The Syria Problem Isn’t Going Away

The Syrian Civil has been dragging on for over seven years now, and is entering its final stages. In the past few months, the Assad regime has wiped out all rebel pockets in the country outside of Idlib governate and the areas controlled by the Turkish-backed rebels and the American-backed Kurdish forces. Before we dive in, please take a moment to look at the map below. It is the current situation of the Syrian war, original found here at Wikipedia, with a few of my own edits to provide more information.

The Syrian rebels now control very little of the country, but they still command vast forces. The Idlib pocket is home to tens of thousands of fighters and millions of people. It is unclear exactly how many rebels are there, but it is at least 30-40 thousand and perhaps double that figure. The regime still has some tough fighting ahead of it. But still, backed by Russia and Iran, the end is inevitable. Idlib will fall. What I want to focus on today is what happens next, after the fall of Idlib. The only other areas beyond regime control are occupied by forces backed by the Turks and the Americans, with both countries having boots on the ground. Once Idlib falls, the regime will turn its attention to these forces and the US will have some difficult decisions to make.

The natural inclination is to simply withdraw American forces from Syria, and leave the country to the victorious regime and its Russian and Iranian allies. But this, I believe, would be a mistake. Even with military victory, the regime is fundamentally weak and incapable of ruling the country on its own. The devastation of Syria has been unimaginable. Nearly every town and city has been reduced to rubble comparable to the fire bombings of Dresden and Tokyo in WWII. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, and unfortunately for the regime a disproportionate number of these casualties have come from the regime’s traditional core of support: the Alawite community. The Assad regime has for decades, since its inception, been a regime by and for the Alawites. Alawites have formed the overwhelming majority of its fighters, and the high losses mean the regime no longer has the manpower to secure the country. There are perhaps tens of thousands of foreign fighters (Hezbollah, Iranian forces, Iraqi Shite militias, Russian contractors, Afghan mercenaries) supporting the regime, sometimes outnumbering native Syrian troops in individual engagements. Should all these boots on the ground leave, the regime’s control of the country would collapse.

This means that Russia and Iran will have to occupy Syria to stabilize it. Indeed, the regime itself acts as an occupying power given its very small base of support. However, it must be noted that Russia and Iran are relatively weak countries and are unlikely to be able to sustain the costs of long-term occupation, let alone reconstruction. The costs of reconstruction are incredibly high, with a recent UN estimate being a minimum of 250 billion dollars and most likely a far higher sum. Assad also shows no interest in reforming his “Bureaucracy of Death,” and as such will remain a deeply hated ruler within the country. Even after all significant rebel groups are destroyed, it seems likely the Syria will continue to be plagued by guerilla attacks and some kind of sustained insurgency. This increases the odds that Syria will collapse again in the future, despite Russian and Iranian involvement.

A collapse of Syria is in no-one’s interest. But should the US really help Assad and the Russians and Iranians rebuild the country? No. The moral case is quite clear. The Assad regime is abhorrent and vile, and should receive no assistance in restoring the chains on its victims. Perhaps the US should make aid conditional on political reform? That is an option, though it seems folly to believe that the stress of victory will force change that the horrors of war did not. Given the choice between slaughtering dissidents or relinquishing control, the regime will most likely turn away aid and double down on terror. The Assad regime is unwilling to make the reforms necessary to ensure its long-term survival, and the Russians and Iranians are incapable of providing the resources to maintain stability. A second Syrian Civil War, perhaps many years down the road, seems likely. It is important to remember that even now, with all the recent victories, the Assad regime on its own remains weaker than the rebels.

The United States needs to begin preparing for this scenario now. Our greatest mistake thus far in the Syrian Civil War has been our slowness to act, which meant that there was little we could do when we finally did get involved. From a practical standpoint, the US needs to remain involved in Syria as a collapse of the country would currently lead to a failed state acting as an incubator of jihadism and terrorist groups. But if we maintain some influence in the country, using reconstruction aid  and our present military presence as leverage, we can hope to influence events should, and most likely when, the regime collapses again.

