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South Africa on Edge

South Africa Needs a Roadmap to Economic Freedom

November 4th 2011

Africa - South Africa Flag

South Africa is one of the world’s largest exporters of precious metals used in a multitude of industrial and commercial applications. Continued access to this vast mineral wealth is vital for the economic security of the West. The future political and economic stability of South Africa hinges on its ability to tackle lack of economic opportunity, high unemployment, poverty, and the legacy of Apartheid. South Africa also needs a growing economy in order to address endemic challenges ranging from AIDS and crime to education and infrastructure development.

Accelerated economic growth requires increased access for all South Africans to land and capital, limits on government interventions, incentives for private investment, and a strengthening of property rights and the rule of law. Powerful voices in the ruling African National Congress, however, are demanding the nationalization of vital industries, land seizures, and state intervention to advance social equality. Analyzing developments in the ongoing debate between economic freedom and state intervention will go far in helping to shape the future of the “Rainbow Nation” as a regional and international economic player. The U.S. should use available political and economic diplomacy policy instruments (e.g., the U.S.- South Africa Strategic Dialogue, the U.S.- South Africa Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council, and AGOA - the African Growth and Opportunity Act) to weigh in with the South African government on the side of economic freedom. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia Embarks on Rebuilding an Empire

November 1st 2011

Russian Topics - Russian Paratroopers
Russian paratroopers

U.S.-Russian relations seem to have been relatively quiet recently, as there are numerous contradictory views in Washington about the true nature of Russia’s current foreign policy. Doubts remain about the sincerity of the U.S. State Department’s so-called “reset” of relations with Russia — the term used in 2009 when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed a reset button to her Russian counterpart as a symbol of a freeze on escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington. The concern is whether the “reset” is truly a shift in relations between the two former adversaries or simply a respite before relations deteriorate again.

The reset actually had little to do with the United States wanting Russia as a friend and ally. Rather, Washington wanted to create room to handle other situations — mainly Afghanistan and Iran — and ask Russia for help. (Russia is aiding in moving supplies into Afghanistan and withholding critical support from Iran.) Meanwhile, Russia also wanted more room to set up a system that would help it create a new version of its old empire. Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia's Dire Choices in Addressing Narco-Terrorism

October 31st 2011

Latin American Topics - President Santos of Colombia
President Jose Manuel Santos of Colombia

Throughout the last year, a number of serious questions have been raised over the tools employed by the former Uribe administration (2002-2010) to establish and maintain a secure, stable Colombia. The August 31, 2011 resignation of Rodrigo Rivera, Defense Minister under the recently inaugurated president Juan Manuel Santos, presents a useful opportunity to reflect on the security policy under the new head of state and Colombia’s qualifications as a free trade partner.

Up until now, President Santos appears to have maintained the overall security language and posture employed by the Uribe regime: a repertoire of terms familiar to the post-September-11 world. This indicates that labeling enemies as ‘terrorists’ and more specifically in Colombia as ‘narco-terrorists’ is the order of the day. With the ten-year anniversary of September 11 just past, one may reflect on the ramifications of such carefully crafted and precisely targeted language observed in the last decade of Colombian foreign policy. This language, to a large extent, removes the possibility of a real political solution, and in its place, frames the politics of war and violence as the only viable means of achieving peace in the violence-wrecked nation of Colombia. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

Succession and the US-Saudi Relationship

October 27th 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

Given Saudi Arabia’s strategic position and its leadership roles in both Islam and international energy markets, the close relationship between Riyadh and Washington is crucial to a range of US policy concerns: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East peace process, and energy.

The character of the US-Saudi relationship has often been dictated by the personality and style of the king at the time. King Fahd, who ruled from 1982 to 2005 (thought he was plagued by poor health after a stoke in 1995), was seen as pro-American and cooperated closely, although often discreetly, with Washington on a range of foreign policy concerns, including in Central America, Afghanistan, and on the middle East peace process. King Abdullah, whose rule began in 2005 but who had stood in for Fahd after 1995, has protected the relationship but has been more cautious and at times even confrontational. In 2002, with relations in turmoil because of the involvement of Saudis in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the kingdom, apparently trying to deflect attention away from itself by spotlighting clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, was even prepared to privately threaten a temporary cutoff of oil exports because of US support for Israel. Read more ..

Venezuela and China

Venezuela Curries Favor with China as the Asian giant seeks Energy Security

October 25th 2011

Venezuela Topics - Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Xi Jinping China VP
China's Vice President Xi Jinping greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

President Hugo Chávez has long desired to minimize his country’s economic dependence on the United States, and since China’s huge and growing energy demands have resulted in expanded business with Venezuela, he may very well get his wish. Beijing and Caracas have a history of affable diplomatic ties, which in recent years have been strengthened by several multibillion-dollar oil-exploration deals that are providing China with a broadening spectrum of new sources of energy while helping to revive Venezuela’s wilting economy. With its petroleum consumption climbing 7.5 percent per year, China represents a significant and growing long-term source of income for Venezuela.

