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UN on the Edge

UN Peacekeepers: Forces of Mistrust

April 12th 2010

UN Topics - Man talks to UN peacekeepers

“Every child and young person should live in a supportive, protective and caring environment that promotes his/her full potential. Children with inadequate or no parental care are at special risk of being denied such a nurturing environment,” so reads Resolution 64/142 of the United Nations General Assembly. The resolution of February 24, 2010 is a worthy document. It provides twenty-three pages of recommendations, advice, and outlines proper care techniques for alternative care for children. Yet there is one important piece of the problem missing from this UN effort: preventing children from being victimized by UN Peacekeepers. Instead of being forces for trust, for their child rape victims the peacekeepers are forces of mistrust.

Today, there are 85,000 U.N. troops in 16 peace operations, with soldiers contributed by 115 nations and there are at least hundreds of cases of child rape by these peacekeepers, perhaps more. In many cases, peacekeepers commit crimes of forced sex, verbal sexual abuse, child prostitution, child pornography, sexual slavery, sexual assault, and child trafficking. A frightening number of cases result in multiple rape. Some children are as young as six, according to reports. According to children who were interviewed, most did not report it out of fear of losing material assistance, fear of retaliation, lack of knowledge about doing so, and lack of support from their own governments, who do not in most cases take action. The victims come from some of the most poverty and war-stricken areas of the world, such as Haiti, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Burundi, the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Liberia. Read more ..


Geopolitical High Stakes

U.N. Sanctions Against Iran are Unlikely Despite Pressure from the U.S. and France

April 5th 2010

Iran - Iran Nuclear Equipment

President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy earlier this week urged reluctant members of the United Nations Security Council to quickly pass sanctions against Iran. But that is highly unlikely, as Obama himself acknowledged: “Do we have unanimity in the international community? Not yet. And that’s something we have to work on.”

In the absence of decisive action from the U.N., the Obama Administration should work with allies to impose strong sanctions outside the U.N. framework, where effective action is hampered by the veto power of China and Russia. Such a strategy should include working with Congress to quickly approve the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act and partnering with like-minded nations to impose the strongest possible sanctions independent of the lethargic U.N. Security Council. Neither country seems to care much about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s truculent defiance. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Two Parcels of Land--Conflicting Life vs Death Celebrations

March 29th 2010

Terrorism - Coastal Bus Massacre
Coastal Bus Massacre

Two parcels of land, Ramat Shlomo and El-Bireh are symbols. In Jerusalem and in Ramallah’s sister city respectively, both stand for the eternal hopes of two peoples. In the wake of the recent flare-up between the Obama Administration and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, these two sites, which became the subject of news stories at the same time, say volumes about the intensity of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

They also say much more about the intentions of both sides for the use of these parcels of land and about the goals of two peoples. East Jerusalem, annexed by the Israeli Government following its capture during the Six-Day War of 1967, is the administrative and spiritual capital of Israel and has been the subject of longing for the Jewish people for millennia. The intended construction of 1,600 apartments there signals the goal of providing homes for Jews in the capital—viewed by Israelis as indivisible. El-Bireh is a sister city of Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority, which was established following the 1993 Oslo Accords between the Palestinians and Israel. The intentions that the Israelis and Palestinians have for these respective sites are starkly different. Even if one argues about the strategy of security both sites epitomize, there are very real differences for what they symbolize. Read more ..


Inside Latin America

Is Mexico the Next Climate Change Hot Spot?

March 22nd 2010

Latin American Topics - Mexican Marine in Boat

With a confluence of climate and non-climate drivers, the ubiquitous presence of land degradation, and an irregular geographical population and land distribution, Mexico, not just Chile, stands out as a candidate to witness the next environmental shock and its consequences and an exemplary potential hotspot for environmentally-induced migration in Latin America. Its adjacency to the United States has in part facilitated international migration as a viable coping strategy. Migration exponentially rose in the 1980s following the economic hardships stemming from Mexico’s economic strategy of liberalization imposed upon the country’s poor and led by President Zedillo and before him President Salinas de Gortari.

There has been a growing out-migration of environmentally induced migrants from the arid northern region, already estimated by the mid 1990s at 900,000 per year. When Washington decides to include environmentally motivated migration as a factor in its migratory policy, it might first address it in regards to Mexico, due to the latter’s status as the largest immigration feeder country into the United States. This may set a precedent for how the issue is approached in the rest of the Western hemisphere. Read more ..


Arab World Elections

Hope on the Nile

March 15th 2010

UN Topics - Mohammed El Baradei
Mohamed ElBaradei

In the most interesting development in Egyptian politics in years, former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei is eyeing an improbable challenge to six-term incumbent president Hosni Mubarak—or his son Gamal—in September 2011. While Egyptian law and Mubarak’s authoritarian regime will no doubt prevent ElBaradei from getting on the ballot, his flirtation with entering the race has, at least temporarily, energized a demoralized electorate.

ElBaradei has a biography with popular appeal. The son of the former head of the Egyptian Bar Association, ElBaradei served for three terms as the head of the international nuclear watchdog. In addition to winning the Nobel Peace Prize in his role as head of the IAEA, in 2006 he received Egypt’s highest honor, the Greatest Nile Collar, awarded by President Mubarak himself, for his service to the Republic.

