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Twitter hates me. The Des Moines Register fired me. Here’s what really happened.

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During the seven months I worked as a trending-news reporter for the Des Moines Register, it was my job to write about viral news in Iowa and to frame my stories in ways that would increase their viral potential.

My last story for the paper, a profile of local celebrity Carson King, was my most widely read—because it provoked a national controversy. The series of events it triggered also cost me my job. 

The controversy, as it took shape in the media and on social platforms, had all the trappings to become its own viral story—it had a hero who prevails, a villain who’s taken down, and a satisfying ironic twist. The reality, of course, was much more complicated. What happened to me has opened my eyes to how viral stories so easily twist the truth into something unrecognizable, and how ill-equipped news organizations are to respond. 

Prior to the profile’s publication, I had been celebrating my professional accomplishments. I’d recently written several popular stories, among them a feel-good news piece about King, a twenty-four-year-old Iowan who’d become famous after channeling a chance ESPN appearance into a wildly successful fundraiser for a children’s hospital. I followed the story closely as the week went on and it attracted regional, then national, attention.

When King announced that his fundraiser had crossed the million-dollar mark, I decided to write a longer profile of him. I drove out to his home in a suburb of Des Moines. I had been talking with King via Facebook Messenger, but this was my first time meeting him in person. He was humble, and struck me as a genuinely kind and well-meaning person.

ICYMI: BuzzFeed receives scoop from controversial source

As I began writing, an editor requested that I run a background check on King. This is standard practice at the Register, as it is for many newspapers, when reporting on public figures. I looked at King’s court records as well as his public social media, and found a few racist jokes he’d tweeted in high school. In context, I could see that these had been references to sketches by the comedian Daniel Tosh. I told my editor about the tweets and was asked to reach out to King for comment. 

I believe this was the right thing to do. Performing background checks on public figures is part of a journalist’s responsibility. If I had found the tweets, others would, too. I approached King with an understanding that what you tweet in high school is not necessarily representative of your beliefs as an adult, and he duly apologized.

I included a brief mention of the offensive tweets and King’s apology toward the end of my profile. It was a small moment placed in context at the end of a positive story. The tweets were part of a narrative of growth, maturity, and compassion—not an accusatory, “gotcha” moment. 

When I asked King about his tweets, I tried to communicate that I was not trying to bring him harm. It’s clear to me now, though, that he was worried about personal blowback. As is common in the world of celebrity PR, he moved to get ahead of the details that would be revealed in the profile.

The evening before the profile was scheduled to be published, King held a press conference to confess to the existence of his tweets and to make a public apology. In a statement given to local television news stations, he noted that a Register reporter had brought the tweets to his attention. I was not provided with this statement or informed that he was speaking to the press.

In his statement, King included a more recent tweet of his that denounced racism. I recognized this tweet when I read it later—I had sent it to him on Facebook Messenger, to show him that I believed the crude tweets I’d found were not fully representative of his beliefs.

I don’t believe that King set out to implicate me, but because he preempted my forthcoming profile, people believed that I intended to impugn his character. Immediately after he released his statement, angry messages began to come in to the Register’s Facebook page. The messages demanded that the identity of the journalist who had found King’s tweets be revealed, and threatened the reporter’s life and the lives of Register staff. The Register decided to publish my profile that night, and King tweeted that he bore the paper no ill will, but it was too late. The narrative that a Register reporter was trying to discredit Carson King had already been set in motion.

In the hours after King’s statement, people on Twitter found material that they used to discredit me, instead. They shared offensive tweets that I’d posted when I was younger, including statements that were meant sarcastically but that employed homophobic and misogynistic language and could be read as such if taken at face value. I also tweeted, verbatim, a Kanye West lyric that used the N-word. 

Tweeting these things was a mistake, and I apologize for them. I would not tweet the same things now. Like many people as they mature, I’ve come to understand that such language can cause real harm, and I’ve learned to better represent my values. 

