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Middle East on Edge

The New Middle East War--One Conflict from Baghdad to Beirut

July 3rd 2014

ISIL militants and flags

With the June 10 capture of the city of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a debate promptly reopened in the American media over America’s role in the fate of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Typifying one side of the debate was former President Bill Clinton, who on network television laid the blame for today’s problems squarely on the shoulders of the Bush administration. “If they hadn’t gone to war in Iraq,” he said, “none of this would be happening.” On the other side, there are suggestions that President Obama’s neglect of Iraq has been at least as harmful as was the interventionism of his predecessor, if not more so.

But the Iraq war as we once knew it is no longer, and the debate over it leaves us mired unprofitably in the past. The rise of ISIS is a subset of a new conflict, one that stretches all the way from Baghdad to Beirut. That conflict has its own unique character. What is it about? Who are its primary participants? Where do America’s vital interests lie, and what should America’s strategy be? Read more ..


Inside Politics

The Trouble Isn't Liberals. It's Progressives.

July 1st 2014

Elizabeth Warren, native American

Social conservatives. Libertarians. Country-club conservatives. Tea party conservatives. Everybody in politics knows that those sets of people who usually vote Republican cannot be arrayed in a continuum from moderately conservative to extremely conservative. They are on different political planes. They usually have just enough in common to vote for the same candidate.

Why then do we still talk about the left in terms of a continuum from moderately liberal to extremely liberal? Divisions have been occurring on the left that mirror the divisions on the right. Different segments of the left are now on different planes.

A few weeks ago, I was thrown into a situation where I shared drinks and dinner with two men who have held high positions in Democratic administrations. Both men are lifelong liberals. There's nothing "moderate" about their liberalism. But as the pleasant evening wore on (we knew that there was no point in trying to change anyone's opinion on anything), I was struck by how little their politics have to do with other elements of the left. Read more ..


The 2014 Vote

Thad Cochran's Victory in Mississippi Should Worry Republicans

June 30th 2014

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Last Tuesday night, longstanding Republican Sen. Thad Cochran defied the polls and defeated Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel in the Mississippi Senate primary runoff by a 51 to 49 percent margin. While the Republican establishment in D.C. rejoiced at their colleague’s victory, this election also could confirm their worst nightmare: field programs can effectively turn out voters in mass.

After losing the initial primary election on June 3rd, Cochran knew he had to shake things up. The traditional strategy of pummeling the airwaves with negative advertisement did not seem to be working, and his opponent was up in almost every single poll. Read more ..


The 2016 Campaign

Hillary Clinton's Potentially Costly Mis-Steps

June 29th 2014

I am a progressive populist who strongly supports Hillary Clinton for president. But I must admit, the most memorable aspect of Clinton’s carefully orchestrated book tour for Hard Choices could be the discussion about whether she is fully in tune with the temper of our times on matters of wealth and opportunity in America.

There is a growing concern in Democratic circles, which I share, about whether the Hillary Clinton who could run in 2016 is repeating the mistake she made in 2008, when she ran as the inevitable and invincible candidate of a political establishment held in widespread public disrepute. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Iraq, Then and Now

June 28th 2014

Iraq ISIL double file of militants

Wanted: Republicans willing to step up and explain just how we are going to face down the threat of new terrorist groups and non-state actors trying to take over sovereign countries in the Middle East, now or when President Obama has left office.

In a wrenching debate over the deterioration in Iraq and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), not surprisingly, has called for airstrikes. But he isn’t running for president again. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) agreed with Obama’s decision not to send ground forces, only to be called “isolationist” by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Even amid some regret among conservatives, there isn’t much leadership to be found for a crisis we will be managing for years to come. After insurgents began to claim large swaths of territory in Iraq last week, conservative fire-breather and radio talk show host Glenn Beck declared that liberals had been right all along on our role in Iraq. They may or may not have been, but such a reversal was stunning. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Elizabeth Warren: The Obama of 2016

June 27th 2014

Elizabeth Warren

Paging Elizabeth Warren: This is your moment.