Since his retirement from the IAEA in December 2009, ElBaradei has been making headlines criticizing governance in Egypt, and, in late February, when he returned to Cairo for a 10-day visit after decades working abroad, he was welcomed at the airport by thousands of supporters. During his trip he gave a slew of television interviews condemning the absence of democracy, the slow pace of reform and the need for change in his country. Read more ..


Inside Latin America

Hillary Clinton meets with Challenges on Latin American Tour

March 8th 2010

Latin American Topics - Cristina Fernandez Kirchner & Hillary Clinton
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Hillary Clinton

On March 1, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embarked on her five-day tour of Latin America. The trip came in the wake of immensely destructive earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, the legacy of an ousted constitutionally-elected president in Honduras, the threats raised by an Iran-Brazil nuclear partnership, and the first female president being elected in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, until these recent natural disasters grabbed the headlines, the United States’ presence in Latin American affairs had been reduced to a minor distraction by the Iraq war.

Beginning with the now all but forgotten Monroe Doctrine of 1823, and continuing with a constant assortment of invasions and covert operations, Latin America has long been considered the United States’ “backyard,” today an antique notion. However, coming with the presidency of Barack Obama, it seemed as if Washington would be turning its back on its legacy of manipulation and intervention. Sadly, up to this point, the Obama White House has not given the American people anything strikingly new or inspiring. Read more ..


Inside Latin America

Challenges Ahead for Venezuela's Hugo Chavez

March 1st 2010

Latin American Topics - Hugo Chavez - beer goggles

All 167 seats of the Venezuelan National Assembly will be in play this coming September, and the current 141-seat controlling stake of ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) appears to be at risk. Amid growing internal economic upheaval and violent street protests, Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s embattled president, is facing a sharp decline in his personal popularity and the possibility of a significant gain by the opposition in the upcoming legislative elections. Chávez has continued to use his soapbox to concoct fiery speeches, earning him additional enemies and alienating his friends due to his pugnacious style of rule and confrontational habits.

Leadership: Consolidation and Corruption

Shuffling his cabinet in recent weeks, Chávez has tightened his circle of advisers to an unprecedented degree in a very short span of time. As his strategy to restore public faith in his government’s qualifications and to continue to serve his fellow Venezuelans oscillates, his recent call to further consolidate power among his supporters in the country has prompted concern among those in the international community who refused to acknowledge any claims to his worthiness. Some are troubled by what they see as a trend towards burgeoning autocracy in the country. Following a local banking scandal in early December, in which his brother Arne was implicated as a major player, Science and Technology Minister Jesse Chacon resigned from his post. He had been a close confidant of Chávez for years. Read more ..


Edge of Mideast Politics

Haiti is No Gaza

February 22nd 2010

Israeli Military - Israeli Rescue team in Haiti

Dubai-based columnist Aijaz Zaka Syed recently penned an op-ed that appeared in multiple publications claiming that Israel was hypocritical for sending medical teams to earthquake-ravaged Haiti while ignoring the plight of Gazans.

“If the Israelis have reached out to the Haitians by swiftly dispatching a medical team, it’s laudable,” he wrote. “But why those moved by a tragedy on the other side of the world can’t see what’s been happening right under their noses for years?”

Syed also mentioned the “plane-loads of relief and aid supplies” that Arab and Muslim countries have sent, suggesting that the lack of publicity is not known because Arab countries are not particularly media-savvy. Read more ..


Edge of Financial Recovery

Germany faces a Bailout of Greece and Reassessment of EU Monetary Structure

February 15th 2010

Europe Topics - Euro money

The situation in Europe is dire.

After years of profligate spending, Greece is becoming overwhelmed. Barring some sort of large-scale bailout program, a Greek debt default at this point is highly likely. At this moment, European Central Bank liquidity efforts are probably the only thing holding back such a default. But these are a stopgap measure that can hold only until more important economies manage to find their feet. And Europe’s problems extend beyond Greece. Fundamentals are so poor across the board that any number of eurozone states quickly could follow Greece down.

And so the rest of the eurozone is watching and waiting nervously while casting occasional glances in the direction of Berlin in hopes the eurozone’s leader and economy-in-chief will do something to make it all go away. To truly understand the depth of the crisis the Europeans face, one must first understand Germany, the only country that can solve it. Read more ..


Engaging Cuba

No "Common Policy" as Europe Grapples with its Future Ties with Cuba

February 8th 2010

Latin American Topics - Cuba

In January, Spain took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Despite being deeply affected by the global financial crisis, Spain confidently proclaimed ambitious objectives for its term at the head of the EU, including the cancellation of the EU’s “Common Position.” The latter defines the EU policy towards Cuba that has been in place since 1996. During his two-day visit to the Caribbean island last October, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos stated that Spain wants “to give up the Common Position in order to obtain bilateral agreements.”

Undoubtedly the motivations behind Spain’s initiative are at least partially economic in nature. Moratinos explained that the Iberian nation has negotiated for Cuban authorities to pay their debts to Spanish companies. Cuba’s president Raúl Castro has promised to repeal the payment block of approximately $300 million due to the 280 Spanish companies currently operating in Cuba or have some other financial stake in the country. After strong opposition from Eastern European members, states such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, Spain eventually withdrew its initiative, allowing the EU to maintain the Common Position for the present time. Read more ..


