Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

flagsLast week prominent international relations scholar, and my personal academic idol, Stephen Walt published an insightful Foreign Policy article entitled “National Stupidity: In International Relations, Pride Goeth Before a Fall.” Inside his article, Walt outlines the valuable role that nationalism — the sentiment, belief, or feeling of identification with a particular nation — played in purging the world of some of its greatest historic afflictions (such as the rampant colonialism demonstrated by the British, French, Ottomans, and so on).  Nationalism is alive and well in modern international relations. Glancing across headlines, we rarely see a week go by where ethnic Kurds don’t flex their nationalist muscles against their Iraqi, Syrian, or Turkish overlords. Looking eastward, major Asian powers such as China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have been spatting over a series of contested rocks in the South China Sea that may or may not possess the catalytic lifeblood of most geopolitical conflicts: oil. While I agree with Walt that nationalism has negatively pervaded many of the most critical foreign policy headaches currently plaguing wonks worldwide, I think there’s a bit more to the nationalism onion that needs peeling back.

Victimization, what I loosely define as the feeling of being wronged, slighted, or harmed, has been politically operationalized to magnify nationalist sentiment for years. During my study of US-Iranian relations last semester, the underlying theme of victimization was constantly mentioned as a fundamental barrier to true social/cultural rapprochement between the two countries. Yes, major heads of state are participating in direct talks on nuclear, economic, and diplomatic prerogatives, but the feeling of victimization seems to be alive and well within both American and Iranian societies. In the opening minutes of Ben Affleck’s award-winning movie Argo, onlookers are greeted by chanting mobs, chador-adorned Iranian women, and crazed men scaling the walls of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran. I have no doubt that these fleeting minutes of Hollywood storytelling did more to sully the image of modern Iran in the minds of the average American movie-goer than any poorly-scripted sabre rattle speech delivered by Senator Ted Cruz (TX) ever could. Similarly, annual footage of a handful of fanatical Iranians burning the American flag in celebration of their conquest of our “den of spies” back in 1979 isn’t making anyone more likely to endorse the easing of sanctions. The point is, the more we paint ourselves as victims of some wrongdoing – no matter how long ago that offense might have occurred – the less likely we are to see the current situation on the ground through a moderate lens, and the more likely our governments are to commandeer our sentiment in a way that promotes an “us versus them” foreign policy. We’re seeing Chinese emotions run high as Japanese leaders refuse to visit war shrines. We’re seeing Benjamin Netanyahu and the entire IDF twitterverse dedicate immense amounts of time and effort to publicize every Palestinian “threat” (despite Israeli vows to expand settlements amidst ongoing peace discussions – but that’s another story). We’re witnessing Bashar al-Assad and his regime loyalists emphatically denounce the efforts of foreign terrorists to destabilize his and the Syrian peoples’ homes, and we’re unfortunately seeing Egypt — my country of focus — descend into chaos.