In the short run, the US should maintain its military presence in Syria, but also pressure the Kurds to come to some kind of agreement with the Syrian government. Iraqi Kurdistan can be a model: autonomous but still officially part of the country. American troops will act as peacekeepers. This would involve returning significant chunks of territory to the regime. We should also act to increase the costs of occupation for the regime’s backers, Russia and Iran. This would involve hefty sanctions on the countries, and particularly companies and organizations that would be involved in reconstruction. We also need to maintain our ties with the Syrian opposition, both in exile and within the country. We need to assist the opposition in maintaining itself as an organized force in the country, even if it only operates in secret.

But there are also obvious moral reasons for the US to remain involved in Syria. Even before the Civil War, the Assad regime stood out among the nations for its use of sheer, unadulterated terror to keep its people in line. With its present weakness, the regime will unleash new levels of horror upon Syria to maintain control through fear. We cannot stand by and do nothing. The last seven years in Syria have turned the country into a cauldron of blood. Cities have been reduced to dust, and people reduced to eating the dust that remains. As long as Assad rules the country, Syria will be watered by blood and tears. As long as Assad rules the country, a renewal of conflict remains a definite possibility. The Assad regime remains fundamentally incapable of ruling the country, and the “Syria Problem” isn’t going away.

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Donald Trump and the Death of American Exceptionalism

The United States of America is an exceptional country in many ways. Our stability is unparalleled, being one of the few countries in the world that has never had a coup, or regressed into dictatorship, and with remarkably few incidents of uprisings and revolts. We are also one of the few countries without an ethnic component to our sense of national identity, complimented by a long history of vast immigrant inflows. As leader of the free world, the United States has also done much to promote and protect human rights around the world. We have been champions of freedom, globalization, and democracy. This is what makes America exceptional. Other countries hold these ideals, but it is to the United States that the world looks to act as their guarantor. But with President Trump, America has become less exceptional and more of a “standard” country.

Donald Trump is exceptional, in the American context. He is an exception to what is traditionally expected of an American President. He views every issue as a zero-sum game, with winning necessitating that there are those who lose. His attacks on the press stem from his inability to accept criticism; to do so is tantamount to surrender. He cannot just win over political rivals; he must vanquish and humiliate them. This scorched earth political style leaves little room for compromise or respect for his opposition. He needs people to support him, rather than correct him, when he is wrong. As such, appointments to important positions are based more on personal loyalty than competence. Alongside this is his never ending campaign tour, hosting rallies and fostering a personality cult around him. These qualities make Donald Trump exceptional in American history, but quite common in a global context.

We take for granted in America that our leaders have generally put national interest ahead of self-interest. This is the norm in most of the world. Most of the people in the world live in a country dominated by pervasive corruption, politicians with personal armies, intimidation of opponents, and suppression of individual liberty. Donald Trump is closer to this world than any other past President. He even openly admires these kinds of leaders and political styles. To be fair though, Donald Trump is far from the kind of person many of his opponents make him out to be. He is not a fascist, not a looming demagogue seeking dictatorial powers, and not the next Hitler or Stalin. He is neither as competent nor evil as these men. Donald Trump is simply an average politician, with counterparts all across the globe. He is more interested in advancing his personal and his party’s power, rather than an overarching vision. His view of America’s role in the world is limited to base security concerns, with no greater sense of purpose guiding his foreign policy.

Donald Trump is a remarkably unexceptional politician, self-satisfying and firm in the belief that the ends justify the means. This makes him exceptional in American history. America is exceptional, and it is so because of our long history of leaders who have put the country ahead of themselves. When past presidents were criticized they invited those critics to help them craft better policies. They have striven to heal social ills, rather than stoke them for political gain. They measured American greatness by our compassion, unity, and steadfast defense of our values, and not just by our trade balance and statistics. They recognized that America is exceptional, not because we top lists of various economic metrics, but because it is an idea; a never-ending pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness for all. Donald Trump sees America as a collection of spreadsheets and balance books, and in this way is not exceptional at all.

The Steady Creep Towards Apartheid

Israel has long been admonished for its similarities to the Apartheid regime of South Africa, as a result of its actions regarding its Arab minority and the occupation of the West Bank. At the moment however, Israel is still some distance away from the depths of the Apartheid regime. But Israel is steadily sinking towards that level. In a bold move Israel recently approved a new law, the 14th of the set of ‘Basic Laws’ that collectively form Israel’s constitution. This new addition to the constitution formally declares Israel to be the “nation-state of the Jewish people” and directly states that “right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” While this alone is not quite the “smoking gun” of Apartheid, it does represent yet another step in that direction.

