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America and India

India Helpful as U.S. Join Asian Maritime Grouping

November 6th 2012

Cargo Ship

Last week, India assisted the U.S. in securing dialogue-partner status in the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), a 20-member grouping of littoral nations of the Indian Ocean. India and the U.S.—as well as other Indo-Pacific nations such as Australia, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia—share an interest in maintaining free and open trade routes in the Indian Ocean region. While the grouping has so far done little in terms of concrete solutions for improving maritime security, it is still important for the U.S. to take an active part in dialogue on these issues. The rise of China and its economic, military, and diplomatic heft are increasingly felt in the region. The U.S. joined as the sixth dialogue partner along with China, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and Egypt. Iran had objected to Washington’s taking part in the group, and thus India (the group’s current chair) stepped in to defend U.S. membership.


The Obama Edge

The Obama Doctrine: Keeping Enemies Closer

November 5th 2012


When Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, the committee expected he would make "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." More than three years later, Mr. Obama has failed to meet expectations, but it has not been for lack of trying. His administration has consistently promoted international harmony and downplayed the root causes of global strife. And in so doing he has given an opening to adversary states and extremist movements to pursue their interests at America's expense.

One difficulty in assessing Mr. Obama's policies towards U.S. competitors is that the administration carefully avoids acknowledging that adversary states exist. This outlook was typified in the 2010 National Security Strategy. With the exception of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, the strategy does not identify any countries as standing threats to U.S. interests. The challenges the White House will acknowledge—such as violent non-state extremist groups, nuclear proliferation, global warming, economic contraction, and the spread of pandemic disease—come across as free-floating phenomena unconnected to state actors. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney Win Would be a Victory for Shameless Cynicism

November 5th 2012

Juan Williams 02

If Mitt Romney defeats President Obama in his bid for reelection on Tuesday, it will mark the success of one of the most deeply cynical political campaigns in American history. It is hard to beat an incumbent no matter the economic climate.

It is even harder to be a Republican in the aftermath of President Bush’s still widely criticized time in the White House, which included two wars and an economic recession.

And it is really hard to go against the first black president, who faced no primary opposition and has a unified party behind him.
In the last 100 years only Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford lost their bids for reelection. President Lyndon Johnson did not run for a second term.

So a Romney victory would defy the odds. But it will be even more memorable for its brassy, pioneering political strategy — one designed for the current era of political polarization and Twitter.

Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign broke ground on this strategy. Despite Bush’s lack of a combat record, the Bush team turned challenger John Kerry’s military service on the frontline of the Vietnam War into a weakness by “Swift-boating,” or attacking, Kerry’s military record.

Romney’s campaign has followed that game plan. For example, Romney attacked Obama’s handling of national security despite the president’s success in killing America’s top enemy, Osama bin Laden. Romney tried to find political gain by faulting Obama’s handling of the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Libya and his response to Iran’s nuclear program. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

You Can Kiss Petraeus Goodbye

November 5th 2012

"Petraeus Throws Obama Under the Bus," was William Kristol's headline to his blog in the Weekly Standard, on October 26th. In effect, Kristol had cut a tree in the forest seemingly with no one around, and if it made a noise in Washington it was not discernable. 
Kristol noted that a CIA spokesman who reported on "breaking news" on Benghazi, declared that "No one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate." This statement was probably made "at the direction of CIA director David Petraeus." But Kristol did not ask: "Tell us, General, what took you so long to issue that statement?"

By waiting more than two weeks before issuing the statement, Petraeus had managed to throw himself under a bus of his own making. It is obvious that the CIA fingerprints are all over the Benghazi operation.  It ran its own safehouse with what seems to be a score of actives. But as it turned out, not all the actives were CIA personnel. The Pentagon had issued a commercial contract shortly after the demise of Muammar Qaddafi a program to secure and/or buyback weapons that had belonged to the Libyan leader's weapons stockpile.  Of special importance was the reported plethora of hand-held ground-to-air weapons whose use by terrorists could be devastating.   Read more ..

The Arab Winter of Rage

The NGO Trial in Cairo

November 4th 2012

Egyptian Kid at Rally

Late November was to see  an end to the trial of 43 NGO employees charged with leading unregistered organizations and receiving illegal foreign funding.  Closing arguments have now been postponed to December 2, verdicts and sentencing to come a month or two after that.

These proceedings have been denounced by the United States, though we have done very little beside making speeches. While Egypt’s new government has continued with these prosecutions, various members of President Obama’s cabinet have visited Cairo and announced that they found President Morsi to be a dedicated supporter of democracy. Yet the trial has a chilling effect on NGO and civil society activity, and on financial support for it.