cairo-bombingToday, on the eve of the third anniversary commemorating the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on January 25, 2011, Egypt witnessed horrific (although predictable) violence inflicted against it. Three bombings rattled the Cairo metropolitan area in the early morning hours, and additional violence in form of a rudimentary bomb/clashes between protestors claimed the lives of at least a dozen more individuals. Though official spokesmen of the Egyptian regime were careful not to overtly blame the now outlawed, criminalized, detained, and terrorist-deemed Muslim Brotherhood for the attacks, surely few believe that the government is referring to anyone else as they vow to “pluck [these enemies] from the roots without mercy.” As General Sisi, President Mansour, and Prime Minister Beblawi continue to brandish the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization hell-bent on leading Egypt down the road to chaos, I fear that they may be snowballing to a point of no return. The more the anti-Morsi regime continues to portray themselves as under attack by the “others”, the more their exclusionary political platform will continue to take hold in the minds of the average Egyptian. Just as every Palestinian rockets serves the purpose of advancing Netanyahu’s right-wing ideology, every car bomb in Cairo will continue to reinforce Sisi/Mansour/Beblawi’s demonization of the Brotherhood – Egypt’s most powerful and organized political party. Granted, those that perpetrated the attacks of January 24th, the suicide bombing in Mansoura in December 2013, and other violence across the country last year, most likely have a political platform that mandates the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi as President. However, continually condemning the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization based on the violent acts of a few individuals who have decided to manifest their political frustrations in the form of irrational violence is a foolhardy maneuver at best. Lest these very esteemed Egyptian political figures forget their history, the Brotherhood is an organization born and raised in the shadows of Egyptian politics and society. The Brotherhood was able to recruit intellectuals, consolidate power, and foster political support while operating in an ambiguous grey zone of illegality for over 80 years. Now that the Brotherhood has had a taste of political power and legitimization, a taste that they subsequently squandered by trying to abruptly accrue additional political clout in November of 2012, you cannot put the qitta (cat) back in the haqeeba (bag) and expect them to acquiesce. The Brotherhood represented a very substantial proportion of the Egyptian population who now, after having fought and died in the streets of Cairo, have expressed solidarity with their fallen political comrades even as they are met with the barrel of a gun. Continuing to condemn 10 million+ Egyptians as the “others” will only lead to additional violence, alienation, and turmoil on par, or greater than that, which we have seen today.

Egyptians of all political affiliations, genders, ages, and religious identities are suffering. No one group stands to gain from the kind of senseless violence and political exclusivity that has become the norm in Egypt. sisiGeneral Sisi, poised as he may be to become Egypt’s next president, has a lot to learn about appealing to all Egyptians before he may effectively consider himself a representative and guardian of the people. Just as Walt mentioned that nationalism can be a saving grace during times of duress, times that Egypt is surely experiencing at the moment, nationalism derived from victimization may also be the divisive factor that plunges a state into destruction. Though I think Egypt is a long way away from descending into the kind of disorder that we are unfortunately witnessing in Syria, very frightening and foreboding paths are presenting themselves. I remember playing cards with my Egyptian friends during my waning hours in Cairo last summer, and we were stunned to listen to Al-Jazeera’s coverage of ongoing clashes between pro/anti-Morsi forces on the May 15 Bridge. Crowds were flinging Molotov cocktails, chipping up pieces of the road to throw at their adversaries, and indiscriminately firing birdshot at each other with a level of furor never before seen. Though Eygptians are very proud of their ability to elicit change on January 25/June 30, they were shocked to see the type of widespread violence that their countrymen were inflicting upon each other. “Egyptians are not like this. We are not like Afghans, Syrians, or Iraqis,” I recall them saying. Now, more than 6 months after my departure from Cairo, I see the trend of mutual-victimization taking over more than I ever could have expected. If such violence is capable in Cairo, the umm al-dunya of all places, it is sadly no longer preposterous to start juxtaposing Egypt with the ongoing conflict in Syria. Walt’s article on nationalism could not have been more relevant given current developments in Egypt and around the world, however the idea of politically-instrumentalized victimization is not something that needs to be written about in prominent magazines to be pertinent. Victimization is a tool used by both the weak and strong to rally public support, and current events would suggest that world powers are increasingly viewing their adversaries through this lens. I fear that today’s violence in Egypt will serve as prelude to even bolder attacks on major metropolitan areas around the country, and that the responses handed down by the Egyptian security forces will plunge the country into even greater dichotomy. As former-president Morsi’s trial finally ensues, and as General Sisi prepares to assume his throne, Egyptians should strive to scale back the victimized undertones and make an effort to enact political decisions with the whole of the Egyptian people – women, youth, Muslim Brothers, etc. – in mind. The more the current regime tries to stifle the Brotherhood and simultaneously cast themselves as victims of the Ikhwan’s terrorism, the more likely their exaggerated condemnations will turn in to self-fulfilling prophecies.


Attention: Iran is happening.

Welcome back to al-Ra°yee, and I’ll spare you all the long-winded excuse for why the blog has been hibernating for the past several months. Egypt threw me a curve ball that I was wholly unprepared for, and picking up the pieces of a failed 8 month adventure abroad has left me “busy” for lack of another word. In any sense, it’s good to have you all back for the time being.

