Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lone Wolf in Belguim

Hasn’t been the greatest of ninety day periods for the Belguim people. After they formed a government after a year and a half of uncertainty, a lone gunmen went on the attack in the industrial city of Liege with a grenade and several guns killing four and injuring a hundred.

 The Belgium government was very quick to say that the attack was not related to any coordinated terrorist organization and was apparently just a disturbed individual who decided to go on a shooting spree in the busy shopping district of Liege.

This is part of a disturbing pattern of lone wolf type attacks committed by the criminal element, or people who have been overstressed by the poor economic conditions and the stress of family and personal lives. Many of these are coming together to create mass shootings like the unfortunate incident that occurred in Belgium last month.

I’m very much afraid that with the sluggish global economy and the cuts that are occuring within mental health services at the state and federal level, that we are only providing the ammunition for further mass shootings.

Jihad: A Matter of Love and Hate

Really enjoyed Terrorists in Love: Real Lives of Islamic Radicals by Ken Ballen because it presented a look at jihadists that few have attempted before.

 It’s easy to view every terrorist as a monster, but Ballen went deeper and delved into the lives of five Islamic radicals and discovered that rather than burning hatred motivating jihadists, there was an overarching, all consuming love that motivated them to commit their acts of hatred. This love either took the romanticized form of Islam practiced by Al Qaeda and related groups or the actual loss of a love that radicalized them.

I’ll admit the perspective Ballen takes had never occurred to me before reading this book. I belonged to the school of thought that treated terrorists as though what motivated one, motivated all. Ballen broke through this static view and showed the variation that can exist from one jihadists to another.

 Ballen accomplishes this feat without sounding over sympathetic or apologetic for the terrorist actions. I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s interested in understanding something about the motivations of terrorists and maybe just a little something about us in the process.

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1451609213

The Hezbollah-Latin America Conspiracy

Moving away from the United States onto some older stuff I didn’t get the chance to comment on during Nov. and the first part of December.

 Ayman Joumaa, a Lebanese citizen who has laundered millions of dollars for Hezbollah while assisting with cocaine-trafficking routes out of Colombia and Venezuela. It appears his focus was routes through Europe, but he has also moved drugs through Mexico in coordination with the Zetas.

 Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/Latin-America-Monitor/2011/1215/Hezbollah-terrorist-financing-and-Venezuela-Don-t-panic.

As the CSM story indicated these have all the buzzwords that cause terrorism analysts sleepless nights and give fiction writers their latest bestsellers. But how realistic is the threat? Hezbollah has made a career of operations like the ones outlined above within Latin America, as explained in the recently published Black Market Billons:

This does not automatically mean that Chavez and Hezbollah are in bed together. Further, it would make little sense for Chavez to allow any organized activity to take place on Venezuelan soil because it creates a Pakistan type problem where you train operatives for operations in a foreign land, but if your zone of action should dry up, there’s insurgent elements that may reek havoc on the homeland.

 Surely, no government would be stupid enough to follow Pakistan’s example?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why Not Ron Paul?

Four words that I never thought I’d utter. Ron Paul has been treated more as a third candidate sideshow behind Mitt Romney and whomever is occupying the favorite candidate of the month position. However, it is exactly because of the unsettled, chaotic nature of the race that Ron Paul may pull off an Iowa surprise.

 He has strong organizational system and a youthful and excited base of supporters who carry their signs and just might be willing to turn out and vote on caucus day. And in a race where every vote matters: turnout is the kingmaker.

Iowa hasn’t exactly shied away from the unconventional candidate choices before. While Ron Paul may not be a winning candidate ultimately, I believe he has the goods to compete in Iowa, particularly among the young and disaffected voter who see him as a man of different ideas than the status quo.

 In a race where it pays not to be Mitt Romney someone is going to have delegates at the convention that allow them to speak loudly. Maybe Ron Paul gets an eleventh hour surge and defeats Mitt Romney in Iowa and can then ride a domino wave in New Hampshire. Similar things have happened before, everyone remember John Kerry in 2004, he won Iowa and then swept most everything else to win the Democratic nomination.

In electoral politics a big guy named Mo plays kingmaker.

Newt Gingrich: Flavor of Moment?

As much as I don’t jive with many of Newt Gingrich’s views, he is a crafty politician and a skilled debater. You don’t have a decades long political career that culminated in his role as Speaker of the House during the 1990’s without it.

However, he feels like a Baskin Robbins flavor of the month candidate that will ultimately make Barack Obama, a two term president should he happen to win the nomination. Gingrich runs counter to everything the average American claims to be demanding in a candidate.

A popular tagline among the Presidential candidates is that Washington is broken. So to glue Washington back together, the Republicans are going to turn to a politician with a thirty year plus Washington career…who was at least partially responsible for the 1995 government shutdown?

Gingrich has a record that is too easily open to attack. Barack Obama no doubt has brilliant campaign people that will dissect this record like a vegetable platter.

1994 wasn’t all that long ago…If Gingrich wins, 2012 is going to look a lot like 1994.

The Politics of Sex Scandals

Herman Cain’s presidential ambitions ended amid a torrent of sexual allegations and policy gaffs on Libya. A quick survey of political figures illustrates that not every politician will be ended by an sexual scandal, some of even thrive after their moral escapades hit the front page: see David Vitter of Louisiana.

This led me to consider why some political figures can survive a moral scandal, while others are road kill to be remembered by tabloids and sitcom writers.

Another strategy used out by many political figures is to change the subject. A candidate may survive scandal if he can push the agenda away from the moral issue onto another issue. David Vitter used this out in Louisiana using great personal popularity and coming clean to shift the focus off of him onto something that the voters of Louisiana cared more about.

 Honesty is the third variable. Politicians who “come clean” are generally afforded more utility than dancers like Herman Cain, who often come off as insincere in the face of new events.

Herman Cain failed in all of these arenas and that is why he is most likely a former presidential candidate.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Elected By Straws

If anyone reads Book Diplomacy with regularity, god bless you. For the last several weeks, I’ve been working on a paper for my graduate seminar on how electoral system change effects party strategy in terms of how political parties or candidates go after voters.

 It was a very fundamentally complicated paper as there aren’t many articles on the topic to be had. I had to look at how the electoral system was, the change that reformers were hoping to enact and the effects of said electoral reform.

After producing a twenty page paper on the topic, I decided that “we should produce a global mandate that we should elect representatives by drawing straws.

I’m only halfway being a smart-ass. There are so many different ways to elect candidates in the world that it’s enough to make one’s head spin. This makes comparative work very difficult because of differences in countries social and political contexts, their methods of election, etc.

 A system where we just draw straws would be much more effective than worrying about things like proportional or majoritarian systems and how they divide up the seats. Plus, the expense of putting on elections would be greatly reduced. And finally, voters rarely know about their representatives anyway, so how would a straw ballot be detrimental?

Iowa: Still Anyone’s Race?

I know many of the recent polls have the Iowa caucuses reduced to a three candidate race between Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, with Ron Paul in third. But anyone who takes these polls too literally may be in for a sting when the results roll in. The polls are a creation dependent upon the fragile nature of human beings. Put simply: PEOPLE LIE. It’s a stunning fact of humanity that PEOPLE LIE.

 I was a campaign worker for two political campaigns in the 2004-05 range and when I called people to ask who they were planning on voting for…I usually got the “undecided” answer. When the election returns came in, the candidate I backed lost by double digits.

Polls are great theatre and they give media types and political junkies topics for conversation, but we should beware of making too much of any one poll. I could probably find a way to produce a poll that says Jon Huntsman will win in Iowa (despite not campaigning there), if one manipulates the numbers enough. That’s why I believe that Iowa is still anyone’s ballgame because polls have been known to decieve us before.

Romney By Default?

Mitt Romney has been picking up a lot of major endorsements from key Tea Party figures like South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Christine O’Donnell, prompting some to question whether its’ inevitable that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for President in 2012.

In considering the question, there are two factors that voters and political pundits need to consider. First, there’s the complex nature of political endorsements and the wide ranging month by month flirtation that has occurred within the Republican primary field.

Endorsements may help candidates garner votes, but they are not votes themselves. My personal calculus when voting has nothing to do with who each candidate has been endorsed by. Rather, I look at my situation and which candidate I believe will be most beneficial to my interests. If people are voting for candidate x because they were endorsed by figure y, than there is something wrong with this country.

Getting to my second point, if Mitt Romney is going to be the presidential candidate for the Republican party, then why hve there been all these flirtations with anyone but Mitt Romney? Everyone except Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum have had their moments in the sun during the candidate stages of this race.

 This says to me that Republican voters don’t have a candidate yet, and no spate of endorsements is going to make it so. There are clearly a large swath of Republicans that belong to the anybody but Romney crowd. So I think anyone crowning Mitt Romney the Republican nominee, needs to take a chill pill.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

WTO: Ten Years with China

China has been a member of the World Trade Organization for ten years. Membership in the WTO has provided a great engine for Chinese economic growth, while China continues to skirt many WTO regulations.

