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February 14, 2013

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Will the Rest of Africa Be the Next Phase of the “Arab” Awakening?

October 23, 2012 by

Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Image via Al Jazeera

As the Syrian conflict descends into an abyss, Libya has become a land of battles between security forces and jihadists, and Egypt is struggling to adjust to its evolving version of ‘democracy.’ Little seems predictable — in the short or longer term — in the countries that have to date experienced the Arab Awakening. Little has turned out as had been hoped — by these countries’ people, regional governments, or the larger global community — and optimists about the future are rare.

Now that the genie has been let out of its bottle, there is of course no turning back. It remains to be seen whether events to date will prove to be watershed moments in the Middle East and North Africa’s political history, or simply a transferal of autocratic power from one despotic political force to another. One has to wonder what the real prospects for long-term success are among the heterogeneous countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). A realist would have to say that there is a chance that some of the countries that have experimented with democracy to date will end up looking more like Iran than Turkey.

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Salafi Islamists may gain Political Control (Part II)

October 22, 2012 by

Tuareg fighters in Northern Mali. Image via Magharebia

In the Arab Spring dissidents involved in the uprisings used the U.S. and European allies for financial and military support, which led to regime change, but not to the democratic outcome that everyone had expected. The ultraconservative Salafi Islamists may well become the beneficiaries of our efforts to achieve democratic governance. In the North African countries Salafists are pressing to institute Sharia, the strict Islamic law.

Time will tell if the fragile governments formed to date will succeed, and whether the existing autocratic rulers will survive. If economic changes, needed to improve the poverty conditions in these countries, are not instituted quickly, we can expect more uprisings in which the Salafi Islamists will try to turn the countries into Islamic states.

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Salafi Islamists may gain Political Control (Part I)

October 20, 2012 by

The Arab Spring started with uprisings by dissidents in Tunisia, and spread across North Africa, and to the Arabian Peninsula. Today Syria is under siege by rebel militias, and al-Qaeda linked affiliates are taking advantage of the destabilization by instituting their own style of terrorist attacks. The Islamist groups include Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Ansar al-Sharia, and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which reportedly receive financing from Saudi Arabia and Qatar sources. In Syria the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad may not lead to democratic governance, a goal of the Arab Spring, as we are witnessing in North Africa. These radical Islamists with their large cache of arms can outwait the U.S. supported rebel militias, to participate in government change under Islamic law.

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Japan’s Right: Going Nuke?

October 17, 2012 by

Behind the current impasse among China, Japan and Taiwan over five tiny specks of land in the East China Sea is an influential rightwing movement in Japan that initiated the crisis in the first place, a crisis it is using it to undermine Japan’s post-World War II peace constitution and, possibly, break the half-century taboo on building nuclear weapons.

The dispute over the islands China calls the Diaoyus, Taiwan the Diaoyutais, and Japan the Senkakus, is long-standing, but it boiled over when the right-wing governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, provoked a confrontation with China by trying to buy the uninhabited islands from their owners. When the Japanese government bought three of the islands, ostensibly to keep them out of Ishihara’s hands, China accused Japan of “stealing” the disputed archipelago.

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America’s Challenging Cyber Defense Policy

October 15, 2012 by

In a speech on October 11, 2012 on Pentagon responses to evolving cyber threats, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, revealed both the strengths and shortcomings of United States public policy on issues of national cyber defense. The forum for the speech was not necessarily the place where Panetta might have been expected to give a full exposition of policy, yet in his need to brief and to summarize complex issues of his audience of Business Executives for National Security, the Secretary allowed a glimpse into where the United States is and where it is going.

Panetta set the scene by mentioning the threat of a “crippling cyber attack” every bit as serious as the terrorist attacks of September 11. He addressed three tracks the Pentagon is following: new capabilities, policies and organization at DoD level, and alliance building with other countries and with the private sector.

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Benghazi Attack: AQIM Terrorists had their roots in Mali

October 12, 2012 by

On July 5, 2012 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2056, to deal with the instability in northern Mali. Tuareg fighters returning from Libya brought with them a large cache of arms. Affiliating with AQIM and Ansar Dine Islamists they have taken control of the northern towns of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao. To stop their advance the UN should have supported military action, but instead wanted more studies on the justification, before giving approval for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) troops to intervene in Mali. Ninety days have since passed, and the situation in Mali has only become more acute.

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Can a Nuclear Armed Iran Be Contained?

October 9, 2012 by

This is the sixth post in a TMP series titled “The Great Debate,” a round-up of opinions from experts, officials, professors and students on a pressing question in international affairs.

During his address at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held up a diagram of a bomb to urge international action against Iran’s nuclear program. He emphasized that soon Iran will have enough enriched uranium to become a threat to the existence of Israel, and said the world has until next summer at the latest to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

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Jihadists on the March in West Africa

October 4, 2012 by

Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Image via Al Jazeera

While the world’s attention has been focused on Iran, Syria, and the evolving results of ‘democracy’ in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, groups like Boko Haram, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other splinter terrorist organizations have made substantial progress in either heavily influencing or controlling significant swathes of territory in some countries in West Africa. The west of Libya, northern Nigeria and northern Mali are all experiencing extreme levels of violence at the hands of Boko Haram and likeminded Islamic militant groups.

A primary reason West Africa is experiencing so much violence and upheaval from so many Islamist militant groups is because the area is so expansive and the local governments are incapable of exerting control outside of major population areas.

