The Battle for Syria
|Andrew J. Tabler||April 29th 2012|
The Assad regime's continued suppression of the Syrian opposition continues, and has claimed upwards of 10,000 lives thus far. Thousands more have been arrested or displaced, including those that have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Recently, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution backing a six-point plan developed by special envoy Kofi Annan intended to bring about a cessation of hostilities and a process to facilitate a "Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system." Despite agreeing to the plan, the Assad regime has failed to meet agreed deadlines to cease use of live fire and heavy weapons, as well as its commitments to withdraw its forces from population centers. The UN has also approved a plan to place up to 300 monitors in Syria for up to three months to observe implementation of the plan. Given the regime's failure to observe the agreement thus far, it is unclear if the monitors will be able to do their jobs. What the regime's failure to implement the agreement thus far shows, however, is that what has become known as the "Annan plan" may be able to deal with some of the symptoms of the crisis in Syria, including introduction of monitors and delivery of humanitarian assistance, but it has little hope of dealing with the disease itself -- a minority-dominated regime with a forty-two-year track record of being unable to reform, and now brutally suppressing an opposition carved out of one of the youngest populations in the Middle East. Read more ..
The Americas on Edge
|Melissa Beale||April 29th 2012|
Approximately 300,000 children around the globe have been recruited as child soldiers. These children are forced to enter “various armed groups, civil militia, paramilitaries and government armed forces.” According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, any person under the age of 18 years unless under specific law is considered a child. In accordance with international law, it is illegal for a child under the age of 18 to actively participate in the armed forces of their country, and the recruitment of a child under the age of 15 is deemed a “war crime.”
A child soldier is deemed as anyone “under eighteen years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force, any group serving in any military capacity, including, but not necessarily limited to: cooks, porters, messengers, and anyone accompanying such groups other than family members.” Young girls and boys are also noted to be recruited “for forced sexual purposes and/or forced marriage,” and are often times trafficked.
Although this age limit is moderately new (created in 2002 by the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of a Child), this decadent practice stills occurs in different parts of the world, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It is important to highlight the fact that prior to the above-cited protocol passed in 2002, the minimum age for participating in the armed conflict was fifteen, according to the 1949 Geneva Convention and the 1977 additional protocols. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Michael Beckel||April 28th 2012|
As President Barack Obama ramps up his campaign for a second term, many of his top fundraisers are showing how money helps win influence and access to power in Washington. Timothy Broas, a top fundraiser for President Barack Obama, is now the nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands.
Broas, a partner at the D.C. law firm Winston and Strawn, has raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s re-election efforts as a bundler, meaning he has been credited for raising money from friends, family or business associates. He is one of only 117 bundlers who have raised at least half-a-million dollars for Obama, the Democratic National Committee and Democratic parties in battleground states. During Obama’s presidential bid four years ago, he also bundled between $200,000 and $500,000 for Obama’s campaign.
Individuals are capped in how much they can contribute to politicians, but there’s no limit on how many other people they can turn to and ask for money. Those who help candidates collect large sums are often rewarded with perks such as access, appointments or government contracts, as previously reported.
More than two dozen of Obama’s elite fundraisers have been appointed ambassadors, including to the Bahamas, Finland, United Kingdom, Japan and South Africa. In addition to bundling money for Obama, Broas has been a generous financial supporter of politicians – almost exclusively Democrats. Broas has personally donated more than $230,000 to federal candidates, parties and political committees since 1989, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and only two Republicans have benefited from his financial largess.
Broas donated $500 to GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole during his 1996 bid, and he gave $2,000 to President George W. Bush in 2004 —a year he also backed Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and gave $25,000 to the DNC. Notably, this isn’t Broas’ first presidential appointment from Obama: In December 2010, Obama nominated Broas to be on the board of trustees of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington, D.C.-based, think tank created by Congress in 1968. The D.C. lawyer has also been a frequent guest to the White House. Read more ..
The Arab Winter in Egypt
|Eric Trager||April 28th 2012|
|Mohammed Morsi (credit: A. Hesseney)|
When Egypt’s Presidential Elections Commission disqualified Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Khairat al-Shater—among others—from the upcoming elections, the Brotherhood was angered, but not surprised. Egyptian law bans criminal convicts from running for president, and though al-Shater’s 2007 conviction for belonging to an “illegal organization”—namely, the Brotherhood—was highly politicized, the Brotherhood knew that it could sink al-Shater’s candidacy nonetheless. It thus nominated a last-minute backup: former parliamentarian Mohamed Morsi, who has now replaced al-Shater as the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate.
Morsi’s sudden emergence as the Muslim Brotherhood’s standard-bearer represents a tremendous change in his role within the organization. For much of the past decade, Morsi has been a behind-the-scenes player, performing two key functions that were vital to the Brotherhood’s external security and internal discipline. Read more ..
Brazil on Edge
|Terrence Sterling||April 27th 2012|
VOA News and Agencies
Brazilian lawmakers have approved legislation that eases restrictions on the amount of forestland that farmers must preserve, a move critics say threatens the Amazon and other environmentally sensitive lands. The bill, approved late Wednesday night by the lower house of Congress by a vote of 274-184, revises Brazil's four-decade old Forest Code. The new rules allows farming and other activities alongside fragile river banks and on hilltops, while giving individual states the authority to determine how much land to preserve. The changes were sought by the powerful agricultural lobby, which insisted the changes were needed to clarify what the farmers could do on their land and to ensure the emerging nation's food security - a position echoed by Paulo Piau, the bill's chief sponsor in the Chamber of Deputies.
