How to craft a narrative


There’s no Soviet Union anymore, but the principle is the same (from, via

If you’ve ever wondered how to go about creating a narrative to drive public perception about a story, I’m here to help. I’d like to start, if I may, with a couple of examples.

Back in January, NATO began major troop movements as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a mission begun in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which in itself was a response–an overly aggressive and disruptive response–to a Western-supported overthrow of the elected president of Ukraine. Somewhere on the order of 4000 NATO troops have been deployed to Poland and the three Baltic states–each of which borders some part of Russia (Kaliningrad counts, dammit). Here’s how the deputy commander of US European Command, Lt. General Timothy Ray, described this deployment when it began:

Lt Gen Tim Ray, deputy commander of US European Command, said: “Let me be very clear, this is one part of our efforts to deter Russian aggression, ensure territorial integrity of our allies and maintain a Europe that is whole, free, prosperous and at peace.”

Putting thousands of NATO troops on Russia’s border is part of our efforts to deter Russian aggression. Or, if you prefer, it’s a “demonstration [of] solidarity,” according to the US Embassy in Poland:

NATO’s eFP is a clear demonstration solidarity and determination to defend Allied territory against possible aggression.  The deployment is defensive, proportionate, and conforms to the Article V commitment of the treaty to prevent conflict, protect our Allies, and preserve peace throughout the region.

Just this week, the US deployed a couple of F-35s to the Baltic nation of Estonia, again right on Russia’s border. Why? Two words–commitment and unity:

Two of the U.S. Air Force’s newest and most advanced jets landed in the Baltic state of Estonia for the first time on Tuesday, a symbolic gesture meant to reinforce the United States’ commitment to the defence of NATO allies that border Russia.

The visit of the F-35 stealth fighters, which flew from Britain and spent several hours in Estonia, is part of broader U.S. jet pilot training across Europe as the NATO alliance seeks to deter Moscow from any possible incursion in the Baltics.

Russia denies having any such intention.

“This is a very clear message,” Estonia’s Defence Minister Margus Tsahkna told Reuters. “The United States is taking the show of unity very seriously,” he said of the jets that are designed to avoid detection by conventional radar.

All of this is fine, really. Poland and the Baltic states all joined NATO voluntarily and have welcomed these deployments. Russia might have some concerns about a potentially hostile military force primarily made of up US, Canadian, and Western European soldiers being deployed in countries it borders, but we know those concerns are unfounded and irrelevant–this NATO deployment is defensive in nature, and anyway it’s none of Russia’s business how NATO and its member states work out troop deployments, even when they’re happening in Russia’s near abroad.

Now, here’s a story I just came across this morningContinue reading

Donny T and the Anti-War Movement

Over at Medium, because it’s been a while, I considered the possibility that pro-Trump self-professed anti-war folks might be on to something. I remain unconvinced:

Hey, maybe you’re thinking that doesn’t sound so bad! Bombing the shit out of ISIS? Cool! But ISIS hasn’t segregated itself. Bombing the shit out of them entails bombing the shit out of a big chunk of the Middle East, and there are lots of people living there who aren’t in ISIS. Bombing the shit out of them would not be so cool! Maybe you’re already thinking that the United States is already bombing the shit out of those people, and I agree, we are! But it seems odd, to me, for Anti-War Donald Trump to propose continuing a current war, and even odder to find that Anti-War Donald Trump seems to feel like we’re not bombing enough shit out of them, and that he wants to bomb even more shit out of them than we already are.

But there are a couple of other things we should note here. First, Anti-War Donald Trump is talking here about deliberately bombing oil infrastructure, which would likely leave people dying from both the bombs themselves and the ensuing environmental catastrophe. Second, Anti-War Donald Trump uses one of his go-to applause lines in that video, the one about “taking the oil.” AWDT loves that one — he uses it in referring to Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Unfortunately, we call that kind of thing “pillaging,” and it’s a war crime.

An anti-war war crime! What a time to be alive.

Like most things, my conclusion here is that it comes down to Us vs. Them. Trump wants to kill a lot of Them, but he’s the loudest voice in the race about not killing any of Us in the process. Ergo, there’s some strain of people who consider themselves anti-war, but don’t really pay much attention when lots of Them die at American hands, who see Trump as similarly anti-war. He’s not–and neither are they for that matter.


