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The Case for the U.S. Staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014

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A U.S. soldier speaks to a local in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

The war in Afghanistan has been expensive. Thousands of American lives have been lost, and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are still being spent there on a daily basis.

A U.S. soldier speaks to a local in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

My hope is that this war – the longest in American history – will teach the next generation of foreign policy leaders a few lessons about conflicts and foreign interventions. However, this war was necessary. Those behind the terrorist attacks of September 11 had to be brought to justice, and they have been. Moreover, for Afghanistan to become a stable, democratic, and prosperous country, the United States must continue its involvement in the country because the consequences of a sudden withdrawal would be cataclysmic.

The Obama administration knows this well, of course. This is why Secretary of State John Kerry and other high-ranking officials have been visiting Kabul frequently in recent months. We do not have to wait to see what would happen in Afghanistan if the American troops were to leave; the fallout from the Iraq withdrawal provides a sufficient cautionary tale. To say that Iraq is unstable is to state what is overwhelmingly obvious. The sectarian tension between the Shia and Sunni insurgents in Iraq has intensified to such a degree that it is threatening the survival of the current democratic regime. Certainly, hope has not died in Iraq, and most likely, the nation’s ample resources and great potential for economic growth will eventually enable the country to recover from its present instability. However, it is abundantly clear that the withdrawal of U.S. troops has greatly compromised the country’s ability to weather political shocks.

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Reevaluating Sri Lanka’s LLRC Progress: Part One

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An End of War Snapshot. Photo: Mathy

Last March, The Social Architects (TSA) released its third report, “The Numbers Never Lie.”

An End of War Snapshot. Photo: Mathy

The report provided extensive information about the Government of Sri Lanka’s (GoSL) progress in implementing the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations. Again, TSA’s partners undertook a similar survey this year. Using the data obtained last year as a baseline, TSA will be releasing two companion reports reevaluating Sri Lanka’s LLRC progress. This is the first.

This year’s survey was only conducted in the Northern and Eastern provinces; this was done during January 2014. TSA’s partners surveyed 1,200 people this year, but 157 survey respondents were subsequently disqualified. 376 other people who participated last year did not participate in this year’s survey. This figure includes people who have moved elsewhere or have been resettled. It also includes community members who decided not to participate this year due to fear. Hence, all 1,043 people that were surveyed this year also participated in last year’s survey. In order to accurately measure progress, TSA removed 533 people (those who did not participate in the 2014 survey) from last year’s survey results.

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Afghan Artist Meena Saifi Explains her Craft

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Afghan artist Meena Saifi

What is art? It depends whom you ask. Tolstoy wrote that the activity and aim of art was to “evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, having evoked it in oneself, then by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling.”

Afghan artist Meena Saifi

An artist’s task is not only to communicate his/her own feelings to a wider world, but also the sufferings and pains of those in society. John Galsworthy in his essay on “Art” defined it as “that imaginative expression of human energy, which through technical concretion of feeling and perception, tends to reconcile the individual with the universal, by exciting in him impersonal emotion.” Above all, it is this quality (linking the individual’s experience with the universal) that has rendered art perpetual in our cultural and social existence. Like poetry, there are many definitions of art. While there may be differences in what it means to different people, its power, its ability to move people, and its capacity for igniting feelings of freedom, love, and hope remain firm in us.

Like a great thinker, an artist possesses the ability to unleash uproar in society. Quoting the man who inspired him to pursue philosophy, Nietzsche wrote, “Beware, ‘says [Ralph Waldo] Emerson, ‘when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken out in a great city, and no man knows what is safe, or where it will end.’” Artists too exercise such authority in society. Perhaps this has to do with their desire to question calcified traditions. Through their artwork, they raise questions that society considers taboo, radical, and detrimental to social conventions.

