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Geopolitical Edge

Germany Takes a More Assertive Role in Foreign Policy

February 4th 2014


The Ukrainian crisis is important in itself, but the behavior it has elicited from Germany is perhaps more important. Berlin directly challenged Ukraine's elected president for refusing to tighten relations with the European Union and for mistreating Ukrainians who protested his decision. In challenging President Viktor Yanukovich, Berlin also challenged Russia, a reflection of Germany's recent brazen foreign policy.

Since the end of World War II, Germany has pursued a relatively tame foreign policy. But over the past week, Berlin appeared to have acknowledged the need for a fairly dramatic change. German leaders, including the chancellor, the president, the foreign minister and the defense minister, have called for a new framework that contravenes the restraint Germany has practiced for so long. They want Germany to assume a greater international role by becoming more involved outside its borders politically and militarily. Read more ..

Israelis and Palestinians

US Security Assurances and the End of UN Resolution 242

February 3rd 2014

Jerusalem-Temple and Wall

Secretary of State John Kerry and special envoy Martin Indyk have been meeting and talking with groups of American Jews in an effort to "sell" the interim deal Mr. Kerry plans to put on the table for Israel and the Palestinians. With Mr. Kerry acting as the "bad cop" and Mr. Indyk as the "good," they want the Americans to press the democratically elected government of Israel to accept the deal even if the Netanyahu government doesn't find it secure and responsible to do so. This is in keeping with the apparent belief in the administration that American Jews are both responsible for Israeli policy decisions and subject to them, but it is a poor way to approach American citizens and a very poor way to understand the independence of the government of Israel, which answers to its citizens. And here is why they are doing it. Read more ..

Battle for Syria

Syria Cheats

February 2nd 2014

Syria fighting injured baby

Tuesday, during the State of the Union Address, President Obama boasted that "American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria's chemical weapons are being eliminated." The assertion was premature. In early January, Syria's Bashar Assad regime indeed started the process of transferring its chemical weapons arsenal abroad. To date it's destroyed only 5 percent of its unconventional arsenal and it's unlikely Damascus will finish the job. Despite international commitments to the contrary, precedent suggests that Assad will retain a residual supply for future contingencies.

Like North Korea and Libya -- which famously violated international obligations on weapons of mass destruction -- there is good reason to believe that Syria will cheat on its own agreement with the United Nations to fully dispose of its chemical weapons arsenal.  Read more ..

Broken Healthcare

Much Better than Obamacare

January 31st 2014


The introduction of an Obamacare replacement plan by Republican senators Richard Burr (N.C.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), and Orrin Hatch (Utah) has given Obamacare’s apologists — who admittedly have had very tough duty over the past four years — a rare opportunity to get out of their defensive crouches and go on the attack. Not surprisingly, fast out of the gate has been Ezekiel Emanuel, who has a piece up at theNew York Times website claiming that the fatal flaw of the Republican senators’ plan is that it would raise taxes on millions of American households.

There are a couple of problems with Emanuel’s analysis. The first is not Emanuel’s fault: He based his assessment of the tax consequences on an imprecise description of the tax policy in the original write-up of the plan. That description said an upper limit would be placed on the tax preference for employer-paid health premiums at 65 percent of the average employer plan. But the policy the senators have actually adopted, as explained in a clarification, would place the upper limit at 65 percent of the cost of a very high-cost employer plan. In Obamacare terms, think of the fully loaded benefit package with very low cost-sharing. Setting the upper limit at this level would mean most employer plans would fall well below the cap, and only a relatively small percentage of the work force would see any changes in job-based coverage. Those who today have expensive employer plans that would be over the upper limit would see adjustments, of course, such as higher deductibles; but those adjustments wouldn’t take away their employer plans but would only bring them more in line with the coverage an average worker experiences. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

What's Driving Turbulence In Emerging Markets?

January 30th 2014

Wall Street Meltdown

If there is one common denominator these days in emerging markets, it is turbulence, with many of these countries' economies having to contend with sliding currencies and stockmarket volatility. Here are five things to know about what's behind the turmoil.

How widespread is the turbulence in emerging markets?
Since the start of the year, investors have been fleeing emerging markets worldwide amid concerns about faltering economies and political unrest.

The turbulence is not felt in every emerging market but is widespread enough to talk of a global phenomenon.

Last week offered particularly dramatic examples. On January 24, Russia's ruble fell to its lowest level in almost five years against the US. dollar, while Turkey's lira fell by 1.6 percent in a single day.  At the same time, South Africa's rand slid to its weakest level since October 2008. And even Mexico’s peso, one of the stronger currencies in emerging markets, fell to its weakest level against the U.S. dollar since June. Read more ..