While Washington continues to fulfill the bulk of its energy requirements through long-established sources in the Middle East, China could be said to have jumped the fence into the U.S.’ ‘backyard’ in an attempt to capitalize on the impressive inventory of natural resources that the region has to offer. The state of Sino-Venezuelan petro-relations represents an evolving global order reflected by the waning influence of the U.S. in Latin America and the growing power of extra-hemispheric nations in the region. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Who was the Victor in the Shalit Swap?

October 24th 2011

Israel Topics - Shalit Graffiti

It is not often that scenes of joy wash over Israel and the Gaza Strip simultaneously.

Israelis were celebrating the freedom of a soldier who was abducted five years ago while guarding his country's borders. He was seized in an unprovoked cross-border raid and held by Hamas in violation of all international norms.

On the other side of the border, Gazans took part in a triumphant homecoming ceremony to honor jihadi combatants guilty of war crimes and the intentional murder of hundreds of unarmed civilians.

The trade of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners for a single Israeli soldier has bewildered some international observers, and touched off a debate over whether Israel had anything to celebrate at all. Read more ..

Libya after Gadhafi

What’s Next for Libya? Questions after Gadhafi’s Death

Libya - Gadhafi statue gets kicked

What Moammar Gadhafi’s death means to Libya and the rest of the world will take months, if not years, to sort out. There are big questions around leadership, politics, weapons, and wealth. We believe following the money is paramount because money always leads to power.

So in these hours after the dictator’s death, we think the questions worth asking include:

How much money does Libya have access to now, in the form of foreign assistance and domestic income or cash reserves? • Where is it? How much is inside the country or in foreign banks awaiting repatriation or settlement of ownership claims? • Who in Tripoli is controlling the cash outflow? • Can foreign governments trace the Gadhafi family’s wealth? • How much of Libya’s money does the US still have under its control and will his death speed the repatriation of those funds now? • How quickly will foreign aid or the country’s own wealth reach those who have been harmed the most by the civil conflict, and will it be distributed equitably? Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Challenges for the Egyptian Military

October 24th 2011

Egypt - Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi
Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi

Two intertwined problems confront Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces: the deteriorating economy and the looming elections.

The military has always been the dominant actor in Egypt since the July 1952 overthrow of King Farouk and the termination of the constitutional monarchy. Since then, every president of Egypt has been a military man: Muhammad Naguib (1953–1954), Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954–1970), Anwar El Sadat (1970–1981) and Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011).

The Military in Egypt

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, is at present a key player if not the actual leader of Egypt. Tantawi, who had served as military attaché to Pakistan, possibly sees that country as a kind of model for the position the military should continue to have in Egypt.

Tantawi participated directly in most of the military confrontations between Egypt and Israel, and has served as the Minister of Defense since 1991. During his term, Egypt’s military continued to prepare for a possible war with Israel, in spite of the peace treaty and, in a way, because of it. The massive size of the Egyptian military is made possible by generous American aid and support. That it is so large serves Egypt’s rulers in that the military and all of its associated facilities and industries serve as a major source of employment, a critical factor in Egypt’s perennially poor economy. U.S. interests are also served by the relationship as the delivery of weapon systems lowers the unit cost for the same systems purchased by the U.S. armed forces as well as helping the bottom of American defense companies. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

Factors Affecting Saudi Succession are a Family Affair

October 23rd 2011

Arab Topics - King Abdullah and sword 2

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

The process by which government decisions are made in Saudi Arabia remains obscure despite continual analysis by diplomats, oil executives, foreign business executives, and others. The more well-informed analysts believe that the number and identity of the princes and nonroyal participants varies, depending on the issue. Important decisions are made by the king alone but usually once he feels a consensus has been reached. (The ulama-the senior Muslim clergy—have a leading role in making religious decisions, but since they depend on the king for their appointments, they are probably reluctant to oppose a royal family consensus. They can dither, however; when the Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized in 1979, the ulama reportedly took thirty-six hours to approve the use of military force.)

When consensus remains elusive, decisions are delayed. This was the case in the late 1990s when Crown Prince Abdullah was seeking to involve foreign companies in the development of the kingdom’s natural gas resources. The decision was postponed and the proposal eventually dropped after opposition from the petroleum company Saudi Aramco and the Saudi ministry of oil, assumed to be backed by Abdullah’s rivals in the royal family. (The exception that proves this rule is said to be Kind Fahd’s decision to ask for U.S. military support after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Other senior princes, including then Crown Prince Abdullah, wanted time to consider other options, but they were overruled by Fahd.) Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

The Ramifications of the Fall of the House of Gadhafi

October 23rd 2011

Libya - Gadhafi looks heavenward

Rebel fighters killed former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Oct. 20 outside the town of Sirte. His body was then brought back to Misurata, where it was filmed being dragged through the streets. Several close aides, including family members, have been reported killed or captured as well.