China offers many advantages to nationalized companies that include: free land, low loans, cheap electricity, sneak peaks at government regulation, and bid rigging that make it hard for foreign companies to offer meaningful competition in China…foreign competitors claim.

Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2011/1214/How-WTO-membership-made-China-the-workshop-of-the-world

Piracy is a huge problem within China making any company who dares to do business there face a losing proposition because why buy the genuine article at full price when a pirated version can be had for a significant discount?

Membership in the WTO has been a boom for China, but at what cost to the international order of global trade? If global trade has a huge benefit for some countries, while being a money pit for others, can it really be called global trade or highway robbery?

International corporate types have made a bargain with the dragon for profit that will eventually prove to be a loser.

Putin, we Protest?

The recent Russian Duma elections have brought a rare sight to Russian streets: mass protests against Vladimir Putin and his system of managed democracy.

 The polls showed that United Russia had won with almost fifty percent of the vote--a far cry from their 2007 totals, amid allegations of voter fraud and ballot box stuffing. These mass protests seem to have caught everyone off guard because of their size and the youthful core of the protestors.

While no one is predicting a Putin collapse, these protests are a positive development for Russian democracy.

Putin has largely run a dominant party police state that has excluded opposition parties and restricted voter choice. No population is going to stay passive forever against such conditions. Still, most Russians continue to put up with the system of managed democracy and the need for a police state.

It was largely assumed before these mass protests that things were peachy under the Russian sun. These protests offer a flicker of hope for advocates of democracy within the Russian Federation, but don’t expect these protests to lead to anything other than a Putin crackdown because the majority of Russians stand firmly behind Putin.

Belgium: A Model for No Government

Though it lacks the drama of Russ Hodges “The Giants Win the Pennant” call in 1951, Belgium has a government after 541 days! Belgium has been surviving with a caretaker government for the last year and a half. The stalemate seems to revolve around linguistic cleavages between the countries Flemish speaking majority, and its’ French speaking minority.

The case of Belgium has provided plenty of ammunition for libertarians and others who believe that less government is better. Less government in Belgium has meant that it has weathered the European economic crisis better than most others because of smaller government budget and less debt. The main lesson is that less government is more beneficial in a crisis. Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2011/1206/What-s-the-hurry-Belgium-Somalia-has-gone-without-a-government-for-20-years.

At the extreme of the no government scale is Somalia, who has not had a consistent national government since 1991. Although there is something approximating government in the northern part of the country, much of the country is plagued by tribalism and warlordism and subject to frequent famine.

 Disputes are often solved via gun or bomb rather than diplomatic means. Meanwhile, there’s always the ever circling band of pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Consider it proof, that no government is just as toxic as too much government.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chicago: The 51st State?

Per the USA Today, there’s a proposal from two downstate Illinois lawmakers to make Chicago the 51st state, detaching it from Illinois. It’s no grand secret that Illinois is financially screwed because of various incompetent decisions from Illinois politicians. Much of the blame for the current political climate in the state is laid at the feet of Chicago area politicians.

 But would any proposal making Chicago the 51st state actually make a dent in the problems of Illinois?

People from downstate are sick of being dictated to by Chicago. Proof of this statement? Our sitting governor won the three Chicago-area counties and was re-elected much to the consternation of many in the state. Separating Chicago would give the Chicago area the chance to have its’ own more liberal government, while Illinois could then elect a government that would be more conservative in character.

There’s also the matter of debt, Chicago provides the greatest sales tax revenue and is the biggest financial load on the state. Illinois can't just be forgiven for Chicago debt and with a lower revenue stream coming in, the state of Illinois may be in even worse shape, if Chicago is taken out of the state.

Long story short, this deal sounds like a no-win because while proponents would be free of domination from the Chicago machine, they'd still have a massive pile of debt that only a metropolis the size of Chicago could deal with.

Welcome to Corruption Inc.

From my own backyard. Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to fourteen years in prison on various charges of corruption including attempting to sell President Obama’s Senate Seat for $1.5 million in campaign contributions and personal favors.

While I bleed no tears for Blagojevich, this is the latest ugly episode for Illinois politics. Blagojevich’s predecessor George Ryan is still serving a prison sentence for racketeering and fraud. This type of behavior is largely embodied by the strong hold that Chicago-area politics continues to hold over the state, despite the supposed breaking of many of the big political machines during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The seemingly harsh Blagojevich sentence may be more a symptom of the times, rather than a statement against corruption. With the current climate of anger at Wall Street and big corporate interests that have rotted America, judges may find themselves under increasing pressure to take a stand against government corruption and the prevalence of pay to play politics and other seedy exercises that occur within the political arena.

Will this sentence have an impact on the activities of corrupt politicians? Not likely, because there will always be politicians who believe that they can get away with it. Quite often, the organs of justice allow such behavior to continue, and in some cases encourage it. Rod Blagojevich was just the unfortunate politician who was confronted with a stiff corruption fighting prosecutor in the form of Patrick Fitzgerald.

Back in the Saddle

Alright, I’m back in the saddle of Book Diplomacy after a very grueling graduate seminar. Much has happened since I’ve been away from Herman Cain’s fall from grace to America’s relationship with Pakistan and Iran, protests over elections in Russia, and lord only knows what else I’ve missed over the last three weeks, but I’m going to try and cover it all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bad Blogger

I've been a very bad blogger...as you may have noticed, the blog has looked pretty bare over the last few days and weeks. I'm in the middle of writing a pain in the butt paper for my graduate seminar, so there probably won't be anything new until next week or the week following. Thanks for understanding...

Mike from Book Diplomacy

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Guatemala: In the Military We Trust

Ramped street violence and increasing involvement of Mexican drug cartels in Guatemala has delivered Otto Perez Molina, a retired military general the countries presidency. Guatemalan voters were swayed by his “iron fist” policy in a country that is besieged by poverty and crime.

 As the crime and poverty has skyrocketed, the security situation throughout the country has worsened. Inviting a military hand into government is a dramatic step for a country that has been weary of military since the last military dictator was thrown out in 1986.

Although I am also concerned about the tendency towards autocratic military rule in Latin America, this move makes logical sense for the people of Guatemala. Their civilian leaders have failed to provide their citizens with security amid a title-wave of national security issues. Given the present condition of Guatemala, a former military general with obvious security credentials would be all too appealing to a violence fatigued country.

What Canos' Death Means

The killing of the supreme commandant of the FARC may actually hurt the peace process rather than helping it. Guillermo Leon Saenz, AKA Alfonso Cano was killed in a bombing raid on his encampment. Why is the death of a man several countries classify as a terrorist bad for a peace process, one might ask?

 While despite his continued advocation of force and guerilla tactics, Cano also sought dialogue and peace talks with Columbian presidents. It was reported he had largely convinced the FARC leadership of the peace process.

 With his death, the peace process has an uncertain future. His rumored successors may not have the same control over forces and a more ideological bend than Cano making peace difficult.

Although I’ve never been one to side with narco-terrorists, this killing may have made the job of the Columbian government harder, rather than easier. Now you face the prospect of FARC taking on a harder bend, or splintering into three or four guerilla movements instead of one.

Meaning that making peace with one, only solves 25% percent of your guerilla problem because they can only deliver their forces. My message for the Columbian government is the same one that I offer every government “You can’t kill your way to victory.”

America’s "Favorite" Sandinista is Back

Daniel Ortega- America’s favorite Sandinista has won a disputed presidential election in Nicaragua. Ortega has been an on again, off again, thorn in the United States side since Reagan. Ortega’s latest re-election bid has created much controversy throughout the international community and Nicaragua itself.

 The Nicaraguan constitution Article 147 prohibits a candidate from seeking more than two consecutive terms. That hurdle was cleared when a Sandinista judge gave him the go ahead.Meanwhile, there were allegations of false vote totals, voter intimidation, and electoral theft.

All in all, it appears as though the democracy project has backslidden into a corrupt mud with Mr. Ortega’s victory and that’s something that no person, who truly has a love for freedom and democracy wants to see.

An Ortega victory, by whatever means indicates yet another rejection of United States policy within the region. Given our less than stellar record in Latin America, it shouldn’t be surprising when the people elect someone we can’t stand. Either way sad day for democracy.

The Military vs. The NRA

Top military officials are speaking out against a new law backed by the NRA because they fear that it will increase the danger of suicide to US troops. The measure prohibits commanders from being able to "collect or record any information" about private firearms owned by US troops living off base.

While commanders are permitted to ask troops who appear to be a danger to themselves or others about private firearms – or to suggest perhaps locking them temporarily in a base depot – if the soldier denies that he or she is thinking about harming anyone, then the commander cannot pursue the discussion further. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2011/1104/Pentagon-vs.-NRA-Will-gun-rights-law-raise-risk-of-soldier-suicides

Nearly half of all suicides by soldiers are committed by firearm, and the military concedes they have issues separating at risk soldiers from firearms. I think we need to do more in terms of providing better mental health services and counseling to deal with the problems in addition to doing a better job getting guns out of the hands of at risk soldiers.

