It’s about ethics in business journalism

Or, if you prefer, “time for another blogger ethics panel” (apologies to Atrios):

In an opinion piece published Tuesday by Politico Magazine, “No, BP Didn’t Ruin the Gulf,” author Geoff Morrell writes that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the worst off-shore oil spill in American history, was much less disastrous environmentally for the Gulf Coast than expected. He complains that “advocacy groups cherry-pick evidence” and “blame BP for any and all environmental problems afflicting the Gulf.” And then, in the penultimate graf, the first-person plural appears:

BP has said consistently, for more than four years, that it would do the right thing. We meant what we said, and we’ve lived up to our word. To date, we have spent more than $27 billion on response, clean-up and claims.

That’s because Morrell is no regular columnist, as Al Jazeera America’s Will Wyman noticed.

America’s kafalah system

At Vox today, Dara Lind distills a report from The Urban Institute and Northwestern University on the underground forced labor market here in America, which in several respects sounds an awful lot like the kafalah system in place for migrant workers in the Persian Gulf:

Here’s how it happens: a person in Mexico or the Philippines, for example, finds out about an opportunity in the United States through a friend or relative. An employer is offering a nursing job that comes with a green card — so long as the immigrant pays many thousands of dollars in fees and puts her family in debt.

By the time the immigrant arrives in the United States, she finds out most of what she’s been told is a lie. Instead of a green card, she receives a restrictive, temporary work visa. Instead of nursing, she’ll be working as a domestic servant. Her passport and work papers are locked away, she’s not allowed to leave the house, and money is taken out of her paycheck for housing and food. Her employers remind her that if she tries to run away, they’ll make sure she gets deported.

Let’s see: migrant workers are recruited to come here with a list of outright lies, have their travel papers taken from them upon arrival, and have money taken from their paychecks by their employers (in return for providing them with a barely subsistence-level existence), all under threat of deportation if they don’t go along with the exploitation. Yep, that’s kafalah. Continue reading

Congress demands that it be given every opportunity to wreck Iran talks

A Congress that has made doing nothing into an art form is getting very mad that the Obama administration might try an end-run around them if it comes time to start relieving sanctions against Iran:

Demanding a bigger role in the Iran nuclear negotiations, key Democrats are beginning to openly criticize the Obama administration for its plans to avoid an immediate vote on a deal aimed at reining in Tehran’s nuclear program.

“I disagree with the administration’s reported assertion that it does not need to come to Congress at this point during negotiations with Iran,” said New York’s Eliot Engel, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Democrat, in a statement on Tuesday.

“As negotiations continue on a deal to prevent a nuclear Iran, Congress cannot be circumvented,” New York’s Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Foreign Policy.

Despite the article’s “OMG EVEN LIBERAL DEMOCRATS ARE TURNING ON OBAMA OVER IRAN” tone, Engel and Israel are two of the most pro-war hawkish members of either party when it comes to Iran, so it’s completely unsurprising that they would both want to do everything in their power to wreck a negotiated settlement be consulted on the disposition of sanctions relief:

At issue is the administration’s plan to temporarily suspend economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic without a vote in Congress. The administration says that Congress will have the final word in deciding whether to permanently lift the sanctions — a concession that would only happen if Tehran demonstrates compliance on a host of restrictions to its nuclear program.

The dustup on the Hill follows a report in the New York Times that revealed a Treasury Department study concluding that President Barack Obama has the authority to suspend the “vast majority” of Iran sanctions without Congress — an authority the president plans to exercise if an agreement with Tehran can be reached.