Rather than serve as a means to chronicle my escapades and discoveries abroad, this blog entry has found purpose elsewhere. Assuming that the majority of my readership is drawn from those friends and family members whose Facebook profiles I chronically creep occasionally look at, it appears that despite how politically-astute my network of acquaintances actually is, it is particularly quiet about certain issues in international relations that I find most pressing at the moment. Granted, the U.S. government did shut down, the ongoing Syrian civil war rages on, Egypt is still in democratic shambles, and Israel-Palestinian dialogues are fragilely underway, but I don’t see much commentary about Iran? You know, Iran: the Islamic Republic nestled between the two countries we fought in for over a decade, the country who’s upper political echelons frequently spewed anti-Israeli rhetoric and “Death to America” chants during the mid-2000’s , and the country that took 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days in 1979/led Ben Affleck to accept more awards than any person who starred in Daredevil ever should? Well, not to be overly optimistic or dramatic, but the times are a’changin. The P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia, Germany) and Iran are about to begin a second round of highly-unprecedented and highly-important discussions (after a widely-acclaimed first round of discussions that came close, but no cigar, to striking a deal) on the future of Iran’s nuclear program, and you should be waiting with bated breath as much as the rest of the DC international relations intelligentsia is.

To provide some background information, Iran’s recent presidential elections yielded a semi-moderate candidate named Hassan Rouhani. Though Rouhani touts a pragmatic and moderate political platform Hassan Rouhani chooses image of key to symbolise presidential campaigncharacterized by a desire to rejuvenate the economy, respect human rights, and mend international relations, he should not be considered a true reformist akin to the efforts of former presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani. Rouhani is a regime-insider in every sense of the word having served in various high-level positions within the Khamenei regime – including as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005. Rouhani was solely responsible for the last substantive nuclear deal cut between European powers and Iran in 2004 when he agreed to suspend Iran’s nuclear ambitions (much to the chagrin of Iranian hardliners) due to the widely-perceived fear of American regime change in the region. Rouhani’s experiences in the belly of the beast are not a bad thing, however. Having created an extensive network of internal regime contacts, confidants, and cohorts, Rouhani may very well possess the structural know-how and an intimate understanding of the limits of the Iranian presidency’s ability to actually elicit change. Rather than compete with the Supreme Leader on hot button issues — something his predecessors often did and failed at — Rouhani has ever-so-delicately pressed forward with his agenda while making sure to have the Supreme Leader’s blessing every step of the way. Rouhani’s leash is short and fleeting, however, and he faces widespread criticism from the status-quo hardliners who would sooner see Rouhani fold under domestic and international pressure for immediate results than actually work together to see Iran flourish like it once did. Should Rouhani fail to strike a nuclear deal soon (he is already over 100 days into his presidency, mind you), his critics at home may deem the efforts futile and revert back to a foreign policy strategy dominated by anti-Americanism and aversion to change.

iran-sanctions_0Problems and challenges to the rekindling of the relationship do not fall squarely on Tehran’s shoulders, however. Perhaps the single greatest barrier to substantively mended Iranian-American relations resides several miles down Constitution Avenue on Capitol Hill. Though the hard-hitting and invasive sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic for several years have worked/succeeded in bringing Iran to the negotiating table, an assessment shared by myself and prominent Iran expert (and guest-lecturer in my US-Iran Relations class) Barbara Slavin states that the threat of additional congressional sanctions (proposed by the bellicose Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), et al.) stands the chance to unravel all that has been achieved since Rouhani’s election. If sanctions have succeeded in illustrating for the Iranian regime that economic progress at home cannot be achieved without rapprochement with the West, then further sanctions in the wake of Iran coming to the negotiating table will only affirm to the Islamic Republic that the U.S. is not serious about coming to an agreement, that there is no incentive for them to concede any aspect of their nuclear program, and that our true motives are regime change or bust. Unfortunately, Congress’ track record for pushing through Iranian sanctions (such as those JUST PASSED in July, 2013) has a higher success rate (91%) than Peyton Manning’s current completion percentage (71%) thanks to special interests, foreign lobbying, and most significantly: ignorance. Now, rather than choc this one up to yet another ill-developed foreign policy of President Obama, it’s worth noting that the case of Iranian sanctions is something that the White House and Congress are decidedly at odds over. In fact in a recent Foreign Policy article, various State Department and White House officials condemned proposed congressional efforts for new sanctions on Iran as a “march to war” and went on to say that additional sanctions are unnecessary and could put us in a more difficult spot ….  it would play into the arguments of Iranian hardliners that the U.S. isn’t interested in a nuclear deal.

