TIME foreign affairs

Garry Kasparov: It’s a War, Stupid!

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A pro-Russian rebel walks in a passage at a local market damaged by shelling in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on Aug. 26, 2014 Mstislav Chernov—AP

This vocabulary of cowardice emanating from Berlin and Washington is as disgraceful as the black-is-white propaganda produced by Putin’s regime, and even more dangerous

As Russian troops and armored columns advance in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian government begs for aid from the free world it hoped would receive it and protect it as one of its own. The leaders of the free world, meanwhile, are struggling to find the right terminology to free themselves from the moral responsibility to provide that protection. Putin’s bloody invasion of a sovereign European nation is an incursion, much like Crimea — remember Crimea? — was an “uncontested arrival” instead of anschluss. A civilian airliner was blown out of the sky just six weeks ago — remember MH17? — and with more than 100 victims still unidentified, the outrage has already dissipated into polite discussions about whether it should be investigated as a crime, a war crime or neither.

This vocabulary of cowardice emanating from Berlin and Washington today is as disgraceful as the black-is-white propaganda produced by Putin’s regime, and even more dangerous. Moscow’s smoke screens are hardly necessary in the face of so much willful blindness. Putin’s lies are obvious and expected. European leaders and the White House are even more eager than the Kremlin to pretend this conflict is local and so requires nothing more than vague promises from a very safe distance. As George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay on language right before starting work on his novel 1984 (surely not a coincidence): “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” The Western rhetoric of appeasement creates a self-reinforcing loop of mental and moral corruption. Speaking the truth now would mean confessing to many months of lies, just as it took years for Western leaders to finally admit Putin didn’t belong in the G-7 club of industrialized democracies.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko just met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, but Obama’s subsequent statement showed no sign he’s willing to acknowledge reality. Generic wishes about “mobilizing the international community” were bad enough six months ago. Hearing them repeated as Ukrainian towns fall to Russian troops is a parody. (If legitimacy is what Obama is after, Russia is clearly in violation of nearly every point of the 1974 U.N. Resolution 3314, “definition of aggression.”) Perhaps Poroshenko should have matched Obama’s casual wardrobe by wearing a T-shirt that read, “It’s a War, Stupid.” As Russian tanks and artillery push back the overmatched Ukrainian forces, Obama’s repeated insistence that there is no military solution in Ukraine sounds increasingly delusional. There is no time to teach a drowning man to swim.

The U.S., Canada and even Europe have responded to Putin’s aggression, it is true, but always a few moves behind, always after the deterrent potential of each action had passed. Strong sanctions and a clear demonstration of support for Ukrainian territorial integrity (as I recommended at the time) would have had real impact when Putin moved on Crimea in February and March. A sign that there would be real consequences would have split his elites as they pondered the loss of their coveted assets in New York City and London.

Then in April and May, the supply of defensive military weaponry would have forestalled the invasion currently under way, or at least raised its price considerably — making the Russian public a factor in the Kremlin’s decisionmaking process much earlier. Those like me who called for such aid at the time were called warmongers, and policymakers again sought dialogue with Putin. And yet war has arrived regardless, as it always does in the face of weakness.

As one of the pioneers of the analogy I feel the irony in how it has quickly gone from scandal to cliché to compare Putin to Hitler, for better and for worse. Certainly Putin’s arrogance and language remind us more and more of Hitler’s, as does how well he has been rewarded for them. For this he can thank the overabundance of Chamberlains in the halls of power today — and there is no Churchill in sight.

As long as it is easy, as long as Putin moves from victory to victory without resistance, he gains more support. He took Crimea with barely a shot fired. He flooded eastern Ukraine with agents and weaponry while Europe dithered. The oligarchs who might have pressured Putin at the start of his Ukrainian adventure are now war criminals with no way back. The pressure points now are harder to reach.

The Russian military commanders, the ones in the field, are not fools. They are aware that NATO is watching and could blow them to bits in a moment. They rely on Putin’s aura of invincibility, which grows every day the West refuses to provide Ukraine with military support. Those commanders must be made to understand that they are facing an overwhelming force, that their lives are in grave danger, that they can and will be captured and prosecuted. To make this a credible threat requires immediate military aid, if not yet the “boots on the ground” everyone but Putin is so keen to avoid. If NATO nations refuse to send lethal aid to Ukraine now it will be yet another green light to Putin.

Sanctions are still an important tool, and those directly responsible for commanding this war, such as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu must be held accountable. Sanctions must also broaden. The chance to limit them only to influential individuals and companies is over. The Russian people can change Putin’s course but have little incentive to take the great risks to do so under current conditions. Only sanctions that bring the costs of Putin’s war home can have an impact now. This was always a last resort, and it wouldn’t be necessary had the West not reacted with such timidity at every step. (The other factor that is already dimming the Russian people’s fervor is the Russian military casualties the Kremlin propaganda machine is trying so hard to cover up.)

As always when it comes to stopping dictators, with every delay the price goes up. Western leaders have protested over the potential costs of action Ukraine at every turn only to be faced with the well-established historical fact that the real costs of inaction are always higher. Now the only options left are risky and difficult, and yet they must be tried. The best reason for acting to stop Putin today is brutally simple: it will only get harder tomorrow.

Kasparov is the chairman of the New York City–based Human Rights Foundation.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Warns of Extended Campaign Against ISIS

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks about veterans issues at the American Legion’s 96th National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Charles Dharapak—AP

The President makes his first public comments on the U.S. military campaign in Iraq since returning from vacation

President Barack Obama pledged Tuesday that the United States would not rest until it brought to justice the killer of American journalist James Foley at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” Obama told an audience of veterans and their families at the American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. a week after the extremist group released a video showing the graphic execution of Foley by an ISIS fighter. These were Obama’s first public comments on the conflict since returning from vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.

“Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple. America does not forget, our reach is long, we are patient, justice will be done,” Obama said, referencing Foley’s killing. “We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans to go after those who harm Americans. And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland.”

As he weighs expanding the fight against ISIS into Syria, Obama warned that “history teaches us of the dangers of overreaching and spreading ourselves too thin and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Obama has yet to decide whether to authorize the expansion of the weeks-long American air campaign in Iraq against the group.

Obama said that the strikes against ISIS have been limited to protecting U.S. forces and diplomats in Iraq, reaffirming that U.S. troops would not be sent back on the ground beyond an advisory capacity.

“Let me say it again: American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq,” he said. “We’ll not allow the United States to be dragged back into another ground war in Iraq because, ultimately, it is up to the Iraqis to bridge their differences and secure themselves.”

TIME Economics

What Everyone Gets Wrong About Argentina

Argentina Seeks to Skirt U.S. Ruling by Paying Bonds Locally
Axel Kicillof, economy minister for Argentina, speaks during a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Grossly oversimplified versions of history are regularly used as econ class morality tales

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I woke up a couple of weeks ago to an Argentina that had, against its will, defaulted on its sovereign debt. For those unversed in international finance terminology, that basically means a country is failing to make payments due to bondholders. These situations are often accompanied by economic chaos, but, fortunately, the day was anti-climactically lacking in catastrophe. The New York Times wondered if we were in denial.

Not a chance. National headlines proclaimed imminent disaster, while the minister of economy’s announcement of failed negotiations received reality-TV-worthy audiences. Every conversation since has hinged on the “default,” and whose fault it is. Government officials have taken flak for parsing definitions of default, but they have a point: more than broke, Argentina is caught in a judicial Catch-22. This isn’t denial, but it is uncharted territory. In Buenos Aires, where I have lived most of my life, some people have taken to calling the unique situation a “Griefault,” in honor of the New York judge, Thomas Griesa, who got us into this mess.

To make a long story short, after Argentina’s history-making default in 2002, the country successfully renegotiated terms with 93 percent of its bondholders, and has been meeting those obligations. But “hold-out” hedge funds in possession of some of the bonds demand full payment and convinced Judge Griesa to force Argentina to pay them in full if anyone was going to be paid at all. That is an untenable solution for Argentina’s government, which points out that the vast majority of bondholders agreed to renegotiate terms on condition that no one else get a better deal – which is what the New York court asked Argentina to provide the hedge fund plaintiffs. In the end, a deal that maximized the interest of almost all parties is how being held hostage by a small number of bondholders. (More detailed explanations of the convoluted story can be found here and here.)

Maybe when you’ve already lived through every sort of default, devaluation, inflation, hyperinflation scenario imaginable (all that and I am still only 31!), you start developing a thicker skin. You follow and opine on arcane financial developments with passion generally only reserved for our national soccer team during World Cup season. Competing inflation indices and their differing methodologies are legitimate dinner conversation fodder here. I can hardly understand my credit card statement, but I have spent the past month in heated debate with friends about obscure debt-restructuring contract clauses governed by New York law.

Our history also leaves us with a healthy fear of economic instability, because it eventually affects every aspect of our life and everybody around us, even if the immediate effects of “default” haven’t yet had an effect on people’s day-to-day lives. Though the jury is still out on exactly how it will affect individuals, the decline in international credibility caused by a default would reduce access to foreign credit for provincial and private enterprise, as well as lessen foreign investment in the country. These could cause a downturn in the general economy. Argentina has mostly been locked out of international capital markets for more than a decade, so what’s really a shame is that all the painstaking economic reconstruction over that period in this country of 40 million people is now in jeopardy.

Beyond its financial travails, Argentina remains stuck in the tiresome role of case study and cautionary tale to the rest of the world. Argentina is the smart teen who went off the track, the high school pothead parents warn you about.

Grossly oversimplified versions of Argentina’s history are regularly used as econ class morality tales: one of the early 20th century’s wealthiest countries that failed to develop, the International Monetary Fund poster child that blew up, the country that in 2002 committed the most spectacular sovereign-debt default in history and, now, the country that somehow was forced into another default by a judicial order.

But these vignettes are more interested in making the point that Argentina detonated its unbelievably bright future through some intrinsic character flaw than including all the relevant details about Argentina’s history. A Roger Cohen op-ed in the New York Times last February is fairly illustrative of the genre: they always start with a lamentation of what we could have been. The author compares our wealth 100 years ago to Sweden, France, and Italy. Then, tragedy strikes. He argues it came in the form of Juan Perón, who shaped “an ethos of singular delusional power.” That’s pretty dismissive of a thrice-elected president whose party continues to win democratic elections and define national politics to this day. Imagine talking about FDR that way.

The clichés about Argentina – surely you’ve seen the musical – make for a good finger-wagging, “Don’t-be-like-Argentina” admonition that might keep impressionable countries in line, even if they say very little about Argentina’s reality. The caricature is predicated on flashes of fact: export riches, a wealthy elite, and massive immigration. Left out are the thornier questions of political culture, adverse international trading patterns, Cold War realpolitik and the like. Researching why Argentina couldn’t be more like Canada is like trying to figure out why a tadpole failed to develop into fish.

Yet, the misguided and dismissive commentary from abroad is mirrored by Argentina’s own domestic obsession with identifying the “wrong turn” in our history – a more nuanced sport than the one played at our expense by outsiders, but equally corrosive.