"The new forestation code was approved and represents, first and foremost, the commitment of rural producers," said Piau. "They will have more stability and more political support. The production and the environment will only benefit from that. With a confused law there is no benefit.'' Read more ..
Turkey and Russia on Edge
|Younkyoo Kim and Stephen Blank||April 27th 2012|
|President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia and PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey|
(credit: Kremlin PPIO)
Russo-Turkish relations encompass a multi-regional agenda from the Balkans to Central Asia, including the Caucasus and the Middle East and their bilateral energy relations. Much has been written about the strategic convergence of Russo-Turkish relations and contributing factors behind it. In contrast to Turkey’s strained relations with its traditional Western partners, Ankara’s ties with Moscow have noticeably strengthened in recent years. Turkey’s reorientation eastward in the past decade is attributable to three factors: the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the derailment of Turkish accession talks to join the EU, and Turkey’s dependence on Russia for its natural gas imports.
Turkish and Russian interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus during 1992–2008 converged more than they differed. In 2009 and 2010, Turkish officials and experts described their relations with Russia as being the best ever and said that bilateral harmony featured prominently in the past decade’s international relations. Yet Russia and Turkey had already begun to diverge after the Georgian war in August 2008. The fighting between Russia and Georgia disrupted transportation, energy, and other infrastructure networks in the region, adversely affecting the interests of Turkey. In regard to Turkey’s relations with Russia, 2011 was a difficult year, and 2012 has not been much better. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Alexander Bolton||April 26th 2012|
|Sen Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) (credit: Gage Skidmore)|
Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) new proposals on foreign policy and immigration have raised his national profile and represent a very public audition to become Mitt Romney’s running mate.
Rubio has repeatedly said he will not be on the presidential ticket this fall, but political insiders say the freshman senator is clearly attempting to show his skills on the national stage. Rubio, 40, delivered a major foreign-policy speech April 25th at the Brookings Institution. He touted former President Reagan’s foreign-policy legacy in the Republican Party, outlining a hawkish view of America’s role in world affairs and chiding some Republicans for adopting a softer approach. The Florida senator is also drafting an immigration reform plan that could serve as the GOP’s official policy on the controversial issue. Rubio has said he has briefed Romney’s team on the proposal, and Romney said this week he is interested in reviewing it. While the plan has not been released, Rubio has recently shared some details of what is in it. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|John Dunbar and Michael Beckel||April 26th 2012|
Contrary to expectations, the much-criticized court decisions that gave us super PACs have not led to a tsunami of contributions flowing from the treasuries of Fortune 500 corporations—at least not yet.
What the Citizens United decision and a lower court ruling have done is make household names out of a bunch of relatively unknown, very wealthy conservatives. Of the top 10 donors to super PACs so far in the 2012 election cycle, seven are individuals—not corporations—and four of those individuals are billionaires.
The top 10 contributors gave more than a third, or $68 million of the nearly $202 million reported by the outside spending groups this election, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records. Rounding out the top 10 are two labor unions and a physicians’ medical malpractice insurance group.
The top donor list is mostly Republican, which is not surprising given the competitive GOP presidential primary season. Even so, Democrats have had less success in raising money for super PACs so far. Read more ..
|Robert D. Kaplan||April 25th 2012|
As the world moves into the second decade of the 21st century, a new power rivalry is taking shape between India and China, Asia's two behemoths in terms of territory, population and richness of civilization. India's recent successful launch of a long-range missile able to hit Beijing and Shanghai with nuclear weapons is the latest sign of this development.
This is a rivalry borne completely of high-tech geopolitics, creating a core dichotomy between two powers whose own geographical expansion patterns throughout history have rarely overlapped or interacted with each other. Despite the limited war fought between the two countries on their Himalayan border 50 years ago, this competition has relatively little long-standing historical or ethnic animosity behind it.
The signal geographical fact about Indians and Chinese is that the impassable wall of the Himalayas separates them. Buddhism spread in varying forms from India, via Sri Lanka and Myanmar, to Yunnan in southern China in the third century B.C., but this kind of profound cultural interaction was the exception more than the rule.
Moreover, the dispute over the demarcation of their common frontier in the Himalayan foothills, from Kashmir in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east, while a source of serious tension in its own right, is not especially the cause of the new rivalry. The cause of the new rivalry is the collapse of distance brought about by the advance of military technology. Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Jeremy Herb||April 24th 2012|
As the international peace plan in Syria faltered this week amid continued violence, the Obama administration faces difficult choices as it plots a path forward there. The administration does not want to get into a military conflict in Syria or spark a larger civil war, but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has shown little intention of abiding by the peace plan put forward by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Administration officials called for tougher action in Syria this week, including hints at the use of force if Assad does not stop and steeper sanctions to further isolate Assad. But the White House says it still is opposed to any military action or arming the Syrian opposition as it weighs its options.
Defense hawks are clamoring for military action in Syria, and others in the Senate are also suggesting the United States must consider establishing safe havens and arming the opposition.