 But I also think the NRA is overreaching by making commanders largely into naggers of gun possession in the interest of gun control freedom. I ultimatly don’t know where to come down on this issue.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day!

I’d like to take a few minutes and salute all of our veterans on Veterans Day. Thank you for everything you’ve done for this country. Sometimes, we get lost in our daily lives and forget that without your sacrifice there would be no everyday life, at least not as we conceive of it.

Without you, there would be no Book Diplomacy and I’d probably be locked away in an institution somewhere. So whether your serving in the military, have in the past, or are no longer with us, please know how much this blogger appreciates you.


Problem with Democracy: People Not Institutions

This past week, I had to read a bunch of articles, which painted a very bleak picture for democratic governance throughout the Western world. Voter turnouts are decreasing, trust in political parties is in the toilet, and political parties are viewed as unresponsive to the needs of the population…etc.

Yet there’s a basic problem in much of the literature on satisfaction with democracy. The problem is that paper after paper actually measures citizen satisfaction with the running of democratic institutions within various countries rather than the idea of democracy itself.

It would be more apt to say that democratic institutions are in decline. And the reason they are in decline is because we foolishly let ourselves inside of the institutions. It’s not the institutions, but what men do inside of the democratic institutions that has given democracy its’ bad name.

For example, an election is one of the most basic tenets of democratic governance. If the voters elect a candidate that vows to run on a platform of slashing deficits and ending government corruption and he ends up indicted for handing out government contracts to his brother in law, while drinking fine wine and traveling on a fleet of private jets, what does the voter do? They blame the individual candidate or party… not the electoral institution itself.

If, democracy is on the decline, we have no one to blame but our foolish selves.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I’m President of the Congo

No, I’m not declaring myself President of the Congo. But Etienne Tshisekedi certainly has. In a radio interview, he denied that the Congolese government had denied his plane permission to land, declared that the current President Kabila has no one supporting him, other than his wife, and that most of the people have sided with him.

Adding further fire to a particularly nasty election campaign, he called on supporters to stage jail breaks and free his supporters that were jailed during demonstrators. It is unknown whether his supporters will head the call. Tshisekedi has been criticized for spending most of his time outside the country in South Africa during campaign season.

Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/Africa-Monitor/2011/1108/Congolese-candidate-Tshisekedi-declares-himself-president

Just another African election, much? This would worry me. We have a candidate who is largely funded through South Africa, meaning that he probably will govern South Africa’s interests, if elected. Furthermore, if he’s encouraging illegal activity and riotous actions, how can we expect him to act any better as president?

Maybe Congo should just prepare itself to descend into violence now. The Congo itself is no stranger to violence and tension. Indeed, most days, it feels like most African nations could say that.

Zimbabwe: Government in Chaos Again

The African people deserve much better government than this crap.

Robert Mugabe's’ ZANU-PF Party is in danger of clashing with its’ own coalition partners over a new round of repressions. Businessman and opposition activists have been harassed, journalists beaten, and a pro Movement for Democratic Change rally was forcibly broken by Mugabe supports as the police watched.

This comes approximately two years after the MDC and ZANU-PF Party signed a Global Policy Agreement. The coalition hasn’t been the smoothest coalition ever, needing constant negotiation and intervention from the South African Development Community. However, the economy has stabilized under their leadership.

Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2011/1108/Is-Zimbabwe-s-power-sharing-deal-coming-undone

I don’t buy and will never buy…the argument that Africans are incapable of governing themselves or experiencing prosperity. Africans are a remarkably resilient people. You’d have to be to still have hope after decades of this crap.

 Africa’s autocrats best beware: you guys are not so exceptional that you can’t be overthrown in a Arab Spring with African characteristics. Your people have already been given the tools they need. The very fact that they’ve taken to the streets should be warning that autocratic government isn’t as secure as it once was.

Boko Haram: Economic Terrorists

Boko Haram is a Muslim Group carrying out terrorist operations in the Nigeria. In several of their statements they’ve declared that their goal is to replace Nigeria’s corrupt democracy with Islamic law. Still others see Boko Haram’s recent spate of attacks as an attempt by the group to secure some sort of government payout.

The Nigerian government took this step previously in dealing with rebels in Nigeria’s oil rich southern region, a few short years ago. It has been said that the government’s failure to address Boko Haram’s actual grievances has led to the recent serge in violence.

For some militants, terrorism is just a job. They are not motivated by grand religious proclamations, or goals of freeing an oppressed people, but rather feeding their family and having a dignified life. That being said, the government has set a dangerous president by paying off any groups because it only invites other terrorist groups and lone wolfs to carry out attacks, if they know there’s a sack of cash in the end.

 The use of force by both sides has also failed to address the underlying political and economic problems of Nigeria, that are undoubtedly sanctioning the violence.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Does Democracy Need Authoritarian Government?

My reading for seminar this week was satisfaction with democracy. The literature I’ve read indicates that satisfaction with democracy has been on the decline since the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union. I doubt, many people are going to be shouting “Down with democracy, Up with Communism” and carrying pictures of Lenin, Stalin and Mao in the streets.

 Still the question is interesting: Does Democracy need some form of autocratic government?

During the Cold War, politicians could use the very real threat of Communism to differentiate themselves by arguing “We’ll at least were not Communists.” Following the fall of the Soviet Union, lots of inadequacies with democracy and the democratic process have had a rather harsh spotlight shined on them.

 Parties that were previously bastions of democracy were revealed to be just as corrupt as the evil communists. Furthermore, citizens have grown increasingly dissatisfied with unresponsive, “do nothing” political parties, that don’t care about them.

 Certain political figures throughout history have advocated this idea of a world completely governed democratically. Great idea, we can have mass discontent throughout the world. One can’t deny that democracy was easier with communism around. Because we could always say “Look how they live in Communist countries”!

Once the light was shined on democracy though, we found that though democracy may be preferable, it is far from the perfect paradise that some made it out to be. The fall of Communism forced us to confront the reality of democratic imperfection.              

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Al Qaeda’s Ideal Recruit

The trial of Rezwan Ferdaus in Massachusetts may provide the ideal portrait of an American recruited to Al Qaeda. Ferdaus is accused of plotting to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq and bomb the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol with explosives carried by model airplanes.

Al Qaeda seeks isolated people, who often feel humiliated by society with little knowledge of Islam. Furthermore, Al Qaeda wants men with no prior criminal record or affiliation with radical groups. Also Ferdaus studies physics, meaning that he had a certain degree of technical knowledge, that could benefit Al Qaeda. Source:

In the Internet age, its’ becoming easier for terrorist organization to do their work. Terrorists aren’t just locked into corners anymore, they have this vehicle were they can propagate their message with little difficulty. This case also illustrates the creative methods Al Qaeda and their recruits could use to attack the United States.

How do we combat radicalization efforts of Americans? It’s easy to say stop the isolation, but it’s a harder idea to implement in practice. We have so much fear and disconnection permeating society these days, that we don’t even know each other. That certainly plays a part in sad stories like this.

Ricin Plot in Georgia

This stuff really makes one wonder if the United States hasn’t totally lost its’ collective mind. Four suspected members of a Georgia Militia were arrested by the FBI for plotting to purchase explosives and produce the deadly toxin Ricin. Their goal was to attack government officials and highly populated urban areas.

One of the men was quoted as saying “"When it comes time to saving the Constitution, that means some people gotta die,". The plot apparently involved spreading ricin on roads and having it dispersed by vehicles traveling along selected routes. Further, the group also talked about blowing up entire buildings like Timothy McVeigh did in 1995.

This is the more likely terrorist threat facing the United States these days, and I’m very much afraid that the economy isn’t helping things. As people become more disillusioned and struggle to feed their families, without prospects for gainful employment, they may become susceptible to the message of terrorists.

The lone wolf is a deadly animal because he can strike any time, any place. In theory, no small town or big city is safe. It doesn’t take much sophistication to carry out a terrorist attack unfortunately.

Occupy Oakland Being Undermined?

The Christian Science Monitor posed the very interesting question “Is the message of Occupy Oakland being undermined by the violent actions of a few people”? Indeed, the violence has gotten the brunt of the media coverage, but to say that it automatically undermines the message may be a misfire.

Social movements, such as the Occupy protests, sweeping across the country often have multiple branches. Take the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. While the world remembers Martin Luther King and non-violence. There were elements within the African-American community who advocated violence as the means to an end. You’ll find similar behavior in virtually any movement.

The task for the Occupy movement is to prevent the burning buildings and overturned cars from becoming symbolic of the movement. Don’t let the few speak for the many. I repeat: “Do not let the few speak for the many.” That’s the real problem in this country right now.

