Monthly Archives: January 2019

The advice to Republicans remains: Nominate more women

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; January 12, 2019)

A year ago I wrote an article on the dearth of female Republicans in national elected office, particularly the U.S. House. [The original article is here.]

The article’s gist was that if Republicans don’t nominate more women against incumbent Democrats, the party’s decline (starting in the 2018 midterms) will be precipitous.

The GOP lost 40 U.S. House seats in 2018 (one seat in North Carolina is still to be determined).

In the 115th Congress, there were 21 Republican women. In the new 116th Congress there are only 13. In comparison, the number of Democratic women in the House went from 64 to 89.

If trends continue, half of all U.S. House members will be women by 2032 and not one will be a Republican.

Of course, that will never happen, right? The Republicans will adjust, right?

Do Republicans realize it is an empirical fact that women are widely viewed as more honest, empathetic and trustworthy (see Figure 1)? Do Republicans understand that, if those attributes become central to vote decisions in the future, their party is screwed?

Figure 1: Public opinion on gender differences in political leadership

Source: Pew Research

Why is the number of GOP women in the U.S. House dropping?

Perry Bacon Jr. from highlighted last year some of the barriers preventing more Republican women from winning elections and staying in office, not the least of which is that Republican women tend to be more moderate (or are perceived to be more moderate) than their Republican male counterparts. And as Republican voters have drifted right ideologically, women Republicans have found it more difficult to survive the nomination process. Likewise, a significant percentage of incumbent Republican women (usually moderates) have voluntarily left office knowing their re-election chances were increasingly doubtful.

Other possible reasons for the GOP’s lack of elected women include:

(1) The Democrats being viewed as the party of women’s rights,

(2) There are more Democratic women with the backgrounds typically associated with political careers, and

(3) The money is more likely to flow to Democratic women running for office than it is to Republican women.

While all of the barriers are potentially true, they do not dictate that Republican women will vanish from the political landscape.

Successful parties adjust to changing electorates. The Democrats moved to the right under Bill Clinton and the Republicans will inevitably adjust in the current political environment.

And even if the Republicans don’t move towards the center, its not like there aren’t strong conservative women out there capable of running for Congress. This is not a supply problem. The GOP has an old, white men leadership problem.

What holds the Republican Party back from nominating more women is a Republican hierarchy that fails to appreciate the competitive necessity of introducing more diversity into the party’s primary races.

To be sure, simply nominating women is not, in and of itself, a solution to the GOP’s gender (and diversity) problem. For the sake of argument, let us assume in the 2018 midterms the GOP had nominated a woman in races where there was a male nominee,And assume also that this would have added one percent to the GOP’s vote total in those races. Across the 435 U.S. House races in the 2018 midterms, that would have changed the outcome in the GOP’s favor in only six House races (CA21, FL26, ME2, NJ3, OK5, VA7).

New York Representative Elise Stefanik calls the GOP gender problem a “crisis”

Former head of candidate recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, resigned from that position after the 2018 midterms out of frustration that the Republican Party, by policy, does not get involved in the primary process (unlike the Democrats).

Stefanik will instead work through her leadership PAC to recruit, train and cultivate women GOP candidates during the primary races.

“If that’s what Elise wants to do, then that’s her call, her right,” NRCC chairman Tom Emmer (R-MN) told Roll Call last November. “But I think that’s a mistake. It shouldn’t be just based on looking for a specific set of ingredients — gender, race, religion — and then we’re going to play in the primary.”

But Republican leaders like Emmer, thinking Stefanik’s efforts represent a capitulation to identity politics, are actually ensuring identity politics’ role in electoral politics.

For Republicans, the first line of defense in combating the divisiveness of identity politics is to have leaders drawn from all backgrounds. Now is not the time to become more white and more male.

To do that, Republican leaders and voters alike need to understand that photos like this one from a 2017 Republican press conference in the Rose Garden don’t just create bad optics, they represent a losing brand of politics.

Grumpy Old White Men Celebrating the Repeal of Obamacare in the Rose Garden (Photo credit: CNN)


Just as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi cannot be the face of the Democratic Party much longer, Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham cannot be the brand leaders for the Republicans anymore.

Nikki Haley. Mia Love. Joni Ernst. Elise Stefanik. Kristi Noem. Kirstjen Nielsen. Kim Reynolds. The talent pool is out there for the Republicans. Seek their counsel. Learn from them. Put them in leadership positions so they are part of the GOP’s public face.

And it’s not about gender or youth. Bernie Sanders is not young yet still relevant. It is about fitting in and being able to lead within the current zeitgeist.

And this environment trends female and puts a premium on empathy, trust and honesty. And that does not necessitate the systematic exclusion of men, who are fully capable of such qualities. But it does mean the Republican Party must address its gender crisis.

Wake up GOP. Listen to Elise Stefanik.

  • K.R.K.

Is radical Islamic terrorism linked to oil wealth? An initial empirical look

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; January 11, 2019)


A little over a week ago I caught up on some YouTube podcasts to which I subscribe. One of my favorite podcasts — along with The Jimmy Dore Show and the CrazyRussianHacker) — is MoFreedomFoundation, a channel (and website) started by author Robert Morris dedicated to current affairs, international politics and ‘pro-sanity propaganda.’

“We promise to do a better job covering these issues than any cable news channel” is the MoFreedomFoundation’s pledge.

Not hard to do, unfortunately.

The Hypothesis

Morris’ latest podcast — “Islamic Terrorism is Over” — was particularly interesting and inspired me to do a quick data analysis to see if I could confirm (at least tentatively) his central hypothesis:

Since 2014, as oil prices have declined, the financial sponsors of terrorism — oil-rich Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE — have seen their cash reserves decline and have therefore had less to use for funding terrorist activities (e.g., ISIS).

Here is the MoFreedomFoundation podcast spelling out that hypothesis and the empirical data supporting it:

“Almost three years ago I predicted that due to falling oil prices radical Islamic terrorism would quickly start to fade away — and that is exactly what happened,” starts Morris. “It was always Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states that funded all that death and destruction. Now that they have less spare money, everybody else gets less.”

As Morris points out, this is not a thesis heard too often in the mainstream news media. Why?

“Every media and government organization in the world profits from fear and they really don’t want to document the fact that one of the biggest justifications for their budgets is in the process of disappearing.”

In fairness, I have heard or read this argument a few times recently within the climate change activist community where a number of researchers and journalists are using the link between oil money and terrorism to justify a more rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Author Nathan Taft, from the Fuel Freedom Foundation, writes: “When you pay at the pump, your hard-earned cash isn’t just going to oil companies — it also fills the pockets of terrorists and hostile regimes that harbor dangerous ideologies.”

There you go. When you fill up the Volvo, you aren’t just preparing for a two-hour drive to Aunt Velma’s, you’re helping finance the car bomb industry — in case you need another good reason not to visit Aunt Velma.

When ISIS controlled meaningful amounts of territory, it also controlled oil and gas fields, where it was able to generate significant revenues for their activities.

