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The Battle for Syria

What if Syrian President Bashar al Assad Really Goes?

July 5th 2012

President Bashr el Assad of syria

What if Syrian President Bashar al Assad really goes? There is an assumption in the West that the way to win a strategic victory over Iran and improve the human rights situation inside Syria is to remove the Syrian leader. It is true that Iran's prospects of keeping Syria as its own Mediterranean outpost are probably linked with the survivability of al Assad's regime. But his removal might well hasten the slide into chaos within Syria and in adjacent Lebanon, rather than slow it. Al Assad's departure could even ignite a disintegration of the Syrian power structure into various gangs and militias.

After all, we are talking less of the removal of one man than of the end of a 42-year dynasty. The president's father, Hafez al Assad, came to power in 1970 after 21 changes of government -- mostly through coups -- in Syria's first 24 years of independence. Moreover, the new Syrian state held free and fair elections in 1947, 1949 and 1954 that all broke down according to tribal, regional and sectarian interests. Read more ..

Inside Russia

The Putin Visit In Retrospect

July 5th 2012

Isi Leibler headshot

The recent visit to Israel by Russian President Putin represents yet another example of the extraordinary and unpredictable events continuously impacting on Israel and the Jewish people.

Putin’s presence in the Jewish state revived memories of my involvement in the Soviet Jewry struggle, which was the central focus of my public life for many years. Recruited as a young man by Shaul Avigur, the Israeli Prime Minister’s coordinator of the Soviet Jewry campaign, I was engaged in activities ranging from persuading the Australian government to become the first country in the world to raise the plight of Soviet Jewry at the UN to writing a book based on Soviet sources exposing state-sponsored anti-Semitism which led to divisions amongst Western communists.

The climax of my involvement was during 1978 to 1980 – when my company was designated to handle travel arrangements for the Australian team at the Moscow Olympics, thus obliging the Soviets to provide me with entry visas – until then denied.

Thanks to the personal interventions of the Australian Prime Minister, in between official Soviet meetings, I was ferried in embassy cars to the homes of the key Jewish dissidents and refuseniks and engaged them in regular intensive discussions. This terminated abruptly when Australia joined the Olympic boycott. I was arrested and charged with espionage for liaising with refuseniks who allegedly “had access to state security secrets”. I was ultimately expelled and threatened with imprisonment should I ever set foot again on Soviet soil.

Yet in 1987, seven years later, I was invited by the KGB-controlled Moscow Arkhipova Synagogue, to be their guest over Rosh Hashanah and permitted to give Zionist addresses in my faltering Yiddish from the pulpit.

This subsequently led to the establishment of the first Jewish cultural center since the revolution named after Solomon Mykhoels, the renowned Soviet Jewish actor and the artistic director murdered by Stalin in 1948, and the first Hebrew song festivals in municipal theaters in both Moscow and Leningrad. The sight of theaters, packed with of Jews of all ages, tears streaming down their eyes as they heard Yaffa Yarkoni and Dudu Fisher singing Israeli songs remains permanently seared into my memory. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Is Mitt Romney Going to Go the Way of Thomas Dewey in '48?

July 4th 2012

mitt romney

Mitt Romney’s reluctance to take stands on controversial issues was particularly notable in a recent interview with Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. On several occasions the Schieffer asked whether Romney intended to overturn Barack Obama’s new immigration policy, which allows some young illegal immigrants to stay in the United States. Each time Romney refused to answer Schieffer’s question.

Romney's evasiveness echoes that of the Republican nominee in 1948, Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey avoided taking stands in 1948 because he thought firm commitments were unnecessary. Public disapproval of Democratic president Harry S. Truman seemed likely to propel Dewey to the White House. Mitt Romney is noncommittal for precisely the same reason. Romney is aware that many Americans blame President Obama for their economic difficulties. Hoping to stoke that discontent, Romney’s speeches and television ads claim the president’s policies have failed. Yet Romney does not offer many details about how he plans to fix the economy.


Iran's Nukes

Iran Confident As Sanctions Tighten

July 2nd 2012

Iranian Qiam missile launch

Iran sees itself in a strong position relative to the West and therefore believes it has little reason to be forthcoming in nuclear negotiations.

As tighter U.S. and EU restrictions on Iran enter into force on June 28 and July 1, respectively, the Islamic Republic's leaders are sounding remarkably confident about the nuclear impasse. Tehran believes it is in a strong position relative to the West and therefore sees little reason to be forthcoming in negotiations. On the contrary, it still finds resistance to be useful in dealing with the P5+1 (i.e., the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany). On June 18, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated, "Victory is not possible without...taking risk. We stand [for our cause]...Our enemies...should know that obstinacy, arrogance, self-importance, and unreasonable expectations will not get them anywhere against the Iranian nation." The challenge for the United States and Europe is how to persuade Iranian leaders that they have exaggerated both their own strengths and the West's weaknesses. Read more ..

Broken Borders

States to Enforce Immigration Laws

June 28th 2012

US Border Patrol arrest

Despite Monday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's controversial immigration coupled with the Obama Justice Department's punitive action against Arizona law enforcement, other states with laws similar to Arizona's have announced they plan on enforcing their own laws against illegal aliens and companies that hire illegal aliens, said a source in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

The source -- himself a federal law enforcement official -- claims that at least five other states are planning to create legislation using Arizona's as a model. They will use the one provision upheld by the Justices that requires police officers to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when the officers reasonably suspect a person is in the United States illegally.