 The average citizen feels like big business and special interest groups have bought our representatives, so the average person has no voice as various entities continue to take more and more from those who can least afford to give more.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Soylent Green's Population Lesson

For those unaware, Soylent Green is a apocalyptic science-fiction  movie staring Charlton Heston that came out in 1973. Heston stars as a police detective who is trying to solve a murder on an overcrowded planet in the year 2022 and makes a shocking discovery about Soylent Green-the chief means of feeding this rapidly expanding population. I won't spoil the ending, although I highly recommend you guys rent it.

Soylent Green, though exaggerated in its' ultimate conclusion, does raise the perfectly valid and worrisome issue of how do we feed a growing population? The U.N. announced that the 7 Billionth person would be born this week. That's a lot of people to feed. With any luck, we won't resort to the Soylent Green method.

With all the greed running around in this world though, maybe we're not as far from Soylent Green as we think.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Drug Cartels vs. Internet Hackers…

This one is more than a bit bizarre. Let’s see if I can give the story justice. The Zetas- one of Mexico’s most feared drug cartels has been challenged by Anonymous-a mysterious online hacker group. Anonymous claims that the Zetas in Veracruz kidnapped one of their members and is threatening to release the names of anyone connected with the Zetas if they don’t release him or her. This includes police officers, officials, and journalists, who will most assuredly be killed if outed.

 This illustrates just how high tech the drug wars in Mexico have become. Internet resources like Twitter and YouTube are now battlegrounds in the cyber drug war.

I never thought I’d be advising a drug cartel, but the Zetas obtain their power by being feared. Their brutal exploits have been on international pages of newspapers over the last few months. If they don’t free the hostage--if they exist, they may erode any support they have within the region. Who’s going to support someone, if that support leads to their murder/dismemberment?

 But if you do free them, you’ve in effect given your enemies the blueprint to extract concessions from you, and trust me the Zetas have them giving the lucrative nature of the Mexican drug trade. This will be interesting to say the very least.

The African Fight against Al Shabab

Kenya and Somalia have made an appeal for international assistance against Islamist group Al Shabab. The two governments are seeking international help in executing a naval blockade of Kismayo-whom the group controls and gets half its’ income according to international estimates.

 The three weeks of Kenyan incursions into Somalia have been interesting to say the least. A Kenyan air strike went awry and killed five in a refugee camp. Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating whether a suicide bomber who killed 10 is a U.S. citizen from Minnesota, who called on Muslims to do jihad throughout the world.

Although I’m typically reluctant to commit forces to new combat roles, I don’t know how we avoid providing some assistance if we are serious about fighting terrorism. The large Somali community in Minnesota has already had several members leave to join Al Shabab, calling for jihad where-ever they live.

This changes the conflict from “African” into a matter of global national security. Is NATO in any condition to supply the firepower given Europe’s financial difficulties and the American publics disinterest in another conflict? That is the ultimate question.

Techno Espionage and The Road East

CBS News ran a report tonight detailing a United States report that named Russia and China as the two most aggressive cyber espionage countries against the United States, stealing a variety of technological secrets ranging from military to our electrical grid.

 This isn’t really a new development, our power grids and military secrets have been of concern for many years. China and Russia are seeking to build their economies as quickly as possible. Why waste billions of dollars and time on the machinery of economic growth, when one can develop a team of cyber hackers and steal what you need?

The real question is: How do targeted governments deal with the problem? IT specialists may be able to offer more insights then I can on the technological aspects of the problem, but greater security systems are an absolute given.

 Overall though, we became a global power in part by using our minds to create and innovate things that were bigger and better than everyone else. To beat back the challenges of cyber criminals, we need to rediscover our innovative spirit to create bigger and better things.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is Libya A Model for NATO?

 Although the premise behind the NATO mission in Libya of few troops on the ground and overwhelming air support may hold appeal for those advocating a more interventional foreign policy, the conflict in Libya should be treated as an exception rather than a rule.

 Every conflict is fought on different battlefields. In Libya, we had a opposition force fighting a narrowly supported dictator, there wasn’t a superpower standing behind Gadhafi and as far as I know, there was only brief of putting troops on the ground. This would be the ideal situation, but wars aren’t fought in ideal situations.

Not every dictator has such a dogged group willing to fight them and not every dictator is as hated as Gadhafi. What if we back a group and the group fizzles or is more interested in pocket lining? We obviously can’t leave an angry dictator on his perch, requiring major boots on the ground. If we miscalculate the scope of the opposition, than we end up on the business end of a civil war.

The bottom line is that NATO was the beneficiary of an advantageous set of circumstances that though ideal can’t be depended on to occur again.

Europe’s Greek Headache

The situation in Greece continues to grow more out of control by the day. Runaway debt, riots in the streets that show no signs of slowing, and now the Greek debt titlewave may be preparing to claim another victim: Greece Prime Minister George Papandreou.

 Papandreou is now facing a party revolt and a no confidence vote after calling for a referendum on the European Union’s latest bailout package. The call for referendum angered many European leaders, but others saw the referendum as Papandreou’s commitment to austerity measures and debt relief.

What worries me beyond the obvious ramifications for a teetering Europe, is that Greeks are rioting in the streets and setting fires and Papandreou offers a referendum? Although, I applaud his commitment to democratic processes, he needs to take bold action and a referendum doesn’t seem bold enough.

 What happens if the measure fails on referendum? Can Greece really afford to say no to Europe? This would be like spitting in the face of Europe and may prove to waste valuable time that neither Greece, nor Europe can afford. Can we really afford three months of riots?

Will China Save Europe?

In the midst of a European debt crisis, some European leaders are headed to China seeking its' help. But help from China, is unlikely to come at least on this trip.

Europe would like to see China show support for the European Financial Stability Facility (Europe's bailout fund), by buying European bonds. At present, China seems reluctant to do so because they are looking for stability before making a big financial commitment. Furthermore, China wants to be given market economic status and easing of Chinese exports, a move Europe seems less than enthusiastic about.

China is in the catbird seat here…conspiracy theories aside. China has large amounts of capital and Europe is desperate need. China mustn’t use this moment to gloat over their good fortune and Europe’s troubles because China’s economic success is not so great that it cannot go awry at a moments notice.

It’s actually in China’s interest that Europe remains viable as a trading partner. My guess is that China will provide some assistance, when Europe stops playing the house of cards that is about to topple. The real question for China is: When do you step in, and under what terms?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why a Secular and Islamist Coalition Makes Sense

As coalition governments go, this could be one of the more interesting pairings, I’ve ever seen. Two secular parties are joining with an Islamist party to form a coalition government that will guide Tunisia following the uprising that began the Arab Spring. But can a mixed secular-Islamic party government work?

At first blush, the coalition sounded like an absolute car crash waiting to happen. However, upon further thought, it might not be the world’s worst idea. The guiding thought behind coalition government is to provide representation to the greatest number of people. By producing a coalition, you can represent both Islamic and secular interests while hopefully keeping dissent down.

The whole revolution occurred in the first place because the rulers were not responsive to Tunisians. It would be a dangerous mistake to then impose a heavily centralized majoritarian system on a recently freed people. While the coalition may seem unorthodox or dangerous to the outsider, I think that we should give the people of Tunisia some leeway here. No one knows the on the ground reality better than them.

 It is perhaps the best trust of a new democracy to let them succeed or fail on their own.

Meanwhile in Bogota

Americans complain all the time with good reason about our political system breaking down and being “owned” by special interests. But compared to the people in Columbia, the United States looks like paradise.

 This past weekend, Colombia held local elections for governor, mayor and town council. Most distressing, forty one candidates for office were murdered and drug cartels exerted a significant influence in parts of the country. Most of these elections seized by violence and corruption were localized affairs.

Meanwhile in the capital of Bogota, a traditional political campaign occurred that any Western analyst would recognize. Gustavo Petro won the mayors race campaigning on an anti-corruption platform, staying away from left-right issues.

 When it comes to Columbia, one just has to sigh because we have modern style campaigns and elections in the big cities, but gangster-ism runs free in the localities. No democracy can survive these types of conditions and retain the label of democracy.

 Columbia has a choice: they can either be a democratic country or they can become a drug cartel state. The international community can’t accept either/or here.

Kyrgyzstan: Forward from Revolution?

Former Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev has declared victory in the Kyrgyzstan’s’ presidential election. His first task will be to attempt to bring some stability to the Central Asian nation that has been rocked by two revolutions in the last decade.

This task in itself will prove difficult as the nations politics are still largely based on who belongs to what clan. Indeed, some groups in the southern portion of Kyrgyzstan are already questioning the validity of the results.  Western observers have declared the polling "mostly fai"r though there were flaws with the voting lists and ballot counting.

Why should Americans care about Kyrgyzstan? The United States military has a base located there, which is key to its operations in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Kyrgyzstan could be a prime candidate to join the proposed Eurasian Union.

 This victory by Atambayev is largely seen as a victory for both the U.S. and Russia because while he favors closer ties to Moscow, he’s unlikely to gun for a marked change in relations with the United States either.

