Sunday, March 25, 2012

Senegal Runoff

The presidential elections in Senegal appear headed for a runoff election, opening up the country for further political unrest.

Protests had broken out ahead of the February 26th presidential election after a constitutional court ruled that President Abdoulaye Wade could run for a third term, in spite of a two term limit that Wade himself signed into law after his election in 2001. Wade had argued that he could run again because he had been elected under the old constitution, a claim the five judges all appointed by Wade, agreed with.

In spite of the recent protests, the election was declared peaceful and orderly by international observers.
 President Abdoulaye Wade received 24% of the vote. This virtually assures a run-off election between the two top candidates. In order to avoid a runoff, a candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote.
 International actors continue to express concern that Wade’s run for a third term and the accompanying protests will put the security of West Africa’s most stable democracy at risk.

When Romney Goes South

Mitt Romney appears headed to the Republican Presidential nomination, despite having not won a single Southern state, why is Mitt Romney so snake bitten in Southern primaries?
 First, voters in deep Southern states like Mississippi and Louisiana are largely conservative evangelicals- a group that Romney has struggled to connect with. Romney’s disconnection with Southern voters has served to draw out the Republican nomination process and give hope to Rick Santorum of forcing a convention showdown.
I think the Romney-South disconnection will resolve in the general election because the Southern United States leans heavily Republican during Presidential elections. There’s little doubt that Romney can beat Obama down south in a one on one election.
 But Romney fails to help himself with southern voters when he shoots off at the mouth about things like cheesy grits. It makes him sound really artificial and fake.
 Southerners are genuine people who don’t enjoy being talked to like their small children.
Perhaps Romney should worry more about Southern voters perceptions of him than cheesy grits and etch-a-sketches.

Okinawa Deal: A Half Hearted Effort

The United States military has had a presence in Japan since the aftermath of World War II. As part of the settlement of World War II, Japan has been prevented from having a large arsenal of defensive weapons and forces, which places the responsibility for Japanese security in the hands of the U.S. military.
 In recent years, there has been a clamor to reduce or eliminate the American military presence in Japan. A recent deal between the two governments makes some progress, but ultimately leaves big questions unanswered.
In the deal, Washington can reorganize military forces as part of its’ Pacific pivot and Tokyo can sell the 8,000 Marine cut progress to Okinawans who demand a decreased presence. Okinawans want the base in the center of Ginowa City closed, which Japanese governments have promised.
  Both governments have longstanding plans to move the base to a less populated village of Henoko, but the provisional governor there, has repeatedly blocked these efforts.
I think this move is a positive step forward. Although I’m sympathetic to the history that spawned such a security arrangement, the time has come to allow the Japanese to secure themselves. Japan has shown themselves to be a model citizen of the global community.
 My only objection to a more traditional military arrangement for the U.S. in Japan is Japan’s continued unease about their role in World War II. They can’t expect us to change a World War II arrangement when they haven’t come to grips with the war themselves.
 Ultimately, Japan should take greater responsibility for their own security.

India: Congress Party Downfall

The recent results of the Uttar Pradesh state election in India may be an ominous prelude of what is to come for the Congress Party, India’s ruling party during national elections in 2014.
 Out of an anticipated 100 seats, the Congress Party was able to win forty in the national assembly, a disappointing fourth place finish. The Congress Party has been hobbled by months of stagnant policy reforms, corruption scandals, a depreciating rupee, and high inflation.
These factors coupled with the advanced age of many of the party’s senior leaders like Manmohan Singh have led many to question the future of the party.
Congress parties’ poor performance may put the political future of Rahul Ghandi in doubt. He is the son of current Congress President Sonia Ghandi and heir apparent to the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty and potential Prime Ministerial candidate in 2014.
 But without the ability to garner votes in Uttar Pradesh, which has eighty seats in parliament and 200 million people may delay his political career at a time when the Congress Party can ill afford it.
All of this is important because the Congress Party has been credited with high rates of economic growth that have rivaled China. Few, if any parties in India have the experience of governing that the Congress Party has.
 Any upheaval in government has pointed economic implications for India. Considering the problems that any party who takes control in India will likely inherit, there could be some rough days ahead for the world’s largest democracy.