I get it, though. Skepticism and weariness of Rouhani are understandable. The West, and let’s not forget the Iranian people, endured eight venomous years under Ahmadinejad, and despite Rouhani’s election there are still regime hardliners who support an anti-Western foreign policy and generally anti-American attitude. However, for fear of reverting back to the same narrow-minded and ill-informed mentalities that have stunted U.S.-Iran relations for the past 40 years, we have to be willing to try something new now that a fruitful (and perhaps the most fruitful) opportunity has presented itself. We must be willing to extend an olive branch, let bygones be bygones, and have cautiously optimistic faith that Rouhani means what he says. For lack of having any better insight into what Rouhani and the Supreme Leader actually seek to accomplish, we must take their goodwill gestures and “international charm offensive” at face value. Gone are the days of Ahmadinejad making it easy for Americans to write off Iran as an oppressive, confrontational, and pariah nation of America and Israel haters, and we have unfortunately entered an era where the greatest obstacles to Iranian-American peace are the same individuals who would rather pout shut down their own government than negotiate with their fellow countrymen – much less a mullah from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Geek-HackingAmidst the plethora of U.S. national security threats buzzing in the media today, one issue stands tall amongst the others when discussed at the highest echelons of our military and legislature. Cybersecurity, or what I would call the prevention of widespread disruption, destruction, and/or capture of our invaluable electronic technology systems, has become the proverbial flavor of the year for security strategists after recent attacks stemming from places such as Israel, Iran, and the perpetually bothersome China. Senator Joe Lieberman, Sec.Def. Leon Panetta, and a host of other national security A-listers have all warned of our gaping vulnerability to a devastating cyberattack, and President Obama has gone so far as to deem cybersecurity “one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation” and that “America’s economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity.”

It’s only fitting to recognize Secretary Panetta’s provocative likening of the U.S.’ current susceptibility to such attacks as a “cyber Pearl Harbor” waiting to happen, and doing so sheds light onto the strategic and defensive importance of the matter. While I agree that the U.S. is diverting an insufficient amount of time and treasure to addressing this threat, I fail to hear any experts say is how vulnerable our enemies are to the same threats that are causing the single strongest nation in the world (the U.S., if you had any doubt) to quiver in its boots. Perhaps it is the U.S.’ strategic prerogative to lull potential adversaries into a false state of security, buttering them up for a crippling blow when the time is right? Though Secretary Panetta may need to tiptoe around words like “offense” and “attack” when testifying on the Hill, I am bound by no such political correctness and will delve deeper into various facets of the U.S. cyberarsenal.

Much like its Cold War cousin, a policy of cyberdeterrence based on mutually-assured disruption (the new M.A.D.) is the most viable defensive strategy that the U.S. could adopt in this situation. Though many theorists may cite the famous “best offense is a great defense” adage to support their claim of earmarking more preventative measures, I would be remiss if I did not draw their attention to the unscathed nature in which the United States operated during the height of the Cold War. It was our investment in silos, warheads, and bombers that psychologically pummeled our adversaries into submission, not reliance on bomb shelters, gas masks, and sirens. I hope Mr. Panetta’s comments do stimulate conversation about the DoD’s use of offensive cyberwarfare tactics, especially in an era where conventional military means are quickly becoming obsolete.