Gadhafi’s death is symbolically important for the rebels, but the fall of Sirte is even more significant for the effect it will have on the future stability of Libya. With the final holdout of the pro-Gadhafi resistance overtaken, the National Transitional Council (NTC) can now move to form a transitional government. But multiple armed groups across the country will demand a significant stake in that government, which will have serious implications for the future unity of the people who heretofore were referred as the Libyan opposition.

Though the Benghazi-based NTC has been widely recognized in the international community as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people, this has long since ceased to be the case in the eyes of many Libyans. The NTC is one of several political forces in the country. Since the rebel forces entered Tripoli on Aug. 21, there has been a steady increase of armed groups hailing from places such as Misurata, Zentan, Tripoli and even eastern Libya itself that have questioned the authority of leading NTC members. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

The Saudi Sucession: A Desert Legacy

October 22nd 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

The modern state of Saudi Arabia was founded by King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud) in 1932. From a Saudi perspective, however, the kingdom is far older—certainly older than the United States—despite occasional interruptions in Saudi rule and even though the Western notion of sovereign independence was not achieved by the Saudis until this century.

As founder of the modern Saudi state, Ibn Saud could trace his forebears to the middle of the fifteenth century, when they arrived in the center of Arabia from the Hasa region to the east. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, his ancestors had become local rulers of an area centered on the settlement of Dariyah, near modern-day Riyadh. The identified patriarch of the family was Saud bin Muhammad, who was succeeded as sheikh (local ruler) upon his death in 1725 by his son Muhammad, who is usually described as the first ruler of the al-Saud dynasty. (King Abdulaziz was given the name Ibn Saud by the British, recalling this ancestor, Muhammad bin Saud, or Ibn Saud) Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Evaluating the Gilad Shalit Deal

October 19th 2011

Israel Topics - Gilad Shalit after Release

Minutes after the announcement of the deal enabling the release of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier held hostage by Hamas terrorists since 2006, a major controversy was raging. Did the Israeli cabinet make a potentially fatal mistake by voting to exchange a single low-ranking serviceman for 1,027 convicted Palestinian terrorists?

Whatever one’s answer, it should be remembered that Israel’s leaders had plenty of time—if not much else—to give this dilemma proper consideration. Throughout the entirety of Shalit’s incarceration, it would crop up whenever rumors of his release began circulating. With a frequency that was frankly cruel, hopes for Shalit’s imminent freedom would be raised and then abruptly dashed, leaving any debate about the parameters of a deal with Hamas looking like pointless speculation.

That’s why, before asking whether the Shalit deal is a “good” or a “bad” one, we should try to understand why a previously elusive deal has now been reached. Read more ..

Jordan on Edge

Jordan: All Quiet on the Eastern Front?

October 12th 2011

Jordan Topics - Amman

Progress on the economic and political fronts is helping to insulate the monarchy from the instability currently sweeping the region. With the spotlight focused on the Palestinian application for statehood at the UN and the ongoing massacre of demonstrators in Syria, little attention has been paid to Jordan, where the parliament has been debating and voting on forty-two proposed changes to the kingdom’s 1952 constitution. The reform project is King Abdullah’s attempt to preempt the kind of protests that brought down regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.

While the palace’s suggested slate of constitutional amendments have not yet been sufficient to end the ongoing weekly protests, the combination of this reform initiative and the financial benefits that will attend Jordanian membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) may help stabilize the kingdom and consolidate the Hashemite regime. Read more ..

The Arab Spring

Here Come the Arab Elections!

October 12th 2011

Arab Topics - Dar el Bey, Tunis
Dar el Bey, Tunis

Tunisia has scheduled elections for October 23. The National Constituent Assembly will have 218 members and will draw up a new constitution. Remember, by the way, that Tunisia has the most secular-oriented constitution in the Arab world. One wonders what will happen in that regard.

This assembly will also set the rules for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held at some time next year.

Tunisia’s Islamists are weaker than in any other Muslim-majority country in the Middle East. A different problem, however, has developed: the incredible division of other parties. Thus while the Islamist party, Ennahda, is at only about 20 percent, the rest of the vote is divided between about 80 parties, not one of which has huge support at this point. To give a sense of this mess, note that there are about 11,000 candidates for these seats, which means about 50 per seat! Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Egypt's 'Black Sunday' Marks New Departure for Violence

October 11th 2011

Egypt - Egyptian Coptic women weeping
Coptic Christian mourners

The official death toll from the Sunday October 9 protest in Cairo has risen to 24, with 272 reported injured. Of the 24 reported killed outside of Egypt’s state TV and radio building, three were allegedly Egyptian soldiers. This would be the first time that protesters outside of the Sinai have used firearms against the Egyptian military and marks a new phase in post-Mubarak Egypt.