Venezuela on the Edge

Chavez Risks Popular Support with Currency Devaluation and Inflation

February 1st 2010

Latin American Topics - Hugo Chavez - beer goggles

On January 8th, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced the devaluation of his country's currency, the bolivar. In his address, Chávez distinguished between two classes of products, establishing separate exchange rates for “essential” and “non-essential” goods.

This news prompted concern for inflation among Venezuelan citizens and followed other signs of trouble that have been afflicting the country, such as severe drought, rolling blackouts in order to ration electricity, and aggressive rhetoric accusing the United States of violating Venezuelan airspace.

Although the currency devaluation could yield positive results for the long-term development of the Venezuelan economy, immediate political factors seem to have provided the primary motivation for the government’s decision-making at this time. The dual exchange rates expose the interrelated economic and political motives that led to the currency’s devaluation. Read more ..


Inside the Vatican

Making Sense of Pope Benedict's Relationship with Jews

January 25th 2010

Christian Topics - Pope Meets Jewish leader

By this stage, outsiders trying to make sense of Pope Benedict XVI’s approach to Jewish-Catholic relations might be forgiven for wondering if the pontiff suffers from an undiagnosed case of schizophrenia.

After all, this is the pope who made a point of visiting a Cologne synagogue in 2005 on his first foreign trip, and Auschwitz on his second, only later to revive a controversial Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews. More recently, this is the pope who rehabilitated a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop and who announced that Pope Pius XII (whose alleged “silence” during the Holocaust remains a bone of contention between Jews and Catholics) is a step closer to sainthood, only to visit Rome’s Great Synagogue on January 17 to express his “esteem and affection” for Judaism, and to pledge that the “faces, names, tears and desperation” of Holocaust victims must never be forgotten.

So, the obvious question in many Jewish minds likely is: Will the real Benedict XVI please stand up? Read more ..


Diplomacy on the Edge

Turkey-Israel Relations—Straining to a Split

January 18th 2010

Islamic Topics - Turks Protesting Israel

The recent diplomatic spat between Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and the Turkish ambassador Oguz Celikkol was the worst thing that could have happened to the already strained Ankara-Jerusalem ties.

Relations between Turkey and Israel have weakened dramatically since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Ankara in 2002. In the aftermath of the Ayalon-Celikkol incident, bilateral ties between the states face their biggest crisis since they established diplomatic relations in 1949.

To save its ties with Turkey, Israel needs to implement a strategy that tackles the AKP's anti-Israeli policies and rhetoric without simultaneously offending the Turks. As difficult as this balance sounds, it is Israel's only choice. Given the AKP's mostly negative attitude toward Israel, if the proud Turkish public is offended by Israeli actions, it would certainly sound the death knell of Turkish-Israeli ties. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Yemen and the Resurgent Al-Qaeda Threat

January 11th 2010

Islamic Topics - Yemeni Tribesmen

The failed attempt to bomb an American airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day has focused attention on the rising threat posed by the al-Qaeda franchise based in Yemen, long a stronghold for radical Islamist forces.

Yemen offers al-Qaeda many advantages: the protection of friendly tribal leaders opposed to a weak central government, the support of radical Muslim religious leaders, porous borders that facilitate covert movements and offer a back door to Saudi Arabia, and a sympathetic population that has been spoon-fed anti-Western propaganda for decades by militant Islamists and pro-Soviet Marxists. To combat the growing threat of terrorists based in Yemen, the U.S. should work with the beleaguered Yemeni government, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and other threatened countries to attack al-Qaeda's regional leadership, disrupt its operations, and diminish its ability to launch terrorist attacks. Read more ..


Libya on the Edge

Reforming the Rogue: Lessons from the U.S.-Libyan Rapprochement

January 4th 2010

Arab Topics - Muammar Qaddafi

In December 2003, Libya agreed to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, a key precondition for resumed relations with the United States. This decision set the stage for a new U.S.-Libyan rapport, and despite Libya's failure to adequately meet several other conditions, the United States considered the agreement a success.

This lack of complete Libyan compliance was not surprising, for cooperation with Washington runs counter to Muammar Qadhafi's ideological framework. Indeed, despite the U.S. stipulation that Libya end its longstanding support for terrorism, Libya contributed $340,000 to a plot to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2003. This incident suggests that while Libya's open support for terrorism may have waned, many of its policies and interests remain unchanged.

Washington considers the deal worthwhile, as it resulted in the end of Libyan WMD programs. But Libya also benefited greatly from the agreement. Qadhafi's primary goals were the return of international oil companies, increased domestic stability, and a higher international profile for Libya. The deal provided all these perquisites.

Today, for example, Libya enjoys a seat on the UN Security Council and chaired the last UN General Assembly; Qadhafi is leader of the African Union. While these positions have not provided Libya all the prestige for which it had hoped, the state has derived a kind of crude international legitimacy from these leadership roles. Read more ..


Iran on the Edge

Islam vs. Iran's 'Islamic Republic'

December 28th 2009

Iran - Iran Election Protest

A new opportunity is now emerging for the "Green Movement" in Iran to demonstrate opposition to the Islamic Republic and the manipulated presidential election results earlier this year. Friday, December 18 marked the beginning of the months of Muharram and Safar in the Islamic lunar calendar. For the regime in Tehran, gaining control of the streets has become gradually more difficult since the Green Movement turned all officially sanctioned political ceremonies into opportunities to wage protests against the Islamic Republic. The coming two months, however, represent the first time that a religious opportunity has come up.