Presuming that Iran and China remain the primary conductors of cyberespionage that the U.S. faces today, we should rest assured that both countries stand to suffer tremendously at the hands of cyberattacks on their home soil. The Middle East and East Asia have become not only as technologically dependent as the rest of the developed world, but are also experiencing a rapid expansion of technology usage in their respective societies despite relatively successful efforts to suppress media exposure during times of crisis. One need only look at the roles Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook played during events such as the 2011 Arab-induced revolutions*, the “Innocence of Muslims” video backlash, and the widely circulated footage of Neda Agha-Soltan dieing at the hands of a Revolutionary Guard sniper in the 2009 Iranian protests to see the full-integration of technology in each nation. Mixing a sudden denial of service from said technology, crumbling financial services, and already disintegrated public opinion towards the host regime would create an environment ripe for collapse and disarray. Therefore the rebuttal that Eastern societies are better suited to survive in “disconnected” environments (compared to the West) neglects the extent of technological development in the two regions over the past decade.

Aside from the e-assassins sitting in Pentagonian war-rooms across the river, let’s take a minute to consider America’s true e-cavalry waiting for the bugle to sound: internet-based social groups. I recognize that members ofanon U.S. Anonymous, 4chan’ers, and other internet cliques are often our government’s greatest critics, but I strongly believe that in the event that these groups’ precious intarwebz, cat pics, Call of Duty sessions, and Mountain Dew XP caches are no longer accessible thanks to Iranian or Chinese cyberattacks, the U.S. would instantaneously gain a harrowing new fighting force in the global cyber war. I’ve personally seen /b/ (a hyper-NSFW sub-community of 4chan) locate, disparage, and dismantle crooked burger-joint employees, playground bullies, and competing social websites using only commercially available software, open source image analysis, and the collective power of nationwide internet geekdom. The sheer havoc that could be wrought on informal and unsuspecting technologies abroad without presupposed legal repercussions or oversight during a wartime scenario (assuming the U.S. government would continue it’s streak of inability to prosecute and locate most domestic e-villains), could be monumental when supported with conventional military and special operations maneuvers.

To think that our enemies do not sense the same vulnerability to cyberattacks that we do, given the unprecedented amount of technological dependence that the entire world has acquired over the last decade, would be both a strategic and naive blunder. Just as fear of nuclear retaliation mitigated some of the most tense and volatile Cold War showdowns the world has ever faced, I believe the same fear of reciprocal cyberattack – whether formal or informal – are enough to keep most potential adversaries at bay. The United States wields one of the most technologically savvy, connected, and resilient societies in the world, and any attempt to drastically compromise U.S. national security in cyber capacity would surely elicit a response far more detrimental than our foes would ever expect.

That being said, your move e-thugs…

(*I say “Arab-induced revolutions” because I feel the phrase “Arab Spring” doesn’t give enough credit to revolutionary movements (like those in China) that reverberated outside of the Middle East during the same period)


Historically speaking, the U.S. Army has been one of the most monumental figures in international relations over the past 300 years. Dictators were deposed across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, and democracy was defended amidst the onslaught of communism in the far East, all thanks to the efforts of young men and women who selflessly served this country and its ideals. As new threats emerge which question our Army’s effectiveness to meet and overcome 21st century challenges, critics are claiming that the tools utilized for the last 300 years are quickly becoming obsolete. Brooks’ claim that the U.S. Army’s cache of young, male soldiers (ages 18-24) no longer present the kind of militaristic advantage that they once projected worldwide raises some interesting social and national security questions. I have 3 poignant observations when it comes Brooks’ skepticism of the fitness of young men serving in the U.S. Army: 1) women are less suited to serve as intermediaries in conservative cultures, 2) there is no need to alter the U.S. Army and its historic niche in U.S. foreign policy, and 3) if young men are as immature, misguided, and at-risk as the author states they are, then why isn’t more being done to help them before they fail?