America's Darkest Edge

New Study Details Gun Injuries Suffered by Children

January 29th 2014

Sandy Hook Shooting

Every day in the United States, about 20 children are injured by firearms and require hospitalization, according to new research.

The research said that in 2009, there were 7,391 hospitalizations of victims under the age of 20 and that six percent of those admitted die as a result of their injuries.

“This study is a stark reminder of the devastating effects of gun violence,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA and author of the book Gunfight. “Too often, we focus only on the number of people who die from gun violence. But so many who escape death also suffer lifelong injuries.”

The study says assaults accounted for the majority of hospitalizations, while the fewest were suicide attempts. Suicide attempts were the most likely to result in death. The most common types of firearm injuries were open wounds (52 percent); fractures (50 percent); and internal injuries of the thorax, abdomen or pelvis (34 percent), according to the study. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Legitimization of Terrorism

January 28th 2014

The tremendous success of the Palestinian propaganda machine is underexposed. No other refugee group has been as violent, or attracted such active political and financial support as the Palestinians. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons they refuse to stop their violence against Israel.  Taking advantage of wide-spread anti-Semitic (aka anti-Israeli) sentiments, the Palestinian propaganda machine has succeeded over more than five decades to live off many  hundreds of billions of dollars of outside support.

The millions of Syrian and Sudanese refugees, the survivors of the 2004 Tsunami, and the 17 million affected by super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, and millions of other displaced people who are trying to survive and rebuild get the headlines couple of days, sometimes weeks, get some token money and are then forgotten. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan's Arab-Muslim Culture of Denial

January 28th 2014

Since 9/11, Islamist culture is seen to be synonymous with violence, misogyny and a pathological hatred for others; and, ironically, it has made Muslims themselves its most numerous victims. "Impure," or non-authentic Muslims, meant those whose Islam had been weakened by un-Islamic or non-Islamic values imported from the West, or contaminated by the Hindu culture of India.

Eventually political differences came to be viewed, by the measure of Islam, in terms of the "purity" and "impurity" of people. In the "Land of the Pure" [Urdu for Pakistan], those suspected of impurity must be cleansed, purged or driven out.

For Osama bin Laden there was a clear and unmistakable cultural divide separating the Arab-Muslim world from the West. The idea that there is a difference, perhaps even qualitative, in terms of culture between the West and the East is considered a scandal by those who are convinced that our highly interdependent world is headed in a direction where, at some point, cultures will converge, or their significance be so diminished that cultural differences will be merely a matter of curiosity. Read more ..

Security Edge

Chile and Peru Anxiously Await Far-Reaching International Court Decision

January 26th 2014

The events of this upcoming January 27, 2014 are likely to determine the short and long-term future regarding the relations between Peru and Chile. On that date, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will announce its ruling on a long-standing maritime dispute between the two South American coastal states.

The Dispute

In dispute is an area of approximately 38,000 square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean. The nation that controls it will see great benefits to its fishing industry – the Peruvian media explains that this area is rich with sea life like the jurel and the anchoveta (of the anchovy family).The association of artisanal fishermen of Arica in Chile have claimed that if the aforementioned disputed territory is surrendered to Peru, they could lose 40% of their fishing territory.

Peru went to the ICJ to resolve this dispute in 2008; six years later, the court will finally give its verdict. A December 2013 ICJ press release solemnly declares that, “It is recalled that the judgements of the Court have binding force and are without appeal for the parties concerned.” Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia's Growing Regional Debts Threaten Stability

January 25th 2014


Since the 2009 financial crisis, the Kremlin has allowed Russia's regions to take the brunt of the country's economic decline in order to keep the federal government seemingly healthy, with a nominally small budget deficit and large currency reserves. But now most of Russia's regional governments' debts are so high, it is becoming dangerous for the federal government and big banks and could soon become unmanageable.

Russia is so large that the Kremlin lacks the resources to run each region of the country directly. Currently Russia is split into 83 regions of all shapes and sizes, which fall into categories of oblasts, republics, krais, federal cities and autonomous okrugs. Historically, the Kremlin has given regional leaders (mayors, governors, heads or republic presidents) the power to run their own regions and ensure loyalty to the Kremlin and stability for the country.

However, the Kremlin is constantly concerned with its control over the regions. The federal government's ability to maintain the loyalty of each region has been tested often throughout history. For instance, dozens of regions attempted to break away after the fall of the Soviet Union, occasionally leading to wars such as those in Chechnya.

