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The 2012 Vote

Obama Campaign Turns to Rahm Emanuel, the ‘Dems’ Karl Rove’

May 22nd 2012

Rahm Emanuel
Rahm Emanuel

President Obama’s reelection campaign is taking strategic advice from former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, whom one operative described as the “Democratic Party’s Karl Rove.” Emanuel, a friend of both campaign manager Jim Messina and senior strategist and fellow Chicagoan David Axelrod, periodically weighs in “very clearly” on what the campaign should be doing, a Democratic official said.

The pugnacious Emanuel, who left the White House for a successful bid to become Chicago’s mayor, came to Obama’s defense last week when news reports surfaced that the Ricketts family — which owns the Chicago Cubs — was considering launching a $10 million campaign against Obama tied to his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Emanuel, who was said to be “livid,” allegedly cut off ties, at least temporarily, with the family. “The Ricketts have tried to contact the mayor, but he’s said that he does not want to talk with them today, tomorrow or anytime soon,” an aide told The Washington Post.

Emanuel officially moved on from Obama-world two years ago after playing an instrumental role in pushing healthcare reform into law with his strong-arm tactics (and the occasional F-bomb). This week he hosted his former boss and other international leaders at the NATO summit. When the president and first lady Michelle Obama landed in Chicago on Saturday night for the summit, Emanuel and his wife, Amy Rule, were waiting at the airport to greet them. But it wasn’t just any ordinary airport meet-and-greet. The two couples exchanged hugs and boarded Marine One together for the chopper ride into the heart of their hometown. Those who know the blunt, hot-tempered Emanuel well say it’s a smart move for Obama’s campaign to include him in its discussions. “He’s one of our best strategists, he’s the Democratic Party’s Karl Rove,” said one source who has known Emanuel for years. “He still has that gift and that strategic mind that any sitting Democratic president running for reelection would want.” “Rahm is one of the smartest political tacticians out there,” added a former Obama White House senior official. “And the bonus he brings to the table is he knows all the personalities involved. I can’t think of a better advocate.” Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Voters' Views of Mormonism Still Hamper Romney's Campaign

May 22nd 2012

mitt romney

Mitt Romney's religion was a major stumbling block for his 2008 presidential aspirations, and remains so for his candidacy in 2012, according to David Campbell at the University of Notre Dame. Real time voter analysis of the 2008 primaries reveals that while the social barriers of race and gender were largely overcome during the last US presidential campaign, religious affiliation (in this case, the Church of Latter Day Saints) is still a significant hurdle. A new article in Springer's journal, Political Behavior, suggests that a "stained glass ceiling" remains an obstacle to Mitt Romney's 2012 bid for the White House.

Campbell's paper – split into four sections – examines why Romney was unable to break the religion barrier in 2008. The first part of the article describes the attitudes of Americans towards Mormons – an important example of a religious 'out-group'. The research finds that the religion remains unpopular and mysterious because of the relative social insularity of Mormons. Part two reviews published work to establish how Romney's faith might have worked against him in 2008, and the third section reveals voter-survey data that supports these findings. Finally, part four looks at the implications of these findings for the 2012 election, and for the future of religious tolerance in the US. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Prospects for Success in the Iran Nuclear Negotiations

May 21st 2012


Both Tehran and Washington are downplaying expectations for the May 23 Baghdad negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany). Indeed, the prospects for eventual success are uncertain. If Iran is truly prepared to deal, and if the parties find appreciable overlap between what they are willing to concede, they may be able to forge an interim agreement, though the value and durability of such a deal may not be clear.

To enable serious compromise, Iran must take two actions: prepare public opinion and include more-skilled diplomats in the negotiating team. Regarding the first item, Iranian officials consistently deny the impact of sanctions on both the nuclear program and economy. This fact suggests that if Tehran decides to make a concession, it will not want the move to be publicly perceived as a capitulation to economic pressure. Instead, the regime would need to present any nuclear accord as a victory for Iran. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

A Toxic Brew in Sinai

May 21st 2012

Sinai, Egypt-Israel Border

The anti-Israel rhetoric of Egypt's new leaders has made the problem of Sinai terror almost unsolvable. The result could be a war no one actually wants.

To grasp how badly the security situation in Sinai has deteriorated, one fact suffices: Israel now receives as many intelligence warnings about Sinai-based terror plots as it does about terror from Gaza. This, obviously, is of great concern to Israel. But it should also concern the international community because, unlike terror from the West Bank or Gaza, which, despite periodic Israeli counteroffensives, has never drawn other Arab countries into the conflict, Sinai-based terror could easily end up starting a war between Israel and Egypt.

