Opinion | Suleimani Is Dead, Iraq Is in Chaos and ISIS Is Very Happy – By Ali H. Soufan – The New York Times

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Mr. Soufan is a former F.B.I. special agent and the author of “Anatomy of Terror.”

Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

“In 2016, Donald Trump, then a candidate for president, described Barack Obama as the “founder of ISIS.” In the end, it may be Mr. Trump who comes to be known not as the terrorist group’s founder, but as its savior.

The Islamic State has been weakened considerably since its peak in 2015, when it controlled a territory the size of Britain, but the Trump administration’s targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani may have poised the group for a comeback. Just as the misguided American invasion of Iraq in 2003 revitalized Al Qaeda, some 17 years later, a return to chaos in the same country may yet do the same for the Islamic State.

Granted, the White House was correct to identify General Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, as an enemy of the United States. Using the militia groups he cultivated and controlled, he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of coalition soldiers in the late 2000s and early 2010s. But war in the Middle East is nothing if not complex; General Suleimani’s proxies also indirectly served American interests by fighting the Islamic State — to great effect.

Still, contrary to the breathless eulogies to him in Iran, he was not some indispensable hero who single-handedly defeated the Islamic State. Other commanders will fill his shoes, if not in star power then at least in strategic expertise. The real boon for the jihadists will be the second-order effects of his death.

Opinion | John Kerry: Diplomacy Was Working Until Trump Abandoned It – The New York Times

“Let’s get one straw man out of the way. General Suleimani was a sworn, unapologetic enemy of the United States, a cagey field marshal who oversaw Iran’s long strategy to extend the country’s influence through sectarian proxies in the region. He won’t be mourned or missed by anyone in the West. Occasionally, when American and Iranian interests aligned, as they did in fighting ISIS, we were the serendipitous beneficiaries of his relationships and levers, as were the Iraqis. But this was a rare exception.

That underscores the tragic irony of Mr. Trump’s decision to abrogate the nuclear agreement: It played into General Suleimani’s hard-line strategy by weakening voices for diplomacy within the Tehran regime. What Iranian diplomat would be empowered by a skeptical supreme leader to explore de-escalation with a country that broke its word on a historic agreement and then, in their words, “martyred” arguably Iran’s second most powerful figure?

Presidents make lonely, difficult decisions about the use of force to protect our interests — usually with the solace of knowing at least that diplomacy had failed. The tragedy of our current plight is that diplomacy was succeeding before it was abandoned.”

Biden Says He Didn’t Oppose Raid That Killed Bin Laden – 10/20/2015- The New York Times

“When asked specifically whether he had advised against the raid, Mr. Biden said: “Let me put it this way: My advice was, follow your instincts, knowing what his instinct was.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden’s evolution continued. Before an audience at George Washington University, Mr. Biden said he never gave Mr. Obama definitive advice on controversial issues in front of other officials, mindful that he did not want the rest of the team to see a difference between his opinion and that of the president. With others around them, Mr. Biden said he suggested one more pass over the Abbottabad compound with an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone.

After the meeting in the Situation Room, though, Mr. Biden said he privately gave the president his real view. “As we walked out of the room and went upstairs, I told him my opinion, that I said that I thought he should go but to follow his own instincts,” Mr. Biden said Tuesday.”

Opinion | Shock Waves From American Airstrikes in Iraq May Have Just Begun – The New York Times

“Iran-backed Shiite militias have been firing missiles at American troops and military contractors in Iraq for six months now, and last week they finally killed one of the Americans. On Sunday, the United States retaliated against the militia responsible with five airstrikes in Syria and Iraq that left 24 people dead and dozens wounded.

Militia commanders vowed vengeance, and thousands of protesters chanting “Death to America” marched through Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone on Tuesday and broke into the compound of the American Embassy. A new spiral of violence between the United States and Iran seemed in the making, although demonstrators ended their siege of the embassy on Wednesday.

This could hardly be what President Trump wants, if he has been sincere in saying he wishes to avoid wars in the Middle East. In June he aborted a retaliatory airstrike after Iran shot down an American drone. This time the administration decided to send a message that killing Americans serving or working in Iraq will not be tolerated.