October 9 was the most violent day in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak and many Egyptians are now calling it “Black Sunday.” What began as a Coptic protest march from northern Cairo to the state TV building known as Maspero, devolved into a melee that led to the deaths of over 20 people. Multiple military vehicles were set on fire, military issue armored personnel carriers were driven through crowds of people at high speeds and at some point someone from within the crowd fired upon a group of soldiers who were providing security outside of Maspero. Read more ..

The United States and Mexico on Edge

NAFTA May Neither Increase Employment in the U.S. nor Improve Working Conditions for Mexico

October 11th 2011

Mexican Topics - Mexican maquiladora
Interior of Mexican 'maquiladora' shop

In a section of a recent address by President Barack Obama that received relatively little attention, he observed that “it’s time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea… If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers.”

Obama followed his speech with a press conference, which asserted that the free trade agreements (FTAs) should be passed by the end of the year. He did not mention the disturbing thought that FTAs traditionally have prompted U.S. companies to transfer their manufacturing processes to countries with lower wages, rather than noticeably creating jobs in this country. While proponents of free trade often cite the creation of U.S. jobs in export-oriented industries, the U.S. is at least as likely to import products from overseas countries where manufacturing and labor costs tend to be cheaper. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Apple Co-founder Dies at Age 56--Jobs Well Done

October 6th 2011

Technology - Jobs with iPhone4
credit: Matt Yohe

Apple announced on October 6 that co-founder and chairman Steve Jobs has died at age 56.

“We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today,” a statement from Apple’s board of directors said. “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”

An icon of American business on par with Henry Ford and Walt Disney, Jobs founded Apple in a California garage in 1976 with high school friend Steve Wozniak. Together they developed the Macintosh personal computer and pioneered the graphical user interface, leaving a permanent imprint on the development of consumer technology. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine on Edge

Palestinian Authority's Dubious Claims of Religious Tolerance

October 4th 2011

Palestine Topics - Israel bloody flag

The Palestinian Liberation Organization's ambassador to the United States, Maen Areikat, said on September 13, 2011, that a future Palestinian state should be free of Jews, a call for ethnic cleansing reminiscent of Nazi Germany. This is not the first time that a Palestinian official has suggested making "Palestine" judenrein and reflects an ugly undercurrent of anti-Semitism within the Palestinian Authority.

Once a Palestinian state is established, why shouldn't Jews be welcome there? The same question could be asked of any country, but is particularly relevant in the case of the area likely to become Palestine because it has been the home of Jews for centuries.

Imagine the uproar if any Israeli official suggested that no Arabs or Muslims should be allowed to live in Israel. In fact, 1.3 million Arabs live as free and equal citizens in Israel. "After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated at first," Areikat told USA Today. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Precise Solutions for the Imprecise Reality of the European Crisis

October 4th 2011

Economy - International Currency 3

An important disconnect over the discussion of the future of the European Union exists, one that divides into three parts. First, there is the question of whether the various plans put forward in Europe plausibly could result in success given the premises they are based on. Second, there is the question of whether the premises are realistic. And third, assuming they are realistic and the plans are in fact implemented, there is the question of whether they can save the European Union as it currently exists.

The plans all are financial solutions to a particular set of financial problems. But regardless of whether they are realistic in addressing the financial problem, the question of whether the financial issue really addresses the fundamental dilemma of Europe — which is political and geopolitical — remains.

Upon examing the plans for dealing with the financial crisis in Europe, they appear technically plausible, even if they involve navigating something of a minefield. The eurozone’s bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, would be expanded in scope and reach until it can handle the bailout of a major state, the default of a minor state and a banking crisis of unprecedented proportions. Given assumptions of the magnitude of the problem and assuming general compliance with the plans, there is a chance that the solution we see the Germans moving toward could work. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine on Edge

Is Palestine's Mahmoud Abbas the Odd Man Out following the Quartet Statement?

October 3rd 2011

Palestine Topics - Mahmoud Abbas and father
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas

In the wake of the UN speeches and Netanyahu's acceptance of unconditional talks, Abbas now seems to be the odd man out, though renewed Israeli construction in east Jerusalem could alter that dynamic.

The Quartet for Middle East peace—consisting of the United States, European Union, Russia, and the UN secretary-general—recently issued a long-awaited statement calling for the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians "without delay or preconditions," toward the goal of reaching a peace agreement by the end of 2012. The statement was issued on September 23, immediately after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered opposing speeches on the Palestinian application for full UN membership. Netanyahu has made clear that he accepts the Quartet's proclamation. Yet while Abbas has declared that a Palestine Liberation Organization panel in Ramallah will consider the statement, he has publicly preconditioned his acceptance on an Israeli settlement freeze. Read more ..

Iran’s Nukes

Shiite Jurisprudence, Political Expediency, and Nuclear Weapons, Part 2

September 24th 2011

Iran - Ahmadinejad at Iranian nuclear plant

In Islamic law, ijtihad refers to a personal juridical philosophy. In the classic books of usul al-fiqh (legal theory), a mujtahid (practitioner of ijtihad) is defined as someone who possesses an intellectual faculty that enables him to deduce God’s orders from the primary sources of Islam (namely, the Quran and hadith), rational reasoning, and the conditional consensus of early Islamic interpreters of the law. A mujtahid— who may hold the title faqih or mufti—has the authority to issue a fatwa, or religious ruling.