Last summer, for instance, angry mobs throughout Egypt demanded retaliation after Israeli soldiers repelling a cross-border terror attack from Sinai accidentally killed Egyptian troops caught in the cross-fire. That time, sanity prevailed and the Egyptian government did not seek to escalate the situation militarily. But if cross-border attacks proliferate, more Egyptian casualties would likely ensue. Public demands for retaliatory action would then intensify - especially since Egypt's new leadership seems to prefer whipping up anti-Israel passions to cooling them down: In a televised debate earlier this month, for instance, both leading presidential contenders termed Israel an "enemy" and an "adversary" and vowed to reconsider the peace treaty. Read more ..

Gaza on Edge

Looking Back at the Rise of Hamas in Gaza

May 20th 2012

Hamas at Press Conference

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement which controls the Gaza Strip, recently held internal elections. The polls were for the Gaza Political Bureau and Shura Council, often described as the movement’s parliament. Hamas holds its votes in secret, and tries to prevent the outside world from gaining knowledge of the movement’s internal political processes. However, it has become clear that the elections represented a significant victory for Hamas’s Gaza leadership. This came at the expense of the formerly Damascus-based external leadership group of Khaled Meshaal, which is now scattered across the region. 

Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is now the head of the Gaza Political Bureau. This is the top movement position in the Strip. He is the first to hold this title since Abd al-Aziz Rantisi was killed by Israel in 2004. The latest victory of the Gaza leaders may be a step on the road to their capture of the overall leadership of Hamas. This advance, in turn, may be traced back to two key elements.

First, the Gaza leaders possess power, a key element that their rivals lack. They hold real political and administrative power and control over the lives of the 1.7 million inhabitants of Gaza and of the 365 square kilometers in which they live. Second: the upheavals in the Arab world — and specifically the civil war in Syria — have served to severely weaken the formerly Damascus-based external leadership, depleting the value of the assets they held in the competition with the internal Gaza leaders. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

An Internal Struggle is Evidenced in Hamas Terrorists' Secret Election

May 18th 2012

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal
Hamas leader Khaled Mashal

The ongoing Hamas elections will strengthen the military wing, weaken Khaled Mashal, make reconciliation with the PA more difficult, preserve close collaboration with Iran, and, perhaps, forge closer ties with Egypt.

The secretive elections for new Hamas leadership bodies are unofficially scheduled to continue until later this month, but it is already safe to point out some emerging trends as the movement struggles to cope with fierce debate over its future course. Top leader Khaled Mashal has been considerably weakened as his rivals in Gaza gain more influence and commanders in the military wing assume a much broader political role. In all likelihood, these developments will further complicate the group's stalled reconciliation efforts with the Palestinian Authority, accelerate its dash to achieve mass self-production of longer-range, more accurate missiles, and prevent -- at least for the foreseeable future -- a political divorce from Iran. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Activists Rip Clear Channel for Rejecting Billboard

May 18th 2012

Heartland Climate Change Billboard

An advocacy group has blasted Clear Channel for rejecting an advertisement aimed at countering a controversial Heartland Institute climate change billboard. The week of May 14-18, 2012, the Chicago branch of Clear Channel Outdoor rejected the digital billboard proposed by Forecast the Facts, a group that advocates for connecting extreme weather to climate change. Clear Channel is a major national media company.

The ad was a response to a short-lived Heartland Institute billboard campaign that compared those who support climate science to the Unabomber and Charles Manson. Heartland pulled the billboard, which ran ahead of the conservative group’s upcoming Chicago climate change conference, amid outrage from its supporters and environmental groups.

The Forecast the Facts billboard took aim at Pfizer, one of Heartland’s corporate backers, for not cutting ties with the group. The proposed ad includes the Pfizer logo alongside text that reads, “We still support climate deniers. Do you?” Pfizer has stood by Heartland despite growing pressure from activists. The pharmaceutical company said it disagrees with Heartland’s stance on climate change, but supports the group on health policy, according to a statement provided by the company to Forecast the Facts. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

The Euro End Game

May 17th 2012

Euro Symbol

Europe faces a simple but intractable problem. Either price levels have to rise in Germany, or they have to fall in the rest of Europe, especially in Southern Europe. That includes Spain, Italy, Portugal, and the hapless Greece. But the rising burden of deflationary policies that Germany is imposing on Southern Europe has led to a growing anti-austerity backlash in recent elections. The economic suffering in Southern Europe and Ireland is clearly demonstrated in the extraordinary rise in overall unemployment and youth unemployment rates in Europe since 2008.