The never-ending quest for the source of our decline is nothing but a red herring. There’s no moment when our golden future came tumbling down, because the whole story is a fairytale. Alejandro Grimson, an Argentine anthropologist who explores this misguided belief, places the roots of Argentina’s delusion of grandeur and European-ness in the beliefs of Argentina’s 19th century elites who were, indeed, fantastically wealthy, although nobody else was. “As time passed, this idea took root, that Argentines had a magnificent destiny that we had not been able to reach, for some mysterious reason or through the fault of one group or another. Each decade we were further from that illusion,” he writes in his book on Argentine myths. A sense that we were powerless to stop this loss took hold even though Argentinians helped contribute to the decline by supporting a weak democracy, a trigger-happy military, and a polarized, highly politicized society.

And this is our own form of exceptionalism. American exceptionalism is predicated on the idea that Americans are number one; Argentine exceptionalism is predicated on the idea that we should have been number one, but were robbed (or blew it, depending on how you want to play the game).

Buenos Aires boasts impressive French-style façades and a tremendous cosmopolitan culture, making it easy for outsiders to continue being fooled, assuming we’re a nation comparable to Sweden. Argentina’s history and trajectory start to seem less exceptional and aberrational when you compare it to its neighbors: Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, though of course each country’s history has its own unique circumstances.

But no one, certainly not a people known for its quirky attachment to hyperbole, wants to be just another “normal” country. As Grimson argues, if we can’t be the best country in the world, we’re determined to make the case that we’re somehow the worst. And, of course, we’re quick to be offended when outsiders start making the same case and playing our “how-could-this-all-have-gone-so-wrong” game.

I myself refuse to keep playing. No matter what some New York judge says, and no matter what we could have, should have, might have been in the imagination of certain pundits, the Argentina I know is making its own future, with all the contradictions and difficulties endemic to democracy and our history. We’re not the French or the Swedes by a long shot – but that’s a good thing. I think we’re way better.

Jordana Timerman, a Buenos Aires native, is a member of La Fábrica Porteña, a Buenos Aires policy platform. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic’s City Lab, Foreign Policy, and The Nation. Ms. Timerman’s father, Héctor Timerman, is the foreign minister of Argentina.The views expressed in this piece are purely her own. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME foreign affairs

How Hope for a Kurdish State Vanished Overnight

IS-led militants driven from Mosul Dam
Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces take security precautions against possible ISIS-led attacks around the Mosul Dam on August 19, 2014 in Mosul, Iraq. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Many thought it would be the future of Iraq. Then ISIS came along

Just one month ago, the Chief of Staff to Kurdish President Barzazi and the Kurdish Defense Minister travelled to Washington, D.C., and policy makers wondered if, finally, the time was ripe for an independent state. The Iraqi province of Kurdistan was held up as what Iraq could be: a secure area with a booming economy and a what was thought to be a well-trained army.

After the American-led no fly zone in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991, the Kurds focused on internal economic growth by taking advantage of the vast supply of oil. The Kurdish Regional Government convinced oil companies like ExxonMobil, Total and Gazprom to defy the government in Baghdad and invest in the region by showing them how stable their investment would be–while the rest of Iraq became engulfed in the rising number of IEDs.

A model for regional stability, an independent Kurdistan was the future of Iraq, many (including Vice President Biden) thought.

Then ISIS came.

In June, ISIS took over the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, and quickly focused their sights on the northeastern Kurdish region. While groups like the Afghan Taliban receive funding through the illicit trade of illegal drugs like heroin, ISIS is much more sophisticated, said Steve Levine, a New America Future Tense Fellow, at a recent panel discussion held at New America. They are doing something that no terrorist group has been able to do so far: gain control of standard resources like wheat fields, oil refineries and dams that power hydroelectric plants. They’re organized, they have a central command and control center, they’re logistically sophisticated and they have democratized violence using social media for their own purposes. All of these things have allowed ISIS to continue their advance and drive at the heart of the Kurdish independent region, that is, oil refineries in the north, and so the bubble has burst on dreams of an independent Kurdistan.

As recently as last week, the Kurdish city of Erbil was attacked in a strong offensive by ISIS, and American diplomats living in the city were in danger. Fearing another Benghazi disaster, which left four American diplomats dead, President Obama ordered the use of targeted airstrikes to slow the advance of ISIS. Bolstered by these airstrikes, the Peshmerga have pushed back ISIS in concentrated areas. But in vast areas without air support, the losses of the Peshmerga have continued. Without proper training and experience, the Peshmerga simply have not performed as expected, said Derek Harvey (Ret.), a Former Senior Analyst for Iraq for General David H. Petraeus. The losses currently being felt by the Peshmerga may be due to the fact that after the Iraqi government pulled out of several towns, and that the Kurds over-extended their territory, extending their borders by almost 40 percent overnight, said Denise Natali, a Senior Research Fellow at the National Defense University.

At the same time that Kurds have been taking these significant territorial losses, the backbone of their economy — their oil industry — evaporated almost overnight. All of the major oil companies in the Kurdish region have left, and the economy has come to a virtual standstill, said Natali. More so, Kurdish tankers that are currently carrying oil have been operating in international legal limbo and sitting just off shore. Unable to dock and unload their cargo, a legal battle has began in American civil courts. To the delight of the government in Baghdad, the State Department has actively called countries and oil traders to discourage the oil from being purchased.

In fact, even if the oil industry was operating as usual, the idea of an economically vibrant Kurdish state was a myth. “The Kurdish economy has been propped up by the government in Baghdad, the United States, and even Iran,” said Natali. “Even if the oil industry is operating at full capacity, they would essentially be a client state of Turkey.”