At the request of an editor at the Register, I tweeted an apology: I had not “held myself to the same standard the Register held others.” But I immediately regretted the statement. They were words I did not believe—I was never in the business of holding others to any kind of a moral standard. As I told King, I don’t think it is fair to use someone’s old tweets to make blanket assaults on their character. 

ICYMI: NPR kills journalist’s piece over her accent

I haven’t spoken to King since our last interview, but the day after publication I received a message from his older brother Josh. “I had to deal with a 24-year-old young man last night that was bawling hysterically because of what happened,” he wrote on Facebook Messenger. “He truly is a good kid and he has defended everyone involved in this whole situation.” 

Over the next several days, I was the subject of a maelstrom of misunderstanding, anger, and hatred. My phone was nearly unusable for forty-eight hours due to constant calls from unknown numbers. The days were fogged with an ambient cloud of vitriol coming from strangers, from local people I knew but had little contact with, and from people I hadn’t spoken to in years. I did receive many kind messages—but this was also unsettling. The more I heard from people who’d grown distant in my life, the more widespread I realized the story had become. 

My Twitter and email were inundated with anger. I received death threats by text message and by Facebook Messenger. My family and loved ones, and other Register reporters, received threats and angry messages as well. Threats were received at the office, and the paper was forced to hire extra security.

The death threats were frightening. But even more hurtful were the attacks on my character and humanity. These were propelled both by ordinary readers seemingly ignorant of the facts and, more insidiously, by reactionary journalists and the outlets that published them, specifically right-wing demagogue Mike Cernovich, Breitbart, and Barstool Sports. Local television stations as well as national platforms such as CNN and the Washington Post helped to spread the false but palatable narrative established by these outlets—that I had sought to vilify King for his tweets. A statement given by the Register attempted to explain the situation but failed to correct the assumptions. Throughout, I was instructed not to comment or respond to requests from the press. 

After two days of media furor, representatives from Gannett, the Register’s parent company, called me at the home of a friend, where I was staying out of fear for my safety. Gannett, they told me, had determined that my tweets had compromised my credibility as a reporter. The company gave me two options: quit the paper, or be fired with no severance. On the phone, in my friend’s bedroom, I chose to be fired. I then returned to the living room, where two police officers stood waiting. With the assistance of my partner, I walked the officers through the messages I’d received from strangers. Some threatened to kill me; others asked me to kill myself.

This marked the conclusion of my time as the trending-news reporter for the Des Moines Register

THE DAYS BETWEEN King’s press conference and my firing were some of the worst of my life. I was made into a villain and a fool, a man who tried to “cancel” Carson King and in so doing got himself “canceled.” People resented what they perceived as a reporter’s making King a target of political correctness. King represented the foundations of Iowan identity and, more generally, Americanism. He was the young, white son of a police officer. He had an unassuming selflessness, he was a fan of college football, and he drank Busch Light. 

The existence of King’s racist tweets complicated this simple portrait. But instead of attempting to understand the nuances of a man’s character within the complexities of the world, readers reacted by punishing the writer who made those complications visible. 

There was never any attempt to “cancel” Carson King. In fact, his status as a folk hero has only grown. By the end of his fundraiser, he had brought in over $3 million. Though Anheuser-Busch withdrew its association with King and its donation of a year’s worth of beer, a man in Iowa donated it to King in the brewer’s stead. On September 28, Iowa’s governor established an official Carson King Day, proclaiming that “individuals like Carson King demonstrate how ‘Iowa Nice’ isn’t just a slogan, but our way of life.”

ICYMI: The story BuzzFeed, Daily Beast, NYTimes and more didn’t want to publish 

Meanwhile, I lost my job—work that I was good at and proud of. My family has deep roots in Iowa, and I grew up reading the Register. The writer Jesse Singal gleefully pointed out on Twitter the irony of the fact that I had shared Osita Nwanevu’s New Republic article on the fallacy of “cancel culture” before I was fired. But I still don’t believe in the boogeyman of cancel culture. I was not “canceled”; Gannett chose to fire me. That’s an important distinction.