Lets be clear: this most recent Basic Law firmly establishes the primacy of Jews, both as an ethnic and religious group, within Israel. While the law does not itself remove rights from non-Jews in the country, by explicitly affording primacy to the Jewish population it limits the ability of others to express their rights. This is a major step to making Israel a democracy ‘for Jews only.’ The next step is to begin directly eliminating the rights of the non-Jewish population. Already, the Israeli government gives vastly preferential treatment to Jewish citizens in land, water, and electricity allocation. This new addition to the Basic Law paves the way for that preferential treatment to be fully enshrined in the law. The settlements, border fences, concrete walls and barriers, checkpoints, and the rest of the features of the occupation currently justified as security measures are steadily becoming measures to enforce segregation plain and simple.

Israel has thus far avoided most negative consequences for its actions as a result of strong political support in the West, and in particular in the US. There is almost no worse label for a politician than “anti-Semite,” and indeed, for good reason. But now the term is weaponized to silence all legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. Is Israel really above reproach? Do we give them a blank check in perpetuity? At what point do we say “Enough”? Yes, Israel has legitimate security concerns. They are constantly under the threat of terrorism, a threat all too often realized. But we cannot allow that to be used as justification for the collective punishment of all Arabs living under Israeli rule.

Gaza has been described as an “open air prison.” Life in the West Bank for Palestinians is often a daily struggle. Bethlehem has essentially become a ghetto, walled off and surrounded by Israeli settlements. Radicalization feeds on despair. Misery breeds resentment and anger with violent results. Do we wait until Israel has finished creating its “bantustans” before we are moved to action? Do we wait until Israel has fully become an Apartheid state before we become outraged? Do we have the courage to be impartial, and to work to restrain all parties in the conflict? These are the questions we must ask ourselves. If peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is to ever be achieved, the world must act to stop the steady creep of Apartheid.

Trump’s Helsinki Summit

President Donald Trump’s statements following the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin were nothing less than extraordinary. President Trump openly placed greater trust in Putin’s denials of wrongdoing than in American intelligence agencies and other governmental bodies. His statements the following day offering “clarification” were far from convincing. But more troubling still is that this performance was simply a continuation of a pattern of behavior from the President. The Helsinki summit again shows that President Trump is guided more by self-interest than national interest.

President Trump frequently touts his eagerness for “bold” action. He wants to be seen as a President willing to go where predecessors were not. For Donald Trump however, this means a pursuit for personal glory. His meetings with Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin were ego driven affairs. Trump wants to maintain his image as a “dealmaker,” even, or perhaps especially, if that means meeting with tyrants. This quest for personal glory can also be seen in his remarks on NATO, particularly in the last week. He continues to insist that it was through the sheer force of his personality that NATO members were convinced to raise defense spending, stating in a tweet on the 17th that the spending increases were “only because of me”. Nevermind the fact that the recent NATO summit resulted in little more than an affirmation by members to commit to a 2014 agreement to raise contributions.

But this isn’t really news now is it? We have known for a long time that Donald Trump is arrogant and ego-driven. That’s why so many of the White staff members have been fired: he cannot take criticism. The real question is, how much longer are we going to let that ego endanger national interests? At what point is Congress, particularly Trump’s fellow Republicans, going to say “enough”? A nation cannot be ruled by a single man’s vanity. And Trump’s seeming inability to separate the election meddling issue from collusion allegations is but one of many examples of how that vanity is having a direct, detrimental effect on American democracy and national interest.

There are a number of concrete steps that Congress can take to put the President in check. First, and perhaps most importantly, Congressional leaders can directly rebuke President Trump, by name, for disparaging our allies and governmental agencies. Congress can issue legislation to sanction Russia for its actions and to remind the world that President Trump is not the sole political power in the United States. Furthermore, Congress can work to restrict the ever-growing scope and power of executive orders (admittedly a concern that began well before the Trump presidency). Action is needed, and Congress must show that it is up to the task.

The Problem With The “Abolish ICE” Campaign

I’m sure that over the last few days, weeks, and months, the great majority of you have seen an ever growing number of Democrats calling for the abolishing of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, known as ICE. The New York Times gives a good overview of ICE’s history and functions. ICE performs many vital governmental functions that are ultimately good for the country. The trouble is not ICE, but President Trump. ICE is merely enforcing administration policies, and calling for it to be abolished is a distraction from this key distinction. Is an assault to be blamed on the knife or the one wielding it? Calls to abolish ICE are like going for the knife while the assailant gets away.