Beyond southern Europe, France is also moving into the camp of countries that are increasingly reluctant to adopt “austerity”—code for deflationary policies—in exchange for low interest-rate loans from the European Community (EC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB). These loans have been made largely on terms dictated by Germany in exchange for footing much of the bailout bill. The May 6 victory of François Hollande in the final round of the French presidential election signals a broadening backlash against the fiscal austerity that has characterized all of Europe’s efforts to preserve the euro. Read more ..

America on Edge

Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s Conservative Media Appearances Pay Off in Millions from Out-of-state Donors

May 16th 2012

Gov Scott Walker (R-WI)

On Nov. 10, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gave the keynote address at the annual dinner of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank in Phoenix with ties to the powerful, corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council. “Tonight, you might say I’m preaching to the choir with a bunch of fellow conservatives,” Walker, the son of a minister, told more than 1,000 supporters that night. “I preach to the choir because I want the choir to sing. So tonight I’m asking you to sing.” His message: Spread the word “in Arizona and all across America that we can do things better.”

The high-profile event was no anomaly. Two days later, Walker addressed students at a conference at the Reagan Ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he was billed as one of America’s “top conservative leaders.”

Walker’s official calendars from his first 13 months in office chronicle these and scores more hours he spent building credentials with conservatives in Wisconsin and across the nation. The governor granted more interview time to the national, conservative-leaning Fox News cable channel than any other media outlet—nearly twice as much as to his hometown newspaper, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which had endorsed him in 2010. Read more ..

Inside France

The Shadow of DeGaulle Emerges in France as Hollande Takes the Helm

May 15th 2012

Charles de Gaulle TIME

New political leaders do not invent new national strategies. Rather, they adapt enduring national strategies to the moment. On Tuesday, Francois Hollande will be inaugurated as France's president, and soon after taking the oath of office, he will visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. At this moment, the talks are expected to be about austerity and the European Union, but the underlying issue remains constant: France's struggle for a dominant role in European affairs at a time of German ascendance.

Two events shaped modern French strategy. The first, of course, was the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and the emergence of Britain as the world's dominant naval power and Europe's leading imperial power. This did not eliminate French naval or imperial power, but it profoundly constrained it. France could not afford to challenge Britain any more and had to find a basis for accommodation, ending several centuries of hostility if not distrust.

The second moment came in 1871 when the Prussians defeated France and presided over the unification of German states. After its defeat, France had to accept not only a loss of territory to Germany but also the presence of a substantial, united power on its eastern frontier. From that moment, France's strategic problem was the existence of a unified Germany.

France had substantial military capabilities, perhaps matching and even exceeding that of Germany. However, France's strategy for dealing with Germany was to build a structure of alliances against Germany. First, it allied with Britain, less for its land capabilities than for the fact that Britain's navy could blockade Germany and therefore deter it from going to war. The second ally was Russia, the sheer size of which could threaten Germany with a two-front war if one began. Between its relationships with Britain and Russia, France felt it had dealt with its strategic problem. Read more ..

Battle for Syria

Flunking the Syria Test

May 14th 2012

Riot Gear Police

With the Syrian uprising now past its one-year anniversary, it's long past time to take stock of the carnage. More than 7,000 people have been killed to date by the Assad regime, as it has unleashed war on its own people.

The spark that lit the fire was an errant one. On March 6, 2011, state security forces arrested 15 teenagers for spray painting anti-regime graffiti on a wall in the southern city of Deraa. Their continued detention sparked massive demonstrations in the city, and in turn were met by the regime's brutal crackdown using live fire and tear gas. By the time the teenagers were released, the flashpoints between the Syrian security services and the protesters had already claimed many lives. This began the cycle of funerals which became rallying points for further protests—and further regime violence.

The anti-regime opposition began as a peaceful protest against a dictatorship. President Bashar al-Assad's brutal response—including the arrest and torture of regime opponents, the indiscriminate shelling of cities, and the cutoff of escape routes to Turkey and Lebanon for civilian refugees—has pushed the opposition to respond with force. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

How to Get the Correct Response to Food Shortages in the Sahel

May 14th 2012

Sahel starvation

A bleak narrative of 16 million plus people on the brink of starvation in West Africa’s Sahel region has captured headlines. But the brewing food crisis, spanning Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad, has been overstated, and the headlines fail to identify the core causes of food insecurity and malnutrition in the region. It’s true that the expanse of the Sahel is a food insecure area.