Thus far, only Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have had to face federal judges, lawsuits from immigrant rights organizations, and Attorney General Eric Holder's "attack dog," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who heads the civil rights section at the Justice Department, according to political consultant Mike Baker. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Realizing a Global Layered Missile Defense System

June 28th 2012

defense system

Russia is demanding the United States stop building missile defenses in Europe, just as it simultaneously assists Iran in building the very missiles that threaten NATO.

In language reminiscent of the Cold War, Russian President Vladimir Putin is once again urging Washington to "better not to do this." Russian Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov warned, "Taking into account a missile-defense system's destabilizing nature, that is, the creation of an illusion that a disarming strike can be launched with impunity, a decision on pre-emptive use of the attack weapons available will be made when the situation worsens." In short, Makarov has warned that if the United States builds missile defenses, Russia will threaten to attack. This despite serial attempts by Washington to "reset" relations between the two former Cold War adversaries. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Finding the Elusive Keys to Ending Pervasive Insurgencies

June 28th 2012

Al-Shahab in Somalia
Al Shahab terrorists in Somalia.

In recent weeks, insurgent forces in several countries have been forced to withdraw from territories they once held. Somalia's al Shabaab, which was pushed out of Mogadishu in October 2011, was ejected from Afmadow on May 30. The group now runs the risk of losing its hold once again on the port city of Kismayo, an important logistical and financial hub for al Shabaab.

In Syria, the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups were forced out of the city of Idlib and Homs' Baba Amr district in March. They also withdrew from Al-Haffah on June 13.

Meanwhile in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been forced to retreat from towns it took control of last year in southern Abyan province, including Jaar, Shaqra and Zinjibar. The organization controlled the area it seized from the government through its Ansar al-Sharia front organization. AQAP was able to capitalize on the infighting that began in Yemen in 2011 and successfully diverted the government's focus away from AQAP and other militant groups. But in February, the election of new Yemeni President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi allowed the rift created by the infighting to be slowly healed. As a result, a combination of Yemeni soldiers and local tribesmen, backed by U.S. intelligence and fire support, have been able to push back AQAP and Ansar al-Sharia in recent weeks. Read more ..

Broken Government

Contribution Limits in States at Risk Thanks to Supreme Court

June 28th 2012

money changing hands

A campaign finance arms race is in danger of breaking out in Illinois and at least three other states as lawmakers use the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision as justification for raising or even eliminating campaign contribution limits.

In Illinois, for example, the legislature voted last month to repeal limits on corporate contributions to candidates when super PACs or individuals spend more than $250,000 on a state race or $100,000 on a local race. The move would balance spending between outside groups and candidates, say supporters. But it could also lead to far greater spending in elections, raising concerns about possible corruption, say critics.

Twenty-four states had bans in place against corporate or union spending on elections that were knocked down by Citizens United. Nineteen of the 24 states passed laws to require better disclosure.

The Illinois bill, introduced by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), expands an existing loophole in Illinois’s campaign finance law. In May, the bill passed the state House 30–26 and the Senate 63–55 with no Republican support and awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature or veto. Quinn signed campaign finance legislation into law in 2009 that limited contributions to elected officials to $5,000 from an individual, $10,000 from a business or labor group and $50,000 from a regulated political action committee. Read more ..

Iran’s Nukes

Iran Confident As Sanctions Tighten

June 28th 2012

Khameni and Khomeini

As tighter U.S. and EU restrictions on Iran enter into force on June 28 and July 1, respectively, the Islamic Republic's leaders are sounding remarkably confident about the nuclear impasse. Tehran believes it is in a strong position relative to the West and therefore sees little reason to be forthcoming in negotiations. On the contrary, it still finds resistance to be useful in dealing with the P5+1 (i.e., the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany). On June 18, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated, “Victory is not possible without … taking risk. We stand [for our cause] … Our enemies … should know that obstinacy, arrogance, self-importance, and unreasonable expectations will not get them anywhere against the Iranian nation.” The challenge for the United States and Europe is how to persuade Iranian leaders that they have exaggerated both their own strengths and the West's weaknesses.

Iran sees the West as preoccupied

Iranian leaders believe that Europe is completely preoccupied by an ongoing financial crisis that has proven its economic model to be a failure. They also see the United States as being focused on the presidential campaign and exhausted by two long, inconclusive wars in the region. In Tehran's eyes, both parties—especially the United States—want a deal with Iran more than Iran wants a deal with them. Read more ..

Brazil on Edge

Brazilian Environmental Policy: Talk or Action?

June 27th 2012

Brazil deforestation forest fire

After several years of deliberation amongst environmental organizations and agricultural lobbyists, on April 25 the Brazilian National Congress approved the new Forestry Code, sending it to President Dilma’s desk. Dilma has vetoed a number of the proposed law’s stipulations, including penalty-free infractions by landowners who avoid environmental registry. Approved in 1965, the existing Forestry Code seeks to preserve the environment by specifying the exact amount of land that can be deforested by farmers. Unfortunately, the proposed reforms will harm the Amazonian region by allowing farmers and settlers to cultivate land without requiring the proper environmental safeguards.

