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Egypt's Second Revolution

The U.S. Gets a "Mulligan" in Egypt

July 12th 2013

Chief Justice + President Mansour

Egyptian Army Commander and Defense Minister Abdul Fattah al-Sisi was faced in Cairo with that experts say was the largest human gathering in history -- somewhere between 17 and 30 million people -- demanding a chance to redo the 2011 revolution. A "mulligan," so to speak. The military responded by removing Morsi and announcing that it would not rule, but rather manage a civilian-run transition.

The Obama administration should be pleased. Having made a mess of Egypt by abruptly withdrawing support from a longtime ally; by failing effectively to express its displeasure with 18 months of military rule that included the arrest of American and Egyptian NGO workers; and by accepting without comment Mohammad Morsi's power-grabs, increasingly heavy-handed imposition of Sharia law, and violence against minorities, the U.S. is essentially getting its own "mulligan." Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Getting Erdoğan Wrong

July 12th 2013

Erdogan

In the aftermath of Turkey's urban uprisings, many have expressed bewilderment at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's outlandish reaction. Whereas the Prime Minister had multiple opportunities to prevent the demonstrations from escalating, he never missed an opportunity to miss those opportunities, lashing out at foreign and domestic enemies for planning a protest movement that was so obviously spontaneous. As Erdoğan and his mouthpieces have blamed everyone from foreign media and airlines to the "interest rate lobby" and "Jewish diaspora," Erdoğan is rapidly becoming a liability to his foreign friends. President Barack Obama is sure to regret having mentioned Erdoğan as one of the five foreign leaders with which he has the closest "friendship and bonds of trust". Indeed, Erdoğan's Turkey has taken on an important role in Obama's policy toward the Middle East, and according to numerous sources, Erdoğan is among the foreign leaders Obama speaks with most frequently. But Erdoğan's authoritarianism is not new. Anyone watching Turkey for the past several years has had plenty of opportunity to see Erdoğan's slide. Did the White House not know or not care? And what should American policy toward Turkey be now? Read more ..

Inside South Africa

Mandela--A Life-Changing Experience

July 11th 2013

Mandela

In February and March of 1990, I had a profoundly life changing experience.

At the time I was working for Robert J. Brown, former aide to President Nixon, as a VP for the international division of Mr. Brown's B&C Associates. The position required my spending many months in South Africa.

Never in my life had I felt and seen such racism. The raw ugliness of racism was laid bare in South Africa as I had, nor have to this day, ever seen in America. Blacks were treated as chattel and subhuman.

I was treated as such until they heard my accent or saw my passport. Suddenly, I was ok to the racist throngs and treated with all respect. Only my US passport differentiated me from other blacks, but apparently that was enough.

Very quickly, this exposure started to harden me and for the first time hate started to seep within my heart.

But then, on February 11, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years. Mr. Brown had been a friend to Mandela and his wife Winnie, and due to that friendship he arranged for me to be one of the first to interview Mandela and act as his personal secretary following his early release from prison. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama's Job Approval Ratings are Not Just Sagging, They are Down

July 10th 2013

Obama pensive with flag

The president’s poll numbers are no longer sagging. They’re just plain down. Looking at the Gallup poll’s daily tracking trend line of President Obama’s job approval, the president has been at 45 or 46 percent since the end of last month.

More importantly, he has been upside-down, with higher disapproval than approval, for six of the past eight tracks. Let’s put those numbers into context.

At no time in the first five months of the year was Obama upside-down for multiple days in a week. And during the same period, never did Obama’s approval drop to 45 percent. But in June, it tested that bottom in five daily tracks.

Will there be resistance at that level to dropping lower? Or is the core of Obama’s support — his base — still smaller yet, allowing his approval ratings to drop even more? I say he’ll test the low forties before the year is out, maybe even this quarter. What is going on? Read more ..


Broken Government

Grand Budget Bargain? No, Congress Would Prefer To Fight

July 9th 2013

Congress-senate

Barring a miracle, budget bargains, either grand or petty, are not in the cards this year. The Congress would prefer to fight. It is happily at war with itself over immigration, student loan interest rates, the farm bill, energy policy and the like. The president has abandoned his charm offensive, and is chasing other butterflies.

With no other candidates in sight, it is not surprising that tax reform has re-emerged as the major economic issue in Washington.

In the Senate, Finance Chairman Baucus and his Republican counterpart, Sen. Hatch, announced that they would soon begin work on a tax bill. The Senators intend to start clean, with a bill stripped bare of all tax preferences. Senate Finance Committee members were warned that they would have to amend that bill with any preferences they wished to restore or add. Read more ..


