Archive for September, 2008

(Just a reflection on today’s class discussion, so that I can get it out of my head and take a peaceful, calm nap…)

I had one main problem with Peter Trubowitz’s conclusions, as we discussed them in class: his usage of the terms “red state” and “blue state” to discuss what he believes to be regional factions. He argues that America is now working under a “new sectionalism,” where “partisan differences are again running along regional lines, with to so-called ‘red states’ of the South and Mountain West on one side and the ‘blue’ states of the North-East and Pacific Coast on the other side.” He argues that red states and blue states differ fundamentally in their regional economic interests, where the red states, the Republican regions, benefit economically from belicose foreign policies which “put a premium on military power,” whereas blue states, the Democratic regions, benefit economically from foreign policies based on negotiation and diplomacy.

If we look at electoral maps for the most recent presidential election of 2004, they seem to support Trubowitz’s claims; we see red states, in the South-East and the West, and blue states along the Pacific and North-East coasts:

ELectoral map of 2004 presidential elections showing red states and blue states

Electoral map of 2004 presidential elections showing red states and blue states

However, this map, just like Trubowitz’s arguement, is over-simplified and deceiving. While Trubowitz contends that the regions you see above are deeply entrenched and hyper-polarized, nothing could be further from the truth. In truth, across the entire nation, elections are very close and locals are almost never overwhelmingly ‘red’ or ‘blue.’

A true electoral map uses not just red and blue, but a continuous spectrum of purple to indicate percentages voting republican or democrat, broken down by county (the smallest unit for which such data is kept). The idea for such a map comes from Robert J. Vanderbei, a prestigious professor at Princeton University. How does Trubowitz’s idea of two distinct regions stack up against the reality shown in such a map? Not very well…


Electoral map of 2004 presidential elections showing "Purple America"

Maps like this let us easily see the weakness of Trubowitz’s argument: there IS no ‘red American’ or ‘blue America.’ His distinct highly-polarized regions don’t exist. The realist is, across the entire nation, there is a pretty even mix of people voting democratic and people voting republican. If his theories were correct, and different regions really did have clear, distinct differences in economic interest (and thus favor different foreign policy ends and means), we would expect to see clear ‘red’ and ‘blue’ regions. The fact of the matter is, for the large part, we DON’T!

The existance of ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’ is a political myth, a meaningless and false dichotomy. Sure, its convenient for partisan politicking and oversimplified arguments for people who can’t understand complexity. But for serious political analysis, its useless, because it simply isn’t TRUE. Trubowitz buys into the oversimplified myth, and in so doing relegates his arguments to the same literary category: political science fiction.


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Turkey’s Near Abroad

America’s crucial alliance with Turkey has been effective in obtaining access to the Black Sea when the U.S. was providing aid to Georgia during its brief conflict with Russia. Turkey has been a key player in allowing American diplomats to acquire theire desired interests in the region. Even though Turkey refuse to allow American excursions into Iraq from the north, they have been a crucial ally in conflicting regions of Eurasia. “Turkey has taken on an important role in keeping lines of communications open between antagonists—not only in the Caucasus but also in the greater Middle East where Turkey, uniquely, has good relations with Israel, Arab states, and Iran.” (Council on Foreign Relations)


This has proven to be effective dating back to the Truman Doctrine, in which the U.S. provided aid to anti-communist forces in the early 1950’s. Turkish heavy-construction firms, banks, and its energy services sector have been major players in the post-Soviet revival of the Russian economy. Even though it has been a crucial ally for the U.S., Turkey has been effective in being able to stand between the U.S. and Russia but has always sided with the U.S. due to its historical ties. As mentioned in the article,


“Henri J. Barkey, a Turkey expert at Lehigh University, says logic argues for Turkey to avoid pushing Russia too hard. Barkey points to a recently proposed security agreement between Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—a so-called platform for security and cooperation in the South Caucasus—as evidence of Turkey’s desire to maintain close relations with the Kremlin. Turkey will always choose with the United States … especially when it comes to a choice of the United States and Russia,”

(Council on Foreign Relations)


This strategic partnership is essential for the progression of future engagements between Turkey and other countries in the region which will be more sympathetic to U.S. interests due to economic ties that will be essential in preventing any kind of aggression between nations in the region. Turkey is at its highest position it has ever been due to its immerge economic development and further talks to create a security plantform with regional countries. This will ultimately served to be advantageous to American interests in the future.


