Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Los Angeles Times on demilitarizing America's police:
It never made sense for the Pentagon to offer surplus materiel such as grenade launchers and mine-resistant armored personnel carriers to local law enforcement agencies. The practice helped increase the militarization of the nation's police, leading to such jarring images as assault-gun-toting officers in full body armor arriving in armored vehicles to confront demonstrators during the Ferguson, Missouri, protests last year. Police officers enforce laws; military units rout enemy combatants and hold territory. Those two missions should not be commingled.
So we were heartened by President Obama's announcement Monday that the federal government will remove some of the more extreme tools of war from the list of free items, including tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft, .50-caliber or higher guns and ammunition, grenade launchers and bayonets. Police agencies must also make the case that they need some of the items that will still be available, from drones and battering rams to riot helmets and batons. We take heart as well in the president's reported desire to find a way to retrieve now off-limits items already in the hands of local police.
The 1033 Program, named after a section of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997, is in itself not problematic. Since it began in 1997, it has distributed more than $5.4 billion in excess equipment to 8,000 local law enforcement agencies, most of it office furniture, photocopiers, portable generators, tents and other noncombat items. That's a smart approach to reduce wasting tax dollars. But giving away grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers for use in American neighborhoods goes too far.
The new limits were announced as the president's Task Force on 21st Century Policing released its final recommendations, which include a "layered" response to demonstrations to "minimize the appearance of a military operation and avoid using provocative tactics and equipment that undermine civilian trust." The task force also urged police departments to be more transparent in developing and reviewing policies, and to better track demographic details of encounters with citizens, augmented by post-incident "nonpunitive peer reviews" to determine better procedures.
These are sound ideas. As we've said before, there is no legitimate reason for law enforcement agencies not to revisit and revise protocols and training that guide how officers engage with their communities. And they should be open about their methods and results, so the public can measure the actions of its protectors.
Wall Street Journal on the anti-surveillance rush:
The Senate is supposed to be the cooling saucer for political passions, but surveillance opponents want it to be a slip 'n slide instead: They want the Senate to accept wholesale revisions to counterterrorism programs with little if any debate before Congress skips town for vacation at the end of the week. We hope Senators show more respect for their institutional dignity.
The House jammed the Senate last week with a bill that passed 338-88 and remakes intelligence collection of metadata phone records. House leaders of both parties know that floor time is limited and that the legal authorities for metadata, roving wiretaps for people who move across the U.S. border, and several other programs lapse in June. So their ultimatum is either to wave through their bill or undermine national security.
The better outcome would be a clean, temporary extension that allows the Senate sufficient time to consider the details and understand what it is doing.
The USA Freedom Act, which the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees negotiated with the White House, is a panicky political response to the Edward Snowden-inspired frenzy over surveillance. Supposedly government spooks are bugging your bedroom and reading your emails_though they aren't_and politicians want to be able to say they did something about it.
Yet bulk call log searches are an important analytic tool that aid terror investigations and prevent attacks. The House bill concedes as much, because it purports to preserve this capacity in some form. But rather than let the National Security Agency compile and format metadata, the bill says telecom and tech companies must keep records that the NSA can later request with a court order.
In the best scenario, this untested leap to replace a framework that has been useful in the 14 years since 9/11 will make intelligence more time-consuming and less efficient. Speed and agility matter in uncovering plots or safe houses. And how multiple databases that are likely to be less secure than the NSA's will protect privacy is anyone's guess.
But the House bill also declines to define how long telecoms must retain metadata. A year, a month? Who knows? If Washington's relationship with Silicon Valley grows more adversarial, service providers may conclude it is in their commercial interests to erase these records more or less in real time. In that case the NSA won't be able to look for a needle because there won't be a haystack.
The House bill was dumped as a fait accompli, and surveillance obsessives like Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul and Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon are even threatening to filibuster a short-term reauthorization. Some Republicans are going along because they assume surveillance is unpopular, but not so fast. Other Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are sticking to their national security convictions.
Among the GOP presidential field, Marco Rubio has come out in favor of metadata, while Chris Christie gave a thoughtful speech Monday on intelligence and foreign affairs in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The New Jersey Governor speaks with some authority as a former anti-terror prosecutor who worked in the greater New York region that is a principal target of global jihad.
"If we want to manage events_and not have events manage us_then we need superior knowledge of the world around us," Christie said. "Instead, Washington is debating the wrong question entirely_which intelligence capabilities should we get rid of?" He is flattering the legislative rush by calling it a debate.
Christie was especially sharp on the distinction between the practical realities of protecting the country and "the intellectual purists worried about theoretical abuses that haven't occurred_instead of the real threats that we've already seen from Garland, Texas, to Fort Dix, New Jersey." The growing world disorder may mean metadata is more critical than ever.