Donald Trump has long been openly hostile to the mere idea of immigration since well before his election. He has made a vast number of racist remarks and has consistently backed and implemented harsh anti-immigration policies, such as the “zero-tolerance” policy which led to the family separations. Donald Trump does not believe in the United States as the “New Colossus,” a core, foundational tenant of American identity mind you. America is the Land of Immigrants, the “Mother of Exiles.” Everyone in this country, excluding American Indians, is a descendant of immigrants. And yet Donald Trump wants you to believe that immigrants are harmful to this country.

What can I do to convince you that this is a flawed view? Show you that illegal immigration is at its lowest rate in decades? That the great majority of research suggests that immigrants, both legal and illegal, commit crimes at a lower rate than the general population? Or can I show you the near futility in accurately estimating the costs of immigrants, and that, once their children are included (according to a study by the National Academy of Sciences), illegal immigrants are a net fiscal and economic gain to the United States?

Calls to abolish ICE shift the focus away from President Trump’s open hostility to a key tenant of American identity, and towards eliminating a vital government agency. If ICE were to be abolished, it would need a replacement with the same functions. We do need to track who enters this country. We do need an agency to arrest and deport those who enter the country illegally with criminal intent. We also need to restrain any President from using the agency to harass all immigrants. Calls to “abolish ICE,” however, present the Democrats as fanatics who are out of touch with what problems Americans actually face. Abolishing ICE will not solve our current problems with immigration, nor with education, or inequality, or political dysfunction.

If the Democratic Party wants to win the elections in November, they need to move from bumper sticker slogans to an actual concrete message. What are their plans for taxation and lasting immigration reform? How do they plan to address Congressional deadlock? What will they do about the massive, and alarming, growth in the power of the executive branch in recent years (especially under Presidents Obama and Trump)? The Republican Party, on the other hand, is not in too much better shape. They have a clearer message and more defined goals and plans, but still have much to do to offer a vision of America other than “not what the Democrats’ want.” Both parties are so much more focused on opposing the other than they are on really addressing our nation’s issues. “Abolish ICE” is just the latest symptom of this trend.

America Goes Tribal

The other day I read an article, originally published two weeks ago, titled “No, We Don’t Have To Be Friends With Trump Supporters”. It was, well, a bit shocking. The article calls for an end of civility with Trump supporters, stating that “when they go low, stomp them on the head.” But this article does not exist in a vacuum. The past two years have seen an explosion of such articles, and tweets, and public statements steadily ramping up the public’s vitriol. And with this, we also see an increasing dehumanization of our opposition. More and more the public discourse is defined as Republicans vs Democrats, and liberals vs conservatives. We are grouped into tribes and encouraged to see each other through these lenses, and not for the people we truly are.

All sides of this debate are engaging in such behavior mind you, no one has the moral high ground. President Donald Trump so frequently belittles and mocks his opposition, using derogatory language, that I do not even feel the need to cite examples. We have all seen it, we all know about it. But it’s not just Trump. Everyone engaged in political debate is steadily racing to the bottom. Both liberal and conservative activists, along with the mainstream news media, are embracing the Trump style. They attach patronizing nicknames to their opponents, such as ‘snowflake’ or ‘libtards,’ and paint all their opponents as ignorant children. Matt Lewis, writing for The Daily Beast, calls this cycle the “Uncivil War”. America is increasingly at odds with itself, and we are nearing each other’s throats. But Lewis puts all of his hope in the idea that someone in the political sphere will rise above this, and pull us from the brink.

But we cannot wait for some ‘savior’ to appear. Change begins with us. It is us who elected these people to office. It is us who share and spread these articles around. Indeed, we already had alternatives in 2016 who offered a more civil path such as Jeb Bush or Bernie Sanders. We rejected them, and we must live with the consequences. We must remember that the people on the other side of the aisle are just that, people. We all want the same thing: for America to be the best that it can be. We may have different ideas about what that entails, but the vast majority of us are simply doing what we feel is right. We must also remember that civility does not mean weakness. You can stage protests, call out public figures for their behavior, speak out for what you feel is right and against what you feel is wrong, and you can do all these things without resorting to harassment and disparaging attacks. If we feed into hate, it will continue to grow and we confirm its validity as a path for political success.