I’m far from the first person to be doxxed or to endure an online mob. It’s a more common occurrence, and turns more quickly violent for women or writers of color. With the support of my partner and my friends and family, I was able to avoid collapsing beneath the weight of the great hatred directed toward me. Some of my former colleagues at the Register have reached out to communicate their support—off the record, of course—and that has strengthened my conviction that I reported the story as well as I could.

The specter of “cancel culture” is a concept most often invoked to protect those in power, often straight white men such as myself, from facing consequences for their actions, but I want no part in it. I’m not going to start a YouTube channel railing against the perceived dangers of PC culture. I believe I lost my job unfairly. At the same time, I firmly believe that people, especially those in power, should be held accountable for what they say and do.

GANNETT HAS SET a dangerous precedent: allowing editorial decisions to be made by public demand. Most of the reporters in the Register newsroom are, like me, in their twenties. They serve as cheap labor, filling the positions of older reporters who were laid off. They are there because they believe in the necessary work of local journalism, as I did and still do. They deserve better than this, as do their subscribers.

After King’s statement that Tuesday evening, I was not allowed to return to the Register office. In the roughly forty-eight hours that elapsed from that time to my firing, I had limited contact with my direct supervisors and a single conversation with Gannett HR, where I gave them a statement similar to what I’ve written here. The managerial process that resulted in my firing was completely opaque to me. 

I wish Gannett would have taken into further consideration how I’d represented myself as an employee. But rather than trust the character I’d established in the newsroom and work with me to help address the anger, misunderstanding, and misinformation in the community, they vindicated bad-faith attacks and allowed disingenuous arguments to influence their decisions.

There was no union at the Register. Had I been a union member, I believe I would have been able to more effectively advocate for myself. The day I was fired, the Department of Justice approved a massive merger between Gannett and Gatehouse, forming the largest media corporation in the nation. The Gannett/Gatehouse merger will result in a historic monopoly over local news media and will likely prompt widespread layoffs. Earlier this month, the Arizona Republic, a Gannett-owned paper tired of enduring staff purges and fearful of what’s to come, voted to unionize despite heavy-handed attempts by Gannett to suppress their movement. I hope this signals better things to come.

Neither the Register nor Gannett was prepared for what virality truly meant, or for what the kind of story they had asked me to report truly looked like. They wanted the clicks. But they did not anticipate how powerful the narrative would be once wrested from their control and turned on them and their reporters. In the end, I believe I was scapegoated by a corporation trying to preserve its bottom line.

Nearly as quickly as the Carson King story made me into a villain, it is leaving me behind. A Register story about the end of King’s fundraiser published October 2—less than a week after I was fired—makes no mention of me, King’s tweets, or the torrential news cycle that followed. The story includes an interview with King, but he makes no comment on those events.

ICYMI: A reporter attended a school board meeting for 3 hours, longer than other journalists present. That ended up being a very good decision.

Aaron Calvin is a writer living in Iowa.
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13 days ago
If you are part of an online mob, you are the problem and not the solution.
9 days ago
Outrage culture. Twitter. It all needs to be burned with fire.
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The Risk of Dying Doing What We Love

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Many of us participate in activities and sports that are at least somewhat dangerous.  However, most of us also do not have a full appreciation of how risky these activities really are, especially compared to other things that we could be doing instead.

We just love our favorite pastime and facing up to its risks can be stressful because we also want to be safe while having fun. Psychologists call this type of stress “cognitive dissonance”, and we intuitively look for ways to remove the discomfort of our conflicting emotions, often by downplaying the risks to ourselves and to others. 

E.g., when I became a glider pilot some 35 years ago, my instructors used to proclaim that “the most dangerous aspect of the sport is the drive to the airport”.  This was a widely held belief at the time even though it could not have been further from the truth. And while the slogan was famously debunked by the prominent German pilot Bruno Gantenbrink in his speech “Safety comes first“, our instinct to downplay the risks to ourselves (and to others) has of course remained.

Given our natural inclination to deceive ourselves, it is not surprising that good data about the factual risks of many activities can be difficult to come by.  And even if data are reported, they are often accompanied by statements that soften, blur, or contradict the facts, frequently through the use of misleading comparisons.