Ijtihad is defined not as a credential attainable by methodical steps but rather as an intellectual faculty. This means that not just any aspirant can attain the status. Two means exist for reaching ijtihad: receipt of a certificate from one’s teacher—a well-established mujtahid himself—or publication of one’s writings, which will indicate clearly the sufficiency of one’s intellectual faculties. Once a student has attained ijtihad, he is forbidden from following another mujtahid and must perform his religious duties according to his own legal understanding. For those who are not scholars or who have not attained the status of mujtahid, the requirement, according to most jurists, is that they follow the most learned (aalam) mujtahid. Therefore, choosing a mujtahid as a source of emulation is not an arbitrary decision; one must be certain about the religious credentials of the mujtahid he follows. In addition to his intellectual ability, a mujtahid must be a living, adult, Twelver Shiite male of legitimate descent who is just and sane. Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

Life in Latin America Imitates Fictive Reality of Zombies and Infectious Chaos

September 21st 2011

Film - Zombies

Crossover analyses between fictive works such as zombie films and TV series like Game of Thrones continue with the publication of major works like Theories of International Politics and Zombies. Most zombie-films and books deal with disasters appearing in the U.S. or Europe (with the book World War Z, being one of the few exceptions), but Latin America remains virgin territory for these kinds of analyses.

Given the plethora of issues currently affecting the region, ranging from deficient health systems to a variety of narco-insurgent organizations, how would Latin America fare when the undead appears in that region?

The publication of Theories of International Politics and Zombies by Daniel Drezner, a highly regarded professor at Tufts University, is the first of what could become a long line of crossovers between academic research and fictional situations involving zombies. Surprisingly well-received, Drezner’s innovative public policy study discusses the repercussions of a zombie horde in international affairs; in his work, the author discusses how conservatives, idealists, realists and constructivists would combat masses of the undead attacking their countries. Drezner paraphrases former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s idea of being prepared for the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. Read more ..

Iran’s Nukes

Religious Ideologies, Political Doctrines, and Iran’s Nuclear Decisionmaking, Part 2

September 20th 2011

Iran - The 12th Imam

The Resistance Doctrine

In response to the emergence of the reform movement in the 1990s, the Supreme Leader encouraged the emergence of a new generation of ideologically hardline politicians and military officials, who long for a return to the values of the revolution and embrace the regime’s doctrine of resistance. Many of these individuals are veterans of the Iran-Iraq War who have ties to the Basij militia or the Revolutionary Guards. Some (such as President Ahmadinezhad) apparently also subscribe to a version of Shi’a Islam that assigns central importance to hastening the reappearance of the hidden Twelfth Imam by fighting heresy (the Baha’i faith), injustice (Israel), and global arrogance (the United States).

The rise to prominence of this new generation of largely nonclerical hardliners has been expedited by the purge of both reformist and pragmatic conservative politicians and officials in the wake of the contested June 2009 election. President Ahmadinezhad is the most prominent of these hardliners, though recent tensions with the Supreme Leader have raised questions about his political future. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

The Reliability of Local Security Forces in the West Bank and Afghanistan

September 16th 2011

Palestine Topics - Palestinian Authority police

States are evaluated on many parameters, the economic factor being a major one. Thus, the Palestinian Authority (PA)—judged by its economic progress in recent years—is almost a state, while Afghanistan is barely one.

Another major criterion for assessing a state is its national security. How do the PA and its counterpart in Afghanistan measure up?

In September 2011, the PA plans to request that the United Nations recognize it as a state. Israel opposes this Palestinian move, but does not wish the PA to fail as a representative of the Palestinians. Similarly in Afghanistan, Western powers, led by the United States, strive to help the Kabul government stay on its feet. Read more ..

Egypt and Israel

Cairo’s Embassy Riots: Anti-Israeli Sentiment in Egypt Has Nothing to Do with Palestine

September 14th 2011

Egypt - Cairo Israeli Embassy Protest 2011-09-09

The diplomatic documents had barely stopped drifting down from the Israeli Embassy in Egypt when New York Times columnist Nick Kristof referenced the root causes of the attack, as he saw them: “Attacking the Israeli embassy doesn’t help Gazans, doesn’t bring back the dead,” he tweeted. “Instead it helps Israeli hardliners.” It was the standard response of an armchair analyst, for whom all Middle Eastern current events—and particularly the most outrageous ones—are inextricably linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But to assume that the Egyptian protesters who attacked the Israeli Embassy in Cairo last Friday, tearing down a protective wall and ransacking the premises, were motivated by cosmopolitan, pro-Palestinian concerns is to completely ignore the sad truth that Egyptians overwhelmingly hate Israel for wholly Egyptian reasons: Despite 32 years of peace under the Camp David Accords, Egyptian national pride remains tied to the country’s previous wars with the Jewish state. Read more ..