In the Amazon, issues of deforestation, agriculture, ranching, and energy collide with protection of the environment, and the Brazilian government has historically catered to demands of the agribusiness sector. Professor Ans Kolk from the Amsterdam Business School says that, in the 1970s when environmental debates were emerging, Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Putin's Visit to Israel seeks to Bolster Russia's Image as a Powerhouse

June 26th 2012

Putin in Israel

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Israel on June 25 for his first state visit since retaking the presidency. The visit was arranged in mid-May, and so at least part of the agenda was set, given events in Syria and Egypt. The interesting thing about Israel and Russia is that while they seem to be operating in the same areas of interest and their agendas seem disconnected, their interests are not always opposed. It is easy to identify places they both care about but more difficult to identify ways in which they connect. It is therefore difficult to identify the significance of the visit beyond that it happened.

An example is Azerbaijan. Russia is still a major weapons provider for Azerbaijan, but the Israelis are now selling it large amounts of weapons and appear to be using it as a base from which to observe and, according to rumors, possibly attack Iran. Russia, which supports Armenia, a country Azerbaijan fought a war with in the late 1980s and early 1990s and technically still is at war with, ought to oppose Israel's action, particularly since it threatens Iran, which Russia does not want attacked. At the same time, Russia doesn't feel threatened by Israeli involvement in Azerbaijan, and Israel doesn't really care about Armenia. Both are there, both are involved and both think Azerbaijan is important, yet each operates in ways that ought to conflict but don't.

The same is true in the more immediate case of Syria, where its downing of a Turkish plane has created an unexpected dynamic for this visit. To think about this we need to consider Russian and Israeli strategy and its odd lack of intersection in Syria. Read more ..

The Health Edge

Farmworkers Plagued by Pesticides, Red Tape

June 25th 2012

Afrikaner Farmer Piet Kemp

Laboring in the blackberry fields of central Arkansas, the 18-year-old Mexican immigrant suddenly turned ill. Her nose began to bleed, her skin developed a rash, and she vomited.

The doctor told her it was most likely flu or bacterial infection, but farmworker Tania Banda-Rodriguez suspected pesticides. Under federal law, growers must promptly report the chemicals they spray.

It took the worker, and a Tennessee legal services lawyer helping her, six months to learn precisely what chemical doused those blackberry fields. The company ignored her requests for the information. The Arkansas State Plant Board initially refused to provide records to her lawyer, saying it didn’t respond to out-of-state requests. An Arkansas inspector, dispatched after the complaint, didn’t initially discern what pesticides were used the day the worker became ill, records show. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Why Is Access To Syria's Port At Tartus So Important To Moscow?

June 23rd 2012

Black Sea fleet

More than its weapons sales to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia's greatest strategic and geopolitical interest in Syria is the use of a deep-water port at Tartus. How long has Moscow been using Syria's port at Tartus as a strategic naval base in the Mediterranean?

The Soviet Navy began using Syria's deep-water port at Tartus for submarines and surface vessels under a 1971 agreement with Damascus. The Soviet Union was Syria's main arms supplier and Tartus was used to receive Soviet weapons bought by Damascus.

The Soviet Fifth Mediterranean Squadron also used the docks at the base to load its own fuel and supplies. The Soviet Navy had similar support points in Egypt, but the Soviets evacuated the Egyptian bases in the late 1970s, sending ships and equipment to Tartus instead. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egypt Military’s Election Stance Could Aggravate Crisis

June 23rd 2012

Egyptian protest

A Washington-based scholar says Egypt could be plunged into crisis if the military council is seen as pressuring the election commission to declare former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq winner of the presidential run-off vote. “If the announcement is that Ahmed Shafiq has won, there could be chaos in Egypt. There would certainly be widespread rejection of the supposed outcome, and there would be continuing demonstrations, and in fact it would get quite ugly,” said Samer Shehata, Assistant Professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University.

“The majority of people who voted in the election run-off didn’t vote for either of the two candidates. They voted against them because of their polarizing attitude and background,” he said. Some analysts predict Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate Mohammed Morsi is likely to win the vote after collating unofficial results across the country.

Observers say over the last several weeks, establishment-backed Ahmed Shafiq appeared to have enjoyed better state media (radio, television, and internet) coverage ahead of the vote. But, according to Shehata, the media advantage does not seem to have significantly benefitted him. “The vote seems to be 900,000 plus in Mohammed Morsi’s favor, so that does not seem to have worked.” Read more ..

Egypt and Israel

The Egypt-Gaza Powder Keg

June 19th 2012

Hamas troops w/rocket

Recent developments on Israel's southern borders have illustrated the direct relationship between the changes sweeping Arab lands and mounting threats to Israel's national security. This past weekend, as Egyptians went to the polls, terrorists operating in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula fired two Grad rockets into southern Israel.

The projectiles landed in Uvda and Mitzpe Ramon, which are located north of the Red Sea tourist hub of Eilat. These are areas that had never seen terrorist rocket fire before.