Here is just one such example from scuba diving in which the author asserts that scuba diving is safer than driving a car. She does this by comparing the statistic that 1 in 5,555 people were killed in a car accident in 2008 with the statistic that only 1 out of 212,000 dives ended deadly.  Did you catch the fundamental flaw?  The comparison would be ok only if each driver would drive just once a year.  In reality, each driver makes on average 2 trips per day, i.e. 730 car trips per year, which means that the 5,555 drivers drove in aggregate about 4 million times (5555*730).  I.e., 1 in 4,000,000 drives ended deadly vs 1 in 212,000 dives. By this – still not perfect, but definitely more comparable – measure diving isn’t safer than driving but instead about 19x more dangerous! No matter the sport or activity, you’ll quickly find similar examples of apples to oranges comparisons and a conscious or subconscious attempt to downplay the risks.

When I looked for data on risky sports and activities, I also found the other extreme: a Google search will return plenty of articles listing “the most dangerous sports in the world,” almost all of which try to make most sports sound insanely dangerous. However, more often than not these articles are just click-bait to generate ad revenue and lack any serious effort to get to the facts.  Even the most well-intentioned ones that actually quote their sources tend to suffer from one of two major problems: either they lack a common denominator and therefore compare stats that are just not comparable; or they use a denominator that isn’t all that meaningful such as the general population while ignoring the differences in participation rates among different sports.

I wanted to know the honest truth and so I set out to do the research myself.  The most important decision that I had to make at the outset was to select the most appropriate basis of comparison and hence, what denominator to use.  I concluded that the most meaningful datapoint to me is the risk of dying (and the risk of getting injured) per hour of participating in a particular activity.  There are two reasons I picked this risk per participation hour as the most sensible base of comparison: First, it allows me to compare different choices for my spare time, e.g., the risk of spending an afternoon riding a mountain bike vs the risk of spending the same afternoon flying a sailplane. Second, it gives me a sense of how serious the risk really is and therefore how carefully I should prepare to mitigate it.

The graphic that we’ll get to below shows what I came up with.  To facilitate the readability of the comparison, I benchmarked all activities against traveling on commercial airlines, which happens to be one of the safest things you can do when you leave your home:  only once in 10 million passenger hours (i.e., once in 1,141 years) will a passenger die when traveling on a commercial airline.  In other words, the chance of a person dying within their next 1,000 participation hours is only 0.01%.

Other activities that I participate in regularly such as driving, cycling, skiing (on and off piste), or marathon running aren’t nearly as safe as traveling on an airliner but they are still quite safe.

Unfortunately, my favorite sport, flying sailplanes, aka soaring, is one of the more dangerous activities.  There are no reliable participation data available for the US but I found quite solid information for Germany and France where soaring is much more practiced than in the US.  In both countries the sport has a fatality rate of 1 in 50,000 participation hours; i.e., the risk of dying within the next 1,000 hours of participation is 2%, about twice as high as the risk involved in riding motorcycles.  It also means that an active pilot, who flies about 100 hours per season, has a 1 in 50 chance of dying in the sport within the next decade, and it makes soaring about 200 times more dangerous as traveling on a commercial jet. Other air sports tend to have similar risks:  flying powered airplanes is just a little bit safer whereas hang-gliding and paragliding are somewhat more dangerous.

Some of the data surprised me.  E.g., I found driving, skiing, and cycling to be safer that I expected, whereas climbing the Tetons and especially Mt Everest is actually much more dangerous than I anticipated.  Not surprising to me was the insanely high risk involved in Base Jumping, which is shown to be 480,000 times more dangerous than commercial aviation, with an expected death per 21 hours of participation, and practically no chance at all to survive the next 1,000 hours of flying through the air.  If you’re a Base Jumper you are likely to complain that my methodology of counting only the short duration of the jump (and, e.g., not the time you spend climbing up the mountain) puts your sport into an unfair light.  To that I say feel free to count differently if you want to convince yourself that jumping is safer than it really is.  As I pointed out above, you certainly won’t be alone in your desire to deceive yourself.