There are numerous obstacles no matter which route the administration chooses, from Russia’s thwarting of further UN Security Council action to the divided opposition movement and the larger regional issues concerning Iran. The Syrian conflict, which has lasted more than a year and seen more than 9,000 Syrians killed, is now reaching a critical juncture with the peace plan teetering, analysts say. The Obama administration has said that Assad must go, but it has not yet made clear how far it will go to make sure that happens, said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “The administration needs to make a decision about what it wants,” Rubin said. “Because you can’t keep giving last chances and maintaining credibility. If you keep delaying, all you’re doing is allowing Assad to kill.” Read more ..
The Arab Winter
|David Pollock and Soner Cagaptay||April 24th 2012|
Can Turkey's experience in the past decade under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government -- blending democracy, close ties with the West, a "Muslim" foreign policy, capitalism and Islamism -- be copied by Arabs, as many claim? Probably not -- except for Tunisia.
Although rooted in Turkey's Islamist movement, the AKP moderated in order to come to power in 2002. And once in power, the party pursued a policy that delivered phenomenal economic growth. It thereby became so popular that it was able to reshape Turkey, bringing the once-dominant military under its control and the Turkish elites -- including the staunchly secular courts, business community and the media -- into its camp.
Yet the AKP has done a near full circle in foreign policy. Initially, the party took issue with the United States on key issues, including the Iraq War, Israel, and Iran's nuclear program, in the hope of casting Turkey as a "Muslim power." But lately, the party has shifted, moving closer to U.S. positions on Iran and also cooperating with Washington in Libya and now Syria. The AKP came to realize that its strategic value is as a Muslim power with strong ties to the U.S. and access to NATO technology and muscle. Accordingly, in September 2011, Turkey made its most strategic decision of the past decade, joining NATO's 21st century missile defense project. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Michael Beckel||April 22nd 2012|
Sixty-two percent of funds raised by two conservative groups associated with former Bush adviser Karl Rove have come from mystery donors, a statistic that shows the increasingly important role being played by nonprofits in a post-Citizens United political world.
American Crossroads , a super PAC, and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a nonprofit, were founded in 2010 by Rove and another former Bush adviser, Ed Gillespie. Together, they raised $123 million through the end of 2011, according to a review of Federal Election Commission data and Internal Revenue Service filings.
Of that sum, $76.8 million, or 62 percent, went to Crossroads GPS, which is a nonprofit, “social welfare” group organized under section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code. Like American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS can pay for advertising that attacks political opponents by name and urges viewers to vote against them. But unlike the super PAC, GPS is prohibited from making politics its “primary purpose,” according to the IRS, a rule that these politically active nonprofits have interpreted to mean they can spend up to 49 percent of their funds on such advertising. Read more ..
Germany and France
|Ron Synovitz||April 21st 2012|
|Merkel and Sarkozy|
France on April 22 holds the first round of voting in a presidential election that could see Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande take the lead over incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. Hollande, who cuts a bland public figure and Sarkozy, the impulsive incumbent, are the top contenders out of 10 candidates. Neither is expected to get 50 percent of the vote needed to win outright. But polls suggest Hollande would win a second-round runoff against Sarkozy on May 6. Political and financial analysts say a victory for Hollande would have implications beyond France because it would bring an end to the so-called "Merkozy" alliance between Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that has guided European policy in recent years.
And potential discord over policy between Europe's two largest economies could have a significant impact on the stability of the euro currency at a fragile time for the continent. A key difference between Hollande and Merkel is how they believe the European Central Bank should operate. Hollande wants new rules that would make it a lender of last resort to debt-burdened eurozone governments. In fact, that had been a traditional French policy goal for the European Central Bank since the 1990s. But Sarkozy has backed down from those ambitions as Europe's debt crisis has unfolded, bringing his position more in line with that of Merkel's. Read more ..
The Edge of Health
|Charanjit Jagait||April 21st 2012|
Voluntary industry reductions in salt content and taxation on products containing salt in 19 developing countries could reduce the number of deaths each year from cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 2-3 per cent in these countries. The preliminary data presented today at the World Congress of Cardiology are the first findings from a new report from Harvard that will be published later this year.
The study set out to assess the cost-effectiveness of two interventions - voluntary salt reduction by industry, and taxation on salt - in 19 developing countries, that represent more than half of the world's population. The required salt reduction levels were modeled on the UK Food Standards Agency experience which set a series of targets for individual food products that have led to a net intake reduction, so far, of 9.5 per cent overall in the country. While a taxation increase of 40 per cent on industry prices (similar to tobacco), determined by previous work to lead to a 6 per cent reduction in consumption, was also evaluated. Read more ..
Syria on Edge
|Younkyoo Kim and Stephen Blank||April 20th 2012|
Our way of government is not identical with that which is pursued with such conspicuous success in highly civilised and settled countries like your own. We leave the various communities and tribes alone to settle their internal differences. It is only where tribe wars on tribe, religion on religion, or their quarrels stop the traffic on the Sultan’s highway that we interfere. What would you have, mon ami? We are here in Asia!”
– An Ottoman governor in Syria to author Marmaduke Pickthall, late in the nineteenth century.
Minority alliances in the Middle East have been a constant reality for groups under threat from perceived “majority” interests. Most of these alliances were military in nature and often covert. Israel has reached out to Christians in Lebanon and Kurds in Iraq. Berbers in Morocco have also engaged Israel. In their shared effort to fight Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) entered into an alliance with the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA). Yet in Syria, where minority Alawites dominate the government and find themselves in conflict with not only the Sunni majority but other minority groups, minority alliances take on a new precedence in their efforts to control the country. Read more ..
