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The Iranian Threat

Impact of Sanctioning Iran's Central Bank

December 4th 2011

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

At a recent December meeting, European Union foreign ministers will discuss French president Nicolas Sarkozy's recent statement on Iran sanctions: "France proposes to the European Union and its member states, to the USA, to Japan, Canada, and to other countries willing to join, to take the decision to immediately freeze the assets of the Central Bank of Iran [CBI] and interrupt the purchases of Iranian oil." The EU's decision will be closely watched in Iran and across the world.

Several countries have already targeted the CBI to one degree or another. On November 21, Canada and Britain announced a ban on transactions with the CBI and other banks in the Islamic Republic, prompting Iranian calls for expelling the British ambassador and today's ransacking of the British embassy. Also on November 21, the U.S. government invoked Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act to warn that Iran is a jurisdiction of "primary money laundering concern," and that dealing with any Iranian bank, including the CBI, poses risks for the global financial system. In addition, Congress is considering an outright ban on transactions with the CBI. Yet the debate about whether to sanction the bank has not always been clear about the goal and potential cost of such a move. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Election of former Leftist Guerrilla as Bogota Mayor may hold Key to Colombia's Future

December 3rd 2011

Colombia Topics - Gustavo Petro - Bogota mayor
Mayor Gustavo Petro of Bogota, Colombia

On October 30, 2011, Bogotá elected Gustavo Petro as its next mayor. After earning a plurality of 32 percent of the vote in a highly contested election, Petro—a former member of the leftist M19 guerilla movement—made history as the first ex-guerilla to have won this post. During that same week, the Colombian government arguably achieved its greatest victory against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) by killing its top leader Guillermo León Sáenz, otherwise known as ‘Alfonso Cano’.

These two significant events could mark a pivotal point forColombia’s future and for that of its major insurgency group, which recently chose a new commander-in-chief, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry. Most importantly, Petro’s election toColombia’s second-most significant political post presents both a symbolic and concrete path forward for the two adversaries to create a new political framework for negotiations. Read more ..

Nicaragua on Edge

Silence on Fraudulent Rule in Nicaragua Detrimental to Latin American and U.S Interests

December 2nd 2011

Nicaragua - Daniel Ortega
President Daniel Ortega

Elections took place in Nicaragua in early November. These elections displayed an element of fraud from the beginning. According to the European Union’s electoral mission the vote tally was “opaque and arbitrary”. Prior to the election, the outcome was almost pre-ordained because the Ortega-controlled Supreme Court nullified a constitutional provision that limited the President to no more than two terms.

The Nicaraguan Supreme Court interpreted this provision as void because it failed to protect the individual right of Mr. Ortega to be reelected rather than the proper intention to limit the potential monarchical power of one president over the rest of the government and above the individual rights of multiple members of civil society.

As Ortega now seems to be the winner of this election, numerous complaints of irregularities have been heard. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt's Islamists' Success: A Sign of Nation's Future, or Past?

December 2nd 2011

Egypt - Egyptian Kid at Rally

Egyptian officials say the results of the first round of voting in parliamentary elections will be announced Friday evening local time, after delaying the announcement twice this week. Observers have said Egypt's first elections since President Hosni Mubarak's February resignation were mostly peaceful.

The Muslim Brotherhood is thought to be taking the early lead in the Egypt's months-long parliamentary elections.  But support for the moderate Islamist group, as well as for more fundamentalist ones, may say more about Egypt's past than future. From a purely practical standpoint, the Muslim Brotherhood was expected to benefit from the timetable of elections. The best-organized, yet officially banned, opposition group under the old government, the Brotherhood has left its newly-formed competitors scrambling to catch up. Perhaps more important is the suffering members of the Brotherhood endured --  arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture. 

Human Rights Watch Egypt researcher Heba Morayef says both privately and in recent years more publicly, members were at the forefront in opposing the former government's tactics. "They took on many human rights issues, in a sense, and would very often use their position as being the victim of these violations, I think, to recruit other sympathizers who were angry at Mubarak's repressive regime," said Morayef. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al-Qaeda’s Rope-a-Dope

November 30th 2011

Terrorism - Arab terrorist
Anwar al-Awlaki

Any evaluation of the first decade of the global War on Terror (or whatever phrase du jour is currently used to describe the conflict) cannot avoid an unmistakable triumph: America hasn’t suffered another catastrophic act of terrorism since September 11, 2001. Nevertheless, the U.S.’s success in defending itself against the tactic of terrorism has not been complemented by a deep understanding of its enemies’ strategy, and consequently its systems of offense and defense have not been structured for victory.