 His first task will be to stabilize a country ripped apart by ethnic riots, drug abuse, and corruption. I wish him luck in his efforts, but I’m less than hopeful.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Romney and Cain in Iowa?

A just released poll indicates that Herman Cain and Mitt Romney are in a dead heat among Republicans likely to vote in the January nominating caucus. So, does this automatically mean that its’ a Romney-Cain showdown in Iowa?

Given the less than sterling response from the Republican base about any candidate, I wouldn’t count any Republican candidate out, though Rick Santorum and my personal Republican favorite John Huntsman are far back in the polls. Polls can lie because they rely on the assumption that people are truthful, which isn’t always the case.

Further, Iowa in the last three decades hasn’t exactly had the pulse of America in the caucuses, as I pointed out in Caucus in the Corn available here: http://wwwbookdiplomacy.blogspot.com/2011/07/caucus-in-corn.html. A victory by any candidate should not be considered a death blow unless you’ve based your entire campaign upon the state…see Rick Santorum.

Many men have won in Iowa on their way to not becoming the nominee. Furthermore, the caucus is in two months. We’ve seen campaigns fall apart over one scream and a bizarre geography bee by Howard Dean. Campaigns can rise and fall in the next two months. Right now, its’ too close to call.

Bachmann: Tea Party Sinker?

Is Michelle Bachmann sinking the Tea Party? That’s the question as Ned Ryun- head of the Tea Party Group American Majority has written a blog calling on Bachmann to go, amid falling poll numbers, staff shakeups, and other scandals. But are such things damaging to the Tea Party itself?

Not really. Republicans and Democrats run dog candidates all the time, usually in seats they have little chance of winning, and no one questions their strength on the basis of one or two uninspiring candidates.

The Tea Party themselves had this experience previously with Christine O’Donnell and Sharon Angle among others, who were defeated by more experienced and/or mainstream candidates.

 The Democrats lost Ted Kennedy’s Senate Seat to a Republican Scott Brown after running a lackluster Martha Coakley. My overall point is: As long as the message doesn’t get bogged down, the Tea Party will remain a force on the political scene.

Friday, October 28, 2011

In Death, We Celebrate?

The recent deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Qaddafi have created an interesting question “When do we celebrate a person’s death, if ever? Most Christians would probably say “never” while if you’re a person who had their lives impacted by Bin Laden or Qaddafi than you feel justified by taking to the streets in celebration.

 It would be just as morally wrong of me to stand in judgment and condemnation of people whose shoes I can never stand in. The scenes of Gaddafi’s corpse aired on worldwide newscasts are frankly overkill personally, but some people need those images for personal reasons.

I came to my determination thinking about the hours after the September 11th 2001. Throughout the Arab World, revelers burned American flags and effigies of President Bush in the streets. As Americans, we hated these displays. Therefore, why would we then turn around and celebrate someone else’s death?

 If we’re looking to prove that we’re better than the Bin Ladens and Qaddafi’s of the world than we need to show that were better than the savages. Defeat evil and negativity through good deeds, not by celebrating death.

The Reality of a Reformed Soviet Union

There’s growing concern among Senate Republicans in Washington that Vladimir Putin in seeking greater economic and political cooperation with former Soviet states is actually seeking to recreate the former Soviet Union.

I can’t speak to reality on the ground in Moscow, but I do know that the second coming of the Soviet Union won’t be quite like the first. The world has become a far more global place economically and socially. It isn’t so easy to just divide East-West and keep information out. I talked a little bit about this in Asia’s Censor Problem available in the archives. Russia needs the West as a trading partner for its’ oil and natural gas, so isolation as promoted in Lenin and Stalinist times, isn’t exactly an option.

 I keep hearing about how Russia is going to be rich as the West crumbles. Not necessarily, yes Russia has a large supply of oil and natural gas, but there going to have years of digging to get to the stuff. Furthermore, they’ve failed to diversify their economy so its’ not as fuel based. Until such action occurs, they’ll always be hostage to the commodities market.

If anything, Russia may accomplish Soviet Union-lite.

Herman Cain, Republican Nominee?

That’s the question Christian Science Monitor had earlier this week: Can Herman Cain win the Republican Presidential Nomination?

 Well technically, one could create a scenario where Rick Santorum wins the nomination, but assuming one is moving beyond the notion of “can” and into a probabilistic formulation, as much as I disagree with Herman Cain’s positions, I think he has a chance to win the nomination.

To win the nomination, he has to make it through the Republican primary process. Primary voters are typically more politically aware and ideologically driven than the electorate at large. At the moment, the Republican electorate appears to be quite fired up at the prospect of Herman Cain and the simplicity of his 9-9-9 tax plan.

 There is definitely something to be said for simplifying things in a contest where there are a bunch of men who seem to enjoy tossing around fifty dollar words and accusations about people’s gardeners.

My challenge for Herman Cain is that sound bites on the campaign trail like 9-9-9 are great for getting votes to win the election, but what happens when the reality of Congress smacks him in the face?

Tax reform is required campaign speak, but has often fallen flat in Congress, what makes Cain so different? Barack Obama spoke of hope and change four years ago and we’ve seen what happens when the electoral message meets political reality.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Blame Yourselves For Congress

Approval ratings for Congress are more pathetic than ever with 60-70% of Americans disapproving of their job performance. Congress should be blamed for two near government shutdowns, a near miss on debt default, and the constant droning of partisan bickering. But the blame also lies with the very American public who disapproves of Congress at large.

It’s a well known axiom of American politics that turnout is much greater in combined elections (presidential and legislative) than just legislative elections only. The people who turn out in legislative only election years are more politically active and generally more extreme in their views than a general electorate.

Therefore, to an extent, it could be said that the current Congressional gridlock could be blamed on the relative apathy of the general voter that turns out for presidential contests, but can’t be bothered with mid-term elections. If we want a better Congress, we have to prove it through  issue education and voting.

The Problem With Debate Policy

The Republican Presidential debate has produced some interesting sound-bites and late night comic fodder, but has it really produced much in terms of meaningful policy substance.

 I mean its’ great to tell the audience that your not Barack Obama in all, but what has any presidential candidate offered in terms of policy. When I say policy, I mean policy that can be enacted within the first few weeks of a new administration?

 Herman Cain has surged to the front of the pack for the simplicity of his 9-9-9 plan, but does he have the support to enact it within Congress? I’ve heard more talk about Mitt Romney’s gardener than policy substance. America needs substance, not three year olds throwing tantrums.

Debates are not the place for policy substance though…debates are designed to appeal to the base of Republican voters who will be voting in a primary. You have to appease the base as a candidate in primary and then do a spin-job to catch enough of the general electorate to win the actual election, without alienating your base.

 Candidate websites and voter guides are much better sources of information than these debates, which provide living proof that money doesn’t equal maturity. So for anyone voting in a primary, please only use the debates as a tool in making your decision, otherwise look to be sorely disappointed.

The Curious Reality of Presidential Elections

In presidential systems, there’s this widely held, though ultimately incorrect belief that the presidential contest is more important than the legislative contests.

 Now it is true that the President has a higher profile than most local or national legislators and has the ultimate say over most matters of national policy as Congressional vetoes are rare. But it is the leaders of Congress who ultimately introduce legislation  Though the federal level is important, the local level is basically forgotten in the voting calculus.

Many key local and statewide contests take place during non-presidential years. If we use the “greatest impact on everyday life” as a variable than its’ local elections that matter most because these elect our mayors, alderman, and county board members who have the power to enact ordinances or raise taxes that effect our everyday lives.

 Presidential and Congressional decisions, though important, could take years to filter down to the local level, if they ever do. Given this context, why are presidential elections considered so important?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Congrats to RVCMUN Team

Thrilled that the Rock Valley College MUN team did so well at their conference last weekend. I’ve been talking about them on this blog periodically over the last several months. Thanks guys for not making me eat crow because I don’t particularly like eating crow…its’ oily and tastes like a fifty year old gym sock.

Here’s to hoping that Boston brings bigger and better things. If you attack life like a Model UN conference, life will be full of better things for all you guys.

Both Sides of Iraq

Although, I’m thrilled that President Obama will be bringing many troops home from Iraq by the end of the year, I can also understand the everyday Iraqis apprehension at this plan.

 From the United States side, its’ about time given the public has grown impatient waiting for Iraq to become stable; amid reports of sectarian violence. I don’t think the American people would tolerate another year or five at current troop levels without demanding the Commander in Chief’s ouster. Factoring in the sloth-like state of the economy and the bitter partisanship occurring in Washington these days.

For the Iraqis, they see an army that is under prepared, a questionable government, and a country that still has much rebuilding ahead of it. Meanwhile, Iran wants to influence the on the ground situation in Iraq, and is already doing so according to some sources.

 One can understand why the average Iraqi would not be enthusiastic about the prospect of an Iraq without American boots on the ground. I have a great deal of empathy for the Iraqi people, but the American reality is inescapable.