The trouble with principles

Today was a jam-packed day here at attwiw HQ. Well, not really, but as you can tell I didn’t have a lot of time to write today for a variety of mundane reasons and also because some days the words don’t come out so easily, you know? So you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for my random thoughts on recent developments in Aleppo, recently departed Israeli leaders, recent reports on passenger aircraft being shot down over Ukraine, etc. But I did want to note that today was a bit of a milestone, in that it marks Barack Obama’s final mockery of the United States’ supposed opposition to the use of child soldiers. Josh Rogin of the Washington Post explained a few days ago:

As early as this week, the administration will announce for the final time a list of waivers and exemptions to the Child Soldiers Protection Act, a law passed in 2008 that forbids the United States from giving military aid to any foreign government that systematically uses children in its armed forces. According to officials involved in the process, the president will either fully or partially waive sanctions for every abuser country that receives U.S. military assistance.

It’s a familiar pattern the president has followed each year since 2010, the first year he was required to sanction abuser countries under the law. The Obama administration has given more than $1.2 billion in military assistance and arms to governments that use child soldiers since the law was enacted and withheld only $61 million, according to the Stimson Center. The president’s final decision on waiving sanctions under the law is due Oct. 1.

I think it’s interesting that the administration opted to issue its waivers today rather than wait for the usual Friday document dump, but people have lately gotten savvier about checking for stuff like this on Friday, and the news is still in heavy post-debate mode, so it was a pretty good day to get this in under the radar. Not that you should have expected to hear much about it anyway–out of sight, out of mind, you know.

Obama waived the prohibition entirely for Myanmar, Iraq, and Nigeria, and partially for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Somalia, for the purpose of allowing humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance to continue flowing to these countries. The other three countries on the State Department’s child soldiers list–Sudan, Syria, and Yemen–currently don’t receive any US aid, though you can bet that Yemen will start getting waivers once its civil war ends and it starts getting US aid again. As Rogin reported, Afghanistan was excluded from the list because it only conscripts children into its national police force, not its army. Totally different. And, look, there are justifications for each of these cases–Iraq is fighting ISIS, Nigeria is fighting Boko Haram, all of these countries need humanitarian aid, etc. But the problem with having principles is that sometimes upholding them is inconvenient. If you never stick to your principles in those situations, then I’m afraid you don’t really have those principles. Congress passed the Child Soldiers Protection Act in 2008 to try to show America’s principles, but their time would’ve been better spent drawing a nice Fourth of July mural or something, because the CSPA has accomplished next to nothing.


How is America helping to kill Yemenis today?

Here’s an interesting tweet, I think:

It’s all true. On Tuesday, Saudi airstrikes hit a potato factory in Sanaa, killing 15 people. On Friday, a bridge connecting Sanaa to the port city of Hobeidah was destroyed in another Saudi airstrike; no one was directly killed in that attack, but since the bridge was a key route for humanitarian supplies to get to Sanaa (from there to be disbursed around the country), it’s possible that its destruction will lead to people dying down the road. On Saturday, 10 children were killed and 28 others injured when the Saudis attacked a school in the northern Yemeni district of Haydan, and another four kids were killed in an airstrike on a school in Razeh. In fairness, the Saudis insist that they weren’t targeting the schools, and I’m sure the families of those 14 kids will be comforted to know that the slaughter of their children was just an oopsie and not intentional. Then, today, the Saudis upped the ante still further by striking an MSF hospital in the Abs district of northwestern Yemen, killing at least 11 more people. One wonders what they’ll destroy tomorrow: day care center? Petting zoo?

Although everyone, including me, talks about the “Saudi-led coalition” whose aim is to restore the government of Yemen’s president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, to full control over the entire country, the by-now-pathetic fact of the gross spectacle taking place in Yemen is that the United States owns it. American targeting intel supports those Saudi strikes (sorry, schools and hospitals! You looked dangerous from over here!), American-made planes are the ones doing the striking, American-made spare parts are keeping those planes together, American refueling aircraft are keeping them in the skies, and America is happily selling the Saudis more stuff with which to wage more war against Yemen:

Washington has made another major arms sale to Saudi Arabia to replace tanks destroyed in the war in Yemen. The sale underscores the Obama administration’s deep role in backing the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels as the war is escalating.

The State Department this week notified Congress of an impending sale of 153 M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks and twenty heavy tank recovery vehicles plus assorted ammunition, weapons and other kit to the Saudi army. Buried in the fine print of the notification is the statement that twenty of the Abrams tanks are intended to replace tanks destroyed in combat. The only place Saudi tanks are in combat are along the Saudi–Yemeni border in the Kingdom’s southwest where the Houthi rebels have been surprisingly effective in striking targets inside Saudi Arabia since the start of the war sixteen months ago. It’s probably a good bet that more than just twenty Saudi tanks have been damaged. The Kingdom has an inventory of 400 Abrams.