Broken Government

Time for Reid to Go Nuclear

July 8th 2013

Juan Williams 02

With the July 4 recess over, the fireworks now begin for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
In the next month, the Nevada Democrat’s legacy as leader will be set with a decision on the so-called “nuclear option.”

Will he be the majority leader who allowed the Senate to sink into dysfunction in the face of Republican refusal to allow President Obama to select Cabinet members and judicial nominees? Or is he the majority leader who will be remembered for fighting back against the GOP’s strategy of obstruction through paralysis?

Time is running out for Reid to get any political value from calling for a vote to blow up the current 60-vote requirement to end filibusters. At the end of the month, the August recess will arrive and then comes September and the start of the Congress’ transition to the 2014 campaigns, further draining any remaining momentum from  Obama’s reelection victory.

So, in the next three weeks Reid will have no choice but to take action or accept defeat. Having passed its immigration bill, the Senate now gets back to its failure to confirm the president’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, and his choice for Labor secretary, Thomas Perez. In addition, the president has a nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — Richard Cordray — also waiting for Senate attention. Last month, Obama forced the political world to look anew at the Senate’s inaction when he named three nominees to vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Hillary and Healthcare

July 7th 2013

Hillary Clinton in blue

As the chaos continues surrounding implementation of the new healthcare law, the 2014 election campaign begins and jockeying for the 2016 presidential campaign is underway, the two most intriguing political questions surrounding the healthcare law are these:

First, how will Democrats running for the House and Senate in 2014 discuss healthcare during the campaign

Second, if Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016, how will she discuss healthcare going into the presidential campaign?

Let me begin with my conclusion. Democrats should not be trapped into defending the healthcare status quo. They should champion and defend the most effective and popular aspects of the law, and champion more aggressively than ever the more progressive (and popular) reforms that should have been included in the reform law but were not. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

The West Must Back the New Egypt

July 6th 2013

Chief Justice + President Mansour

The turnaround in Egypt is a once in a generation opportunity. Can Western, and Arab, leaders seize it?

The Egyptian army has ousted the elected Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohammed Morsi. Gigantic anti-Morsi demonstrations forced the hand of the armed forces. An interim, secular, government will take office, headed by the Chief Judge of the Constitutional Court. The parliament and the constitution are abolished. This is a huge setback for the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafist allies. It is potentially a triumph for liberal, secular, Christian and mainstream Muslim Egyptians.

Now what? Egypt still faces a disastrous economic and financial crisis that cannot be put off for more than a few weeks at the most. It faces hunger, unemployment and social unrest. With the best will in the world the new government will have an almost impossible task before it. Some commentators have even suggested that it would be better if Morsi had survived, because then he and the Brotherhood would have been blamed for the collapse. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Kerry Stands a Chance with Israelis and Palestinians

July 5th 2013

John Kerry

In his latest round of talks culminating early this week, Secretary of State John Kerry spent close to twenty hours in separate meetings with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Afterward, he declared that "real progress" had been made and that the parties could be within grasp of launching final-status negotiations.

Kerry has visited the Middle East five times over the past few months, yet peace-process expectations have been low for each trip due to several factors: Although numerous polls clearly show that Israelis and Palestinians favor a two-state solution, each side has convinced the other that they do not, and that an agreement is therefore impossible at the moment. However, expectations are low during this round of behind the scenes wrangling.  Read more ..


Egypt’s Second Revolution

Why What Happened in Cairo Isn’t a Coup

July 5th 2013

Tahrir square at night

The Obama Administration has stated that the recent events in Egypt were a coup by the military, when this is not the case. What happened in Egypt was not a coup—it was a revolution by the Egyptian people.

In office for only one year, Morsi broke three key promises. The first promise was to restructure the constitution drafting assembly to include all sectors of Egyptian society, which he did not do.

The second broken promise was appointing three Vice Presidents including a Coptic, a woman, and a young revolutionary leader, which again he did not do.

The third broken promise was that he would form a national united government. One week after being in office he appointed a Muslim Brotherhood ally, Counselor Ahmed Mekky as Vice President. After that, he appointed another Muslim Brotherhood ally, Dr. Hisham Kandeel as Prime Minister of the new government. Read more ..


Broken Borders

Boehner's Dilemma

July 4th 2013

john Boehner

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is very likely to pass an immigration reform bill, but its content is unknown.

The Speaker’s desire to act on reform is based on a vocal consensus of the national Republican Party leadership that’s correctly advised him that the GOP cannot be the impediment that blocks reform. Stung by the overwhelming Latino vote for President Obama in 2012, all the Republican leaders grasp that the bill must pass in some form. It is important that Boehner remove the issue from the national stage by passing the bill and ending an irritant that keeps Latinos voting Democratic.