But we know from leaked U.S. State Department documents from 2009 that Saudi Arabia was — and likely still is — the “world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

According to the report signed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” The report also identifies Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as other significant sources of terrorism funding.

Keep in mind, the Saudi incentive for much of its terrorism funding is in keeping Iran’s hands full. ISIS was causing Iran to bleed resources in order to keep afloat the Bashar al Assad regime, one of the few Iranian allies in the region. Likewise, ongoing Saudi support for Islamist militants in Yemen fighting Houthi (Shia) forces compels Iran to dedicate resources to that war than they might otherwise prefer to use elsewhere.

[There is actually little evidence that Iran has a major financial or military commitment in Yemen. At least, nothing compared to what Saudi Arabia and UAE are committing.]

Even as Saudi Arabia appears to be working to stop the flow of money to Islamic militants, the country openly finances the philosophical training ground for such militants through their support to a worldwide Wahhabi education system.

Saudi Arabia is both the arsonist and the firefighter.

The Data

So, the Morris podcast prompted me to pull together a couple of data sources to test the “Cheap Oil Stops Terrorism” (COST) hypothesis.

First, we need valid and reliable terrorism data.

While in the past I have used the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), compiled by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, College Park, I was intrigued by Morris’ use of a database maintained by the anti-Islam website (TROP).

Morris describes the website well: “ website claims to provide a comprehensive list of terror attacks across the world, (though) the vast majority of the incidents come from active war zones like Iraq Syria and Afghanistan.”

The website is “one of the most bigoted and anti-Islamic news sources you can find,” concludes Morris.

Yet, oddly enough, the TROP database strongly correlates with the terrorism death and incident counts in the GTD. Therefore, for this brief analytic exercise, I felt comfortable sticking with the TROP data.

Figure 1: GTD Terrorist Incident and Death Counts since 1970

Source: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism


Along with the TROP database on terrorism deaths, I obtained oil price data (and other economic data) from the online data repository (FRED) maintained by the Federal Reserve (St. Louis). Figure 2 shows the terrorism death counts and oil prices (West Texas Intermediate Price Index, 1994 = 100).

Figure 2: Terrorism Deaths and the Price of Oil (2002 to 2018)

Sources:; Federal Reserve (St. Louis);


Like the GTD database, TROP shows three terrorism-related death spikes from 2001 to 2018 (blue line). The first, of course, is 9–11 (on the far left of the chart). The second is prior to and during the 2006 Iraq War surge. And the third spike occurs with the rise of ISIS in Syria starting in 2014.

The red line shows how oil prices have varied since 2002. They rose rapidly and consistently immediately after 9–11 and peaked right before the 2008 world financial crisis. Prices fell to near 2002 levels, but recovered over half of its losses from the financial crisis by the Autumn of 2014, only to decline again to near 2002 levels (in constant terms) by early 2016. Oil prices had been recovering since then, but have fallen precipitously since October 2018.

WTI is selling for $51.45-a-barrel as of 2:00pm (January 11, 2019). WTI crude was just over $100-a-barrel in 2014.

Testing the Hypothesis

Sometimes the eyeball test is all you need. And, in this case, it helps but isn’t quite enough. What jumps out to me are three distinct periods where terrorism deaths and oil prices appear tightly (and positively) linked.

The first is from early 2002 to July 2007. After that, the two series move in opposite directions from late 2007 until late 2010, when they start moving in the same direction again. As ISIS became a significant factor in Syria in mid-2014, an extreme spike in terrorism deaths occurs and is not reflected in oil prices. However, after the initial noise generated by ISIS, around late 2014 the two series move in a strong lock-step fashion until late 2015.

To more formally test the relationship between terrorism deaths and oil prices, I estimated a simple linear regression model (I also tested a Poisson regression model — which is more appropriate for count data — and found similar results to the linear model. For simplicity of interpretation, I am reporting the linear model here).

Along with oil prices, I included statistical controls for serial autocorrelation (terrorism deaths lagged by one time period) and the expected impact a strong world economy might also have on the cash reserves of oil-producing Gulf states. Though originally collected at the monthly level, the data in the following model are at the quarterly level.

Other variables tested but found to be insignificant predictors of worldwide terrorism deaths were: Number of U.S. Troops Deployed to Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria, OPEC Oil Production, OPEC Oil Supply, U.S. Dollar Value Index and U.S. DoD Terrorism/War-related Budget.

Methodological Note: Including a lagged dependent variable, as I did, can sometimes soak up significant explanatory variance causing other independent variables, that may be still be significant predictors of terrorism deaths, appear insignificant. For the exercise here, however, I was comfortable with that risk given that oil prices remained statistically significant across the various tested models despite the presence of the lagged dependent variable. I am therefore confident in saying: “Oil prices and terrorism deaths are significantly and positively related (in this time period).”

The linear model tested was a follows:

The parameter estimates and statistical tests shown in Figure 3 were generated in the SPSS software package. The ‘Model Summary’ table indicates 74 percent of the variance in terrorism deaths can be accounted through our simple three-variable model. Not bad.

The third tables shows the parameter estimates and indicates that the oil price variable (WTI PRICE INDEX lagged 4 quarters) is significantly and positively related to terrorism deaths (b = 2.27, p = 0.028). In other words, for every 1-point increase in the WTI crude oil price index, there are 2.27 additional terrorism deaths per quarter. Keep in mind that the WTI Oil Price Index ranged between roughly 100 and 1000 points during this period with a standard deviation of 172. A one-standard-deviation increase in oil prices therefore could result in 390 additional terrorism deaths.

Also note that lag structure for oil prices. Apparently, it takes four quarters (one year) for an oil price level to impact terrorism deaths, suggesting this is the length of time between a decision to sell oil assets, distribute funds to militant groups, and operational activities by the militant groups.

Figure 3: SPSS-generated linear model estimates

Do we really believe oil prices are closely linked to terrorism levels?

Honestly, I was very skeptical going into this statistical exercise, despite the strong anecdotal evidence (such as the 2009 U.S. State Department Report) and the visual evidence from the time-series charts.

I still believe the relationship is more complicated than oil price and the amount of discretionary money in Saudi pockets. For one, while the Saudis are still almost entirely dependent on the sale of oil for their cash reserves, there are other investments in their portfolio (which is why I included worldwide GDP growth in the model).

Geopolitical strategic interests, independent of oil prices, also drive Saudi money (and the money of other oil-producing Gulf states) into the bank accounts of Islamic militants.

The Saudi’s still perceive Iran to be its biggest strategic threat and, for that reason, a better specified model explaining terrorism deaths should include year-to-year measures of the intensity of the Saudi-Iranian conflict. I this exercise I have not accounted for that major factor.

There is also a religious/ideological component to terrorism that is not considered here. As long as seemingly permanent U.S. military bases are sprinkled all over the Arabian peninsula, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the region will be an incubator of anti-West militancy.