Unfortunately, all the information in the chart below only refers to the risk of death and does not account for the risk of injuries.  The reason is simply the fact that data about injuries are extremely unreliable since the great majority of sport injuries are never reported and/or accounted as such.  (The omission of injury information also means that activities that tend to have a relatively high injury to death ratio (e.g. skiing, equestrian eventing, marathon running, riding motorcycles, hang gliding, paragliding, downhill mountain biking) might look relatively safer than they really are, and activities that have a relatively low injury to death ratio (e.g. general aviation, soaring, skydiving) might appear relatively more dangerous than they really are.)

Without further ado, here is the chart:

Another way to look at the same data is to compare them to the normal risk of dying (of any cause) at different life stages.  Life insurance companies keep track of these risks as they seek to adjust their premiums based on the age of the insured.  It should be intuitive that an 18 year old person has a much lower risk of dying within their next 1,000 life-hours than a 90 year old.

Below is a chart that shows how this normal risk of death increases as you get older. E.g, the odds that an average 18-year-old American male will die within their next 1,000 life-hours is about 0.01%.  This happens to be exactly the same odds as traveling on a commercial airliner, once again illustrating how save commercial air travel has become. A 90-year-old male, by comparison, has a 1.9% chance of dying within their next 1,000 life hours.  You can see how the slope of the curve remains fairly flat until the age of 50, and how it really steepens around 75. If someone manages to survive until the age of 119, their odds of dying within the next 1,000 life-hours will have risen to 10.2%.

(The source of this information is the US Social Security Administration.  Note that they report the risk of dying within the next year, which I converted to the risk within the next 1,000 life hours, i.e. 41.7 days.  Note also that the risk level tends to be slightly lower for females since their life expectancy is higher, but for our purposes the gender differences are negligible.)

So how do the risks of the various activities compare relative to the normal day-to-day risk of dying at different ages?

To illustrate this, I placed the activity icons onto the same chart (see below).  Once again, you see that commercial air travel is the safest of these activities. Driving, skiing, cycling, back-country skiing, and marathon running are all along the relatively flat part of the curve.  The risk of dying per hour when swimming in open waters or while participating in equestrian eventing is about 0.3%, equivalent to the risk that an average 71 year-old person faces in their day-to-day life.

As you move right and up along the curve, the risk level increases much more noticeably. Scuba diving is about as dangerous as being 80 years old, and motorcycling corresponds to the normal risk of being 85.  Several air sports come next: general aviation, flying sailplanes, hang gliding, and paragliding.  Each of these is about as risky as the normal lives of people aged 88 to 95.  Downhill mountain biking also falls into this category.

As you continue further up the slope you can see two outliers: skydiving is about as dangerous as the normal life of a 107 year-old and climbing the Tetons is about as dangerous as being 119 yeas of age.

Three activities from the initial graphic above are still missing: Formula 1 racing, Climbing Mt. Everest, and Base Jumping.  The dangers of these three sports are so great they are literally off the chart because the Social Security Administration does not compute death risk statistics for anyone older than 119.  (You probably don’t know anyone of that age either.)  Since Formula 1 racing is about 2x as dangerous as Climbing the Tetons and Climbing Everest is another 2x as dangerous, you can roughly imagine how high up the risk curve you have to go.  With Base Jumping even that becomes impossible: it is more than 100x more dangerous than climbing Mt. Everest!

Why put all this information together?  I believe we should all be fully aware of the risks that we take, and that we should let our awareness of these risks be an incentive to take the appropriate preparations and precautions to reduce these risks as much as possible.  Most of the fatal accidents in sports are at least in part the result of human error and could have been avoided. If we close our eyes to the risks (as we are naturally inclined to do in order to remove this pesky thing called cognitive dissonance), we are also unlikely to do what it takes to keep the risks contained.

Commercial aviation is a great example that risk mitigation really works. After the invention of powered flight in 1903, flying was certainly one of the most dangerous things humans could possibly do. Gradually and over time, this risk has been reduced to such an extent that commercial air travel is now one of the safest things we participate in.