Looking for America

The United States' Inevitable Empire and the Lessons it Provides

September 12th 2011

America Themes - statue of liberty

Like nearly all of the peoples of North and South America, most Americans are not originally from the territory that became the United States. They are a diverse collection of peoples primarily from a dozen different Western European states, mixed in with smaller groups from a hundred more. All of the New World entities struggled to carve a modern nation and state out of the American continents. Brazil is an excellent case of how that struggle can be a difficult one. The United States falls on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The American geography is an impressive one. The Greater Mississippi Basin together with the Intracoastal Waterway has more kilometers of navigable internal waterways than the rest of the world combined. The American Midwest is both overlaid by this waterway, and is the world’s largest contiguous piece of farmland. The U.S. Atlantic Coast possesses more major ports than the rest of the Western Hemisphere combined. Two vast oceans insulated the United States from Asian and European powers, deserts separate the United States from Mexico to the south, while lakes and forests separate the population centers in Canada from those in the United States. The United States has capital, food surpluses and physical insulation in excess of every other country in the world by an exceedingly large margin. So like the Turks, the Americans are not important because of who they are, but because of where they live Read more ..

Economic Recovery on Edge

Economists say Obama Jobs Plan Could Help; Wall Street Unsure

September 12th 2011

Economy - People lined up for jobs

Financial markets have given their first review of President Obama’s jobs plan, but their analysis speaks more to their doubts about Washington than the White House proposal.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and other stock market indices plummeted Friday, September 9—less than 24 hours after Obama unveiled his plan to a joint session of Congress. The Dow lost 303 points, or 2.7 percent, and the S&P 500 dropped by a similar percentage.

Wall Street analysts said the freefall was caused primarily by uncertainty over economic trouble in Europe but noted that Obama’s speech had little countervailing effect.

Financial markets lost confidence in Washington policymakers’ ability to solve problems during the debt dispute, and they now doubt Congress will move a sizable package to stimulate the economy. Read more ..

After the Flotilla

UN Finds Israel’s Blockade of Gaza to be Legal

September 11th 2011

Palestine Topics - Mavi Maramara (flotilla flasgship)

On September 2, 2011, the United Nations released its investigative report concerning the May 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla that tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The UN Palmer Committee, led by former New Zealand prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, examined the facts, circumstances, and context that surrounded the deadly conflagration off Gaza’s coast and submitted findings on the international legitimacy and legality of Israel’s continued blockade of the Hamas-run enclave. Despite attempts by many media outlets to bury the findings and highlight only the parts that criticized the Jewish state, Palmer’s report adopted conclusions that vindicated Israel’s positions concerning the blockade and placed the responsibility for the confrontation on the “humanitarian” groups that formed the flotilla. Read more ..

Inside Colombia

Colombia's Gold Rush proves a Bonanza for Leftist Guerrillas and Rightist Paramilitaries

September 7th 2011

Latin American Topics - Colombia gold mining

With gold prices soaring to around USD 1,600 per ounce, Colombia has made a concerted effort to stimulate foreign investment in its mining sector. As a result, the Colombian government has favored multinational mining companies over small to medium scale local miners. While this new gold rush represents a significant source of investment and finance for the federal government, it also helps fund Colombia’s four-decade long civil war.

After years of government-sponsored eradication, paramilitary and guerrilla armies have begun to abandon coca production and are turning to gold mining, as well as the extortion of mining communities, to generate significant sources of revenue. Moreover, as a result of governmental favoritism, multinational mining corporations utilize national military forces and paramilitaries to harass native populations, local miners, and unionized workers in an effort to force them from their gold-laden lands. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Al-Qaeda and Affiliates Still at Work in Iraq

September 6th 2011

Terrorism - Hamas head

On August 15, terrorist groups affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) struck seven cities with 15 separate car bombings and attacks against security forces, civilian markets, and religious pilgrims. This strike was the first such large-scale coordinated attack in Iraq since August 2010, when AQI hit 12 cities across the country. The attacks are undoubtedly worrying, because they signal that disparate insurgent cells spread across central and northern Iraq can, on occasion, coordinate their actions for added impact.

AQI's own national-level command disintegrated following the deaths in April 2010 of AQI leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and AQI minister of war Abu Ayub al-Masri. Since then, groups such as Jaish Rijal Tariqah al-Naqshabandi (JRTN), an insurgent movement led by former Baathist officers and officials, have filled the void. These groups play coordinating roles, commissioning attacks by AQI and nationalist cells across the country, boosting the number of attacks across north and central Iraq. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Libyan Rebels Take a Premature Victory Lap

August 30th 2011

Libya Topics - Libyan rebels celebrate

The war in Libya is over. More precisely, governments and media have decided that the war is over, despite the fact that fighting continues. The unfulfilled expectation of this war has consistently been that Moammar Gadhafi would capitulate when faced with the forces arrayed against him, and that his own forces would abandon him as soon as they saw that the war was lost.

