I arrived to IsraTelAviv_aerial(194)el after a surprisingly painless flight across the pond through Los Angeles, CA and Newark, NJ. The first leg of my flight (5.5 hours) went by very smoothly as I read a few pages of my book, took a nap, rinsed and repeated. My connecting flight in Newark was more noteworthy, however. There was a secondary screening area just outside my gate in terminal which is apparently standard operating procedure for flights headed to Israel. It was among my fellow passengers that I had my first taste of what the demography of Israel would look like: Hasidic Jews, Christian pilgrimage groups, Arabs, birthrighters, and then me. I was able to log a few hours of sleep during my 10 hour flight to Tel Aviv as I watched Will Ferrell’s “The Campaign” and Tom Hanks’ “Cloud Atlas” (which, I should add, I would prefer to watch again when not under the effect of two Unisom sleep aids).

My arrival into Ben Gurion Int’l Airport was fairly smooth. I chatted with a young New Yorker (adorned in a kippah and tallit) when in line for customs, picked up my baggage without a hitch, and met my driver for the quick ride to the hotel. My driver was a nice guy who spoke English fairly well and did not wait one minute before beginning to talk to me about the Arab-Israeli conflict (interesting given that we were in Tel Aviv, but more about that later). He pointed out the mountains that I flew over before landing, which, thanks to the IDF, “prevented my plane from being shot out of the sky by Arabs;” the mounting crisis in Syria, Obama’s recent visits, and several other topics. I spent the first night wandering around the local neighborhood and I was struck by how similar the Tel Aviv beachfront area is to the beach communities in Southern California. People rode bikes, walked dogs, licked popsicles, etc. and appeared as if completely unaware that a political/religious/cultural conflict was being waged just a few dozen kilometers to the east. After a few more blocks of roaming, I grabbed a quick shawarma sandwich and was on my way back to the hotel to catch up on some sleep.

The next day my group toured the old port city of Jaffa, and learnold-jaffaed about how Jaffa gave rise to one of the first major metropolitan and predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in the land. Jaffa is a gorgeous and picturesque old city that reminded me a lot of Toledo, Spain; a towering fortress of a city, built from rock, with lush gardens and tall steeples everywhere you look. Walking back to downtown Tel Aviv from the Old City of Jaffa I had my first introduction to the vast discrepancy of wealth and general living conditions of Arab (and also in Tel Aviv’s case, Eritrean) minorities living in Israel. Tel Aviv is an incredibly expensive city to live in, and even young/educated Israeli youth have difficulty finding good jobs and affordable housing. The neighborhoods outside Jaffa were littered with abandoned buildings, bad odors, panhandlers, and generally unpleasant vistas when compared to the exotic beach area a few kilometers north. My group and I proceeded to visit the Israeli Independence Hall, which is surprisingly lackluster in its outside appearance (as most everyone who has been there would agree). Inside, I was captivated by the story of Tel Aviv’s creation. 66 Jewish families, fed up with marginalization and lack of economic prospects in Jaffa, relocated to the sand dunes of the Israeli desert and decided to break new ground for their small society. That small enclave grew to become the second largest city in Israel, and certainly one of the most culturally vibrant. Inside Independence Hall, we also received a short (yet VERY religious, probably because of the birthright group we shared the hall with) presentation on the state of Israel’s proclamation of Independence on May 14, 1948.

We spent our final day in Tel Aviv at our own leisure. I chose to spend the day on the beach soaking up some sun, swimming a bit, and playing volleyball of course. I was very fortunate to meet up with a close friend from back in the U.S. and pick her brain about what it’s like living in Tel Aviv from an American expatriate’s point of view. Even she admitted to discovering a different Israel on the ground than the one she had grown up learning about back in the States, in both good ways and bad. After a great night of drinks, pasta, froyo, and shared stories, we parted ways and I went to bed content with all that I had learned and experienced when in Tel Aviv.

Takeaways: Tel Aviv is a beautiful, laid back, and charming city that you would swear was located somewhere in Orange County, CA if it weren’t for the Hebrew signs on every corner. As my group was told beforehand, which I later confirmed, Israelis living in Tel Aviv lead vastly different lifestyles than their counterparts in Jerusalem. Women walk around in bikinis, there are posters for gay night clubs, people drink beer on the beach as they work on their tans, and so on. Tel Avivians do not preoccupy themselves with the political turmoil that plagues Jerusalem and Israel at-large simply because they do not have to. There are few, if any, Palestinians living in Tel Aviv, and the West Bank is a foreign land too far off to the east to give any serious thought to (unless you work for one of many NGOs or embassies). Tel Aviv natives are more posh, certainly more secular, and tend to desire more metropolitan lifestyles versus more religious ones. This is not to say that Tel Aviv is immune to the realities of being inside Israel and the Middle East. In November of 2012, residents of Tel Aviv were subject to rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip as a result of the IDF-led Operation Pillar of Defense. Without hesitation residents huddled in their bomb shelters, as they had been trained to do, and when the ‘all clear’ sound was given they simply returned to their cafes and paddleball games to resume their normal lives. I would be remiss if I said that Tel Aviv was immune or oblivious to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but it seems that they are certainly apathetic to it. Tel Avivians tend to be more preoccupied with finding a job, finding a house, and finding a beer, than they are with finding a bible, and it was very interesting to have this city be my first exposure to Israel. Jerusalem will be a lot different, I am sure, and I look forward to juxtaposing the two cities in my next post.