The perfect solution for Republicans is the approach charted by Texas Sen. John Cornyn: border security before immigration reform. Cornyn’s approach demands that the border be sealed before any legalization begins. He articulates conservative fears that amnesty will trigger its own flow of new illegal immigrants into the U.S. unless they are physically barred from entering. We do not need millions more in the purgatory of limbo waiting for Congress to act. Sealing the border needs to come first. Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

After the Egyptian Coup, Uncertainty Reigns in the Muslim Brotherhood

July 4th 2013

Wounded Egyptian Protester

It is unclear what will become of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the July 3 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. In the short term, the world's oldest and largest Islamist movement will continue to denounce the coup and engage in protests which, coupled with the security crackdown on the Brotherhood, will likely result in violence. Eventually, however, the group will try to revive itself by re-assimilating into Egypt's political institutions, though it is in no hurry to attempt to reclaim the presidency.

On July 4, Egyptian security forces continued to hold members of the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership, particularly those affiliated with its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. In addition to Morsi, who remains in what military authorities are describing as "preventative" detention, many key figures such as supreme guide Mohammed al-Badie; his deputy and the movement's top strategist and financier, Khairat El-Shater; and Freedom and Justice Party chief Saad El-Katatny have been taken into custody -- as have hundreds of others. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Kerry Stands a Chance with Israelis and Palestinians

July 3rd 2013

John Kerry

Kerry has visited the Middle East five times over the past few months, yet peace-process expectations have been low for each trip due to several factors:

Although numerous polls clearly show that Israelis and Palestinians favor a two-state solution, each side has convinced the other that they do not, and that an agreement is therefore impossible at the moment. For example, in a just-released joint poll by Hebrew University's Harry Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 68 percent of Israelis and 69 percent of Palestinians said that the chances of establishing an independent Palestinian state next to Israel in the next five years are low or nonexistent. Both sides see past diplomatic failures as vindicating their prism of analysis, creating deep skepticism about the prospects for progress.

Netanyahu and Abbas have been hesitant. At a Likud Party meeting this week, Netanyahu declared that he did not want to publicly announce concessions because it would only weaken Israel's bargaining position. On a more basic level, both leaders are risk-averse; neither wants to get out ahead of the public or be branded as quixotic. They are also convinced that any progress would mobilize hardline elements within their own polity to take action against them. Thus far, they have preferred to let sleeping critics lie. Read more ..


The Middle East on Edge

Arab Leaders Believe ‘Reaching a Two-State Solution is to Betray God’

July 2nd 2013

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Writer and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali offered some frank words on the prospect for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians in a wide-ranging interview with Israel Hayom, saying “From the perspective of the Arab leaders, reaching a two-state solution is to betray God, the Koran, the hadith and the tradition of Islam.”

Hirsi Ali, who was born to a Muslim family in Somalia, has become a firebrand in recent years, speaking out against Muslim extremism around the world.

In her early twenties, upon learning of plans for an undesirable arranged marriage, she made her way to Holland, where she applied for asylum. She began publishing critical articles about Islam, the condition of Muslim women, and co-directed a film with Theo van Gogh who was subsequently murdered by an Islamist.

Hirsi Ali says that the two sides, the Israelis and Palestinians, have diametrically opposed concerns, and this has lead to the current stalemate.

“…the main problem is that you may speak of a peace process, but what you get is a process, not peace. And why is this process so prolonged? Because for the Israelis this issue is a territorial problem. For the Palestinian negotiators, on the other hand, it is not a territorial problem but a religious and ethnic one, It is not only about Palestinians but about all Arabs. Most of all, it is a religious problem.”

Hirsi Ali continues: “But there is no agreement as of today, because on one side it has become religious jihad of all or nothing, while on the other side it is still a territorial issue. Of course I know that there are Israelis who also perceive this as a religious problem; but their numbers pale in comparison to the Muslim side.” Describing Islam as an “Orthopraxy”— something that must be fought for, Hirsi Ali says that what is needed most— compromise—is unlikely to be attainable.

“More and more leaders see that this conflict is not going to be resolved Western-style, namely that all conflicts are resolvable and no-one leaves the table empty-handed,” she says. “In a culture dictated by honor and shame – in addition to the religious issue – defeat of any kind, accepting a compromise, is to leave the room empty-handed. Compromise is loss in this culture. It is very hard to explain this to contemporary Westerners.” Read more ..