In 2007, Democrats were delirious with rage about the Iraq war. Hillary Clinton, the “inevitable” presidential front-runner, had voted for the war and refused to apologize for it. Other leading candidates, including Joe Biden, John Edwards, and Chris Dodd, voted for it too. This left a huge opening for a credible antiwar candidate. Barack Obama, inexperienced and underqualified, nonetheless jumped into the vacuum. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, the issue that obsesses the base of the Democratic party is income inequality. I think that’s foolish. The underlying causes of inequality — miserable economic growth, stagnating wages, poverty, etc. — are vastly more worthy challenges. Though, in fairness, many people actually have those problems in mind when they talk about inequality.

There’s another component to the inequality obsession: populism. People increasingly feel that economic and political elites are enriching themselves, not by making great products or selling valuable services, but by cutting backroom deals and selling influence. This rage is remarkably bipartisan. It is the one theme that loosely unites tea partiers and Wall Street occupiers alike. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

The Path of U.S. Security May Run through Russia

June 27th 2014

In previous essays I have been critical of Russian and U.S. policies toward each other. The last of these essays, motivated by the current Ukrainian crisis, stated that our post-1991 policy toward Russia has been “stale, unimaginative, and wrong-headed.” Below are suggestions for a new U. S. approach—what Russia should do is another matter.

On this 100-year anniversary of the start of World War I, my approach aims at peace, seeking to avoid the horrors of war, which some U.S. citizens are too blasé about since we have not had a war on U.S. soil since the Civil War. It is also one of “ethical realism,” as Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman defined the term in their 2006 book on foreign policy. And it is heavily indebted to critics mentioned in previous essays (from the left and the right) of our post-communist Russia policy. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Obama's Dithering over Iraq Allowed Hezbollah and Shiites to Control Iraq

June 26th 2014

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Forty years ago Americans were stunned by images of North Vietnamese tanks rolling into the heart of Saigon. The Vietnam War had bitterly divided the nation and cost 58,220 American lives. Responding to American public opinion, then President Gerald R. Ford declined to intervene—a tacit admission of defeat.

Today, Americans are stunned by images of another anti-American force, this one on the move toward Baghdad, only recently vacated by American troops. The war in Iraq has bitterly divided the nation. At this writing, the American-trained Iraqi army has collapsed, and pleas for American help are falling on deaf ears.

Déjà vu all over again? Read more ..


Broken Government

The Census Bureau's Latest Attempt to Play Racial Politics

June 25th 2014

Congress-senate

The Census Bureau is considering a change for the 2020 Census: Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin would be one of the responses offered under a single race question. This is a profoundly bad idea, as Amitai Etzioni explains in a recent opinion article in the Wall Street Journal.

The change is apparently prompted by the fact that 2 million people who claimed Hispanic status in the last two censuses changed their race classification from “some other race” in 2000 to “white” in 2010. The aim, it seems, is to maximize the number of people classified as non-white and therefore entitled to some form of racial preference. It's understandable that Hispanics should give inconsistent responses, since the Latin American societies from which they (or their immigrant ancestors) come have different racial mixes and different radical categories than those in the United States. They do not fit easily into U.S. racial categories. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Turmoil in Iraq Spells Trouble for Oil Markets

June 24th 2014

Oil Barrels

The Iraqi oil patch has been a coveted prize for most of the past century. The same concerns over oil supplies expressed in the wake of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria's capture of key Iraqi cities were around during World War I. But Iraq's oil is even more needed now than it was 100 years ago, and while the turmoil there is having only a modest impact on today's oil market, it could sow the seeds for painful oil shocks in the future.
On the eve of the 2003 Iraq war, oil experts held that Iraqi production could quickly be restored to the pre-1990 level of about three million barrels a day and ramped up to as much as six million barrels a day by 2010 and seven to eight million by 2020. Things didn't turn out that way. Political instability, corruption and the lack of an adequate regulatory framework turned away multinational oil companies. Foreign investment in the oil and gas sector came at a trickle. Iraq's production was so uncertain that even OPEC exempted the country from its quota system. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Managing the Mess in Iraq

June 22nd 2014

Iraqi Militia

The breathtaking capture of large swathes of northern Iraq in the last week by a relatively small, and lightly armed force of Sunni Arab militants fighting under the banner of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL or ISIS, has altered the strategic landscape of the Middle East.