The lack of attention the U.S. has paid to al-Qaeda’s strategy so far is remarkable. To comprehend the shallowness of its understanding, one need look no further than the documents that frame official U.S. thinking about terrorism. For example, the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism (NMSP-WOT)—the most comprehensive military plan for the fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates—outlines America’s ends, ways, and means in the conflict, but doesn’t perform the same analysis for al-Qaeda. This is striking, because understanding an enemy’s ends, ways, and means is fundamental to military strategy. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Israeli Economy Strong Despite Conflict

November 30th 2011

Israel Topics - Jerusalem Bus Terminal

Israelis have always envisioned a day when they would have peace with their neighbors and enjoy normal commercial relations that would be a boon to both Israel and the Arab states. Unfortunately, the Arab states initiated an economic boycott in 1945 and most still refuse to engage in any trade with Israel. The ongoing conflict also imposes heavy costs on Israel, forcing it to devote resources to security that might otherwise be directed to more productive uses.

Despite these impediments, Israel has shown a remarkable capacity to thrive economically throughout its history. Today, in fact, as the economies of most nations struggle, Israel’s is booming. Israel now has the world’s fastest-growing economy.

One indication of the strength of Israel’s economy is its rating by Standard and Poor. While S&P downgraded America’s rating in August 2011 (for the first time since 1917) from AAA to AA+ following the stalemate over raising the debt ceiling, the ratings services raised Israel’s long-term foreign currency sovereign credit ratings in September 2011 from “A” to “A+,” denoting its “very strong capacity to meet financial commitments.” Read more ..

China in Africa

Africans' Flight from Farming is Accompanied by Neo-Colonialism

November 27th 2011

Africa Topics - China-Zambia co-prosperity sphere

Since 2001 governments of developing countries have rented out, sold or are in negotiations to sell 2.27 million square kilometers of land, according to figures of the Land Matrix Partnership, a group of academics, investigators and NGO cited by Oxfam in a recent report. African governments are the main “culprits”. More than 70 per cent of these contracts have been signed in Africa. Suddenly the developed world has realized that sub-Saharan Africa is not over-populated, as we have been told for years, but that it’s the new El Dorado: endless bounties of badly wanted minerals and the largest area of unused rich, cultivable land in the world.

In Ethiopia, Mozambique, Sudan and Liberia, for example, some 43,000 square kilometers were sold or rented out to foreign investors between 2004 and 2009, according to official data of the World Bank. This is equal to the surface territory of Switzerland.

Considering that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the size of two-thirds of Western Europe, Switzerland is a spot on the map for an immense continent like Africa. Nevertheless it indicates an interesting trend. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Half of GOP’s Biggest Bundlers Have Not Yet Picked a Presidential Candidate

November 25th 2011

Politics - Republican Candidates Nov2011

For the last three presidential elections, mega bundler Rudy Boschwitz has helped raise millions of dollars for Republicans running for the White House.

But this time around, the former U.S. senator from Minnesota says he is “conflicted” and has yet to put his fundraising skills to work for a Republican challenger to face President Barack Obama next year.

“I want to endorse the person who is most likely to make a change in the White House and I’m not sure who that is,” Boschwitz said.

Boschwitz has plenty of company among his fellow elite Republican fundraisers, an analysis of campaign finance reports. Read more ..

Cuba on Edge

Farm Sales Bring Change to Cuba

November 23rd 2011

Cuba Topics - Cuba Street Scene

The freehold buying and selling of residential real property became legal in Cuba on November 10, 2010, marking a major milestone on the island’s road to economic liberalization.

The Cuban government is encouraging the creation of small businesses and private farming. More than 180,000 “self-employment” licenses have been issued since 2010, and the government has turned over four million acres of land to 143,000 private farmers since 2008.

Today there are over 350,000 small private farmers in Cuba, producing 57 percent of the food consumed on the island and 60 percent of agricultural exports on just 24 percent of the land. The Cuban state owns more than 70 percent of the arable land on the island, of which some 50 percent lies fallow.

Yet even this situation is changing as economic reforms accelerate. Last month, Cuban authorities announced that the island’s private farmers would be eligible to receive land grants extending to 67 hectares (170 acres), up from the current maximum of thirteen hectares (33 acres). Read more ..

The Arab Fall

Jordan's Evolving Strategy toward the Pressures of the Arab Spring

November 22nd 2011

Jordan Topics - King Abdullah of Jordan
King Abdullah of Jordan

Although Jordan's new prime minister seems ready to address the public outcry over corruption, he may run into the same bureaucratic and economic impediments that have stymied previous governments.