Israel on Edge

American "Guarantees" are a Foolish Offer

July 2nd 2013

Dome-of-the-Rock

How much territory does Israel need to be secure in the absence of peace with its Palestinian neighbors? Is that different from how much security Israel is entitled to under that circumstance? Who decides? And why is an American general trying to find out? These are not trick questions -- they should be.

General John R. Allen, USMC (ret.) has been made a "special advisor" to both Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel, ostensibly to determine Israel's "objective" security requirements. But in fact, his mission is yet another attempt to determine what American or international security guarantees would induce Israel to withdraw from territory in the absence of a durable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. According to a source in The Washington Post, "The rationale behind reaching understandings on U.S. security guarantees at this point is to render certain Israeli security demands from the Palestinians moot and thus remove them from the negotiating table." The Post added, "Allen's team was dismayed by the initial Israeli discussions, which participants described as less substantive and less cooperative than U.S. officials were expecting, given that Allen's job was created to address Israeli security concerns." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Russian Troubles in Syria

July 1st 2013

Civil war

It is tempting to watch American foreign policy and Russian foreign policy and assign all the naiveté and sloppy thinking to one and all the clever, chess-playing skills to the other. But that would be wrong. Neither side is very clever and Russia's hand -- and that of the Arabs, Turkey and Iran -- looks even less good today than it did a month ago.

The Russian government has announced the pullout of all Russian military forces from Syria, including those who were in the naval base at Tartus, Russia's only (small) toehold in the region. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the pan-Arab newspaper al Hayat last week, "Today, the Russian defense ministry does not have a single person in Syria." He also downplayed the significance of Tartus, saying the base "does not have any strategic importance." Read more ..


Broken Education

Democrats Blow It on Student Loan Interest Rates

June 30th 2013

College expenses

A glimmer of hope in the debate over student loan interest rates briefly appeared this week with the release of the first bipartisan proposal to address the impending doubling of interest rates on subsidized student loans, only to be dashed by the Democratic leadership in the Senate.  The new proposal, from a group of senators including three Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent, offers a permanent fix to the now-annual problem of Congressional meddling with interest rates by instead tying rates to the market.

The bipartisan compromise bill one-ups existing proposals by not only heading off the doubling of interest rates on subsidized loans, but also reducing rates on the unsubsidized loans taken out by millions of students from middle-class families each year.  By charging higher rates to graduate students and on the PLUS loan program for parents, the overall plan is close to budget-neutral according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Is this plan the ideal policy?  Plans aimed at achieving political compromise almost never are, and this one is no exception.  For example, it leaves in place subsidies to students that are better delivered through up-front grants that directly reduce the cost of college.  And estimates of the policy’s costs are still made using a methodology that does not adequately take into account the risk inherent in student lending. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

The Gezi Diaries: Can We Still Call Turkey Civilized?

June 29th 2013

Turkish-anti-gov-protest

Some see it as a modern democracy with an Islamic tint, an improving, reforming country. But if you were in Istanbul during the last month and a half, you’d have seen something completely different: a violent, authoritarian, increasingly suppressive and brutal regime. Tales from the Dark Side, Turkish style.

I’ve always been a critic of armchair reporting. But when your armchair is four blocks away from Taksim Square, it has one of the best views of the uproar in Istanbul any diligent reporter could ask for. I’m now able to calculate with great precision the time between the beginning of the screaming, the sound of the shot, and the entry of the gas through my window. It’s two and twelve seconds respectively. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Talk to Iran’s New President. Warily.

June 28th 2013

Hassan Rowhani

The election of Hassan Rowhani as Iran’s new president has created a sense that there are new possibilities of progress on the nuclear issue; we need to respond, but warily. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, allowed Mr. Rowhani to win the election, recognizing that he had run against current Iranian policies that have isolated the country and invited economically disastrous sanctions. But it isn’t clear why Mr. Khamenei allowed such an outcome, and here are some theories that have been proposed:

• He believes that Mr. Rowhani’s election could provide a safety valve for the great discontent within Iran.

• He believes that Mr. Rowhani, a president with a moderate face, might be able to seek an open-ended agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that would reduce tensions and ease sanctions now, while leaving Iran room for development of nuclear weapons at some point in the future. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Breaking the Silence 2.0

June 28th 2013

Soldiers at ready

Once again the fallacies of the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS) are making headlines, this time directly from the IDF. Barak Raz, spokesman for the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division, correctly blasted the group and its actions, stating that "Breaking the Silence is an organization that engages in nothing – but nothing – other than a smear campaign targeting the IDF. This smear campaign has nothing to do with rooting out their observed problem. Furthermore, none of their work helps the IDF (or Israel, for that matter) provide a solution."