The successor to al-Qaida in Iraq, ISIL has ridden a wave of resentment felt by Iraq’s Sunni Arabs at the exclusionary sectarian policies pursued by Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Its rise has been greatly facilitated by Syria’s civil war, which enabled ISIL to establish a base of operations in eastern Syria and to transform itself into a lightly armed, mobile force with thousands of experienced fighters (including many freed prisoners and foreign volunteers). Over a year ago, ISIL began shifting resources back to Iraq, operating openly in the western part of the country, initiating a suicide bombing campaign, and early this year seizing control of several towns in Anbar province, including Fallujah. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Are the Two Political Parties About ot Crack Up?

June 22nd 2014

Super Pac

America’s two political parties seem to be coming apart.

That's in contrast to the relatively stable competition of the last 20 years, when Democrats have won four of six presidential elections and Republicans won House majorities in eight of ten congressional contests, always by less than landslide margins. The parties' stands on issues have remained familiar from one cycle to the next.

That pattern seems likely to hold this year, with Republicans favored to hold their House majority and with a better than 50 percent chance of gaining the Senate majority that eluded them in 2010 and 2012. But the outlook for 2016 is murky, with a stale Hillary Clinton way ahead of other Democrats and a stable of Republicans closely clustered out of the starting gate with no clear leader or perceptible opening. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Guarding American Interests in the Latest Sunni-Shiite War

June 20th 2014

Iraq ISIL pistol standoff

The rapid (although not unpredicted) entry of radical Sunni jihadists into Mosul, Tikrit and other largely Sunni areas of Iraq, and their movement toward Baghdad, has prompted cries from left, right and center about the failure of U.S. policies in the region. And failure it is, although not of the "Bush should never have gone there," or "Obama should never have withdrawn from there," or – perhaps most oddly, "If Obama had only armed the 'moderate, secular opposition' in Syria, this never would have happened" sort.

It is a failure to look back, look forward and look around. It is a failure to ask the truly existential questions, "What can the United States tolerate in the world – what MUST we tolerate because we are not prepared to stop it?" and the corollary, "What can the United States simply not afford – not now, not later, not ever – and how are we going to keep truly intolerable things from happening?" Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

An Executive Privilege Gone to Far

June 19th 2014

Obama and Flag

Although President Barack Obama pledged to conduct the "most transparent administration in history", there is not much difference between his and his recent predecessors' administrations regarding protecting executive branch secrecy. The latest ploy by Justice Department attorneys is to shield all agency documents from a congressional committee investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the Fast and Furious scandal.

It is no exaggeration to say that the latest legal argument by the Justice Department is Nixonian in scope.

Former President Richard Nixon had argued that executive privilege – the recognized presidential power to withhold information under certain circumstances – extended to the entire executive branch of the federal government. The former president reasoned that all officials of the executive branch are "an extension of the president" himself, and thus covered by the privilege. If true, entities with recognized compulsory power – Congress, the courts, independent counsels and special prosecutors – would never be able to access any executive branch documents any time the president uttered the words "executive privilege."  Back then, legal scholars widely denounced, even mocked, the president's assertion of such an expansive executive power. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Ousting Saddam and Leaving Assad a Grave Mistake

June 18th 2014

Syrian Rebel w/SAW

The major error was committed during the Iraqi war by allowing the Syrian Regime to remain in power. While extracting Saddam was a necessity for the Region's stability keeping Assad in power was a grave mistake.

Without the Syrian regime, the war in Iraq would have been swiftly concluded and the Iraqis could have easily brought a new fair system of government to Iraq.  Without the Syrian regime, our soldiers in Iraq would not have been killed and injured by jihadist bombs and suicide bombers exported from Syria. Without the Syrian regime Iran would not have been able to interfere in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza,… and would not have been able to have a sectarian militia armed to the teeth  in Lebanon, Hezbollah, ready to execute orders from the Iranian supreme leader. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Iraq, the Sequel

June 17th 2014

Iraq ISIL pistol standoff

Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah. Their names sound so familiar, because it was only a few years ago that American soldiers won those cities back from the control of Islamic extremists.

Sadly, those same cities are back in the news today, as Islamic extremists, under the banner of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, take them back from an almost nonexistent Iraqi army. Samarra’s their next target. Then, it’s only a matter of days before they move on to Baghdad. Once Baghdad falls, Iraq is gone.