The verdict in this case will tell us a good deal about the direction in which Egypt is heading: toward an open society where individuals and groups can challenge the government and the Muslim Brotherhood, or a closed system much like the one over which Hosni Mubarak presided–only with the Muslim Brotherhood rather than the Army at the top and excluding voices it does not wish to hear. Read more ..

America After Sandy

Heroism Once Again as Disaster Strikes New York and New Jersey

November 4th 2012

Hurricane Sandy New York

As we struggle through the aftermath of the worst storm in New York’s history, my thoughts turn to the first responders -- firefighters, police officers, EMS worker -- and the role they played in the last great tragedy to strike New York, the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

The heroism these men and women displayed, both then now, is not a surprise to me. For the fifteen years I spent coaching and running youth programs in Brooklyn in the '80s and '90s, civil servants, especially firefighters, were an integral part of the coaching cohort I interacted with daily, both in my own neighborhood and throughout Brooklyn and Staten Island. There was never any doubt in my mind, based on that experience, that they would sacrifice their health, well-being, and, if necessary, their lives if called on to rescue people in trouble. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

America’s Military is Expensive But it Saves Money In the Long Run

November 4th 2012

The first U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship, Freedom

Earlier this year, Barack Obama told military commanders and Pentagon civilian leaders that his goal was to “reduce US military activity around the world.” That’s what he said. But what he meant was that he intends to constrain US foreign policy by shrinking military capacity and capabilities so that the United States cannot engage in military activities around the world.

Under Obama, the number of missions heaped on those in uniform has not declined. Indeed, that number has not gone down under any president of either political party since the end of the Cold War. From Haiti to Bosnia to Kosovo to Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya, our forces keep getting busier.

Should we engage in these missions or shouldn’t we? This might be a worthy debate if the American people were somehow involved, but they’re constantly told otherwise: We can keep cutting the military’s budget but still magically retain a force that is second to none. At some point, getting more and spending less not only rings hollow but actually produces a hollow force. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Lessons from a Forgotten War--North Africa 70 Years Ago

November 3rd 2012

military convoy

U.S. troops to North Africa...Fighting in Benghazi...Scandal over the president's handling of crisis in the Middle East...

These themes sound like they were lifted from the presidential foreign-policy debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. In fact, they are echoes of events that occurred 70 years ago next week, when American forces, along with their British allies, launched Operation Torch, the largest amphibious assault in history at the time and America's first foray into the uncertain terrain of the modern Arab world.

Circumstances were, of course, very different from what they are today. The world was at war and North Africa was a critical front in the global conflict. France, the region's main colonial power, held sway in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Its collaborationist Vichy government, headed by Marshal Philippe Petain, worked closely with Nazi Germany. To the east, Fascist Italy controlled Libya, where Benghazi was a key target of back-and-forth fighting between Italian and British troops. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Can Romney Create those 12 Million Jobs?

November 3rd 2012


Mitt Romney says he could create 12 million jobs in a four year term. Could he really do it? The odds are he could.

Romney would start, of course, with energy, where gasoline prices have doubled under Obama. High energy costs have scuttled lots of small businesses; people could no longer afford their goods or services. High gas prices also drove some employees out of the job market as they could no longer afford commuting to a job with modest pay.

Obama campaigned on raising energy costs even higher; to protect us from the man-made global warming that is not occurring. He even hints about further slashing fossil fuel use after he wins “more flexibility” in a second term. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Following the Elections, Mideast Peace Negotiations Should Resume

November 2nd 2012

Mahmoud Abbas at parliament

I was invited to meet with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority just before he spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations.  I came to the meeting with an agenda:  to persuade him to sit down with the Israelis and resume negotiations without first requiring the Israelis to accept a total settlement freeze.  I knew the Israelis would not—indeed could not—agree to a settlement freeze as a prior condition to beginning negotiations, since they had previously agreed to a nine month freeze and the Palestinians refused to come to the bargaining table until just before the freeze expired, and then demanded that the freeze be extended.  Prime Minister Netanyahu had invited the Palestinians to begin negotiations with no prior conditions—an invitation that the Palestinians had rejected because the Israelis refused first to impose a freeze. Read more ..

Israel's Looming Attack

Red Lines and Preemption in the Face of Nuclear Iran

November 2nd 2012

Israeli Jet Dive Bombing

Just like the role of "Red Lights” in intersections, so would "Red Lines” reduce the probability of a military collision with a nuclear Iran.  Clear "Red Lines” would upgrade the US posture of deterrence and enhance preparedness against – and minimizes the cost of - aggression. On the other hand, the absence of "Red Lines” constitutes a "Green Light” to aggression.

