When Donald Trump ordered the use of 59 Tomahawk missiles to strike a Syrian air base operated by the Assad regime, many observers were taken almost completely by surprise. There had been rumblings, no doubt, suggestions that, after the terrible chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib governorate, something might be done. But this was merely hinted at, mentioned in line with a range of possibilities. That was a demonstration that options had not been over-hastily removed from the table. Continue reading
The people disappeared in Syria’s military prisons do not have graves, but they do have names. They may not have been accorded funeral rites, but they have faces and stories and their families have memories of their presence. The war which has destroyed much of Syria can be localised: to a family, to a single person, to a face. And within the wider war lurk stories of cruelty and barbarism which affect individuals but whose effects spiral outwards. These specific instances of savagery become institutionalised. Continue reading
According to the ‘Imperial President’ theory as put forward by Arthur M. Schlesinger, the office of President of the United States has been steadily and repeatedly accruing powers towards its own advancement. A modern president has increasing control over the federal bureaucracy, for instance, and his orders on extra-judicial matters are likely to be stronger now than they have been in a long time. The imperial president gains many of his powers in times of war; and as the United States has spent most of the last half-century fighting one war or another (in various guises), it is suggested that this has led to increasing powers for the presidency in our own times. But there is a flipside to this famous declaration: presidents may also eschew matters imperial, and instead of that particular moniker, they may have the sobriquet of ‘imperilled’ – in the words of Shakespeare’s Malvolio – ‘thrust upon ‘em’. Barack Obama is one such president.
On Tuesday, December 9, 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the executive summary and portions of an as yet unpublished report into the torture undertaken by the CIA. In the following days, much was revealed about American programmes of ‘enhanced interrogation’. We had all heard of ‘waterboarding’, of course, but this was different. In scale, intensity and variety, the programmes of torture as described in the report eclipse the expectations of all but the most seasoned and pessimistic of observers. Continue reading
History is more than a collection of dates and facts, kings and queens, battles and wars. It is also a guide for how we see the world, a shaping influence in the construction of our own worldview. Added to that, and increasingly seen in places like Russia, where media and writing of all kinds – everything that constitutes the nation’s intellectual life – can be conscripted into the creation of sinister political machinery, it can be a powerful tool. Even a weapon. Continue reading