Articles by Daniel Wagner:
April 27, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
Mexico’s President Nieto was handed a poor set of cards when he assumed power last December. His predecessor, Felipe Calderon, was brought down by a bloody war against the drug cartels that led to more civilian deaths than the total number of U.S. troops killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Mexico’s GDP per capita shrank more than seven percent between 2008 and 2010. And Nieto received just 38 percent of the popular vote representing the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) — which had a corrupt and authoritarian past for much of Mexico’s modern political history. While economic and security conditions have improved under his brief leadership, it cannot yet be said that President Nieto has earned the average Mexican’s trust, or that his honeymoon period will last.
Between December 2012 and March 2013, Mexico’s homicide rate decreased 14 percent year-on-year, but many Mexicans remain justifiably skeptical that this trend will continue given the ongoing drug-related violence in many parts of the country. Early in Calderon’s presidency, the national army was sent to confront the drug cartels and the homicide rate also declined, only to be followed by a surge in killings that cost more than 60,000 lives.
April 3, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
Although the restoration of ties between Israel and Turkey is welcome news for both countries, it is premature to gauge how close Jerusalem and Ankara will become given their continued conflicts of interest. The ‘thaw’ in bilateral relations is likely to be slow, with the two countries’ divergent objectives in Palestine and Syria remaining an obstacle to significantly warmer relations. Nonetheless, as the Syrian crisis continues to threaten the security of all the Levantine states and the Iranian issue continues its slow boil, greater cooperation should be expected between the two. The rapprochement is real; the question is, does it matter?
From Israel’s perspective, improved ties with Turkey help to alleviate the plethora of security concerns arising events of the past two years – ranging from the change of leadership in Egypt, to the Egyptian/Iranian rapprochement, to growing concern over the stability of the Jordanian Monarchy., to an Iran that is increasingly assertive and defiant of the West, to the consolidation of power by Hamas in Gaza, and the ongoing stalemate in peace talks with the Palestinians. Israel has a full plate of security issues to contend with, none of which either appear to be easing or are likely to dissipate in the near term.
March 31, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
Like his father, Kim Jong-Un is best compared to a bellicose 13-year old child who stomps his feet and makes a fuss until he gets his way. Unlike an ordinary child, this one’s tantrums come with high stakes. The young Mr. Kim has now taken his game of chicken as far as it can go without actually pulling the trigger. The series of exchanges and threats are indeed worrisome for Washington and its allies; China, Japan, South Korea and the United States are taking it all seriously. Is Kim Jong-Un dumb enough to actually follow through?
According to a statement released by state-run KCNA, North Korea has stated that it is in a “state of war” with South Korea. “Situations on the Korean Peninsula, which are neither in peace or at war, have come to an end,” the statement read. “From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly.”
March 27, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
Although all of Syria’s neighbors have been negatively impacted by the country’s crisis, Iraq’s sectarian tensions and the religious, historical and cultural bonds between Syrians and Iraqis connect the two states’ political fates. While many of Iraq’s Sunnis support the Syrian opposition, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki continues to lend considerable support to Damascus, not only as a proxy for Iran, but also fearing that Al Qaeda affiliates and anti-Shia groups may gain safe haven in a post-Assad Syria, and in turn wage war against Baghdad. Recent events suggest that the Syrian crisis may ultimately push Iraq back to renewed sectarian civil war.
Given Mr. Maliki’s orientation toward Iran and Syria, Washington realizes that Baghdad is not aligned with the interests of the U.S. and its regional allies. Despite the Obama Administration’s efforts to convince Iraq to deny Iran its airspace in an attempt to impede the flow of weapons to President Assad, Iraq continues to allow Iran’s shipments to occur. Baghdad has every reason to continue to support the transfer of Iranian weapons into Syria, because the rise of Sunni Islamists with an extremist ideology in Syria pose an existential threat to the post-Saddam Shia-led order in Iraq.
March 14, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai would like the world to perceive him otherwise, Karzai finds himself in an untenable position. As the U.S. prepares to withdraw the majority of its remaining troops, the country’s security forces remain woefully unprepared to assume responsibility for the country’s security, corruption remains endemic, and many observers admit that Afghanistan is in reality little better off today than it was when Karzai assumed power in 2004. With his leadership slated to end next year, there is little reason to believe that his successor will do any better in meaningfully addressing Afghanistan’s plethora of problems.