A rush to the exits is no way to conduct U.S. intelligence, or the affairs of Congress. If a majority of Senators really do want to disarm in the terror war, then they should defend their positions, listen to the other side, and be accountable for the results. Cramming such a major policy into law before a holiday weekend is a failure to treat national security with the seriousness it deserves.
Post and Courier, Charleston, South Carolina, on answers needed in Argentine case:
An Argentine prosecutor working on an explosive investigation of government intrigue and conspiracy wound up dead in his Buenos Aires home hours before presenting his case to that nation's Congress. Now it seems the case Alberto Nisman spent years pursuing may never have its day in court.
That would be only the latest in a long line of related tragedies.
Last Tuesday, a federal judge formally closed the investigation Nisman had led, after another prosecutor declined to proceed with charges. In his allegation, Nisman claimed that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner conspired to cover up the Iranian government's involvement in a 1994 terrorist bombing that killed 85 people at a Buenos Aires Jewish community center in exchange for a trade deal.
Nisman prepared hundreds of pages of evidence to support his allegations, but was found dead before he could present the findings.
Officials initially ruled his death a suicide, but the suspicious timing caused many — including, eventually, Mrs. Kirchner — to question whether foul play may have been involved. Recent opinion polls show that more than 70 percent of Argentinians believe Nisman was murdered.
Forensic investigations into the cause of death produced contradictory findings, and a forthcoming final report appears unlikely to offer any conclusive answers.
Indeed, the troubling uncertainty over his death should be in itself reason to publicly air the information Nisman compiled against Mrs. Kirchner and her administration.
And there has been no shortage of further intrigue since Nisman died in January. Mrs. Kirchner, on her personal blog, has speculated that Nisman was assassinated by her political enemies, in order to frame her administration. She later questioned whether Israeli organizations or a controversial New York investment firm might have been part of a conspiracy against her administration in a ridiculous, rambling post entitled "Everything has to do with everything."
Officials investigating Nisman's death have accused his mother, who discovered his body, of tampering with evidence before police arrived at the scene. And one of the most outspoken judges pushing to discredit the suicide theory is Nisman's estranged wife.
But beyond the blend of soap opera theatrics and political thriller accusations lies a very serious concern that must be addressed: The Jewish center bombing remains unsolved. The victims of that terrorist attack and their families deserve justice.
If evidence shows that high-level Iranian officials worked with Hezbollah to plan and carry out the attack, as Nisman alleged, it would be of particularly damaging significance in light of ongoing international negotiations over that nation's nuclear ambitions.
And if Mrs. Kirchner indeed conspired to bury evidence of Iran's involvement, it would constitute not just an unforgivable political black eye, but an international criminal offense as well.
Perhaps there really isn't enough evidence to proceed with a trial.
But the severity of Nisman's charges demands far more than the dismissive attitude with which his case was shelved last week.
The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on whether media cares about Obama losing peace, war in Iraq:
Just last Friday, the Pentagon assured us that the terrorists of ISIS were on the run. Not to worry.
By Monday, ISIS had overrun the key city of Ramadi, leaving bloody, smoldering bodies in its wake.
Could the Obama administration possibly believe its own rhetoric? Or do we now officially have a Soviet-style government that lies through its teeth to its people with no sense of irony or guilt?
Whatever the case, Mr. Obama's empty promise last fall to "degrade and destroy" ISIS rings even more hollow today.
It has been a half-hearted effort at best, and the goals of the mightiest nation in the world have been routed yet again with the fall of Ramadi.
In short, Barack Obama, having already lost the peace in Iraq, is now losing the war.
It's been sadly amusing to sit back and watch the national media tie themselves into knots in the past week or so trying to get Republican candidates to admit (since the Democrat candidate won't speak) that going into Iraq some 12 years ago was a mistake.
Where are the questions about the current state of affairs? Why aren't the media obsessing over the Obama administration's abject failure to "degrade and destroy" the 7th-century savages of ISIS?
And why aren't the talking heads tying themselves in knots asking if it was a mistake for President Obama to withdraw precipitously from Iraq?
Where are the questions? Isn't today's situation, and what led directly to it, a little more relevant than asking "Knowing what we know today, would we have done what we did 12 years ago?"
Even the liberal Washington Post waxed quizzical after the fall of Ramadi. In noting Mr. Obama's rhetoric last fall of the ISIS threat to even America, the Post wrote in an editorial this week:
"Yet he refuses to commit the Special Forces and military assistance that could meet that threat, portraying any alternative to his minimalist policy as being 'dragged back into another prolonged ground war.' ...
