Syria is not Iraq

If we can agree on one thing, it’s that the Arab awakening has shown that the path to democracy is messy and uneven, pitted with potholes. The Syrian civil war has been no less messy. As much as we might wish it were so, the battle lines don’t break down clearly between good and evil. But let us agree on one more thing: Bashar al Assad is evil. He’s killed 100,000 people over the past two years, and he added at least 1,400 more to that tally with a series of chemical weapon attacks last week. 426 of these were children. Syria is not Iraq, where we tried to topple a stable regime. Syria is Bosnia.

Even the sun is bleeding in Syria

Even the sun is bleeding in Syria

President Obama and the Congress must act swiftly to do whatever is possible to prevent this tally from growing. We have already waited too long; had we acted a year ago to prevent this slaughter, those chemical weapons might never have been released. Just as in Bosnia our presence was able to end the wholesale slaughter of one ethnic group by another, we have a chance here to prevent the continued deployment of nerve gas against civilian populations by the Asad regime. Instead, I fear that we have learned the wrong lessons from the Iraq debacle. Continue reading

NSA Surveillance Programs: Entirely Legal, Potentially Problematic

According to Boundless Informant, a top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) tool leaked by Edward Snowden that monitors the NSA’s collection of electronic information, the agency grabbed 97 billion pieces of electronic intelligence in March 2013. Three billion of those came from the United States. That’s three billion emails, photos, or pieces of web history in a single month.

While the NSA program known as PRISM appears to have focused on collecting foreign electronic intelligence, its own documentation shows that Americans, like dolphins in a tuna net, are frequently swept up in the government’s surveillance collection mechanisms. Although the distinction between foreign and domestic surveillance is frequently stressed by the defenders of extraordinary intelligence gathering practices in the post-9/11 era, PRISM, which archives electronic files from companies including Google, AOL, Microsoft, Apple, Skype, and Facebook, is actually entirely constitutional as understood by the Supreme Court. Continue reading

Lessons from a Tragedy

It’s easy to think that the world is falling apart and closing in upon us. We hear of the threats from North Korea or bombs in downtown Boston and ask ourselves what the world has come to and how we can stop it. If the post-9/11 era can be defined by a feeling, it’s the feeling of vulnerability. Our enemies, it seems, are no longer defined by convenient borders and no longer wear uniforms on the battlefield. They are harder to identify and this terrifies us. We spend much of our lives fearing invisible foes.

Sometimes people respond to these threats by calling for constant monitoring. Sometimes people respond by contemplating moving to another town or another nation. Sometimes they arm themselves, discounting the far greater likelihood of an accident against the chance of a home invasion. All of these are the wrong lesson. We live in one of the safest parts of ones of the safest countries in the safest era of human history. Continue reading