Monthly Archives: June 2013

So you Want to Arm the Syrian Rebels?

When the official announcement came this weekend that the United States Military will provide weapons to aid the Syrian rebels, my reaction was exactly this: “are we sure we wanna do this?” and polls show most of the country agrees with me.

Look, I understand that we really have no choice: President Obama painted himself into a corner by saying that if the Assad regime used chemical weapons we would arm the rebels. President Obama has close to no credibility left internationally, and very little at home. He could not afford to make a liar out of himself one more time. But the national security of a nation should not ever take a back seat to a President’s pride.

To begin with, it is not like chemical weapons are being thrown around like water balloons. By the administration’s own estimate there has been a fraction of one percent of the casualties in the war killed by chemical weapons: not exactly a holocaust. Moreover, the United States government will not even release their evidence of the chemical weapon use for analysis or scrutiny. After the last few weeks of scandals are we really supposed to just trust them? Even without the scandals, would their word be enough? The Russians have said the findings are not credible, which is certainly bias because they have been on the Assad side of the war for a while; however, the U.N. also questions the claims. If the government really did find evidence of the use of chemical weapons, does the American public not deserve to see that evidence before our nation joins another war in our name that most of us do not want?

There is also evidence to suggest the rebels have also used chemical weapons. If both sides are equally guilty of crossing the same red line, why is it fit for us to pick sides? Obama could easily save his own credibility by taking no side, and giving this as the reason.

Aside from the questionable motives, the United States participation in Syria should also be called into question by history and logic. History has not been kind to us when our government picks sides in a foreign revolution. We picked sides in Iran, and ended up with the Ayatollahs that now hold power. We aided the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan and ended up with the Taliban Regime. We had an ambassador and three others killed in Libya after supporting their revolution. Human rights violations, minority discrimination and crackdown on descent are now common in Egypt. Hundreds of people die each month in terrorist attacks in Iraq, and that nation is now far from settled. This time around in Afghanistan there are reports of wide spread corruption in the new–and anything but stable–government. Many feel that if the Taliban continues their attacks, the Afghan public may prefer their return to power so long as they can guarantee safety and stability.

The point is, it has rarely been in the long term benefit of the United States to sacrifice stability in a regime–even if a bad one–for democracy. One might argue Vietnam is the only time it has worked in our favor.321217_m

Logic really does not urge us to arm the rebels either. Of course, the White House insists that we only arm “good” rebels, but unless the NSA data collection is far more omniscient than we are being told there is simply no way to guarantee this. Not even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) could tell the difference. During his visit to the Syrian rebels, he may have had his picture taken with Ammar Al-Dadikhi, aka Abu Ibrahim–a man accused of kidnapping 11 people. Moreover, many people on the ground in Syria have reported that the “good” rebels, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), just turns and runs at the first sign of fighting. It is the Al Qaeda rebels that do the dirty work, and have most of the military power.

This tells us that if the FSA is given the weapons, Al Qaeda could easily just walk in to a base and demand they turn them over. American officials are also forgetting one major problem: money is not a standard in Syria. Weapons can and have been readily used for money in the Middle East. Giving the FSA weapons will likely result in many of them being sold, probably to Al Qaeda, if they do not just choose to take them. Weapons also do not have a quick shelf life. What will the FSA do with their arms when the conflict is over? If they have not sold them by then, they will certainly have little reason not to at that point.

Jumping into a war on the opposite side of Russia and Iran should raise some eyebrows. War makes strange bedfellows, and it may be the United States pairing with Al Qaeda to fight Hezbollah, Russia, and Iran. The evidence is not solid, the outcome is not certain, the future is questionable, and the idea is not safe. So, I will ask this one more time; do we really want to arm the Syrian rebels?

–Matt Young

17 June 2013

Do You Care About Being Spied on?

I have written and deleted this column it seems like one hundred times since I first tweeted, minutes after the story broke, that the NSA was getting call records from millions of Verizon customers; but it seems like every hour we learn something new about the government spying on us, and it makes my previous ranting useless. Then, while all of this was coming out I realized something: people really do not care.