For example, a "Green Light” to Iraq's August 2, 1990 invasion of Kuwait was provided by the US upon failing to set any "Red Light” during the July 25, 1990 meeting between Saddam Hussein and the US Ambassador to Kuwait. At the meeting, which took place during the height of the Iraq-Kuwait border dispute, Ambassador April Gillespie echoed Secretary Jim Baker's self-destruct policy of engagement and diplomacy with rogue Iraq.  She stated that "we have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait…. We hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via the Arab League or via President Mubarak…. All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly."  Prior to that meeting, the State Department clarified to Saddam that the US had no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait.  Setting and implementing "Red Lines” would have deterred Saddam Hussein, and would have spared the US the first, and possibly the second, Gulf Wars and their devastating cost in term of lives, economy and military. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Returning to an Economic Growth Agenda

November 2nd 2012

Mortgage foreclosure

The engine of growth that has fueled the U.S. economy for over 225 years appears idle. In the five-year period from the second half of 2007 through the first half of 2012, the U.S. GDP growth rate has averaged just 0.6 percent annually. In fact, as the accompanying chart indicates, the average annual growth rate of the U.S. economy has been below 1 percent during the last five years, far slower than its recent historical average.

Furthermore, a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that the median household income in the United States in 2011 declined for the second consecutive year to $50,054. On an inflation-adjusted basis, the median household income in 2011 was 8.1 percent lower than in 2007. And finally, the average unemployment rate in the first nine months of 2012 has been 8.2 percent. While an improvement relative to 2010 and 2011, the labor market remains weak as 12 million workers are unemployed. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

By Avoiding a Strike on Iran before U.S. Election, Israel Is Learning from History

November 2nd 2012

Netanyahu's redline

Israel's non-strike against Iran means it is keeping its options open while avoiding once-familiar tensions with the United States.

Just days before the U.S. presidential election, it is worth considering how -- barring an unforeseen development -- one of the most widely trailed military operations in recent years will not in fact have taken place: Israel will not have attacked Iran before Americans go to the polls.

We do not know with absolute certainty if Israel did not attack because it chose not to do so, or if it felt compelled not to attack because of the red light for the operation from Washington. In an interview with Britain's Daily Telegraph at the end of October, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the delay of the strike was due to Iran diverting uranium from its military to civilian programs. Yet, based on private conversations, one cannot preclude the possibility that Defense Minister Barak withdrew his support because he feared it would be viewed as interfering with the upcoming U.S. election. The premise of any pre-election strike was that Israel would be taking advantage of a time when it had maximum political influence in Washington, since President Obama would have been constrained in his reaction. The implication is that the pre-election period could be 'insulated', and therefore the consequences would not be felt after the election. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Unemployment Remains The Key Factor for US Voters

November 2nd 2012

Employee applications

Unemployment is a key issue in the U.S. presidential election, and on Friday the government publishes the last official jobless rate before voters go to the polls on November 6. More than 12 million Americans are out of work, another eight million have found only part-time jobs, and still others have stopped searching for work. There are different opinions about the job situation from voters in North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. Jobless Americans are concerned about the high unemployment rate.

"If Mitt Romney gets into office he is going to have to get these young black men and old black men jobs,” said Jeff Smith, who currently is unemployed. Larry Guinn, a small business owner, said economic uncertainty makes him reluctant to hire new workers. “I just see more and more unemployment in the country, and that’s not good for America," said Guinn. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

The Palestinian Strategy: War is Permanent

November 1st 2012

Palstinian refugee camp

In 1948 Secretary General of the Arab League Azzam Pasha articulated the Arab recipe for long term success when he stated, "we have a secret weapon which we can use better than guns and machine guns, and this is time. As long as we do not make peace with the Zionists, the war is not over, and as long as the war is not over, there is neither a victor nor vanquished. As soon as we recognize the existence of the State of Israel, we recognize by this act that we are conquered."

Of all the Arabs, Arab-Palestinians embraced Azzam Pasha's message and continue to follow it religiously today. Out waiting Israel is the Palestinian strategy. It is no coincidence that Mahmoud Abbas' trial balloon to see if the UN would consider upgrading the status of the Palestinian Authority to that of a state is set to be voted on November 29th 2012. Ironically, this will happen on the same date the partition of Palestine was voted on 65 years ago. Partition was flatly rejected by Palestinians and their Arab cousins. Read more ..

China on Edge

Why Haven’t Chinese Leaders Acted Decisively to Reduce Tobacco Use?

November 1st 2012

Chinese smoker

In mid-October, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev voiced support for a proposed ban on smoking in public places by 2015. “The government is not at war with smokers,” he said, “but we are making a stand against smoking.”