In a panic, finally realizing he’s got a serious problem, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is begging the United States for military assistance to turn back the insurgents. Fortunately, President Obama has flatly dismissed sending American troops back into Iraq. Unfortunately, he’s seriously considering a range of other options, including airstrikes, which would also be a big mistake. We should not let ourselves be sucked into Iraq: The sequel. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

In Iraq, Obama Has a Choice: Bad Guys or Bad Government

June 16th 2014

Iraq ISIL double file of militants

In the fight against jihadist insurgents across the planet, the United States can offer its partners a lot of help: arms and intelligence, training for local security forces, economic aid, and in extreme cases, air strikes to take out the bad guys.

It is the allies, of course, that get to do the actual fighting and dying.

After more than a decade of conflicts in which American ground forces served in harm’s way, the United States is moving to a more hands-off approach in its fight against insurgents with ideological or operational ties to al-Qaeda. In Afghanistan, President Obama has announced a major drawdown of troops, and in Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, the United States intervenes mainly via drones or small numbers of troops training local forces. Read more ..


After the Arab Spring

Welcome to the Jihadi Spring

June 14th 2014

Syrian jihadis silhouette

The Arab Spring is over. Welcome to the Jihadi Spring.

Across a huge swath of what, up until recently, had been known as Iraq and Syria, a transnational movement of Sunni Islamic extremists has taken control. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has conquered — without much effort — Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, along with most of the province of Nineveh. It’s also taken Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown. Along the way it has ransacked banks (to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars), pillaged weapon stockpiles (including the stuff we left behind for the Iraqi army), and recruited ever more fighters from Iraq, Syria, and abroad.

ISIS started out as an al-Qaeda franchise, but in 2011 it broke off to become an independent dealer of Islamist mayhem. If anything, it is more extreme than al-Qaeda — though that fine distinction probably means little to the Shiites and Christians it slaughters. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

A Statistically Tested Way to Stop Terrorism and Boost Iraq's Economy

June 13th 2014

US 10 MT departing

NBC News reports that U.S. President Barack Obama said "I don't rule out anything," and "my national security team is looking at all the options" with regard to the rapidly growing unrest in Iraq. "This is an area that we have been watching with a lot of concern," he said.

Even if The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is defeated, the problem of terrorism will not likely be solved for long, particularly if the Iraq's economy does not improve. It would be just a matter of time before other terrorists move in to take their place. History shows that past defense plans regarding Iraq have failed. These plans were based largely on conjecture, and now we have seen their outcome. The conventional military approach of fighting terrorism lacks a statistical guarantee of success of where a leader like Obama can wisely and safely assert "yes, this approach will definitely work." Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

A Last Dance for Iraq's Nouri Al-Maliki

June 12th 2014

Saddam Hussein must be laughing in his grave.

President George W. Bush celebrated Saddam’s overthrow in 2003 as the liberation of Iraqis from decades of dictatorial rule and costly warfare against Iraq’s neighbors.

But the democratically elected government that followed has failed to stabilize the country and opened the door to the expansion of a safe haven for Islamist militants so extreme that even al-Qaeda has rejected them.

This week, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), captured Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, unfurling the black flag of jihad over the corpses of Iraqi security forces and sending half a million residents fleeing in terror. Read more ..


Washington on Edge

Defeat of Majority Leader Cantor Spells Defeat for Immigration Reform

June 11th 2014

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The shockwaves shook Washington beginning late Tuesday and throughout the day on Wednesday.

House Majority leader Eric Cantor, the second most powerful lawmaker in the House of Representatives, lost a primary challenge to David Brat, an underfunded challenger with grassroots back from Tea Party activists.

The defeat of a high-ranking member of Congress is rare, especially in a party primary election. The fact that it was completely unexpected has put a lot of Republicans on high alert, unwilling to do anything that might spark an angry reaction from conservative activists back home.

So what’s the big deal about the Cantor defeat? Plenty.

For starters, immigration reform may be a dead issue in this session of Congress.

Don’t like the current state of U.S. partisan politics? Too bad, because there’s more to come and it’s probably only going to get to worse.

Fascinated by the ongoing battle between mainstream Republicans and the Tea Party? Good, because there is plenty more to come, not just this election year but in the 2016 presidential year as well.