Mitzpe Ramon is situated 14 kilometers north of the Egyptian border. According to Israel Police bomb squad officials, the rockets used in the attack have a maximum range of 22 kilometers, and Israeli security forces say that Sinai is filled with secret weapons caches containing many more rockets, RPGs, machine guns, and anti-tank missiles, as well as terror cells from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and al Qaeda-affiliated groups ready to use them. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

U.S. Foreign Policy as Analyzed by Hollywood

June 17th 2012

quantum of solace

James Bond, the fictitious British spy created by Ian Fleming, has been the protagonist of more than 50 novels and more than 20 films since 1953, becoming a world-renowned icon in the process. The plot of Quantum of Solace (the 22nd film in the Bond series, released in 2008) revolves around Bond’s attempts to prevent a group of powerful individuals from orchestrating a military coup in Bolivia and, with the aid of a corrupt Bolivian army general, taking control of the country’s water sources.

While the movie received numerous reviews, it has not, to this point, been analyzed from an academic point of view. This is a mistake as the issue of control of water is certain to increase in importance in the near future. For Bolivia, and most other Latin American countries whose natural resources are increasingly vital sources of power, the message of Quantum of Solace is all too relevant.

Hollywood and International Relations

It has become fairly common for scholars to apply international relations theories to TV and film. In 2011, Foreign Policy published an article analyzing the television series Game of Thrones, based on the books written by George R.R. Martin, from the perspective of international relations theory. Dr. Kelly DeVries of Loyola University recently published another article comparing international affairs to Game of Thrones in Foreign Affairs. Over the years, the Bond stories have also been analyzed from an academic point of view. For example, in 2005 a group of academics published a book titled “Ian Fleming and James Bond: the Cultural Politics of 007.” Read more ..

The Euro Crisis

What Happens If Greece Quits The Euro?

June 17th 2012

Greek and Euro flags

On June 17 Greeks go to the polls in a general election that could determine whether the crisis-hit country remains in the 17-nation eurozone. What happens if Athens quits -- or is forced out of -- the single currency?

How important is the general election in Greece on June 17?

This is a repeat election after the May 6 vote resulted in no party having enough support to form a government. The leftist Syriza party, which is tied in the polls with the conservative New Democracy, has promised to tear up Greece's stringent 130 billion-euro ($164 billion) deal with the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) that is needed to avert a Greek default.

It's not clear if Greek parties will be able to put together a coalition government this time either. But if Syriza emerges as the clear victor, expect market turmoil -- central banks in some major economies have already announced they are ready to take steps to stabilize the markets if needed. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Israel Continues to Thwart Terror Attacks from PA-Controlled West Bank

June 13th 2012

IDF Soldiers

On May 10, the official Israel Defense Forces blog posted an article titled "The 2012 Terror Attacks Against Israel You Never Heard About." The title is somewhat misleading, since in fact, none of these attacks actually took place: They were thwarted by the IDF's unsung but daily counterterrorism operations in the West Bank.

While one or two items on the list seem questionable, most could undoubtedly have been deadly attacks. There are no innocent reasons for carting bombs around. On April 11, for instance, soldiers caught a Palestinian at a checkpoint near Nablus "carrying improvised explosive devices, three knives and 50 bullets." On April 21, two Palestinian teens were caught near Tapuach Junction with five pipe bombs, a gun and ammunition. On April 24, soldiers found four improvised bombs in the bags of two Palestinians crossing a checkpoint near Jericho. On April 28, two Palestinians were caught trying to smuggle four pipe bombs through yet another West Bank checkpoint. On May 7, soldiers caught a Palestinian teen with three pipe bombs near Tapuach Junction. On May 10, two other Palestinians were caught near Tapuach Junction "carrying 2 explosive devices and 3 prepped firebombs."

Egypt on Edge

The Arab Summer will only get Hotter following Egypt's Presidential Election

June 12th 2012

Egyptian candidates
Mohammed Morsi, Hamdeen Sabahy, Ahmed Shafiq (l-r).

On June 16-17 Egyptians will cast ballots in a runoff election that will decide between the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Mursi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, who served under former president Hosni Mubarak.

The ballot has polarized the country, prompting calls for boycotting the vote, while at the same time, Judge Ahmed el-Zend, the head of the association of Egyptian Judges said that would abandon any neutrality in this runoff and play a political role in the ballot watching and counting in order to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from claiming unchallengeable power. “We won’t leave matters for those who can’t manage them…,” Judge Zend said.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the de facto ruler of Egypt, convened a meeting on June 11 with the military council to discuss procedures to secure the presidential runoff election to ward off potential politicizing at the polls. They discussed the procedures to ensure the success, fairness and transparency of the voting process. Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Clean Air Act Case Brings $1 Million Penalty

June 12th 2012


The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a $1 million fine against a global plastics producer for alleged Clean Air Act violations at its plants in two small, polluted communities seven hours apart in Alabama and Indiana. The civil penalty against SABIC Innovative Plastics, announced May 31, targets leak detection and repair failings that resulted in hundreds of tons of hazardous air pollutant releases every year, the federal agency said.