El Salvador on Edge
|Frederick B. Mills||April 20th 2012|
|President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador|
The 2014 presidential elections in El Salvador will decide whether the country continues down the path of social investment and economic reform begun in 2009, or whether the country inexorably returns to the neo-liberal model of governance. The presidential campaigns hardly have begun, and already an astute electorate, regardless of party affiliation, is seeking to participate in more democratic methods of choosing candidates. The San Salvador daily, La Prensa Grafica, noted in its survey of the electorate taken at polling places during the March 11, 2012 election of mayors and deputies, that 52% of respondents favored the selection of presidential candidates by the members of each party. Only 22% favored the selection of candidates by the party leadership. This desire of the electorate for political equality is an expression of more than a century of struggle for freedom and democracy.
From now on, the stakes are high. Given recent voting patterns across El Salvador, including a relatively low voter turnout, it is likely that political parties that fail to reflect the views and values of their constituents will be unable to address the authentic concerns of their base and risk losing at the ballot box in the big presidential campaign of 2014. This essay will focus on the left-wing Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) and the breach that has opened between the party leadership and a significant segment of its base since 2006, when the party moved from electoral primaries to a more closed candidate selection process. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Shoshana Bryen||April 19th 2012|
The weekend report of a German-owned, Ukrainian-chartered ship carrying weapons to Syria should raise questions and alarm bells. Der Spiegel reported that the Atlantic Cruiser, owned by the German company Bockstiegel, had been chartered by the Ukrainian White Whale company to pick up Iranian-origin cargo in Djibouti. White Whale said the cargo was "mainly pumps and similar things," according to the German shipping agent. However, the ship was refused entry for refueling at the port of Limassol, Cyprus after the crew told the Cypriots that the cargo was "weapons and munitions." The Cruiser tried then to sail for Tartus, Syria, but it is currently sitting at sea.
Is the regime running out of bullets? This would account for Bashar al-Asad's agreement to Kofi Annan's ceasefire proposal. The proposal worked to the government's advantage in several ways, not least of which was leaving the al-Asad government in place. But clearly it has taken al-Asad more firepower and more time than he had planned to put down the insurrection. A few days or a week of respite would have permitted the regime to conserve ammunition until new supplies arrived. The last known ammunition shipment was from the Russians in January on a ship called The Chariot. Read more ..
Israel and Turkey
|Barry Rubin||April 19th 2012|
In order to understand the initial reasons behind the creation of the Turkish-Israeli alliance, one must also recognize why that alignment came to an end. The cause was not within the partnership itself nor was it due to the 2008/2009 Gaza War or the 2010 flotilla events; rather this resulted from the Turkish government’s changing goals and identity. The “Arab Spring” has pushed forward this transformation in Turkey’s rulers while also showing that the new strategy does not work.
What factors brought the two countries together? There were many, and they were well-rooted in the Kemalist republic, which began in the 1920s and is perhaps now coming to an end. The list below explains the factors that created close cooperation and how they changed, leading to a collapse in the relationship. Read more ..
The Middle East on Edge
Cutting Edge contributor
|Faisal Attending a Diplomat Meeting|
Unlike nation-states in Europe , modern Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian, and Iraqi nationalities did not evolve. They were arbitrarily created by colonial powers.
In 1919, in the wake of World War I , England and France carved up the former Ottoman Empire into geographic spheres of influence, dividing the Mideast into new political entities with new names and frontiers. Some of the newly created states' names came from classical antiquity, such as Syria and Palestine, while others were based on geographic designations, such as Jordan and Lebanon. Iraq , for example, was a medieval province with borders very different from those of the modern state, which excluded Mesopotamia in the north and included part of what is now western Iran. Territory was divided along map meridians without regard for traditional frontiers (i.e., geographic logic and sustainability) or the ethnic composition of indigenous populations. The prevailing rationale behind these artificially created states was how they served the imperial and commercial needs of their colonial masters. Read more ..
Turkey on Edge
|Soner Cagaptay||April 18th 2012|
|Pro-Assad Rally in Ankara, December 2011|
Observers of the growing humanitarian crisis in Syria are increasingly worried that the conflict will turn into sectarian struggle, and with good reason: the Assad regime has enjoyed overwhelming support among Syria’s minority Alawite population, while the country’s Sunni majority is leading the anti-Assad rebellion. But the conflict poses another risk. It may stir sectarian tensions in Turkey, which could, in turn, complicate any international intervention against Assad’s regime.
The major sticking point is the Alevi group, a syncretic and highly secularized Muslim offshoot based in Turkey that has often defined itself as a minority persecuted by the country’s Sunni majority. Should the conflict in Syria turn Sunni on Alawite, Turkish Alevis may find themselves empathizing with the minority Alawites in Syria and, by extension, with the Assad regime. More than that: they could actively oppose any intervention organized by their own government.
Some of this is rooted in contemporary Turkish politics. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has moved away from its hardline Islamist roots and made inroads across most sectors of Turkish society, has, thus far, failed to win much support from the Alevis, who constitute 10 to 15 percent of Turkey’s 75 million citizens. Unlike the AKP, the Alevis tend to align with the secularist views of Turkey’s founder, Kemal Ataturk, favoring a strict separation of religion and politics. And sectarian conflict in the 1970s, including attacks by Sunnis on Alevi communities, has left behind a legacy of distrust between Alevis and Sunnis. Read more ..