Last month, King Abdullah of Jordan dismissed his second prime minister since the onset of the Arab Spring earlier this year. The decision to remove Marouf Bakhit was part of the king's strategy to placate an increasingly restive population's demands for political reform and an end to endemic and conspicuous corruption. Notwithstanding the opposition of ruling elites, who believe dramatic reforms could diminish their traditional perquisites, King Abdullah appears to understand that his legitimacy now rests in large part on his ability to respond to longstanding demands from the street.
Bakhit's replacement is Awn Khasawneh, a professional judge who previously served as chief of Jordan's Royal Court, vice president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and a leading figure in the king's constitutional reform project . His appointment may help Amman stabilize the kingdom against the political and social tempest sweeping the region. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Tunisia

Assessing Ennahda, Tunisia's Winning Islamist Party

November 22nd 2011

Islamic Topics - Rachid Ghannouchi of the Ennahda Party
Rachid Ghannouchi, one of the founders of the Ennahda Party

On October 23, Tunisians participating in their first post-revolution election handed the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) Party 41.7 percent of the popular vote and 90 of 217 seats in parliament. The secular Congress for the Republic Party received the second-highest share, with 14 percent and 30 seats, while the leftist Ettakatol came in third with 10 percent and 21 seats. Ennahda and the Congress party are joining forces to form a coalition government, while Ettakatol has suspended coalition talks pending clarification of controversial remarks by Ennahda's prime minister-designate that Tunisia is now entering the "sixth Caliphate." Ennahda's plurality puts the Islamist faction at the forefront of Tunisia's democratic reform effort and gives it a leading voice in redrafting the constitution. Despite concerns about women's rights and free speech, the party has promised -- publicly and often -- that it will support an open, democratic society, and its actions and preliminary agenda seem to support this.

What Is Ennahda?

The party was founded in 1981 as the "Movement of the Islamic Tendency" by Rachid Ghannouchi, Hmida Ennaifer, and Abdelfattah Mourou, who had together led a clandestine Islamist political organization since the early 1970s. They strongly opposed President Habib Bourguiba's secularist policies, which included the use of French as the official state language and a ban on headscarves. Influenced by Sayyed Qutb, Maulana Maududi, and other Sunni Muslim revivalists, Ghannouchi and his colleagues advocated the use of Islamic ideas and the Arabic language as a basis for political thought. Unlike other Islamist movements with a similar intellectual pedigree, however, Ennahda supported democracy and political pluralism from its founding and has never advocated that Tunisia break ties with the West -- policies that led many to label the party "moderate." Read more ..

Poisoned Places

In Smelter Town, Decades of Dirty Air, Disease—and Bureaucratic Dawdling

November 21st 2011

Environment Topics - Asarco Copper plant, AZ
Asarco Plant (credit: Emma Schwartz/iWatch)

As Betty Amparano sees it, the failures that all but ruined her town—Hayden, Arizona—occurred on multiple levels.

A copper smelter failed to keep toxic air pollution in check. The state failed to lean on the smelter’s owner, Asarco. And the federal government failed, until days ago, to override the state.

“The bottom line is that the whole town is contaminated,” said Amparano, who was born in Hayden and has lived here most of her life.

Soil tainted by airborne metals has been excavated from hundreds of yards. In some families, generations claim to have suffered ill effects from bad air. Deaths from cancer are common. Regulators have done little; for people who live here, the sense of betrayal is profound.

On November 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved against Asarco for what the EPA describes as more than six years of illegal emissions of arsenic, lead, chromium and seven other dangerous compounds from the smelter. The agency issued an unpublicized administrative action that could result in millions of dollars in fines from Asarco for allegedly being in “continuous violation” of the Clean Air Act since June 2005. The action is a slap at both the company and the state—another measure of failure. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Eurozone Debt Crisis Reveals China’s Economic Weakness

November 19th 2011

Economy - International Currency 3

The Chinese continue to watch the way in which the Europeans are trying to deal with their financial and political crisis right now. For China this is particularly important. Number one, Europe has become China’s largest export market and that has a major impact, of course, on the way in which the Chinese operate their economy. Number two is that a continued—or deeper crisis—in Europe could pull the entire global economy into recession.

Chinese exports to Europe and to much of the rest of the world saw a particularly sharp drop in 2009. This was something that the Chinese government had to rush to stabilize—they counteracted that dip in exports with a huge increase in domestic investment. The Chinese had hoped, during that time, that the Europeans would simply build themselves back up—pull themselves out of this particular crisis—and that China would be able to continue with its fairly rapid expansion of exports to Europe to keep its economy chugging along as China headed towards its 2012 leadership transition.

Although Chinese exports to Europe picked up a little bit in 2010, the rate of growth that the Chinese had been seeing in the previous four or five years slowed down quite a bit. The problem for China is that as the pace of export growth slows, the pace of import growth doesn’t. The Chinese still need a very large amount of commodities. They’re importing these commodities, not only to feed their export market, but to feed all of this new domestic investment. And that means that while the Chinese may not be making as much selling, they are having to buy still a very high market prices to be able to develop internally. Read more ..

Poisoned Places

Few Criminal Cases Target Big Air Polluters

November 19th 2011

Environment Topics - China Urban Pollution

For a decade, hazardous emissions from a refinery regularly swept into a mostly poor, minority neighborhood in Corpus Christi known as Hillcrest, where residents complained of odors, dizziness, vomiting and a range of conditions from asthma to cancer.

In June 2007, jurors found the refinery’s owner, Citgo Petroleum Corp., guilty of two felony criminal violations of the Clean Air Act for failing to control emissions of benzene, a carcinogen, from two massive, uncovered tanks at its refinery on the southern cusp of Texas.