Notwithstanding such criticisms, BtS has become the poster child for groups like J Street and others on many North American campuses that want to engage in "honest debate" about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. In reality these groups do nothing more than fuel a skewed view of Israel in order to pressure Israel to succumb to Palestinian demands, thereby only contributing to the isolation of the Jewish state. Further, it is also the pervasive tactic employed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) in their political warfare against Israel. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Amid Islamization and Anti-Semitism, Is Turkey Fit for EU Membership?

June 27th 2013

Turk flags

It’s a familiar pattern. The citizens of a Middle Eastern state explode with frustration against their corrupt, repressive government. They gather for noisy, impassioned demonstrations in their capital city. The authorities react violently. Images of middle-aged women and wheelchair-bound individuals being tear-gassed, clubbed, and sprayed with water cannon race across social media platforms like wildfire. The protests then spread to other cities. The authorities step up their repression.

And then, inevitably, the country’s political leaders snarl that outside forces are stoking the discontent. Newspapers and websites are suddenly full of lists of American neoconservatives, illustrated with lurid graphics that superimpose the logos of organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over pictures of demonstrations. No one needs to say the word “Jew” in order to know who’s being referred to here. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Marriage on the Rocks: Economic and Social Consequences for Kids

June 26th 2013

Students

It is usually assumed that marriage and family are the bedrock on which societies are built. Parents provide the necessities of life for their offspring; parents are children’s first teachers; parents provide an important part of the discipline children need to learn and thrive; parents teach values and appropriate behavior to their children; and the extended family is a source of traditions and values that provide a sense of belonging to something big. But after four decades of fundamental changes in the structure of American families, it is wise to consider the impacts of these changes on subsequent generations and the traditional way of American life.

First, the changes. Here is a succinct summary: between 1970 and 2010, marriage rates declined by nearly 75 percent for 20 to 24 year old women and more than 30 percent for 30 to 34 year old women; nonmarital births increased by over 280 percent; the percentage of women age 35 who are single with children increased by over 120 percent; and about 60 percent of men and women who marry cohabited prior to their first marriage. These are momentous changes in the American way of love, romance, and family formation. The fact that these trends have been going on for four decades, mostly at a fairly steady clip, leads to the conclusion that they are permanent and will be difficult to change. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Will Secretary Kerry Comply with Palestinian 'No Jews Allowed' Policy?

June 25th 2013

John Kerry Shimon Peres and Palestinian dude

The next time U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Ramallah, will he actually violate U.S. law to make sure there are no Jews among his entourage, lest he upset his Palestinian hosts?

"We will approve the meeting on condition there are no Jews."

This is what you are likely to hear these days if you request a meeting with any senior Palestinian Authority official in the West Bank. Palestinian journalists who try to arrange meetings or interviews with Palestinian Authority representatives for Western colleagues have become used to hearing such things almost on a daily basis. Just last week, for example, a journalist who requested a meeting between Western journalists and a top Palestinian Authority official was told "to make sure there were no Jews or Israelis" among the visitors. Read more ..


The Afghanistan war

Abandoning Vietnam, Er, Afghanistan

June 24th 2013

Obama

The Taliban carefully scripted the kerfluffle to embarrass the United States. Its not like we didn't know they were in Qatar. For eighteen months, Doha has been the scene of sometimes secret, sometimes leaked U.S. talks with the Taliban -- and without the Afghan government.

But this week, Taliban representatives inaugurated a large and ornate building, complete with a flag and a banner proclaiming the diplomatic office of "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." The "Islamic Emirate" also released a statement that said, inter alia, that it "never wants to pose harms (sic) to other countries from its soil, nor will it allow anyone to cause a threat to the security of countries from the soil of Afghanistan," an apparent overture to the United States. There was an announcement then that the Obama Administration would open "peace and reconciliation" talks with the enemy of our presumed ally, Hamid Karzai. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Teheran and Islamic Fundamentalism: Facing Realities

June 24th 2013

Iranian clerics

  


The enthusiastic media response to the election of the “moderate” and “reformist” Hassan Rouhani is reminiscent of the unrealistic drivel which greeted the “Arab Spring”. Indeed, there was perhaps greater justification for the misplaced optimism over the downfall of despotic Arab leaders than in the election of this Mullah, one of eight candidates approved by Ayatollah Khamenei from a pool of 686.