Afghanistan: When Quarans Burn

The recent Quran burning by a group of US troops at Bagram Air Base and the subsequent protests that took place on the streets of Afghanistan have shined a disturbing light on a continued American insensitivity to the Afghan culture that is only adding to the difficult task of our mission there.
Afghanis are already enflamed over the continued use of nighttime air raides on family compounds and see the continued presence of American troops on Afghan soil as a humiliation. It is my fear that the recent burning of the Quran coupled with the recent massacre will send Afghanistan into an ethnic inferno.
Given the many recent missteps in Afghanistan, it seems wise to ask the question whether we should disengage from Afghanistan. There is a huge trust gulf between the military forces and The Afghan people that will only be emboldened with our continued presence.
 If we continue to disrespect the Afghan culture, whether we deem it rational or not. If we can’t accomplish trust and mutual respect than any mission we are hoping to accomplish becomes mute and pointless.
The American mission may lose itself in a cloak of imperialism, if we aren’t careful.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The NYPD and Muslim Monitoring

The AP reported that the NYPD conducted broad reaching monitoring of Muslim college students along the east coast, including Ivy League colleges of Yale and the University of Penn.

NYPD officials cite 12 people arrested or convicted of terrorism charges in the US and abroad who were once members of Muslim Student Associations (MSA) and the case of Jesse Morton, who pled guilty this month to posting online threats against the creators of South Park and had tried to recruit followers at Stony Brook University as grounds to pursue such monitoring practices and vow that no files have been kept on student activities

This story worries me, in spite of the assurances by the NYPD. It says that because of a few actions by a small minority of Muslims that Muslims have been marked for monitoring. It’s a very slippery slope the NYPD has engaged in. My great fear is that surveillance programs will actually end up alienating the very Muslims that we desperately need to recruit to report suspicious activity within American Muslim communities.
Of further concern, if we create a society where its’ okay to monitor certain groups because of their faith, we risk tarnishing the very fabric of America and hand the terrorists of September 11th a victory that they don’t deserve because they have changed America into a society of fear and police.

The Village Rampage

I was very saddend and angered to learn of the rampage of a lone U.S. soldier through a remote Afghanistan village that left seventeen Afghans civilians dead and five injured—including women and children.
 This is the last thing the American mission in Afghanistan needs given the already high tensions over the recent Quran burning and the ensuing protests. The Afghan people have grown tired of the perceived American population and this heinous incident may only strengthen the calls for America’s withdraw.
From a personal level, this episode is an insult to the good and decent men and women in uniform I’ve met through my classes and otherwise. We must not let the actions of one deranged man desecrate the good works performed by our upstanding men and women.
For military investigators, you need to conduct a thorough investigation that is open and transparent to the damning eyes of Afghan society. I know this probably isn’t the military way of doing business, but it’s the only way I see to attempt to save face here.

Afghan Immunity: Karzai’s No Man’s Land

The above incident also has pronounced implications for a long term basing agreement with the U.S. that would keep a smaller number of American forces in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 withdraw deadline.
 As part of the deal, the U.S. would be seeking immunity from the Afghan legal system for our troops. Given the recent protests over the Quran, and the potential firestorm over the recent civilian killings in Afghanistan, I don’t know how Harmid Karzai can accept such a deal or decline it.
If Harmid Karzai is a rational political actor, he will want to set himself up for a post-American Afghanistan. This means he has to take a hard-line against potentially criminal activity committed by American soldiers within the country to prevent a coup or assassination from the hardline elements in Afghan society.
 Yet, Karzai is largely seen as a leader imposed by America, so he needs American support in order to retain the Presidency of Afghanistan. Failing to give American soldiers immunity could jeopardize this.

United States-Nigeria partnership over Boko Haram

The United States has moved closer to the Nigerian government, seeing common ground in the Nigerian governments struggle against Boko Haram.
 Boko Haram is an Islamic terrorist organization that is seeking to replace Nigeria’s secular democracy with Islamic sharia government. Indeed Boko Haram means “Western Education is a sin.” The group has been disgustingly effective—staging more than two hundred attacks since the start of the year.
Although, the U.S. military has stepped up efforts to train African militaries in intelligence, counter-insurgency and joint exercises, these efforts do little to solve the institutional weakness of many African governments that often exacerbate terrorism in Africa.
I think there is a real danger in militarizing all problems of terrorism. Nigeria does not have the institutonal capabilities to fight a conventional counter-terrorist operations. Western governments have the luxary of stable governments with secure borders
 So, Nigeria needs an institutional approach that endeavors to strengthen Nigeria’s institutions and wider African borders that will allow more traditional counter-terrorist operations to have effect. One cannot meaningfully fight terror if militants can just slip back across the border to attack again.

Is Somalia’s Peace in London?