It seemed a major victory for the federal government in its quest to punish Clean Air Act violators. The Justice Department, which prosecuted the case, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which investigated Citgo, said the verdict sent an important message. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Europe's Crisis: Beyond Finance

November 16th 2011

Economy - International Currency 3

Everyone is wondering about the next disaster to befall Europe.  Italy is one focus; Spain is also a possibility. But these crises are already under way. Instead, the next crisis will be political, not in the sense of what conventional politician is going to become prime minister, but in the deeper sense of whether Europe’s political elite can retain power, or whether new political forces are going to emerge that will completely reshape the European political landscape. If this happens, it will be by far the most important consequence of the European financial crisis.

Thus far we have seen some changes in personalities in the countries at the center of the crisis. In Greece, Prime Minister George Papandreou stepped aside, while in Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi now has resigned. Though these resignations have represented a formal change of government, they have not represented a formal policy change. In fact, Papandreou and Berlusconi both stepped down on the condition that their respective governments adopt the austerity policies proposed during their respective tenures.

Europeanists dominate the coalitions that have replaced them. They come from the generation and class that are deeply intellectually and emotionally committed to the idea of Europe. For them, the European Union is not merely a useful tool for achieving national goals. Rather, it is an alternative to nationalism and the horrors that nationalism has brought to Europe. It is a vision of a single Continent drawn together in a common enterprise — prosperity — that abolishes the dangers of a European war, creates a cooperative economic project and, least discussed but not trivial, returns Europe to its rightful place at the heart of the international political system. Read more ..

Britain and Latin America

Britain's Feints towards Latin America May Be Business as Usual

November 15th 2011

Brazil - Brazil in UK parade

Last year marked the 200th anniversary of Simón Bolívar’s visit to Britain, during which the revolutionary leader sought support for the independence movement in Latin America. Although the British government initially remained neutral in the struggle between Spain and Latin America, Britain became a valuable source of troops and weapons for Bolívar’s revolutionary army. Despite this historical link between Britain and an independent Latin America, a strong cooperative relationship between the two has not been maintained.

Two centuries later, in his speech at Canning House on November 15, 2010, UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, William Hague commented, “History teaches us that Britain has a track record of underestimating Latin America and neglecting its opportunities. It is this neglect that the British government is determined to address.” Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Darkening Clouds and the Coming Crisis of Europe

November 15th 2011

Europe Topics - Spanish protesters

Everyone is wondering about the next disaster to befall Europe. Italy is one focus; Spain is also a possibility. But these crises are already under way. Instead, the next crisis will be political, not in the sense of what conventional politician is going to become prime minister, but in the deeper sense of whether Europe’s political elite can retain power, or whether new political forces are going to emerge that will completely reshape the European political landscape. If this happens, it will be by far the most important consequence of the European financial crisis.

Thus far we have seen some changes in personalities in the countries at the center of the crisis. In Greece, Prime Minister George Papandreou stepped aside, while in Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi now has resigned. Though these resignations have represented a formal change of government, they have not represented a formal policy change. In fact, Papandreou and Berlusconi both stepped down on the condition that their respective governments adopt the austerity policies proposed during their respective tenures. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

The U.S. can Sanction Those Doing Business with the Central Bank of Iran

November 13th 2011

Iran - Iranian Qiam missile launch

In recent years, the United States has imposed a punishing sanctions regime on Iran's banking sector. To further increase Tehran's level of financial pain, a great number of Congressional and advocacy groups have repeatedly called on the White House to blacklist the Central Bank of Iran (CBI). Doing so, the thinking goes, would seriously hamper the Islamic Republic's ability to abuse international markets in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Yet unbeknownst to most lawmakers and Washington policymakers, the U.S. Treasury actually has blacklisted the CBI, and not once but twice in recent years. The real question is why the U.S. government has not enforced its own sanctions regime. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Myths and Facts about Mahmoud Abbas

November 10th 2011

Palestine Topics - Mahmoud Abbas and father

MYTH: "Mahmoud Abbas is working toward reaching peace with Israel.'" 

FACT: Increasingly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appears to be the negotiator of choice for the West simply because officials see no option. Israelis are increasingly beginning to question this default option after three years of Abbas refusing to enter negotiations with Israel and a lifetime of rejectionism.

New evidence that Abbas is the impediment to peace continues to mount. In September 2011, Abbas defied the United States and many other nations by submitting an application for recognition to the UN Security Council.    Read more ..

The Arab Winter

The U.S. Plan as the Islamist Winter Draws Near

November 6th 2011

Islamic Topics - Islamic Terrorists
Islamic Terrorists

As secular authoritarian regimes topple across the Middle East, there is the danger that governments with a pronounced Islamist bent will replace them. In the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, this phenomena bears close watching.
In Tunisia this week, the Islamist Ennahdha (Renaissance) party has become the largest faction in the legislature following the first elections held since long-time strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile in January 2011. European Union monitors declared Sunday's elections free and fair, with Ennahdha capturing 40 percent of the vote. Failing to obtain an outright majority of seats in the 217-seat parliament, however, it will be forced to share power with the next largest vote recipients, two centrist secular parties.  Read more ..