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U.S. Consulate in Benghazi: Attacked by Terrorists

September 24, 2012 by

Protest against the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens. Mohammad Hannon/AP

The White House does not want to recognize that there is still a Global War on Terror (GWOT). So I am not surprised at the politicized remarks by the State Department and our U.S. ambassador to the UN, that the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 were a spontaneous act.

The video, Innocence of Muslims, may have been a contributing factor to demonstrations that took place across North Africa, but the attacks in Benghazi were undertaken by al-Qaeda linked terrorists. In the attacks we lost Ambassador Chris Stevens, and three other embassy officials.

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The Crisis in Mali

August 26, 2012 by

A cholera hospital close to the Mali border in western Niger. Sean Smith

The reports filtering out of Northern Mali are appalling: a young couple stoned to death, iconic ancient shrines dismantled, and some 365,000 refugees fleeing beatings and whippings for the slightest violations of Sharia law.  But the bad dream unfolding in this West African country is less the product of a radical version of Islam than a consequence of the West’s scramble for resources on this vast continent, and the wages of sin from the recent Libyan war.

The current crisis gripping northern Mali—an area about the size of France— has its origins in the early years of the Bush Administration, when the U.S. declared the Sahara desert a hotbed of “terrorism” and poured arms and Special Forces into the area as part of the Trans-Sahal Counter Terrorism Initiative. But, according to anthropologist Jeremy Keenan, who has done extensive fieldwork in Mali and the surrounding area, the “terrorism” label had no basis in fact, but was simply designed to “justify the militarization of Africa.”

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The West is Playing with Fire in Syria

July 23, 2012 by

Protest against Assad in Idlib, Syria. Image via Freedom House

“Let’s be clear: Washington is pursuing regime change by civil war in Syria. The United States, Europe, and the Gulf states want regime change, so they are starving the regime in Damascus and feeding the opposition.”

Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies.

While the UN remains paralyzed on whether to extend its observer mission, or impose sanctions, Syria is drifting quickly towards what the International Committee of the Red Cross calls “a state of civil war”, a declaration, with cataclysmic consequences, and which might radically change the rules of the game.

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Oil and Hegemon

July 15, 2012 by

Recent wars from Libya to Afghanistan and Pakistan in a region of vast natural wealth and strategic importance highlight a phenomenon as old as humanity.  Iraq and Libya had oil, but their leaders were longtime foes of the United States, now the world’s lone hegemon. Saddam Hussein allied with the Soviet Union before its demise, so did Muammar Gaddafi. They both displayed stubbornness. They were ready to drop the American dollar as the oil currency before bigger players like China and India dared.  Saddam and Gaddafi ruled with an iron hand state systems that were brittle. They were too independent for their own good.

Saudi Arabia and tiny Arab emirates such as Bahrain and Qatar, on the other hand, are punching above their weight. Wealthy and dictatorial, their rulers accommodate the hegemon’s interests. These rulers sell their oil and amass petrodollars which they spend in vast quantities on weapons and consumer goods from the industrialized world led by the hegemon. It is a far more agreeable relationship.

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Nigeria: Killing of Oyerinde Signals Further Instability

June 17, 2012 by

Bottom Line Up Front

Faced with an oil-export based economy, intra factional clashes coupled together by a feeble and corrupt centralized government, Nigeria has struggled to become more than a transitional democracy. Armed groups and violence, fueled by disputes over oil revenue sharing efforts have exacerbated internal security problems and continue to undermine domestic stability as well as thwart progress to establish democratic norms.

In May, Olaitan Oyerinde, the Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to the Governor of the State of Edo was killed in an apparent assassination. The attack on the PPS occurred at his private residence, little more than 3 months before the July 14 Gubernatorial elections in the state of Edo. The successful assassination follows two unsuccessful suspected attempts on the Governor of Edo and on the Governor’s Commissioner for Information. It does not appear that this is the work of the Islamist terrorist organization, Boko Haram, instead it is probable that internal constituencies and political machinations are likely to be blamed. This raises the probable specter of further near-term turmoil in Nigeria.

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Should Boko Haram be Designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization?

June 13, 2012 by

Boko Haram continued their killing on Sunday, 10 June 2012, when a suicide bomber blew up his car outside a church and gunmen opened fire on another service in Nigeria.  At the same time, there is a fierce debate in Washington whether to designate the activities of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

FTO or not, Boko Haram is extremely sophisticated and well equipped. It uses a mixture of suicide bombers and gunmen, which was evident by Sunday’s attack. Often some members are in police or army uniforms while they carry out their carefully coordinated attacks on hard targets.

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Yemen’s Renewed ‘War on Terror’

May 30, 2012 by

Displaced persons at Mazraq camp have fled the ongoing fighting in the Sa’ada province of northern Yemen. Paul Stephens/IRIN

Yemeni forces continue to push against fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda. Their major victories come on the heels of the inauguration of Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, who is now entrusted with the task of leading the country through a peaceful transition. A new constitution and presidential elections are expected by 2014.

Faced with the most strenuous of circumstances – the unyielding ruling family, the US-lead war on al-Qaeda, sectarian tension, unsettled political divides between south and north, and unforgiving poverty - the youth of Yemen have successfully managed to introduce a hopeful chapter to an otherwise gloomy modern history.

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