SABIC, a global producer of polymers and thermoplastics, is a top employer in the two towns involved: Burkville, a rural community best known for hosting Alabama’s annual Okra Festival, and Mount Vernon, a town of just under 6,700 nestled in the southernmost tip of Indiana. The EPA’s 15-count complaint said SABIC skirted Clean Air Act rules on monitoring and repairing equipment leaks, complying with chemical plant regulations and reporting known violations. SABIC agreed to the penalty to settle the case. Read more ..

The Massacres in Syria

U.S. Options for Syria: Action vs. Inaction

June 10th 2012

Free Syrian Army

With the failure of the Annan plan and the increasing civilian toll of fighting in Syria, the Obama administration is reportedly considering more proactive steps to compel Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step aside. While most options carry risks, so does inaction. To achieve its policy objectives in Syria and increase the available options, the Obama administration should take actions to overcome the obstacles to, and mitigate the risks of, bolder international action.

For the United States, the Syrian uprising represents not only a humanitarian crisis to be addressed but a strategic opportunity to be seized. The Assad regime -- Iran's sole ally in the Middle East -- has aided terrorist groups and foreign fighters and has sought to destabilize Lebanon. While a successor regime may still oppose U.S. interests in some areas, it would unlikely prove a close ally to Tehran or Iranian proxy groups such as Hizballah. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Sequestration or Not, Defense Budget to Continue its Decline

June 8th 2012


While many in Washington assume that Congress will solve sequestration by the end of the year–the problem Congress created when the Super Committee failed–recent comments by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicate that sequestration in some form is coming. Worse, in some corners it seems that sequestration is not viewed as a problem to be solved but rather an increasingly preferable solution already on the books. Sure, some say, sequestration is a tough pill to swallow, but Congress has to reduce the debt.

Only one party is trying to meaningfully address sequestration, and that should worry everyone. According to Politico, Majority Leader Reid and others are digging in on sequestration. There is the sense Republicans are vulnerable since they agreed to this as part of the debt-ceiling deal. Now Democrats can use sequestration as negotiating leverage in the lame duck to tackle taxes and possibly another debt-ceiling increase.

That’s the dirty secret in Washington. It may have appeared just a few months ago that there was near universal consensus on the need to avoid the sequester’s devastating cuts to the military, adding about $600 billion to the $487 billion already slashed for the coming decade. But Republicans negotiated a debt ceiling deal only Republicans could hate that offered up two bad choices: tax hikes or defense cuts. Read more ..

The Arab Winter in Egypt

Brother Number One

June 8th 2012

Mohammed Morsi

Should Americans be worried about the man who might be Egypt's next president: the Muslim Brotherhood's curious second choice, Mohamed Morsi?

Egypt is on the cusp of its first real experiment in Islamist governance. If the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi comes out on top in the upcoming presidential runoff election, scheduled for June 16 and 17, the venerable Islamist movement will have won control of both Egypt's presidency and its parliament, and it will have a very real chance to implement its agenda of market-driven economic recovery, gradual Islamization, and the reassertion of Egypt's regional role.

Over the course of Egypt's troubled transition, the Brotherhood has become increasingly, and uncharacteristically, assertive in its political approach. Renouncing promises not to seek the presidency and entering into an overt confrontation with the ruling military council, the Brotherhood's bid to "save the revolution" has been interpreted by others as an all-out power grab. Egypt's liberals, as well as the United States, now worry about the implications of unchecked Brotherhood rule and what that might mean for their interests. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Are Nuclear Weapons Contractors’ Campaign Donation Millions Buying Favors?

June 8th 2012

Nuclear Bomb MK17

Employees of private companies that produce the main pieces of the U.S. nuclear arsenal have invested more than $18 million in the election campaigns of lawmakers that oversee related federal spending, and the companies also employ more than 95 former members of Congress or Capitol Hill staff to lobby for government funding, according to a new report.

The Center for International Policy, a nonprofit group that supports the “demilitarization” of U.S. foreign policy, released the report to highlight what it described as the heavy influence of campaign donations and pork barrel politics on a part of the defense budget not usually associated with large profits or contractor power: nuclear arms.

As Congress deliberated this spring on nuclear weapons-related projects, including funding for the development of more modern submarines and bombers, the top 14 contractors gave nearly $3 million to the 2012 reelection campaigns of lawmakers whose support they needed for these and other projects, the report disclosed. Read more ..

The Arab Winter in Egypt

Understanding the Muslim Brotherhood

June 8th 2012

Egyptian Muslim bros

Today, the Muslim Brotherhood is the most important international political organization in the Arabic-speaking world. It is the dominant party in Egypt’s parliament, having obtained about 47 percent of the vote there, and in the Tunisian government, having received 40 percent of the ballots. In the form of Hamas, now an explicit branch of the movement, it rules the Gaza Strip.

It is the leadership of the opposition in the Palestinian Authority (West Bank) and in Jordan, while the local Brotherhood controls the internationally recognized leadership (the Syrian National Council) of the Syrian opposition in the civil war there. Much smaller Brotherhood groups exist in several other Arab countries. Yet even that is not all. The Brotherhood has become the most important group among Muslims in Europe and North America, too, often directing communities and representing them in dealings with the government and non-Muslim society as well. It should be stressed, however, that it is a decentralized organization and there is no close coordination of the branches in different countries. Read more ..