The central government's control over the regions was demolished during the devastating financial crisis in 1998. Many of the regional heads defied the federal government in order to look out for their own regions' survival. It was the second-worst regional breakdown in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it was related directly to the chaos caused by that collapse. This is why the currently growing economic strains in the regions will be of great concern for the Kremlin. Read more ..

The Edge of Obamacare

In Obamacare Go for Bronze Health Plans

January 24th 2014


For those who find themselves shopping for health coverage through Obamacare, here’s a general tip: save cash on your premiums and buy the bronze health plan. For most consumers, the gold and platinum options will be a waste of money.

We analyzed dozens of Obamacare plans, and found one striking result. The networks of providers, and in many cases the drug formularies, are the same whether you’re buying a particular insurer’s bronze plan, or purchasing the same insurance option in a gold or platinum offering. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Kelly Funderburk and I posted some of our data here.

The bottom line is this. When you’re choosing a particular insurance offering, you typically can’t trade up to a better benefit by buying the gold or platinum variety of that plan. It’s usually the exact same benefit regardless of the metal you choose. Read more ..

China On Edge

China's GDP Growth Says Little

January 23rd 2014

Bank of China

China announced its 2013 economic results Monday. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 7.7 percent to RMB56.9 trillion - about US$9.3 trillion. It may seem odd that GDP and other statistics measuring the actions of 1.3 billion people can be compiled in barely three weeks, but it's comparatively normal. After all, the inflation rate was compiled in nine days.

The first problem with Chinese numbers, then, is they are frequently hard to credit. The second is the conventional view of GDP and its relationship to more jobs, greater wealth and other beneficial outcomes is deeply flawed. The combined outcome is a serious mischaracterization of how China is doing. The oft-used line that "the economy" is slowing but still boasts the world's fastest rate of growth is inaccurate and misleading. What matters most is that available data indicate debt accumulation will induce economic stagnation. Read more ..

Africa's Leading Edge

Africa Improves Despite Wars, Corruption

January 22nd 2014

Nigerian baby with cap

Africa is discovering a new spirit of optimism, reminiscent of the first decade of its post-colonial era. Despite inadequate infrastructure and at times even poorer governance, the continent has been attracting more and more interest from American and European investors, as well as Chinese, targeting such countries as Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Angola, Tanzania, and Rwanda to name a few. Today, half of the world’s 30 fastest-growing countries are in Africa, which is quickly losing its image of hopelessness and despair. Unfortunately, economic growth, while significant, rarely benefits the impoverished majority, even amid scenes of bustling business taking place from Dakar to Nairobi, and statistics indicating an emerging African middle class of some 150 million -- which could quickly rise to 300 million by 2015, barring any "black swan" events.

Politically, there is optimism as almost all 55 African countries have some kind of constitution with an active civil society that is contributing to more democratic or pluralistic political engagement. Read more ..

The Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Drones on in Latin America

January 22nd 2014

Over the past several years, drone usage has become increasingly widespread, not solely among global military powers but also among rising mid-level military powerhouses and even among less-economically developed nations. The combination of increasingly inexpensive drones and the intention by countries that manufacture them to sell this technology to friendly governments are two critical factors that are fomenting drone usage across the globe.

In recent years, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs has issued a number of reports about drone usage in Latin America. This analysis aims to highlight the main aspects of this intriguing piece of military technology. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Geopolitics of Civil War in Syria

January 21st 2014

International diplomats will gather Jan. 22 in the Swiss town of Montreux to hammer out a settlement designed to end Syria's three-year civil war. The conference, however, will be far removed from the reality on the Syrian battleground. Only days before the conference was scheduled to begin, a controversy threatened to engulf the proceedings after the United Nations invited Iran to participate, and Syrian rebel representatives successfully pushed for the offer to be rescinded. The inability to agree upon even who would be attending the negotiations is an inauspicious sign for a diplomatic effort that was never likely to prove very fruitful.

There are good reasons for deep skepticism. As Syrian President Bashar al Assad's forces continue their fight to recover ground against the increasingly fratricidal rebel forces, there is little incentive for the regime, heavily backed by Iran and Russia, to concede power to its sectarian rivals at the behest of Washington, especially when the United States is already negotiating with Iran. Read more ..