What was being celebrated last week, with presidents, prime ministers and the media proclaiming the defeat of Gadhafi, will likely be true in due course. The fact that it is not yet true does not detract from the self-congratulations.

For example, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini reported that only 5 percent of Libya is still under Gadhafi’s control. That seems like a trivial amount, save for this news from Italian newspaper La Stampa, which reported that “Tripoli is being cleaned up” neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street and home by home. Meanwhile, bombs from above are pounding Sirte, where, according to the French, Gadhafi has managed to arrive, although it is not known how. The strategically important town of Bali Walid — another possible hiding place and one of only two remaining exit routes to another Gadhafi stronghold in Sabha — is being encircled. Read more ..

The Battle for Libya

Post Qaddafi: Insurgency and Jihad versus Democracy

August 28th 2011

Libya Topics - Muammar Ghadafi as Charlie Chaplin

By seizing most of Tripoli and fighting what's left of the pockets of resistance of Qaddafi forces, Libyan rebels have now almost dislodged the old regime and are expected to begin building their own government. The most pressing question within the international community and in Washington is about the immediate to medium-term future of the country. Will the Transitional National Council swiftly install its bureaucracies in Tripoli and across the country? Will Qaddafi's supporters accept the new rule or will they become the new rebels? And most importantly, are the current rebels united in their vision for a new Libya?

Libya's foreign minister says Qaddafi has exhausted all of his options after rebels take over Tripoli compound.

The Battle for Libya

Dividing the Spoils in Post-Gadhafi Libya

August 25th 2011

Libya - Gadhafi statue gets kicked

With the end of the Gadhafi regime seemingly in sight, it is an opportune time to step back and revisit one of the themes we discussed at the beginning of the crisis: What comes after the Gadhafi regime?

As the experiences of recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan have vividly illustrated, it is far easier to depose a regime than it is to govern a country. It has also proved to be very difficult to build a stable government from the remnants of a long-established dictatorial regime.

History is replete with examples of coalition fronts that united to overthrow an oppressive regime but then splintered and fell into internal fighting once the regime they fought against was toppled. In some cases, the power struggle resulted in a civil war more brutal than the one that brought down the regime. In other cases, this factional strife resulted in anarchy that lasted for years as the iron fist that kept ethnic and sectarian tensions in check was suddenly removed, allowing those issues to re-emerge. Read more ..

The Arab-Israeli Fall

Israeli-Arab Crisis Approaching

August 25th 2011

Israel Topics - Jerusalem-Temple and Wall
Credit: NASA

In September, the U.N. General Assembly will vote on whether to recognize Palestine as an independent and sovereign state with full rights in the United Nations. In many ways, this would appear to be a reasonable and logical step. Whatever the Palestinians once were, they are clearly a nation in the simplest and most important sense—namely, they think of themselves as a nation. Nations are created by historical circumstances, and those circumstances have given rise to a Palestinian nation. Under the principle of the United Nations and the theory of the right to national self-determination, which is the moral foundation of the modern theory of nationalism, a nation has a right to a state, and that state has a place in the family of nations. In this sense, the U.N. vote will be unexceptional.

However, when the United Nations votes on Palestinian statehood, it will intersect with other realities and other historical processes. First, it is one thing to declare a Palestinian state; it is quite another thing to create one. The Palestinians are deeply divided between two views of what the Palestinian nation ought to be, a division not easily overcome. Second, this vote will come at a time when two of Israel’s neighbors are coping with their own internal issues. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Coordinated Terrorist Attacks Calculated to Harm Israel-Egypt Relations

August 22nd 2011

Terrorism - Ayman al-Zawahiri
Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri

A series of coordinated attacks occurred on August 18 along Israel’s border with Egypt. While each attack was relatively small, the incidents indicate some degree of coordination among the attackers. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak attributed the attacks to elements emanating from the Gaza Strip, while Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tactical reports stated that the attacks had been launched from across Israel’s border with Egypt along the Sinai peninsula. No one has yet claimed responsibility.

Israel has plenty of experience in dealing with threats from militants in Gaza. In response, Israel often conducts preemptive as well as retaliatory airstrikes using real-time intelligence. In addition, whenever things appear to be getting out of control, the IDF conducts a major ground offensive. Read more ..

Morocco on Edge

Moroccan Islamists: Integration, Confrontation, and Ordinary Muslims

August 22nd 2011

Morocco - Marrakech Market
Credit: Donar Reiskoffer

Two distinct politico-religious movements emerged in Morocco in the 1960s and 1980s. The first was a radical movement, which was confronted by the government, forcing it to break up, change, and adapt. The second was characterized by its confrontational and inflexible stance vis-à-vis the status quo. Thus, while the former became integrated at the expense of its early radical glamour, the latter remained adamant in refusing to become integrated in the political system. Despite the popularity of both movements, their efforts to attract new recruits remain limited since most ordinary Moroccan Muslims do not want to mix religion and politics.