Still, there is no doubt in my mind that stagnant and falling oil prices are hurting Islamic militant organizations and I believe there is sufficient evidence, quantitative and qualitative, to support that conclusion.

If oil prices should rise again (and they will, at least until we stop using so much cheap Middle East oil), will terrorism rebound?

If Morris is correct, the U.S. military and security establishment is skeptical of terrorism’s resurgence moving forward:

“Almost two decades the Department of Defense and its enablers have been focused on Islamic terrorism. For years the metastasized military-industrial complex sent tons of money and personnel sloshing towards anti-Islamic organizations like the Gatestone Institute and Jihad Watch. Some of that still definitely goes on, but it came to a sort of symbolic end in January of 2018. That month saw the release of the new national defense strategy. To quote directly, ‘Interstate strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.’”

Interstate strategic competition?

I wonder if that will cost as much to fight as it did to fight terrorists over the past 17 years?

Why do I even have to ask?

  • K.R.K.


Alan Dershowitz is wrong about the BDS movement and Rashida Tlaib

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; January 10, 2019)

I admire Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and have for a long time.

Most recently, Dershowitz is one of the few Democrats (perhaps only) that sees clearly the inconsistencies and dangers intrinsic to the Democratic Party’s ad hominem obsession with the Robert Mueller-led Trump-Russia investigation.

For example, on whether President Donald Trump’s potential firing of Mueller would constitute an impeachable offense, Dershowitz says, “ “Firing the special counsel would not be impeachable offense, because it wouldn’t be a crime. The president would have authority to do it but it would be politically very damaging to do it.”

It is a direct threat to our democracy to criminalize political differences, Dershowitz argues objectively in his 2017 book, “Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy.”

So why does Dershowitz suddenly disabuse himself from his own beliefs when discussing the legality of anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) laws in the U.S.?

A growing number of U.S. states that are passing anti-BDS laws that, among their provisions, prevent states from investing in or hiring companies that refuse to engage in commerce with Israel and boycott Israel or persons doing business in Israel or territories controlled by Israel. The U.S. Congress is debating its own anti-BDS legislation.

For anyone unfamiliar with the BDS movement, here is summary:

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Among its tactics, BDS targets businesses and organizations deemed complicit in Israel’s known and alleged human rights violations against Palestinians. While Israel’s supporters charge the BDS movement as being inherently anti-Semitic and racist, BDS organizers contend their movement is comparable to the anti-apartheid movement which helped to isolate South Africa globally and end white rule.

In defending the legality of these laws, Dershowitz makes this distinction: “So long as these anti-BDS statutes do not prohibit advocacy of such boycotts, but focus instead on the commercial activities themselves — namely the economic boycotts — there are no serious freedom of speech concerns. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, not freedom to discriminate economically based on invidious classifications.”

BDS organizers respond, flatly, anti-BDS laws violate First Amendment rights. “A boycott is an important and powerful form of expressive association protected by the First Amendment. Speech in support of a boycott encompasses the practice of people sharing common views banding together to achieve a common end, a practice deeply embedded in the American political process,” according to a legal brief prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa.

“By this collective effort, individuals can make their views known when, individually, their voices would be faint or lost. The Supreme Court has held that economic boycotts are protected by the First Amendment. *NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.*, 458 U.S. 886 (1982).”

At the risk of over-simplifying Dershowitz’ argument, his claim is that boycotts are not protected speech if they are premised on bigotry — such as anti-Semitism — instead of specific actions (e.g., human rights violations).

That is the strongest aspect of Dershowitz’ argument in support of anti-BDS laws.

“Americans of any religion have the right to support Israel, and most do, without being accused of disloyalty, just as Americans of any religion have the right to support the Palestinian cause,” argues Dershowitz. “It is both bigoted and hypocritical to apply a different standard to Jews who support Israel than to Muslims who support the Palestinian cause.”

But, in basically restating Israeli politician Natan Sharansky’s three D’s of anti-Semitism — delegitimization, demonization, and double standards — Dershowitz is implicitly acknowledging not all criticisms of Israel are rooted in anti-Semitism.

Yet, the entire BDS movement gets tagged as such by Dershowitz, as he claims its mission, by definition, is anti-Semitic.

Dershowitz writes: “Congress is considering legislation dealing with companies that boycott only the nation state of the Jewish people, and only Jews within Israel. To single out only the ‘Jew among nations,’ and not the dozens of far more serious violators of human rights is bigotry pure and simple, and those who support BDS only against Israel are guilty of bigotry.”

It is here where Dershowitz starts going off the rails.

“What is unacceptable (about BDS) is discriminatory actions, and nothing can be more discriminatory than singling out an ally with one of the best records of human rights in the world for a boycott, while continuing to do business with the worst human rights offenders in the world,” writes Dershowitz. “Many of the same bigots who support BDS against Israel, oppose boycotting Cuba, Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other human rights violators. Legislation designed to end such discriminatory actions would be constitutional, if it did not prohibit advocacy.”

And, yet, according to Dershowitz, who in other domains of American law and policy understands the sanctity of political differences, wants to criminalize an economic boycott of our close ally, Israel.

In making his argument, Dershowitz ignores the fundamental difference between Israel and countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, Syria and Venezuela (where the U.S. has imposed sanctions). The former is an ally. The politics often demand we hold our allies to different human rights standards than our adversaries.

That Saudi Arabia could be called a close American ally and also be one of the world’s worst human rights violators (infinitely worse than Israel) is shocking.

If there is a double standard at play, it is not the BDS movement targeting Israel, it is that we don’t put as much pressure on Saudi Arabia to change their behavior.

Criticizing and boycotting Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories is entirely rooted in politics. Such actions don’t delegitimize the State of Israel. They don’t demonize the Israelis. If anything, it contrasts the higher ideals of individual Israelis with the morally inconsistent actions of their government.

And, finally, the BDS movement is not engaged in a double standard. For one, there is nothing in the original BDS charter stating that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is wrong, but if other countries are doing it to a similarly aggrieved group, fine. That would be a double standard. The BDS movement is under no obligation to address every human rights violation across all nations. The BDS was started by Palestinians to exclusively address Palestinian grievances with Israel. Period.

But because some BDS organizers and supporters are vocally critical of Israel yet silent (or even supportive) of other nations that commit far worse human rights violations, Dershowitz feels comfortable outlawing their specific goal of putting economic pressure on Israel to change its policies regarding the Palestinians.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib being sworn into the U.S House as it first Palestinian-American representative (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)


One of Dershowitz’ targets for this criticism is Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib, who, to the best of my knowledge, has never voiced support for human rights violations in Cuba, Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Syria, Saudi Arabia, or any other country.

In fact, some Palestinian activists have complained that Tlaib is not sufficiently anti-Israel and had, at one point, accepted the endorsement of the political action committee J Street, an Israel lobby group opposed to the BDS.

Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, Ali Abunimah, a writer for The Electronic Intifada, wrote: “Rashida Tlaib is endorsed and supported by the liberal Zionist Israel lobby group J Street through its political action committee JStreetPAC.” [That endorsement was ultimately withdrawn when Tlaib stated her support for a One-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.]

Abunimah was particularly critical of Tlaib’s public statements about Israel during the 2018 campaign.

“We need to be honest about the dehumanization on both sides, frankly,” Tlaib told The Washington Post. “And more importantly, we need to be not choosing a side.”

“Is Tlaib serious that we should be neutral and not ‘choose a side’ when it comes to Israel’s brutal military occupation, colonization and apartheid in her parents’ homeland?” wrote Abunimah.

Though she is excessively anti-Trump, by any reasonable standard, Tlaib is no bigot or anti-Semite. [Palestinians are Semites, by the way, but that is an argument for another day.]

Nonetheless, Dershowitz uses her as his chief antagonist in promoting his transitive logic that the BDS is inherently anti-Semitic, therefore, if you support the BDS, you are anti-Semitic.

Dershowitz is engaging in the ‘guilt by association’ tactic that has become hard-coded into the national political dialogue.

Any suggestion Tlaib is an anti-Semite is an ugly slur unsupported by evidence. Its beneath Dershowitz’ otherwise clear-eyed perspective on American and Israeli politics to suggest as much.

  • K.R.K.

An example of a state-level anti-BDS law:

The slow escape (and rise) of Saudi women

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; January 9, 2019)

No story has made my heart sink faster than the recent one about Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun — a Saudi Arabia teen allegedly fleeing to Thailand from her family (living in Kuwait) out of fear they would kill her.

At this point in the story, events are fluid and many facts are still unknown. The evidence we do possess is mostly a series of conversations between Rahaf and her Twitter followers, along with officials statements coming from the Thai government and the United Nations Refugee Agency stating, at least for now, support for her staying in Thailand until her case can be resolved.


In less than 48 hours of her first asylum plea via Twitter, Rahaf’s Twitter account has attracted tens of thousands of new followers. Whether Rahaf’s story ends happily is still to be determined.

Similar stories of Saudi women but did not end well have emerged in the past few years. Here are two of them:

Where is Dina Ali Lasloom?

Dina Ali Lasloom is a Saudi woman who sought asylum in Australia but was detained at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines on April 10, 2017, and deported back to Saudi Arabia, accompanied by two of her uncles, on April 11, 2017.

Below is the last known picture of Dina (see talking to her two uncles at the Manila airport).

The last known photo of Dina Ali Lasloom (L)


Her reason for trying to leave Saudi Arabia? In a self-recorded video, Dina says that she is seeking asylum and will be killed if forced to return to her family. In another video, taken by a Canadian tourist in the Manila airport while Dina was being detained by Philippine authorities, captures Dina screaming at a Saudi woman, who had accompanied Dina’s uncles.


According to eyewitnesses on Dina’s return flight to Saudi Arabia, she was covered by a blanket, her mouth taped shut, and physically resisting as her uncles forced her onto the plane.

Since returning to Saudi Arabia on April 11, Dina has never been seen again. A anonymous Saudi government official told Bloomberg that, upon arrival in Riyadh, Dina Ali was taken to a detention facility for women aged under 30 but did not face any charges. However, feminist activist Moudhi Aljohani, who says she talked to Dina on the phone while she was detained in the Manila airport, is less sanguine. “It is most likely that she is not alive,” she says.

The “Double Suicide” of Two Saudi Sisters in New York’s Hudson River

This next story is perhaps more chilling. On October 24, 2018, the bodies of sisters Tala and Rotana Farea, Saudi citizens living in Virginia with their family, were found along the banks of New York’s Hudson River bound together by duct tape in a way suggesting it was meant to hold them together but not bind them. According to New York City Police, there was no evidence of foul play as they concluded the deaths were part of a suicide pact.

Assuming the conclusions of the NYC Police are correct, it still begs the question, why would two sisters do such a thing?

Sources told investigators that the sisters once said they would “rather kill themselves than return to Saudi Arabia.” Their mother reportedly told local reporters that the Saudi embassy in Washington told the family they would need to return to Saudi Arabia.

Tala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea, 23, were found dead in a New York river in October 2018.


As the sisters’ full story remains a puzzle, the basic outline sounds familiar to human rights observers that track the fate of Saudi women attempting to find asylum outside the Kingdom.

“Although there are no official statistics, anecdotal evidence from cases reported in Saudi media and from human rights advocates suggest dozens of Saudi women — some with their children — have attempted to flee abroad in recent years,” says journalist Aya Batrawy who has covered a number of these stories in her career.

Whether the stories of Rahaf, Dina and the Farea sisters represent a trend is difficult to say. If they do, these asylum cases are happening at a time when Saudi women have seen recent gains in freedom, including the right to drive, and the right to run and vote in local elections. That those gains occurred because of growing discontent among Saudi women is entirely possible as well.

The Data Paints a Bleak Picture for Saudi Women (and Muslim Women, in general)

As the anecdotal evidence of systematic abuse continues to emerge from Saudi women seeking asylum in the West, the quantitative evidence substantiates their stories.

As part of its annual computation of the Human Freedom Index (HFI’s), the CATO presents the “state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom.” Among the HFI’s many sub components is a Women Security Index (WSI) which is computed for over 170 countries and is based on: (1) the prevalence of female genital mutilation, (2) the gender bias in mortality, and (3) the inheritance rights of wives and daughters. The WSI ranges between 0 and 10 where ‘0’ indicates low security for women and ‘10’ indicates high levels of security.

Figure 1 shows the Bottom 15 countries on the WFI — the lowest index score going to Brunei (WFI = 0.0), followed by Egypt (WFI = 2.8), Mauritania (WFI = 3.4) and Sudan (WFI = 3.7). Saudi Arabia has the 12th lowest WFI at 5.0 (tied with Suriname and Pakistan).

The relationship of the WFI to a country’s dominant religious culture is strong. Fourteen out of 15 countries at the bottom of the WFI are predominately Islamic or have a large Islamic minority.

Figure 1: Women (In)Security Index 2017 (Source: CATO Institute, 2018)


Another quantitative measure related to women’s equality and compiled annually is the World Bank’s Global Gender Gap Index (GGI).

The Global Gender Gap Index is the combination of four components: (1) Economic Participation and Opportunity, (2) Educational Attainment, (3) Health and Survival and (4) Political Empowerment. The highest possible country score is 1 (equality) and the lowest possible country score is 0 (inequality).

As seen in Figure 2, the GGI and WSI are positively correlated (Pearson r= .62) and reveal Islamic countries (the blue dots) again cluster on the low end for both indexes.

Figure 2: The World Bank’s Gender Gap Index (GGI) and CATO’s Women Security Index (WSI) — The Relationship to Religious Culture


The World Bank has been computing the GGI since 2006. Between 2006 and 2016, only one country, Sri Lanka, experienced a significant decline in their GGI (-0.05). Figure 3 shows the Top 10 countries experiencing the most significant increases in gender equality: Nicaragua (0.12), Nepal (0.11), Bolivia (0.11), Slovenia (0.11), and France (0.10).