But not all insecure regions, even at this level, can be classified as potential famines due to a lack of food. The international community has been and seems again to be content to provide massive amounts of food aid and deal with the symptoms rather than address the underlying causes of this chronic crisis: lack of community resilience. The real crisis in the Sahel is one of persistently high rates of acute malnutrition, an issue that has affected the region’s residents for decades and cannot be addressed with short-term emergency food assistance alone. It requires a more robust response.

Words matter. Even calls for food aid are driving up prices and detracting attention from these core issues. It’s true that the picture is not a good one: poor harvest, higher food prices, and malnutrition are in fact evident in certain areas. Conflict, displacement, and a drop off in remittances have been noted as signs of an impending crisis. Vulnerable populations require food and other immediate assistance. But the current narrative places an overemphasis on food aid. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Florida Becomes Battleground for House and Senate Races

May 13th 2012

Unemployment Line in California

Florida is full of competitive Senate and House races in 2012, but good luck to any candidate who tries to break through the noise of what is guaranteed to be a fierce battle between Mitt Romney and President Obama in the Sunshine state. The ultimate swing state, Florida was responsible for delivering George W. Bush to the White House in 2000, while Obama won there by 3 points in 2008. Romney trounced his rivals in the GOP primary there in January, and neither candidate can afford to take the state for granted.

The economy is likely to be the focal point of the race in Florida, as in other states. One worrying sign for the Obama campaign is that the economic recovery in Florida has lagged behind other areas of the country. Florida’s unemployment rate is hovering around 9 percent — down from a high of 11.3 percent in 2010, but still far above the national rate of 8.2 percent. Adding to the high-octane political climate will be the convergence of conservative leaders from across the country in Tampa, Fla. for the Republican National Convention in August. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

With Election Charade, Assad Bides Time

May 13th 2012

Syrian Protesters

Polling stations for the Syrian “Peoples’ Assembly” election opened at 7 a.m. on Monday. Information Minister Dr. Adnan Mahmoud said the elections would be held in “an atmosphere of democracy and pluralism,” according to the SANA state news agency.
Opposition activists dispute the claim, saying that the current polls are the latest episode in an ongoing regime campaign of window-dressing, of fiddling while the country burns. The scheduled vote is part of the strange, alternate reality that the Syrian regime seeks to create around itself and the population over which it rules.

The authorities tout the elections as the latest stage in a reform process initiated by dictator Bashar Assad in February. At that time, with world attention focused on the crackdown of opposition forces in Homs, the regime held a referendum on a new constitution. Assad claimed 89 percent of the public’s support for his proposals. But there is little new about the current elections.

The Arab Winter in Egypt

Winter or Spring: Islamists, the Military, and Post-Revolution Politics in Egypt

May 13th 2012

Egyptian Kid at Rally

The so-called “Arab Spring” has forever changed the face of the Middle East, and it’s not finished. While the revolts that toppled longtime autocrats in Tunisia and Libya were remarkable accomplishments, these states are of little strategic interest to the United States. Unlike Libya and Tunisia, what transpires in Syria—an ally of Iran that possesses a substantial chemical weapons stockpile—could have significant implications for Washington. But Syria remains a work in progress.

To date, the most important development in the region for the U.S. has been the fall of Egypt’s longtime president Hosni Mubarak. Since 1977, Egypt has been a strategic partner of the United States—providing essential political support to U.S. policies in the Middle East—and an important peace partner of Israel in a hostile region.

The fall of Mubarak heralds a change in the regional strategic architecture that had been in place since 1979. For decades, the regional balance of power pitted U.S.-oriented Egypt, Turkey, and Israel against anti-Western, terrorist-supporting regimes in Iraq and Iran. While the structure had changed slightly before February 2011—Iraq dropping off the “adversaries” list in 2003 about the same time that Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) moved out of the pro-West camp—Egypt remained a key friend to the United States. With the tectonic political and social shifts in post-Mubarak Egypt, however, it is unclear how long this friendship will continue, and what U.S.- Egyptian bilateral relations will look like going forward. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

DOMA Repeal Revisited With Obama's Support of Gay Marriage

May 13th 2012

Obama pensive with flag

Legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is garnering new attention from lawmakers in the wake of President Obama's support of same-sex marriage.

The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal DOMA and afford federal protections to legally married same-sex married couples, like those in New York state and elsewhere, that male and female couples already enjoy. Since Obama's statement Wednesday, the bill has picked up new co-sponsors and Democratic leaders, like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), have said they would support legalizing same-sex marriage.

