Mentioned in Dispatches #2: The Fortnight’s Best Reporting

Welcome to the second edition of Mentioned in Dispatches. In keeping with the aim of Encyclopedia Geopolitica, here we hope to present you with the clearest and most compelling writing on geopolitics and security, but in this case from news sources around the web.

This second edition of Mentioned in Dispatches is thankfully a slightly more mixed bag than the first, however there remains the looming figure of the new US President running as a connecting thread through all of this week’s pieces.

Politico: First we take Hässleholm … Swedish far right rises

This is a piece I had listed for Mentioned in Dispatches from well before President Trump started an international debate about ‘what’s happening in Sweden’, so it’s an example of an article that has moved from the ‘seems small now but keep an eye on it’-variety into ‘this is a good read on the main story of the week’. It concerns the sharp rise of the Swedish Democrats particularly in Southern Sweden over the past few years. The political systems and cultures of Europe, the UK and the US are different in many fundamental and subtle ways, so easy comparisons are often far too much of a simplification. But there do indeed seem to be similar attitudes and political movements springing up across so many different places.

“Indeed, Erlandsson believes the winds of change blowing through Skåne are the same ones that have brought Brexit and Trump and have upset the upcoming elections in France and Germany.

In November, he made a speech in the council chamber, celebrating the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. “I said that those people who wanted to see a woman president … just have to wait for it to happen in France,” he said.

His party’s support has soared in recent years on the back of growing disquiet over migration. Last year, Sweden, a country of 9.5 million people, granted residency to a record 150,000 immigrants. As the number of asylum seekers has dipped, the party has turned its focus to law and order concerns in areas with large immigrant populations.”

McClatchy DC Bureau: Russia trains Iran as dominant military force as U.S., well, warns it again

An interesting, shorter opinion article here from McClatchy quotes liberally from a study conducted by the Institute of War about Russia’s objectives in it’s military engagement in Syria and the potential results of training their Iranian partners:

“With little international notice, Russia is using the Syrian civil war as a live-fire boot camp to train Iranian troops as the region’s dominant military force. And the U.S. seems unable — or still unwilling — to respond effectively.

Iran has already dispatched up to 100,000 troops or proxies into next-door Iraq, allegedly to help its Shiite neighbor combat the Islamic State. But it is also arming and backing Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Syria, among others.

Iran’s concerted buildup, including sophisticated new Russian missile defenses, is expanding its armed influence toward tipping the Middle East’s balance of power adversely to American interests.”

Foreign Policy: Last man standing: McMaster for NSA? [Paywall]

There are plenty of fantastic reads out there about the downfall of Lt Gen (Ret) Michael Flynn including long pieces in the New York Times and Washington Post. This week I wanted to focus on the newly appointed National Security Adviser Lt Gen HR McMaster. There are two articles in particular I would draw attention to. The first is this shorter piece in Foreign Policy, written shortly before his announcement to the post:

“McMaster is among the best of them out there. For his Ph.D. dissertation, he wrote one of the best books on the Vietnam War, ‘Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam’.

He has good combat experience, he was a good trainer, and he led the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment well in his deployment to Iraq, most notably in pacifying Tell Afar, to the west of Mosul.

I[…] I remember him telling his soldiers that understanding counterinsurgency really wasn’t hard: “Every time you disrespect an Iraqi, you’re working for the enemy.” They even had “Customer Satisfaction Forms” that detainees were asked to fill out upon release: Were you treated well? How was the food? What could we do better?”

McMaster’s appointment has been met with bipartisan acclaim in the US and suggests potentially more traditional or stable security policy out of the new White House but it remains to be seen if he will have the ear of the President on national security over voices such as Steve Bannon.

The New Yorker: The Lesson of Tal Afar

This article from the April 2006 edition of the New Yorker examines McMaster’s command in Iraq, and resurfaced this week as a fascinating exercise in “journalism-as-first-draft-of-history“. Some of the predicted chaos and bloodshed in the article sadly did come to pass, but the events of the Surge and the Sunni Awakening in 2007 headed off the predicted civil war in this article. Part of the thrill of this piece is seeing lots of names that are now familiar appear ‘before they were famous’ so to speak. There are references to a Maj Gen David Petraeus of the 101st Airborne having some success in the North of Iraq. Three-quarters of the way through the author gets a great pull-quote from a young Democratic Senator:

‘“There’s an old saying in politics: when your opponent’s in trouble, just get out of the way,” Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat, told me. “In political terms, I don’t think that Democrats are obligated to solve Iraq for the Administration.” He added, “I think that, for the good of the country, we’ve got to be constructive in figuring out what’s going to be best. I’ve taken political hits from certain quarters in the Democratic Party for even trying to figure this out. I feel that obligation. I’ll confess to you, though, I haven’t come up with any novel, unique answer so far.”

New York Times: Not ‘Lone Wolves’ After All – How ISIS Guides World’s Terror Plots From Afar

Finally, there is this deep and well-researched piece from The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi addressing the very important international security question, just how independent are so-called ‘lone wolf’ attackers from the organisational structure of Islamic State?

“As officials around the world have faced a confusing barrage of attacks dedicated to the Islamic State, cases like Mr. Yazdani’s offer troubling examples of what counterterrorism experts are calling enabled or remote-controlled attacks: violence conceived and guided by operatives in areas controlled by the Islamic State whose only connection to the would-be attacker is the internet.

In the most basic enabled attacks, Islamic State handlers acted as confidants and coaches, coaxing recruits to embrace violence. In the Hyderabad plot, among the most involved found so far, the terrorist group reached deep into a country with strict gun laws to arrange for pistols and ammunition to be left in a bag swinging from the branches of a tree.

For the most part, the operatives who are conceiving and guiding such attacks are doing so from behind a wall of anonymity. When the Hyderabad plotters were arrested last summer, they could not so much as confirm the nationalities of their interlocutors in the Islamic State, let alone describe what they looked like. Because the recruits are instructed to use encrypted messaging applications, the guiding role played by the terrorist group often remains obscured.”

Alexander WG is a broadcast journalist based in London working in foreign news. His experience is primarily in U.S. politics with a splash of Europe, Middle East and African affairs thrown in for variety. Alex specializes in verifying news stories, journalism analysis and generally discovering the best reads from around the web.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.