Whether the airstrikes will serve as a deterrent, however, is doubtful, since it’s likely that the militias were trying to provoke just such a response.”

Hospitals and Schools Are Being Bombed in Syria. A U.N. Inquiry Is Limited. We Took a Deeper Look. – The New York Times

By Malachy BrowneChristiaan TriebertEvan HillWhitney HurstGabriel Gianordoli and 

“The bombs smashed into a child care center, a refugee camp and a school. They destroyed makeshift clinics and hospitals, disabling essential services for tens of thousands of people.

Over the past year, attacks on buildings in northwestern Syria, which are supposed to be off limits during wartime under international law, grew so frequent that the head of the United Nations launched an inquiry to document the violations.

Secretary General António Guterres’s establishment of the investigation is seen by many diplomats as a success at a United Nations largely stymied by division in the powerful Security Council. Russia, a Syrian government ally and a major perpetrator of these attacks, has cast 14 vetoes in the Security Council since the start of the war in Syria, blocking accountability efforts and hindering humanitarian aid deliveries into Syria.

Since April, at least 60 health facilities in northwestern Syria have been damaged in strikes, and at least 29 of them were on the off limits list. But the United Nations, at least so far, is looking at just seven incidents. A United Nations spokesman would not say how the inquiry’s sites were determined.

Human rights and medical groups that support hospitals in Syria have criticized the inquiry as insufficient, saying it fails to match the gravity of the violations. The inquiry, for example, is looking at only one attack likely to have been carried out by Russia, despite previous investigations by The New York Times that found Russia bombed hospitals at least five times in May and November.”

Seven incidents on the United Nations list investigated by The Times.Satellite image by Landsat and Copernicus, via Google Earth

Opinion | Why I Like Mike – By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Christopher Aluka Berry/Reuters

 

“I have a pet theory about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — that it is to wider trends in world affairs what Off Broadway is to Broadway. A lot of stuff seems to get perfected there in miniature — from airline hijackings to suicide bombings, from building walls to keep others out to lone wolf terrorism — and then moves to Broadway, to bigger stages.

So, I ask, what’s playing off Broadway these days? It’s a political drama that may offer a distant mirror on our own presidential politics.

Israel has held two national elections since April, but the country is so perfectly divided that it still hasn’t been able to produce a governing coalition. There are three trends worth noting, though, after these two Israeli elections — especially if you’re President Trump.

First, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu deployed openly racist tropes against Israeli Arabs to motivate his own hard-right base to get out and vote. Israeli Arabs finally had enough and basically said to Bibi: “You talking to us?’’ And in the second election in September they voted in huge numbers and created the third-largest party in Israel, weakening Netanyahu’s ability to form a new government. You never know whom you’re arousing when you start using dog whistles. Just sayin’, Mr. Trump.”

“. . .It was “billionaire’’ Bloomberg who funded the most radical and progressive green agenda of this era.

“Bloomberg’s Beyond Coal partnership with the Sierra Club broke the mold for environmental philanthropy,’’ notes Carl Pope, former head of the Sierra Club and now a partner with Bloomberg on Beyond Coal. “In 2010, 500 coal plants provided half of America’s power, at the price of more than 10,000 lives, staggering volumes of water pollution, and one third of total carbon dioxide emissions. The Sierra Club pitched Bloomberg that they could shut down a third of those plants with a three-year campaign, using grass roots community mobilization and aggressive regulatory interventions.”

Attracted by the combination of lives saved and climate impact, Pope added, “Bloomberg ponied up. Now, nine years and several renewals later, coal provides only a quarter of U.S. power, and retirements of more than half those coal plants have been secured. These retirements are largely responsible for U.S. climate progress over the last decade.’’ The steady fall in the price of gas and renewables was critical in undermining coal, “but Bloomberg’s $500 million for climate mitigation projects was also critical — as was his insistence that the green group, while using its own tool kit, measure its results rigorously.’’