War is Still Human, Damn It!

Christian Science Monitor has a fascinating report on what could be the future of warfare. Really cool read available here: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2011/1022/Unmanned-drone-attacks-and-shape-shifting-robots-War-s-remote-control-future

Although the article points out many fascinating innovations with robotics and weaponry, I’d like to keep in mind that war is still going to be a largely human enterprise with factors that even our greatest technological advantages can’t account for.

That is perhaps the greatest take-away from the original execution of the Iraq War. Rumsfeld among others was looking towards the future of war, with smaller forces and a greater reliance on technology and contractors.  Eventually, we went back to a more conventional force structure with the added technological components.

I think anything that has the potential to put less soldiers in harms way is a victory for humanity. However, war is a bloody business and there will still be death, no matter how good the technology gets. If one needs a proof of this point, consider the discontent that the NATO night raids in Afghanistan has caused.

The problem with technology is that it is controlled by humans, and humans are not perfect. The technology can and will commit errors if its’ overlords make a mistake in its’ programming, coordinate information, or any number of untold variables. Humans make war, not robots.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What I’ve Learned About Blogging

As some of you may know, I just posted my two hundredth blog post on Book Diplomacy. If you can read and understand any of this stuff, may God bless you, my style is a bit of a train wreck at times. That may be my greatest take-away from the first 200 blog posts…here are some other key things I’ve learned…

This stuff doesn’t just appear out of thin air- I spend hours every week on this blog, which was honestly much longer than I was prepared for, at the start.

Never give the impression of insulting Harry Potter- He has the most amazing fan base in the world and they will not hesitate to defend him, if they feel he’s been wronged. One of them was a girl I hope to call my friend someday.

There are places you don’t go- As a blogger, you have to have a conscience. I could come on here and roast certain people, but what does that really prove? It just makes you as a big a jerk as the person you claim to be better then. Just because the platform exists, doesn’t mean you use it.

Have Fun-I get so excited, when I can sit down and write blog stuff because its’ such a departure from the articles I usually read for seminar.

Pakistan: Get Tough With Terrorism

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has once again pleaded with her Pakistani counterparts to get tough on militant havens within its’ borders. How many times have we watched this movie before?

U.S.-Pakistan relations have the tendency to remind me of a bad cable channel that airs the same movie twenty times in a month. The United States will ask Pakistani leaders to clean up terrorism in Pakistan, Pakistan’s leaders will enact largely cosmetic efforts to appease the Americans, and then return to the status quo out of fear of being displaced by the military establishment.

For a civilian leader in Pakistan, this is hell. While you may want to do the right thing and crack down on extremist elements within Pakistan, being too aggressive may lead to your imprisonment and/or death. Not doing anything, angers the United States, whose favor your desperate for.

 The real question is: What is going to stop this from becoming another U.S.-Pakistan dance where both sides offer rhetoric, but little action. Just once, I wish the United States would take meaningful action instead of issuing sternly worded statements for media consumption then backing off when Pakistan plays the strategic ally/nuclear card.

Lessons from Spain’s Battle with the ETA

The Spanish terrorist group ETA, who has been fighting for an independent Basque territory against Spain and France, announced an end to its’ violent terrorist activities that have killed at least 900 people over the last twenty five years. They further called for a political solution to address the legitimate grievances of the Basque people.

 Though some Spaniards are leery because members of  ETA have made similar promises before only to resume terrorist activities at a later point. Let’s assume for a moment that the ETA is genuine in this announcement, Spain has provided a useful blueprint for defeating terrorism.

Spain and France put a great deal of police pressure on elements of the ETA. Further, they’ve allowed pro-Basque independence parties contest seats in municipal elections, giving Basques an alternative to ETA’s terrorism. These parties have garnered greater support over the last few years, starving the ETA of their base of support.

 ETA’s undoing may have been its’ own failure to honor a similar promise to cease violent hostilities in 2006 as it was negotiating with the Spanish government. That overreach is important because it had a large part in discrediting the organization, among its' base population. If a terrorist organization loses its' legitimacy, it's relegated to the fringes of society, or eliminated altogether. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Qaddafi Dead?

Well this wasn’t exactly the news I was expecting to wake up to this morning. Various news outlets have been reporting over the last several hours that Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi has been killed. If confirmed, this would bring an end to forty + years of head games with the international community.

Qaddafi was one of the most colorful world leaders on the global stage from his cadre of Eastern European female bodyguards to his bizarre rambling commentaries like claiming that Obama was his son during one of his last appearances before the United Nations. For all his theatrics and rhetorical grenades, there was another very dark side to Qaddafi.

He was a state sponsor of terrorism, most notably the Pan Am Flight 103 attack over Lockerbie Scotland in 1988. Various sources also linked him to a deal with the AQ Khan Nuclear Network based in Pakistan that would’ve given Libya nuclear materials. These actions suggest that Qaddafi understood a basic axiom of international politics: A small state can be made big through force of action.

Domestically, Qaddafi terrorized his people, killing untold numbers of individuals who dared stand against him, in the most brutal ways known to mankind. To say, I won’t mourn his death is an understatement, but one certainly can’t deny there won’t be another like Muammar Qaddafi .

Small Freedoms

The government of Myanmar (Burma) has been doing something odd lately. They’ve released a number of prisoners of conscience over the last few weeks, whose existence was previously denied by the regime. It has been suggested that political prisoners may be released in batches to gauge Western responses to the move. The fact that some political prisoners are being released is a huge eye opener given that Myanmar once had the most repressive government this side of North Korea.

The new government has sought to forge a degree of trust among the government and Suu Kyi- the most influential opposition figure in Burmese politics. They’ve also agreed to stop censorship and may agree to look at the electoral system reform that could clear Suu Kyis’ National League for Democracy to run for office. Source: http://www.economist.com/node/21532305.

The West has been faked out by the Myanmar government before, so the West would be wise to not wet themselves over this recent turn of seeming goodwill. Lets wait till all the prisoners are released, censorship is repealed for a meaningful period of time, and these little things called democratic elections occur and the results are respected, before we go removing sanctions and opening the doors to the new tastes great less filling Myanmar government. Lots of things sound good here, but we’ve been burned by the tantalizing flame of Myanmar democracy before.

Turkey-Free Europe

Turkey’s ascension to the European Union appears if not dead, in a coma over Turkish actions against Cyprus and some EU member countries resistance to Turkish membership. As an open question: Who needs who here? Turkey has been held up to the Arab world as the ideal model for democracy and freedom, while Europe appears weakened thanks to a debt crisis that threatens to humble even the strongest European economy.

Why would Turkey agree to be dubious part of one community when they could serve as a modernizing model for another community?

Indeed it appears they don’t. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Brittan and France of having neo-colonialist designs in Libya, while accusing a German foundation of funding Kurdish separatist group PKK, per an Economist report available here: http://www.economist.com/node/21532303. Not exactly behavior of a perspective EU member. Of course, their face of modern Arab democracy isn’t exactly sound either.

Although the army is losing government clout, pretrial detention periods for terrorists could be reduced, and the opposition is being consulted on a new constitution to replace the 1980 military coup constitution. More journalists are in jail in Turkey than any other country, violence against women is among the world’s worst, and a renewed Kurdish crackdown has arrested 3000+ including 12 mayors and 6 parliamentarians.

South Sudan: Terror Haven

Another one from the where were you last week file. South Sudan Minister of the Interior Alison Manani Magaya has accused North Sudan of providing support and training camps for the Lords’ Resistance Army (LRA) to launch attacks into South Sudan in an effort to destabilize the recently minted country.

He also mentioned some 27 entry points that will be reinforced and cited as poor infrastructure as a reason why so many people have found their way into South Sudan. For the international community, these actions could represent their worst fears as the North appears determined to weaken its’ southern neighbor.

This would be far from unprecedented. All kinds of nefarious things happen in newly democratic countries. Take the collapse of the Soviet Union for example, were still trying to account and secure the vast supplies of nuclear weapons with somewhat mixed results. In order countries, black markets in goods and services have proliferated seemingly overnight.

That terrorists could set up shop in South Sudan is indeed likely because the lack of infrastructure makes movement from place to place easier. Furthermore, the government is new and fragile, if your aim is take down a government…you’d most likely go someplace where institutions are weaker.

For South Sudan, did you really expect the North to give you freedom?

American Troops to Mexico?

I’ve been sitting on this one for several weeks. Texas Governor Rick Perry created waves at a recent town hall in New Hampshire by saying he would consider deploying U.S. troops to Mexico to help fight the gangs---assuming, of course, that Mexico was interested.

This suggestion has not been greeted warmly on either side of the border with the Mexican ambassador calling it a “non starter” while the American public perhaps war weary argues in recent PEW Research polls that the United States should pay less attention to problems overseas.

Although, I’m inclined to agree with many Americans polled by PEW, Mexico isn’t an Iraq or Afghanistan, it shares a highly porous border with many of our Southwestern states and some members of various drug cartels have become increasingly brazen in recent months both in their actions and their complex tunnels that extend into the US in some cases.