Figure 3: Changes in Gender Gap Index (2000 to 2016) (Source: World Bank, 2016)


Among Islamic countries, Bangladesh (0.07), Chad (0.06), Saudi Arabia (0.6), Yemen (0.6) and UAE (0.5) saw the most significant increases in gender equality between 2006 and 2016.

If the World Bank’s GGI is any indication, there have been substantive improvements to women’s lives in Saudi Arabia since 2006.

Political scientist James Davies once postulated in the 1960s that “revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal.” Since called the “J-curve” theory, Norwegian political scientist Carl Henrik Knutsen has offered tentative quantitative evidence supporting one aspect of the J-curve theory: “Short-term economic growth rates systematically affect the probabilities of attempted and of successful revolutions. Regimes in countries that experience economic crises are at increased risk of facing revolutionary threats and of eventually being thrown out of office because of them.”

Whether this finding relates to the propensity of Saudi women to carry out their own smaller, personal revolutions is highly speculative.

What we do know, anecdotally, is that (young) Saudi women are routinely putting their lives at risk in seeking asylum outside the Kingdom. The most recent example (Rahaf) may have a relatively happy ending. Many most likely have not.

It is also impossible to disentangle the human rights issue from the diplomatic necessities of the U.S. and Western democracies. Saudi Arabia is too critical to world economic growth to expect political leaders to lead on the issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

A long list of American notables — Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, an assortment of Bushes, Michael Bloomberg, John Kerry, Condoleezza Rice, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Tim Cook, and Bob Iger— lined up to meet the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman during his charm offensive in March 2018.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman © ordering coffee with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg (Photo credit: AFP PHOTO / Saudi Royal Palace / BANDAR AL-JALOUD)


That fact is Saudi Arabia remains one the closest U.S. allies in the Middle East and will be for as long as the country needs their cheap oil (which might not be for as long as you think). Said President Donald Trump recently, “Saudi Arabia has been a great ally to me.” Sadly, the Saudi royals are not as great to their own people, especially Saudi women.

  • K.R.K.


The End of Empathy and the Locking of the American Mind

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; January 8, 2019)

We want to believe our every thought is the product of free will and from that foundation we self-select what thoughts we choose to share with others.

“Let me speak my mind,” we often say.

But do we? And even if think we do, are the thoughts we select from truly representative of our personal realities?

Deep down, we know a genuinely free mind is far too much work. It is simply not practical to be too open-minded and we can all think of times when we said something to sound polite or well-informed, even if we didn’t believe it or know what to say in the first place.

When recently asked if I liked the movie Green Book, my response was immediate: “I really enjoyed it. It was a very thought-provoking movie about racism in the 1960s.” (But it isn’t. It is the ‘See Spot Run’-level, nuance-free type of anti-racism movie I expect from Hollywood. Shallow and self-consciously important. I hated it.). But I still said I liked it — a lot.

[Side note: This is one reason why opinion survey results, particularly when related to personal attitudes and preferences, have to be analyzed with a healthy dose of skepticism. People don’t generally lie on surveys as much as they mold their responses to fit the moment.]

More broadly, we tend to believe things uncritically, especially things we don’t experience firsthand. We take others’ word for it, not because they are necessarily experts but because we are not. Or we deliberately ignore contradictory information just to maintain the peace in our head and within our social interactions.

Its a ‘go-along-to-get-along’ frame of mind. It’s social constructivism with hints of Marxism. The system causes us to think the way we think.

When our thoughts become speech, the words we use are often chosen for us by the people we socialize with, the media we consume, the churches where we congregate, and the schools we attend. The gentle tyranny of social norms and peer pressure consistently narrow our perspectives and therefore our potential for creative thought and expression.

If freedom of speech means the self-regulated articulation of ideas drawn from a narrow set of socially(elite)-determined alternatives, then, yes, we have free speech. But it is seldom interesting speech.

For society to function relatively smoothly from day-to-day, all alternatives cannot be available and debated at every moment. If the sign at my intersection says ‘No Right Turn On Red’ today, I expect to see it tomorrow too. A well-functioning, civil society has necessary boundaries.

But the dysfunction we see now in our political system is at least partly rooted in the scarcity of ideas we are exposed to at any given time. If most of our information comes from the AP wire and cable news networks, we are seeing but a thin slice of our world. The irony is that the Information Age’s social media-stoked period offers up fewer perspectives and weaker ideas than ever.

Every minute we spend on social media is a minute we spend with our head planted firmly up our arse. And I include myself in that ‘head-up-butt’ metaphor.

Some have argued that our ability to empathize is dying as a result. Whether through compassion fatigue, confirmation bias, or the over-simplification of social relationships, today’s young adults are showing less empathy than prior generations.

However, the issue may be more than just decreasing levels of empathy, but how individuals determine towards whom to extend their empathy.

Our ability to empathize independently may be the biggest victim of today’s social media obsession. We have to be told (typically by social elites and respected peers) who deserves our empathy and who does not. We may be losing the capacity to make that decision on our own.

This is why we witness these grotesque inconsistencies in whom some deem worthy of our protection and those who are labeled unworthy. In today’s partisan political world, a person can freely label Iran has the ‘world’s biggest supporter of terrorism,’ while calling Saudi Arabia a ‘trusted ally’. Never mind that the 9–11 terrorists were mostly Saudi and funded by a Saudi national. Never mind that ISIS and al Qaeda-aligned terrorists find their ideological roots in Saudi-sourced Wahhabism, not Shia Islam.

In an empathy-starved environment, diplomats can call Gaza Palestinians ‘terrorists’ for launching Katyusha rockets at Israel from locations near schools and hospitals, but when Israeli bombers allegedly shield their maneuvers by shadowing (and endangering) civilian airliners, that is legitimate ‘self-defense’.

Facts really stop mattering when others tell you how to think.

And this empathy deficit is not unique to Donald Trump, or his supporters, or neoconservatives. Liberals, progressives and left-right centrists routinely engage in the same behavior. In fact, it is the new normal for everyone.

When some believe that a conspiracy occurs when a presidential campaign operative, in pursuit of evidence of wrongdoing by an opponent, meets with a Putin-linked Russian lawyer, but are unwilling to hold the FBI accountable for using unsubstantiated, unvetted foreign-sourced opposition research to authorize surveillance of a presidential campaign operative, they are applying inconsistent standards.

When some are convinced crudely designed Russian Facebook memes can alter a presidential election, but ignore the culpability behind and potential impact of a false-flag disinformation campaign linking a Republican U.S. Senate candidate to the Russians, they are applying inconsistent standards.

The consistent use of empathy is hard work, made harder because we don’t generally experience national and world events directly and are dependent on others to educate us on these events. That is a fact driven by our natural limitations.