Think about the articles you share online. Is it encouraging this tribalism? Does it lump all Republicans and Democrats together, and what’s more, does it treat the names of these parties as derogatory terms in and of themselves? Are these the articles you want to share? Is this the kind of atmosphere you wish to promote? Think about who you vote for, especially in primaries. You want politicians to change? Vote for different politicians. Don’t vote for people who engage in this kind of divisiveness. Above all, don’t be passive. Civility does not mean keeping quiet. It means fighting for what you believe in rather than fighting to stop those you disagree with.  Civility is the politics of conviction, not opposition. No matter who wins the election, we all have to share this country.

Change Comes to Saudi Arabia

Over the past year, Saudi Arabia has seen some major, positive changes regarding the freedom of its citizens. These changes have been spearheaded by the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia has long been, and continues to be, among the most oppressive countries on the planet. But now, as illustrated by the end of the driving ban on women, things are starting to change. While women have seen the most gains from recent reforms, they also had the most to gain. But the reform movement has spread beyond women’s rights as well. The Crown Prince has called for a return to “moderate Islam”, and cinemas and other forms of entertainment are once again being allowed in the country.

First let me focus on women’s rights. There is nowhere in the world with more restrictions on women than Saudi Arabia. The crux of this oppression lies in Saudi Arabia’s ‘guardianship system’. The guardianship laws prevent women from freely exercising what few rights they do have as they can do almost nothing without approval from their guardian. They cannot work, travel, marry or divorce, live alone, or even leave a prison (even if they are detained without charge or their sentence is up) without consent from their guardian. They will be able to get a driver’s license without approval, though they still can’t travel freely. In addition to the guardianship laws, virtually all public spaces are gender segregated. Shopping malls, schools, public pools, you name it and women don’t have equal access. But still, things are changing. Women can now vote, and they can drive! There are still a great many gains to be made, but this is a good start.

Another key thrust of the Crown Prince’s reforms is his push to reform Saudi Islam, known as Wahhabism. Wahhabism is an incredibly intolerant and puritanical from of Islam. An extensive review of Wahhabi beliefs and the Saudi’s global support for them can be found here. Wahhabism is in the same vein of the kind of fundamentalist Islam practiced by ISIS and al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia has used its vast financial resources to export these beliefs around the world. So when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia calls for a return to “moderate Islam” it is hugely significant, given the Kingdom’s ideological hold on the entire Muslim world. When Saudi Arabia moderates, so does Islam as a whole. While details have been scarce regarding how the Kingdom will rein in its clerics, other than perhaps jailing them, Saudi Arabia has already made a strong commitment to restore public entertainment to the country and open up society.

Greater personal freedom for Saudis does not mean greater political freedom, however. This is still an absolute monarchy, ruled by royal decree and the whims of the monarch. The Crown Prince’s anti-corruption drive has amounted to little more than a shake-down of the Kingdom’s rich and powerful. This is not a country governed by the rule of law, but one in which any individual can be seized at any moment by the government, and stripped of all rights and freedoms. To cement this point, a month before the end of the driving ban took place, numerous women’s rights activists were jailed, lest people begin to believe in the power of protest. But still, we can’t expect everything to change at once, can we? Saudi Arabia has a long way to go, but it is finally moving in a good direction.

The Decline of Democracy in Turkey

Continuing my coverage of trends I missed during my hiatus, I would like to today discuss Turkey and the ever-growing power of President Erdogan. The entire history of Erdogan’s rule over Turkey, beginning in 2002, has been characterized by his growing authoritarianism. This process was greatly accelerated following the attempted coup in the summer of 2016. Following the coup attempt, Erdogan declared a state of emergency in the country which still remains in place. During this time, tens of thousands have been arrested and over 100,000 government employees have been fired including judges, prosecutors, teachers, and soldiers. According to the New York Times, Turkey is now the largest jailer of journalists in the world and the government now, directly or indirectly, controls 90 percent of all media outlets in the country. It is in this environment that Turkey has instituted a new Presidential system that will come into force following Erdogan’s election victory over the past weekend.