Mourning Means Revolting

In Shiite tradition, Hossein, the third imam -- meaning both political leader and spiritual guide -- led a noble but ultimately unsuccessful revolt against the unjust rule of the Muslim caliph Yazid. The tenth day of Muharram, or Ashura, marks the bloody end to this revolt in October 680 of the Common Era, when Hossein faced off against Yazid's army at Karbala. Once Hossein's forces had been defeated, he and some seventy of his disciples, along with all the male members of his family, were brutally killed. Since then, Hossein has occupied a special place for Shiites. He gained the title "Master of Martyrs," and in the course of Islamic history his image has been influenced by pre-Islamic mythology as well as Christian scripture. Remembrance of the passion of Hossein and his sacrifice, as well as the suffering of his family and disciples, has served as a locus for sustaining Shiite identity. The events of Ashura are viewed by Shiites as the defining moment when they split from the mainstream Sunni sect and the caliphate. By extension, Shiites have long connected mourning for Hossein, and his divine sacrifice, with the principles of truth and justice as opposed to unjust and cruel leadership. Read more ..


Inside China

Unfriendly Skies: Taiwan’s Exclusion from UN Agency Undermines Air Safety

December 21st 2009

Asia Topics - China airlines

In recent days, the United Nations celebrated International Civil Aviation Day, commemorating the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (also known as the Chicago Convention, after the city where the agreement was hammered out by delegates from 54 countries) which established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), now a specialized agency within the UN system charged with developing international air transport “in a safe and orderly manner…on the basis of equality of opportunity and operated soundly and economically.” Read more ..


Inside Islamic Europe

Growing Concern over Imposition of Violent Islamic Law in Spain

December 14th 2009

Islamic Topics - Muslims praying in Spain
Muslims praying in Lerida, Spain

Sources in Spain’s Ministry of Interior express growing concern over the rise of Islamic law, known as sharia to Muslims, and the increase of Muslim separatism. In Spanish mosques, groups are emerging which promote Islamic judges and policing that have a growing influence over Muslims living in Spain. While this has long been known in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and France, it has now been detected in rural areas of Catalonia and in towns such as Tarragona, Gironés and Segarra.

The mosques in question are almost uniformly in the control of Salafist jihadis. Such jihadis have espoused separatism and violent struggle with the West at least since the 1980s.

Muslim clerics in Catalonia, for example, call upon the faithful to not befriend native Catalonians nor belong to Catalonian civic organizations. The imams demand that Muslims buy only “halal” food (e.g. meat slaughtered according to Muslim ritual), and that they avoid banks since these ostensibly violate Muslim abhorrence of usury. Muslim parents are warned to not allow their daughters to use the gymnasiums in the schools nor on any account should they use swimming pools. Muslims are told to remove their daughters from school upon the first appearance of menstruation. Read more ..


Economic Recovery

Using Bankruptcy and Capital Standards For Financial Institutions "Too Big to Fail"

December 7th 2009

Economy - Wall Street Bull

One of the worst aspects of the financial meltdown of 2008 was watching the government give billions of dollars to distressed financial institutions because, unlike most other types of businesses in the United States, there was no system for the orderly restructuring of a failing large financial institution. Rather than allow the financial system to collapse, firms ranging from AIG to Citibank to Bank of America received hundreds of billions of tax dollars in capital infusions and loans -- much of which has been lost for good. To ensure against a reoccurrence, Congress needs to modernize bankruptcy laws to create an expedited method to restructure and close such large and complex financial firms.

Many experts now feel Congress should also increase capital standards in a way that discourages financial firms from reaching the point that their failure could endanger the entire financial system.

Large, complex firms comprise a significant portion of the world's financial industry. These businesses are so tightly interconnected that the failure of one could cause the others to fail. Of these, a few "too big to fail" firms are so large that one failure could bring down the entire financial system. Normally, large firms that fail can be handled through the bankruptcy process, but the current law is unsuitable for today's large financial services firms because the value of their assets is determined as much by faith in the financial system as by more traditional measures. Their assets can become worthless within minutes or hours, as can similar assets held by other financial entities. Read more ..


Edge of Climate Control

Oil Companies Press Industry-Enviro Group on Refinery Emissions

November 30th 2009

Environment Topics - Smokestacks

An internal document circulating among members of an industry-environmental coalition that favors action on global warming provides a window into the oil industry's fight to scale back mandates in Democratic climate-change bills.

The U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), formed with a huge splash in early 2007, helped provide an early push for cap-and-trade legislation by uniting several big green groups, large utilities, and major oil companies Shell, ConocoPhillips and BP. But the oil industry says current Capitol Hill plans would create costly burdens and companies inside and outside the group are seeking major changes to requirements for refiners. The document circulating within USCAP offers a different approach for addressing emissions from car and truck tailpipes.

Sources inside the group say the document has been circulated by ConocoPhillips and BP, but that it also reflects concerns voiced by other companies in the refining industry. Refiners object to Democratic bills that require them to obtain emissions allowances to cover both their facilities' direct greenhouse gas output and the larger emissions from the use of their products in transportation. Read more ..


Inside Saudi Succession

Succession and the U.S.-Saudi Relationship

November 23rd 2009

Arab Topics - King Abdullah2
King Abdullah

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 U.S. policy concerns: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East peace process, and energy.