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The Biggest News for Iran in 2014? It Won’t Necessarily be a Nuclear Deal

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Back in October, few news outlets picked up on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s rumored collapse and 3 week hiatus from the public spotlight.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

During that time, not only did he not send his well-wishes to Iranians travelling to Mecca for the Hajj, he also skipped his address celebrating Eid-eh Ghadeer, which is an extremely important holiday for Shias and the entire religious establishment of the Islamic Republic. However, this is not the first time Khamenei’s health issues have been publicly noted.

Back in 2010, WikiLeaks released a U.S. diplomatic cable claiming that Khamenei had Leukemia. Due to the secretive nature of the Supreme Leader, such claims are difficult to verify. What made October’s situation different was the fact that Iranian journalist Hossein Rostami told the Times of London that “it is not good news,” regarding the Ayatollah and told Khamenei’s supporters to “pray deeply for him” – a rare moment of exposure that reached Iran’s national media.

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Introducing our ‘Best of 2013′ List

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Introducing our 'Best of 2013' list

From Kim Jong-Un’s newfound love of basketball to India’s dowry culture, International Policy Digest has covered some pretty meaty subjects over the past year.

Introducing our ‘Best of 2013′ list

In this list we’ve included an analysis of Kim Jong-Un’s love of basketball and the motives behind his decisions and what to expect in the year ahead by Daniel Wagner and J.K. Joung, the recent ruling against the NSA’s metadata program by Binoy Kampmark, John Lyman and Eric Jones’s analysis of President Obama’s appearance at the Saban Center where he offered his most forceful defense yet of the Iran nuclear agreement reached in Geneva, Conn M. Hallinan’s analysis of the ongoing negotiations with Iran and the recently concluded Third Plenum in China that offered few actual reforms by Andrew Ludwig.

We’ve also included for your consideration, a lengthy analysis of neoliberalism in India by Abhirup Bhunia, a backgrounder on Ralph Miliband by Binoy Kampmark, Kerry Sun’s analysis of the escalating Syrian refugee crisis and a list of thirty-five young foreigners making an impact throughout Africa by Scott Firsing. By all means read through the list and see if you agree. Be sure to share any of the article’s with your friends on Facebook and Twitter and leave a comment, we’ve made it quite easy to do so.

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Mirrored Politics and the Iran Deal

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President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

When President Rouhani was popularly elected last June, the factors that led to his victory bore quite a resemblance to President Obama’s victory in 2008, albeit with obvious exceptions.

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

Both were never given a chance to win in the face of other establishment candidates, both were catapulted by the youth vote, both were welcomed to an economy in tatters, both were replacing presidents that were unpopular at home and abroad, and perhaps most importantly, both gave their respective populations an unprecedented sense of hope.

This theme of “mirrored politics” has yet to finish. Rouhani and Obama find themselves in similar situations trying to balance the political force of their respective domestic hardliners as they attempt to secure an historic nuclear deal after 34 years of hostility. For their mission to succeed, both Presidents will need to force each respective opposition to align, for just long enough that Secretary of State John Kerry’s and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s signatures have dried at the bottom of a comprehensive deal. Calling this process “extremely delicate” is putting it nicely.

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Judge Leon and the NSA: Outlawing the Metadata Program

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General Keith Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency, testifying before the House Select Intelligence Committee. Shawn Thew/EPA

“People have an entirely different relationship with phones than they did 34 years ago.” – Judge Richard J. Leon in Klayman v Obama, US District Court for the District of Columbia

General Keith Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency, testifying before the House Select Intelligence Committee. Shawn Thew/EPA

In the US political system, courts can be the ditchers and the saviours. They can be the government’s undertakers, or its buriers. This is the great hypocrisy of the Anglophone legal system: judges who make laws but claim they do not. The recent round of lawmaking regarding the National Security Agency may prove to be particularly important. In the decision of Klayman et al v Obama, plaintiffs Larry Clayman and Charles Strange, who challenged the constitutionality of various intelligence gathering practices by the US government “relating to the wholesale collection of the phone metadata of all US citizens” were not entirely disappointed. In Judge Leon’s view, such collection was “almost Orwellian” and in possible violation of the US Constitution.