But that shouldn’t make us wholly dependent on others to interpret such events and to link them to larger constructs.

Yet, that is where we are today. We too often let others do our thinking for us. On the one hand, it makes getting through the day much easier. On the other hand, it can lead us into intellectual cul-de-sacs that may serve others’ interests more than our own. Inconsistencies and hypocrisies we would otherwise correct instantly are ignored, or even worse, embraced.

Why? Because we are told to do so.

Our current propensity for selective outrage and withholding empathy is damaging not just our democracy, but our society in general. It is almost passé to say that anymore. Still, we all know it and we literally do NOTHING about it.

Part II of this essay will discuss the importance of information diversity and how search engines (such as Google) and social media networks might benefit their businesses and society by more systematically introducing the power of random selection into their services.

  • K.R.K.

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Things I’ve been told that might be true

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, January 5, 2019)

Over time I compile a list of assertions, statements, and rumors told to me by friends, colleagues, online stalkers and perfect strangers at the TGIF Friday’s bar in Princeton, New Jersey. Occasionally, for the claims I find particularly interesting, I even try to verify them. Here are five that I found most interesting and might be true:

Conditions in countries have worsened where the U.S. has recently pursued regime change.

This statement I heard at the TGIF Friday’s bar and was attributed to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. It is a harsh indictment of U.S. military interventions…and hard to prove.

But…when I returned home I looked up the historical data from the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (HDI) (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Human Development Index (1990–2017)

Source: UNDP, Human Development Index


With any time-series analysis, where you establish the start and end points are critical to what conclusions are drawn. However, the three most recent countries in which the U.S. military has directly or indirectly intervened in pursuit of changing an existing regime — Libya 2011, Syria 2011 and Yemen 2015 — all have experienced significant declines in human development from the point U.S. involvement started to the present.

Even the two countries where the U.S. has had its most significant combat engagements (Afghanistan and Iraq), while they have seen an increase in their absolute human development index scores, their relative position worldwide has not increased significantly. Iraq, in fact, has gone from being ranked 114th in 2004 on the HDI down to 120th in 2017. Afghanistan’s HDI rank has moved from 170th in 2004 to 168th in 2017.

While there have been specific areas where the U.S. has improved conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan (e.g., access to education, particularly for females), the overall development measures have not witnessed substantive improvements.

In comparison, it is interesting that Iran — perhaps the one country the U.S. most wants to see the ruling regime fail — has seen dramatic human development improvements. In 2004, Iran ranked 90th on the HDI — as of 2017, the country now ranks 60th. This improvement has been aided by the Iraq War, the Obama administration’s rapprochement and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“The Iran Nuclear Deal”) in 2015. Sadly, Iran’s HDI score is most certainly going to decrease going forward given the renewal of U.S. economic sanctions against the country.

Overall, the assertion attributed to Sen. Rand about U.S. regime change wars is largely accurate.

Of its own volition, the U.S. military never leaves a country where it has stationed combat troops.

By definition this is true, since the U.S. military cannot independently make the decision to deploy combat troops, or decide to remove them once they’ve been deployed. That is a decision reserved for the Commander-in-Chief and the military’s civilian leadership. However, I cannot think of a single instance in U.S. history when the military led an initiative to get out of a country where combat troops were deployed. It just doesn’t happen that way — and maybe it shouldn’t. Per the Constitution, civilian leaders are supposed to lead defense and security policy, not the military. So this statement can be marked down as an absolutely true one.

Liberal academics are renouncing their U.S. citizenship and leaving the country.

This one I heard from a friend married to an academic. “How will we survive?” was my sarcastic response. He didn’t laugh either.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any evidence supporting the claim that PhDs are increasingly choosing to live in other countries, much less renouncing their citizenship. However, there is one interesting trend among Americans regarding citizenship. Since changes to U.S. tax law by the Obama administration, it has become more difficult for Americans to evade taxes by hiding money offshore.

The result has meant many Americans living overseas face an overly complex filing process at tax time, leading some to even renounce their citizenship in order to simply their life.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, in the first quarter of 2018, 1,099 Americans gave up their citizenship and more than 5,000 did so in both 2016 and 2017.

Among those thousands renouncing their U.S. citizenship are sure to have been some academics, so I cannot categorically dismiss my friend’s claim, who did in fact offer a specific story about someone so offended by the Trump presidency they chose to leave the country. But that is merely anecdotal evidence. For now, assume liberal academics are choosing to stay put.

Even under the most pessimistic assumptions about climate change, the U.S. economy is still expected to grow close to its current 10-year average.

In critiquing the last fall’s U.S. Government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA2018), Michael Bastasch, energy editor for, highlighted one of the more speculative forecasts made in the NCA2018:

According to the NCA2018, “global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century,” including a 10 percent hit to gross domestic product (GDP) in one extreme scenario where global temperatures exceed the pre-industrial average by 8°C.

This economic forecast, based on an extreme case scenario which few climatologists expect to occur (Representative Concentration Pathway [RCP] 8.5), has become a straw man for climate change skeptics. Never mind that any 80-year (!) economic forecast must be accepted with a grain of salt, the researchers behind the forecast recognize the extraordinary methodological challenges in linking rising temperatures to economic costs.

I would normally, therefore, be content scolding The Daily Caller’s energy editor for setting up an obvious straw man argument by taking out of context a single, speculative economic forecast from a 1,600-page report containing many more substantive conclusions.

Unfortunately, the climate change extremists in the mainstream news media jumped on the “10 percent hit on GDP” forecast with even more unrestrained relish than the climate change skeptics.

Climate change will severely affect the U.S. economyABC News (Nov. 24, 2018): “A newly released report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday explains in great depth the potential consequences of climate change on the United States and warns that neglecting to take action could drastically impede economic growth over the next century.”

Mass deaths and mayhem: National Climate Assessment’s most shocking warnings, CBS News (Nov. 25, 2018): “An estimated loss of up to 10 percent gross domestic product by 2100. By comparison, that would be more than twice the 4.3 percent GDP loss of the Great Recession.”

3 big takeaways from the major new U.S. climate report, (Nov. 24, 2018): “By the end of the century, warming on our current trajectory would cost the US economy upward of $500 billion a year in crop damage, lost labor, and extreme weather damages. This is almost double the economic blow of the Great Recession in the early 2000s.”

After a few days of national media hyperventilating, an actual climate scientist pumped the brakes and pointed out how the ’10 percent GDP decline’ was unrealistic and did not reflect current thinking within the climate science community.

Univ. of Colorado climatologist Roger Pielke, Jr. noted that the ‘10 percent GDP decline’ prediction was based on a temperate rise scenario (+8°C) twice as extreme as any made elsewhere within the NCA2018.