The advance of ISIS has shown that Kurdistan cannot succeed without a strong Iraq, and vice versa. The U.S. airstrikes that have bolstered the Kurds have been closely coordinated with the government back in Baghdad, and the intelligence shared between the two armies has been essential. As for the Kurdish oil, it can only be exported if Baghdad drops its proprietary claims and allows it to be sold on the international market. Put simply: the fantasy of a Kurdish independent state has evaporated for the time being. But if the Kurds continue to work with the government in Baghdad, there’s a chance that they could prevent ISIS from spreading into Jordan or Lebanon and further destabilizing the region, and, if they’re lucky, they could start to rebuild the region — together.

Justin Lynch is the Social Media Coordinator at the New America Foundation. Emily Schneider is a research associate for the national security program at New America. This piece originally appeared on The Weekly Wonk.

TIME foreign affairs

Turkey’s First Presidential Elections Were No Democracy

Turkish Youth Union (TGB) protested against Erdogan on
Turkish Youth Union (TGB) protested against Erdogan on August 11, 2014 in Ankara after Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the presidential election. Basin Foto Ajansi—LightRocket via Getty Images

Erdogan’s relentless campaigning was politics theatrics

My 10 year old and a few of his friends wanted to pose in front of a huge Erdogan poster in an upscale Ankara neighborhood 10 days before the presidential elections. One of his friends, who attends a private elementary school and has secular parents said, “Let’s do two thumbs up.” When I asked “But why?” they all replied, “He is the winner.” Arda’s not a fortune teller. There were no surprises in the election results. And when there are no surprises, is it really democracy?

One bad sign is declining turnout. Seventy-four percent of the eligible voters turned out to vote. While that is high for the U.S., it’s the lowest turnout in Turkey since 1977, when voting became compulsory. Even a few months ago in, turnout for municipal elections were 90%.

Even though it was the first time Turkish expats were allowed to vote where they reside, more than 80% chose not to vote.

You can explain this away if you are trying to put a good face on it. Ramadan had just ended. Farm workers were travelling around the country. The strategy of the main opposition’s joint candidate, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, backfired: The leaders of the major left and right wing opposition parties aimed to join forces against Erdogan, but their constituents did follow the plan. Ihsanoglu failed to generate a boost among conservatives, and in many cities nationalist voters opted for Erdogan. Ihsanoglu refrained from rallies during Ramadan while Erdogan campaigned relentlessly. His absence from the trail allowed Erdogan to even convince voters “Ihsanoglu is neutral on Gaza.” (It’s hard to imagine Ihsanoglu was truly indifferent about the Palestinian issue since he was the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Countries for a decade.) The left’s candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, out-performed many expectations, doubling his party’s vote, but many on the left feared that, as a Kurd, he might vote with their bloc.

But, we’re burying the lead. This was the first time Turkish voters had the opportunity to directly choose their president, and not just any President, but the man who has so consolidated his political power that this election may have taken him past the point of authoritarian return.

Sure, overall, it was a free election in a democratic country. Yet, if we scratch the surface, we see that it could hardly be referred as a “fair” election. The Organization of Security and Co-Operation in Europe produced a 13-paged report explaining why the Turkish presidential elections were not fair. In a sign of the consolidation of power in Turkey, the Supreme Board of Elections promptly discarded OSCE’s report as “groundless,” though it failed to refute the agency’s findings.

Signs of Erdogan’s tightening grip on his country’s levers of power are easy to see in the restricted media, ambiguous election rules, and lack of accountability on campaign finance regulations. Let’s start with the media, and not just the media, but the ability to be seen by Turks at all. Until the last 15 days, Demirtas was almost never seen on Turkish state-run television. I was living in a neighborhood the opposition won—and not a single photo of Demirtas or Ihsanoglu was present — it was all Erdogan. It is difficult to call it an equal playing field given the opposition’s lack of access to media.

On the media, OSCE reported that: “TRT1 devoted 51 per cent of coverage to Mr. Erdoğan, while covering Mr. İhsanoğlu and Mr. Demirtaş with 32 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively. In addition, 25 per cent of Mr. İhsanoğlu’s coverage was negative in tone, while Mr. Erdoğan’s coverage was almost all positive.”

This was explained as “normal” by the Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, who was perplexed that opposition candidates would demand more time on TV. Arinc asked, “how can the opposition candidates be equal with Erdogan?”

Erdogan also benefited from the ambiguity of election and campaign rules and regulations. The January 2012 Law on Presidential Elections (LPE) received no support from opposition parties and there was little public consultation. This law established the direct election of the president, but also blocked anyone to be a candidate unless 20 parliamentarians nominated him or her. If a judge or a banker wanted to run, they’d be required to resign prior to becoming a candidate for Presidency. But the law that says this is required for “fair” elections lets a Prime Minister or a Minister (read: Erdogan) stay in his job, with all the attendant powers over media that come with incumbency.

The law allowed candidates to fundraise from the public and set donation limits for individuals, but it left unregulated financial contributions from political parties and candidates’ personal funds, which mean you can’t find out who paid for political advertising, rallies, and other expenses.

Even before that law, the 1982 constitution gave the Supreme Board of Elections powers without judicial review, erasing any concept of “separation of powers,” and taking away the power to appeal election disputes.

Given all this power, many pundits wondered why Erdogan had campaigned so intensely. Yet, when your goal is not just the election, but a transformation of the political scene, you need to keep up the game. Erdogan’s relentless campaigning was to convince its constituencies for the legitimacy of an “executive presidency.” That might sound like the U.S. presidential system, but he’s not interested in the rest: federalism, a bicameral Congress or independent Supreme Court.

Known to follow the public opinion surveys carefully, Erdogan was well aware that Turkish public was not in favor of a “presidential system”; hence, he utilized this campaign process to lay the foundations of the idea. The net effect of his talking down the premiership, and talking up the presidency, was to convince voters the office is not so important, that Erdogan runs the show from whichever seat he occupies.