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Regarding my previous blog regarding the nuclear deal between the U.S. and India, a major policy implication has arisen between our “arbitrary” allie, Pakistan trying to achieve a counterbalance with China. Pakistan felt betrayed after the United States cut off aid during its war with India in 1965. Pakistan was also disappointed in the early 1990s, after Washington ceased to use it as a base for arming the anti-Soviet Afghan mujahedeen. The U.S. Ambassador to India stiked down an allegation of Pakistan and China moving forward with these type of alliance. One of the main issues that may trouble the intelligence community is that China has been accused of providing technology to unfavored governments to the United States. The article suggests,


“Some experts also express concerns about the China’s proliferation record, though it’s a signatory to the NPT and the Chinese government says it opposes proliferation. Patricia McNerney, the State Department’s top official on nonproliferaton policy told Congress in May that “a number of Chinese entities continue to supply items and technologies useful in weapons of mass destruction” to regimes of concern. Chinese state-owned corporations have been accused of proliferating technology to Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, and Libya in the past.” (Council on Foreign Relations)


This is a major problem for the U.S. considering its strained relationship with Pakistan and with recent reports of U.S. military forces being fired upon by the Pakistani military. President Asif Ali Zardarim, has clearly addressed that any forces coming into Pakistani terroritory are to be  fired upon. It seems that Pakistan is now betting on China to provide it with the necessary economic and military assitance it wishes to acquire in order to achieve a top spot in the group of regional powers in Southeast Asia.


This complicated U.S. interests in the region primarily because it faces a two front battle where dealing with Pakistan in order to attain cooperation in capturing Al-Qaeda operatives and the emergence of China as a dominate power in the region. China will be able to provide neighboring countries with a more stable relationship that ultimately has the goals of its own interests and may affect the goals of the U.S. as the current dominant power in the international arena. Furthermore, this development begs to question whether U.S. projection of diplomatic power abroad will be effective and curtailing any possible threats that may jeopardize its fragile relationships in the region? With the constant threat of nuclear proliferation within that volatile region can be deemed a dangerous road that the U.S. might have to follow and may have to adapt and move towards a different strategy that will ultiamtely threaten American interests and may lead to military intervention.


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We love pirates; they’re big hits on the silver screen, they’re great for childrens’ make-believe games, and for the more serious among us, their history is an interesting one, interwoven with colonial wars and the discovery of the New World.

But those are historical pirates, our imaginary archetypes of swashbuckling ruffians. Modern pirates? Not much fun at all. They’re real, they’re dangerous, they’re armed to the teeth, and they’re prepared for brutality that would give our movie-screen pirates a run for the money. Beyond that, they’re getting more and more active. Pirates in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden have been in the news more and more recently, for their attacks upon increasingly high-level targets. These are not the pirates of yesterday attacking local fishing and small-time commercial vessels; these are bold and well-equipped international terrorists.

Just this month of September, which dwindles to a close, has seen an almost unbelievable stream of pirate attacks, including the seizure of french, greek, and spanish commercial and private ships. A BBC report of September 16 details the 30-man operation carried out by French commandos under the order of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to rescue two French nationals who were captured by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and held for a ransom of $1.4 million. This was all deja-vu for the French, who launched a similar operation in April to free hostages taken seized from a French yacht back in April. Somali pirates love to prey on foreigners, who they can hold for very high ransoms, and have been increasingly willing to do so.  Sarkozy clearly views piracy as no joking matter, and is working with the European Union (of which his France currently holds the rotating presidency) to put an end to it:

President Nicolas Sarkozy said the French operation should serve as a warning, and called for international efforts to counter escalating piracy.

“This operation is a warning to all those who indulge in this criminal activity,” Mr Sarkozy said at a press conference on Tuesday. “France will not allow crime to pay.”

“I call on other countries to take their responsibilities as France has done twice.”

Warships from France and other nations have been patrolling the Somali coast to protect ships carrying aid to the country, where up to a third of the population needs food aid.

On Monday, European foreign ministers agreed to set up a “co-ordination unit” to improve security patrols. 

In perhaps the most shocking example of recent priacy, Somali pirates today seized a Ukranian ship carrying 33 Russian tanks, and in so doing caught the attention of the United States in a rather big way. As the Associated Press reports:

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — As a heavily armed U.S. destroyer patrolled nearby and planes flew overhead Sunday, a Somali pirate spokesman told The Associated Press his group was demanding a $20 million ransom to release a cargo ship loaded with Russian tanks.

The spokesman also warned that the pirates would fight to the death if any country tried military action to regain the ship, and a man who said he was the ship’s captain reported that one crew member had died.

Pirates seized the Ukrainian-operated ship Faina off the coast of Somalia on Thursday as it headed to Kenya carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial amount of ammunition and spare parts. The ordnance was ordered by the Kenyan government.

The guided missile destroyer USS Howard was stationed off the Somali coast on Sunday, making sure that the pirates did not remove the tanks, ammunition and other heavy weapons from the ship, which was anchored off the coast.