The following chart is pulled from the original research paper the NCA2018 used to draw the ’10 percent GDP decline’ conclusion (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Direct damage forecasts (% of GDP) due to global warming

Source: Solomon, Kopp, Jina, Rising, Delgado, Mohan, Rasmussen, Muir-Wood, Wilson, Oppenheimer, Larsen, and Houser, Science 356, 1362–1369 (2017)


The ’10 percent GDP decline’ conclusion is derived from drawing an horizontal line from the last data point forecast (RCP 8.5) at the 8-decade time period (far right). As Pielke, Jr. points out, the RCP 8.5 global warming forecast is far outside mainstream expectations.

The far more reasonable takeaway from Figure 2 is that the predicted economic losses range from −0.1 to 1.7% GDP (at 1.5°C of warming), 1.5 to 5.6% GDP (at 4°C of warming), and 6.4 to 15.7% GDP annually (at 8°C warming).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produced the following graph (Figure 3) showing the recent predictions about the global warming through 2100, given different scenarios on how quickly humankind limits greenhouse gas emissions.

Figure 3: Projected global temperature change

Source: NOAA, 2014


The red line (A2) from the above chart is the temperature change prediction assuming the world does almost nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions through this century. That scenario is already OBE (overtaken by events). The U.S. is no longer building coal plants and Europe is projected, at current trends, to transition to 100-percent renewable electricity generation by 2050.

The blue line (B1), on the other hand, shows the temperature change prediction under the scenario that the world experiences significant emissions reductions, though not necessarily due to aggressive climate change policies. In other words, the world will convert to renewable energy sources only as the economics makes them more profitable than fossil based energy sources. In this scenario, the world will be 4°C warmer (than the pre-industrial period) by 2100.

That is a realistic view of global warming and suggests, based on the economic impact research, that the U.S. GDP will be 5.6 percent lower in 2100 unless we (which includes China, India, and Brazil) address climate change more aggressively.

To put that in perspective: Let us assume today’s U.S. economy is re-denominated at $100 Trump dollars (annual GDP). If our GDP grows between now and 2100 at the same rate as the past 10 years (1.4 percent), the U.S. economy will be at $308 (constant) Trump dollars.

Shave off 5.6 percent due to climate change and the U.S. is instead at $291 Trump dollars. That translates to an annual average GDP growth rate of 1.33 percent between 2018 and 2100. Or, as a comparison, it would be like having an annual GDP growth rate slightly lower than what we averaged during the Obama administration (1.5 percent).

In other words, climate change is a slightly bigger threat to the U.S. economy than was Barack Obama.

I would never argue that losing 5.6 percent of our GDP is insignificant, should this occur. But experience tells me that economic predictions looking 80 years into the future are more notional than practical. A nation certainly can’t make multi-billion or even trillion dollar policy decisions today based on such phantasms. It would be irresponsible to ourselves and future generations.

Frankly, the news media’s promotion of the ’10 percent GDP loss’ narrative is doing the climate change movement a terrible disservice. Even a ten percent under-performance in an 80-year forecast (!) is little more than statistical decimal dust. It’s noise in the forecasting model. For love of God, you certainly don’t draw up public policies based on such predictions.

Furthermore, there is no risk in making such a prediction The forecasters responsible for it will be long dead. And the immediate professional reward is potentially huge.

It’s not fake news. It’s worse. It’s junk economics cloaked in legitimate sciencethat could irreparably damage this economy if the climate change extremists should ever gain control of U.S. tax and regulatory code.

Let us all take a deep breath and not do anything stupid to wreck the economy.

Since Trump’s election, job and economic growth has been strongest ‘red states’.

Any economic claim should be accepted with a grain of salt, as economic benchmarks, aggregation levels and time periods used to draw conclusions are often subjective and easily manipulable. Nonetheless, in the most recent Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) report, quarter-to-quarter GDP growth was significantly stronger in ‘flyover’ country (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Percent change in real GDP by state (2018:Q1 to 2018:Q2)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)


Of the ten fastest growing states between 2018:Q1 and 2018:Q2, seven were Trump-voting states (Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Montana and Texas).

The job growth data is a little more complicated. Since March 2018, year-to-year job growth was stronger in ‘red states’ than ‘blue states,’ according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Job growth by state

Source: and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)


But when the focus is on counties — and not states — it is the ‘blue counties’ (often suburbs) that are leading the growth in the ‘red’ states, according to an analysis conducted by the AP. Could it be the best place to grow the economy is from a highly-educated ‘blue county’ in a low-tax ‘red state’? Now that is real bipartisanship.

So which number is correct? They both are, but I would caution using county-level data to understand an economy. Tax laws and other policy tools that most significantly impact an economy are typically implemented at the national and state-levels. Showing that highly-educated and employable people tend to live in nice suburbs is not an interesting finding and says little about the impact of economic policy. State-level job and economic growth data, however, is more informative about how economic policy impacts an economy and according to the most recent data, ‘red states’ are outperforming ‘blue states’ by a healthy margin.

How we express knowledge is like hitting in baseball: We fail most of the time (myself included)

We can never take for granted any fact we read or hear in the news media. It is not that the news media always lies or propagates ‘fake news’ on purpose (though it does, and here is a possible recent example). It is the fact that even science, where objectivity is an inviolable standard, is not immune from political bias. By our human nature, we tend to use evidence that conforms to our expectations and too readily ignore contradictory evidence.

Maybe you can get away with that as president, but for the rest of us, that is not a good way to go through life.

  • K.R.K.

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The liberal international order gave us failed regime change wars - good riddance to both

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; January 3, 2019)

You know Trump has turned the world upside down when filmmaker and progressive activist Michael Moore takes the side of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a consistent defender of current U.S. military interventions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan (though admitting to Congress last year that we are not winning in the latter case), over a president attempting to extract the U.S. from at least two of those open-ended military engagements.

“I was just watching the stuff with Mattis and I really, I think maybe this is the first time I’ve actually been frightened for the country in these almost two years,” Moore said to MSNBC host Ali Velshi.

“Frightened, really?” asked a skeptical Velshi.

Supporters of the liberal international order, with whom Moore has apparently aligned himself as he tunnels deeper into his anti-Trump psychopathy, and its requisite regime change wars, find themselves on the defensive.

“The choice we face isn’t a tactical matter between war and diplomacy, debating which tool of statecraft best serves a common goal,” warns Bill Scher in a recent Commentary article. “It’s a choice between two deeply divergent worldviews: an interconnected, international order that elevates human rights standards, versus a nationalist derby where autocrats roam unchecked.”

Christopher R. Hill, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, argues that the U.S. military effort in Syria was prompted by our better angels and that pulling out too soon is relinquishing the country’s innocent citizens, particularly the Kurds who have fought bravely in fighting ISIS, to humanity’s worst actors (Assad, ISIS, Russia, and Turkey).

“No Middle East conflict is as complex as the one raging in Syria,” according to Hill. “The fight involves a government that is antithetical to Western values and a Sunni extremist insurgency that at one point captured the borderlands between Syria and Iraq and fought all the way to the gates of Baghdad.”