 Whether we like it or not, the U.S. government is probably going to have to make a stand eventually because the drug cartels represent a meaningful national security threat against the United States.

The military may be the only ones capable of handling things…if Mexico can’t.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What we’ve Lost

I think it sucks that we’ve lost so many young men and women in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because it feels like they had so much more of everything to give us.

 Their love, their friendship, their laughter, their smiles, all of that has now been silenced save for pictures and the cinemas of our mind.

If I had my wish, war would be a banished tool of barbarians and we’d all live in peace…but alas, this world exists beyond our reach.

 No one ever dies though, as long as we never forget them, not just as soldiers, but as human beings who shared with us their hopes, dreams, joys, and ambitions, and made us better in the process.

Wish you were here.

Getting Real on Afghanistan

I’ve been avoiding a question ever since I started Book Diplomacy that I get quite often “What do I think about Afghanistan”?

I think the Bush administration made the right move in invading Afghanistan following the September 11th attacks. The error which given the circumstances is inexcusable is in failing to understand the history and culture of Afghanistan. If they had studied either they would’ve understood how illogical imposing the Western conception of heavily centralized government on Afghanistan was.

 Afghanistan is a heavy fractionalized, tribal, society that in my view needs something approximating mixed sovereignty-where the centralized authority has authority over things like international affairs, defense, and global trade, while allowing local leaders control over local and regional matters.

We are not going to blast Afghanistan into a modern democratic state, no matter how many guns or bombs we have. Our best hope for victory may be for Afghanistan may be for the average Afghan to say that America left it better than they found it. Right now, I don’t know if anyone can say that given the ramped corruption of the Karzai government and anger over NATO’s night-raids. Opium is the most profitable economic item within the country and there’s a remarkably stubborn insurgency movement there.

 Is Afghanistan better with Karzai and American troops or the Taliban…that question should be fairly easy to answer…but I’m very much afraid what will happen to the good Afghan people when we do leave. Do they form a country or descend into warlordism? The thought keeps world leaders up at night, I’m sure.

Opium Nation

According to the United Nations, Afghanistan is responsible for ninety percent of the world’s opium supply, despite improved eradication efforts. Opium cultivation has risen 7% in 2011 over last year and production has increased by 61%. Growers site economic hardship and high prices for opium crops as key reasons for growing poppy crops that eventually become opium.

 Government attempts at eradication are seen as attacks on farmers livelihoods in the absence of a replacement crop that provides a similar revenue stream and has created a source of recruits for the Taliban. Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2011/1011/Afghanistan-still-world-s-top-opium-supplier-despite-10-years-of-US-led-war

No country wants to be known as a narcotic state, given all the problems opiates bring upon society, but without a meaningful alternative, what does the international community expect? In places like Afghanistan, survival is the name of the game, and if growing and cultivating opium will give you, as a peasant farmer the best chance to survive, why would you change?

 This is a government issue, either search for meaningful crops that provide livelihoods or shut up about opium plants within your country. At the end of the day, its’ all about making a living and surviving.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Underwear Bomber

Perhaps illustrative of my above point about Africa being a potential terrorist recruiting ground of the present and future. The “Underwear Bomber” pleaded guilty in a federal courtroom last week for attempting to blow up a jetliner over Detroit, Christmas Day 2010.

Though, I’m certainly not going to shed a tear for the underwear bomber, I think this case speaks to larger problems that we as a country have yet to meaningfully address.

 Despite our best security, he still found a way onto a commercial airliner and could’ve brought down a plane with 250 passengers onboard. This is indicative that even with the world’s greatest security measures, the terrorists can always find a hole.

My larger point, is the terrorist breeding ground that is Africa. Africa is plagued with bad governance, lack of jobs, lack of education, and just a general lack of opportunity. Terrorist groups prey upon the margins of traditional society, exploiting the isolated and giving them something to believe in.

 The “Underwear Bomber” may have failed in his ultimate goal, thankfully, but that doesn’t mean that there are not other disaffected souls around the world, under the sway of terrorist ideology seething at the thought of finishing the Underwear Bombers work and creating their own legacy.

Should the United States move against The LRA?

100 US Special Operations Forces began deploying to Africa in order to assist local military leaders in their quest to capture the brutal Joseph Kony head of the Lords Resistance Army who has killed thousands of civilians, raped women, and abducted children for use as child soldiers.

The soldiers will fan out throughout Uganda, Central African Republic, Congo, and the newly minted South Sudan. Their role is to act in an advisory and intelligence capacity unless forced to defend themselves. This is another example of Barack Obama’s military strategy: smaller numbers of more specialized forces and greater use of targeted drone strikes. The question: Is it the right strategy?

Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2011/1015/What-US-manhunt-for-LRA-leaders-reveals-about-Obama-s-war-strategy

President Obama has defined this mission in terms of America’s national security interest. While that claim is disputed by some, the Pentagon has added “preventing of human suffering due to mass atrocities” to its’ list of priorities outlined in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. The L.R.A. most certainly fits that definition, meaning that such action is indeed warranted. Furthermore, the President was given a 2010 Congressional mandate to deal with the L.R.A.

Obviously, a big military buildup is out of the question given other commitments, but something small and directional is warranted given our human rights stances and the fact that Africa is considered by many experts to be the next terrorist hotspot.

I’m further struck by a lack of alternatives: we shouldn’t sanction an already economically fragile region for 300-400 L.R.A operatives. Doesn’t it make us appear heartless and cruel to let more people die?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Good luck to the Rock Valley College MUN

Just wanted to take a few minutes to wish the Rock Valley College Model United Nations Team good luck at their conference in Washington D.C. later this week. You’ve worked hard for months, now all that hard work will pay off in just a few days time. There’s not much else to do from here, you just have to believe in yourselves and everything else will fall into place.

To the young members of the team, this is a positive because it means that someone has high expectations of you. Trust me it beats the alternative. For the more experienced members of the team, drink up the experience, things like this don’t come around too often. To the advisors, have confidence in the people you’ve chosen because they will come through for you, with flying colors.

Serbia’s EU Bid: It’s About Kosovo

While praising many aspects of Serbia’s development in a report released last Tuesday, the European Commission (EC) identified Kosovo as a key issue preventing the launch of membership talks.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia considers the region a breakaway state. Belgrade runs “parallel structures” within Kosovo mostly inhabited by Serbs with governments and courts. The EU itself supports independence and provides support to Pristina government. Serbian president Boris Tadic facing election next year, can’t be seen as weak on EU membership or Kosovo, given the large Serbian population that still live there. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2011/1012/European-Union-Kosovo-stands-between-Serbia-and-EU-membership

Genocides die hard. Given that the EU and the US have already blocked the idea of a partition. Would the respective governments agree to something of an amnesty program? A set period of time where Serbs within Kosovo will have to decide whether they belong to Kosovo or Serbia. After this period of time, Serbia would renounce all claims to territory within Kosovo are recognize the rights of an independent Kosovo.

 An independent Kosovo is really the bottom line, either Serbia accepts it, or else it never gets the acceptance in the EU that is clearly covets. While resolving Kosovo won’t lock up an EU invite, failure to do so may derail any hope of an invite.

Why Slovakia Said No

Slovakia’s parliament voted against the expansion of the European bailout fund, the EDSF that would’ve gone to bailout Greece. Not only does this vote have consequences for Europe at large, who is struggling to contain a far reaching debt crisis, but also caused the collapse of Slovakia’s coalition government.

The Freedom and Solidarity party failed to support Prime Minister Ivetta Redicova arguing that Slovakian taxpayers should not have to bail out Greece because Slovaks don’t make much more than Greeks on average and furthermore Slovakia implemented austerity measures Greece didn’t. The measure will likely pass on the second vote, with the opposition having accomplished its’ goal of bringing down the government.


There is something to be said in my view for smaller countries not wanting to bail out bigger countries. Smaller countries typically have less money to spend and have instituted austerity measures. Meanwhile, bigger countries because of their size have engaged in a culture of “spend baby spend”!

As time goes by, it’ll be interesting to whether other countries follow Slovakia’s example and say no to the big guys. This was the beauty and miscalculation of the eurozone. It gives everyone an equal voice, but one country, even tiny Slovakia can hold a European powers fate in its’ hands.

The reason Slovakia said no this time, appears domestic…will Europe be this lucky next time.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Soviet Collapse by Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev gave a far ranging interview where he talks about regretting the collapse of the Soviet state, blaming the United States for not being more supportive of his efforts to reform the Communist system, and worries that Vladimir Putin is dragging Russia backwards into a state of plundered resources…a recap of the interview is available here: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2011/1013/Mikhail-Gorbachev-We-should-have-preserved-the-Soviet-Union

I want to react to his thoughts about The United States not being supportive enough of his economic and political reforms. I have a lot of personal respect for Mikhail Gorbachev not being another Soviet leader who left in a casket, and for making a legitimate attempt to better things for his people, but he’s off base in his criticism of the United States.

