening in Iraq today is merely a continuation of the failure of democracy. And a failure of the United States to understand the psyche of Iraqis.

The people who might have been able to change Iraq—the educated, the artists, the moderates—began leaving in 1990, mostly illegally, after the embargo was imposed and their comfortable lifestyles came to an end.

In 2003, Saddam Hussein fell and the floodgates opened up, with even more leaving the country for good at a time when they were most needed. Until that year, I was barred from traveling along with other pharmacists, doctors, and certain professionals.

I wanted to leave, but what would I do? Where would I go? Only a handful of countries even allowed travel on an Iraqi passport. My parents and siblings fled to Syria, and later to Jordan. I stayed in Baghdad.

With my friends and family gone, I felt very isolated and alone. It also became unsafe to move around—even to do simple things like go to a restaurant or to the market.

In 2009, I managed to come to the U.S. as a refugee, and I was happy to leave Iraq behind. But even though I’d given up on my country, I had hope that things would not get as bad as they have today. It is my worst nightmare that an extremist group like the Islamic State has support in Iraq and, though it pains me to say this, the aftermath of the U.S. invasions has brought us to this point.

I despised Saddam, but I don’t think an extremist group like the Islamic State would exist under his rule. Even if Saddam had gone crazy and killed a bunch of people, it wouldn’t be anywhere near the number of people who have died since he was overthrown. I see a civil war coming, and an Iraq divided into states.

So as I read the news on CNN Arabic and the BBC while pacing around the house, I feel as if I’m experiencing a death in the family. I’m going through the stages of grief—denial, anger, depression. Lately, I’ve even tried to avoid reading the news at all.

Sometimes, I watch old YouTube videos that show the way Iraq used to be. The Iraq I loved and was proud of—the country I lived in before 1990—doesn’t exist anymore. And I don’t see that changing in my lifetime.

Saif Al-Azzawi lives in Los Angeles. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

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