The Koreas on Edge

South Korea: Taking the Right Steps to Defense Reform

November 6th 2011

South Korea - South Korea map
Credit: Ksiom

South Korea has initiated a series of extraordinary defense reforms. These reforms are commendable and will redress many of South Korea’s security shortcomings. Seoul will be hampered in these efforts, however, by demographic and fiscal constraints. Yet such barriers must be overcome; an increasingly unstable North Korea and an expansive, belligerent China demand as much. Furthermore, if Seoul is ever to “go global” with its political, economic, and military capabilities, the transformations outlined by the DR 307 reform plan must be enacted - and the U.S. can help.

From a full-scale invasion by the million-man North Korean army to tactical-level clashes along the inter-Korean border, South Korea is facing a daunting spectrum of security threats from North Korea. Even North Korea’s weaknesses pose a challenge to Seoul, as regime collapse would trigger instability, massive refugee flows, humanitarian disaster, Chinese incursion into North Korea, loss of control of nuclear weapons, and civil war. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

South Africa Needs a Roadmap to Economic Freedom

November 4th 2011

Africa - South Africa Flag

South Africa is one of the world’s largest exporters of precious metals used in a multitude of industrial and commercial applications. Continued access to this vast mineral wealth is vital for the economic security of the West. The future political and economic stability of South Africa hinges on its ability to tackle lack of economic opportunity, high unemployment, poverty, and the legacy of Apartheid. South Africa also needs a growing economy in order to address endemic challenges ranging from AIDS and crime to education and infrastructure development.

Accelerated economic growth requires increased access for all South Africans to land and capital, limits on government interventions, incentives for private investment, and a strengthening of property rights and the rule of law. Powerful voices in the ruling African National Congress, however, are demanding the nationalization of vital industries, land seizures, and state intervention to advance social equality. Analyzing developments in the ongoing debate between economic freedom and state intervention will go far in helping to shape the future of the “Rainbow Nation” as a regional and international economic player. The U.S. should use available political and economic diplomacy policy instruments (e.g., the U.S.- South Africa Strategic Dialogue, the U.S.- South Africa Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council, and AGOA - the African Growth and Opportunity Act) to weigh in with the South African government on the side of economic freedom. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia Embarks on Rebuilding an Empire

November 1st 2011

Russian Topics - Russian Paratroopers
Russian paratroopers

U.S.-Russian relations seem to have been relatively quiet recently, as there are numerous contradictory views in Washington about the true nature of Russia’s current foreign policy. Doubts remain about the sincerity of the U.S. State Department’s so-called “reset” of relations with Russia — the term used in 2009 when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed a reset button to her Russian counterpart as a symbol of a freeze on escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington. The concern is whether the “reset” is truly a shift in relations between the two former adversaries or simply a respite before relations deteriorate again.

The reset actually had little to do with the United States wanting Russia as a friend and ally. Rather, Washington wanted to create room to handle other situations — mainly Afghanistan and Iran — and ask Russia for help. (Russia is aiding in moving supplies into Afghanistan and withholding critical support from Iran.) Meanwhile, Russia also wanted more room to set up a system that would help it create a new version of its old empire. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia's Dire Choices in Addressing Narco-Terrorism

October 31st 2011

Latin American Topics - President Santos of Colombia
President Jose Manuel Santos of Colombia

Throughout the last year, a number of serious questions have been raised over the tools employed by the former Uribe administration (2002-2010) to establish and maintain a secure, stable Colombia. The August 31, 2011 resignation of Rodrigo Rivera, Defense Minister under the recently inaugurated president Juan Manuel Santos, presents a useful opportunity to reflect on the security policy under the new head of state and Colombia’s qualifications as a free trade partner.

Up until now, President Santos appears to have maintained the overall security language and posture employed by the Uribe regime: a repertoire of terms familiar to the post-September-11 world. This indicates that labeling enemies as ‘terrorists’ and more specifically in Colombia as ‘narco-terrorists’ is the order of the day. With the ten-year anniversary of September 11 just past, one may reflect on the ramifications of such carefully crafted and precisely targeted language observed in the last decade of Colombian foreign policy. This language, to a large extent, removes the possibility of a real political solution, and in its place, frames the politics of war and violence as the only viable means of achieving peace in the violence-wrecked nation of Colombia. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

Succession and the US-Saudi Relationship

October 27th 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

Given Saudi Arabia’s strategic position and its leadership roles in both Islam and international energy markets, the close relationship between Riyadh and Washington is crucial to a range of US policy concerns: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East peace process, and energy.