"Every conflict will have ups and downs, as administration spokesmen said Monday. But it is Mr. Obama's unwillingness to match means to strategy that threatens to prolong this war."
Even Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff says administration claims that the war is going well should set off "alarm bells."
If this were a Republican president, would the rest of the media be so sanguine about the goings-on in Iraq and the policy failures on display there?
Instead, the major media are satiated and satisfied by fables from our generals about how well it's going in Iraq.
Has the administration managed to dismiss all truth-tellers and dissenters from our military?
Sorry, comrades, but we're just not buying what they're selling.
The Japan Times on U.S. moving forward with Gulf states:
There was trepidation surrounding last week's summit between the United States and its partners in the Persian Gulf — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Despite long-standing relationships, there is considerable nervousness stemming from the progress of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West. Fortunately, however, hope prevailed over fear. Nevertheless, concerns remain about the results of Iranian nuclear talks and other governments must remain sensitive to the anxieties of Gulf states.
The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.S.) aim to cap Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but those talks have the potential to transform Middle East politics. An internationally accepted agreement will signal Iran's legitimation in regional politics. The lifting of economic sanctions — even if only partially at the outset — will provide Iran with resources to underwrite more ambitious diplomacy. The Gulf states, whose governments are Sunni, worry that Iran, a Shiite state, will advance its own model of Islam and deepen sectarian divides throughout the Middle East.
The Gulf states also fear that U.S. readiness to engage with and rehabilitate the Iranian regime signals a return to the pro-Tehran leanings of U.S. foreign policy when the shah was in power until his overthrow in 1979 and the Islamists took power. U.S. officials, from President Barack Obama on down, deny that any such shift is in the works. At the same time, however, as Obama said at last week's meeting, he does not seek "any long-term confrontation with Iran, or even to marginalize Iran."
Instead, the goal is to help guide Iran back into the community of nations, and to use that membership to curb Iran's destabilizing behavior, in particular its support for proxies such as Hezbollah, throughout the region. A critical tool that Washington and its allies have is a united front, one that is reinforced by security cooperation. (There is a similar logic in U.S. foreign policy in Asia with its emphasis on tightening relations among allies and security partners to constrain the behavior of belligerent governments.)
At the meeting last week, Obama reiterated that the U.S. commitment to the defense of its allies in the region was "ironclad" and that Washington was ready to use all its capabilities, including military force, if they were threatened. To head off that possibility, the governments agreed to expand intelligence and maritime-monitoring cooperation, to more joint exercises, and the development of rapid response capabilities and implementation of a regional missile defense system. Reportedly, the U.S. is willing to grant the Gulf countries major non-NATO ally status, which would make them eligible for certain kinds of military assistance.
The meeting marked, said Obama, "the beginning of a new era of cooperation between our countries — a closer, stronger partnership that advances our mutual security for decades to come." A diplomat from the Gulf states agreed, saying the relationship "had reached a new level."
While welcome, those pledges fell short of the formal defense agreement that some Gulf governments sought. But then, the U.S. did not get all it wanted from the meeting either. The Gulf states offered a less than full-throated endorsement of the Iran negotiations. While the emir of Qatar said the group "welcomes this agreement," the Saudi Arabian foreign minister noted that the deal is not yet final, and "it would be too early to prejudge what we accept and . don't accept."
That it was the Saudi foreign minister, and not the king himself, in attendance, produced some hand wringing in Washington. The top leader's absence was interpreted as a sign of Saudi disapproval of the Iranian negotiations. In fact, there are several stress points in the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia: The Tehran deal is not popular, and U.S. support for the color revolutions and its policy toward Syria have been challenged as short-sighted. Obama met with Saudi officials before the summit, however, and afterward stressed the "extraordinary friendship" shared by the two countries.
Some observers decried the lost opportunity to push the Gulf states to embrace the political and economic reforms that would, in their eyes, produce more resilient societies. For this group, the best security policy promotes human rights. Instead, the U.S. pursued the usual solution — weapons sales. Those critics note that in the first five years of the Obama administration, the U.S. transferred more than $64 billion in arms and defense services to Gulf countries.
While Iran hung over the meeting, other topics were on the agenda. Obama and his Gulf counterparts also pledged to back the moderate opposition in the Syrian civil war, to back the unsteady truce in Yemen, to rein in support for the groups fighting Shiites throughout the region, and work for a two-state solution in Israel. Indeed, the Gulf states' approach to Iran is a marked contrast with that of Tel Aviv, whose opposition to any deal seems to harden daily. If the Gulf states prove to be more accommodating of U.S. foreign policy objectives than Israel, then that could be a geopolitical shift that rivals the return of Iran to regional politics.