The Russian Edge

A Bill that Cracks Down on Russian Corruption

June 7th 2012


The House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled today to take up the most consequential piece of legislation in years related to Russia: the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012. With strong bipartisan support, led by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), the Magnitsky bill is the most serious U.S. effort to address human rights and the rule of law in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The legislation is named after the 37-year-old lawyer who was jailed unjustly in 2008 after exposing a massive tax fraud by officials of Russia’s Interior Ministry. While in jail for almost a year, Magnitsky became ill but was denied medical treatment. In the end he was brutally beaten and left to die.

The proposed legislation is not about one man, however. It is about a Russian system choking on corruption, illegality and abuse. The new law would impose a visa ban and asset freeze against theofficials responsible not only for Magnitsky’s murder but also for other human rights abuses, including against individuals who “expose illegal activity” carried out by Russian officials or who seek to “defend or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms.” This includes journalists who have been murdered when they have dug too close to powerful officials or oligarchs. It includes human rights activists who have been beaten and crippled or killed for exposing the mistreatment of their fellow Russians. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

The End of Counterinsurgency and the Scalable Force

June 7th 2012

Revolutionary Guards

The U.S. military for years has debated the utility of counterinsurgency operations. Drawing from a sentiment that harkens back to the Vietnam War, many within the military have long opposed counterinsurgency operations. Others see counterinsurgency as the unavoidable future of U.S. warfare. The debate is between those who believe the purpose of a conventional military force is to defeat another conventional military force and those who believe conventional military conflicts increasingly will be replaced by conflicts more akin to recent counterinsurgency operations.

In such conflicts, the purpose of a counterinsurgency is to transform an occupied society in order to undermine the insurgents. Understanding this debate requires the understanding that counterinsurgency is not a type of warfare; it is one strategy by which a disproportionately powerful conventional force approaches asymmetric warfare. As its name implies, it is a response to an insurgency, a type of asymmetric conflict undertaken by small units with close links to the occupied population to defeat a larger conventional force. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Obamas And the New Politics of Race

June 6th 2012

Click to select Image

With the 2012 US presidential election campaign in full swing, the meaning and significance of Barack Obama and his presidency are once again in the spotlight. Has the election of Barack Obama served as the watershed moment for American politics and race relations that many predicted? A number of experts in the field of critical race theory attempt to answer this question in a special issue of Qualitative Sociology: The Obamas and the New Politics of Race,¹ published by Springer and available to the general public. This series of six articles showcases the most recent critical sociological work on race, racism, and politics through the lens of Barack Obama's presidency.

One article provides a timely examination of how the concept of "family" has been used to both address and mask social inequalities generally, and racial inequalities in particular. In her article entitled "Just another American story? The first Black First Family," former American Sociological Association president Patricia Hill Collins shows – by highlighting their own 'family stories' during the 2008 campaign and in the post-election years – how the Obamas have been able to reintroduce race, gender, labor and equality into public policy discussions in a time when such debates are often deemed risky. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Can Obama Have a Successful Second Term?

June 4th 2012

Obama in Thought

Barack Obama will face serious challenges if he's re-elected in November. Of the nineteen presidents who have won a second term, only seven have been judged to have succeeded during that time in office.

Many articles have recently been written about the impending battle between the president and Congress over the extension of the Bush tax cuts, raising the debt limit, the potential of automatic cuts in spending and various tax benefits that expire. The necessity of resolving these issues is what Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke refers to as a “fiscal cliff.” It is possible that these momentous decisions will be given brief extensions so that the next president and Congress will be saddled with making them. As a second-term president Obama would face obstacles rarely experienced by a chief executive returned to office. Compromise has been the source of major legislation since the end of World War II, but Obama would face sizeable numbers of members of the Senate and House who have stated they will not compromise. There are ominous clouds on the horizon for a second term for Obama.

The list of those who prevailed in their second term includes George Washington, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Those who had troubled or failed second terms were Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. (Lincoln is not included in this list as his second term was so brief). Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

The Logic of Argentina's Expropriation of YPF Petroleum Business

June 4th 2012

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

On April 16th, 2012, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner expropriated the Argentinian oil subsidiary Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF) from the Spanish conglomerate Repsol. According to Fernández, her executive order to seize 51 percent of Repsol’s stake in YPF was prompted by what she and Argentine state officials deemed an inexcusable “underinvestment” in the development of newfound oil and natural gas deposits in the nation’s western regions. Instantly popular among Argentinians, the takeover was decried as unprovoked and nearsighted by Repsol’s board of directors and much of the international business community.

Nevertheless, for all the attention initially enjoyed by the Fernández administration, the Western world seems to have rapidly lost interest. Indeed, legislation finalizing the nationalization sailed through the Argentine National Congress essentially unopposed, and with virtually no coverage from Western media outlets. Read more ..

Peru on Edge

Corporations and Peru's Native Peoples Clash over Mineral Riches

June 3rd 2012

Ollanta Humala
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala

Peru, like many other Latin American countries, is heavily dependent on revenue generated through its extractive industries, such as copper, gold, and silver mining. Indeed, the mining of precious metals and minerals accounts for more than 60 percent of Peru’s total export income. While the development of the Peruvian mining industry has generated robust growth for the country’s economy, it has also been the cause of considerable friction between the Peruvian indigenous population and the federal government, which is widely seen as being complicit in the violations perpetrated by foreign mining corporations.