The concrete risks and the strategies for risk mitigation are obviously quite specific to each of the different activities and discussing them is beyond the scope of this article.  But risk mitigation strategies do exist for all activities and deploying them deliberately and consistently can be very effective (for some activities probably more so than for others).  If you do something that is objectively dangerous (and now you know that it is), learning about these strategies and taking them seriously can truly help you stay alive.

Have fun and be safe!

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16 days ago
Running marathons is more dangerous than I would have expected. Most of the rest checks out against my intuitions.
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The Best Carry-On Luggage

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We’ve tested 47 bags over the past five years and are convinced that the Travelpro Platinum Elite is the best carry-on luggage for most travelers. It packs five days’ worth of clothes into standard US carry-on dimensions and has premium build-quality touches you’d expect from a $500 bag at about half the price. It’s a bag that you can rely on for life, even if it’s damaged by airlines—a rarity at any price.

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23 days ago
If there is one thing I've learned it is that wheeled bags are almost never worthwhile. It is much better to have a bag that is convertible to a backpack so you can get your hands free. I can't imagine ever trading my Tom Bihn luggage for any other kind.
23 days ago
I've got a 40L travel backpack loaded up as we speak. Exit the airport into a city with busted sidewalks and ask yourself if you prefer wheels or shoulder straps :P
23 days ago
Exactly. Even on relatively smooth surfaces a single bump on a two-wheel bag can make it pop out of your hand and splat. Or tip over a four wheel bag.
23 days ago
I'm a big Tom Bihn fan. With the right bag, you don't need wheels. I've also had their Empire Builder in daily use for 12 years and it's got another 20 in it based on current wear.
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What I Think Republicans Don't Understand About Republicans

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Not gonna link because it's Hugh Hewitt but:
If Republicans don’t stand by Trump, they risk losing their base forever
is the subhed.

One thing *I* know about the Republican base which I think too many people don't is that takes them about a week from circulating pictures of Trump-As-Jesus-Christ to literally not remembering his name. We went through this with Bush. We went through this with Palin.

Because it never was about Bush or Palin or Trump. And to a great degree Bush himself was never about Bush, it was about that lovely wonderful post-9/11 era, the greatest time for Republicans ever. They were merely vessels for making Republicans feel like they were Owning the Libs and Fox News handles that pretty well for them daily even without a figurehead.
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24 days ago
Yes. This is accurate. And it is true for both parties. The candidates and individuals take on the mantle of their party for a time and move on but the party remains. The 'base' never leaves and will then follow the next person. Even Presidents that are regarded as universally lousy like Carter and Nixon were not truly abandoned by their 'base' until after they were out of office. And at that point the 'base' just moved on to a new leader.
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Kobani Today, Krakow Tomorrow

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Syria’s Kurds, who fought heroically against the Islamic State for years—only to be abandoned following President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops—are now under attack from a Turkish invasion designed to carve out a 20-mile buffer zone in northern Syria. Pounded by artillery barrages and airstrikes, with the civilian population victimized by atrocities committed by Ankara-backed militias, Syria’s Kurds have one more reason to invoke the ancient Kurdish lament: “We have no friends but the mountains.” 

Now, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to transfer a significant portion of the refugees from other parts of Syria currently living in Turkey into this zone in an effort to manipulate the demographics of the region and lessen domestic political pressures as resentment of refugees rises.

Trump’s decision is obviously a regional strategic disaster. The Syrian Kurds, having fought to defeat the Islamic State, have now been thrown to the wolves. The White House has abandoned not only reliable and steadfast military allies but also any serious effort to guard the tens of thousands of Islamic State prisoners whom European countries are refusing to take back, put on trial, or deradicalize. 

It “worries us enormously” that the Islamic State “could refind its breathing space inside that territory,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said earlier this week. Her designated successor, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, wrung his hands as if he was responding to the obvious follow-up question: What are you going to do about it? “We don’t have magic powers,” he lamented. British diplomats reportedly even chafed at the use of the word “condemn” in a communique on Turkey’s offensive.