Compared to Russia, where about a third of the population smokes, China has “the biggest tobacco problem in the world.” As Cheng Li pointed out in a recent publication, China is “the world’s biggest tobacco producer, largest cigarette consumer, and gravest victim of the smoking-related health crisis.” About 350 million people smoke (which is approximately thirty percent of the world’s total smoking population), with 740 million people regularly exposed to second-hand smoke (including 180 million under the age of fifteen). Each year, more than 1.2 million people die of smoking related illness, which is twelve percent of the country’s total annual deaths. The numbers speak for themselves: the global anti-tobacco campaign cannot be successful without effective tobacco control in China. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Best Ideas Will Win This Election

November 1st 2012


Many in the conservative movement are frustrated that, despite the president’s liberalism, and despite the failure of his policies, he remains a very likeable personality, and enjoys high favorability ratings. Most people with his record would be run out of town, tarred, and feathered. But he is capable of a magnetic charisma, and it is keeping him in this race.
Some try to attack this strength of his. Sometimes it is a good strategy to attack your opponent’s strength, but not in this case. Ad hominem attacks on the president are as fruitless as they are unnecessary: his record is bad enough; we shouldn’t need to change the subject from that. And besides, attacking someone personally looks a lot like admitting defeat. ​I know that Election Day is almost here. But that’s precisely why I say this: we need to stay focused on ideas, not on people. This is the most critical messaging time of all. And, like I’ve said in the past, when we talk about ideas, we conservatives win.

Broken Borders

Starting All Over in Immigration Reform

October 31st 2012

US Border Patrol arrest

What do Americans really think about immigrants?
Consider the case of Sgt. Dan Zapalski. As he prepared to go into battle, his colonel berated him for acting like a "fathead Pollack ... typical of all stupid, emotional, first-generation Americans -- impractical, burdensome and unreasonable." What ticked off the colonel was Zapalski's refusal to be left behind. A leg wound suffered during the Normandy invasion had left him unfit for duty, but Zapalski didn't care. He wanted to go anyway.

The colonel begged the sergeant to think of his widowed, immigrant mother: What would she do if she lost her son?"I pointed out that my widowed mother was proof of why I was obligated to go," Zapalski recalled in "September Hope," John McManus' book about World War II's Operation Market Garden. "[T]he principal reason being the debt to my country for taking care of her and giving her the opportunity to raise three kids without much trouble." Read more ..

The Obama Edge

The Benghazi Scandal Will Not Go Away

October 31st 2012

Nonie Darwish headshot

Americans need answers as to why the Obama administration had no response to the eight-hour terror attack on the US consulate in Benghazi and who was involved in the decision not to go to their aid despite their repeated requests for help. And why is the producer of the "Innocence of Muslims" video still in a California jail cell, allegedly for violating his parole, while none of the people who refused to rescue Ambassador Christopher Stevens and these immensely courageous former Navy SEALS has been even been named and charged with negligent homicide, or even reckless endangerment?

From the Muslim world's viewpoint, the Obama administration's behavior makes perfect sense: The Muslim world is used to, and expects, victims of terror not to act. It is an unforgivable violation of Sharia law for non-Muslims to fight back against jihadi assaults. As Muslims interpret such passivity, those who want to appease the Muslim world and its Sharia law are expected to freeze when faced with Islamic terror -- freezing is the only acceptable response. Read more ..

Media on Edge

The Haaretz Poll Travesty, NIF Funding, and the Durban Strategy

October 31st 2012


There is now broad agreement in Israel that the pseudo-poll and headline published by Haaretz on Oct. 23 (“Majority of Israelis support apartheid regime in Israel”) was a mistake, to understate the case.

Haaretz published a correction (albeit a brief note on page 5, rather than as a major headline, as was the case for the original poll). Gideon Levy published a half-hearted retraction or explanation that primarily served to signal that even he, a hard-core warrior, realized the error. In columns and talk shows across the Israeli spectrum, the manipulative methodology and shallow questions were dissected.

However, a great deal of damage has been done outside Israel, where this farce was used to further the campaign of anti-Israel political warfare and demonization. The Guardian Independent, the Globe and Mail (Toronto) and the Sydney Morning Herald ran the story accompanied by headlines as misleading as that of the original Haaretz piece: “Many Israelis support apartheid-style state, poll suggests” and “The new Israeli apartheid.” Read more ..

America on Edge

State and Federal Disaster Relief: Expect the Best But Prepare for the Worst?

October 30th 2012

Hurricane Sandy Lashes Ocean City

As Hurricane Sandy bears down on the East Coast, it seems like an opportune time to revisit federal disaster relief. Even in an election year, this may be one of those rare topics where most Americans can agree. There is a strong argument for the federal government serving as a backstop against risk, and pitching in when natural and human induced catastrophes outstrip local capacities to respond.

The current federal disaster response system dates to the mid-20th century. Before that, Congress responded to floods, earthquakes, and fires on an ad hoc basis - usually by passing specific legislation authorizing the purchase and distribution of aid. (This legislation was not always popular: President Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill providing drought assistance to Texas. Backing him was Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, who thought local and private actors had the situation well in hand.) Read more ..

Myanmar on Edge

Myanmar’s Ethnic Violence: Where Is Suu Kyi?