The thing is, it is eminently more sensible for sanctions to be suspended, rather than lifted, in the early stages of an agreement. Assuming the deal is designed to be implemented in phases (and why wouldn’t it be?), you’d want to leave as much of the sanctions architecture in place as possible, while scaling back their actual effect as Iran met its milestone obligations. That’s the best way to ensure that the sanctions can be quickly re-applied if the agreement broke down at some point. It’s only at the very end of the entire process, when Iran has met all its obligations in full and everybody agrees that they can be treated as just another civilian nuclear state, that you would really want Congress to repeal the sanctions altogether. So not only does a short-term presidential suspension of the sanctions make sense from the perspective that Congress is kind of a dud these days, it also happens to be the best way to move forward in the immediate aftermath of a deal, and you don’t have to take my word for that:

Despite its unpopularity on the Hill, a number of non-proliferation groups have endorsed this strategy as the only viable way to secure a deal with Iran that’s durable and amenable to all sides.

“Congressional action at the outset of an agreement is premature,” said Kelsey Davenport, a director at the Arms Control Association. “In a final deal, when Iran’s commitment to a peaceful and verifiably limited nuclear program is well established, Congress will need to weigh in and lift sanctions. In the initial phases of an agreement, using presidential waivers to grant relief to Iran maintains the leverage created by sanctions and provides incentive to Iran to follow through on its obligations.”

Of course, the Congresspersons who are complaining about potentially being left out of the loop here don’t really care about implementing a deal at all. In fact, this whole dust up is yet another indication of a serious unwillingness to consider any deal on the part of both Congress and Congress’s boss, the American peop–HAHAHA I’m just effing with you, I mean Congress’s real boss, money:

Making matters more difficult for the administration, many lawmakers, egged on by powerful lobbying interests, are convinced that Obama will lift sanctions but fail to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon. For that reason, they want to maintain as much control over the talks as possible.

Leading the charge is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying organization that has promoted multiple congressional letters underscoring the legislative branch’s indispensable place at the negotiating table. “We have long supported a strong congressional role,” an AIPAC source said.

Yes, to the extent that “a strong congressional role” will only hurt the chances of reaching an agreement, and heighten the chances of a war, AIPAC has definitely supported it.

Iraq: Arab Sunnis unhappy with both Daesh and Baghdad

This is a great report from NIQASH on the attitude among non-Daesh Sunni factions in Iraq, who seem to have mostly had enough of the “Islamic State” but haven’t seen nearly enough out of the Abadi government for them to start working with Baghdad:

“We are against the acts of the hardline Islamic State. And we are also against bombed cars exploding randomly in Baghdad,” Abu Samir al-Jumaili, one of the Mujahideen Army’s leaders in the Anbar province, told NIQASH. “However we are also opposed to the government’s sectarian policies against Sunnis.”

Al-Jumaili explained that groups like his are trapped between two difficult choices: support the IS group, or support the Shiite-led government. Which is why groups like his are remaining relatively quiet and staying as neutral as they can.

“Our Sunni cities have been destroyed because of the IS group and because of the government,” al-Jumaili said. “We want to rebuild them and our lives but this is complicated. In 2006 we cooperated with the government to expel Al Qaeda from Sunni cities but the government did not keep its end of the bargain. They chased our leaders and arrested us. However the issue of allying ourselves with the IS group is out of the question too, as we are all opposed to them.”

These Sunni groups are the key to dislodging and removing Daesh from Iraq, but they don’t have the muscle to get rid of Daesh on their own. The only way the operation will work is if Baghdad can demonstrate to Sunnis that the Maliki days are over and a representative national government, working on behalf of all Iraqis, has been put in place. That means not bombing civilian areas inside the Daesh-controlled parts of the country, even if in the short term that gives Daesh a boost. It means calling off Shiʿa militias whose presence alongside the army only exacerbates Sunni concerns, even though those militias aren’t beholden to Baghdad and it might take some convincing to get them to back off. It may mean promising Iraq’s Sunni Arabs some measure of autonomy from Baghdad, though that’s an empty promise right now and there would be no reason for the Sunnis to believe it yet.

Who’s with me?