The constant struggle between foreign, as well as domestic, mining corporations and indigenous peoples culminated in violent protests over the weekend of May 26th and 27th. The Quechua indigenous population of the heavily-mestizo city of Cusco, located in the province of Espinar, is demanding reparations and increased corporate accountability from Xstrata, the Swiss multinational which owns the region’s Tintaya copper mine. According to the protestors, operation of the Tintaya mine has brought about water contamination in at least two local rivers—the Salado and Canipia—leading to the deaths of farm animals.

Last August, the local Roman Catholic diocese conducted an environmental study which reportedly found high levels of arsenic, copper, mercury, and other heavy metals in a number of soil and water samples, confirming these accusations. Xstrata categorically denies responsibility for any such pollution. The protesters are calling upon Xstrata to conduct additional environmental studies regarding the impact of Tintaya on the local environment, and to increase its “voluntary contribution” to the Espinar province from 3 percent of pre-tax profits (roughly $11 million USD per year), to 30 percent of pre-tax profits. Thus far, Xstrata has rejected both demands, citing a lack of definitive evidence linking its mining operations to the pollution of local habitats, and claiming that its voluntary contributions are already very generous. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Is the PDP Era Coming to an End?

June 3rd 2012

Nigeria Fashola

In Nigeria, the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) remains in control of the apparatus of the state. They are expected to continue an agenda of deregulation and privatization. Politically there are few challenges to the PDP’s hold on power over the next few years. However the gains made by the opposition in the 2011 election should still be considered troubling. If they are able to consolidate these gains in yet another electoral cycle they may be able to unseat the PDP from power for the first time since 1999.

While the national flag bearer and presidential candidate for the main opposition coalition the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, did not fear well in the 2011 presidential election their prospects for 2015 are much brighter. It is expected that the popular ACN Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, will make a run for the presidency. Lagos is the largest city and the most populous state in Nigera.

In addition to Fashola, former labour union leader and current ACN Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, may also run or perhaps team with Fashola to defeat the PDP in 2015. Fashola is credited with revitalizing Lagos State with infrastructure, security, investment, sanitation facilities, and urban renewal projects not seen throughout much of the country. He is one the few political bright spots, running a state that is seen largely as accountable and progressive with lower levels of corruption than in much of the country. Oshiomhole won his first term as governor after contesting his initial loss due to rigging by the ruling party in his state. In a judicial review of the election he was declared winner and hailed nationally as an opposition leader ready to stand firm in the face of corruption from the ruling party.  Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Gov. Romney on Defense Spending and US Foreign Policy

June 3rd 2012

Nuclear Bomb MK17

Three years ago today at the United States Navy Memorial former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney delivered his first extended speech setting forth his vision on national security policy, what might be the first hints of the Romney Doctrine: We must confront clearly and courageously the threats to freedom, and we must resolutely sustain the capabilities we need to protect our security and sustain the cause of liberty….Our strategy is based on two principles: free enterprise and individual liberty.

Romney described how a president should meet this challenge. The first step lies in properly ascertaining our defense needs. Rather than starting out with a dollar amount to spend on national security and then figuring out what resources — personnel, equipment, bases, etc. – could be purchased with it, Romney argued for a far superior approach. “The right way to scaleAmerica’s defense budget,” he argued, “is to add up the requirements for each of our missions” and only then fashion a budget designed to meet those missions. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Why Has Facebook's Eagerly Anticipated Stock Offering Disappointed Investors?

June 3rd 2012

Facebook page

It was one of the biggest and most highly anticipated stock offerings in U.S. financial history. Now it looks to many people like Wall Street’s biggest disappointment. Shares in the social media company Facebook have been steadily losing value since the company’s May 18 public debut, when its market value was estimated at an eye-popping $104 billion. Since then, the share price has dropped 25 percent from an initial $38. The stock closed at $29.60 on May 31. It wasn't supposed to happen like this.

Investors lucky enough to get their hands on Facebook stock thought they were buying a sure thing. The excitement leading up to its initial public offering (IPO) was unmatched in the history of Wall Street. Facebook fever gripped everyone from the largest investment bank to the smallest individual investor, all of whom wanted to own a piece of the wildly popular social media company founded by Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard eight years ago. It worked. The company raised $16 billion. So what’s gone wrong since then? Read more ..

Nigeria and South Africa

Nigeria Catches Up With South Africa

June 3rd 2012

Nigera Plaza

Nigeria is currently on record as Africa’s second-largest economy, and one of the fastest growing economies on the continent and in the world. However, it is only a matter of a year or two before Nigeria becomes Africa’s largest economy. Presently it is roughly equal to South Africa. Nigeria is expected to rebase its economy in 2012 in order to provide an accurate measure of its actual size. When neighbouring Ghana rebased its economy in 2010 it was found to be 60 percent larger than had previously estimated jumping from USD 18 to USD 31 billion. Nigeria is expected to have a similar jump once the rebase is completed this year. Rebasing adds different weighting on sectors that have changed over the last 30 years. In Nigeria the telecommunications industry, banking industry, and real estate and infrastructure sectors will receive different weights due to the growth in these sectors over the last few decades. According to Renaissance Capital, Nigeria could eclipse South Africa by 2014 and is presently likely to be roughly equal in size already at over USD 400 billion. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran Accelerates Enrichment