October 30th 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi

Over the past week, violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine State, in the western part of Myanmar, has flared up badly once again. According to reports in local media and the news wires, over the past seven days at least sixty —and as many as one hundred— people have been killed in clashes. The local security forces allegedly have been firing on some crowds, and other reports suggest that the refugee camps set up for Muslims in the area have already become so overcrowded that they can no longer hold new arrivals.

The cause of the new violence is very murky, with reports and rumors suggesting that some local activists, or even the security forces, have been triggering the clashes in order to lead to a crackdown on Muslims. Other reports suggest that some local fights between young men sparked the violence.

But amidst the murkiness and the chaos, a larger question has arisen: Who in Myanmar’s leadership is going to take a serious, progressive approach to solving this ethnic tension? Though President Thein Sein has passed laudable economic and political reforms, his government has been mostly silent on the violence in Rakhine state, refusing to allow the Organization of the Islamic Conference to open offices to help investigate and potentially resolve the violence. It remains unclear whether the security forces are directly involved in the violence, and whether Thein Sein has tried to restrain local commanders, or even has total control over them. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Washington's Failure to Rein in UNRWA

October 30th 2012

UNRWA Refugee Camp

General Assembly resolution 194 of December 11, 1948, offers two options, repatriation and resettlement, to achieve the reintegration of the Palestinian Arab refugees "into the economic life of the Near East." Yet, U.S. Department of State documents from 1949 through the early 1950s reveal that despite the lip service paid to repatriation, Washington and its allies effectively equated reintegration with the resettlement of the refugees in the neighboring Arab states.

Historical Context
Economic development has been viewed by successive U.S. administrations as the key to integrating regions and peoples, and since the 1930s, their vision of this endeavor was largely modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) project.

Created by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1933, the TVA was conceived as a regional economic development agency. It was tasked with responsibilities for flood control, electrification, reforestation, fertilizer production, agricultural education, and river navigation throughout the Tennessee Valley, an area that includes the state of Tennessee, parts of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama, and smaller portions of Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Obama and the Women’s Lobby

October 30th 2012

No Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act mentions “breast” 44 times, “prostate” not once. It also establishes an elaborate and expensive network of special programs to promote women’s health. Programs for men are nowhere to be found. What explains the imbalance? 

When President Obama took office, he promised to insulate his administration from organized lobbyists. Yet, from day one, he granted the women’s lobby unprecedented influence. The results should trouble fair-minded feminists.

The 2009 stimulus program set the pattern. The president had originally called for a two-year “shovel-ready” plan to modernize roads, bridges, electrical grids, and dams. Women’s activists were appalled. Op-eds appeared with titles like “Where Are the New Jobs for Women?” and “The Macho Stimulus Plan.” More than 1,000 feminist historians signed an open letter urging Mr. Obama not to favor a “heavily male-dominated field” like construction: “We need to rebuild not only concrete and steel bridges but also human bridges.”


The 2012 Vote

Romney’s Strategy not Obama’s Doctrine will Advance Freedom in the Middle East

October 29th 2012

Romney in Jerusalem 7-31-12

As Governor Romney and President Obama continue to debate foreign policy and national security, voters would be wise to evaluate the “Obama Doctrine” against the current combustible state of affairs that it has led to in the Greater Middle East. In less than four years, the Obama administration’s policies have transformed the region into a powder keg with a hairpin detonator that could be set off by the slightest diplomatic misstep, engulfing the region and the world in war.  And, as if an economy on the brink wasn’t daunting enough, the current administration’s feckless diplomacy in the Arab world have begotten a near-impossible foreign policy conundrum that Mitt Romney will be forced to attend to from the moment he is sworn in as the forty-fifth President of the United States. In order to help voters see clearly where unfolding events in the region are headed, I have summarized the salient facts and provided a brief analysis below.


The Obama Edge

A Doomed Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

October 29th 2012

Barack Obama in Thought

President Obama said, referring to Osama bin Laden's killing, "If we had asked Pakistan permission, we would not have gotten him." But if Pakistan can't be trusted, the president owes the American people an explanation of how he'd deal with a nuclear-armed impoverished country over the next four years.

Mr. Romney seems committed to changing Pakistani behavior. And although he claims he wouldn't "divorce" Pakistan, Mr. Romney's answer showed that he would downgrade Pakistan's status as an American ally. Demanding policy changes from Pakistan in return for American support and friendship is a sound idea but neither candidate has spelled out what specific instruments of persuasion or coercion the United States might successfully deploy to that end.