Immigration reform setback

The most immediate victim in the wake of Eric Cantor’s defeat may be the push for immigration reform in the House. House Republican leaders had talked about doing small bits of immigration legislation as a counter to a more sweeping bill that was passed by the Senate. But Cantor was criticized for his support for a version of the so-called Dream Act, which sets up a path to citizenship for immigrant children who were brought to the country illegally. Cantor fought back against those who saw him as too liberal on immigration reform, but it was too late. Read more ..


Israel and the Vatican

Despite His Critics, Pope Francis is Committed to Jewish/Christian Reconciliation

June 11th 2014

I strongly disagree with Caroline Glick’s conclusion in her May 27 article that Pope Francis “is leading the Catholic Church in a distressingly anti-Jewish direction.” I can understand Caroline’s distress at some of the pope’s actions and words but it is important to have balance and not draw wrong conclusions.

Pope Francis is totally committed to reconciliation between the Church and Israel. I would like to demonstrate this under five headings:

1. State of Israel:

Pope Francis in his first Encyclical in November 2013 affirmed God’s everlasting covenant with the Jews: “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’ (Rom 11:29).”

It is noteworthy that Pope Francis reappointed Father Raniero Cantalamessa as preacher to the papal household. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Trampling Democracy to Fight Climate Change

June 10th 2014

coal fired power plant

Republicans are calling President Barack Obama's new coal-plant regulations a "power grab." The truth is more complicated, and ominous, than that.

This isn't a case where the executive branch has simply gone beyond its authority. It's a case where officials in all three branches of government have found a way to achieve their policy goals while shielding themselves from accountability.

Congress sends bills to the president and the president signs them: That's how major policy changes are supposed to work. But Congress has never passed large-scale regulations to combat global warming. It has never even voted to authorize such regulations.

In 2007, though, the Supreme Court pretended that Congress had done so. Lawmakers had voted to fight climate change without realizing it, when they enacted the Clean Air Act. So ruled the four liberal justices on the bench at the time, plus Justice Anthony Kennedy. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama White House Bungled Bergdahl Release from Taliban

June 9th 2014

Sgt Bowe Bergdahl during his imprisonment by Taliban of Afghanistan.

The special forces helicopter carrying Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to freedom hadn’t even touched down before efforts to undermine his credibility were underway, all with the gleeful help of the mainstream media.

Let’s establish, first of all, that the White House bungled his release. Should President Obama have notified Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other intelligence leaders in Congress first? Are there still serious questions about why Bergdahl walked away from his base? Are critics right to question assurances that the five freed Taliban detainees released from Guantánamo Bay won’t soon be back in action?

Yes, yes and yes. But that in no way justifies the wholesale rush by Obama haters to demonize Bergdahl, which the media gleefully joined, with no regard for the facts. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

How Much Will Boycott Cost Amazon?

June 8th 2014

Amazon box

Amazon’s e-book contract dispute with publisher Hachette has led to calls for a boycott. And funnyman, Stephen Colbert, has added his popular voice to those who want you to stop buying from Amazon.

How much will this boycott cost Amazon?

Before getting into this, let’s take a look at the dispute. Amazon is pushing Hachette for a bigger share of its e-book pie though neither side will provide details. Amazon is putting pressure on Hachette by subjecting many of its books “to artificial purchase delays, suspended pre-orders of new titles, increased prices, and no longer re-stocking existing ones,” according to Venture Capital Post.

Hachette is paying the price in the form of slumping revenue. According to the New York Times, “After several weeks, Hachette sales are now dwindling on Amazon. Since Amazon is the biggest bookseller in the country, that is seriously affecting Hachette.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria Faces Dire Water Peril

June 6th 2014

Syran refugee girl in Jordan

Two reports from Beirut's Al-Akhbar point to potentially catastrophic water problems about to affect Syria.