In my professional status as Some Guy What Writes Words on the Internet, it’s always a pleasant surprise when I see people who are real actual experts saying stuff that I say on here. Two recent examples have been particularly appreciated by me. First there’s Joshua Keating, Slate’s excellent foreign affairs writer (and I’m not just saying that because I’ve actually met him), on the unusual (so unusual that I have a whole category devoted to it) circumstance that afflicts our government at present, by which I mean that an entire branch of it has decided to quit, and another branch has decided that it’s OK with that decision:

There are several reasons for this trend toward post-Congressional foreign policy. One, obviously, is the dysfunction and gridlock in Congress, a situation that other governments are well aware of. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif has mused that Obama will have a “a harder job” negotiating with Congress than he will with Iran. Chinese officials love to point out that they’re being lectured on their emissions commitments by a country in which a large number of legislators don’t even believe climate change is occurring.

Given the herculean effort it evidently requires to get an ambassador to Palau confirmed in today’s Congress, it’s not a surprise that the administration is looking for workarounds on key issues like climate change, Iran’s nuclear program, and fighting ISIS.

Then there’s John Haas, guesting for Tom Ricks at his Foreign Policy blog, echoing another frequent theme around this place (and one that I recently touched on at LobeLog as well):

America does quite well securing agreements in nations — such as, for example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — where it only has to negotiate with a handful of elites.

But Turkey is not such a nation. While its elites wanted the agreement, by 2002 Turkey, as Doug Penhallegon writes, had “fully evolved as a representative democracy.” And that was the most decisive factor in the failed negotiations of 2003, since the “Turkish people were almost unanimously opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.”

Similarly in Iraq, both in 2008 and 2011. Obama’s critics have attributed his failure to retain US troops in Iraq in 2011 to his diffidence about the Iraq War and, in some cases, his general lack of confidence in America as a force for good in the world. But as Yochi Dreazen‘s excellent, on-the-ground reporting from Baghdad showed, the dynamics were in fact just what they had been in Turkey: Nervous elites eager to cooperate with the United States, but hemmed in by the weight of a public opinion now newly efficacious (thanks to U.S. nation-building efforts), and far from united behind what they saw as a continuation of the much-resented American ihtilal, or occupation.

Both of these are good reads in full, and not just because they’re agreeing with me.

Can’t quite put my finger on it…

Two pieces of evidence for you to peruse. First, it turns out that there are proportionally a whole lot of Saudis working for Daesh as suicide bombers:

Though McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero has an easy explanation for that figure:

Still, lots of Saudis in Daesh doing terrible things. Our second piece of evidence is that there’s apparently a considerable amount of popular support, or at least sympathy, in Jordan for the terrible things that Daesh does, and even more popular sympathy for Al Qaeda:

But not everyone in Jordan supports membership in the coalition. According to a poll published last month by the Center for Strategic Studies at University of Jordan, only 62 percent of Jordanians consider ISand a mere 31 percent the Syria-based Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al Nusrato be terrorist organizations. Even more stunning, just 44 percent of Jordanians surveyed say that Al Qaeda is a terrorist group.

Given these sentiments, it’s not surprising that many Jordanians oppose their military’s participation in the campaign targeting IS and Jabhat Al Nusra.

In fact, objections to a Jordanian role in the anti-IS alliance emerged before the state signed up. In the beginning of September, twenty-one members of Jordan’s parliament sent a memo to its speaker rejecting the Kingdom’s participation. “This war is not our war,” the representatives wrote. “Our army is able to defend our borders and respond to any aggression.”

Now call me crazy, but do you think there might be something about these two Western-aligned, autocratic monarchies that routinely suppress dissent and stifle individual freedoms that would cause elements of their populations to sympathize with the aims of a group like Al Qaeda or Daesh? I feel strongly that there might be a common thread here, but I just can’t quite figure out what it could be.

"It's Islam, obviously."

“It’s Islam, obviously.”

Oh yeah, of course, DUUH! Thanks, Sam! There’s nothing else that’s similar about Saudi Arabia and Jordan in any way that could explain it!