While Rouhani is far more sophisticated than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (a Holocaust denier who continuously called for Israel to be wiped off the map), he is no moderate. In the past he sought to cover up Iranian nuclear development, and during the recent elections reiterated that he remains adamantly committed to Iran’s nuclear project. In 1999 he supported the brutal suppression of the Iranian student protest. As a member of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, he was also fully au fait with Iranian global terrorist attacks including the 1994 bombing at the Buenos Aires Jewish community center (AMIA) which killed 85 and injured hundreds of others. Rouhani still unhesitatingly refers to Israel as the “great Satan”. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

About That War on Terror

June 23rd 2013

Syrian Rebel w/SAW

Now that President Barack Obama has decided the United States must provide direct military support to the Syrian opposition and Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with "Friends of Syria" who are reportedly already providing  heavy weapons including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, some American observers warn that the main players in that opposition are in fact jihadists. If helping al -Qaeda take over Syria sounds a little strange, it's worth pointing out that it is consistent with U.S. policy in Libya.

Not, of course, that the Administration puts it that way. Obama, speaking May 23, 2013, at the National Defense University, referred several times to the situation in Libya. In his analysis, extremists gained a foothold there due to "unrest in the Arab World." The only way to fix this problem is to combat poverty and sectarian hatred, while "patiently supporting transitions to democracy" there and elsewhere in North Africa. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Hassan Rohani and the Nuclear Question

June 22nd 2013

Rowhani

Hassan Rohani, the winner of the recent presidential election in Iran, is no novice, having served as a national security adviser for 16 years between 1989 and 2005, under Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. It was in this capacity that he became Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator during the talks between Iran and the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany) between October 2003 and August 2005. His negotiating record during those years provides a glimpse into how he is likely to treat the nuclear file now that he is president.

True, the ultimate control over nuclear matters in Iran is in the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces. In the West there has been a tendency to forget this, and hence overstate Rohani's possible influence over developments in the nuclear arena. In a June 14 interview with the BBC, British former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described Rohani as "someone we can do business with."

Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

How to Not Inspire Confidence

June 21st 2013

Obama with baseball bat

This is what happens when the President of the United States is dragged into making foreign and defense policy decisions, instead of determining American interests and then making policy to suit. And it is what happens when the president fails to make a clear case for those policies not only to the American public, but also to his own cabinet.

It had been understood that senior members of the Obama administration wanted to provide arms to Syrian rebel forces in opposition to the Assad regime. Before leaving office in February, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, accompanied by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, told Congress that the DOD supported arming the rebels. The New York Times reported that then-Secretary of State Clinton and then-CIA Director David Petraeus favored arming them as well. President Obama, however, was opposed. Read more ..


EMP Warfare

EMP, Congress & The SHIELD Act

June 20th 2013

Minneapolis skyline

On June 18, the Congressional EMP Caucus held a public event to launch the SHIELD Act that would protect the national electric grid from a natural or manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP) It works like a super-energetic radio wave that can damage and destroy all electronic systems across vast regions, potentially across the entire continental United States. EMP is harmless to people in its direct effects. But it would create the failure of critical infrastructures that sustain our lives, such as electricity , water, communication and literately everything we depend on  today; trains will collide, planes could crash and ships could sink. Anyone with an implanted medical devise could die, banks will shut down as will their ATMs…and on and on.  Clearly, the indirect effects of EMP would be genocidal. EMP is a high-tech means of killing millions of people the old fashioned way–through starvation, disease, and societal collapse. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

And the Winner is... Iran's Nuclear Program

June 19th 2013

Hassan Rohani closeup

The Iranians are the best strategists in the Middle East, better than those in the West, and the reason the Iranians constantly succeed in out-maneuvering the West.

In the West, we constantly look for ways not to engage in military conflict; the Iranians are more than willing to offer us those ways. We will almost assuredly give the new president Hasan Rouhani time to "consolidate" his position, thereby granting Iran even more time to develop its nuclear weapons capability. That is the meaning of this Iranian presidential "election."

Of the 686 men who wanted to run for president, the Guardian Council, totally under Khamene'i's control, chose eight candidates. All of them clearly supported Khamane'i's continued rule, which so many of the Iranian people, including senior clerics, loathe. So the choice for Iranian voters was not between candidates with widely differing views. Nevertheless, within that narrow framework, there were differences. Whoever the people actually voted for (we have no way of knowing how free and fair the election was), this result was one of the best of all possible outcomes -- for the Iranian regime. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Why the Current Syria Policy Doesn't Make Sense

June 18th 2013

Syrian rebels and M-60 antitank gun

President Obama's decision to arm Syrian rebels -- after resisting such a course for nearly two years -- has come under some withering criticism. Marc Lynch, who has long opposed military intervention in Syria, calls it "probably his worst foreign policy decision since taking office," while Daniel Larison casts it as "certainly one of the two or three worst [decisions]." Despite being on the opposite side of the debate -- I began writing in favor of military intervention nearly a year and a half ago -- it is hard to disagree with their assessment that providing "small arms" to the rebels is unlikely to make much difference.