Who can stand in front of Erdogan’s dreams? In the last 12 years, press has been successfully tamed; judiciary, security forces and almost all bureaucracy skillfully stacked with loyalists; laws have been repeatedly revised to silence any opposition and corruption charges against himself and his allies. He eloquently established institutions and promptly declared them useless–the latest example being TIB, a telecommunications board. Legislation is frequently an expedited process and the public rarely has an opportunity to view what is at stake.

Erdogan has won another election, but it represents a dramatic expansion of his powers, not just another office. He has made it quite clear that he aims for an illiberal democracy, where even questioning why there could not be a live presidential debate between candidates would promptly put your name on the blacklist. In the corridors of Ankara, the game is the same: new Turkey means more of Erdogan.

If even a child can tell you who will win an election 10 days before the vote, do you have a democracy anymore?

Pinar Tremblay is a visiting scholar of political science at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. This piece originally appeared at The Weekly Wonk.

TIME foreign affairs

My Jewish Family’s Incredible Shrinking World

Rabbi Shmuel Segal of the Jewish educati
Rabbi Shmuel Segal of the Jewish education centre looks up at the Chanukkah lights in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, December 20, 2011. Odd Andersen —AFP/Getty Images

Synagogues from the UK to France have been defaced, and there's no sense of outrage to be found

My first flight was international, 2,500 miles from my birthplace in Kyubishev, Russia, to Rome, Italy in 1978. Italy was a common stopover for Russian Jews fleeing the Soviet Union. We stayed three months in a small apartment in Ladispoli, a suburb of Rome. I ate a lot of chocolate and oranges while my parents learned Italian and waited to hear that America would let us in.

When we got to Brooklyn, they got busy working. In Russia, my father had been a doctor, my mother a teacher. Here, he drove a cab and she knitted yarmulkes for the local Judaica store.

My parents had spent their lives looking at maps of the world and planning where they would go when they were free. We were poor, but they saved all of their money for the traveling we would do. The world was suddenly so big, after a lifetime of insurmountable Soviet borders, and we were going to go everywhere. My first trip was to Venezuela in 1983.

The first few days we stayed at the Caracas Hilton. It was magical. I had never seen a pool that big. I may have never seen a pool at all. No one spoke English but, well, neither did we, so a lot of the conversations were an interpretive dance. We’d act out eating to find the restaurant and spoke in pidgin Italian and hoped it was close enough. Somehow it always was.

Two days later we flew to Canaima National Park, our real destination. We slept in a hut, swam in red water and saw piranhas. We’d hear animals outside of our door at night. I saw little children on monkey bars at a nearby school and marveled at how similar they were to me.

No one goes to Venezuela anymore. It became, for all intents and purposes, off-limits years ago. The State Department warns American travelers about kidnappings and suggests not visiting.

We traveled a lot through my childhood and adolescence. My parents were partial to weird places: Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana in South America, and the Amazon River, where I saw bugs the size of my head and met people who didn’t use currency so they traded their handmade goods for Disney World t-shirts. We saw beautiful, safe places, along with the strange and dangerous. Istanbul, Punta del Este, Buenos Aires and a tiny island called Îles des Saintes all stick out in my mind. But what I remember most from our family trips is the smell of sewage, impoverished children selling gum to tourists and an element of danger everywhere we went as my parents forced my brother and me to really see our wide, strange world.

When I traveled alone for the first time, I wanted something more…familiar. I didn’t want to worry about drinking the water; I didn’t want to do that interpretive dance. My first trip alone, at 17, was to England, Scotland and Wales. They spoke our language, sort of, but everything was different enough to mark it foreign. I got off the bus in beautiful Edinburgh and ended up falling deeply in love with Scotland, visiting again the next summer, then living there two separate times during college. When I tell my 4-year-old daughter about that time, I add that I’ll take her there someday.

Will I, though?

My children both had passports before they turned one. Unfortunately, the big world, the one my family couldn’t wait to see, is getting smaller. I keep track of places off-limits to me because I am Jewish, and that list grows all the time. I check Wikipedia for countries that don’t “recognize” Israel. Those are the ones where I know definitively I am unwelcome. North Africa is tough. I’m only partially surprised Sudan doesn’t recognize Israel, even though U.S. Jews showed an overwhelming support for Darfur. Truth be told, I’m in no rush to get to Mali or Somalia. I guess I’ll miss out on Morocco.

The Middle East is even more fraught, of course. “You can go to United Arab Emirates, certainly to Dubai,” people say. Can I? “Don’t be too open about being Jewish but they don’t care there. They’re very modern.” My husband was born in Israel and it says so on his American passport. They don’t allow Israelis into the United Arab Emirates, at least that’s the official policy of this “modern” country. Even if he wasn’t marked for exclusion, I’m not keeping my Jewishness a secret. If Saudi Arabia opened its doors to me tomorrow, I still wouldn’t go. I’m not covering my head. I’m a woman of the free world, I have spent my life being grateful for this, knowing that a twist of fate gave me freedom I could have so easily not have had.

I wore a Star of David around my neck the entire time I lived in Scotland. I think I’d be uncomfortable doing the same now. The rage emanating from Europe toward Jews is white hot. A synagogue in Surrey was defaced. Another synagogue was vandalized in Miami of all places. But what’s lacking when it happens in Europe is any sense of outrage from the Europeans. In Miami the atmosphere was “how could this happen here?” In Europe there is no such question. Of course it happens there. In France, when synagogues get firebombed, as they do with alarming frequency, there isn’t a national movement to say they won’t stand for it. They very much stand for it. French Jews are the scapegoats for the real problems in France, between the French and those the French call “the Arabs,” even though “the Arabs” have lived there for decades and should just be French by now. Forget Turkey, a country I once enjoyed visiting. They went off the rails years ago. It’s an election year in Turkey now, so obviously Israel is the top issue in a country with 9% unemployment.