Some Russians regard Gorbachev as an agent of the West, implanted to bring down the Soviet system offering him more U.S. support only would’ve leant support to this view. Furthermore, the Soviet system spent sixty years demonizing the United States, how does us supporting you further, help you exactly?

Furthermore, all legitimacy is created domestically. By attempting such radical though necessary reforms in the face of such opposition is bound to create questions of legitimacy and if the Communist party couldn’t be unified than the mechanism of governing has been effectively broken.

The planned economy of the Soviet state was failing and Gorbachev was being attacked from all sides: the old school communists who wanted to preserve the Lenin system, and the liberals who felt that he didn’t go far enough in his reforms. It was his own communist brethren that brought him down because he couldn’t control the elements within the Soviet communist party.

None of these, where the fault of the United States.

United Russia: Communist Blueprint?

United Russia emerged about a decade ago to create a vehicle for then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to become President, following the expiration of Boris Yeltsin’s two terms. It is in this “Support Vladimir Putin” framework that the party has existed. It brought Dmitry Medvedev into the presidency in 2008 and will undoubtedly do the same for Mr. Putin in 2012. The party has been criticized as a “trade union of bureaucrats”, “party of rouges and thieves” and Mikhail Gorbachev called it a “bad copy” of the Communist party that ruled Russia until 1991.


Lets look at some of the realities created by United Russia since its’ founding.

If you mention United Russia to a person outside of the Russian Federation, you’ll get many quizzical expressions, mention Vladimir Putin and your on stronger footing. Vladimir Putin is the face of that party. Therefore, the party largely exists for Putin and advocates of his policy.

 They’ve always made sure to have 2/3 majority of Duma seats necessary to amend the constitution to allow for longer presidential term limits, higher electoral thresholds and spates full of new state regulation that have heavily curtailed free speech and electoral choice within the Russian Federation.

 7% electoral thresholds coupled with United Russia’s media dominance makes opposition virtually impossible.

Let’s see: Highly personalized leadership, state control over media, little meaningful electoral choice…United Russia sure sounds like a copy of the Soviet Communist party.

Viewing Ukraine From Europe

This past Tuesday, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison for “criminal abuse” which occurred during her term as Prime Minister.

 The judge in the case described her actions as “using her official powers to criminal ends and, acting consciously, committed actions which clearly exceeded her rights and powers which had heavy consequences.

These consequences included signing entering into a deal for Russian gas that cost the Ukrainian state gas company Naftohaz $190 million while locking in an unfair price for Russian gas for the next ten years.

Many European observers have called the trial politically motivated and declared that the verdict risks having profound implications on the Ukraine-EU relationship. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2011/1011/Yulia-Tymoshenko-sentence-may-push-Ukraine-away-from-EU-toward-Russia

The question for Europe is how much do you value Ukraine and why? If your looking for Ukraine to provide a containment type barrier to reasserted Russia power than maybe you should look elsewhere given the substantial population of ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine.

 Right now, the signs don’t look so good for a European Ukraine. Yanukovych has turned increasing autocratic and now that he has used the courts to punish a political rival. Ukraine looks far closer to Russia than Europe. Without European integration, Ukraine will have little choice, but to forge closer ties with Russia, a tragedy for European style democracy.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

1 For 1000: The Israel-Hamas Prisoner Swap

Israel will be getting their soldier Sgt. Gilad Shalit back, but the cost for his release is approximately 1000 Palestinian prisoners. This is very dangerous for Israel and a massive propaganda victory for a Hamas group that has been reeling amid allegations of corruption and Mahmoud Abbas bid at the United Nations for Palestinian statehood.

Although I’m thrilled that Mr. Shalit will be able to return to his family, Israel has basically illustrated that if Hamas holds an Israeli soldier long enough, the Israeli government will bend to public will, and pay a disproportionate price to retrieve him.

Furthermore, Hamas is widely viewed as corrupt among the rank and file Palestinian. Doing this showers Hamas with legitimacy, similar types of actions brought Hamas to power in 2006, as they were the only ones seen as capable of fighting the Israelis.

Even further, the numbers game just doesn’t add up. I realize one enters the very dangerous debate of just how much is a human life worth, but would you sacrifice 1,000 soldiers to save one human life, if this were a military example. Its’ ready made propaganda for Hamas: A thousand Arab souls are equal to one infidel soldier, they’ll say,  in case, they’d be right.

 Just a bad deal all around. Sounds to me like Netanyahu was more concerned about poll numbers and elections than securing the Israeli state.

Criminalize the Female Body

Sports Illustrated in run up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics ran a spread featuring four Olympians: Lindsey Vonn, Hannah Teter, Clair Bidez, and Lacy Schnoor in little more than their underwear.

This spread created a mostly positive reaction, but some internet bloggers spoke out against the overly sexy nature of the photos, a disrespect of the institution of the Olympic games and some even accused the women of cashing in on the moment for a little publicity.

Responding to the criticism, Hannah Teter said "I don't believe in the criminalization of bodies and women having to be ashamed of their bodies. That's just so wrong."

I can’t speak to their ultimate motivations. But lets analyze the facts: we had four adult women with strong athletic bodies, they are obviously very proud of. They made a conscious decision to take part in the shoot.

These women are also highly accomplished: Vonn and Teter have Olympic Gold Medals, while Bidez and Schnoor have carved out amazing careers that send them traveling throughout the world.

What a great message for young women growing up that they can be both sexy and successful.

Wanting to be Superman

It’s a very human thing to not want to accept that you have a disability. On some level we all believe that we’re Superman…capable of virtually anything until we’re told that we’re not. David Ross, my former speech teacher and fearless leader once brought in a woman who had suffered a stroke to speak with my leadership class. My big takeaway was that the world is not a kind place for people with disabilities. Looking back, she was absolutely correct. There are many clods, jerks, and idiots in this world who are incapable of understanding what having a disability is about.

For the disabled, society makes life no easier. There’s scores of government regulation and bureaucratic red tape that make even getting a base college education difficult, than government studies ponder “Why more disabled people are not college educated”? Most of us have to get up every morning and will ourselves to do something because it often feels like society would like to push us into a corner and play a forgetting game.

But there’s always our hope and there’s always our dreams…because we can dream of something greater than we have today. We have talents and abilities that regular people wish they had. The key is not to wallow in something that never was, and instead seek what could lie before you. There are days where this disability thing definitely sucks…but with support and good friends those days will get fewer and fewer. Aim high and remember that the only expectations that matter are those that you have for yourself.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Target Ambassador: The American Decision

Details of a bizarre alleged assassination plot directed at the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States are slowly emerging. As of this writing, it appears as though two Iranian operatives attempted to get a member of a Mexican drug cartel to carry out the assassination in a few days time in Washington D.C.

That Iran-Saudi Arabia detest each other should be no surprise, the Shiite-Sunni divide over who was meant to succeed the Prophet Mohammad has dated back at least fourteen centuries. In the modern context, Saudi Arabia is seen as pro-Western, while Iran is a fundamentalist Islamic state with links to Hezbollah and Hamas.

What does the United States do about this alleged plot? Is a military confrontation with Iran coming? Slow down war hawks, it was the Saudi Arabian ambassador and therefore I feel like the United States should let the royal family in Saudi Arabia deal with Iran.

Running in there with military forces would appear rash and hot headed, not to mention that we have enough of our own problems. The American public is already steaming over the state of the economy and perceived government inaction, I think if you engage in another military campaign, your fanning the flames of discontent with government.

Pursuing further sanctions against Iran is probably the best bet the Obama administration has at the moment, as Iran cannot go unpunished for a planned assassination on American soil. At this point though, I can’t authorize military action. I’ll keep you posted as events warrant.

Europe verses Eurasia: A Battle of Unions

This post may very well get me a following among conspiracy theorists…my lifelong dream J . Upon completing the below post on a potential Eurasian Union, I had another thought: “What if the purpose of a Eurasian Union is to compete with the European Union?

The European Union was the invention of governments throughout Western Europe to link together countries that had similar views and ideas about democratic governance and free market capitalism. Maybe a Eurasian Union would represent countries that share common views of autocratic governments and heavily controlled state capitalism, which are common throughout Eurasia.

 This would be a tremendous clash of governing cultures and could be seen as a challenge to the European Union. This could also be thought of as a modernized version of Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations where East meets West for some sort of showdown.

Before anyone goes awakening the ghosts of the Cold War though, the world has changed dramatically since the days of World War II. Isolation is simply not an economic and cultural reality anymore. Russia is flush with oil and natural resources, but they have a ready and hungry base of customers within Europe.

It makes just as much logical sense for Russia to unite with its’ neighbors as it did for many of the members of the European Union, even if I personally believe that an Eurasian Union will be a mess. My main concern is how does Russia accomplish its’ goals in the Asian neighborhood?