A recent conference held in London aimed to bring global attention to the crisis plagued state of Somalia. Various donor groups, Somali politicians, and regional allies gathered in London to discuss the troubled country that is garnering increased international attention.
The Guardian is reporting that the British government is considering air strikes on Al Shabab and the United Nations voted to send 5,700 peacekeepers to Somalia. The fear of Western governments is that Somalia expatriates in their countries will continue to live without hope of peace, making them recruits for Al Qaeda or pirates.
Although a big conference in London may make good headlines, I doubt that Western governments have the political will to do anything about Somalia, particularly with so much on domestic agendas. Somalia needs a complex exercise in nation building and peace keeping that will likely cost millions.
 I’m not sure if heavily indebted Western powers have the stomach for such activity considering that fifteen years of the same problems have compelled little more than nice rhetoric. The people of Somalia deserve better than words.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Greece: Lesson for the U.S.?

In needing the massive $172 billion dollar bailout package recently hammered out in Brussels, Greece has surrendered a great deal of its sovereignty in the name of debt relief. Given the toxic culture of name calling and partisanship that currently permeates our federal government, I’m very much afraid that the United States will one day face a similar tragic parallel.
While leaders throughout Europe trumpet the deal as a meaningful step forward in what will surely be a continued process of austerity measures and belt tightening that is quite likely to drive Greeks already incensed by previous measures back into the streets to protest.
Greece has accepted a permanent monitoring presence by the European Commission in Athens, a segregated Escrow account where bailout funds must be used to pay back debt before it can be used for government spending and requirements that government workforces be cut, pension payments reduced, taxes be raised, and the minimum wage being cut.
Ignoring the obvious contradictions between creating still more unemployment and wage cuts while increasing taxes, I’m very much afraid Greece will continue to be one of Europe’s sick men for a long time to come.
 Greece should serve as grim case study for any government on what happens when said government embarks on a runaway train of spending. When the money train stops, its’ generally a crash landing.
Some will claim that the United States isn’t Greece.This is true, but we could be Greece and we will be Greece, if we continue to have politicians that can’t get out of their ideological comas and work together to bring meaningful debt relief.
In this country, we are currently having a debate on how much tax the wealthy should pay verses the middle class and the poor and entitlement spending.
 I come with a dire warning inspired by Greece, if our so called “leaders” can’t get it together, who pays what isn’t going to be the issue anymore. The new question will be “How much will we all suffer”?

Paging Civility: A Problem of American Political Discourse and Life

I’ve always said never rely on the media to give the complete story. Still I couldn’t ignore the debate that occurred on Meet the Press yesterday morning on the seeming loss of civility among our political leaders in Washington D.C.
What does it say about our society as a whole when our political leaders can’t even disagree without someone being branded a socialist, communist, economic terrorist, Taliban, slut, or countless other derogatory terms? These are our politicians…what conclusion can we draw about the rest of society?
Yet, this problem doesn’t just exist in D.C. It is a nationwide pandemic of the word. One simply can’t say anything anymore without causing an emotional upheaval among some person or segment of society.
This is a problem because it leads people to become silent out of fear of offending people. Anytime that we silence ideas and opinions, we become the very society that we fought for two hundred years not to become.
We can and should disagree, but we don’t have to make demons of the other side in the process.

London: Security with Cameras

With the London Olympics just a few months away, an article on London’s plentiful supply of CCTV cameras caught my attention.
London installed many of the cameras in the mid-nineties in an attempt to combat the cities high crime rate.
Privacy advocates argue that the cameras have created a surveillance city similar to Orwell’s 1984 where privacy and freedom are curtailed in the guise of fighting crime and terrorism. The balance between security and personal freedom is the central question confronting democracies.
If we as democracies surrender ourselves to personal intrusion in the name of security, than we have been defeated by the forces terrorism and repression. We’ve fought wars against Islamic extremism, communism, Nazism, and Fascism, holding democracy up as the greatest good.We cannot cede the democratic advantage in the name of security.
 Cameras have not shown the anticipated ability to reduce crime in the U.S. I think the U.K. will discover the same thing. The United Kingdom is merely opening itself to the charge of becoming Big Brother.

Serbia: EU Candidacy

Serbia is set to become an official candidate for European Union membership. The Serbian government has reached an agreement with the government of Kosovo that would allow government representatives to attend regional gatherings, even though Serbia still refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence.
 Serbia still needs to undergo the complex process of administrative, judicial, and economic reforms common to post-Communist countries wishing to become EU members. It is estimated that the earliest Serbia could become an EU member is 2020. The question is: Does Serbia need the EU or vice versa?
Serbia has seen ascension to the European Union as a grand prize for many years. EU membership would provide the Serbian government with opportunity to express their democratic credentials. Serbia could also use the financial support the EU provides to member countries.
Adding Serbia to the EU ranks would offer a boost to an organization that has been besieged by debt from member states in recent months that threatens to unravel the entire notion of a European Union.
Bringing another country with financial difficulties into the European fold does not sound like a prudent idea, considering Europe’s financial plight.