Turkey on Edge
|George Friedman||April 17th 2012|
Turkey is re-emerging as a significant regional power. In some sense, it is in the process of returning to its position prior to World War I when it was the seat of the Ottoman Empire. But while the Ottoman parallel has superficial value in understanding the situation, it fails to take into account changes in how the global system and the region work. Therefore, to understand Turkish strategy, we need to understand the circumstances it finds itself in today.
The end of World War I brought with it the end of the Ottoman Empire and the contraction of Turkish sovereignty to Asia Minor and a strip of land on the European side of the Bosporus. That contraction relieved Turkey of the overextended position it had tried to maintain as an empire stretching from the Arabian Peninsula to the Balkans. In a practical sense, defeat solved the problem of Turkey's strategic interests having come to outstrip its power. After World War I, Turkey realigned its interests to its power. Though the country was much smaller, it was also much less vulnerable than the Ottoman Empire had been. Read more ..
|Caitlin Ginley||April 17th 2012|
The State Integrity Investigation is an unprecedented, data-driven analysis of transparency and accountability in all 50 state governments. The Center has partnered with Global Integrity and Public Radio International to assign each state a letter grade — based on 300 government integrity indicators. No state received an A, and eight states failed.
The tales are sadly familiar to even the most casual observer of state politics.
In Georgia, more than 650 government employees accepted gifts from vendors doing business with the state in 2007 and 2008, clearly violating state ethics law. The last time the state issued a penalty on a vendor was 1999. A North Carolina legislator sponsored and voted on a bill to loosen regulations on billboard construction, even though he co-owned five billboards in the state. When the ethics commission reviewed the case, it found no conflict; after all, the panel reasoned, the legislation would benefit all billboard owners in the state — not just the lawmaker who pushed for the bill. Read more ..
Tunisia on Edge
|Anna Mahjar-Barducci||April 16th 2012|
On October 23, 2011, Tunisia held the first free and democratic elections in the country’s history. Nine months after the popular uprising, known as the Jasmine Revolution, which toppled a decades-long dictatorial regime, Tunisians were able to experience one of the most basic facets of democracy: the right to vote. Thus, Tunisians headed to the polls to elect members of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) with a sense of renewed hope. For nearly all of the voters, it was in fact their first time participating in an election. It was also the first time voters could go to the polling station without prior instructions or injunctions.
Voters were called upon to elect 217 members of the NCA, whose task is to appoint an interim government and to draft a new constitution within one year, and to prepare the country for general elections. The final results of the elections were announced on November 14, 2011. The Islamist party Ennahda won a relative majority, obtaining 89 seats. Ennahda was then declared the winner of the election. Tunisians in the cities, in rural areas of the interior, and especially in Europe reportedly voted for Ennahda. Having, however, won a relative majority and not an absolute one, Ennahda was compelled to form a coalition with the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol, both secular center-left parties. Read more ..
The Edge of Terror
|Jonathan Spyer||April 15th 2012|
Since the 1990s, Hizballah has defined itself along a number of parallel lines, each of which prior to 2011 appeared to support the other. The movement was simultaneously a sectarian representative of the Lebanese Shi’a, a regional ally of Iran and Syria, a defender of the Lebanese against the supposed aggressive intentions of Israel, and a leader of a more generically defined Arab and Muslim “resistance” against Israel and the West. As a result of the events of 2011, most important the revolt against the Assad regime in Syria, these various lines, which seemed mutually supportive, began to contradict one another. This has diminished Hizballah’s position, though it remains physically unassailable for as long as the Assad regime in Syria survives.
The year 2011 witnessed a series of upheavals and revolutions, which launched a long-awaited process of change in some of the stagnant polities of the Arab-speaking world. It is too soon to draw any definitive conclusions regarding where these changes may lead or what the Arab world will look like when the storm has passed. Nevertheless, the transformations that have already taken place are presenting established political players across the Middle East with new and unfamiliar questions and dilemmas. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|Elliott Abrams ||April 15th 2012|
On nuclear talks, one step sideways, two steps back
Iran and the P5+1 are presenting the world with a new approach – succeeding in negotiations without making progress • The six powers delighted in "new initiatives" •
The problem is that Iran rejected the same initiatives two years ago. Read more ..
A strange meeting took place in Istanbul on Saturday. Both sides to the renewed nuclear talks between Iran and the major world powers tried to present a new concept: succeeding in negotiations without making any progress. Under these circumstances, it came as no real shock to anyone that the big achievement coming out of the talks was the general agreement that there is even an issue to discuss, and there is also a date and a venue for the next round: May 23, in Baghdad. The talks between Iran and the five world powers (Russia, China, the U.S., Britain, France plus Germany), were "constructive and useful," E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced on Saturday.
The Battle for Bahrain
|Simon Henderson||April 14th 2012|
The Washington Institute
The ethnic strife between majority Shiites and the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa family in Bahrain is worsening, with a growing risk that the U.S. naval base there could become contentious.
A near perfect political storm has been developing in Bahrain in recent days. In one incident on April 9, seven policeman were injured, three seriously, when their checkpoint was devastated by an improvised explosive device attached to a container of gasoline. As an apparent consequence of this, a mob of Sunnis armed with iron rods and sticks ransacked a supermarket owned by a major Shiite-owned business group. The U.S. embassy in the capital, Manama, which has issued ten alerts to U.S. nationals since the start of the month, warned today that "demonstrations, coupled with instances of possible sectarian clashes, are possible throughout the weekend."