As the U.S. winds down its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, new conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iran, and the horn of Africa loom on the horizon. Though I’ll admit that not all of these countries are as restrictive and unwelcoming to women as western media may portray them, there still exist enclaves of religiously conservative (not to be confused with religiously radical) populations who are less inclined to cooperate with female negotiators due to preexisting cultural aversions. Rather than rule out young men as inherently incapable of developing the cultural sensitivity and language skills necessary to effectively understand indigenous populations, the Army should invest in developing the diplomatic skills (if this is the only option, see the next paragraph for alternatives) of the soldiers more likely to be respected, considered equals, and able to penetrate the folds of conservative cultures. This argument doesn’t begin to take into consideration the different ways that our enemies may perceive and treat women in combat. Women serving on the front lines stand to face significantly less humane treatment as POWs, and sexual misconduct as a result of inhumane treatment of female POWs raises several ethical dilemmas and social quagmires that need not be elaborated on here.

I find it interesting that Brooks seeks to dramatically change the Army’s character, image, and capabilities. The U.S. Army is a finely tuned killing, defending, and securing machine that should be treated as such. Certainly today’s security threats call for more adaptive tactics, flexibility, and increased soft power, yet we should not alter the effectiveness and strengths of one of our greatest institutional assets in order to achieve these. The U.S. State Department, Intelligence Community, and legislative CoDels should be the primary implementers of our diplomatic efforts abroad, and these entities should therefore have greater compatibility and commingling with U.S. troops on the ground. The Army does not ask U.S. diplomats and civilian officials to perform security sweeps, kick down doors, and secure perimeters because those are not the types of maneuvers their skill sets permit them to do effectively. Similarly, our soldiers should not be asked to be cultural experts, linguists, and negotiators because their training and talents are not conducive to such tasks.

The claim that young men, ages 18-24, are grossly immature, unsophisticated, scientifically-impaired, and lacking good judgement is as offensive as it is concerning. Frankly, I don’t know how mature, sophisticated or anthropologically-oriented any 18year old recruit would be, man or woman, especially when it comes to sending them overseas and in harm’s way. If it’s true that young men are neurologically hindered and organically prone to violent crime, substance abuse, and suicide, then why isn’t more being done to address this tragedy? The media today is flooded with advocacy groups who promote the outreach and assistance of oppressed minorities of all kinds (women, gays, ethnic groups, etc.), yet America’s truly troubled people, if the author’s conclusions are true, remain neglected, abandoned, and now unfit for duty. Unfortunately, a dramatic decrease in young men’s enrollment in the Army would subsequently cast these violent, abusive, and troubled people back into a society where their stereotypes and psychological shortcomings are likely to be perpetuated.

Brooks puts a disproportionate amount of blame on Army recruiters, rather than the fact that young women and older men are simply less interested in serving on the front lines of battle as she may think. I’m sure that official statistics show that women and older men are less likely to regard the Army as a fitting career and thus voluntarily visit recruiters less. Given the tactical strengths and weaknesses of the demographics that visit them, Army recruiters simply make the best of the recruits that offer themselves to them. Blame should therefore not rest on a presumptively resistant and ignorant recruiting policy, but rather on critics who fail to realize that young men continue to be essential parts of our Army’s strategic calculation.


Let me start by saying that I don’t think Barack Obama is the worst president the U.S. has ever had, especially when it comes to his accomplishments overseas. I too was in a state of Christmas-like ecstasy when news of Osama bin Laden’s demise surfaced last year, and I still jump for jingoistic joy at the site of a UAV/RPA (unmanned aerial vehicle/remotely piloted aircraft) prowling the skies over South Asia and Yemen. However, in lieu of these triumphs I feel that the Obama administration has employed a grossly misguided, ill-conceived, and downright paradoxical national security strategy in the Middle East and South Asia.