Israeli performers get disinvited from a festival in Edinburgh as if disinviting artists from countries whose politics you don’t like is a normal thing to do. Where is the outrage? They pretend it’s because of Israel, not because they’re Jews. Then the Jewish Film Festival gets canceled in London. An embarrassment. Britain should hang its head in shame. It doesn’t. A crowd in Germany (in Germany!) shouts “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.” Where is Germany’s soul-searching that this goes on within its borders? Forget Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem signing an anti-Israel letter in a Spanish newspaper. No big deal when the second-biggest newspaper in Spain prints a piece arguing Jews “are not made to co-exist,” with references to how good they are with money, how they deserved expulsion, wondering how they still exist (“persist”) at all.

So no, I won’t be taking my daughter to Scotland anytime soon, or any place where Jews are made to feel unwelcome. I still want to see the whole world and show it to my children, but much of the world right now does not want to see us. I’d take my children to places off the beaten path. I don’t want it to be all Hiltons for them. Sometimes it has to be the hut. But I won’t take my children to places where they are hated for who they are.

I’ve heard that I shouldn’t let a few anti-Semites keep me from traveling. But it’s not the anti-Semites who are the problem. It’s the people in these countries sitting idly by and not saying that these people canceling Jewish film festivals or writing despicable op-eds don’t speak for them. The silence is what is so troubling. The optimist in me hopes things change and that the world opens up to us again. A lot would need to change for that to happen. I wonder if my kids will see Edinburgh or Caracas first.

Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

TIME foreign affairs

We Must Treat ISIS Like a State to Defeat It

Mosul's Makhmur following invasion of Peshmerga forces
Peshmerga forces inspect the death body of ISIS militants following Peshmerga forces' seizure of Makhmur by repelling ISIS militants in Makhmur town of Mosul, Iraq on August 11, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Statehood carries obligations and commitments—and these expose the group to failure

The international community does not yet understand the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Governments are accustomed to thinking of religious militants as networks of terrorists, saboteurs, assassins and opportunists hiding among the population – quintessential non-state actors, fighting the state. These ideas are obsolete against ISIS. ISIS is no mere militia; in its territory, it is the state. Its claims to statehood are neither unfounded nor ridiculous. Its control of vast territory and resources make it arguably the most powerful religious militant group in modern history. Just as states have strengths, however, they also have weaknesses. Exploiting these weaknesses is the only way to defeat ISIS – counterterrorism is not enough – but addressing the ISIS problem starts with understanding it.

ISIS will inevitably launch terrorist attacks on the United States. At present, however, the group is more focused on capturing land, territory, and resources, and fulfilling its dream of re-establishing the Islamic caliphate. ISIS’ proximate enemy is therefore not the United States, but any individuals, groups or governments standing in its path to statehood. As shown by its limited actions in Iraq, the United States has chosen to contain rather than destroy ISIS, and the group can certainly live with this. Having watched core al Qaeda sink into near irrelevance, ISIS has learned that, without secure territory, recruits and resources, it cannot confront the West. Indeed, even such a confrontation is just a means to a much broader, more ambitious end of de facto statehood.

Given the group’s limited size and ideological eccentricity, ISIS’ state-building project has been a surprising success. However, being a state carries obligations and commitments that expose ISIS to failure. By declaring a caliphate, ISIS committed itself to preserving and expanding its borders and controlling populations, including would-be dissidents. By projecting an image of confidence, control and inevitable victory, ISIS continues to attract local and foreign recruits, while co-opting its opponents or intimidating them into submission. Interrupting and rolling back some of its dramatic battlefield successes would have an enormous psychological impact, heartening its opponents, shattering its image of invulnerability and encouraging popular uprisings against it – insurgencies against the jihadist insurgents-turned-governors.

As an aspiring government authority, ISIS is also committed to providing public and social services to the population, activities in which it is already deeply engaged. These many public goods include power and water services, law enforcement, health care, dispute resolution, employment, education and public outreach. These responsibilities cost money, which in ISIS’ case comes from extortion (or taxation, as it were), control of energy and water resources, and plunder.

These sources are of course vulnerable to physical attack and disruption. Strategic assets such as oil facilities and utilities infrastructure are highly visible and vulnerable to air strikes. ISIS also makes little effort to disguise governing facilities, political headquarters and policy and security installations. As a self-appointed state, ISIS sees little reason to keep a low profile in its own territory. Remarkably, its rivals have made little to no effort to target these assets, which are essential pillars of ISIS’ political authority and governance. For those very reasons, however, destroying these facilities without empowering moderate Sunni groups to govern in ISIS’ place would only lead to state collapse in ISIS-held areas. International efforts continue to focus on foreign terrorist finances such as donations. ISIS – a self-funded organization – remains wealthy.

ISIS is brutal toward anyone who resists its rule or laws; force plays a significant role in its control over populations. Like any state, however, ISIS cannot govern by force alone. Governance requires at least some cooperation from key population segments – tribal leaders, local militiamen and business owners, professionals able to provide technical services, and others. ISIS’ ideology is unpopular, but like many citizens of dictatorships, ISIS’ subjects calculate that resistance is pointless without weapons, money and the ability to organize. On these fronts, they are outmatched, due in part to the lack of outside assistance for rebel groups fighting ISIS in its heartland in Syria. These potential subversives can be encouraged and enabled to overthrown the de facto ISIS government.