Meanwhile, the organizers of the Formula One motor race, due to be held on the island April 20-22, are under pressure to cancel the event, as it was last year because of Bahraini violence that did not abate until after the imposition of emergency law and the arrival of Saudi paramilitary forces trained in riot control. Hosting the race is a matter of prestige for Bahrain, but the participating teams are reportedly concerned about security. They also do not want to be associated with a regime being criticized for violating human rights. An imprisoned Shiite activist leader has been on hunger strike for more than two months, and Amnesty International is due to release a damning report about flawed reforms on April 17. Read more ..
|Simon Henderson and Olli Heinonen||April 13th 2012|
With talks between the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) and Iran set to resume in Istanbul on April 13, officials are discussing possible compromises that might persuade Tehran to give up any ambition of developing nuclear weapons. Apparently, one of the principal components of these proposals is acceptance of Iran's right to enrich uranium to around 3.5%, a level suitable for civilian power reactors. But this could turn out to be a fatal bargain: centrifuge technology is easy to hide, and there are few barriers to continuing enrichment up to 90%, the level needed for an atomic bomb.
Natural uranium contains just 0.7% of the fissile isotope U-235, which is the key to both controlled chain reactions in nuclear power plants and uncontrolled, explosive chain reactions in atomic bombs. Enriching this material is a progressively easier process. For example, if the aim is to produce 90% enriched uranium, reaching the 3.5% level requires some 75% of the work. By the time 20% enrichment is reached -- the level Iran currently achieves -- 90% of the work has been done. Therefore, cutting a deal in which Iran gives up enriching to 20% but continues enriching to 3.5% would buy relatively little time. Worse, it would not solve the more fundamental problem: the unknown scope and nature of Iran's nuclear program. Read more ..
Jordan on Edge
|Robert Satloff||April 12th 2012|
|King Abdullah II|
For the first time in decades, the compact that has maintained stability in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is coming under intense pressure. On one end of the spectrum, influential elements within the regime’s traditional powerbase—East Bank tribes—are protesting Amman’s perceived inattention to their dire economic straits, its perceived preference for accommodating Palestinian economic interests, and its perceived laxity on corruption. At the other end of the spectrum is a dangerous evolution of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
Traditionally, the group has had an ambivalent relationship with the government. At present, the accommodating East Bank-led generation of MB leaders is in decline, with a more radical, Palestinian Hamas wing in ascendance, riding the regional trend. The combination of both developments—disaffection among the traditional East Bankers and heightened demands for political representation by a more assertive MB—poses a serious challenge to the regime, particularly at a time when Jordan’s economic prospects do not appear bright. The East Bank problem is real and severe, but with resources and flexibility, it can be solved. The MB problem, however, may be beyond the regime’s ability to control because it is fed by regional events, such as the Brotherhood’s demonstrated success in Egypt and the potential Islamization of the political opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s rule in Syria. Read more ..
|Patrick Clawson||April 12th 2012|
If Iran decides to seriously negotiate during upcoming nuclear talks -- currently scheduled to begin this weekend in Istanbul -- what might it expect to gain from the resultant deal? Probably not much, because even a comprehensive agreement on nuclear issues would not close the profound geostrategic split between Washington and Tehran.
ONLY MODEST ECONOMIC BENEFITS
Most of the U.S. sanctions on Iran were enacted for reasons that extend beyond proliferation, such as state support for terrorism and human rights violations. When Washington imposed restrictions on Iran's Central Bank in February after prolonged internal debate, the reasons cited in President Obama's executive order were not the nuclear program, but instead "the deceptive practices of the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian banks to conceal transactions of sanctioned parties, the deficiencies in Iran's anti-money laundering regime and the weaknesses in its implementation, and the continuing and unacceptable risk posed to the international financial system by Iran's activities." None of these problems would be dispelled by a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Read more ..
Economic Policy on Edge
|Daniel Fowler||April 11th 2012|
American Sociological Association
|Bulgarian Communist Party HQ, decaying and defaced|
A new analysis showing how policies advocated by western economists helped to bankrupt Russia and other former Soviet countries after the Cold War has been released by researchers. Authored by sociologists at the University of Cambridge and Harvard University, the study, which appears in the April issue of the American Sociological Review, is the first to trace a direct link between the mass privatization programs adopted by several former Soviet states, and the economic failure and corruption that followed.
Devised principally by western economists, mass privatization was a radical policy to rapidly privatize large parts of the economies of countries such as Russia during the early 1990s. The policy was pushed heavily by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Its aim was to guarantee a swift transition to capitalism, before Soviet sympathizers could seize back the reins of power. Instead of the predicted economic boom, what followed in many ex-Communist countries was a severe recession, on par with the Great Depression of the United States and Europe in the 1930s.
The reasons for the economic collapse and skyrocketing poverty in eastern Europe, however, have never been fully understood. Nor have researchers been able to explain why this happened in some countries, like Russia, but not in others, such as Estonia. Read more ..
|Robert D. Kaplan||April 11th 2012|
Some years back, when I left Niamey, the capital of Niger, and headed north on a rutted, dirt track it was as if the country disappeared on me. There was no police, no sign of authority, nothing. Flash floods had left the road completely washed out in places, with the wheels of large trucks half-sunk in mud, drivers stuck for days on the side of the road. Here there were only Tuaregs, the "blue men" as they were called, on account of the color of their dazzling robes and the blue vegetable dye ("nila") they smeared on their bodies. The Tuaregs, a pastoral Berber people, were lords of the Sahara; it's better to have a Tuareg with you than a GPS device, went the saying of U. S. Army Special Forces with whom I was embedded.