A spokesman for the U.S. 5th fleet said the Navy remained “deeply concerned” over the fate of the ship’s 21-member crew and cargo.

In a rare gesture of cooperation, the Americans appeared to be keeping an eye on the Faina until the Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy, or Intrepid, reaches the area. The Russian ship was still in the Atlantic on Sunday, the Russian navy reported.

Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said he was speaking Sunday from the deck of the Faina via a satellite phone — and verified his location by handing the phone over to the ship’s captain, who also spoke with the AP. It was not possible to further confirm their identities.

“We want ransom, nothing else. We need $20 million for the safe release of the ship and the crew,” Ali said, adding that “if we are attacked, we will defend ourselves until the last one of us dies.”

source: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5igGmlfz-K3g6EyC2vN8yK10vpCugD93FSFT00

The article briefly touches on what is, in part, fuelling a great deal of the piracy: “Attacking ships has become a regular source of income for pirates in Somalia, a war-torn country without a functioning government since 1991.” Somalia’s has almost no economy to speak of, and the central government is not recognized by many areas within the country, many of which govern themsevles with varying levels of autonomy, with most of the southern areas governed through the Islamic courts. More recently, an invasion by Ethiopia has further destabilized the region. All of this has led to an upswing in Piracy in the region and has contributed to making it the area of the world with the highest pirate activity.

The IMB keeps a Weekly Piracy Report available on its website; of 11 reported incidents of piracy worldwide this week, 8 took place in Somolia or the Gulf of Aden. Of those, every succesful attempt included the taking of hostages. The report has the following to say concerning piracy in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden:

  • Gulf of Aden / Red Sea : Somali pirates are now attacking vessels in the northern Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden. These pirates are firing automatic weapons and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) in an attempt to board and hijack vessels. Once the attack is successful and the vessel hijacked, the pirates sail towards the Somali coast and thereafter demand a ransom for the release of the vessel and crew. All vessels transiting the area are advised to take additional precautionary measures and maintain strict 24 hours radar and anti piracy watch using all available means. Watch keeping crews should look out for small suspicious boats converging on vessel. Early sighting and accurate assessment will allow Master to increase speed and manoeuvre to escape pirates and at the same time request various Authorities/Agencies for assistance.
  • Somalian waters : Recent incidents indicate that attacks have spread to the northern Somali coast. The Somali pirates are now attacking vessels in the northern Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden. Somali pirates are dangerous and are prepared to fire automatic weapons at ships in order to stop them. Occasionally they fire RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) launchers at ships. Pirates are believed to be using “mother vessels” to launch attacks far from the coast. These “mother vessels” proceed far out to sea and launch smaller boats to attack and hijack passing ships. Eastern and Northeastern coasts are high risk areas for attacks and hijackings. The IMB maintains its advice that vessels not making scheduled calls to ports in Somalia should keep as far away as possible from the Somali coast, ideally more than 250 nautical miles until a more permanent and encouraging sign is seen. Mariners are advised to report any suspicious boats to the Centre.

    (On an interesting note, the IMB also maintains a live website tracking each reported incidence of piracy for the year)

In today’s international climate, concerned with terrorism, rogue states, and the off-the-books swapping of weapons and intelligence that goes on between them, these lawless pirates have the potential and capacity to be major players. And their capacity is only growing. Somali pirates are of particular concern — they seem to be the most capable and willing to commit brazen acts of piracy against absolutely anybody. But we can’t completely ignore other areas with uncomfortable levels of piracy such as certain areas of Southeast Asia and South America, both areas where the United States is becoming increasingly concerned with terrorist groups and rogue states.

The United States needs to begin paying attention to this upswing in violent pirate activities. Indeed, we have a complex history with priates; the Barbary pirates were our first foes as an independant nation, and in 1800 a massive 20% of US government revenues was spent paying ransom and tributes to Ottoman Barbary Pirates, mostly Tunisian or Algerian (source). It took two Barbary Wars to end United States subservience to pirates. An interesting cultural note: these Barbary Wars were the first major combat role for the US Marine Corps; their Anthem still pays tribute to them with the line “…to the shores of Tripoli” and their nickname ‘Leathernecks’ comes from the thick leather collars they wore to protect themselves from pirate cutlasses.

But these are modern times, and priates bring modern threats, ones which the US must begin considering. Pirates, especially those in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, make great potential allies for Islamic extremists, and the fact that they exist in a state of virtual lawlessness and anarchy makes the territory that they control a perfect terrorist breeding ground and safe-haven. In fact, the United States maintains a small presencein the region used to monitor al Qaeda (source). Furthermore, priate activity often interrupts the transportation of food aid, which is frequently targeted by pirates, to some of the poorest people in the world.

The United States has protected itself and its interests from pirates before, and should begin considering the likelihood that it will soon have to do so again. And hopefully, sooner rather than after it is too late.