The discussion over Afghanistan and Pakistan needs to be put in the context of the wider issue of containing Islamist extremism. Mr. Obama defines success against Al Qaeda very narrowly, glossing over how jihadist networks are already preparing to regroup in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region after the withdrawal of American combat forces in 2014. Mr. Obama has not articulated a plan to deal with that challenge. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Interrupting Iran's Oil: The Price The West Can Now Afford

October 29th 2012

Iranian oil tanker

For many years, it seemed as if the West’s real plan for dealing with the Iranian regime was to talk it to death. Occasionally, a new round of sanctions would be announced, but they were never really very serious sanctions. Sure, they angered their targets in Tehran, but not enough to stop them from doing anything they really wanted to do. The world was willing to pay any price, bear any burden, to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Any price, that is, except the only one which would have made a difference: interrupting the flow of Iranian oil.
The two sides disliked each other, but they were dependent on each other, so they attacked each other in relatively minor ways in public, while continuing to do business in private. This latest round of sanctions, however, which included cutting Iran off from the global banking system, has been serious. Turkey has been forced to pay for Iranian oil by physically moving gold bars across the border in trucks, but most buyers have found it easier to simply buy their oil elsewhere. Over the course of the last year, Iranian oil exports have fallen by about 1.5 million barrels a day to under 1 million, less than half their previous level of roughly 2.5 million barrels a day.

Afghanistan on Edge

Predicting Gloom In Afghanistan An Inexact Science

October 29th 2012

Afghanistan Fighters

Predicting a troubled future for Afghanistan appears to be the new trend in some of the Western writing about the country. Think tanks, newspaper op-eds, and blogs in Europe and North America are warning about a range of scenarios, from a division of the country to a Taliban takeover, a civil war, and increased ethnic strife among the country's various groups.

The most discussed among these is a report called "Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition" by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG). It warns that Kabul is heading towards a potentially devastating crisis is 2014 when most NATO forces would leave the country: "Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014. That makes the political challenge of organizing a credible presidential election and transfer of power from President Karzai to a successor that year all the more daunting. A repeat of previous elections' chaos and chicanery would trigger a constitutional crisis, lessening chances the present political dispensation can survive the transition." Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

A Dysfunctional Political System and Contentious Elections

October 29th 2012

Juan Williams 02

In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore got more votes than George W. Bush, but still lost the election. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Florida gave Bush that pivotal state, and doomed Gore to lose the Electoral College. That odd scenario — where the candidate with the most votes loses — has happened three times in U.S. history.

Will 2012 become the fourth time it has happened?

At the moment, Republican Mitt Romney leads among likely voters nationwide in several polls. But President Obama’s campaign remains confident because he leads in enough states to assure him the 270 electoral votes needed to capture a second term. “We [would] win the election if it were held today,” said senior White House adviser David Plouffe. “In the battleground states, we think we’ve got many more pathways to 270 electoral votes.”

Romney senior campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom was similarly blunt in his assessment last week. “The cake is baked,” he said. “Something structural changed in that first debate, and all the movement has been toward Gov. Romney.”

Yet, according to statistical guru Nate Silver, of The New York Times, President Obama has about a 74 percent chance of being reelected. Mitt Romney has only roughly a 26 percent chance of becoming the 45th U.S. president. According to Silver, President Obama will win 295 electoral votes and Romney will net 243 electoral votes. Of the seven battleground states — Ohio, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada and Wisconsin — Silver projects Obama will win all of them with the exception of Florida. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney’s Structural Handicap: An In-Depth Analysis of The Foreign Policy Issue in the Presidential Election

October 28th 2012


We have yet to receive a full analysis on the foreign policy aspects of the third debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Remember that the idea that someone “won” the debate in terms of an outside observer’s standpoint or even based on a poll is misleading. The only important thing is whether either candidate swayed additional voters to his side. Since I’m writing this to provide a detailed assessment, I’m not going to try to be short. So for your convenience let me begin by briefly explaining how Romney is so handicapped in dealing with foreign policy:

–He either cannot (or has decided for strategic reasons not to) name the enemy, revolutionary Islamism.

–He either cannot (or has decided for strategic reasons not to) discuss in sharp terms how Obama has objectively helped this enemy become stronger while weakening America’s allies.

–It is not politically profitable for him to explain that America faces a long struggle, since this would make voters unhappy and prefer Obama’s promise that he has brought peace.

–It is not politically profitable for him to explain that democracy and economic development are not panaceas for the Middle East. Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

Latin America Reacts to Watershed Chavez Electoral Victory in Venezuela

October 27th 2012

Viva Chavez poster

Two days prior to the Venezuelan presidential election, Francisco Toro, a Venezuelan journalist and blogger, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times stating that Chavez and his movement have become irrelevant. As Chavez’s socialism is becoming increasingly authoritarian and has failed to reduce poverty, Toro claims that it is no longer an exemplary to other Latin American states; in his opinion, it is Brazil’s template—combining free enterprise and democracy with social programs aimed at reducing poverty—that is what everyone in the region hopes to follow.