In this entry I will present 3 examples of Obama’s flawed strategy in the region, specifically his expansive use of RPA’s to kill terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, ripped straight out of headlines within the last week. In each example I will present you with three components: (1) a snippet from President Obama’s speech at the end of last week’s Democratic National Convention which highlights his policy goals and attempted jabs at presidential-hopeful Mitt Romney; (2) a series of quotes from a recent CNN article authored by Peter Bergen, the Director of the New America Foundation (a non-partisan think tank in DC), about Obama’s RPA use; and (3) some personal and original analysis of the the previous two components. Let’s get started…

Obama’s Speech: “Around the world, we’ve strengthened old alliances” … “You [Romney] might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.”
Reality: “In Pakistan, the [drone] program is deeply unpopular and the Pakistani parliament voted in April to end any authorization for the program, a vote that the United States government has simply ignored.” … ‘According to Pew Global’s research: “In Pakistan, only 13% say they have confidence that the new American president will do the right thing in world affairs”‘ … “the killing of at least 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO air strike in November severely damaged the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, and resulted in the eviction of CIA-controlled drones from Shamsi air base in Baluchistan in southwestern Pakistan.”
Analysis: Pakistan is (was?) the U.S.’s single greatest ally in the fight against terrorism in South Asia, period. Pakistan has sacrificed thousands of lives (many of which were military officers) trying to root out terrorists along their perpetually porous border with Afghanistan, and did so in support of a largely unpopular commitment to a war the U.S. brought to their backyard. President Obama’s flagrant disregard for a diplomatic, or even cordial, relationship with the historically hold-and-cold country is a strategic error and the precursor for worse relations to come. I understand that President Obama has set a withdrawal date from Afghanistan that he plans to stick to vehemently, but to burn your bridges along the way seems to be a foolish and amateurish move for our Commander-in-Chief.

Obama Speech: “And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don’t even want, I’ll use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work.”
Reality: “He [Obama] has already authorized 283 strikes in Pakistan, six times more than the number during President George W. Bush’s eight years in office.”
Analysis: To claim that Mitt Romney would be a frivolous purchaser of military hardware is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black. In half the time that former-President Bush had at his disposal (during the onset and apex of 2 wars, mind you), President Obama has launched an astronomically larger and more costly drone campaign by comparison. Let’s not forget that paying for these drone missions and all the related expenses associated with them (such as fuel, transportation, pilot’s wages, missile payloads, etc.) is no frugal order. Some quick and conservative calculation indicates that President Obama has spent nearly $20 million on the Hellfire missiles alone that his cherished drones rain from above, with another million to cover the fuel costs and hourly rates of their pilots. With tens of millions of dollars being poured into the drone campaign each year, responsible voters must examine whether or not their hard-earned money is being put to effective use. This question leads me to the final section:

Obama Speech: “After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy – and not al Qaeda – unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War time warp.”
Reality: “Under Obama, the drone campaign, which during the Bush administration had put emphasis on killing significant members of al Qaeda, has undergone a quiet and unheralded shift to focus increasingly on killing Taliban foot soldiers.” … “Under Bush, al-Qaeda members accounted for 25% of all drone targets”, and “Under Obama, only 8% of targets were al- Qaeda”… “And while under Bush, about a third of all drone strikes killed a militant leader, compared to less than 13% since President Obama took office”
Analysis: Perhaps President Obama is the one stuck in a 2001 time warp because his current strategy is clearly not an effective use of our military tools and treasure. It was al-Qaeda that attacked the U.S. on 9/11 (among other times), not the Taliban. It is al-Qaeda that continues to expand its influence and destructive rhetoric around the globe, not the geographically-constrained Taliban. The Obama administration continues to spend money and dedicate inordinate attention to a futile tactic of killing strategically insignificant terrorists scurrying around the dusty villages of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. Terrorists like the ones President Obama targets are essentially hydras: replaceable, bountiful, and inert in the grand scheme of U.S. national security. The Bush administration demonstrated level-headed and informed understanding of the true terrorist threat in South Asia, and recognized that one must eliminate leadership, not pawns, when dealing with global and top-down organizations like al-Qaeda.