The character of the US-Saudi relationship has often been dictated by the personality and style of the king at the time. King Fahd, who ruled from 1982 to 2005 (thought he was plagued by poor health after a stoke in 1995), was seen as pro-American and cooperated closely, although often discreetly, with Washington on a range of foreign policy concerns, including in Central America, Afghanistan, and on the middle East peace process. King Abdullah, whose rule began in 2005 but who had stood in for Fahd after 1995, has protected the relationship but has been more cautious and at times even confrontational. In 2002, with relations in turmoil because of the involvement of Saudis in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the kingdom, apparently trying to deflect attention away from itself by spotlighting clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, was even prepared to privately threaten a temporary cutoff of oil exports because of US support for Israel. Read more ..

Venezuela and China

Venezuela Curries Favor with China as the Asian giant seeks Energy Security

October 25th 2011

Venezuela Topics - Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Xi Jinping China VP
China's Vice President Xi Jinping greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

President Hugo Chávez has long desired to minimize his country’s economic dependence on the United States, and since China’s huge and growing energy demands have resulted in expanded business with Venezuela, he may very well get his wish. Beijing and Caracas have a history of affable diplomatic ties, which in recent years have been strengthened by several multibillion-dollar oil-exploration deals that are providing China with a broadening spectrum of new sources of energy while helping to revive Venezuela’s wilting economy. With its petroleum consumption climbing 7.5 percent per year, China represents a significant and growing long-term source of income for Venezuela.

While Washington continues to fulfill the bulk of its energy requirements through long-established sources in the Middle East, China could be said to have jumped the fence into the U.S.’ ‘backyard’ in an attempt to capitalize on the impressive inventory of natural resources that the region has to offer. The state of Sino-Venezuelan petro-relations represents an evolving global order reflected by the waning influence of the U.S. in Latin America and the growing power of extra-hemispheric nations in the region. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Who was the Victor in the Shalit Swap?

October 24th 2011

Israel Topics - Shalit Graffiti

It is not often that scenes of joy wash over Israel and the Gaza Strip simultaneously.

Israelis were celebrating the freedom of a soldier who was abducted five years ago while guarding his country's borders. He was seized in an unprovoked cross-border raid and held by Hamas in violation of all international norms.

On the other side of the border, Gazans took part in a triumphant homecoming ceremony to honor jihadi combatants guilty of war crimes and the intentional murder of hundreds of unarmed civilians.

The trade of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners for a single Israeli soldier has bewildered some international observers, and touched off a debate over whether Israel had anything to celebrate at all. Read more ..

Libya after Gadhafi

What’s Next for Libya? Questions after Gadhafi’s Death

Libya - Gadhafi statue gets kicked

What Moammar Gadhafi’s death means to Libya and the rest of the world will take months, if not years, to sort out. There are big questions around leadership, politics, weapons, and wealth. We believe following the money is paramount because money always leads to power.

So in these hours after the dictator’s death, we think the questions worth asking include:

How much money does Libya have access to now, in the form of foreign assistance and domestic income or cash reserves? • Where is it? How much is inside the country or in foreign banks awaiting repatriation or settlement of ownership claims? • Who in Tripoli is controlling the cash outflow? • Can foreign governments trace the Gadhafi family’s wealth? • How much of Libya’s money does the US still have under its control and will his death speed the repatriation of those funds now? • How quickly will foreign aid or the country’s own wealth reach those who have been harmed the most by the civil conflict, and will it be distributed equitably? Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Challenges for the Egyptian Military

October 24th 2011

Egypt - Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi
Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi

Two intertwined problems confront Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces: the deteriorating economy and the looming elections.

The military has always been the dominant actor in Egypt since the July 1952 overthrow of King Farouk and the termination of the constitutional monarchy. Since then, every president of Egypt has been a military man: Muhammad Naguib (1953–1954), Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954–1970), Anwar El Sadat (1970–1981) and Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011).

The Military in Egypt

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, is at present a key player if not the actual leader of Egypt. Tantawi, who had served as military attaché to Pakistan, possibly sees that country as a kind of model for the position the military should continue to have in Egypt.

Tantawi participated directly in most of the military confrontations between Egypt and Israel, and has served as the Minister of Defense since 1991. During his term, Egypt’s military continued to prepare for a possible war with Israel, in spite of the peace treaty and, in a way, because of it. The massive size of the Egyptian military is made possible by generous American aid and support. That it is so large serves Egypt’s rulers in that the military and all of its associated facilities and industries serve as a major source of employment, a critical factor in Egypt’s perennially poor economy. U.S. interests are also served by the relationship as the delivery of weapon systems lowers the unit cost for the same systems purchased by the U.S. armed forces as well as helping the bottom of American defense companies. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

Factors Affecting Saudi Succession are a Family Affair

October 23rd 2011

Arab Topics - King Abdullah and sword 2

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

The process by which government decisions are made in Saudi Arabia remains obscure despite continual analysis by diplomats, oil executives, foreign business executives, and others. The more well-informed analysts believe that the number and identity of the princes and nonroyal participants varies, depending on the issue. Important decisions are made by the king alone but usually once he feels a consensus has been reached. (The ulama-the senior Muslim clergy—have a leading role in making religious decisions, but since they depend on the king for their appointments, they are probably reluctant to oppose a royal family consensus. They can dither, however; when the Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized in 1979, the ulama reportedly took thirty-six hours to approve the use of military force.)