That has given new hope to activists lobbying for the bill, such as Jo Deutsch, federal director for Freedom to Marry. Deutsch said that White House support of same-sex marriage can guide lawmakers through the same evolution on the issue that the president just completed. “It shows a man going from point one — from his own questioning, to talking to family and friends, thinking about his own religious upbringing, from seeing people who are impacted by DOMA — and come to end of that journey and say he is for the freedom to marry,” Deutsch said. “That piece acts as an umbrella over all of what is going on on Capitol Hill. ... Because if President Obama can do it and say he is for the freedom to marry, maybe I can do it too." Read more ..

The Drug Wars

The Future of Mexico’s Drug Strategy

May 12th 2012

Nuevo Leon shoot out


The Mideast on Edge

Gulf Arab Leaders Meet to Discuss Syria and Iran

May 12th 2012

Arab League meeting

Normally, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman meet as a group only once a year, at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held annually in December. The May 14 talks in Riyadh are therefore being dubbed a "consultative meeting" rather than a true summit. Yet their importance is likely greater than the term indicates.

Arab diplomats suggest that Syria will top the agenda -- a symptom of both the anguish that Gulf Arabs feel at the growing number of casualties and the worsening prospects for any arranged transition to a post-Assad government, as evidenced by yesterday's attack on one of the regime's intelligence buildings in Damascus. In the vocabulary of Arab diplomacy, the Syria tragedy is being called a "key regional development in the Arab world." Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

Egypt in Transition: What Happened to the Liberal Youths of Tahrir Square?

May 11th 2012

Tahrir Square 22 nov 2011
Tahrir square, 22 November 2011 (credit: Lilian Wagdy)

Fifteen months after the Egyptian revolution, the largely secular youth movement on the streets of Egypt has lost much of its enthusiasm. As the deadline for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to transfer power looms ever closer, the most pressing issue for Egypt’s revolutionaries is their lack of representation in the formation of a new government in the place of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, which they were instrumental in toppling.

The revolutionary youth, however, have failed to articulate clear demands to negotiate with the various presidential candidates. Instead of endorsing one viable candidate to represent their interests, they have backed disparate—and failed—campaigns. Consider that of Khaled Ali, a young lawyer who has emerged as a symbol of the liberal youth, but who will win few votes. Ali may be granted an equally symbolic spot in the cabinet, but his candidacy ultimately will only serve to dilute their potential influence. The failure to provide a valid revolutionary candidate leads to even more division among the already fragmented Egyptian street movement. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Sanctions Are Only a Stop-Gap

May 10th 2012

Iran Banknotes

To judge the effectiveness of Western sanctions against Iran, it is important to first establish their purpose. U.S. officials and their European counterparts have set out a number of different goals for the sanctions regime, including deterring the proliferation of nuclear technology across the Middle East, as other countries imitate Iran, and persuading Iran to comply with the UN Security Council’s orders to suspend all nuclear enrichment. The sanctions have met some of those aims and failed to meet others. But for the Obama administration, they have succeeded in one crucial way -- bringing Iran back to the negotiating table. The question, then, is not whether sanctions have worked but whether the strategy they serve is correct.

To begin with, Tehran’s decision to reenter discussions about the future of its nuclear program represents a dramatic about-face. During the January 2011 round of negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5 plus 1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany), for example, Tehran rejected any talk of its nuclear program. For the next 15 months, it refused to meet until the P5 plus 1 accepted the precondition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium. In new talks in Istanbul this past March, however, Iran agreed to discuss its nuclear efforts and dropped its precondition. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The New Israeli Coalition and the Elephant in the Cabinet Room

May 9th 2012

Bibi at Podium

Rarely do politics in a democratic country wrap up as neatly as they did for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. Having scheduled new parliamentary elections that he was assuredly going to win, today he announced that the coalition was expanded and reconstituted, and will last until September 2013—the legal expiration of the current Knesset.

A partial list of Netanyahu’s accomplishments:
• He saved millions of dollars the country didn’t need to spend right now. There are a lot of Americans who think a parliamentary system looks pretty good at this point for speed and thrift.
• He added a Persian-born, Farsi-speaking former Chief of the IDF General Staff to his Cabinet. This helps counter criticism of the government’s posture on the Iranian threat from former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet Chairman Yuval Diskin.
• He diminished the importance of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu Party, farther to the right than Likud, is no longer essential to the coalition. This allows the Government greater flexibility in domestic as well as foreign policy—if the Government wants greater flexibility.
• He effectively froze the Labor Party, which split in 2011 when Defense Minister Ehud Barak pulled out the more centrist elements and formed the Independence Party, which stayed in the Government. Labor was hoping to find more seats in the Knesset by consolidating the left wing of Israeli politics.
• He protected himself from electioneering nastiness that might be cooked up by domestic opponents, or perhaps opponents directed by friends of the American administration—which sees Netanyahu as something between an unwelcome dinner guest and the devil. Just because President Obama has to be on his best pro-Israel behavior until November doesn’t mean his friends did. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia's Intrusion into the Americas is a Wake-Up call for the United States