To illustrate his point, Toro uses the examples of Ollanta Humala in Peru and Venezuelan presidential opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski. (To this list, we could also add Fernando Lugo in Paraguay). All of them ran on a “Brazilian” platform based on the social democratic principles established by former Brazilian president Lula Da Silva. Toro also points out that, in public, the authoritarian and the social-democratic Left are united but, behind closed doors, they are divided to the point of being “viciously dismissive of each other.” Read more ..

Israel and Gaza

Israel and Gaza

October 27th 2012


The recent upsurge of mortars and rockets being fired into Israel from Gaza, the strong Israeli military reaction, and the possibility that a stronger reaction may yet come, have raised once again the issue of Israel’s relationship with the small area many Israelis call Hamastan. The visit to Gaza this week of the Emir of Qatar, who was the first foreign head of state to go there since Hamas took over in 2007 and who pledged $400 million in aid to Gaza, has also put the region back on the front pages.

One view suggests that the Emir’s visit is simply a disaster. The money will be very helpful to Hamas and its continued rule. The visit by a head of state itself accords Gaza almost the status of a state—and thereby helps Hamas in its continuing struggle with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. It legitimizes Hamas and its rule in Gaza, which is obviously bad for Israel, bad for the PA, and bad for the United States and all others who view Hamas as a terrorist group.

But there is another view, put forward this week by the former Israeli National Security Advisor, retired Major General Giora Eiland.

He thinks the visit and the aid were perfectly acceptable. He does not believe Israel has any particular interest in reuniting the West Bank and Gaza, rather than seeking a greater integration of Gaza with Egypt. He also notes that efforts by Israel to strengthen the PA and its leader, President Abbas, against Hamas quite often have the opposite effect. He also believes that weakening Hamas does not strengthen Abbas and Fatah in Gaza, because they are so weak there and unable to improve their situation. Instead, weakening Hamas strengthens even more extreme salafist and jihadi groups. He argues that to the extent that Hamas comes to be more like a stable government for Gaza, with a decent economy, it will have that much more to lose from confrontations with Israel. When many more valuable targets are at risk, he believes, Hamas will be more careful. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Ryan and the Poverty Question

October 27th 2012

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan has earned a reputation for making Americans confront fiscal deficits many would prefer to ignore. Yesterday in Cleveland, the chairman of the House Budget Committee was at it again, forcing liberals and conservatives alike to look at their respective antipoverty deficits.

Ryan exposed the moral and fiscal bankruptcy of the liberal welfare state, driving dependency on more than 80 federal means-tested programs to the tune of $1 trillion annually. The Wisconsin Republican also owned up to conservatives’ leadership deficit when it comes to fighting poverty — and made a big down payment toward erasing it.

It’s not that conservatives don’t have answers to the question of poverty. To the contrary, we’ve had striking successes in the 1996 welfare reform and school choice for low-income students, for starters. But we’ve lacked the coherent framing, leadership, and initiative to convey the conservative antipoverty vision in a way that would capture Americans’ imagination and dislodge the default welfare-state paradigm.


The 2012 Vote

Obama's Failed Foreign Policy is an Opportunity to Address Real National Security

October 26th 2012


Presidential candidates usually frame national security in terms of foreign policy -- relations between nations, including their treaties, military agreements, arms sales, foreign aid and military action. But if a president’s most important job is to protect the welfare of his nation’s citizens, then this foreign policy frame is actually a narrow, militaristic, euphemistic way of avoiding talking about our real need for national security.

The greatest threats to our nation and our people are the growing wealth inequity that stifles economic growth and pushes millions into poverty; our dependence on energy sources that ignite wars and pollute the planet; our lack of universal health care; and a failure to provide educational opportunity for millions of children stuck in low-performing schools. Read more ..

Inside Afghanistan

Afghani Special Forces May Offer a Ray of Hope

October 26th 2012

Afghanistan Spec Forces

Eleven years after U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops first drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan, more questions than answers litter the landscape of a country that has been reeling under the burden of war for over 30 years. Most of those questions ask essentially the same thing: Is there any good news out of Afghanistan?

That question most often revolves around the state of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), comprised of three main groups: the Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan Air Force (AAF), and the Afghan National Police (ANP). Critics charge that if the ANSF is not prepared to secure Afghanistan after the planned major drawdown of U.S. combat forces in 2014, then all of the blood and treasure poured into this country over the last several years was wasted. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

In Saudi Arabia and Israel, Signals That Iran Has Retaliation in Works

October 26th 2012

Shadowy Computer User

The Iranians and their Hizbullah ally are sending warning signals about how they might fight a future war with the United States and Israel. The signals aren’t subtle—Tehran intends to retaliate for any attack on its nuclear facilities with blows against America’s allies in the region, hitting their most sensitive oil and nuclear facilities.