The lesser concerns Aleppo, where mortar shells and barrel bombs have slackened off but Islamist rebels have shut down the city's potable water supply, forcing Aleppan residents in government-controlled areas to depend on wells and trucks for limited, contaminated, and expensive water. Lines of women and children "have become ubiquitous in front of mosque fountains and government wells in order to fill small containers such as cooking pots, teapots and plastic bottles as well as small barrels," the paper reports. According to an official at the Syrian Red Crescent, "The situation signals a humanitarian and health disaster." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

A Economics Lesson for Obama and Hollande

June 5th 2014

President Obama continues his European tour today with a stop in Paris. As he and French President Francois Hollande discuss options to resolve the ongoing crisis in Russia, the weakness of the Obama administration on the global stage contrasts strikingly with the bravery shown by the D-Day soldiers, whose heroic actions 70 years ago on the Normandy beaches we commemorate this week.

But the most striking portrait of this Franco-American summit could be of two world leaders whose pretensions to economic knowledge vastly exceed their capacity to make smart policy choices. Take for instance Hollande’s decision to pass massive tax increases upon taking office two years ago. Last week, France’s Court of Auditors revealed that those tax increases raised only about half of their expected revenue, leaving a 14 billion euro shortfall in the French budget. Read more ..


Significant Lives

A Song of Hope and Prayer: A Tribute to the Un-caged Soul of Maya Angelou

June 3rd 2014

Armstrong_Williams

I first met Maya Angelou over twenty-seven years ago when she became a client of B&C Associates International public relations firm in High Point, North Carolina in 1986. I had worked at the firm in my early days as Vice President for Government and International affairs and served as Ms. Angelou’s publicist for several years. I enjoyed the honor and privilege of travelling the country with her extensively. In the course of spending time together we developed a close bond of friendship and that bond remained intact until the time she died early last week.

Maya Angelou is a towering figure of the civil rights era, a literary giant, and in recent years, an elder states-woman among the current generation of world leaders.  As Poet Laureate of the United States she spoke movingly about a land inhabited once by dinosaurs whose brittle bones became the foundation of the inclusive nation and society that we now inhabit. Her expansive gaze touched upon the original names of indigenous people who had roamed the land before America was born, and helped reconcile their legacies with the more recent migrants; those who came to escape oppression in Europe or those dragged in chains from Africa, and subsequently freed.

Angelou’s wise message was one of inclusiveness and transcendence.  She did not shy away from the controversies of our Nation’s founding moments. She confronted them head on, and yet found a way to weave them into a call to unity and purpose. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

European Borderlands Still Roiling

June 3rd 2014

Russian tourists in eastern Ukraine

A borderland is a region where history is constant: Everything is in flux. The countries we are visiting on this trip (Turkey, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and Poland) occupy the borderland between Islam, Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. Roman Catholic Hapsburg Austria struggled with the Islamic Ottoman Empire for centuries, with the Ottomans extending northwest until a climactic battle in Vienna in 1683. Beginning in the 18th century, Orthodox Russia expanded from the east, through Belarus and Ukraine. For more than two centuries, the belt of countries stretching from the Baltic to the Black seas was the borderland over which three empires fought.

There have been endless permutations here. The Cold War was the last clear-cut confrontation, pitting Russia against a Western Europe backed -- and to a great extent dominated -- by the United States. This belt of countries was firmly if informally within the Soviet empire. Now they are sovereign again. My interest in the region is to understand more clearly how the next iteration of regional geopolitics will play out. Read more ..


Broken Government

The Republicans and their Games about the Environment

June 2nd 2014

President Obama’s plan to reduce carbon gas coming from the nation’s coal plants is to be announced Monday. Cue the predictable attacks from Congress’ rightwing.

Already The New York Times reports that Republicans “say that Mr. Obama will be using his executive authority as a back door to force through an inflammatory cap-and-trade policy he could not get through Congress.”

The new Environmental Protection Agency regulations come weeks after the Senate defeat of a much smaller effort at passing a bill to spur the use of energy efficient, “smart meter” heating and cooling systems.

Republicans refused to vote for that simple idea unless they could use it as a springboard to open a debate on the Keystone XL pipeline. They hoped to open a split between some conservative Senate Democrats and the president. They also wanted a separate debate on halting the president from using his executive powers to limit carbon emissions. Read more ..


Obama and Putin

Obama-Putin Kool-Aid

June 1st 2014

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin meeting

Media coverage regarding America's response to Putin's takeover of Crimea demonstrates the success of the Obama administration's propaganda maxim blaming successive American administrations for atrocities at home and abroad. Some of our pundits apparently have drunk what might be called the Obama Kool-Aid, i.e. apologies for the United States' mostly fabricated evil past, as hav been offered since the beginning of the first Obama administration. 