Since its inception in late 1960s, the Islamist movement in Morocco has been growing—especially on university campuses—and has been dominated by two distinct currents. The two tendencies present different perspectives on political activism and thus reflect distinct political cultures. Read more ..

Mexico’s Wars

The Buffer Between Mexican Cartels and the U.S. Government

August 22nd 2011

Mexican Topics - Cartel areas of control
Credit: DEA

It is summer in Juarez, and again this year we find the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization (VCF), also known as the Juarez cartel, under pressure and making threats. At this time in 2010, La Linea, the VCF’s enforcer arm, detonated a small improvised explosive device (IED) inside a car in Juarez and killed two federal agents, one municipal police officer and an emergency medical technician and wounded nine other people. La Linea threatened to employ a far larger IED (100 kilograms, or 220 pounds) if the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) did not investigate the head of Chihuahua State Police intelligence, whom the VCF claimed was working for the Sinaloa Federation.

La Linea did attempt to employ another IED on Sept. 10, 2010, but this device, which failed to detonate, contained only 16 kilograms of explosives, far less than the 100 kilograms that the group had threatened to use. Read more ..

Algeria on Edge

Perennial Religious Opposition in Algeria

August 22nd 2011

Africa - Islamic terrorists Algeria

An analytical discussion is needed on the religious opposition in Algeria, exploring the conditions and conflict-prone effects of the movement. Through historical analysis, we see that the Islamist opposition in Algeria is to some extent value-driven, but it is mostly a reaction to undesirable local conditions, especially economic distress, widespread poverty, and unjust distribution of national wealth. Thus, the article suggests that positive actions be taken to deal with these issues if the religious opposition is to be successfully managed in Algeria.


One of the clearest aspects of the post-Cold War era is the rise of religion as a social and political movement around the globe, and, by extension, the growing number of religiously-driven conflicts. This trend appears to be more evident in the Middle East, although it is not limited to this particular region. The secular governments in the Middle East have been frequently challenged, sometimes quite seriously, by Islamist oppositions that want to establish a state based on religious rules. The clash between government forces and militant Islamists often resulted in severe casualties, in which many innocent people, foreigners, as well as fighting sides themselves became victims.

In order to manage religious opposition and cope with its conflict-prone effects, it is necessary to understand the nature of such opposition. Algeria offers a valuable case study, since although the country—unlike many Middle Eastern countries—has no tradition of early Islamic revivalism, the secular government was seriously challenged by political Islamism in the 1990s and only survived with the help of the military. Subsequently, violent clashes lasting about a decade erupted, as a result of which the Algerian people suffered. Though the violence evidently decreased from 2002 and on, the conflict between the secularists and Islamists has continued to some extent. Read more ..

Global Economy on Edge

A World Political Crisis will Accompany the Economic Crunch

August 21st 2011

Economy - International Currency 3

Classical political economists like Adam Smith or David Ricardo never used the term “economy” by itself. They always used the term “political economy.” For classical economists, it was impossible to understand politics without economics or economics without politics. The two fields are certainly different but they are also intimately linked. The use of the term “economy” by itself did not begin until the late 19th century. Smith understood that while an efficient market would emerge from individual choices, those choices were framed by the political system in which they were made, just as the political system was shaped by economic realities. For classical economists, the political and economic systems were intertwined, each dependent on the other for its existence.

The current economic crisis is best understood as a crisis of political economy. Moreover, it has to be understood as a global crisis enveloping the United States, Europe and China that has different details but one overriding theme: the relationship between the political order and economic life. On a global scale, or at least for most of the world’s major economies, there is a crisis of political economy. Let’s consider how it evolved. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Banana Oil: Inadequate Justice for Chiquita Brands' Transactions with Terrorism

August 19th 2011

Latin American Topics - banana patrol

In March 2007 in a U.S. District Court, Chiquita Brands International pled guilty to one count of “Engaging in Transactions with a Specially-Designated Global Terrorist.” The banana giant confessed to paying the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the nation’s notoriously violent network of right-wing paramilitary groups, USD 1.7 million in over one hundred payments between 1997 and 2004. Yet the case was resolved by a cash settlement, thus failing to publicly expose both sides of their quid pro quo relationship. A 2011 declassification of Chiquita documents, confessions by former paramilitaries, and ongoing lawsuits lay bare the U.S. corporation’s ruthless profiteering and invite cautious hope of justice for the victims.

The Rise of Paramilitaries

The AUC paramilitaries have their roots in Colombia’s internal armed conflict. The violence began in 1948 in Bogotá as a bloody civil war between Liberals and Conservatives. The partisan warfare ended with the National Front, a political pact that snubbed dissident factions of Liberals, Communists, self-defense communities, and independent peasant organizations. By the 1960s and 1970s, the conflict had morphed into a guerrilla insurgency against the state, which sought to rectify a history of inequality and social exclusion. Read more ..

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