What Scher and Hill (along with other interventionists) fail to recognize however are these facts about the Syrian Civil War which work against U.S. objectives:

  • As the Arab Spring spread in 2011, the effort to overthrow the Assad regime was dominated by Sunni extremist groups, not pro-democracy moderates.
  • When the U.S. began to aid the anti-Assad rebels (presumably only the ‘moderate’ ones) in destabilizing the Assad regime, it effectively opened up the ISIS floodgate.
  • The rollback of ISIS began in earnest only after the U.S. stopped its two-front strategy of fighting both Assad and ISIS and allowed Assad’s forces to reorganize (with Russia’s help) and concentrate their efforts on fighting ISIS.
  • Assad’s pro-government forces (with Russia’s assistance and without U.S. regime change efforts) are capable of defeating the remaining ISIS and anti-Assad rebel strongholds in Syria (Hajin, Albu Kamal, and Idlib). Expect Assad’s forces to be exceptionally brutal in their suppression of the remaining ISIS and rebel forces.
  • Russia has a strategic interest in Syria : Its naval facility in Tartus — which happens to be Russia’s only overseas naval base. Russia was never going to sit back and let Assad fall. And that will remain true in the immediate future.
  • As heroically as the Kurds have fought in repelling ISIS and Assad forces from their home areas in northeast Syria, eventually they will need to negotiate a peace treaty with Assad and the Turks. The U.S. has never endorsed the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in Syria or Iraq and a U.S. withdrawal from Syria in the near future serves to accelerate acceptance of this fact and the start of substantive peace talks, hopefully soon.

Defenders of this country’s multiple ongoing regime change wars, like Hill and Scher, remind me of legendary New York Governor Al Smith’s term for idealists and reformers that thought their good intentions more than compensated their sub optimal policy results: He called them “Goo Goos.”

Cloaked in moral righteousness conferred when using terms like ‘human rights’ and ‘justice’, interventionists (like other idealists) too frequently fail to see the bigger, secular trends that undercut their country’s actual interests.

No better example of that dynamic can be found than Iraq.

Where once the military option was only exercised in defense of vital national interests, since George H. W. Bush’s 1991 Gulf War, increasingly human rights have been the public justification for U.S. military interventions.

Now a distant memory, a few of us still remember the challenge Bush Sr. had in selling a U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait (having been invaded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) to the American people.

Soon after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, Bush justified a potential U.S. military intervention based on Iraq’s violation of international law. Iraq invaded a sovereign country without provocation or justification.

Source: Gallup Poll

Yet, U.S. public support for such an invasion lumbered around 20 percent, according to the Gallup Poll. So Bush tried a different justification: “It’s about oil.” But when that argument fell flat with the American people, the Bush PR team launched a far more sophisticated disinformation campaign designed to portray Hussein’s Iraq as the closest thing to Hitler’s Germany since…well, Hitler’s Germany.

In a October 1990 hearing, hastily organized by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, witnesses to reported Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait were brought before the panel to share their stories.

Journalist Joshua Holland recalled one of the more dramatic stories: “A young woman who gave only her first name, Nayira, testified that she had been a volunteer at Kuwait’s al-Adan hospital, where she had seen Iraqi troops rip scores of babies out of incubators, leaving them ‘to die on the cold floor.’ Between tears, she described the incident as ‘horrifying.’”

The potency of the human rights angle is hard to ignore:

A decade after the end of the 1991 Gulf War, Christian Science Monitor writer Tom Regan shared a story about how his family responded to the Kuwaiti incubator testimony:

I can still recall my brother Sean’s face. It was bright red. Furious. Not one given to fits of temper, Sean was in an uproar. He was a father, and he had just heard that Iraqi soldiers had taken scores of babies out of incubators in Kuwait City and left them to die. The Iraqis had shipped the incubators back to Baghdad. A pacifist by nature, my brother was not in a peaceful mood that day. “We’ve got to go and get Saddam Hussein. Now,” he said passionately.

Amnesty International and independent journalists would later document that, while the Iraqis did loot Kuwaiti hospitals, the ‘babies dying on the floor’ story was entirely bogus — yet, it was a critical element in selling the invasion of Kuwait to the American people.

On January 9, 1991, three days before the Bush administration requested congressional authorization for using force to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, only 46 percent of the public supported a military invasion (47 percent supported continuation of economic sanctions). While not a majority or even a plurality, the public’s support for the military option was growing and Bush seized on the momentum and launched the air campaign on January 16th.

You might think that experience would immunize the American people from falling for such tricks in the future, but who are we kidding? Every war we’ve fought since Vietnam has been predicated, at least partially, on lies and fabrications told us by our government. If it works and nobody is ever held accountable, why stop?

Fast forward to today. Since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. has invaded Iraq again, replaced Saddam Hussein, installed a new government, and left Iraq (only to return in lower numbers). And what has been the BLUF (bottom-line-up-front) outcome of the billions financed by the U.S. Treasury to fight this regime change war?

Iraq is now a Shia-dominated client state of Iran.

That is not how it was supposed to end up.

But name a recent U.S.-led (or supported) regime change war that has worked out — or is working out — well.


According to now former Secretary of Defense James Mattis during congressional testimony in 2017, this was his summary of the situation in Afghanistan: “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now. And we will correct this as soon as possible,” he said.

Seventeen years and billions of dollars later and the Taliban is still not defeated? What evidence or assurance could be offered to cause any rational person to think the U.S. will ever win in Afghanistan?

Conservative radio host, Steve Deace, a well-known Trump critic from the evangelical right, calls the Afghan War “the greatest waste of money in U.S. history.” He’s not alone in that opinion.

If it were a private business venture, the U.S. effort in Afghanistan would have been defunded many years ago.

But this is what happens when a country socializes its defense and security functions. When the government starts something, it can always find a justification for never stopping it.

Where once the idea of privatizing national defense seemed absurd, now I’m not so sure.

At the very least, Trump’s introduction of chaos into the defense and security establishment’s decision-making apparatus should cause them to reflect more on how this country justifies its military interventions and the overwhelming evidence suggesting regime change wars never succeed, no matter how noble the intentions.

Libya? Syria? Iraq? Yemen? All fails. Afghanistan? If, after 17 years, the answer is still ‘to-be-determined’, that must be classified as a fail as well. And then there is Yemen. One million civilians now threatened by famine and diseases such as cholera because the region’s two greatest powers (not including Israel) — Iran and Saudi Arabia — would rather engage in a fruitless proxy war than meet at a negotiating table.

How about going back farther in time to Nicaragua? Forty years ago the Reagan administration was funding and training insurgents to overthrow Daniel Ortega’s Soviet-aligned government. And where are we now? Daniel Ortega is back in power and, if we believe recent American press accounts, is launching a brand new ‘reign of fear’ on his people.

If the U.S. can’t get it right in our own backyard, what are the chances we can engineer a successful regime change war in Iran ?— which, by many accounts, is our nation’s next great regime change project.

I’m sorry to say this, Joe Biden, but there is no urgent need to defend the liberal international order. Let it die.

  • K.R.K.

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