The Economy on Edge

Three Ways We Can Improve the Economy in 2014

January 20th 2014

Home Foreclosure

An improving economy and a fiscal truce together signal the possibility of making progress on at least some of the economic challenges facing the United States. Don't expect a grand bargain with entitlement changes to address the structural fiscal imbalance, or a pro-growth tax reform aimed at putting the U.S. economy back onto a permanently better trajectory. The administration's policy horizon has shrunk, meaning that these long-term challenges will be left for the next president. But there is still a chance of movement this year on immigration, trade, and housing finance reform, all of which would constitute meaningful progress toward a stronger U.S. economy.

Even with last Friday's underwhelming jobs report for December, the United States entered the New Year on a roll of good economic news. GDP growth strengthened in the second half of 2013 and looks to stay at 2.5 to 3 percent in the first half of 2014. Indicators for consumer spending, business investment, and international trade all signal a continued expansion, suggesting that job creation will rebound (especially when the subpar December figures include a weather-related construction slowdown and a pause in health care hiring, perhaps reflecting the impact of the botched Obamacare launch). This is not a sizzling recovery, but the pace of growth and job creation in 2014 will be strong enough for Americans to take notice. Read more ..

The North Korea Edge

North Korea's Rare Earths Could be Game Changer

January 18th 2014

Rare Earth Minerals

A recent geological study indicates North Korea could hold some 216 million tons of rare earths, minerals used in electronics such as smartphones and high definition televisions.

If verified, the discovery would more than double global known sources and be six times the reserves in China, the market leader.

British Islands-based private equity firm SRE Minerals Limited announced the study results in December, along with a 25-year deal to develop the deposits in Jongju, northwest of the capital, Pyongyang.

The joint venture, called Pacific Century Rare Earth Mineral Limited, is with state-owned Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation. The potential bonanza could offer the isolated and impoverished North a game-changing stake in the rare earths industry. Read more ..

Inside Politics

Tea Party Big Loser in Budget Battle

January 17th 2014

Tea Party demonstator at Supreme Court

There was a bit of a sea change in Washington this week.  The Republican-controlled House of Representatives easily passed a $1.1 trillion budget bill that will keep the government funded through September.  Yes, the very same Republican House that led last October’s 16 day government shutdown that was hugely unpopular with voters.

Republicans got the lion’s share of the blame for the shutdown and it looks as though Republican congressional leaders got the message.  House Speaker John Boehner started blasting some independent conservative groups last month that had supported the shutdown, and it was clear that a national shift in public opinion about the Tea Party was having an impact. Read more ..

Broken Education

Can We Fix Undermatching in Higher Ed? Would it Matter if We Did?

January 16th 2014

university students and laptops

College access for low-income students is back in the news this week with a White House summit (postponed from last month) on higher education.  Tomorrow’s summit follows a November announcement that First Lady Michelle Obama is going to be a key advocate for the President’s higher education agenda, with a focus on encouraging and supporting low-income students to enroll and succeed in college.

News reports indicate that the White House effort will focus on preventing undermatching, i.e. students attending less challenging colleges than their academic credentials would allow them to.  This behavior is troubling not because it happens at all but because it disproportionately occurs among disadvantaged students.  In our 2009 book, Bill Bowen, Mike McPherson, and I examine data on a cohort of North Carolina high school seniors who have test scores and grades that give them a 90 percent or better chance of being admitted to a selective university.  Among students from high-income families, only about a quarter (27 percent) undermatch by attending a less selective college.  But among lower-income students, a clear majority (54-59 percent) undermatch.  Our work and other studies show that students who undermatch are less likely to graduate from college. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Masculinity is More Than a Mask

January 15th 2014

Student Backpack

Are school shooters and mass murderers born out of an aggressive emphasis on masculinity in our society? The trailer  for filmmaker and feminist activist Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s new documentary, “The Mask You Live In,” would have us think so.

The recently released trailer has attracted 1 million views on YouTube. It argues that American boys are captive to a rigid and harmful social code of masculinity. From the earliest age, they are told to “Be a Man!” “Don’t Cry!” “Stop with the emotion!” and “Man up!” This “guy code” suppresses their humanity, excites their drive for dominance, and renders many of them dangerous. The trailer features adolescent men describing their isolation, despair, and thoughts of suicide, artfully interspersed with terrifying images of school shooters and mass murderers.

I admire Newsom for using her considerable talent to advocate for boys. But I worry that she is less concerned with helping boys than with re-engineering their masculinity according to specifications from some out-of-date gender studies textbook. The trailer is suffused with “males-are-toxic” ideology but shows little appreciation for how boys’ nature can be distinctively good. “The Mask You Live In” is scheduled to be released later this year. Let’s hope there is still time for edits. Read more ..