The character of the U.S.-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 U.S. support for Israel. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Holder Dials Back his Commitment to Pushing Assault Weapons Ban

November 16th 2009

Politics - Assault Weapons

Attorney General Eric Holder is retreating on his commitment to pursue a controversial gun-control measure. Holder's statements, recently delivered to senators in writing, clearly indicate the Obama administration is in no rush to reinstate the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.

In response to written questions from Senate Judiciary Committee members, Holder adopted a much different tone on the ban than he did in February, when he said, “As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons.” That comment attracted many headlines, but the nation's chief law enforcement officer is now downplaying his earlier remarks. Read more ..


Turkey on the Edge

Germany's New Cabinet Reluctant on Turkey's EU Accession

November 9th 2009

Turkish Topics - Turkish Anger

On October 25, a coalition government in Germany, comprising the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU), and Free Democrat Party (FDP), formed a new cabinet. The following statements by prominent representatives of Germany's new coalition partners -- voicing both strong opposition to Turkey's EU accession by the CDU-CSU and a milder but skeptical anti-Turkish stance by FDP -- demonstrate the serious challenges for U.S. policy posed by Turkey's push for EU membership.

German statements strongly against Turkey's EU Membership include:

"Not membership, but privileged partnership," said Angela Merkel (CDU), German chancellor, May 11, 2009. The day before in a conference with French president Nicolas Sarkozy, she said, "Accepting Turkey to the EU is out of question."

"Turkey's accession would overtax the EU," was the position of Wolfgang Schauble (CDU), German minister of finance on October 28, 2009. Schauble on his website has enunciated "Six reasons against Turkey's EU accession:” Read more ..


Turkey on the Edge

Rift between Turkey and West Shakes Middle Eastern Order

November 2nd 2009

Israel Topics - Erdogan and Peres
Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Shimon Peres

Turkey has initiated a series of unexpected diplomatic departures from its long time Western allies, the United States, Israel and NATO, creating a potential tectonic shift in the Middle Eastern balance of diplomatic power and indeed global relations.

The first tremors of this movement began when Turkey requested that Israel not participate in a joint NATO military exercise scheduled to begin between October 12 and October 24 in the central Turkish city of Konya. The exercise dubbed “Anatolian Eagle” combined forces from Israel, Italy, the U.S. and NATO. Following Turkey’s request to exclude Israel, the U.S. and Italy all withdrew participation in the exercise. Turkish officials stated, "The feeling is this was not the right time for such an exercise.” The Israeli military reacted by saying the drill was delayed "indefinitely.” Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Taliban's War on Pakistan -- Lessons and Options

October 26th 2009

Islamic Topics - Taliban soldiers

The war between the Taliban and Pakistan continues to accelerate. Following a long string of Taliban attacks, Pakistan’s army is still in the midst of a massive ground operation in Waziristan.
 
But through this already-long fight, the press and other observers have only focused on the continuing bloodshed rather than the fact that the Taliban continue to launch suicide bombers and other types of attacks inside Pakistan’s cities against its police and military forces. There was ample warning two years ago that the Taliban’s war on Pakistan’s government and civil society, would widen following the assassination of Prime Minister elect Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. And so it is today. Read more ..


Inside Saudi Succession

The Allegiance Council and the Complex Saudi Succession Question

October 19th 2009

Arab Topics - King Abdullah2
King Abdullah

Since the Saudi announcement of the formation of an Allegiance Council in October 2006, most observers have assumed that it would have a major role in the appointment of a new crown prince and even a new king, but such a conclusion is increasingly far from certain.

The declared role of the council is to help appoint a crown prince after Abdullah dies and Sultan becomes king. As such, it was probably an idea that surprised Sultan, who most likely had assumed that he could choose his own crown prince. Under the new system, his choice would need to be approved by the wider family. And if Sultan's choice were voted down, he would have to accept a compromise pick selected by the other members of the council.

The creation of an Allegiance Council showed the limits of Abdullah's power. Since it would not come into operation until Sultan became king, theoretically, as king, he could simply change the rules of the council or abolish it completely. A further indication of the constraints on Abdullah's authority, or perhaps just another case of slow Saudi administration, was the December 2007 announcement of the council's members more than a year after its creation.

The setting up of the council seems to indicate Abdullah's belief that the arrangement from the time of Fahd's first stoke in 1995 until his death in 2005 was most unsatisfactory. The core aspects of the new council's articles deal with the possibility of either the king or crown prince—or both—being ill, or both dying. In the event that neither the king nor the crown prince is deemed fit to rule, a five-member transitory council would run state affairs for a week at most, choosing a new king and crown prince. But the articles did not truly grasp the challenge of an increasingly aged and decrepit leadership passing power to the next generation. Read more ..


Health Care Reform

Congress's Health Care Reform Bills: The Unknown Costs

October 12th 2009

Social Topics - Medical bag

All five of the congressional committees charged with drafting health care legislation have completed their plans. The congressional leadership will soon consolidate these measures into single pieces of legislation for their respective bodies, and floor votes in both the House and Senate are expected soon.

What is yet unknown is the true cost of these bills. Given the rapid evolution of these measures, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)—Congress’s official scorekeeper—has yet to issue a complete and final cost estimate.