Hamid Karzai has never hesitated to challenge the U.S. publically, whether for a domestic or international audience, but the pace at which he is forcefully challenging the U.S. now is unprecedented. Equating the U.S. with the Taliban as forces working to undermine the government really is over the top, particularly given the tremendous resources the U.S. has provided to Karzai’s government over the past decade – and that he owes his position, as well as any progress that has been made to date – to the U.S. It is a little late to be attempting to change his image as “America’s Man”. We find ourselves wondering why he would be trying to do so in the first place. His legacy is clear to all. No pandering to domestic political interests is going to change that.
March 2, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
With Hugo Chavez apparently near death, the question of who will inherit his legacy as the vanguard of 21st century socialism in Latin America is foremost in the minds of many. With Chavez soon out of the picture, and the Castro brothers in Cuba not far behind him, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa – who has an established record of promoting socialism, has effectively challenged conventional wisdom in the region, and who is likely to remain a force to be reckoned with — seems a natural choice to fill that role.
During last month’s presidential election, in which he won 57% of the vote, Rafael Correa secured a mandate to advance his “Citizen’s Revolution”. But the head winds associated with fluctuating oil prices, a worsening foreign investment climate, rising violent crime, isolation from international financial institutions, and a growing domestic opposition will undoubtedly have an impact on his ability to be as successful as he has been in the past. If Correa plays his cards wisely, and has a bit of luck, he may still be able to pull it off.
Although Rafael Correa’s record in office is mixed, his popularity is attributable to greater political stability, poverty reduction and greater economic equality. No Ecuadorian president in the past century has remained in power as long as Correa, nor has had the ability to actually implement a long-term agenda. Although nearly one in three Ecuadorians currently live below the poverty line, this is five percent lower than in 2007. And the share of income earned by the wealthiest ten percent declined from 43% to 38% from 2007 to 2009.
February 13, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
Much of the focus of rising political violence in the world today has been linked to the process of political change, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.
There is ample reason to establish such a link, and it remains highly relevant, however the preoccupation with political change in MENA over the past two years has shifted focus from other equally important precursors of political violence throughout the world. Of all the other factors contributing to political violence, and there are many – including natural resource acquisition, refugee flows, and boundary disputes – perhaps the most pressing and growing challenge is posed by simply getting enough food to eat on a daily basis.
January 24, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
The past several weeks have seen a wave of new terrorist attacks and anti-government activity in Greece, in reaction to yet another round of austerity measures imposed by the government. Prime Minister Samaras has repeatedly stated the government’s desire to put an end to ‘lawlessness’ and attacks on public and private property, but the government is proving ineffective in its efforts to curb violence. Its impact on the health of the Greek economy and the psychological well being of the Greek people is likely to grow with time.
January 23, 2013 by Daniel Wagner
It would be an understatement to say that the National Transition Council (NTC) has failed to govern Libya effectively since the fall of Gaddafi. The majority of territory outside Tripoli has fallen under the control of armed militias that have refused to disarm. Violent campaigns along tribal and ideological lines have been waged by Libyans determined to settle old scores and influence the ongoing political transition. Libya’s armed Islamists are well positioned to shape the course of events. This year the NTC will be challenged to integrate the Islamists into the national political system, yet failure to do so will likely result in marginalized militants playing the spoiler. If current events in Algeria and Mali are an indication of what the future holds for Libya, Islamists may be expected to wage armed attacks against their opponents and western targets, which can only further damage Libya’s investment climate.
Although the majority of Libya’s Islamists supported the 2011 uprising, they hold a diverse set of political views and are divided by tactics. The Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (LMB), National Front for Salvation of Libya (NFSL), Islamic Rally Movement (IRM), and Libyan Islamic Movement for Change (LIMC) have all expressed an interest in non-violence and participatory democracy. Last June the LMB’s political wing — the Justice and Construction Party (JCP) — participated in the election for the General National Congress, winning 17 of 80 seats.
December 27, 2012 by Daniel Wagner
As we collectively prepare to fall off the fiscal cliff, it should be apparent to all that the amount of dysfunction and skewed priorities among our elected officials in Washington is so grotesque that it is clear they have forgotten who sent them there and what their job is. They are so busy jockeying for position and pandering to their political constituencies that they appear to have lost all sense of reason.