Of course, selling weapons to the Saudis is one of the Obama administration’s favorite pastimes:

President Barack Obama has been the most enthusiastic arms salesman to Saudi Arabia in American history. All told sales on his watch total over $110 billion. None has provoked a serious challenge on the Hill. Only Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut has called for greater scrutiny of the arms relationship with the Kingdom.

Riyadh was the first Arab capital Obama visited as president. He has visited Saudi Arabia more than any other country in the Middle East including Israel. The relationship has been bumpy but lucrative.

If there was any strategic reason for the US to back the Saudis when their air campaign began–the Hadi government was/is a US ally, the Saudis are a US ally, and the Houthis are nominally aligned with Iran, so you can advance an argument along these lines–it has been entirely washed away in a sea full of stalemated fighting, a resurgent al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and thousands upon thousands of Yemenis who are now dead for no discernible reason. If Yemen was the price Obama had to pay to get the Saudis to grudgingly acquiesce to the nuclear deal with Iran, then that price has already more than been paid in full.

But the truth is that neither of these points fully explains what the US is doing in Yemen as well as one simple, two word term: customer service. The Saudis buy lots and lots of US weapons and they always pay in full, and if the price of maintaining that relationship is a few thousand dead Yemenis in a war that runs counter to American security interests, so be it. And, of course, America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil still tethers Washington to Riyadh no matter what, even if that dependence has lessened over the past decade (give or take).

The Yemen war has quietly stripped bare any pretense that American foreign policy might have to higher principles, and led to one inescapable truth about US policy: when principles and cash conflict, fuck principles.


The state of your State of Emergency

Turkey is now officially in a state of emergency as it attempts to come out on the other side of last week’s attempted coup:

Turkey’s parliament has approved a bill declaring a state of emergency in the wake of last weekend’s coup attempt and informed the Council of Europe of a partial withdrawal from the European convention on human rights.

Turkey will be required to provide regular updates to the secretary general of the Council of Europe on the measures taken under the state of emergency, according to the terms of the treaty.

Turkey initially said it had informed the Council of Europe that it would suspend the convention entirely, a more wide-ranging measure likely to have drawn criticism from allies.

The ECHR is a wide-ranging document (as its name suggests) and it’s not clear, or at least I haven’t seen it explained anywhere, what this “partial withdrawal” entails, specifically. But the convention does things like prohibiting torture, protecting due process, maintaining freedom of movement and preventing the expulsion of citizens/nationals, and prohibiting “unlawful killing,” this is a development that should be watched carefully. It seems likely that one of the casualties of the ECHR suspension will be Turkey’s ban on capital punishment., though it’s not clear that Turkey can actually get away with briefly reinstating the death penalty and then try to readopt the ECHR (which completely bans the practice) again later.

The Turkish government has been assuring people, mainly the international community, that most Turks won’t even know the emergency measures are in place:

Mehmet Simsek, the deputy prime minister, tried to dispel fears on Thursday that the country would return to the deep repression seen the last time it was under similar measures.

“The state of emergency in Turkey won’t include restrictions on movement, gatherings and free press, etc. It isn’t martial law of 1990s,” he said. “I’m confident Turkey will come out of this with much stronger democracy, better functioning market economy and enhanced investment climate.”

Of course, this state of emergency actually does include at least one restriction on movement (academics are being barred from leaving the country for work), and Turkey didn’t have a free press even before this all happened. But I think Şimşek ought to get points for trying. Tayyip Erdoğan gave it a shot too, in an interview with Al Jazeera:

“We will remain inside a democratic parliamentary system, we will never step back from it,” he told Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, speaking through a translator, from inside the presidential palace in Ankara.

Erdoğan is, of course, obsessed with “stepping back” from Turkey’s parliamentary system and transitioning to a presidential system. But anyway, this seems encouragi-

“However, whatever is necessary for the nation’s peace and stability will be done,” Erdogan said, expressing doubts, however, that the coup attempt was entirely over.

Oh. OK then.