European leaders seem to have forgotten that the lesson from the Balkan wars of the 1990s is that the rules-based international order is defended not though magic powers but by being able to deploy military force to deter and punish aggression. 

“If the American troops wouldn’t have withdrawn, this attack would have been impossible. The American troop withdrawal was a condition in order to make the attack possible,” Borrell added. He did not mention the obvious: There were no European troops ready to replace the departing Americans, and there was no will to use them even if had they been available. 

Lacking the will and deployable manpower to swiftly step into a power vacuum, Europe has been reduced to an impotent spectator. Now it is Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad who have filled the void, styling themselves as the Kurds’ protectors and guarantors of regional stability.

The damage to European security from a possible Islamic State revival after Trump’s capricious Syria withdrawal is far from the most alarming implication for Europe. He has turned the deterrent power of the United States into a massive indirect protection racket.

Anyone who depends on the United States for its security has been put on notice: Serve Trump’s personal agenda (by fabricating corruption investigations into his rivals’ children, for example) or you’re on your own. 

This should send a chill down the spines of Eastern Europe’s leaders. The Baltic states could easily be overrun by Russia. And Poland, where the just-reelected Law and Justice government has failed to maintain military readiness, now has to wonder whether it can rely on Washington.

Warsaw has tried flattery by inviting 3,500 U.S. troops to what was almost named “Fort Trump,” and Poland, much poorer than the United States, has offered to pay some of the costs. But there were 2,000 U.S. troops actually fighting alongside the SDF against the Islamic State. If the going gets tough, what is Trump more likely to do: have the 3,500 troops stand their ground, or threaten to pull them out in order to extort more from Poland?

Trump’s pullout from Syria is a tabloid-friendly illustration of the consequences of three decades of European security free-riding. After the end of the Cold War, the United States lost its strategic need to protect Europe. Europe may still be an economic superpower—able to impose global obligations on even the largest companies—but it is not a military superpower.

Wealth is only as good as the rules-based international order that upholds property rights, free trade, and market-based economic institutions. Or, in other words: That pile of gold is very useful—until the people with guns come and take it.

The EU is an economic superpower because it possesses the institutional structures to act together. The European Commission, not individual member states, sets trade policy. Individual members can’t be bought off, because they don’t make the relevant decisions, while the EU as a whole is too big to be pushed around. These lessons need to be applied to European defense before it’s too late.

Though the EU has been making progress—with permanent structured cooperation, the European Defense Fund, and now a new Directorate-General for Defense—Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds should serve as a warning. 

Without a shared defense policy, pooled military assets, and common military doctrine, the continent’s eastern flank will be vulnerable. This cannot be a matter of trading off the interests of Mediterranean countries, which face the consequences of instability and state failure in North Africa and the Middle East, with those of the Baltic states and Poland, which are justifiably concerned by Russian aggression. 

A Europe with fully integrated European defense policy, acting on behalf of a unified bloc of nearly 500 million people and $15 trillion of annual GDP after Brexit, would be able to take the initiative in international crises, not simply be buffeted by them. It could have deployed forces to replace the U.S. troops in Syria and used its strength to broker peace talks. A Europe without that power is just a fat goose waiting to be plucked.

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31 days ago
Global peace is not natural and normal. It is the product of institutions, organizations, and societies. By electing a loose cannon to a powerful office, we voters have severely undermined the global peace. The Kurds are now paying the price for our folly. And I only hope that we can reverse course before more cracks emerge in the order on which lives across the world depend on.
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NYT: ‘Trump Followed His Gut on Syria. Calamity Came Fast.’

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David Sanger, writing for The New York Times:

President Trump’s acquiescence to Turkey’s move to send troops deep inside Syrian territory has in only one week’s time turned into a bloody carnage, forced the abandonment of a successful five-year-long American project to keep the peace on a volatile border, and given an unanticipated victory to four American adversaries: Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and the Islamic State.

Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the generous description of a senior American diplomat — likely will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.

But this much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.

I’m starting to think this guy is a terrible president.

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33 days ago
It is all part of his PR strategy where he tries to distract people from his corruption by highlighting his own incompetence.
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