Judge Richard J. Leon of the US District Court for the District of Columbia is not an easy one to pick. He throws in references to the Beatles and Ringo Starr in his judgments. He is not bound “by judicial sobriety,” to quote a statement by Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times. The judge’s decisions can make colourful reading. He was nominated on September 10, 2001 by President George W. Bush and confirmed in 2002. He proved favourable to the government regarding the right (or in that case, non-right) of the Guantánamo detainees to due process. He sees himself as an expert of congressional investigations. As he suggested, somewhat wistfully, “We’re the oncologists of the legal profession.”

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China’s Third Plenum is Adrift in a Sea of Old Rhetoric

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President Xi Jinping (centre) and Premier Li Keqiang (to Xi's left) at the third plenary meeting with other Politburo Standing Committee members.  Source: Xinhua

In a closed door, four day meeting of senior members of the Chinese government, the Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress met to address China’s future political strategy.

President Xi Jinping (centre) and Premier Li Keqiang (to Xi’s left) at the third plenary meeting with other Politburo Standing Committee members. Source: Xinhua

The assembly, held in Beijing, comes one year after China’s new leadership ascended to power, for the purpose of detailing government reforms to spur the country’s continued growth. Hyped as being the most important and influential policy briefing since that of the 1978 gathering featuring Deng Xiaoping’s sweeping reforms and rise to power, nothing short of comprehensive changes to financial and social policy were expected. New President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang had the opportunity to use the Third Plenum as a springboard to jumpstart its objectives of continued growth and forge legitimacy for its next ten years in power. But the communiqué released after the meeting left Beijing observers surprised and disappointed. Featuring little more than aged slogans and talking points, Xi’s government failed in its most important mission – to give momentum to reforms.

The lack of ingenuity and vague language on any type of substantial reform offered by the Third Plenum communiqué eradicated the optimism and hype generated prior to the event. The need for broad appeal by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) diminished the overall value of the Plenum to establish real results. Spread wide but not deep, the ‘details’ released mention five key areas of reform: economics, politics, society, the environment, and culture. By hitting all these issues, the CCP appeased many different groups, but broke no new ground. Written in a consensus process, it does little more than reaffirm the mantras and jargon of the 18th Party Congress of last fall.

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Instability Breeds Insecurity: Gay Rights in Russia and the South Caucasus

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Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit.  Source: Kremlin Press Office

Establishing a post-Soviet identity has been critical to the survival of Russia and ex-Soviet Republics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit. Source: Kremlin Press Office

After decades of forced conformity, in the 1980s Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev encouraged self-expression and self-determination. This spawned several major conflicts as ethnic groups struggled to “self-determine” within the established state boundaries. Russians refer to the 1990s as the “decade of humiliation” due to their loss of status as a world power and the crippling obligations they assumed when they absorbed all the foreign debt of the ex-Soviet Republics. By 2006, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s economy had been rebuilt through energy investments and its foreign debt had been repaid. Russia had begun exporting oil and gas to Europe and by 2012, Russian revenues from oil and gas totaled $215 billion.

In addition to the challenge of economic rebuilding, there were ethnic conflicts, specifically in the breakaway North Caucasus region of Chechnya. After losing Chechnya in the First Chechen War (1994-96) Putin engaged in the Second Chechen War (1999-2000) to not only win Chechnya back but to deter other Russian regions from attempting secession. After winning that war, it seemed that Russia was finally regaining its status and stability.

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Neoliberalism and the Welfare State: The Case of Contemporary India

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Indian girl rolls bidi tobacco with her family at their house in Dhuliyan, in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.  Rafiq Maqbool/AP

With the onset of neoliberalism, the principles that underpinned the careful creation of welfare states in the post-war period gradually started to disintegrate.