Above all, ISIS wants to control territory and borders. Otherwise it is just one militia among many others in Syria and Iraq. This requires fighting on multiple fronts against multiple enemies, within both Syria and Iraq. That means openly moving fighters, arms and equipment across vast desert areas. Therefore, like any conventional army, ISIS is prone to overstretch. These increasingly lengthy lines of communication are prime targets for ground and air attacks that would destroy ISIS’ territorial integrity and fighting capability. For now, however, its enemies – the Syrian regime, Syrian rebel groups, Iraqi Shia militias, Iraqi security forces and indeed the United States – are either unwilling or unable to hit ISIS where it would hurt most.

ISIS is certainly not more powerful than a coalition of all these potential rivals. Even taken alone, most of its enemies vastly outnumber it. But ISIS is adaptive, creative and ambitious. By contrast, the international community’s response has been rigid, predictable and unimaginative. If it continues to see and treat ISIS as simply a terrorist group, the international community will forever be playing defense, which ISIS can happily live with, until it no longer has to and can go on the offensive abroad. Unless its rivals understand and treat ISIS as a state, and exploit the vulnerabilities statehood presents, ISIS will continue to outclass them in ambition and sophistication, and it will have its state.

Faysal Itani is a resident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

TIME foreign affairs

Why Kurdish Independence Is the Only Solution for the World

IRAQ-UNREST-KURDS
An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter takes position on the front line in Bashiqa, a town 13 kilometers north-east of Mosul on August 12, 2014. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE—AFP/Getty Images

Even we Kurds are tired of the West rushing in to save us from Iraq. How long will the rest of the world tolerate this?

American air strikes against Islamist militants on the borders of Kurdistan this week saved millions of Kurds from a terrible nightmare. But I hope they didn’t also kill our dream of an independent state. Only a few weeks ago, Kurds were talking of declaring independence and forever separating from Iraq. We set up an electoral commission for a referendum; Iraqi flags disappeared from the tops of government buildings and amateur Kurdish banknotes began to circulate on the Internet. We had never felt closer to having our own state than we did in the past two months.

We were given this chance by the Islamist fighters who swept across Iraq, took over Sunni provinces and removed the Iraqi army—our historical nemesis—from our immediate borders. But now it seems that this same group has ruined our chance by attacking us too. Now that the United States is helping the Kurds with air power, I’m not sure if we can speak of independence anymore. The world might consider us the spoiled kid who keeps asking for more.

We might keep quiet for now, but this demand of millions of Kurds for a state of our own will resurface again. The Islamist militants aren’t going to roam along our borders forever, and the American bombing campaign will one day stop. Then we will take to the street again, wave the colorful Kurdish flag and pursue our lifelong goal.

This doesn’t mean we are opportunists. It rather means that only an independent state could answer our plight. I speak for the Kurds of Iraq. We haven’t had a happy experience with Iraq. Genocide, imprisonment, persecution and deportation have been our share in that country. There isn’t a single Kurdish family that doesn’t carry the scars of a loss. Many mothers are still waiting for the bones of their sons and daughters—buried by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s—to be found and brought home from the southern deserts of Iraq.

In Iraq we have a term, “Kurdish-Arab brotherhood,” that was coined and promoted by successive regimes. But the truth is more like Kurdish-Arab suspicion and distrust. The Kurds see Iraq as the cause of all their miseries and Iraq thinks the Kurds are the reason that the country has never been stable.

Both sides are right. Iraq has brutalized us for decades, and we have fought Baghdad politically and militarily for years. The Kurds and Iraq are like a couple that starts another fight every time they try to make up. It is a forced and loveless marriage and we need a wise judge to speed up an inevitable divorce.

A country for the Kurds will also spare the world a lot of headache. Western leaders have to pause for a moment and think how many times they have had to rush in and save the Kurds from Iraq. It has happened three times in my own life.

In 1991, when I was 12 years old, we prayed that the West would come and save us from a vengeful Iraqi army that had just been defeated by the allied forces in Kuwait, and they did. They imposed a no-fly-zone in northern Iraq and prevented a genocide. Again in 2003, we hoped that George W. Bush would topple Saddam Hussein because we feared a retaliatory chemical attack from Baghdad.

Now for a third time in less than 30 years, I see again the Western powers sending fighter jets to protect the Kurds from yet another catastrophe. For how long is the world going to do this? If they are not tired of it, the Kurds definitely are. It is absurd to tell the Kurds to stay with Iraq and then scramble fighter jets every 10 years to save them from that same country.

Part of the hostility towards the Kurds from their neighbors is because they see us as allies of the West. So now as the West is marking the centenary of the First World War that divided the Middle East and left the Kurds without a state, it is time they redeemed themselves and let the Kurds join the world community as a sovereign state.

The artificial borders of the Middle East aren’t so sacred to cling to so dearly, nor is Kurdistan a sleeping giant to be afraid of. Autonomous for 20 years, the Kurds have already passed the test for statehood. The Kurdistan Region is a place where religious and ethnic groups live side by side and the Kurds have maintained friendly relations with the East and West without holding our past tragedies against anyone.

Ayub Nuri is a Kurdish journalist from Halabja, Iraqi Kurdistan. He is editor-in-chief of Rudaw English.

TIME foreign affairs

‘My People May Soon Be Gone’

Iraqi Yezidis fleeing to Turkey
Iraqi Yezidi people flee from Sinjar town of Mosul to Turkey due to the attacks of Islamic State-led armed groups in Silopi district of Turkey's Sirnak city, on August 7, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

It’s impossible for Christians or Muslims to truly understand life as a religious minority in the global sense, especially one as small and marginalized as the Yazidis

My friend Sinan and I were on the phone with a dying young man.

But this 23-year-old Iraqi was not dying from a car crash or a bullet wound. He was one of the estimated 50,000 Yazidis stranded on Sinjar Mountain who have been dying of thirst, besieged by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants.