The U.S and Iran have been adversaries since 1979; we fought an undeclared naval war in the late 1980s. The American presidential election has seen both candidates threaten Iran with military action if it does not forsake development of a nuclear arsenal and halt its nuclear enrichment program. Iran has long threatened it will retaliate dramatically and decisively if it is attacked by the U.S., Israel or both. Now it is showing some of its plans for doing just that.

On Aug. 15, a cyberattack hit Saudi oil giant Aramco with devastating results. According to U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, 30,000 computer workstations were rendered useless and had to be replaced. Aramco, which Forbes magazine ranks as the world’s largest oil company and is the key to Saudi Arabia’s production, had data on many of its hard drives erased and replaced with photos of a burning U.S. flag. Panetta did not directly accuse Iran of responsibility, but other U.S. officials have pointed right at Tehran. Panetta concluded that Iran has “undertaken a concerted effort to use cyberspace to its advantage.” Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

No Transfer for the Blind Sheik

October 26th 2012

Blind Sheikh

In last month’s Wall Street Journal, Michael Mukasey — the last of President George W. Bush’s three attorneys general, and, before that, a federal judge — wondered ominously:

Are senior Obama administration officials considering transferring to Egypt a poisonously influential Islamist cleric serving a life term in federal prison for trying to unleash a war of urban terrorism in the United States? That's the impression several officials have given over the past three months, apparently out of fear that if the cleric dies in U.S. custody, American outposts in the Middle East could be overrun by vengeful mobs.

The Islamist in question is Omar Abdel Rahman, or the “Blind Sheik,” as he is better known.  As a district judge, Mukasey presided over the latter’s trial, and imposed a life sentence for the Blind Sheik’s role in a conspiracy that included, among other things, the murder of a conservative New York rabbi and the World Trade Center bombing. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Thoughts About the Upcoming Election From a Holocaust Survivor

October 26th 2012


Over the past few months I have read many articles and listened to many speeches by many prominent and educated people concerning the upcoming Presidential election. I am also an educated person, though I doubt that my education came from the same place of wisdom that these writers and speakers received theirs. They were fortunate to receive their education, and I am unfortunate in mine. I was educated with Holocaust wisdom and it is from my unique perspective that I would like to share my thoughts about the upcoming election.

I am a Holocaust survivor, the only one from my large family to endure this horrible period of world history. I remember life before the political tides turned in Eastern Europe and also the horrors of the regime change when Hitler (may his name be erased) came to power. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Energy, Security, and Climate

October 25th 2012

Smokestack pollution

When the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill collapsed a few year back, advocates of aggressive action on climate change despaired. But a fascinating and provocative new analysis from Dallas Butraw and Matt Woerman at Resources for the Future suggests that people might want to revisit that judgment: by 2020, they write, domestic emissions will “probably [be] less than would have occurred if the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade proposal had become law”. Whether you believe that depends on some important details.

The underlying logic is relatively simple. Butraw and Woerman identify three main sources of emissions reductions over the next decade: changes in the economy (notably cheap natural gas), state and regional policies, and regulation of carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act (CAA). They project that those will collectively lead to a 16.3 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions below 2005 levels by 2020, with standards under the CAA contributing more than ten percentage points of that. That is close to the target the United States announced at Copenhagen. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Nigerian Army Guilt?

October 25th 2012

Nigeria joint military task force

Sunday’s New York Times carried an Agence France Presse piece reporting on the alleged Boko Haram killing of at least thirty people over a three day period in Potiskum, Yobe state. 

The piece also notes that it was “not clear whether soldiers were responsible for any of the destruction.” The Nigerian army has been widely accused of indiscriminate killings in northern Nigeria as part of its campaign against Boko Haram.  Some political leaders have urged the Jonathan government to withdraw the military, especially from Maiduguri, arguing that it feeds popular support for Boko Haram.  I have blogged on a Human Rights Watch report that raises the question of whether the International criminal Court has jurisdiction over crimes committed both by Boko Haram and the military.

But it is too easy to lay responsibility for alleged security service atrocities solely at the feet of the Nigerian military.  As in many countries, the army in Nigeria is not responsible for maintaining domestic order.  That is the function of the police, which, like the army, is a national–not local or state–institution. The army is not trained for domestic policing.  Nonetheless the army has moved to the forefront in the struggle against Boko Haram because of the inadequacies of the police.  The latter are so poorly paid they often support their families by shaking down travelers at the ubiquitous check points and indulge in other forms of petty corruption.  The upper reaches of the police also appear riddled with corruption, sometimes of spectacular magnitude.  And they are very badly trained.  Anecdotes abound of indiscriminate police killings. A consequence of these shortcomings is that the police are widely (if not universally) despised.  Popular regard for the military is marginally better, if seemingly in decline because of recent abuse allegations. Read more ..

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