Accordingly, we have no enemies, only disagreements that could be resolved by giving in to our contenders. Thus Russia, Iran, and even al-Qaeda will eventually leave the "nineteenth-century," "medieval" and "Cold War" past and come around to the administration's worldview of equally respected and pacific states Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Obama's Empty Foreign Policy Vision

May 30th 2014

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It was billed as President Obama's comeback speech on foreign policy, a response to mounting criticism — both foreign and domestic — that his international leadership has been a failure. A "big picture" address, it would outline the president's foreign policy vision as it stands five-and-a-half years since he entered the White House.

Yet the commencement address yesterday at West Point failed to deliver on either count. Instead, it reinforced the impression of a lackluster commander-in-chief with an empty foreign policy vision.
In many respects this was a highly defensive speech, one that will do little to allay growing fears, both at home and abroad, that American leadership is in decline on the world stage. It was delivered by a president seemingly obsessed with image and public perception, rather than the long-term strength of America's foreign and security policy. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Symbolism of Cliven Bundy, States' Rights and Slavery

May 29th 2014

America is a land of stories. We love to use stories about individuals to extract general principals about society as a whole. The story of Cliven Bundy is no exception. His story about an armed standoff versus the Federal Government this past April was illustrative to many of the principles that we are a government of the people, that individual rights are sacrosanct, and that states have the right to decide how to govern the lands and people within their territories. But the story didn’t end there unfortunately.

Given the bully pulpit for the first time in his life, Mr. Bundy foolishly squandered his opportunity to have America hear his story. Instead, he launched into a misguided and racist diatribe about African Americans, stating that he believed the fact that “they never learned to pick cotton,” accounted for the social ills of single motherhood and high black male incarceration rates. He went on to speculate, “I’ve wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family…?” The entirety of his rant has been relentlessly reported, and the real principles undergirding his story have been lost in the ensuing media feeding frenzy. Read more ..


The Cyber Edge

Cybersecurity: America’s Achilles’ Heel

May 28th 2014

NYSkyline

The Cybersecurity Framework, which was announced on February 12, 2014, by President Obama, has very little new to offer to the private sector. It’s only a guide to how everyone should be conceptualizing and communicating about cybersecurity concerns.

The report comes a year after the president first announced his Executive Order on “Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity” in his 2013 State of the Union address.

This framework is said to increase the cooperation between the government and the private sector. However, it fails to take the overall responsibility for addressing the vulnerabilities of the U.S. national security and economy to cybercrime, cybermanipulation of markets, denials of service, and theft of intellectual property. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Energy

Hard Truths, Difficult Choices: Recommendations to the G-7 on Bolstering Energy Security

May 28th 2014

Better Place EV charging

In advance of next week's G-7 meeting in Brussels aimed at seeking ways to strengthen Europe's energy security, Dr. Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), and a member of ACD's Board of Advisors, "calls on Europe to strike a better balance between environmental and energy security strategies, adopting a more positive sentiment toward currently rejected sources of base load electricity like coal, nuclear power and unconventional gas," said IAGS' press release. 

  

"Dr. Luft also argues that while diversifying the European electricity sector away from Russian natural gas is a worthy goal, diversification of transit routes, especially lessening the dependence on Ukraine, which has proven to be an unreliable transit country, should be of higher priority. He also calls for a grand bargain with Turkey, one which on the one hand supports Turkey's aspirations to become a land bridge for Caspian and East Mediterranean energy while on the other persuades Turkey to facilitate the transit of LNG tankers through the Bosporus.

Read more ..

Romania on Edge

The Stakes for the United States in Romania's Borderlands

May 27th 2014

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I arrived in Bucharest, Romania, the day after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will be here in a few weeks. The talk in Bucharest, not only among the leadership but also among the public, is about Ukraine. Concerns are palpable, and they are not only about the Russians. They are also about NATO, the European Union, the United States and whether they will all support Romania if it resists Russia. The other side of the equation, of course, is whether Romania will do the things it must do in order to make outside support effective. Biden left Romania with a sense that the United States is in the game. But this is not a region that trusts easily. The first step was easy. The rest become harder. Read more ..