Indian girl rolls bidi tobacco with her family at their house in Dhuliyan, in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. Rafiq Maqbool/AP

Globalization is thought to have dealt a final blow to statism with market forces having to decide even matters that were earlier well within the realm of the state – i.e. social welfare. With a strict eye on fiscal deficit, neoliberals propagated the idea of free markets with very limited state intervention. Consequently generous state expenditure and neoliberalism are perceived mutually exclusive. But the existence (and expansion) of the welfare state in India in this very era of neoliberal globalisation defies the established views on neoliberalism. India stands out as a noteworthy case of state intervention and redistribution at a time when governments around the world are hell bent on curtailing state expenditure.

N.G. Jayal, writing at a time when India had already spent a few years since its supposed neoliberal turn under the aegis of Bretton Woods institutions, stops short of calling India a welfare state in its classical sense as “…rights have never been central to the philosophy of welfare that underpins the welfarist initiatives of the Indian state.” Almost two decades later, when it is a constitutionally and legally enforceable right of Indian citizens to demand (a) education, (b) employment and (c) food, India in its present day, while it has certainly departed from its socialist affiliations, is interventionist, developmentalist, and welfarist.

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Nuclear Actors: Rot in the U.S. ICBM Forces

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Pictured: Vice Admiral Tim Giardina and Major General Michael Carey

The U.S. Air Force has fired both Major General Michael Carey and Vice Admiral Tim Giardina for misconduct, reports Binoy Kampmark. Both were in charge of U.S. ICBM forces.

Pictured: Vice Admiral Tim Giardina and Major General Michael Carey

Imperial powers can be the greatest moralists. The Roman Empire projected the ius gentium as a principle of collective worth, the fictitious laws of the peoples that remains the cornerstone of international law. As much as one believes it, it remains a belief, the spirit written into conventions with the hope that states will follow a form of good conduct, provided they are compelled to do so. At the end of the day, please don’t ask one to prove it. The pudding is presumed to be there.

This might explain why the U.S. military complex, for all its heavy handedness, remains one of the world’s most morally inclined establishments, a murderous outfit policed by misguided Boy Scouts and bible bashers. They might kill, maim and violate their own ethical frameworks, but that need not matter. The principle is clear: bad behaviour is not tolerated. Especially in the nuclear forces.

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Is the ICC Guilty of Hunting Africans?

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Accused: Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto in the dock at the ICC. ICC-CPI

This month, the first of what are arguably the two most important trials in the short history of the International Criminal Court (ICC) began. Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, is accused of crimes against humanity (murder, deportation or forcible transfer of population and persecution) allegedly committed in Kenya in the context of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

Accused: Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto in the dock at the ICC. ICC-CPI

He is the first high office holder to appear at the Court. In the second trial, scheduled to begin in November this year, Kenya’s newly elected President, Uhuru Kenyatta, will also contest accusations of crimes against humanity (murder, deportation, rape and persecution), also allegedly committed in the context of post-election violence. As a backdrop to all of this, not only did Kenyan members of parliament vote to approve a motion to leave the ICC, the African Union has called a special summit to discuss a mass withdrawal from the ICC in protest at Ruto trial.

Is the ICC, as accused in May of this year by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, guilty of “hunting Africans”? And can the Court fulfill its aim of a truly global institution of criminal justice when global powers (the United States, Russia, China) and emerging powers (India, Indonesia) not only refuse to ratify the Rome Statute (the Court’s governing treaty), but appear beyond the reach of the Court’s justice?

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The Bolivarian Revolution After Chávez

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Nicolás Maduro confers with former President Hugo Chávez in 2007. Matilde Campodonico/AP

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver who was Hugo Chávez’s foreign minister, has had a rocky start leading the country with allegations of ballot-tampering, appointing corrupt officials to high-level government positions, and foreign policy missteps have created the impression that Maduro is little more than a figurehead incapable of wielding power among the remaining high ranking chavistas and is ill-equipped to lead his country out of the economic morass left behind by his predecessor’s 14 years of chavismo.