May 9th 2012

Putin and Chavez
Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez

Russian – Latin American relations are relatively warm these days, especially when it comes to a number of seemingly left-leaning countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Nonetheless, Washington’s indifference to these countries may have pushed these governments further into Moscow’s diplomatic embrace. The United States appears to have calculatedly severed any sort of close relations with these left-leaning nations, and has been prone to criticize them with the same degree of careless indifference as it has of Russia itself.

In addition, these resident dynamics have provided the region with a growing autonomy; as Argentinean president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner aptly stated, “the world has changed, Latin America is nobody’s backyard.” This represents a full shift from Cold War politics, when the U.S. supported authoritarian regimes throughout the region in order to act as a firewall to contain Soviet influence within the hemisphere. In fact, much of the ever-growing presence of Russia in Latin America is due to Moscow’s aspirations to return to global preeminence, coinciding with Washington’s increasingly unsympathetic view toward a number of these left-leaning Latin American countries.

Notably, Russia has been able to exert its influence on an expanding agenda of mostly military and energy issues through a series of existing ties, as well as through allying itself with Central American nations to fight ever-changing drug trafficking trends. As the U.S. has curtailed military and economic assistance to some emerging countries in Latin America, Russia emerged as a pivotal ally for some and a preferred alternative for others. Read more ..

France After Sarkozy

What Francois Hollande Means for French Jews

May 8th 2012

Francois Hollande and Jewish leader Richard Prasquier-President of CRIF
Francois Hollande and Jewish leader Richard Prasquier

In France, the election results are in—but what do they mean for the local Jewish community?

Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party defeated incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy of the center-right Union for a Popular Movement on Sunday with about 52 percent of the vote. Although Sarkozy attempted to destabilize the Socialist candidate in a televised three-hour debate just days before the final election, he was unable to overcome the comfortable lead Hollande had maintained since he became the Socialist nominee in October 2011.

According to the European Jewish Congress, Hollande has said that he will be “uncompromising in the fight against anti-Semitism,” and he will oppose anything that “could contribute to a climate that would isolate the Jews within their own country.” With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hollande supports two neighboring and sovereign states for Jews and for Palestinians. “Even beyond the Israeli-Palestinian issue, we must be very firm with respect to Iran, whose nuclear program is a vital danger for Israel and for world peace,” he said. Read more ..

America and India

US Secretary of State Meets Key Regional Figure In Indian Politics

May 7th 2012

Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the Indian capital, where she is scheduled to meet the country's highest officials. Clinton is pressing energy-starved India to continue weaning itself off oil imports from Iran.

Before arriving in the Indian capital Monday, Secretary Clinton met in Kolkata with one of India's most influential regional officials - West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

It was her first major meeting since arriving in India from Bangladesh - but Banerjee says two widely anticipated topics were not on the agenda. In response to a reporter's question, Banerjee says she and Clinton did not discuss the issue of foreign direct investment or a stalled agreement to share water from the Teesta river along the West Bengal/Bangladesh border. Last year, an Indian government order would have permitted foreign ownership stakes in multi-brand retail operations in major cities. It would have effectively allowed American corporate giants like Wal-mart to control supply chains for food and agriculture. Banerjee opposed the order, and forced the government to roll it back by threatening to withdraw her party from the ruling coalition. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Netanyahu Calls for Early Parliamentary Elections

May 7th 2012

Bibi arguing

Several weeks of rumor and speculation were brought to an end on May 6 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement to the Likud central committee that he will call for early parliamentary elections.

Netanyahu stated that "With the start of the fourth year of this government, the stability of the government started to erode, and this lack of political stability leads to blackmail and populism," which is most likely a reference to recent infighting between secular party Yisrael Beteinu and the religious parties. As a result of this instability, Netanyahu said, it was necessary to hold elections as soon as possible, "I will not lend a hand to an elections campaign of a year and a half that would destabilize the government. I prefer short elections of four months that could quickly bring back the stability to the political system." Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Embattled Syria Prepares for Election

May 6th 2012

Bashar al Assad Stop Killing

Syria is making final preparations for a parliamentary election on Monday, with authorities praising it as a major reform, while opposition activists ridicule it as a farce for coinciding with a violent government crackdown on an opposition uprising. Syrian election officials have said at least seven new political parties will participate in Monday's vote for the 250-seat assembly, dominated for decades by the ruling Baath party of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A new constitution approved in a February referendum allowed the creation of opposition parties to compete with the Baath-led National Progressive Front. A spokeswoman for Syria's main exiled opposition group, the Syrian National Council, told VOA that the parliamentary election is an "insult to democracy." Speaking by phone from France, Bassma Kodmani said the government is "killing (people) every day" in centers of the 14-month rebellion against Mr. Assad's autocratic rule. She said the only people who will vote in such an environment are those who are "forced" to do so. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

How Does the New Turkey Think?