Inside Politics

The Hillary-Industrial Complex

May 26th 2014

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton is in a pickle. She’s a shoo-in for her party’s presidential nomination because of Barack Obama’s failures. But those failures might keep her from getting the job. Her husband’s “law of politics” is that elections are always about the future, but she’s stuck in the past.

In 2008, Obama pandered to liberal hopes while Clinton appealed to their good sense. Obama promised miracles and magic. Clinton promised more homework.

“Cynicism” was Obama’s real opponent, he explained. And he used Clinton as a stand-in for it. She played her part, pointing out that the Civil Rights Act got through Congress because of LBJ’s hard work, not Martin Luther King’s speeches. She insisted that politics was toil, not performance art.

And, as we have learned from a president who so often thinks giving a speech is a substitute for solving a problem, she had the better argument. One need only look at the reaction from Democrats to President Obama’s handling of the VA scandal to see that even they would trade some inspirational claptrap for a bit more old-fashioned competence. That attitude helps Clinton immensely. Burned by disappointment, many liberals want to vote with their heads, not their hearts, this time around. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Amazon Has Gone too Far in its Extortion of Book Industry

May 25th 2014

Amazon box

Because it was Apple (AAPL) that got sued for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, not Amazon (AMZN), the federal judge who decided the case last July was able to ignore the facts on the ground: Namely, that: Amazon had monopoly control of the e-book market; Amazon kept competitors at bay by pricing publishers' bestselling e-books below cost; Amazon ruthlessly enforced its control. When challenged in 2010 by Macmillan, one of the bigfive publishers, Amazon simply pulled the "buy" button off Macmillan's books.

Apple tried to raise these facts in its defense, but U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, in the ruling that found that Apple had conspired with five publishers to raise the price of e-books, dismissed them in two sentences: "If Apple is suggesting that Amazon was engaging in illegal, monopolistic practices, and that Apple's combination with the Publisher Defendants to deprive a monopolist of some of its market power is pro-competitive and healthy for our economy, it is wrong. Another company's alleged violation of antitrust laws is not an excuse for engaging in your own violations of law." (U.S.A. v. Apple: Opinion and Order) Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Military Cuts Send the Wrong Signal to America’s Enemies

May 24th 2014

US Attack Helicopters

Carl von Clausewitz, the imposing German general whose theories about war remain influential nearly 200 years after his death, observed that “public opinion is won through great victories and the occupation of the enemy’s capital.” Not anymore. For one thing, it’s hard to determine what “great victories” look like these days. We may have gotten rid of Osama Bin Laden in 2011, but three years later, Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security, is telling us that the profusion of jihadi fighters in Syria means that “Syria has become a matter of homeland security.” In other words, what happens in the killing fields of the Middle East has consequences at home.

Meanwhile, military planners, with one eye on the experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq, are increasingly wary of the political costs of putting boots on the ground. After 9/11, military spending surged from 3.5 percent of GDP in 2001 to 5.7 percent in 2011. Many Americans now believe that it’s time to rein in such profligacy and to spend our money on domestic concerns. The palpable sense of “war fatigue” stretches all the way from the left of the Democratic Party to the Senator Rand Paul wing of the GOP. Read more ..


Venezuela After Chavez

Venezuelan Sanctions: A Response To Assistant Secretary Of State Roberta Jacobson

May 23rd 2014

Nicolas Maduro

On May 8, while Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson was testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela was arresting 240 student protestors.
 
In fact, since the beginning of the dialogue, the government has arrested more than 500 protestors. Protests in Venezuela have been going on for the last four months due to shortage of basic goods, a spectacularly high crime rate, a 57% inflation rate and an increasing oppressive government.  Since the protests began in February, both houses of Congress have sponsored bi-partisan legislation to promote human rights in Venezuela and to sanction specific individuals in the Venezuelan government responsible for repression and violation of human rights in Venezuela as well as the torture and murder of at least forty one protestors. The irony here is that while members of the Foreign Affairs Committees in both houses of the United States Congress see a need for sanctions Ms. Jacobson continues to advocate for a dialogue between the two sides (the government and the opposition).
Read more ..


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