All posts filed under: Security

Alex Salmond’s Moral Corruption

Corruption in government is usually thought of, and investigated, as the appropriation of public funds for private purposes. There are, however, other kinds, and the case of Alex Salmond’s leadership displays two of these vividly. One is the menacing nature of his rule and personal conduct while leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister. The other is the propagandistic extremes to which his hatred of Britain has driven him. Salmond led the Scottish National Party from 1990 to 2000, before relinquishing the post to his deputy, John Swinney, for four years. When Swinney failed to sustain the party’s momentum, Salmond returned to lead it again in 2004. Three years later, when the SNP won the Scottish parliamentary elections, Salmond took the post of First Minister. Since then, his party has dominated Scots politics, reducing the once hegemonic Scottish Labour Party to third place behind the Scottish Conservative Party, itself a distant second. Salmond resigned in 2014, having failed to convince Scots to vote for independence in a referendum that same year. But the …

The Erdoğanization of Hungary

Earlier this week, ostensibly in light of the COVID-19 crisis, the Hungarian parliament granted the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, rule by decree. With fewer than 500 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus as of this writing, Hungary has not yet been badly hit by the pandemic, so this draconian measure was almost certainly unnecessary. Followers of European politics, however, are not surprised. Next month, Orbán will complete an uninterrupted decade in office (having previously served from 1998 to 2002), and his tenure has been marked by a series of moves to scale back post-Cold War liberalism hitherto embraced by Hungarians. In 1956, as the second decade of the Cold War got underway, an anti-communist revolution erupted in Budapest. Stalin had died a few years previously and been replaced by Nikita Khrushchev from the pro-reform faction of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party. Khrushchev’s speech before the Soviet congress, in which he had condemned Stalin, led commentators and analysts across the West to wonder if tensions might be easing. In the winter of that year, encouraged …

Sanders’ Indifferent City on a Hill

In the months since the outbreak of a deadly global pandemic, Americans have rediscovered the world outside. None of the contenders vying for the presidency in 2020 has articulated a particularly coherent or ambitious global role for America. But the only candidate who seems to understand at least that foreign policy is not a dispensable part of American politics is Joe Biden. It is possible that the appearance of a lethal virus incubated in the wet markets of Wuhan has persuaded voters in the Democratic primaries that Biden is the only viable option in a world of such bleak possibilities. The current incumbent, of course, is wedded to an “America-First” program—in truth, little more than an irritable mental gesture, to borrow Lionel Trilling’s gruff description of conservatism—that is plainly ill-suited to a superpower in an interconnected world. Trump’s brash pursuit of transactional dealing and short-term self-interest is also incompatible with the design of American power in a democratic order. Meanwhile, the Democratic field, evincing a deep-seated provincialism, has not inspired confidence about its willingness to …

Private Military Contracting Is Misunderstood

When I tell someone I used to be a security contractor, they almost always reply: “Oh you mean like those Blackwater guys?” I immediately have to dispel the myths and negative connotations associated with the private security industry. No, I do not work for and never have worked for Blackwater. I have, however, worked for Constellis, the company that purchased their successor, Academi. My very first contract was with the Department of Defense, fresh out of a standard Marine Corps career of four years—this time I could grow my hair slightly longer. After six months spent working for the Constellis corporate monolith, I decided to leave for another contract with a company that had been around just as long as Blackwater but with a more innocuous name—SOC. Constellis was my first taste of corporate employment: power points, rosters, emailing permissions, time sheets, supervisors for supervisors, positions in the company that were unicorn-like in their purpose. The Marine Corps prepares you for life in a bureaucracy, but its allure as a war fighting organization is able …

How Long Before the Regime Falls in Iran?

The death of Iranian Quds Force commander General Quassem Soleimani has produced some truly bizarre media coverage. Some Western media outlets are framing Soleimani’s death as the loss of a deeply beloved hero, such in this January 7th episode of the New York Times The Daily podcast. The podcast spends more than 20 minutes describing how Soleimani was a beloved totem, a living security blanket that Iranians believe protected Iran from instability (by fostering instability in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, apparently). The closest thing in the podcast to an acknowledgement that Soleimani led a group of armed thugs that viciously suppressed dissent in Iran, including turning their guns on Iranian protestors less than two months ago, was a single sentence in the podcast: “To be clear, there are plenty of Iranians who did not love or respect Soleimani.” “Plenty” seems an inadequate way to characterize the majority of Iranians. Seventy-nine percent of Iranians would vote the Islamic Republic out of existence if given a chance, according to one poll. Yet somehow that torrent of …

