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March 18, 2013

Editor’s Picks

Game Change: A New Standard for VP

January 30, 2013 by

Now that Game Change, Jay Roach’s 2012 political drama, has enjoyed a release on DVD, it deserves reappraisal as a pedagogical tool for professors of American politics and history. Instead of inviting cheap laughs and indulging in belittlement, the film asks its audience for careful character study. The three main players in the 2008 presidential campaign storyline, Steve Schmidt, John McCain, and Sarah Palin, emerge as flawed but determined and intriguing figures.

Game Change concerns the downfall of one of the weakest running mates in presidential campaign history, but in fact the film uplifts the office of the vice president. The film honors the nobility of public service. Palin’s political failure evidences the historic uptick in public expectations for the vice presidency—a significant, new American political tradition.

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Afghanistan’s Long Road to Gender Equality

January 8, 2013 by

An Afghan woman teaches a class of girls in the Rukhshana School on March 11, 2002

In all countries with troops still on the ground in Afghanistan there is steadily growing public feeling that the sooner their armed forces are out of the war there the better. And hopefully with minimal further injury and loss of life.

While the various home governments will no doubt spin the line of how successful the deployment has been, we should have no doubt that post-International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Afghanistan will be a very difficult place. Not just in terms of the country’s obvious ongoing political fragility, but also with respect to its socio-cultural environment and in particular, the subordinate situation of women.

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The Killings in Connecticut: The Gun Lobby and the Second Amendment

December 16, 2012 by

It is a form of warfare in urban settings. The recent spate of shootings in the United States have seen the assailants dressed in combat gear – in Aurora, Colorado, an Oregon shopping mall and the latest in Connecticut at an elementary school. And there is every reason to see the U.S. as having an internal war which costs tens of thousands of lives on an annual basis.

The latest, most lethal round was the attack on an elementary school on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. 26 individuals were killed by the gunman, 20 of those being children. (Additionally, the suspected gunman took his mother’s life.)  Adam Lanza might well have regarded himself as an urban guerrilla. He certainly behaved as one. “Witnesses and officials described a horrific scene as the gunman, with brutal efficiency, chose his victims in two classrooms while other students dove under desks and hid in closets.”

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The Merkel Doctrine: Exporting Arms to Questionable Regimes

December 13, 2012 by

President Obama with Angela Merkel in Washington. Denzel/Bundesregierung

The German armaments industry has a good reputation for doing what it does best – exporting high grade and stylistic means of killing well. But during the Merkel years, a trend has emerged in what has come to be called the Merkel Doctrine. Der Spiegel took note of this in July last year. The case in question involved Saudi Arabia, and the relevant sale of 270 modern Leopard (Model 2A7) tanks. No reasons were given for the policy shift, and none have been forthcoming.

“This would be the first time Germany supplied heavy arms to an Arab government that has declared its intentions to fight its opponents ‘with an iron fist’, a country that deployed tanks against demonstrators in a neighbouring country and ranks 160th on the Economist’s Democracy Index, just a few spots above North Korea, which holds the very bottom spot,” Holger Stark writes in Der Spiegel.

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The Talented Mrs. Kirchner

December 4, 2012 by

Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Leo La Valle/EPA

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.

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What the Middle East will Look Like if Iran is Attacked

November 5, 2012 by

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?

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Taking a Bite out of Terror: Battling the Taliban’s Influence in Schools

October 15, 2012 by

A crowd of more than 300 gathered for the first visit by the Paktia Province deputy governor to the Jani Khel district Feb. 15, 2009. It was the first such meeting in the district and many of the locals had never seen their provincial leaders

When US Major Lee and Captain Gil entered Ganat Kahiyl High School in eastern Afghanistan recently, a local teacher slipped them a small note: “The Taliban have visited our school and forced their curriculum upon us. Can the government help?”

This was not an empty threat. Insurgents burned down Sahakh High School in the same district a couple months earlier for teaching girls and the government’s curriculum. Taliban attacks on schools that defy insurgents are reported often, though difficult to confirm because of Taliban influence, say analysts. In fact, the US officers were visiting the school to promote the Village Outreach Program, devised by the local US Army and the district governor of Zormat to battle that type of Taliban influence on schools and children.

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A Muscular Policy in Syria Will Fail

October 5, 2012 by

This article is in response to “5 Reasons to Intervene in Syria Now,” by Michael Doran and Max Boot, which appeared in the September 26, 2012 edition of the International Herald Tribune.

The greatest failure of the Obama Doctrine may lie not in its great success but its perceived easy exportability to any other conflict in the Middle East.  The “lead from behind” approach and the targeted bombing campaign that worked so admirably in Libya was clearly on the minds of Doran and Boot as they put together their argument for intervention in Syria. But the Libya model has been stretched to its breaking point in their struggling attempt to fit it into the framework of the Syrian conflict.

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A Call for Understanding: Observation of the Middle East

September 15, 2012 by

President Obama at the State Department. Pete Souza/White House

This commentary is intended to help anyone who is struggling to understand what has happened in the Middle East this past week.  A book used in leadership development for U.S. government officials working in international affairs with Muslim countries is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s, “What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America: A New Vision for Muslims and the West”.