Displaced Persons on the Edge

Four Years After the Haiti Earthquake, the Search for Solutions to Displacement Continues

January 14th 2014

Haiti in ruins

Four years ago today, residents of Port-au-Prince, Haiti awoke to a city destroyed. The earthquake of January 12, 2010 killed as many as 220,000 people. 105,000 homes were destroyed and over 188,000 badly damaged, sparking a displacement crisis the country was particularly ill-equipped to handle. Even before the disaster, Haiti ranked 145 out of 169 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, the lowest in the western hemisphere, and was facing a major housing shortage. At the height of the crisis, more than 1.5 million Haitians were living in some 1,500 camps in Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns. Thousands more of the displaced were never really counted, as they sought shelter with friends and family members. To put all this in context, the population of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area at the time was 2.8 million. Read more ..

Islam and Europe

2013 was a Year of Islamization in Belgium and the Netherlands

January 13th 2014

In January, the gangland shootings of two young Moroccan men in downtown Amsterdam drew renewed attention to the growing problem of violent crime among Muslim immigrants. The two men were gunned down with AK-47 assault rifles in a shooting the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, described as reminiscent of "the Wild West."

In March, the Dutch public broadcasting system NOS television reported that the Netherlands has become one of the major European suppliers of Islamic jihadists. According to NOS, about 100 Dutch Muslims are active as jihadists in Syria; most have joined the notorious Jabhat al-Nusra rebel group.

Belgium and the Netherlands have some of the largest Muslim communities in the European Union, in percentage terms. Read more ..

Education on Edge

How Teachers Can Best Use Tech

January 12th 2014

Science students

Technology is creating a revolution that could profoundly improve our schools, but getting digital learning right is more about the planning than the purchase order.

Education beats across the country have been speckled with nightmarish headlines about education technology failures in schools: big iPad acquisitions gone awry, melted chargers, broken screens, and students accessing social media on their school-granted devices. It seems like we haven’t had a lot to cheer about when it comes to digital learning. But who is really to blame here?

Of course, safety, security, and smooth execution of device roll-outs are important, but implementation glitches are to be expected when a school introduces any new system — both as devices need improving and as students, teachers, and administrators acclimate to using new technology. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Gates at War

January 11th 2014

Robert Gates better headshot

The memoir of former defense secretary Robert M. Gates has landed with a bang. Gates has harsh words for President Barack Obama’s wartime decision-making and quotes Hillary Clinton saying that her opposition to the surge in 2007 was political. There is more than enough to outrage partisans—and even non-partisans—on both sides of the political spectrum. But outrage about the book will only further the very problem Gates was trying to highlight. Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War is a lengthy lament that far too few leaders in Washington, civilian or military, Democratic or Republican, understand that the United States was—and is—at war. Even fewer understand what that means. This critique is right and important, and it highlights a great peril to the nation in a dangerous time.

America is still at war. Tens of thousands of American soldiers are fighting and occasionally dying in Afghanistan. If President Obama heeds the advice of his military and considers the long-term interests of the United States, there will still be thousands of American troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Changing the name of their mission and declaring “combat operations” to be over will not change the reality. When soldiers go into the field against enemies trying to kill them, they are at war. When they are at war, we as a nation are at war, or should be. That is the central point Gates was trying to get across. Read more ..

Bangladesh on Edge

Combating Islamism and Supporting Democracy in Bangladesh

January 10th 2014

Parliament Building Dhaka Bangladesh

Bangladesh has experienced significant political tumult in the past year, including during and after the January 2014 parliamentary election. While the threat from terrorism had diminished to some extent under the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the recent execution of an Islamist politician and the sentencing to death of other opposition leaders accused of war crimes during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971 have unleashed furor among Islamists. The war crimes verdicts led to violent protests earlier this year that left over 150 dead. Following the December 12 execution of Islamist leader Abdul Qader Mollah, rioting broke out, killing at least five Bangladeshis in a 24-hour period. The international community urged the Bangladeshi Prime Minister to stay Mollah’s execution, to no avail.

The opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and several smaller parties have said they will boycott the election if the government does not agree to install a neutral, non-party caretaker regime to conduct elections. If the Hasina government and the BNP are unable to come to agreement on how the polls should be conducted, there is a likelihood of political destabilization, similar to what unfolded in 2006 and 2007 when the military took the reins of power. Read more ..

The Diplomatic Edge

If You Need To Talk To Europe, Call Ashton

January 9th 2014

euro flags

A few weeks after Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi was deposed in a military coup in July, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was taken, without bodyguards or aides, first in a helicopter and then in a car with its windows blacked out, to the unknown location where he was being held.