Without such critical information, it is of course impossible to assess key promises made by President Obama and congressional leaders on whether these bills will rein in costs for families, businesses, and government; not add a “dime to the deficit”; and not raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 a year. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iran Faces a Final Chance on Their Nuclear Program

October 5th 2009

Politics - Evan Bayh
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind)

The United States is now in face-to-face, multilateral negotiations with representatives of Iran’s regime and offer them a final chance to verifiably terminate their illegal nuclear program or face the strongest sanctions in the history of their republic.

The pivotal talks also will help to answer a fundamental question at the heart of Iran’s future: Will the country’s ruling clerics choose to behave as leaders of a rational nation-state and embrace policies based on a cost-benefit analysis of what is in their national interest?

Or will they embrace global confrontation, driven by religious extremism and hatred of Israel, the United States and Western civilization?

Recent events do not inspire optimism. Consider Iran’s provocative missile tests on the eve of negotiations and just days after the disclosure of a secret Iranian nuclear enrichment facility at Qom. Consider the smoking-gun revelation of a covert atomic facility unsuitable for civilian energy production — revealed as global leaders gathered in New York to discuss the regime’s behavior — unmasked the true nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Read more ..


Edge of Financial Recovery

Shifts in consumer spending and saving will change economy for years

September 28th 2009

Economy - Wall Street Bull

Consumer spending will lag rather than lead the recovery from the current recession, according to University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin.

"In the coming years, U.S. consumers will save more and spend less," said Curtin, director of the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers. "The recovery will be slow and uneven, and it could take a decade or more for consumers to restore their sense of financial security to pre-recession levels."

Although the preliminary, mid-month consumer sentiment index of 70.2 for September signals that consumers think the worst is over, the fundamental changes in how consumers view their economic situation and its impact on their spending will persist for some time.

Conducted by ISR since 1946, the Surveys of Consumers play a unique role in shaping public policies and business decisions, based on its demonstrated ability to provide an accurate gauge of consumer reactions to the changing economic environment. Read more ..


The Drug Wars

Drug War Needs a Debate As Much as a Battle Plan

September 21st 2009

Social Topics - Narcotics

In what was to become a growing trend throughout much of Latin America, the Mexican government unleashed its security forces against the drug cartels several years ago in what ended up being a failed effort at interdiction. The strategy was then to change: On August 23, 2009, Mexico City announced that it would be eliminating jail time for possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. President Felipe Calderón said that the new law would free up law enforcement resources. Now, Mexican officials can focus on the larger and more lethal drug cartels, rather than cluttering Mexico’s criminal justice system with cases dealing with petty drug dealers and small-time addicts.

While many Mexicans were indifferent about the new law, Washington could not conceal its disappointment with its neighbor. In addition to Mexico, both Brazil and Uruguay later announced the elimination of measures harshly penalizing citizens carrying small amounts of drugs. Likewise, Argentina is planning to enact a decree exempting drug users from the criminal justice system. On September 8, 2009, the Mexican president asked his Attorney General, Eduardo Medina Mora, a key figure and hard-liner in the government’s war on drugs, to step down. This occurred after criticism of the government further escalated when drug lords executed 18 people outside a rehab center in Juarez. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Why Organized Labor Supports Government Health Care

September 14th 2009

Politics - Unions

Unions strongly support President Obama's health care reform, which includes a plan for a government-run "public option" that would crowd out private health insurance. Labor publicly argues that the current health care system serves Americans poorly.

However, unions also have self-interested motives for promoting government-run health care: The legislation includes a $10 billion bailout of union retiree health plans and a nationalized health care plan that would lead to millions of new dues-paying union members as government employees unionize more frequently than private sector workers. National health care would also reduce unionized companies' competitive disadvantage.

Incidentally, unions do not support all health care reform plans. When Senators proposed taxing health benefits to pay for health care reform--a tax that would disproportionately fall on union members--the labor movement threatened to derail the legislation.

Unions Pushing for Government Health Care

Unions strongly support health care reform and have made supporting a "public plan" that would lead to a government-run single-payer system their top priority. In fact, after opponents protested at town hall meetings this summer, the AFL-CIO spent $15 million to stage counter-demonstrations with union members.

Why has organized labor made government-dominated health care such a priority? The AFL-CIO publicly argues that the "real-world toll of soaring health care costs, lack of insurance and systemic flaws in our health care system must come to an end." They further state that their goal "is to win secure, high-quality health care for all." Many union leaders and activists do genuinely believe this. However, the labor movement has not spent such large sums of money campaigning for health care reform out of disinterested concern for the common good: Unions will benefit immensely if the government takes over the health care system. Read more ..


North Korea’s Nukes

North Korea Remains "A Looming Threat"

September 7th 2009

Korea Topics - Kim Jong-IL
Kim Jung II

The U.S. is threatened with a number of challenging military situations: Iran, and its recalcitrant regime; a muted, but not defeated, Hamas; an increasingly hot war in Afghanistan; and, of course, the North Koreans. Though style has certainly changed in the Obama Administration, often the substance of policy has not. In the most difficult case, that of N. Korea, the alternatives are shockingly constant: confrontation or capitulation. They may be dressed up in Six-Power talks or in ‘humanitarian gestures’ (everyone who believes that former Pres. Clinton’s actions - noble though they may be - were not drenched in symbolism [we don‘t negotiate with terrorists] and thereby ‘political’ raise your hand), but there is an unerring constant: either we will stand up to an aggressive, repressive, and brutal regime or we will negotiate and capitulate, at least partly, to its demands. 