Think about it. Ask your co-workers, friends, and family what they think about being spied on, and I have found that most people–even random strangers I talk to have a really muted reaction. You would never guess it from the media outrage, but the general public is saying things like, “Oh well, Bush did it too”, or “is this really a surprise to people?” Of course, civil libertarians are freaking out (rightfully so), but it is not like people spent their Saturday protknoODbpesting in the streets, or marching on the Whitehouse. Not even the Republicans in Congress seem to mind. How ironic that the government would throw such a fit about the Chinese spying on them, then feel free to spy on us with no regard for privacy.

If President Obama had any credibility left after the IRS, Benghazi, Associated Press phone records, Fox Propaganda phone records, and Dora the Explorer scandals, it is surely gone now. He campaigned hard–really hard–on ending these kinds of things; that was lie number one. Now he tells us that when he got elected and looked at them they were not so bad after all. Then, in an attempt to try to calm everyone down he told us that every single member of Congress knew about these programs. Turns out that is not even close to true either. Now he is trying to tell us these surveillance techniques are not that serious; they are only minor privacy infractions that help keep the country safe, and do not reveal anything personal about anyone. What he is not telling you is that just by your phone metadata the government has the capability to predict exactly where you will be 24 hours from now. But do people really care? This is 2013; you do not need credibility to be a politician, you need popularity.

Just last week in his highly political speech, President Obama said terror groups are “focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based.” So, according to our Commander in Chief there are either a lot of terrorists based in America to warrant this breach of privacy, or he is lying to us telling us we need it. The purpose of the entire speech was to tell us that we are now much safer than we were immediately after 9/11, and therefore 9/11 style provisions and wars are no longer necessary. I suppose that does not include things like the Patriot Act and spying on your own citizens. But is that important?

Do Americans care that the NSA committed perjury in telling Congress that they do not collect data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans, or if they do it is by accident? Is it okay with the public that you and I go to prison for that, but nobody even raises an eyebrow when a presidential appointee lies? Does it even matter that our government is also carrying out these types of spying programs on just about everyone in the world? Have we come to accept that we have no privacy, and decided to just deal with it because of our first world privileges?

Members of Congress are not much more transparent; at least the ones that knew about it. Rep. Mike Rogers (R, MI), the House Intelligence Committee chair, hit the Sunday morning talk circuit to tell us how valuable these spying programs are. We have found out in the last few days that the government also spies on most major cell phone companies, as well as internet companies like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Apple, Facebook and others. They also have access to your emails through a program called PRISM. And it is helping you immensely to be spied on; so much so in fact that Rep. Rogers thinks those responsible for the leaks should go to prison–and the Justice Department reportedly agrees. But does anyone care?

The most puzzling thing about Rep. Rogers  comments was that he only named one U.S. terror attack this information had helped stop. It apparently did nothing to help in the Boston Marathon bombings, or any one of the recent mass shootings. How much safer are we from this surveillance? If it can stop 90% of attacks, is it worth it? 50%? 10%? Or are the politicians telling the truth? If it has only stopped one attack, can it really be that big a deal? Or can anyone anywhere really be wire tapped at any time as Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower suggests?NSA pickup

But does it even matter that Rep. Rogers, even with all the information we have, said the public “doesn’t not have a clue” about what the spying programs can really do? There does not seem to be public outrage, anger, or even frustration from any of this information. It seems that as long as spying does not affect the day to day lives of average citizens, the majority of the public could not care less. It seems that is the determining factor: when government spying becomes inconvenient, when it makes us late for our dinner reservation, or interrupt our TIVOed Survivor episode, then we might throw a fit.

In fact, this may be closer to a reality than you might like to imagine. Even before 9/11 the NSA suggested rethinking the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unlawful search and seizure, and is the basis for the argument against infractions such as racial profiling. This is the Amendment that mandates search warrants, and privacy guarantees. Were it to be “re-thought” big brother might come breaking down your door any time for no reason. When police or federal agents can come demand to see your computer, with no probably cause or warrant, America, will you become angry then?

–Matt Young

9 June, 2013

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