To date, she is the only Western official who has spoken to Morsi since his ouster. "Can you imagine this happening to anyone else, say [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry or the foreign minister of France or Britain," an EU official who asked not to be named said. "In a sense, this shows her status both in a positive and a negative way."

Appointed as the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy in 2009, Ashton has often found herself in the spotlight in 2013, signaling the bloc's emergence from the economic and consequent political crises of 2008 as an essential foreign-policy player. Read more ..

Chile’s Leading Edge

Chile: The Unrecognized Role Model of Latin America

January 8th 2014


In a run-off election on December 15th, presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet, who was Chile’s president from 2006 to 2010, was again voted into office. The victory was overwhelming as Bachelet took more than 60 percent of the vote against her opponent Evelyn Mathei of the conservative Independent Democratic Union party, who is also a childhood friend of Bachelet.

Bachelet ran on a platform that responded directly to the student protests and other strikes that the country experienced in the last several years. Indeed, popular protests that brought tens of thousands of protestors to the streets demanded lowers costs for higher education along with improvement in the quality of education. These demonstrations caught fire as they expanded to other social sectors. In a remote area of Chilean Patagonia, protestors blocked roads demanding cheaper petrol. Likewise, there were demonstrations in opposition to a new fishing law. Previously there were strikes by copper miners demanding a fairer share of the production profits. Port workers also participated in strikes, demanding better working conditions. There were also hunger strikes by imprisoned indigenous activists. Environmentalists protested a hydroelectric project. There were also protests over high levels of inequality despite the considerable reduction of poverty Chile experienced in the last quarter of a century. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Is Iran's Conservative Camp Muscling In On Nuclear Talks?

January 8th 2014

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

Is Iran's conservative camp muscling in on Tehran's nuclear negotiations with six world powers?

Yes, if you listen to some hard-line lawmakers and media who are reporting that two conservatives have been added to a mysterious panel said to monitor the work of Tehran's negotiating team.

Not really, if you go by the word of those participating in the negotiations and media close to the government. In fact, they question the existence of any such panel at all.

One thing appears clear amid the murk: there are stark internal differences in Iran when it comes to the country's approach in talks with the P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, plus Germany).

Officially, the country's president and former nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, has been granted the authority to shape Iran's negotiating position. And with the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the president's team led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has worked out an interim deal in which some international sanctions would be relaxed in exchange for more Iranian transparency and concessions when it comes to its controversial nuclear program. Read more ..

Geopolitical Edge

The North American Free Trade Agreement: The Future for the USA, Canada and Mexico

January 7th 2014

Click to select Image

The 20th anniversary of NAFTA's implementation on Jan. 1 has revived some of the perennial arguments that have surrounded the bloc since its inception. The general consensus has been that the trade deal was a mixed bag, a generally positive yet disappointing economic experiment.

That consensus may not be wrong. The history of the North American Free Trade Agreement as an institution has been one of piecemeal, often reluctant, integration of three countries with a long tradition of protectionism and fierce defense of economic national sovereignty. While NAFTA was a boon for certain sectors of the economy, particularly the U.S. agriculture industry, the net effect of the world's second-largest trade bloc remains somewhat unknown.

The debate over NAFTA can, however, obscure some fundamental realities about the future of North America and its three major countries. While the formation of the trading bloc represented a remarkable political achievement, NAFTA has remained a facilitating institution whose success has mirrored the ebb and flow in the slow but inevitable economic integration of the United States, Mexico and Canada. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

The Syrian Regime's Military Solution to the War

January 5th 2014

al-Assad and Generals

It has become commonplace to say that "there is no military solution" to the conflict in Syria. That claim, invoked by Western officials including the U.S. secretary of state, is used to justify an emphasis on diplomacy (the Geneva II process) and limitations on assistance to the armed opposition.

The war could indeed have a military outcome, and in light of current trends, that outcome could be a regime victory. The outlines of a regime strategy for winning the war are visible. This strategy hinges on the staying power of the regime and its allies, the generation of adequate forces, operational success, and continued divisions within rebel forces. It is subject to serious constraints, especially limitations on the size and effectiveness of regime and associated forces, and "game changers" could alter its course. But a regime victory is possible -- and that is what the regime is counting on.