Kim Jung II is well aware of the current state of our great nation. He understands that we are spread frightfully thin, that it appears that our social policy is going through a transformation and that we are facing the greatest recession since The Great Depression.

To add, we have a president who seeks to court leaders around the world regardless of their willingness to unleash fear, terror and chaos among their people. To add to this pile, Kim Jung II has always been an eccentric character, who delights in public attention. If there were any time to make a bold move against the US that time would me now. After all, he is not going to live forever. Read more ..


Inside Africa

Despite the West's Good Intentions, Africa Remains Poor and Famished

August 31st 2009

Africa Topics - Kenya Poverty

Winston Churchill called the Ugandan protectorate the “Pearl of Africa” because of the lush vegetation, pretty undulating hills, flora and fauna, bright colours under the equatorial sun, the majesty of the Nile, ever-warm climate and fertile soils. Even hot northern Uganda, where most Ugandans have never ventured because of a twenty-year insurgency that ended two years ago, produces good crops owing to a regular rain pattern. Only the parched north-east, home to the more traditional Karamojong people, sidelined during colonial times, occasionally experiences famine.

But this year, famine has struck most of the east as well as other parts of the country. Eighteen months ago this area, which is generally swampy, had El Nino floods, followed by low rainfall during the rain seasons. People here live by subsistence farming, and, when rainfall is favorable –as is usually the case- sell their cassava, maize, pineapples, bananas and other tropical fruit, in local towns or the capital, Kampala. When rains fail, -which they are not expected to do - there is no safety net, and famine occurs.

In the middle of August, Robert Zoellick, World Bank president, visited the area to see how Uganda can move towards “commercial farming and greater food security.” Although, territorially the smallest of the original three East African countries, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda –to which have recently been added even smaller Rwanda and Burundi- Uganda has 47 percent of all arable land in the region. Yet, the lack of investment and financing, traditional practices and attitudes, and huge areas given over to plantations, have prevented subsistence farming climbing to higher levels. Zoellick repeated what others have said many times before, that Uganda has the potential to be the bread-basket of the region. Read more ..


Inside the Mideast

Our "New Friend" Syria

August 24th 2009

Arab Topics - Bashar Assad headshot
Syrian President Bashir Assad

American relations with Syria have been frosty, if not downright icy for decades. Starting with Syrian involvement in the 1976 Lebanese Civil War along with the subsequent occupation of Lebanon and arming of Hezbollah, the diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Syria has been poor.

The list of problems is long: complicity in the 1983 Hezbollah bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut as well as the Iranian-sponsored rearming of Hezbollah after the 2006 war with Israel; the 1982 destruction of Hama by then president Hafez Assad, killing an estimated 10-25,000 people; the UN finding of Syrian involvement in the car bomb murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others; al Qaeda and related insurgent organizations grouping in eastern Syria and infiltrating Iraq; and the open sponsorship of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Damascus. These are some of the factors intensifying the belligerence between America and Syria.

This list is not complete without the Syrian-North Korean cooperation on missiles and building a nuclear facility (since destroyed by israel), and Syrian-Iranian economic, political and military relations, including public approval by Bashir Assad of the "re-election" of Iranian President Ahmadinejad in June. Read more ..


Iran’s Nukes

More Needed to Effective Sanction Iran’s Nuclear Program

August 17th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Gal Luft

In an effort to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, Congress has set its sights on the Islamic Republic's foreign gasoline dependence. The logic is straightforward: Iran, it has been widely reported, is an oil giant that nonetheless imports 40 percent of its gasoline; internationally coordinated sanctions stopping it from obtaining enough could pain the regime into rethinking its nuclear ambitions. Little wonder the bipartisan Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, introduced in both the Senate and the House, enjoys the support of at least 74 senators and 294 representatives.

There is just one problem: Iran is much less vulnerable to gasoline sanctions than is commonly believed on Capitol Hill, and its foreign gasoline dependence is dropping by the day.

The little-known reason is that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has imposed dramatic measures to eliminate this strategic vulnerability. He has massively expanded the country's refinery infrastructure. Seven of Iran's nine existing refineries are undergoing expansion projects; seven new refineries are on the drawing board or already under construction. In three to five years, these projects will double Iran's refining capacity, putting it on par with Saudi Arabia.

These efforts, in addition to an effective petrol rationing scheme, have slashed Iran's need to import petroleum products. As of this fall, Iran's daily gasoline dependence will stand below 25 percent. This figure is expected to decline even further to roughly 15 percent over the next year as new refining capacity comes online. By 2012 Iran is projected to be gasoline self-sufficient; shortly after that, the Islamic Republic is likely to become a net gasoline exporter. Read more ..


Honduras on the Edge

After a Month Without Zelaya, Honduran Crisis Deepens with No Quick Solutions in Sight

August 10th 2009

Latin American Topics - Manuel Zelaya Rosales
Ousted Honduras President Manuel Zelaya

Although the de facto Micheletti regime has stated that it supports the San Jose Accord, events on the ground indicate that it is not pushing for the reinstatement of ousted Honduras President Mihurel Zelaya. Zelaya’s return is complicated by an entrenched interim government; a restoration of the deposed leader would only be possible through extreme international pressure. Zelaya’s border spectacle aimed at keeping the deposed president in the headlines, since his visibility is somewhat fading. Indeed, as Honduras marks a month since Zelaya’s removal from power, the prospects for a negotiated settlement to the Honduran crisis further dim.