It is the chosen reading of Dr. Kamal Beyoghlow, Professor of National Security Strategy and Middle East and North Africa Studies at the National War College. Dr. Beyoghlow also teaches at the Federal Executive Institute delivering lectures including “Understanding and Building Relationships with the Islamic World”, as well as teaching U.S. government leaders across defense, intelligence, and other agencies. This book is a place to start for a quick tutorial. Websites are readily available online with maps and statistics of world religions, and these assist in personal study.

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Post-Assad Syria: A Region in Turmoil

August 21, 2012 by

Syrian fighter during fighting in Aleppo, Syria. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Syria is in dire straits. The once regal and prosperous cities of Damascus and Aleppo have now become the primary battlefields of the Syrian Army against opposition forces. Since the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, the calm and serenity of both Damascus and Aleppo were often touted by the Syrian regime to the world as indicators of Syrian stability.  The swift change from peace to turmoil however, has happened almost overnight, with President Assad describing the current battle in Aleppo as decisive of Syria’s fate.

The massive explosion which occurred on July 18 in the heart of the Syrian regime’s security organization in Damascus killed a number of people within Assad’s security and military inner circle, shocking the Syrian government and severely shaking the stability of the regime’s pillars.

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Enter the Dragon: Will China’s Deal of the Century Save Congo?

July 16, 2012 by

Twenty-four trillion dollars. It is a number that beggars the imagination, almost 40% of the global economy, and it is buried in one of the world’s poorest and most violent countries: The Democratic Republic of Congo. Failed state, rape capital of the world, humanitarian catastrophe…Congo personifies all these but beneath the surface its dark earth holds $24 trillion of copper, cobalt, coltan, the bones and blood of information age manufacturing. For this reason, if for no other, the world cannot ignore Congo. It can’t afford to.

Called Congo’s “deal of the century”, in 2007 China recognized the beleaguered nation’s importance to the global economy with an unprecedented $9 billion resources-for-infrastructure agreement which holds the potential to unlock Congo’s vast mineral wealth and improve the material lives of its seventy-one million people with new roads, rails, hospitals, and universities.

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Turkish-Syrian Relations Amid the Syrian Uprising

July 9, 2012 by

As turmoil continues in Syria, the international community continues to press for an intervention to stabilize the situation. As President of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party Bashar al-Assad refuses to relinquish his iron grip over Damascus’ government, more prominent world leaders are calling for him to resign. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has gone far enough to classify the Syrian Uprising as a full-blown civil war.  However, calls by the United States, European Union, and Arab League for any possible UN backed resolutions are being blocked by Russia and China.

With last year’s military intervention in Libya fresh in mind, Russia and China are cautious about any NATO activity in the region especially when their national interests are concerned.

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Damned by Riches: How Afghanistan’s Mineral Wealth Undermines NATO Mission

June 27, 2012 by

Uzbek workers build a signal station on the new railway spur between the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif and Uzbekistan. Image via Assignment Afghanistan

It is like something out of a movie: deep in the archives of a war torn country a team of intrepid scientists discovers forgotten maps leading to buried treasure. Fantastical as it seems, such a scene played out in 2004 when American geologists found a cache of charts in the Afghan Geological Survey’s library dating from the days of Soviet occupation.  Returned to the library after the NATO invasion, these Russian charts were protected in geologists’ homes through the tumultuous 1990s’ and for good reason: the data indicated under Afghanistan’s mountains and dry plains lay vast mineral deposits.

Guided by Soviet charts, aerial surveys in 2006 and 2007 covered 70% of the county and produced the most comprehensive geologic study in Afghan history and estimate the nation’s untapped mineral wealth at $1 trillion.  Today the Afghan government believes this wealth buried in their rugged provinces could exceed $3 trillion, but as frequently asked of buried treasure: is it cursed?

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Israel: Settler Violence Offers Netanyahu Peace Pivot

June 24, 2012 by

Israeli Defense Forces roadblock in Al-Jab’a. Photo by Michael Loadenthal

A little over a month ago, Israeli settlers from the infamous Yitzhar compound stormed the neighboring Palestinian village of Asira al-Qibliya in the West Bank, firing rocks at the village’s homes and sending 24-year-old Fathi Assayara to a Neblas hospital with a gun wound to the neck.  IDF soldiers can be seen standing by as Yitzhar settlers, who faced stone throwing in return, fire on the Palestinians gathered.

Now, one month after the IDF promised a full investigation that has never materialized and five weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a new coalition government that ostensibly freed him from the far-right Shas Party, the unaddressed Yitzhar debacle offers the Netanyahu government a vital opportunity to advance constructive negotiations.

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What Israeli Airport Security Teaches the World

June 19, 2012 by

Ben Gurion International Airport. llee_wu/Flickr

No country in the world faces more terrorist threats than Israel, and no airport in the world faces more such threats than Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. The Israelis have of course been the gold standard for establishing and maintaining security in all its forms.  Much of the airport’s security protocol is achieved through a combination of comprehensive due diligence, common sense, and consistency - which, one would think would be the objective of airport authorities throughout the world.  Yet very few other airports have achieved the level of security that exists at Ben Gurion. We explore why that is the case.

All vehicles that arrive at Ben Gurion must first pass through a preliminary security checkpoint where armed guards search the vehicle and exchange a few words with the driver and occupants to gauge their mood and intentions.  Plain clothes officers patrol the area outside the terminal building, assisted by sophisticated hidden surveillance cameras which operate around the clock.

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