May 5th 2012

Turkish Military

Turkey has changed so drastically in the past decade that it has become largely unrecognizable. For starters, the country has experienced a sort of economic miracle, nearly tripling its economic output in the past decade and subsequently joining the ranks of the elite G-20 club. Politically, too, Turkey has undergone a complete transformation: The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won three consecutive elections since 2002, with increasing majorities. The AKP, representing a brand of Islam-based social conservativism, has since replaced Turkey’s former secularist elites.

Secularist Kemalism is out and the AKP is in, and Turkey no longer suffers from a weak economy as it did in the 1990s. How does this change the way Turks see the world? The answer is: something “old,” something “new,” and something “borrowed” shapes Turkey’s foreign policy today. Let’s start with the “old”: Kemalism is out, but the old nationalist mindset is not. Take, for instance, the secularist Turkish stance on Cyprus, which has defended Turkish Cypriot sovereignty whatever the political cost. Today, Ankara is as much committed to this goal as the secularist Turkish parties were before they were replaced by the AKP. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Civil War in Syria Highlights Ethnic and Sectarian Divides

May 4th 2012

Syrians by VOA photog Elizabeth Arrot

Unrest picked up again on May 4 in Syria, with large opposition demonstrations reported in Homs, Hama and other opposition strongholds, as well as by ethnic Kurdish protesters in Qamishli.

Rights activists said government forces killed at least 10 people across the country. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least three of the deaths occurred in the Hama region after forces opened fire on a vehicle.The year-long crisis has exposed some of the fundamental fault lines in the country, including ethnicity and sectarianism. Syrian Kurds gathered in Qamishli Friday for an anti-government demonstration, part of what appears to be a continuing movement of Kurds into the opposition fold. While the extent of the ethnic group's participation is debated - limited access to the region makes popular sentiment too hard to assess - protests like Friday's in the northeastern city highlight long-standing resentments of groups across the nation. Read more ..

The Bear is Back

Russian Foreign Policy after Putin's Return

May 3rd 2012

Vlad the Action Figure winks

Contrary to expectations, Russia's positions on Iran and Syria are unlikely to harden during Putin's third presidential term, which starts next week.

Some analysts believe that Vladimir Putin's May 7 return to the presidency will inevitably lead to a toughening of Moscow's position on two key issues: the Iranian nuclear program and potential intervention in Syria. The worst scenario put forth so far implies an unholy alliance with Tehran and complete moral, military, and political support to Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus. Such speculations are rooted in the popular perception of Putin as a hardliner whose tense relations with the West are supposedly the product of an ex-KGB officer still seeking revanche for the Soviet defeat in the Cold War. Yet these negative expectations seem exaggerated. On March 7, journalists asked Putin whether his accession will change Moscow's approach to Iran and Syria. The answer, delivered in his typically curt style, was a short, promising "no." Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Foiled Anarchist Plot Shows Why All-Threats Approach Is Needed

May 2nd 2012

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Bridge

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Bridge

On Monday, the FBI arrested five individuals in a planned attack to blow up a Cleveland-area bridge. Unlike many of the foiled terror attacks seen in recent years, this recent plot seems to have no connection to Islamist extremism. Instead, three of the suspects are said to be self-proclaimed anarchists. The inspiration for this week’s thwarted anarchist plot, however, is largely where the disparity ends. Not surprisingly, this recent plot was foiled in the same manner as the majority of the 50 thwarted Islamist-inspired plots since 9/11: through the concerted efforts of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement. Thus, while the threat of transnational Islamist terrorism remains front and center, efforts to counter Islamist extremism serve to protect the nation against all manners of threats. The U.S. should continue to build its capabilities to combat all terrorist threats and thwart plots long before the public is in danger.

All-Threats Approach to Counterterrorism

According to the FBI, between 1980 and 2001, approximately two-thirds of terrorism in the U.S. was carried out by non-Islamist extremists. From 2002 to 2005, this number jumped up to 95 percent. Examples of this threat include the 2011 Tuscon, Arizona, shooting that nearly took the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D–AZ) and the 2009 shootings at the U.S. Holocaust Museum and a Los Angeles–area synagogue. Read more ..