The maladies now endemic to politics and politicians in Washington call for radical change if they are to be conquered. They stem from a political system that requires elected officials to spend more time getting reelected than on governing, and in the process catering to routine influence peddling — what is in essence legalized corruption. The reason this state of affairs thrives is because there is too much money sloshing around inside the Beltway, too few restrictions on how money is ‘awarded’ to politicians, and too much apathy among voters to demand more from their elected representatives to encourage the fundamental change needed to turn things around.
December 15, 2012 by Daniel Wagner
While the Obama administration has for many months stressed the need to give diplomacy another chance to work in Syria, the administration has now decided that if Assad were to employ his vast chemical weapons stockpile against the rebels, the U.S. would have no choice but to intervene in the nearly two-year old conflict. Fears about the potential fallout of the demise of the Assad regime are running high, as a post-Assad Syria could likely degenerate into a sectarian civil war that would make Iraq look like a picnic, given the complex religious and ethic fabric of Syrian society.
With the rebels making significant advances throughout Syria, and inching closer to the heart of Damascus, the fear is that Assad could launch chemical weapon attacks against rebel positions in a bid to halt their advance. Employing chemical weapons is not a precision game – numerous factors would impact the success or failure of their use, including prevailing winds. Collateral damage would likely be immeasurable, essentially constituting mass murder on a scale not witnessed in decades. Assad could be using the threat of chemical weapons as a bargaining chip to secure more preferential terms, should he decide to flee – which is becoming increasingly likely.
December 4, 2012 by Daniel Wagner
Recent demonstrations against Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner have attracted widespread international attention. The protesters of the “8N Movement” hold Kirchner’s government responsible for double-digit inflation, increasing crime rates and high profile corruption cases. Suspicions that Kirchner seeks to undermine Argentina’s democratic institutions in favor of a dictatorship are alleged by some of her opponents. She has dismissed the anti-government demonstrators as representatives of the elite, with the support of foreign and domestic right-wing media outlets. But the 8N Movement clearly is a rejection of Kirchner’s agenda from among a variety of segments of Argentina’s population, particularly from the middle and upper classes.
November 22, 2012 by Daniel Wagner
Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, must be feeling rather pleased with himself. Having been instrumental in bringing Hamas and Israel to the bargaining table, he has now issued several decrees that he believes will determine the shape of Egypt’s constitution. Intended to safeguard the country’s ‘revolutionary’ future, two of the decrees provide a good indication of what may be expected from Mr. Morsi and his allies going forward – the Islamist Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt’s parliament) cannot be dissolved by any authority, and none of the decisions he has made since being elected, or until a new constitution and parliament are in place, may be reversed.
November 12, 2012 by Daniel Wagner
Regardless of which political party occupies the White House, American presidents are allowed a certain degree of latitude on foreign policy, where initiatives are not as constrained by Congressional oversight in comparison to the nation’s domestic issues. The absence of comprehensive oversight does not provide any Commander-in-Chief a blank check, however. Given the current chill between Moscow and Washington, we expect to see limited progress on the issues that confront both nations during Obama’s second term.
The Obama administration needs to find a way to refocus both nations’ policy interests, but it remains unclear how the United States will be able to achieve this objective. Should Washington create security guarantees with Moscow in order to diminish uncertainty? Or should the missile defense shield continue as planned to protect its European allies? Can common ground be found with NATO’s objectives, on Iran and on Syria? Or is it the responsibility of the Obama administration to plot a new course – sans Russia – without completely alienating the Kremlin from possible cooperation?
November 5, 2012 by Daniel Wagner
Two weeks ago the US denied that an agreement was made to meet with Iranian officials to discuss the Iranian nuclear program after the American election. It appears that Iranian officials either expect Mr. Obama to be reelected or are trying to get back to the negotiating table before they are forced to negotiate with a Romney administration. Iran seems to be signaling its opening position – that it will settle for a “break-out” nuclear capability (wherein the components of a weapon are available for assembly but not readily available) in exchange for the end of sanctions, or an agreement with Israel not to strike. Last month the Iranian Foreign Ministry stated its flexibility in negotiating to “ease western concerns”. In the face of crippling sanctions and an increasing likelihood that Israel may indeed bomb Iran, has Iran finally blinked?