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.