The new Presidential system, outlined in detail by the Venice Commission, gives the office of the President, held by Erdogan, immense power with very few checks and balances. I recommend at least reading the Venice Commission’s concluding remarks, but I will highlight a few key features here. All executive power is now held by the President alone, and all high officials are appointed and dismissed by the President with zero input from any other legal body. The President can now issue legislation by decree, bypassing Parliament. Control over the national budget is transferred from Parliament to the President. Finally, the President of Turkey, Erdogan, is now also responsible for appointing (without need for approval) the majority of judges comprising both the country’s top court and the judicial body responsible for the appointment of all other public judges and prosecutors. In sum, the new constitution gives Erdogan near total ability to rule alone. Turkey has taken a mighty step towards dictatorship.

But now, why should you care about what happens in Turkey? After all, these changes are unlikely to ever affect you unless you actually live in Turkey. I believe in a world of principles and ideals. The realities of the world we live in may force us to make difficult, but pragmatic, choices when necessary but that does not mean that we should not still do all we can to fight for the principles that we believe in. Freedom is precious, and is a fundamental right owed to all people. Should we stand idly by, just because it isn’t our freedoms that are being taken away? ‘But wait a minute, Greg’ you might say, ‘we have all heard plenty about the moral reasons for why we should care about such developments already. And of course most of us will agree that yes, we should do something to protect democracy and freedom. But let’s face it, if we are going to expend time and resources on that effort we need some more concrete reasons to do so.’

So here are some more tangible reasons for you to care about what happens in Turkey. Throughout history, and especially in modern history, authoritarian regimes have tended to ally with one another and democracies with one another. Indeed, in recent years as Erdogan has become more authoritarian he has also moved Turkey closer to China and Russia. Turkey is a powerful country, in a pivotal and unstable region. It is a major power broker. Having Turkey drift away from democracy will also increasingly place it in opposition to U.S. interests. With a resurgent Russia increasingly active in the region, having Turkey as an ally is vital for the maintenance of American influence in the Middle East. Erdogan is steadily pushing Turkey towards one-man rule and as the dictatorship grows so does the distance between Turkey and the West. As freedom dies, a new rival to American interests rises.

The Deal With Iran

Given my long hiatus, which I addressed yesterday, there has been a lot of recent news that I have not covered. The next few days will be devoted to covering some of the topics that are particularly important to me, and today we will start with the Iran nuclear deal and President Trump’s decision to withdraw from it.

Last May, President Trump withdrew the United States from participation in the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran. Just to be clear for my readers, I am not in support of this decision. Let me address some key concerns. As stated in this article, both the International Atomic Energy Agency and US intelligence agencies have found enough evidence to certify that Iran was indeed complying with the deal. Iran was complying, there is no denying that. They were not “cheating” as Trump claims. No this deal did not address all of our problems with Iran, nor should it. It would be ridiculous to try to accomplish that in a single treaty as the White House is currently attempting to do. Ronald Reagan knew this, which is why he negotiated separate treaties with the Soviets for arms control, nuclear weapons, ballistic missile limits, etc. Reagan understood that it was important to prioritize agreements on the most pressing of issues, and from there to build trust between the parties. This should be our approach to Iran.

The nuclear issue is clearly our most pressing issue with Iran and thus should be the natural starting point for talks. What is needed between the US and Iran is some time to build trust and the 2015 nuclear accord provided that. Another key concern was that many of the provisions of the deal expired after 10 to 15 years. However, much could change in those 10 to 15 years, not to mention that there is no reason why those provisions could not simply be renewed. A decade of engagement with the rest of the world would do a lot to change Iran, and to build trust. The nuclear deal was already leading to real, institutional change in Iran. There are two main political camps within Iran: the hardliners (known as the ‘Principlists’), and the reformists. In recent years, the reformists have seen unprecedented electoral success.

About two years ago, I wrote about Iran’s parliamentary elections and about the areas in which the reformists could hope to effect change in the country. Let me recap a bit, the reformists won big in those elections and set about working to bring economic growth and lessen corruption in Iran. The reformists were rewarded the next year when Hassan Rouhani was reelected President and reformists candidates won decisive majorities in local councils all across the country. The reformists were, and still are, now in control of nearly every elected body in the country and have been using that power to grant greater freedom to the people of Iran. The growing economy was furthermore steadily chipping away at the power of the Revolutionary Guard Corps by creating alternative, independent sources of wealth and power. All of that progress has come to a halt now with the collapse of the deal.