‘The Report’ Review—A Careful Examination of the CIA’s Interrogation Methods

The Report, a new film from Vice Studios starring Adam Driver, feels somehow both timely and late. It tells the story of American Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Driver), who was tasked with investigating the U.S. government’s “enhanced interrogation” program in the late 2000s. The program, which many denounced as torture, was used to extract intelligence from suspected terrorist detainees at CIA black sites after Al Qaeda’s attack on September 11, 2001. It ended years ago and is no longer even legal—the McCain-Feinstein Amendment restricts prisoner interrogation techniques to those listed in the United States Army’s field manual, and it passed the Senate with a 78–21 vote in 2015, backed by majorities in both parties. Among the general public, however, the topic remains controversial, with almost half of Americans saying they think torture could be used to obtain “important military information” from “a captured enemy combatant” and only a little more than half saying they think torture is “wrong.” During and after his 2016 campaign, President Donald J. Trump, ever-sensitive to divergences between “elite” and “popular” …

Tensions in NATO and the Looming End of Pax Americana

As NATO leaders gathered in London this week to mark the 70th anniversary of history’s most venerable military alliance, it has been widely forgotten that not so long ago the specter of armed conflict haunted the European continent. When the Washington treaty establishing NATO was signed in April 1949, the Soviet Union occupied the captive nations of Eastern Europe and an invasion of Western Europe by the Red Army was not a remote possibility. On current trends, the Atlantic alliance may well suffer a premature demise as the world moves into another great power rivalry that is also an ideological contest between democracy and autocracy. A terse review of the historical record is in order here. In the aftermath of World War Two, the United States committed itself to a revolutionary foreign policy. The extraordinary task of maintaining some semblance of international order after two global conflagrations was premised on a controversial but compelling notion of enlightened self-interest. The guiding principle of U.S. statecraft was that the peace of the world was in grave and …

The Availability Heuristic and Mass Shooting Fears

Fear of mass shootings is becoming a source of pervasive anxiety for an increasing number of people in the United States. A recent APA survey of American adults found that 79 percent of respondents reported experiencing stress because of the possibility of a mass shooting; a third of the sample even said that this fear held them back from going to certain places and attending events. This widespread anxiety is starkly out of step with the level of risk presented by these events, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss it. It’s easy to cite statistics about the number of people who die in mass shootings each year (372 in 2018 according to the Gun Violence Archive) and to reassure people that their actual risk of falling victim to a mass shooting is exceedingly low, yet, on its own, this sort of thinking does little to assuage fears. But why? Why doesn’t focusing on the numbers alleviate fear? And why are people so frightened of an event that poses such a minor overall risk? Part of the answer to these …

Abandoning Malmö to Its Criminals

“I think they just shot someone right across from my balcony,” my friend told me.  The gunshot rang out even as we were texting about another recent act of violence here in the Swedish city of Malmö—a car bomb that went off in a residential area close to my home. Acts of violence occur so frequently in Malmö that news of one blurs into the next. This year, there already have been 29 explosions in a city of just 320,000. Sweden as a whole is on pace for about 150—or about three per week (as Quillette has reported previously). These are attacks by criminal gangs that usually target other criminals. But the victims are sometimes innocent bystanders. In one recent case, for instance, a female student was severely injured in the face when she happened to pass by a shop that exploded in Lund, a ten-minute car ride from Malmö. The more spectacular attacks have left whole cities such as Malmö fearful and traumatized, as a grandmother explained in a recent Facebook post about a …

Palestine Misunderstood

From my home on the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv, I hear the Muslim call to prayer every day as it issues from a mosque half a mile away in neighboring Jaffa. Jewish Israelis see Arabic on their money, on street signs, on buses, and on the labels adorning foodstuffs that provide consumers with nutritional information. They hear Arabic in the stores, shopping malls, and cafes they routinely frequent. And if they visit a clinic or hospital, Jewish Israelis will hear Arabic spoken by their fellow patients, and by the doctors and nurses who tend to them. Israel may be the world’s only Jewish state, but Arabs account for roughly 21 percent of its population, so the sounds and sights of the Arabic language are simply part of daily life in this corner of the Levant. So I was surprised to learn, from an article written by Michael Humeniuk for Quillette, that “when Jewish Israelis hear spoken Arabic, which they perceive as screams, they don’t know if a bomb is about to go off or …