“It is difficult to speak since I haven’t had water in three days,” the man wheezed through the line. “We don’t have anything–food, water, a place to sleep. We are eating the trees and their leaves. The [Kurdish] peshmerga hasn’t come, the Iraqi army hasn’t come, humanitarian aid hasn’t come. There are so many thousands of people here. I know at least 100 people have died already, many of them children.”

I could see Sinan, also a Yazidi and a friend of the man, becoming emotional, his bottom lip beginning to twitch. After we hung up, Sinan began sobbing into his hands. Two of his friends came over and patted him on the back, offering the standard condolence: “God-willing, things will get better.”

When they left, Sinan whispered through his palms, “They can’t understand. They are Muslim. Their religion is big, they are not alone like we are.”

It took me a minute to understand him, but he was right, and I can’t really understand either. As a Christian, it’s impossible for me or for our Muslim friends to truly understand life as a religious minority in the global sense, especially one as small and marginalized as the Yazidis.

Yazidis, who practice what is considered one of the oldest religions in the world, are monotheists who believe God (or Yasdan) created the world and seven angelic beings to govern it. The most prominent of these beings is Malak Tawous, an angel whom Muslims and Christians often identify with Satan. The Yazidis’ reverence for a being considered by other religions to be evil led many (particularly Muslims) to deem them “Satan worshippers” and Muslim and Christians alike have used that term to demonize Yazidis and to justify persecution against them.

By most estimates, there are only about half a million Yazidis left in Iraq, which means a significant number of their already dwindling population is on that mountain now, still dying, even as the United States has initiated humanitarian air drops and reportedly considers rescue missions.

As we talked a little more, Sinan showed me the updates his friends and family members were sharing via their cell phones in real time, while under siege. “He was studying math at the university,” “she baked the best naan bread,” “this man’s daughter is missing,” he would say as he thumbed through Facebook.

Sinan finally stood up and pocketed his phone, saying he needed to go. He asked me to “tell America” about his people.

Now tremendous American, Iraqi, and Kurdish efforts are being made, but the situation is still dire for many on the mountain who cannot reach the aid that has been dropped, for those displaced in cities and on highways, and for the hundreds of Yazidi women who were just taken captive by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants.

“My people may be gone soon,” Sinan said as he walked away.

Today, the U.S. is actively working to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Jeremy Courtney is executive director of Preemptive Love Coalition, an international development organization in Iraq, and author of Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time.

TIME foreign affairs

Iraq War Soldier 10 Years Later: What Was It All For?

Clashes between Kurdish pershmergas and ISIL
Kurdish peshmerga fighters load missile launcher during the clashes with the army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

It has been almost a full decade since I’ve come back and I still don’t have an answer

The Iraq War — what was it good for? Absolutely nothing? That’s yet to be seen. As an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veteran who spent most of his 2003–04 deployment on the ground in Iraq as an infantryman, I think about such things. Especially since I was with a combat unit assigned to win hearts and minds while “punishing the deserving” in Mosul.

When reports first started coming out of Iraq that the black-flag-waving ISIS had completely taken over my unit’s old stomping grounds, my first thoughts were with the people of Mosul and all those who worked alongside us. Our interpreters — many of whom would cover their faces with scarves or baseball hats — risked their lives coming out on missions with us to their neighborhoods. There was also a high turnover rate. Many would stop showing up, not because they didn’t feel like it or didn’t like the job but because they received death threats or, worse, were murdered.

I never got her name, but there was one Iraqi interpreter I think about more now than ever. She always arrived to work with a warm smile and whatever book she was reading, always in English. One day we struck up a conversation in English, and from there we formed a bit of a friendship.

When I’d catch her sitting by herself and reading, I’d hit her up for free Arabic lessons. She always happily obliged. We’d talk about politics, Iraqi culture, books and Iraqi customs.

She taught English at the university level before the war. When she first heard rumors that the Americans were going to invade Iraq, she prayed and prayed that we would. She was convinced that Iraq would be better off without Saddam Hussein ruling it and that U.S. forces would do a lot of good for her country. At the time, I believed the same. She even joked that if the Americans weren’t going to come, she would fly to the White House and beg George W. Bush to “please invade Iraq.”

When this happened, her prayers seemed to be answered. She quit her job teaching English and became an interpreter for us.

One day, I stopped seeing her around the base. Some of the other interpreters told me “they” found out she was working with the Americans, so they murdered her sister.

So she quit.

Since being discharged from the military shortly after I returned in 2004, many have asked me, “Was it worth it?” I think of my Iraqi friend who always smiled and carried books with her everywhere she went and took time out of her day to teach me Arabic, and I wonder if she still thinks it was worth it. My mind floods with memories of the Iraqis in Mosul who did think it was worth it for us to be there, as well as forces clad in black and pointing their AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades at us while we were trying to complete our objectives: to “eliminate the enemy that continues to hinder progress for the Iraqi people,” “help Iraq restore its independence” and “remain in Iraq until our mission is complete.”

While I was in Iraq, I figured I’d have the rest of my life (if I came home) to think long and hard about the bigger questions like whether our fight was worth it, so why waste my time over there doing so when we still had a mission to complete? It has been almost 10 years, a full decade, since I’ve come back from Iraq, and I still don’t have an answer.

Ultimately, I think, that question would be best answered by an Iraqi. It’s their war now, and they know what they’re fighting for a hell of a lot more than I ever could.

The mission in Iraq appears to be far from complete, and I’m sure there are plenty of Iraqis right now praying for somebody, anybody, to invade their country or at least bomb it.

Buzzell is a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the author of two books, My War: Killing Time in Iraq and Lost in America: A Dead-End Journey

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