Great Britain on Edge

Britain Watches and Waits as the Geopolitical Game Passes by

May 1st 2012

Prince Charles and troops
Prince Charles and British troops.

Britain controlled about one-fourth of the Earth's land surface and one-fifth of the world's population in 1939. Fifty years later, its holdings outside the British Isles had become trivial, and it even faced an insurgency in Northern Ireland.

Britain spent the intervening years developing strategies to cope with what poet Rudyard Kipling called its "recessional," or the transient nature of Britain's imperial power. It has spent the last 20 years defining its place not in the world in general but between continental Europe and the United States in particular.

Britain's rise to its once-extraordinary power represented an unintended gift from Napoleon. It had global ambitions before the Napoleonic Wars, but its defeat in North America and competition with other European navies meant Britain was by no means assured pre-eminence. In Napoleon's first phase, France eliminated navies that could have challenged the British navy. The defeat of the French fleet at Trafalgar and the ultimate French defeat at Waterloo then eliminated France as a significant naval challenger to Britain for several generations. Read more ..

Obama and Latin America

The Failure of Obama's Foreign Policy towards Latin America

April 30th 2012

Obama at Cartagena summit
President Obama and Latin American heads of state.

On the weekend of April 14th and 15th, Colombia hosted the Sixth Summit of the Americas, as 33 inter-American governments convened in Cartagena to discuss a broad host of topics. Dominating the agenda were scheduled discussions of the ongoing War on Drugs and the prospects of debating the legalizing of cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs in an effort to reduce criminal drug trafficking and the rampant violence it has brought to Latin America. Other notable discussions included the newly-inflamed Falklands/Malvinas Islands conflict and new sovereignty claims over the territory by Argentina, as well as Latin American criticism of the United States’ expansionary monetary policy as a response to the ongoing European debt crisis.

The most contentious and prominent of discussion topics, however, was the continuing exclusion of Cuba from OAS-sponsored gatherings, including the previous five Summits of the Americas, and this newest meeting in Cartagena. The issue dominated news coverage leading up to the Summit, and despite hopes by many that the U.S. would relent in its unilateral opposition to Cuba’s participation in OAS activities, President Barack Obama instead reaffirmed the U.S.’ long-held default stance on the matter. To this end, he stated that Cuban authorities have “shown no interest in changing their relationship with the United States, nor any willingness to respect the democratic and human rights of the Cuban people.” Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Islam in Post-9/11 Pakistan: Education and Security

April 29th 2012

Red Minaret, Hyderabad
Red Minaret, Hyderabad

In 1984, while reflecting on Pakistan’s political history, Lawrence Ziring, a leading scholar on South Asia, noted how the country had changed from an Islamic Republic to an Islamic State. Ziring observed that under the former, Islam played a moderating role and encouraged liberal discourse and a separation of religion, while under the latter, Islam was a central, official, and pervasive feature within the state, affecting and dominating every facet of society. Since 1979, the relationship between Islam and the Pakistani state has become closer, as seen with the adoption of the Hudood Ordinance as well as the willingness of non-religious political parties and actors to work with the religious parties. Thus, the shift toward a more Islamic society has been supported, if not led, by consecutive Pakistani governments.

This heightened sense of religiosity has increasingly been viewed as a cause for concern in the international arena because of the type of intolerant and violent Islam that appears to be in the ascendency there. This concern is also a product of a neoliberal prejudice that is inherently uncomfortable with religious states, as in such societies authority is derived from the divine, as opposed from the people. Thus, it is argued that unless Pakistan ceases its close association with religion, which in effect means to move against Islamic education, the threat posed by radical Islamism to international peace and security will become even greater. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Confronting Damascus: U.S. Policy toward the Evolving Situation in Syria

April 29th 2012

Bashar al Assad Stop Killing

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

Latin America's Growing Scourge: Child-Soldiers

April 29th 2012

El Salvadoran Child Soldier

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

Bundler for Obama Named to Ambassadorship in Netherlands

April 28th 2012

Barack Obama with Flag

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

The Islamist Political Fixer Who Could Be Egypt’s Next President

April 28th 2012

Mohammed Morsi
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

Brazilian Congress Adopts Relaxed Land Usage Rules

April 27th 2012

Brazil Sugar Cane

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

Russo-Turkish Divergence: the Security Dimension

April 27th 2012

Medvedev and Erdogan
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

Rubio Auditions for VP Slot with Call for Hawkish Foreign Policy

April 26th 2012

Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL)
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 ..

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