The problem with Iran is that the real power lies not with elected officials, but with unelected bodies such as the Guardian Council and the Revolutionary Guard. These bodies are not controlled by the Iranian government and possess tremendous legal powers. However, they are still accountable to public opinion. The nuclear deal and subsequent economic growth gave the reformists a lot of victories and the kind of popularity that made it difficult for the hardliners to retaliate. But now the hardliners can say “See? I told you we can’t trust them!” Public confidence in the reformists has dropped, and where the Iranian people will now put their trust isn’t clear. Just yesterday, protests erupted in Tehran and elsewhere against the Rouhani government and the struggling economy. Even if public opinion doesn’t shift to the hardliners, the shift away from the reformists gives the hardliners greater room for action.

The collapse of the nuclear deal has put the brakes on the advance of freedom in Iran. That is a sad fact, and the core reason for my opposition to the President’s decision. But on the other hand, I will not completely discount the possibility that Trump may be able to negotiate a new deal. It is unlikely, and I am disappointed in his apparent desire to try to negotiate every issue at once, but still it could happen. But pulling out of this deal before even a framework for a new one was complete was a mistake. The aggressive return of sanctions will only increase Iranian resistance and reluctance to sign a new deal. And we need a deal with Iran.

Standard Daily News Returns

It has been a long time since my last post, almost a full year actually. I never meant to take that much time off, and as such I feel that you, my readers, deserve an explanation. Things were going well for the blog early last summer. I was writing more frequently, views and shares were rising quickly, and the quality of my writing continued to improve. A couple of things happened at once though. A co-worker was injured and I had to cover and work extra hours for many weeks. Visiting family along with family emergencies further stressed my time. Three or four months went by before I actually had time to write again. But I decided not to jump back in. I realized that I needed to make a plan so that such a long break would not occur again.

I felt that my writing had gotten to a place where I could confidently expect to make something of my blog. Even with my irregular writing schedule, view and shares were going up so imagine what could happen if I wrote full time! This is the dream I resolved to achieve. So instead of jumping back in and plodding along with the status quo, I decided to continue to work extra and save up money so I could one day devote myself full time to my dream. Well dear readers, that day has come. Standard Daily News is now full time. This is what I have been doing the past few months. On the other hand, I also realized that time, however precious, is not enough. I needed to rethink why I was doing this in the first place, and what my goal with this blog is.

When I began this blog, I didn’t really have plan or goal at all. Instead, it began out of desperation. Over time I came to realize that one of the greatest fears we have in this world is the fear of ourselves: we fear what we can or cannot do, we fear how others see us, we fear how we see ourselves. But we are not made failures by our inabilities, but rather by our unrealized abilities. I have a voice, and am ready to share it. For a while this was my goal, to share my passion, and indeed it still forms a key drive for me. But is it enough? Can I simply state: “I am passionate about this” and expect you to read it? What can I offer you, the reader? Why should you listen to what I have to say?

I am an individual, with all the resulting limitations. I cannot hope to compete with the mass media in its ability to provide you with raw information. I do not have teams of journalists to find stories, and specialists to pull out of the woodwork to explain every obscure law. But I am real. I am not bought and paid for, not sponsored by or dependent on anyone but you: my readers. We have all seen the rise of fake news, and the politicization of real news. What I can offer you is this: an honest discussion, person to person, about the issues we face today. I can tell you what I believe and I can listen to and hear what you believe. Though I will continue to do my best to ensure that everything I write is factually true, I am not here to drown you with statistics and information overload. I am here to provide you with a source you can trust, a source guided by passion and a desire to do what is right. You may not agree with everything I write, but you can trust that I will listen to what you have to say.

And so this is the goal of Standard Daily News: to provide a place for an honest discussion about the issues facing the world today. My name is Gregory Palmer. I am an intelligent and talented individual and you can trust that I am not feeding you lies to advance some agenda. You can trust that what I say comes from the heart. You can trust that I will listen to what you have to say. We may or may not agree with one another, but we can trust one another. Standard Daily News may be one of the dorkiest names in news, but it is real. If you are reading this as a returning visitor, know that I am back full time. If you are reading this on your first visit, I implore you to look back on some of my past articles to give you an indication of what you can expect in the future. This website is now full time and I am at your disposal.

Gregory Palmer