My experience heading north from Timbuktu in Mali was even more extreme. Though it connotes the back of beyond, Timbuktu was actually a cosmopolitan locale -- complete with a museum of medieval Islamic manuscripts, a few decent restaurants and satellite dishes -- compared to where I was going. I was off to Araouane, 240 kilometers (150 miles) north from Timbuktu into the desert. Araouane was a name on a map, as though it were Cleveland or some place. But nobody in Timbuktu -- and certainly not in Bamako, the Malian capital very far away to the southwest -- knew anything about Araouane, and if anyone still lived there. It took 14 hours and numerous breakdowns in the fine sand to reach Araouane, a huddle of ruins on a cosmic emptiness where only women, children and old men lived -- the Tuareg men were out conducting raids and commerce on caravan routes throughout the desert. Here the Malian state did not exist. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Michael Curtis||April 10th 2012|
The place of Islam in democratic societies should be examined honestly, without prejudice either way. It was a false moral equivalency of Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs to equate the murders in Toulouse with "what is happening in Gaza." Moral relativism of that kind could well become the new Trojan Horse for democracies.
The United States and the democratic European countries both face a challenge: to respond to terrorism, particularly from home-grown terrorists, without violating individual and group civil rights. Britain faced this as a result of the events of July 7, 2005 when four Islamic suicide bombers, most of whom were born and raised in Britain, denoted bombs in London's transport system, killing 52 and injuring over 700. France has now. in March 2012, experienced the brutality of its home–grown terrorist. This incident is the canary's warning of future danger. International problems in the Middle East and in Afghanistan have coalesced with European national and local problems, particularly the alienation of minority groups, the failure to integrate into the larger society, and the continued immigration from Arab and Muslim countries have made the task of the Western countries difficult.
The West might remember the warning of Laocoön: Do not accept the Trojan Horse from the Greeks, it is a "deadly fraud." The place of Islam in democratic societies must be examined honestly, without prejudice either way. Read more ..
The Iranian Threat
|George Friedman||April 10th 2012|
For centuries, the dilemma facing Iran (and before it, Persia) has been guaranteeing national survival and autonomy in the face of stronger regional powers like Ottoman Turkey and the Russian Empire. Though always weaker than these larger empires, Iran survived for three reasons: geography, resources and diplomacy. Iran's size and mountainous terrain made military forays into the country difficult and dangerous. Iran also was able to field sufficient force to deter attacks while permitting occasional assertions of power. At the same time, Tehran engaged in clever diplomatic efforts, playing threatening powers off each other.
The intrusion of European imperial powers into the region compounded Iran's difficulties in the 19th century, along with the lodging of British power to Iran's west in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula following the end of World War I. This coincided with a transformation of the global economy to an oil-based system. Then as now, the region was a major source of global oil. Where the British once had interests in the region, the emergence of oil as the foundation of industrial and military power made these interests urgent. Following World War II, the Americans and the Soviets became the outside powers with the ability and desire to influence the region, but Tehran's basic strategic reality persisted. Iran faced both regional and global threats that it had to deflect or align with. And because of oil, the global power could not lose interest while the regional powers did not have the option of losing interest. Read more ..
Israel and Azerbaijan
|Samara Greenberg||April 9th 2012|
Jewish Policy Center
According to a recent report
in Foreign Policy
magazine, Azerbaijan has granted Israel access to its southern airbases on Iran’s northern border from which it could potentially launch airstrikes against Iran. “The Israelis have bought an airfield,” a senior administration official reportedly said in early February, “and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijan quickly denied the claims, and a senior official said that the allegations were “aimed at damaging relations between Azerbaijan and Iran.” Azeri-Iranian ties have been strained in recent months over the former’s relations with Israel. At the end of February, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called a meeting with the Azerbaijani Ambassador to Tehran and warned him not to let Israel use Azerbaijan to stage an attack. In a later meeting, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev confirmed that his country would not do so.
But, according to Foreign Policy, Baku could keep its word and still provide Israel with essential support, such as allowing search-and-rescue units inside Azerbaijan or permittig Israeli bombers to land there after a strike, eliminating Israel’s problem of refueling its jets midflight to ensure a safe return home. According to the report, an intelligence officer noted that Washington is “not happy about” Israel’s alleged colluding with Azerbaijan. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Daud Khattak and Charles Recknage||April 8th 2012|
|Hafiz Mohammad Saeed |
Usually when governments offer bounties, it means a wanted man is in hiding and the public's help is needed to find him. But Washington's announcement on April 2 of a $10 million bounty for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed breaks that mold. Saeed may be wanted by Washington and by New Delhi, which has charged him in absentia with masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. But he is not wanted in Pakistan, where he lives.
The Pakistani Supreme Court ordered Saeed freed in 2009 after he challenged Islamabad's grounds for keeping him under house arrest over implications his organization was involved in the attacks. He is the founder of Lashkar-e Taiba, an armed militant group that fought against Indian control in Kashmir and was banned in 2002 after being linked to an attack on India's parliament. He then set up the religious charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which Indian and U.S. officials say serves as a front for the banned militant wing. Just hours after the U.S. State Department announced the bounty on April 2, Saeed appeared on Pakistan's Geo TV. He said he was a free man and was ready to speak with U.S. officials at any time. Read more ..