As foreign policy and defense issues continue to take a back seat to economics, health care, and the battle for women’s hearts and minds during this election cycle, it’s important to remember that our president is not only a catalyst for job creation and admirable oratory, but also our Commander-in-Chief. The U.S. needs a President who understands the cultural sensitivities in a region who’s diplomatic relations are predominantly affected by custom, dialogue, and historic dispositions. Our future President should be cognizant of effective military spending, especially in an era where unprecedented budget cuts loom over our defense industry and the 2 million+ jobs it supports. Finally, our President should have a clearly defined plan to thwart and eliminate our greatest enemies before they have the chance to strike again. Though the U.S. remains invested in Afghan security for years to come, we must not have tunnel vision in conceptualizing who (and where) our enemies really are.


Coming off a widely publicized trip to Israel this past weekend, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has employed an interesting new strategy for rejuvenating his otherwise stagnant campaign over the last few months. After fending off a proverbial onslaught of economic-minded propaganda, not to mention a heinous attack on his singing ability (was that commercial endorsed by Simon Cowell or what?), it appears that Romney has taken to the streets of Jerusalem in an attempt to draw some new attention to his bid for the White House. On Sunday, Romney pledged that “America [will] stand with you,” and that his presumptive administration “will not look away, and nor will my country ever look away from our passion and commitment to Israel.” Romney’s solidified pledge to the conflict-ridden nation is interesting for two reasons: 1) is this move purely political in nature- essentially an outstretched hand to American Jewish voters; and 2) is this is a solidification of his campaign’s foreign policy platform, an area that the presidential hopeful wishes to differentiate himself from his competition?

Let’s look at Romney’s visit to Israel from a campaign perspective first. Historically speaking, the Jewish community in the U.S. does not vote Republican, period. In fact, since 1972, the bloc has never dipped below 64% voter support in favor of the Democratic candidate (including ~75% voter support for Obama in his 2008 election), making them a predicable and dependable constituency from year to year. Knowing this, is the Israel issue really the quickest (if not the only) way to the Jewish community’s heart? Is Romney taking an innovative step to reversing this trend? Considering that only 31% of American Jews expressed “emotional attachment to Israel” in 2005, even a drastic increase in pro-Israel sentiment among Jewish voters would result in a 50% importance factor at best (in my opinion). These statistics are aside from the flagrant disagreements his party traditionally has with progressive voters regarding hot button social issues (which we could write a whole other article on).  Doesn’t seem like the most influential tool to win the hearts and minds votes of your competition, eh Mitt?

Despite how ineffectual I think Romney’s visit will be in mobilizing Jewish votes on the basis of Israel , I think his trip accomplished a lot in terms of solidifying his campaign’s foreign policy platform. For starters, it’s becoming more and more evident that the new front of American foreign policy in the Middle East is shifting west, away from Kabul and  towards Jerusalem. With new sound bites coming out of Tehran/Jerusalem each week, it will behoove Romney to essentially “look the part” in making very presidential speeches on very presidential issues. Secondly, Romney is removing himself, and his party, from a tarnished foreign policy reputation associated primarily with Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration has had relative success on those fronts (killing OBL and completing troop withdrawals from Iraq), and it’s best for Republicans to accept the political blemish associated with former president Bush and move forward. Perhaps most importantly, Romney is asserting himself as the best possible partner for Israeli PM Netanyahu going in to the future. The Obama administration has had a strained relationship with the staunch Prime Minister for the past 4 years, to say the least, and Romney casting himself as the most capable ally with Israel (especially in terms of denying Iran nuclear weapons) may end winning him a few undecided voters who value strengthened US foreign policy in the region and a more hardliner stance when it comes to Iran (Jewish or otherwise).

In the end, I think the Romney campaign has succeeded in using the Israel issue as a distraction, if nothing else, from the Obama administration’s economic spotlight. Whether or not these moves will directly result in increased Jewish votes for Romney we have yet to see. Certainly rebuilding Washington’s relationship with Israel is a great way to garner support from voters who value the U.S.’s relationship with Jerusalem and firm position in the Middle East, but will his party’s voter history and glaring social disparities prove more dissuading than any possible number of photo opp’s and handshakes with Bibi? We’ll see this November…