Meanwhile, in the latest round of updates, the number of people purged (arrested, detained, fired, and/or suspended from their jobs) in the aftermath of the failed coup has climbed over 50,000. The Middle East Institute’s Gönül Tol argues that we’re seeing a “civilian coup” in response to the attempted military coup: Continue reading

Not even trying anymore


Whatever this is, it is not a photo of Donald Trump angrily denouncing his running mate for voting to invade Iraq

If you’re like me, and polling shows that you probably aren’t, you put a great deal of emphasis on foreign policy when deciding on a candidate for office, particularly (obviously) when that office is President of the United States. Because we live in a world that has been fundamentally changed, and not for the better, by the increasingly-batshit-in-hindsight decision to invade Iraq in 2003, how somebody approached that issue at the time is very relevant to determining how you think they’ll perform in office today. Republican presidential nominee and former reality TV star Donald Trump has made a lot of hay about Hillary Clinton’s vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq, and, hey, I get it. It was a lousy vote that speaks to her often worryingly militaristic foreign policy instincts. It should continue to dog her as she pursues the White House.

Trump has also made a lot of hay in this campaign by claiming that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. The revelation that this was a lie has affected his support about as much as all the other revelations of lies that have come out of his mouth, which is to say hardly at all. But now he’s gone and picked himself a running mate, Cotton Hill Mike Pence,


OK, you try telling them apart, you’re so smart

who, let’s see, also voted to invade Iraq back in 2003, and then later defended the invasion only a couple of months after the generally acknowledged end of the sectarian civil war that it spawned.

Problem, no? Well, let’s just say that, had Mike Pence decided to run for president this cycle instead of waiting around in case the eventual nominee came calling, Trump would surely have used that vote, and subsequent defense, to bludgeon Pence’s electoral hopes into submission. But now that Pence returned his call agreed to run on his ticket, what’s Trump’s comment on his Iraq War-supporting past? The answer will surprise you…no, no it won’t. It’s not in any way surprising:

Let’s go to the transcript: Continue reading

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Rohingya ethnic cleansing program continues apace


If you’ll excuse me, I have to laugh until I throw up now

The latest step in Myanmar’s campaign to erase the Rohingya people from the planet involves literally erasing them from the lexicon:

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has told the UN special rapporteur on human rights that the government will avoid using the term “Rohingya” to describe a persecuted Muslim minority in the country’s north-west.

The statement came as the top UN human rights official issued a report saying the Rohingya had been deprived of nationality and undergone systematic discrimination and severe restrictions on movements. They had also suffered executions and torture that together may amount to crimes against humanity, the report said.

Members of the group of about 1.1 million people, who identify themselves by the term Rohingya, are seen by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The term is a divisive issue.

The UN human rights investigator, Yanghee Lee, met Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital Naypyitaw on her first trip to Myanmar since the Nobel Peace Prize winner took power in April.

“At their meeting here this morning, our foreign minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi explained our stance on this issue that the controversial terms should be avoided,” said Aung Lin, the permanent secretary at the ministry of foreign affairs.

This isn’t a brand-new policy; the US government publicly refused to stop using the term “Rohingya” in early May, in response to a request by the Burmese government. What’s new is that Myanmar is declaring this policy to the United Nations.

The plan, at least while Lee is there, is to refer to the Rohingya as “People Who Believe in Islam in Rakhine State,” which is Orwellian if inelegant, crafted so as to render the Rohingya both stateless and nation-less. The Rohingya are a people who have lived for generations in Rakhine and have roots, and human rights, around their ancestral homeland. “People Who Believe in Islam in Rakhine State” are just Muslims in Rakhine, and if you need to relocate them they can go be Muslims someplace else. The Rohingya are a distinct people, so when Buddhist mobs kill them with tacit government permission, or when the government institutes policies meant to shrink their numbers and ultimately eliminate them over the long-term, that’s genocidal. But there are over a billion “People Who Believe in Islam” around the world, so even if Aung San Suu Kyi personally killed every last Person Who Believes in Islam in Rakhine State, that still couldn’t be considered a genocide.

There was a time, back when Suu Kyi–a Nobel laureate and person who sometimes says things like that quotation above, perhaps without really understanding them–was on the outside looking in on Myanmar’s political system, when her total public indifference to the Rohingya was excused as a political necessity. She can’t speak out about the genocide until she’s led the country through its democratic transition, it was said. She’ll be able to take it on directly once she and her party have won legitimate elections. Well, that’s already happened, and yet here we are, with Suu Kyi herself now sanctioning these crimes against humanity. Suu Kyi announced at the end of May that she would lead a “peace and development committee” for Rakhine, but if step one of her plan for peace and development in Rakhine involves stripping the Rohingya of their identity and whatever protection it offers, that’s not a very promising start.