Opinion

David Rohde

Obama’s overdue step on drones

David Rohde
May 24, 2013 20:45 UTC

President Obama’s decision to restrict drone strikes and again try to close the Guantanamo Bay prison are overdue steps in the right direction. Myself and many other analysts have called for these very measures over the last year.

Obama must actually follow through on implementation of his proposals, including pressuring Congress to close Guantanamo. And he should fully enact changes that can be carried out by the executive branch, such as handing over responsibility for drones strikes to the U.S. military and making them fully public.

As already occurs in American air strikes in Afghanistan, the military should fully investigate claims of civilian deaths and pay compensation where innocents are killed.  The current practice of keeping CIA drone strikes secret allows militants to exaggerate the number of civilians who die. Drone strikes do kill senior militants at times, but using them excessively and keeping them secret sows anti-Americanism that jihadists use as a recruiting tool.

The immediate criticism of Obama’s proposal from the right was both predictable and political. Any terrorist attack that occurs in the future, conservatives will argue, will be cited as proof that Obama and Democrats in general are not tough enough on terror.

“The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” said Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. “Rather than continuing successful counter-terrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.”

Changing Assad’s calculus

David Rohde
May 23, 2013 21:31 UTC

A deserted street with building destroyed by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad , near Aleppo International airport, May 20, 2013. REUTERS/Nour Kelze

AMMAN, Jordan – Secretary of State John Kerry and 10 European and Arab foreign ministers gathered here Wednesday night to again talk about helping Syria’s rebels.

As the international community discussed “grand strategy,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was taking decisive action.

Prosperity without power

David Rohde
May 22, 2013 19:46 UTC

A woman walking near the headquarters (L) of the Federal Security Service, in central Moscow, May 14, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

In Moscow, they are “non-Soviet Russians.” In New Delhi, they are a “political Goliath” that may soon awake. In Beijing and São Paolo, they are lawyers and other professionals who complain about glacial government bureaucracies and endemic graft.

Prosperity is spreading in many emerging market nations, but political change is not.

Washington-gate

David Rohde
May 16, 2013 21:56 UTC

President Barack Obama listens to a question in the rain in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Unprecedented Justice Department searches of journalists’ phone records. IRS targeting of conservative political groups. Spiraling sexual assault rates in the military. And the downplaying of the first killing of an American ambassador in 30 years.

In a matter of days, alarming accounts have emerged regarding the actions of five key federal government bureaucracies: the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon.

The devil who can’t deliver

David Rohde
May 9, 2013 13:30 UTC

Picture of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad riddled with holes on the Aleppo police academy, after capture by Free Syrian Army fighters, March 4, 2013.  REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano

MOSCOW – After marathon meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry here Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hinted that Moscow may finally pressure Syrian President Bashir al-Assad to leave office.

“We are not interested in the fate of certain individuals,” Lavrov said at a late night news conference. “We are interested in the fate of the Syrian people.”

From Afghanistan to Syria, an anemic U.S. civilian effort

David Rohde
May 2, 2013 22:45 UTC

Rear Admiral Gregory Smith (L), director of the Multi-National Force – Iraq’s Communications Division, and Denise Herbol, deputy director of USAID – Iraq, in Baghdad January 13, 2008. REUTERS/Wathiq Khuzaie/Pool

After helping coordinate the American civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya, Mark Ward arrived in Turkey last year to oversee the Obama administration’s effort to provide non-lethal assistance to Syria’s rebels. Unwilling to provide arms, Washington hoped to strengthen the Syrian Opposition Coalition. Led by moderates, the group was seen as a potential counterweight to jihadists.

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Ward, a 57-year-old senior official in the U.S. Agency for International Development, had seen the successes and failures of similar post- September 11 programs. He was determined to get it right in Syria

How to respond to a terrorist attack

David Rohde
Apr 26, 2013 19:41 UTC

BOSTON – There is no right way to react to a terrorist attack.

Oklahoma City rebuilt after Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 truck bomb attack on the federal government. Atlanta moved on following anti-abortion activist Eric Rudolph’s 1996 bombing of the Olympics. New York displayed staggering resiliency after the September 11 attacks.

Boston, though, may have set a new standard.

Customers swarmed restaurants and businesses on Boylston Street, the site of the marathon bombings, after police reopened the area on Wednesday. There is overwhelming pride here in the public institutions – police, hospitals, government officials and news outlets (forgive my bias) – that responded so swiftly to the bombing. And there has been no major backlash against the city’s Muslim community since two Chechen-American brothers were identified as the prime suspects.

There have been missteps, of course. The FBI apparently failed to follow up aggressively enough on warnings from Russian officials about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother accused in the attack. Police fired on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, his younger brother, when he was unarmed, wounded and hiding in a boat. And a transit police officer, who was gravely wounded in a firefight with the brothers, may have been mistakenly shot by a fellow officer.

For American-Muslims, dread

David Rohde
Apr 20, 2013 05:06 UTC

Louisville, Kentucky – Friday morning, four Pakistani-American doctors dressed in business suits and medical scrubs sat in one of this city’s most popular breakfast spots and fretted. At an adjacent table, a middle-aged woman grew visibly nervous when their native land was mentioned. One of the doctors, a 47-year-old cardiologist, was despondent.

“We were all praying this wouldn’t happen,” he told me. “No matter what you do in your community, that’s the label that is attached.”

Another doctor worried that years of outreach efforts by the city’s 10,000-strong Muslim community, a mix of Bosnians, Somalis and Iraqis, would be lost. Thursday, he sent a letter to the local newspaper condemning the Boston attack “no matter who committed it.” When news broke Friday that the two suspects were Chechen Muslims, his family grew nervous.

A failure to lead at the U.N.

David Rohde
Apr 12, 2013 18:13 UTC

It is the world’s most important organization, yet remains one of the most dysfunctional.

This week a former United Nations employee described a pervasive culture of impunity inside the organization – one in which whistle-blowers are punished for exposing wrongdoing. James Wasserstrom, a veteran American diplomat, said he was fired from his job and detained by U.N. police – who searched his apartment and placed his picture on wanted posters – after he reported possible corruption among senior U.N. officials in Kosovo.

“It’s supposed to be maintaining the ideals of human rights, the rule of law and anti-corruption,” Wasserstrom said in an interview. “And it doesn’t adhere to them on the inside.”

Jon Stewart v. Muslim Brotherhood

David Rohde
Apr 5, 2013 17:24 UTC

For Americans, it was Jon Stewart as national treasure. In a virtuoso performance Monday, the American satirist ridiculed the Egyptian government’s crackdown on Cairo comedian – and Stewart protégé – Bassem Youssef. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch Stewart’s mock conversation with Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi here.

“What are you worried about, Mr. President – the power of satire to overthrow the status quo?” Stewart deadpanned. “Just so you know, there’s been a grand total of, uh, zero toppled governments we’ve brought about.”

In Egypt, members of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood saw Stewart’s bit differently. The comedian’s skewering of Mursi was the latest insult from a nation that backed Egypt’s pro-American dictators for decades. Told that cracking down on comedians was playing poorly in Washington, a usually moderate senior Brotherhood member argued that Western notions of free speech were being used, yet again, to denigrate Islam.

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