What makes Obama's decision so unsatisfying -- and even infuriating -- to both sides is that even he seems to acknowledge this. As the New York Times reports, "Mr. Obama expressed no confidence it would change the outcome, but privately expressed hope it might buy time to bring about a negotiated settlement." Read more ..


The Defense Edge

America's Promises to Troops: Choice Between Weapons and Benefits

June 16th 2013

Stryker ICV

America likes the idea that we have made a solemn promise to generously compensate our military service members. After all, the argument goes, how can we ever fully repay them for risking their lives for us? Providing  benefits like low-cost premium health care, comfortable pensions, housing allowances, grocery discounts, tuition assistance, tax breaks and much more, feels like the right and honorable response.

Because so few serve on behalf of the rest of us, the nation has wanted to ensure we give the very best to those who risk death on the battlefield. Americans view it as their obligation, as well, to take exquisite care of those personnel and their families after they return from combat.

There is, however, another unspoken contract between Americans and our forces in uniform: we will make sure you get the best weapons and technology, along with the best intelligence, training and logistics money can buy. The goal is simple: we want to ensure you are never in a fair fight. Should fighting start, we tell them, we’ve done everything we can to make sure the enemy will die and you will live. Read more ..


Broken Economy

Why Isn’t Disruptive Technology Lifting Us Out of the Recession?

June 15th 2013

Unemployment Line in California

The weakness of the economic recovery in advanced economies raises questions about the ability of new technologies to drive growth. After all, in the years since the global financial crisis, consumers in advanced economies have adopted new technologies such as mobile Internet services, and companies have invested in big data and cloud computing. More than 1 billion smartphones have been sold around the world, making it one of the most rapidly adopted technologies ever. Yet nations such as the United States that lead the world in technology adoption are seeing only middling GDP growth and continue to struggle with high unemployment.

There are many reasons for the restrained expansion, not least of which is the severity of the recession, which wiped out trillions of dollars of wealth and more than 7 million US jobs. Relatively weak consumer demand since the end of the recession in 2009 has restrained hiring and there are also structural issues at play, including a growing mismatch between the increasingly technical needs of employers and the skills available in the labor force. And technology itself plays a role: companies continue to invest in labor-saving technologies that reduce demand for less-skilled workers. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The West’s New Syrian War

June 14th 2013

Executed Pile of Syrian Men

One day people will ask how the United States and several European countries became involved in mass killings, genocide, corruption, arms smuggling, and the creation of another anti-Western and regionally destabilizing government. Even if a single Western soldier is never sent, the West is on the verge of serious intervention in Syria. The choices are unpalatable and decisions are very tough to make but it appears to be still another in a long history of Western leaps in the dark, not based on a real consideration of the consequences. At least people should be more aware of the dangers. As I entitled a previous book on Iran (Paved with Good Intentions), the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. People are dying and suffering in Syria. That’s true. But will this make more people or fewer people die and suffer? Read more ..


Broken Education

Higher Education is a Scam that Favors the Wealthy

June 13th 2013

Graduates

We have all heard the horror stories of crippling student debt and graduates that are lucky to land minimum wage retail jobs. But one part of the college scam that is not receiving much attention is the admissions process. No longer are good grades and good test scores enough to get you into a desirable university. No, it takes greater resources, time, and existential insight. These new conditions favor the affluent and unscrupulous.

Rich students dominate most top universities. These bastions of higher learning claim to want “diversity,” and generally are ethnically, religiously, and even geographically diverse. However, socio-economic differences are sparse. You can point out that lower income families are either intimidated by the possible cost of those schools, or simply are ignorant of the financial packages available for their children, but that trying to blame the family/student rather than the problem inherent in the system.

That problem is the ever increasing cost of jumping through the right hoops and creating the appropriate narrative in order to gain admittance. You can pay $30,000 or more a year per child to send them to a top prep school. There they will be properly challenged, get to play a second tier sport like lacrosse, and be offered the chance to build orphanages in Africa so their resume looks properly polished for an Ivy school. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Implications for Israel in the US Global Retreat

June 12th 2013

Samantha Power

The appointment of Samantha Power as America’s UN ambassador combined with recent US foreign policy statements, reinforce concerns that the US administration is accelerating its policies of global withdrawal, engaging rather than confronting rogue states, and appeasing Islamic extremism.