June 2nd 2012

Iran centrifuges

Every three to six months the International Atomic Energy Agency publishes a report on the current state of the Iranian nuclear program. The latest IAEA report, dated May 25, is striking in light of the tense negotiations that have been underway between the P5+1 and the Iranians. What helped these talks get started in the first place has been the escalation of Western economic sanctions since the end of 2011, especially the unprecedented European economic sanctions that are about to begin, on July 1. There were also increasing references to the possibility of military operations against Iran that appeared in the international press. Given Iran’s situation, it might have been expected that Tehran would be extremely careful about how it proceeded with its nuclear program in the months leading up to July 1. Certainly, it would not take measures that might antagonize its negotiating partners. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Prospect of Sectarian Conflict Looms in Nigeria

June 2nd 2012

Kaduna Nigeria bomb results

Beyond residual security risks in Nigeria, a well-financed Islamic fundamentalist group, Boko Haram could trigger nation-wide conflict. There is no indication that the group has popular support and it does not appear Muslims in the country support the group itself either. In fact many of their members come from neighboring countries. Still violence has claimed the lives of several thousand, with bombs and gunmen assaulting civilians in churches and launching strikes on security forces in the north. In their recent calls for dialogue the group has now focused on President Jonathan as their primary political target. Despite their lack of popular support, there may be political elite, especially from the nation’s north, who directly benefit from the group’s violent campaign.

Northern Elite

The power-sharing practiced within the Nigerian constitution and within the ruling party is that top positions in government are to be spread relatively equally across all 6 geographic regions. Further, the highest positions are to be rotated from north to south with roughly equal representation from both regions. After former President Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim, died in office, incumbent President Jonathan, a southern Christian, became president. He also secured another term in office in the subsequent election to the dismay of many northern elite who view that their region should field the next president. Read more ..

Counting Palestinians

Blunder Down Under: Why Did Australia Up Its Donation UNRWA By 450%?

June 2nd 2012

Palestinian Refugee Camp

The May 28, 2012 decision of the Australian government to increase its allocation to the United Nations Relief and Works agency, UNRWA, the agency that serves Palestinian Refugees and their descendants - by 450% - from $19 million to $90 million, with funds geared for the most part to the UNRWA educational system, warrants careful examination, since the educational approach taught by UNRWA to half a million Palestinian Arab pupils is that their purpose in life is to reclaim villages from 1948 which no longer exist.

Every aspect of Palestinian Authority education in the UNRWA refugee camps--see here--is oriented around the realization of the "right of return" for Palestinian Arab refugees from the 1948 war.

Yet only about 1 percent of the UNRWA residents are real refugees who fit the original UNRWA definition of “people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict."


Inside Nigeria

Concern grows in Oil-Rich Nigeria over Political Support for Boko Haram terrorists

June 2nd 2012

Nigeria joint military task force

Northern leaders in Nigeria may indeed be sponsoring the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram for political reasons. Recently the national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Bamanga Tukur a prominent northern leader, said that “Boko Haram is fighting for justice” in a meeting with the Governor and party officials from Gombe State.

The statement has already enraged the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) prompting CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritesejafor to call for the ruling party’s national chairman to explain himself. Some say that Tukur may have indeed been referring to the youth in the north of the country that have been recruited by the group and not the group or its leaders, but his soft stance against the sect echoes many northern leaders who have been making calls for dialogue and negotiations between the group and the government to address the group’s “grievances”.

What is clear from the exchange between Christian Leaders and their northern Muslim counterparts is that there is a wide difference of opinion on the group and how it should be handled. The claims that the group is fighting injustice is problematic since many of the same injustices are prevalent throughout the country. Further, prominently among the list of past corrupt officials are Muslim political elite from the nations north Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Nigeria's Ruling Party and its Shaky Hold on Power

June 1st 2012

President Goodluck Johnson
President Goodluck Jonathan

In Nigeria, the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) remains in control of the apparatus of the state. They are expected to continue an agenda of deregulation and privatization. Politically there are few challenges to the PDP’s hold on power over the next few years. However the gains made by the opposition in the 2011 election should still be considered troubling. If they are able to consolidate these gains in yet another electoral cycle they may be able to unseat the PDP from power for the first time since 1999.

While the national flag bearer and presidential candidate for the main opposition coalition the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, did not fear well in the 2011 presidential election their prospects for 2015 are much brighter. It is expected that the popular ACN Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, will make a run for the presidency. Lagos is the largest city and the most populous state in Nigera. In addition to Fashola, former labour union leader and current ACN Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, may also run or perhaps team with Fashola to defeat the PDP in 2015.

Fashola is credited with revitalizing Lagos State with infrastructure, security, investment, sanitation facilities, and urban renewal projects not seen throughout much of the country. He is one the few political bright spots, running a state that is seen largely as accountable and progressive with lower levels of corruption than in much of the country. Oshiomhole won his first term as governor after contesting his initial loss due to rigging by the ruling party in his state. In a judicial review of the election he was declared winner and hailed nationally as an opposition leader ready to stand firm in the face of corruption from the ruling party. Read more ..

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