When consensus remains elusive, decisions are delayed. This was the case in the late 1990s when Crown Prince Abdullah was seeking to involve foreign companies in the development of the kingdom’s natural gas resources. The decision was postponed and the proposal eventually dropped after opposition from the petroleum company Saudi Aramco and the Saudi ministry of oil, assumed to be backed by Abdullah’s rivals in the royal family. (The exception that proves this rule is said to be Kind Fahd’s decision to ask for U.S. military support after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Other senior princes, including then Crown Prince Abdullah, wanted time to consider other options, but they were overruled by Fahd.) Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

The Ramifications of the Fall of the House of Gadhafi

October 23rd 2011

Libya - Gadhafi looks heavenward

Rebel fighters killed former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Oct. 20 outside the town of Sirte. His body was then brought back to Misurata, where it was filmed being dragged through the streets. Several close aides, including family members, have been reported killed or captured as well.

Gadhafi’s death is symbolically important for the rebels, but the fall of Sirte is even more significant for the effect it will have on the future stability of Libya. With the final holdout of the pro-Gadhafi resistance overtaken, the National Transitional Council (NTC) can now move to form a transitional government. But multiple armed groups across the country will demand a significant stake in that government, which will have serious implications for the future unity of the people who heretofore were referred as the Libyan opposition.

Though the Benghazi-based NTC has been widely recognized in the international community as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people, this has long since ceased to be the case in the eyes of many Libyans. The NTC is one of several political forces in the country. Since the rebel forces entered Tripoli on Aug. 21, there has been a steady increase of armed groups hailing from places such as Misurata, Zentan, Tripoli and even eastern Libya itself that have questioned the authority of leading NTC members. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

The Saudi Sucession: A Desert Legacy

October 22nd 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

The modern state of Saudi Arabia was founded by King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud) in 1932. From a Saudi perspective, however, the kingdom is far older—certainly older than the United States—despite occasional interruptions in Saudi rule and even though the Western notion of sovereign independence was not achieved by the Saudis until this century.

As founder of the modern Saudi state, Ibn Saud could trace his forebears to the middle of the fifteenth century, when they arrived in the center of Arabia from the Hasa region to the east. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, his ancestors had become local rulers of an area centered on the settlement of Dariyah, near modern-day Riyadh. The identified patriarch of the family was Saud bin Muhammad, who was succeeded as sheikh (local ruler) upon his death in 1725 by his son Muhammad, who is usually described as the first ruler of the al-Saud dynasty. (King Abdulaziz was given the name Ibn Saud by the British, recalling this ancestor, Muhammad bin Saud, or Ibn Saud) Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Evaluating the Gilad Shalit Deal

October 19th 2011

Israel Topics - Gilad Shalit after Release

Minutes after the announcement of the deal enabling the release of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier held hostage by Hamas terrorists since 2006, a major controversy was raging. Did the Israeli cabinet make a potentially fatal mistake by voting to exchange a single low-ranking serviceman for 1,027 convicted Palestinian terrorists?

Whatever one’s answer, it should be remembered that Israel’s leaders had plenty of time—if not much else—to give this dilemma proper consideration. Throughout the entirety of Shalit’s incarceration, it would crop up whenever rumors of his release began circulating. With a frequency that was frankly cruel, hopes for Shalit’s imminent freedom would be raised and then abruptly dashed, leaving any debate about the parameters of a deal with Hamas looking like pointless speculation.

That’s why, before asking whether the Shalit deal is a “good” or a “bad” one, we should try to understand why a previously elusive deal has now been reached. Read more ..

Jordan on Edge

Jordan: All Quiet on the Eastern Front?

October 12th 2011

Jordan Topics - Amman

Progress on the economic and political fronts is helping to insulate the monarchy from the instability currently sweeping the region. With the spotlight focused on the Palestinian application for statehood at the UN and the ongoing massacre of demonstrators in Syria, little attention has been paid to Jordan, where the parliament has been debating and voting on forty-two proposed changes to the kingdom’s 1952 constitution. The reform project is King Abdullah’s attempt to preempt the kind of protests that brought down regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.

While the palace’s suggested slate of constitutional amendments have not yet been sufficient to end the ongoing weekly protests, the combination of this reform initiative and the financial benefits that will attend Jordanian membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) may help stabilize the kingdom and consolidate the Hashemite regime. Read more ..

The Arab Spring

Here Come the Arab Elections!