Strategic Principles

The regime fights its war under three broad strategic principles. The first entails using whatever level of violence it believes is necessary to defeat the armed opposition and break the will of its civilian supporters. No doubt, this process has involved incremental but continuous escalation to higher levels of violence in the face of increasing armed opposition. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Rocky Road to Nuclear Deal

January 4th 2014


Since the October start of nuclear talks in Geneva, two distinct trends have marked the periphery: (1) a premature push for political and economic outreach to the Iranian government by European countries, particularly Italy; and (2) efforts by the Majlis to regulate the content of a nuclear deal -- through legislation that could upend the final accord if it fails to guarantee specific “rights,” including set levels of uranium enrichment, and safeguard the continued construction and operation of key facilities including those at Fordow, Natanz, and Arak. Most recently, this has been manifested in a January 2 report of the addition of two Majlis deputies (or parliamentarians) to the negotiating team.

Rouhani: Italy “Gateway to Iran's Interaction with Europe”

From December 21 to 23 -- in the company of twenty journalists -- Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino became the first European foreign minister in a decade to pay a state visit to Tehran. The trip followed a flurry of diplomatic exchanges between the two countries, including the visit of an Italian deputy foreign minister to Iran only three days after Hassan Rouhani's inauguration as president; a November stopover in Rome by Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif; and, only a week before Bonino's arrival, a Tehran visit by former Italian prime minister -- and former foreign minister -- Massimo D'Alema. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Whither Vladimir Putin in 2014?

January 4th 2014

At a press conference back in September 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a seemingly throwaway remark that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid outside military intervention by giving up all his chemical weapons.

The same day, Russia's President Vladimir Putin seized the diplomatic initiative by calling on his longtime ally to do just that, paving the way for a deal that may have prevented major military action and unpredictable instability in the Middle East.

"Putin Takes Advantage Of Kerry Blunder," the headlines blared. Purely in terms of visuals, Putin came out looking like a global peacemaker against the background of a bellicose United States.

And it wasn't just in the Syria crisis that Putin looked like a foreign-policy maestro. From the ongoing story of whistle-blowing former U.S. National Security Agency consultant Edward Snowden to Armenia and Ukraine's abrupt U-turns on their European-integration ambitions in favor of closer ties with Moscow, 2013 seemed to be a gift bag of victories for the Russian president. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

The Resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq

January 4th 2014

Oil fields near Ramadi

I have paid close attantion to the subject of Al-Qaeda in Iraq throughout the last decade. Like others, I was disheartened to watch the group grow from 2003-2006 and relieved to see it crash and burn in 2006-2009. I was saddened but not surprised to watch it rebound strongly from 2010 onwards. Indeed since the autumn of 2010 I have been warning all who would listen that the group was poised to make a comeback.

Since 2004, I have worked in all the Iraqi provinces and most of the country’s hundred districts, including some of those where Al-Qaeda is strongest. I have worked alongside the Iraqi security forces, the U.S. military and the reconstruction community as they battled Al-Qaeda. It is my firm belief that Al-Qaeda’s resurgence was both predictable and preventable. I believe just as firmly that the counter-terrorism situation in Iraq is still recoverable. We defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq just five years ago, comprehensively dismantling their networks and propaganda campaigns. In the coming years the United States can help Iraq to do it again. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

What's Behind The Fighting In Iraq?

January 3rd 2014

Iraqi Forces

Iraqi security forces have been waging a fierce battle with Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the lawless west of the country.

Militants have seized control of large parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, two Sunni cities in Anbar Province that were once strongholds for militants fighting against U.S. forces. Sunni tribesmen in the region have taken up arms and have been fighting on both sides.

Militants have overrun police stations, seized military posts, freed prisoners, and swept through the streets of the two cities. Government forces have pounded militant positions, but have met stiff resistance.

The heavy fighting, which has left dozens dead, comes amid mounting sectarian tensions between minority Sunnis and the Shi'ite-led government. Violence in the country has surged to levels not witnessed since 2007, during the height of sectarian fighting.

Who are the main actors in the fighting?
Several players are involved in the current fighting in Anbar Province. The Iraqi national security forces are clearly on one side, while the local Al-Qaeda branch -- known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant -- and its allies are on the other. Read more ..

The US and China

US-China Tensions Overshadow 2013 Bid for ‘New Model’ Relations

January 2nd 2014

The Pentagon

China and the United States faced several major sources of tension in their relations in 2013, overshadowing their efforts to build what they called a "new model" of ties between two major powers.

The Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington-based research institute, examined those tensions this month as part of a panel discussion reviewing key developments in the U.S.-China relationship over the past year.

One prominent development was the inauguration of Chinese President Xi Jinping in March.