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– Sorry, I’m not smart enough to figure out how to embed from Hulu . .

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Just a day after he caused a bit of a ruckus at the United Nations for his usual rhetoric concerning Israel, Iranian preisdent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited and spoke with, of all people, a group of Jewish Rabbis. And the bigger surprise? These are ultra-orthodox anti-zionist jews who share his views on the eradication of Israel.

This odd meeting comes after Israeli president Shimon Peres accused Ahmadinejad of antisemitism and called him evil in no uncertain terms. 

Just a glimpse of Peres’ political rhetoric, from a BBC article:

Mr Peres told the assembly that the Islamic republic had “built a danger to the entire world”.

“Its quest for religious hegemony and regional dominance divides the Middle East and holds back chances for peace, while undermining human rights,” he said.

“Tehran combines long-range missiles and short-range minds. It is pregnant with tragedies,” he said.

“Their despicable denial of the Holocaust is a mockery of indisputable evidence, a cynical offense to survivors of the horror. 

In response, Ahmadinejad responded in kind, saying “the Zionist regime” in Israel, supported by the US, was on the path to collapse, and that Iran wouldn’t give in to their “bullying powers” and “illegal demands”. 

And a dozen rabbis of Neturei Karta International, an organization of “Orthodox Jews United Against Zionism,” are on his side. While most people are probably at a loss to understand why any Jews would support the Iranian president, this actually reflects an opinion held by some Jews (including many who already lived in Palestine) since before the state of Israel was drawn up by the United Nations. Their opposition to the state of Israel is a religious one:

The group is a small anti-Zionist organization that says it adheres strictly to the Torah, the Jewish holy book, which it says forbids the establishment of a Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah. It supports Palestinian sovereignty over the Holy Land and financial restitution for past losses.

That we have the honor and privilege to meet with such a distinguished person who understands the difference between Zionism and Judaism is for us a tremendously happy occasion,” the group’s senior Rabbi, Moshe Ber Beck, told Ahmadinejad.

Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, spokesman for the group, said Ahmadinejad was no enemy of the Jewish people, that many thousands of Jews lived in Iran without persecution and that the Iranian president was not a Holocaust denier.

Ahmadinejad spoke about World War Two in general terms as “one of the most abhorrent acts” in history. “Numerous crimes occurred against everyone,” he said, through an interpreter.

source: http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE48O00E20080925?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=10112

 This meeting has caught quite a few people by surprise, if only for its utter bizarre-ness. There are some who point out, and probably correctly, that this may be just the latest in a string of political maneuvers by the Iranian government to appear less anti-semitic and to couch their anti-Israeli rhetoric in a more ‘positive’ light. It may be part of a larger political maneuver to soften their image in the West, and maybe gain some political good will and possibly get out of the tight situation they find themselves in these days. Most jews aren’t having any of it, however:

Marty Irom, spokesman for the non-profit group the Israel Project, which promotes security and peace in Israel, said Neturei Karta was a “very tiny fringe group that represents only themselves.” He said such meetings gave Ahmadinejad an “air of legitimacy which he should not have.”

source: http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE48O00E20080925?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=10112

Ahmadinejad  is trying to seem as sincere as possible: “[He] ended by praying with the rabbis, saying: ‘God, please nullify the propaganda waged by the Zionists, and let them lose hope, and make victorious your deserved people.'”

The world would do well to watch Iran, and Ahmadinejad in particular, as it tires to appear friendlier to Jews. Ahmadinejad appears to be attempting to pull off the most unlikely political ‘hoodwinking’ in history.

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Debate format leads to bickering

This past Friday there was the first of a series of three Presidential debates. The format was explained at the beginning of the debate. There would be ninety minutes for the debate. Within this time, each question would be given nine minutes of time. There would be an initial question with each candidate allowed two minutes for response. Then a follow-up question by the moderator which was then open for debate not mediated through the moderator. While many people could have seen this as less formal and exciting to see the interactions of the candidates I thought this format led to inefficiency.

I enjoyed seeing the candidates debate over the foreign policy questions. Their character was illustrated through the constant jabs and way in which they would respond to one another. However, early into the debate I began to become frustrated. Not only, did the moderator lead the debate about the economic crises but was only able to work through five out of the potential series of questions. I feel as if the debate format and moderator are to blame for this lack of potential completeness of the debate. 

The moderator was supposed to only allow nine minutes for each question. However, as the debate progressed this was more difficult because of the candidates constant back and forth bickering. I am not against this strategy by the candidates to make one another unsettled, but I did feel that the moderator did not stop the candidates when it was necessary to move onto another question. While I do believe this format has great potential, I think the moderator needs to be more strict on their approach to mediating and time management.


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