Although the tiny and very poor nation has managed to capture the world’s attention for a few brief days in late June, both sides have since entrenched their positions, rendering dialogue all but an impossible proposition. Normality has returned in most of the country and, apart from several road closures by Zelaya supporters, there appears to be little of the street violence which marked the days immediately following Zelaya’s ousting. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Economic Sanctions and Other U.S. Policy Options to Deter Iran's Nuclear Surge

August 3rd 2009

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

Many in Congress question the utility and applicability of targeted financial measures as part of a strategic policy, leveraging all elements of national power, to deal with the threats presented by Iran's nuclear program. As a former deputy assistant secretary of the treasury who participated in the department's outreach to the private sector as early as 2006, I am often asked why I support the use of targeted financial measures-- both formal sanctions and informal outreach to the private sector -- if the use of these tools has not thus far stopped Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon. If these efforts have neither altered the decision-making of Iranian leaders nor disrupted Iran's ability to continue developing its nuclear program, are they really effective?

The answer: targeted financial sanctions were never intended to solve the problem of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Sanctions are no silver bullet. On their own, these financial tools can only do so much. But coupled with other tools -- especially robust diplomacy, but also a credible military presence in the region -- financial measures can effectively create leverage for diplomacy. That diplomacy should focus not only on Iran, but on Russia, China, our European and Asian allies, the Gulf States, and others. Read more ..


Arabs and the West

Original Mideast Peace Plan Recognized Jewish State in Return for Arab Nation in Syria

July 27th 2009

Book Covers - Banking on Baghdad

This article is based on the Banking on Baghdad--Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Dialog Press). Buy it here

Every day, politicians and pundits talk of another chance at Mideast peace missed, delayed or subverted. The focus is always on Palestinians and Israelis as the keystone to a global settlement with the West and across the region. But in the original peace arrangement between the Jews, Arabs and the Western powers, it was not settlements and Jerusalem that were at the heart of the problem. In fact, the Arabs originally agreed to a Jewish state complete with massive Jewish immigration. For Arabs, the prize was not Palestine, it was Syria.

This is the story of how the original Middle East Peace Plan crafted among all sides in the aftermath of World War I was subverted—not by Jews or Zionists, but by the French.

It begins at the Paris Peace Conference, on January 1919, in a flag-bedecked, battle-scarred—but victorious—Paris. There, the great top-hatted Allied men of vision and illusion gathered to remake the world and invent the post-Ottoman Middle East. At those fateful meetings, the Arabs and Jews formally agreed to mutually endorse both their national aspirations and live in peace.

This was the deal: The Jews could have an unrestricted Zionist state in Palestine. The British could have Iraq and its fabulous, albeit still undrilled, oil. The Arabs only wanted Syria and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the Arabian Peninsula.

During the first days of the League of Nation’s Paris Peace Conference, Faisal, accompanied by T.E. Lawrence, widely dubbed "Lawrence of Arabia," met in Paris with Zionist Organization president Chaim Weizmann. Following up on meetings the two leaders had held the previous June in Aqaba, Faisal signed an enlightened and tolerant nine-point agreement endorsing the Balfour Declaration and inviting the Zionists to coexist in Palestine. The text includes great specificity about mutual national aspirations. But the chief goal of the Arabs for an Arab national state at that time was not Palestine—but Syria. The text: Read more ..


America and Iran

How Persian Gulf Naval Action in 1980s Impacts the Current Iranian Military

July 27th 2009

Iran - Iranian Warships

Tehran came away from the confrontations with the United States in the 1980s convinced that Iran’s strategic and tactical approach had been sound, but that its operations had been technologically flawed. In early 1990, Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) leaders met in Tehran and concluded that mining and IRGCN small boats provided an effective counter to the superiority of the U.S. Navy. For Tehran’s naval officials, the disaster of Operation Praying Mantis revealed that they could not contend with the Americans in a conventional engagement, but that their asymmetrical operations had proven successful. Their mining campaign succeeded, with one mine in ten finding a target. The mines stopped the first convoy of the world’s most powerful navy, and a $1,500 SADAF-02 mine inflicted $96 million in damage to the USS Samuel B. Roberts.

Read more ..

Energy Politics

Cap and Trade--False Profits for False Prophets

July 20th 2009

Environment Topics - Smokestacks

As soon as a coin in the coffer rings
A soul from purgatory springs.

So went a mantra from 16th-century Europe, when salvation -- or, so the idea went -- could be purchased by anyone willing to pay the price: sold to the sinner for cold hard cash. Sins were absolved, sinners sanctified, offenses forgotten. Money, not the commitment to a better life, promised that debauchery and divinity could cohabit in the ledgers of the holy treasurer.

By virtue of a self-promoting religiosity, these indulgences, as they were called, purported to place spiritual caps on the consequences of forbidden acts. A weekend of decadent and intemperate living brought no punishment for breaking with accepted piety.

In theory, at least, a person could excuse all the depravity he wanted, as long as those indulgent acts were economically sanctioned by appropriate authorities. Contrary to the hopes of the sinner, however, financial machinations had not the power to sanctify the sinner. The sins remained even when the money did not. Read more ..



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