The Edge of Genocide
|Daisy Sindelar||April 7th 2012|
Between them, the journalists gathering this week in the Bosnian capital for the 20th anniversary of the start of the siege have covered dozens of conflicts: Afghanistan. Beirut. Chechnya. Iraq.
But amid the drinks and chatter of a correspondents’ reunion at the city’s Holiday Inn -- which served as the main base for foreign journalists covering the war -- it soon becomes clear that there is only one Sarajevo. It’s a war that schooled an entire generation of reporters on the best and worst that humanity had to offer, the power of laughter over tears -- and ultimately, the fact that there is only so much journalists can do to change history.
“We were reporting, reporting, reporting. And it took so long for anyone to react,” says Emma Daly, who covered the 44-month siege for Britain’s “Independent” and who now works as communications director for Human Rights Watch. “It was very frustrating. We said at the time that the best we could hope for is that [former British Prime Minister] John Major would never be able to claim later on that he didn’t know what was happening.” Read more ..
The Battle for Syria
|Matthew RJ Brodsky||April 5th 2012|
While Western and Arab countries struggle to find a way to assist the Syrian people, Moscow is continuing to do all it can to save the Assad regime of Syria. Speaking on a trip to Azerbaijan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Syrian opposition wouldn't be able to overwhelm government forces even if it was supplied with weapons from abroad. He warned that a foreign military intervention would lead to even more disastrous consequences for Syria and further urged other nations not to arm the Syrian opposition. Lavrov's statements came just days after Russia and China boycotted the latest "Friends of Syria" gathering in Istanbul -- a weak diplomatic effort aimed at assisting the Syrian opposition.
That the U.S. and most Western nations are at odds with Russian policy should not come as a surprise. Nevertheless, the manner in which Moscow is shamelessly pushing its case demonstrates the seriousness with which they view the Syrian issue. Take, for instance, the Capitol Hill briefing on Tuesday afternoon held by the Russian embassy and hosted by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL). Led by embassy officials Anton Vushkarnik and Sergey Kuznetsov, they refused to even acknowledge that Bashar al-Assad was killing his own people. Read more ..
The Edge of Terror
|Samara Greenberg||April 5th 2012|
Jewish Policy Center
Analysts are growing concerned that al-Qaeda—under pressure in its long-time hideouts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq—is looking towards Africa, seeking to capitalize on the instability there to regroup and reorganize. According to a recent study by Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), “Africa represents a fertile ground for a diminished ‘Al-Qa’ida-core’ to ... re-launch its mission of global jihad.”
The release of the report is particularly timely, given recent events in Mali. On March 22, rebel soldiers mounted a political coup in the capital, Bamako, ousting elected President Amadou Toumani Toure for his inability to equip the army to suppress the growing Tuareg insurgency in the north. The insurgents, fighting to carve out a new country in the region, were recently energized by the return of some 2,000 Tuareg fighters from Libya where they had worked as mercenaries for Moammar Qaddafi. Since the ouster of Mali’s president, however, the Tuareg rebels have taken control over several large towns, including the ancient town of Timbuktu. Read more ..
Iraq on Edge
|Mehdi Khalaji ||April 5th 2012|
The current form of religious leadership over the Shi'ite community, marjayia, was founded in the 1830s when Mohammed Hassan Najafi became the first transnational Shi'ite religious authority (marja) in Najaf, Iraq. Najafi created a universal patronage network through which he received religious taxes and endowment incomes, and appointed religious representatives from Shi'ite cities in Iraq to India.
In the 16th Century, Shi'ite jurists (mujtahids) had established a new conceptual theory describing the relationship between community leaders and Shi'ite worshipers. According to the theory, each worshiper should either reach the highest educational level in Shi'ite jurisprudence (ijtihad) or follow a living person who has attained such a level. The theory of 'following' (taqlid) was intertwined with another significant theory, which permitted Shi'ite jurists to receive religious taxes on behalf of the infallible and hidden twelfth Shi'ite Imam. It is believed that this Imam will return at the end of time to establish a just global government. Thereafter, a new form of Shi'ite leadership emerged that both provided the monarchy with legitimacy and was protected by it, but was also financially independent from it. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Kimberly Leonard||April 4th 2012|
A federal judge’s decision to block imports of a drug used in executions will leave states to rely more on a substitute drug that could itself be getting scarce—developments that raise questions about both how these drugs are regulated and whether states will have the drugs they need to continue capital punishment by lethal injection.
Over the past three decades, lethal injection has become the primary method of execution in the United States because it is widely viewed as the most humane alternative. Thirty-five states and the federal government use this method and more than 1,100 inmates have been put to death by lethal injection.
State justice or corrections departments have conducted these executions by administering the anesthetic sodium thiopental in a lethal dosage on its own, or as part of a three-step “cocktail” in which sodium thiopental is followed by pancuronium bromide, a paralytic agent, then potassium chloride, which stops the heart and causes death.
But in late March, a federal judge blocked importation of sodium thiopental, ruling that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ignored the law by allowing it to be imported into the country without following regulatory protocol. The drugs were slated for executions, a purpose unapproved by the agency—and unlikely to ever be approved by the agency. Sodium thiopental is only available from overseas, because its U.S. manufacturer, Hospira Inc., stopped making it 2011, as a result of controversies over its use in executions. Read more ..
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