Nicolás Maduro confers with former President Hugo Chávez in 2007. Matilde Campodonico/AP

The elections that ushered Maduro to power were disputed, and his wafer-thin victory on April 14th served to challenge his legitimacy from the outset. Accusations of fraud came immediately after the results were announced, with Henrique Capriles, the charismatic, moderate centrist and opposition leader who came in second in the polls, denouncing the elections and demanding a recount, claiming that Maduro’s win — by less than two percent, or about 225,000 votes out of nearly 15 million cast — was the result of the widespread use of fake IDs and intimidation at polling stations. During the campaign Maduro enjoyed free access to state television networks, allowing him to run endless campaign commercials highlighting his close ties to Chávez in order to harness the former president’s popularity and continue the “Bolivarian revolution,” named after the Venezuelan-born independence hero of South America, Simón Bolívar.

This advantage, as well as the use of nationalized companies’ funds and personnel to bolster political rallies and voter turnout among his constituents, was designed to render Maduro’s election as president a foregone conclusion. That he nearly lost, in spite of such preferential treatment, highlights that Maduro’s connection to Chávez, alone, will not guarantee his ability to propagate his predecessor’s socialist model. Nor can Maduro simply play-off of Chávez’s reputation. Though he is oftentimes affable, Maduro’s sometimes-bizarre behavior during his campaign, including making a claim that he was visited by the spirit of Chávez in bird form, likely affected Venezuelans view of their new president.

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Obama’s Second Term Falls Flat

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President Barack Obama meets with his Cabinet and senior officials in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 8, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

Does President Barack Obama have a modus operandi when it comes to foreign policy? How does the crafting of foreign policy actually work in the Obama White House? Obama appears to have no grand strategy.

President Barack Obama meets with his Cabinet and senior officials in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 8, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

While many (including this writer) would acknowledge there were major strategic problems and limitations with the Bush Doctrine, at least George W. Bush’s presidency had a (mildly coherent) vision for the way the U.S. should approach the world beyond its borders. Obama doesn’t seem to value even the pursuit of such a vision. “Leading from behind” is neither an example of leadership nor a strategy. It’s an oxymoronic approach to world affairs that will likely be judged as woefully short-sighted by historians and policymakers alike. One has to believe that Hillary Clinton would have approached foreign policy with less naiveté and more pragmatism.

More specifically, China’s still making big inroads in Africa. And as Edward Luce has recently written, it’s “too little too late” for the Obama administration there. Obama is almost ignoring Latin America entirely. Most disconcerting, of course, has been Obama’s approach in the Middle East and South Asia, which at times looks like the White House has, quite literally, no strategy at all. (Okay, Obama got Bin Laden. That was big and that did require a degree of decisiveness and courage. But a call like that has been an exception to the rule. It’s been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise feckless foreign policy agenda).

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The Impeding Funding Gap in Afghanistan

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai looks on as President Barack Obama delivers remarks  at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

One of the most pressing issues currently facing Afghanistan is the difficult economic transition set to occur at the end of 2014. Although security is the concern that grabs headlines, it’s the economy, and the ability of the Afghan government to afford itself, that will determine the long-term success of the Afghan state.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai looks on as President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

Sadly, it is highly unlikely that the Afghan government will be able to domestically source revenue to cover the military and security expenses it faces, let alone finance development and the social safety net, thus far provided largely by NGOs and donors nations, that the population has come to expect.

Although significant funding has been committed by donor nations it falls well short of the $10 billion a year through 2025 that President Hamid Karzai asked for. The $10 billion request represents significant figure for foreign donors, between 61% and 78% of GDP depending on which GDP estimates are used. The $4 billion committed by the international community at the 2012 Tokyo Donors Conference is not even a sure thing, as donor fatigue and historic failures to live up to development aid commitments are likely. This means, in the best-case scenario, that the government of Afghanistan would face a budget shortfall of at least $6 billion a year starting in 2014, but odds are it will be far greater.

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