As Kurds Tracked ISIS Leader, U.S. Withdrawal Threw Raid Into Turmoil – By Ben Hubbard and Eric Schmitt – The New York Times

QAMISHLI, Syria — When the international manhunt for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, zoomed in on a village in northwestern Syria, the United States turned to its local allies to help track the world’s most-wanted terrorist.

The American allies, a Kurdish-led force that had partnered with the United States to fight ISIS, sent spies to watch his isolated villa. To confirm it was him, they stole a pair of Mr. al-Baghdadi’s underwear — long, white boxers — and obtained a blood sample, both for DNA testing, the force’s commander, Mazlum Abdi, said in a phone interview on Monday.

American officials would not discuss the specific intelligence provided by the Kurds, but said that their role in finding Mr. al-Baghdadi was essential — more so than all other countries combined, as one put it — contradicting President Trump’s assertion over the weekend that the United States “got very little help.”

Yet even as the Syrian Kurdish fighters were risking their lives in the hunt that led to Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death this weekend, Mr. Trump abruptly shattered America’s five-year partnership with them.

Opinion | Al-Baghdadi Is Dead. The Story Doesn’t End Here. – By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

“The killing of the founder and leader of the Islamic State by United States commandos operating in Syria should certainly further weaken the most vile and deadly Islamist movement to emerge in the Middle East in the modern era.

The world is certainly a better place with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi dead and a measure of justice meted out on behalf of all the women ISIS raped, all the journalists ISIS beheaded and the tens of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis it abused. Good for President Trump for ordering it, for the intelligence agents who set it up, for the allies who aided in it and for the Special Forces who executed it.

But this story is far from over, and it could have many unexpected implications. Let’s start at home.

President Trump was effusive in his praise for the U.S. intelligence agencies who found and tracked al-Baghdadi to the lair in Syria where he blew himself up to avoid being captured. In his news conference, Trump went on and on about just how good the men and women in our intelligence agencies are.

Well, Mr. President, those are the same intelligence agencies who told you that Russia intervened in our last election in an effort to tip the vote to you and against Hillary Clinton (and are still intervening). When our intel agencies exposed that reality, you impugned their integrity and quality.

And the same intelligence agencies who tracked down al-Baghdadi are the same ones who produced two whistle-blowers high up in your White House — who complained that you, Mr. Trump, abused the power of your office to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, touching off this impeachment inquiry.

And those same intelligence agencies whom you hailed as heroes for tracking down al-Baghdadi, Mr. Trump, are the same “deep state,” the same agencies and whistle-blowers whom your White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, just smeared as “radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution.’’

So thank you, Mr. Trump, for clearing up this confusion. We now know that the same intelligence services who have been heroic in protecting us from those who want to attack our constitutional democracy from abroad are the same heroes who have stepped up to protect our constitutional democracy from within. Unlike you, Mr. Trump, they took seriously their oath to do both.”

Opinion | Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President – By William H. McRaven – The New York Times

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Admiral McRaven is a former commander of the United States Special Operations Command.

 

“But the most poignant recognition that evening was for a young female sailor who had been killed in Syria serving alongside our allies in the fight against ISIS. Her husband, a former Army Green Beret, accepted the award on her behalf. Like so many that came before her, she had answered the nation’s call and willingly put her life in harm’s way.

For everyone who ever served in uniform, or in the intelligence community, for those diplomats who voice the nation’s principles, for the first responders, for the tellers of truth and the millions of American citizens who were raised believing in American values — you would have seen your reflection in the faces of those we honored last week.

But, beneath the outward sense of hope and duty that I witnessed at these two events, there was an underlying current of frustration, humiliation, anger and fear that echoed across the sidelines. The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within.

These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield. As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, “I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!”

Those words echoed with me throughout the week. It is easy to destroy an organization if you have no appreciation for what makes that organization great. We are not the most powerful nation in the world because of our aircraft carriers, our economy, or our seat at the United Nations Security Council. We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys. We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.

But, if we don’t care about our values, if we don’t care about duty and honor, if we don’t help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice — what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states?

If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military? And if they don’t join, who will protect us? If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us? And if no one follows us — where will the world end up?”