Ms. Power is on record for dismissing concerns about the Iranian nuclear threat. In addition, whilst favoring greater US assertiveness in relation to human rights issues, she seems to have a somewhat jaundiced moral relativist approach, jointly bracketing Israelis and Palestinian “crimes”. On one occasion she even called for the US to intervene militarily on behalf of the Palestinians against the Jewish state.

Indeed, in an article published 10 years ago entitled “Why do they hate us?” Powers perversely compared US behavior to that of the Nazis. While describing as “ennobling and cathartic for Germany”, Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling in the Warsaw ghetto to demonstrate atonement for the crimes of the Nazis as “ennobling and cathartic for Germany”, she implied that the United States should make a similar apology for its global policies. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Price of America Not Leading in the Conflict in Syria

June 12th 2013

syria-killing

This story has generated a buzz here at Doha, Qatar, where I've been attending the Brookings Institution's U.S.-Islamic World Forum. A number of well-informed people believe that President Obama is indeed inclined to begin arming the Syrian opposition.

Let's hope so. The hour is getting late. Last Wednesday, Hezbollah conquered the Syrian town of Qusayr. The week before, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, appeared on television and vowed to save the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The timing of the speech made it clear that taking Qusayr was crucial to that goal. The town sits on the most important route between the Hezbollah-controlled areas of Lebanon and the Assad-controlled parts of Syria. In rebel hands it was a wedge driving the two apart.  Read more ..


Broken Government

PRISM is Indeed a Really, Really Big Deal

June 12th 2013

Click to select Image

By now nearly everyone has heard of the National Security Agency (NSA) spy program called PRISM, in which the spooks are scooping up all the metadata of telephone calls from the United States overseas along with many within the U.S. itself. A related collection program, we are told, captures the actual content of emails sent abroad. Seeing the figure 97 billion for the pieces of data recorded merely during the month of March 2013 certainly raised my eyebrows. In an editorial today, June 11, 2013, the Washington Post declares that the spy programs result from “a checked, deliberative process across three branches of government.” This issue is far too important to permit rhetoric to drive the debate. The Post's assertion goes to the heart of the controversy and demands our attention.

“Checked” in this formulation suggests that NSA requests for authorization, along with any from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) or other entities of the intelligence community, are carefully examined before approval. Carried out by an agency of the Executive Branch, the locus of approval for PRISM is clearly the White House. These are secret operations, but we know already from a controversy that arose during the Bush administration over an earlier version of this same surveillance, when President Bush was not aware of the extent of the spying and Justice Department officials were ready to resign over its continuation, that White House knowledge was limited at best. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Leaking Secrets Empowers Terrorists

June 11th 2013

Smart Phone in hand

Once again, the tanks-have-rolled left and the black-helicopters right have joined together in howls of protest. They were set off by last week's revelations that the U.S. government has been collecting data that disclose the fact, but not the content, of electronic communications within the country, as well as some content data outside the U.S. that does not focus on American citizens. Once again, the outrage of the left-right coalition is misdirected.

Libertarian Republicans and liberal-progressive, if you prefer-Democrats see the specter of George Orwell's "1984" in what they claim is pervasive and unlawful government spying. These same groups summoned "1984" in 2001 after passage of the Patriot Act, in 2008 after renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, and many times in between and since. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Arab World Fears the ‘Safavid’

June 10th 2013

Syrian Jihadis

In an interview on Al-Jazeera this past May, the commander of the Free Syrian Army, Brig. Gen. Salim Idris, explained that the diversion of Hezbollah forces from Lebanon to Syria to take part in the civil war was part of a “Safavid” plan for the Middle East region.

This past January, an article in the influential Lebanese daily As-Safir accused Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of receiving assistance from his “Safavid allies.” After the powerful Sunni Muslim leader, Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi, condemned Iran for its actions in Syria, the Muslim Scholars Association of Lebanon warned that the Sunni Arabs were facing “the spreading Safawi project.”

Indeed, over the last decade, the term “Safavid” has become a commonly used derogatory word among Arab leaders for the Iranians. American journalist Bob Woodward describes a harsh diplomatic exchange in one of his books between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and a high-level U.S. official about the 2003 Iraq War, in which the Saudi leader states: “You have allowed the Persians, the Safavids, to take over Iraq.” By using the term Safavid, Arab leaders were making reference to the Safavid Empire and imputing hegemonic motivations to the current Iranian government, suggesting that Iran is seeking to re-establish their country’s former imperial borders. Read more ..



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