Assessing China’s new leader
President Barack Obama hosted Mr. Xi at California’s Sunnylands resort for an informal summit in June. It was their first meeting as the leaders of their countries. U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk the grounds at The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California Wilson Center panelist. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Geopolitics and the Gregorian Calendar: Time for a Change

January 2nd 2014

Click to select Image

When England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, some 170 years after it was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, Benjamin Franklin wrote, "It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on Sept. 2, and not have to get up until Sept. 14." Indeed, nearly two weeks evaporated into thin air in England when it transitioned from the Julian calendar, which had left the country 11 days behind much of Europe. Such calendrical acrobatics are not unusual. The year 46 B.C., a year before Julius Caesar implemented his namesake system, lasted 445 days and later became known as the "final year of confusion."

In other words, the systems used by mankind to track, organize and manipulate time have often been arbitrary, uneven and disruptive, especially when designed poorly or foisted upon an unwilling society. The history of calendrical reform has been shaped by the egos of emperors, disputes among churches, the insights of astronomers and mathematicians, and immutable geopolitical realities. Attempts at improvements have sparked political turmoil and commercial chaos, and seemingly rational changes have consistently failed to take root. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Novice Teen Drivers Easily Distracted Causing Accidents

January 1st 2014

family with teenagers

Teens may begin their driving habits with great caution, but as months behind the wheel pass, they begin to multi-task at higher frequency rates – dialing cell phones, eating, and talking to passengers, etc. – and therefore greatly raise their risk of crashes and/or near-crash incidents.

These are the findings from a study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development  "Novice drivers are more likely to engage in high-risk secondary tasks more frequently over time as they became more comfortable with driving," said Charlie Klauer. "The increasingly high rates of secondary task engagement among newly licensed novice drivers in our study are worrisome as this appears to be an important contributing factor to crashes or near-crashes." Read more ..

The Pentagon on Edge

5 Lessons for the Pentagon from 2013

December 31st 2013

Pentagon aerial shot

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey asked Congress this year: "What do you want your military to do?"

The takeaway for defense leaders is that policymakers want to fund a defense budget that does less but a military that is just as engaged around the world, ready to act when needed and fully capable when ordered to fight and win.

1. Sequestration's slow burn will continue, even with the recent budget deal

While the recent budget deal signed into law will soften the blow of sequestration's steep cuts in fiscal year 2014, it does not do away with them altogether. As predicted, policymakers opted for defense cuts that decline in a graduated, staircase manner rather than off a cliff. But the defense budget will still fall over the next decade. The budget simply gives Pentagon leaders more time to make judicious decisions about tradeoffs. Read more ..

Counting Palestinians

Correcting the Facts about Palestinian Refugees

December 29th 2013

UNRWA Refugee Camp

The Palestinian refugee issue has been dramatically misrepresented, distorting circumstances and numbers, in order to delegitimize the Jewish state.

According to the German Middle East expert, Fritz Grobba (Men and Powers in the Orient, pp. 194-7, 207-8, Berlin, 1957), the 1948 Palestinian leadership, headed by the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, wanted to apply Nazi methods to massacre Jews throughout the Middle East. In1941,the Mufti drafted a proposal requesting that Germany and Italy acknowledge the Arab right to settle “the Jewish problem” in Palestine and the Arab countries in accordance with national and racial Arab interests, similar to the practice employed to solve “the Jewish problem” in Germany and Italy. On Nov. 24, 1947, Acting Chairman of the (Palestinian) Arab Higher Committee, Jamal Al-Husseini, threatened: "Palestine shall be consumed with fire and blood," if the Jews get any part of it.  On April 16, 1948 Jamal Husseini told the UN Security Council: “The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.” Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Morocco Plays with Anti-Normalization

December 29th 2013


Last weekend, the Moroccan parliament put forth a bill to outlaw "normalization" with Israel. If passed, it would ban trade and criminalize official or business interactions between the two countries, banish Israeli firms from Morocco, and bar individuals with Israeli passports from entering the kingdom. Further restrictions would cover culture, politics, sports, and the economy, with violations punishable by fines and up to two years in prison.

Although Morocco projects itself as a moderate bridge between East and West, including between Israelis and Palestinians, its domestic politics have long shown a streak of opposition to the “maverick” slant of royal policies toward Israel. Yet the latest anti-normalization bill is unusual in that it was originally sponsored by a broad coalition that included two parties in the governing bloc -- the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) and the leftist Party for Progress and Socialism (PPS) -- along with monarchist factions such as the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), generally recognized as the party of the "king's men." At present, parliamentary support for the bill appears to be waning and final approval is highly unlikely. Yet the fact that it progressed as far as it did with the support of parties so close to the throne raises questions about the initiative's motivations. Read more ..

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