October 12th 2011

Arab Topics - Dar el Bey, Tunis
Dar el Bey, Tunis

Tunisia has scheduled elections for October 23. The National Constituent Assembly will have 218 members and will draw up a new constitution. Remember, by the way, that Tunisia has the most secular-oriented constitution in the Arab world. One wonders what will happen in that regard.

This assembly will also set the rules for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held at some time next year.

Tunisia’s Islamists are weaker than in any other Muslim-majority country in the Middle East. A different problem, however, has developed: the incredible division of other parties. Thus while the Islamist party, Ennahda, is at only about 20 percent, the rest of the vote is divided between about 80 parties, not one of which has huge support at this point. To give a sense of this mess, note that there are about 11,000 candidates for these seats, which means about 50 per seat! Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Egypt's 'Black Sunday' Marks New Departure for Violence

October 11th 2011

Egypt - Egyptian Coptic women weeping
Coptic Christian mourners

The official death toll from the Sunday October 9 protest in Cairo has risen to 24, with 272 reported injured. Of the 24 reported killed outside of Egypt’s state TV and radio building, three were allegedly Egyptian soldiers. This would be the first time that protesters outside of the Sinai have used firearms against the Egyptian military and marks a new phase in post-Mubarak Egypt.

October 9 was the most violent day in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak and many Egyptians are now calling it “Black Sunday.” What began as a Coptic protest march from northern Cairo to the state TV building known as Maspero, devolved into a melee that led to the deaths of over 20 people. Multiple military vehicles were set on fire, military issue armored personnel carriers were driven through crowds of people at high speeds and at some point someone from within the crowd fired upon a group of soldiers who were providing security outside of Maspero. Read more ..

The United States and Mexico on Edge

NAFTA May Neither Increase Employment in the U.S. nor Improve Working Conditions for Mexico

October 11th 2011

Mexican Topics - Mexican maquiladora
Interior of Mexican 'maquiladora' shop

In a section of a recent address by President Barack Obama that received relatively little attention, he observed that “it’s time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea… If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers.”

Obama followed his speech with a press conference, which asserted that the free trade agreements (FTAs) should be passed by the end of the year. He did not mention the disturbing thought that FTAs traditionally have prompted U.S. companies to transfer their manufacturing processes to countries with lower wages, rather than noticeably creating jobs in this country. While proponents of free trade often cite the creation of U.S. jobs in export-oriented industries, the U.S. is at least as likely to import products from overseas countries where manufacturing and labor costs tend to be cheaper. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Apple Co-founder Dies at Age 56--Jobs Well Done

October 6th 2011

Technology - Jobs with iPhone4
credit: Matt Yohe

Apple announced on October 6 that co-founder and chairman Steve Jobs has died at age 56.

“We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today,” a statement from Apple’s board of directors said. “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”

An icon of American business on par with Henry Ford and Walt Disney, Jobs founded Apple in a California garage in 1976 with high school friend Steve Wozniak. Together they developed the Macintosh personal computer and pioneered the graphical user interface, leaving a permanent imprint on the development of consumer technology. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine on Edge

Palestinian Authority's Dubious Claims of Religious Tolerance

October 4th 2011

Palestine Topics - Israel bloody flag

The Palestinian Liberation Organization's ambassador to the United States, Maen Areikat, said on September 13, 2011, that a future Palestinian state should be free of Jews, a call for ethnic cleansing reminiscent of Nazi Germany. This is not the first time that a Palestinian official has suggested making "Palestine" judenrein and reflects an ugly undercurrent of anti-Semitism within the Palestinian Authority.

Once a Palestinian state is established, why shouldn't Jews be welcome there? The same question could be asked of any country, but is particularly relevant in the case of the area likely to become Palestine because it has been the home of Jews for centuries.

Imagine the uproar if any Israeli official suggested that no Arabs or Muslims should be allowed to live in Israel. In fact, 1.3 million Arabs live as free and equal citizens in Israel. "After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated at first," Areikat told USA Today. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Precise Solutions for the Imprecise Reality of the European Crisis

October 4th 2011

Economy - International Currency 3

An important disconnect over the discussion of the future of the European Union exists, one that divides into three parts. First, there is the question of whether the various plans put forward in Europe plausibly could result in success given the premises they are based on. Second, there is the question of whether the premises are realistic. And third, assuming they are realistic and the plans are in fact implemented, there is the question of whether they can save the European Union as it currently exists.

The plans all are financial solutions to a particular set of financial problems. But regardless of whether they are realistic in addressing the financial problem, the question of whether the financial issue really addresses the fundamental dilemma of Europe — which is political and geopolitical — remains.

Upon examing the plans for dealing with the financial crisis in Europe, they appear technically plausible, even if they involve navigating something of a minefield. The eurozone’s bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, would be expanded in scope and reach until it can handle the bailout of a major state, the default of a minor state and a banking crisis of unprecedented proportions. Given assumptions of the magnitude of the problem and assuming general compliance with the plans, there is a chance that the solution we see the Germans moving toward could work. Read more ..

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