golden domeHello and welcome back to my resurrected blog: al-Ra˚yee: My Take on Issues in Int’l Relations! Let me apologize to what few readers I have left for the stagnation (to put it lightly) over the last few months. School, work, and other real life commitments (which I’ll get to in a minute) monopolized my time, and I sincerely regret not being able to post about the slew of juicy issues over the past several months. I had high hopes to post some of my graduate work, however the style of my writing assignments was vastly inconsistent with style of the previous posts on this site. Perhaps I will post some of my work down the road when I have a chance to creatively overhaul them, we’ll see.

This blog will be dramatically changing its focus over the next several months. I will be traveling throughout the Middle East (Israel and Egypt, to be specific) for the remainder of 2013, and feel it necessary to maintain a blog of my adventures, impressions, and thoughts. Though the blog will assume a new role in primarily chronicling my time spent in the region, it will not fail to deliver the same critical remarks about current and local events as it always has. I hope that by living in the region, I will gain a more informed perspective on issues of critical importance to Israel, Egypt, and the United States. No longer will I be the unfiltered American that you all have come to know, love, and despise, blogging from the cozy confines of his metropolitan apartment in Washington, DC. I hope to safely immerse myself in current events inside the region (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and provide critical analysis that you may not read see on CNN back home. As a disclaimer, I am no journalist — simply a student passionate about international relations — so please forgive me for my often biased, incomplete, and impulsive commentary.

I hope to contribute to this blog at least once a week (when possible), and wholeheartedly welcome any and all comments/questions about the topics of my various posts, about Egypt, Israel, Cairo, or the United States in general, or about anything you see fitting to direct my way. I hope you find my adventures provocative, insightful, and refreshing, and look forward to sharing my journeys with all of you.

Next stop: Tel Aviv, Israel — just a man, his beard*, and a laptop…

(* – for the first time in my life I am growing out my beard past the length of stubble that my various jobs somehow found tolerable. It has been about a month since shaving, and I already feel like a completely hairy new man. There’s just something about man and his infatuation with facial hair, and I’m sure you’ll see me commenting about it frequently from here on out. No shave-2013: engaged!)

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)

(source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/world/panetta-warns-of-dire-threat-of-cyberattack.html?pagewanted=all)

For anyone who’s played at least 5 minutes of the immensely popular PC video game StarCraft, the very idea of a photon cannon most likely makes you grin with tactical delight. For my less nerdy readers, let me illustrate for you what a photon cannon is exactly. In the not so distant video game future, mankind has fallen victim to two different alien invasions. The immeasurably more intelligent Protoss species possesses, within its arsenal, an automated defense cannon (the gold and blue circular structures pictured to the right) fully equipped with an AI hell-bent on firing upon charging enemy units (in red) without the need for its creator to pull the proverbial trigger or designate alien friend from human foe. Protoss commanders need not supervise the autonomous cannons which are commonly placed among their flanks, at critical choke points, and around pivotal resource nodes, and can dedicate precious attention, resources, and mouse clicks elsewhere on the battlefield.

I understand that I am pandering to an impossibly small cross section of readers who are both ardent Foreign Policy readers and avid video gamers, so let me move on before I digress further the depths of StarCraft fandom…

(I preface the remainder of this article by saying that I am by no means an engineer, soldier, mechanic, mathematician, scientist, nor a robot, and the basis of my arguments below revolve around what I regard as an above average understanding of the limits of computer programing and the things more learned people than I call “algorithms”) Chances are if you have a pulse (and/or cable TV) you’ve probably seen [trailers for] movies such as Terminator, Eagle Eye, I,Robot, and Stealth over the last decade. Quickly becoming the action movie flavor of the decade, “robot-gone-wrong” thrillers have stolen Hollywood’s heart from the previous top dog: the “uncontrollable disease/zombie outbreak” genre. I, more than most, find RGW scenarios terrifying, primarily due to the logical feasibility and exponential advancement of technology with each passing year. Despite my (and Hollywood’s) hangups, it’s not to say that such technology should be abandoned outright. I fully endorse the development and implementation of automated weapon systems, so long as they come complete with government oversight and strict scientific and mechanical parameters.

Many critics claim that automated weapon systems lack the “human intuition” to differentiate an enemy from a bystander during murky situations such as the ‘woman running after her children who happen to be playing with toy guns’ scenario outlined in the source article. Such claims seem to naively overlook the unprecedented capabilities of technology in the modern era. If Johnny Six Pack can go to a local Walmart, purchase an XBox 360 Kinect video game system for a few hundred dollars, and play Dance Central 3 – a video game with the amazing ability to detect even the most nuanced dance move and translate them into a correspondingly dancing avatar on your screen – then it should be a relative jaunt in the part to develop an autonomous AI capable of determining a friend from a foe on several bases. Aside from the “threat algorithm” programmed into weapons systems that would make instantaneous judgements based on a target’s height, weight, size, or heat signature, I don’t believe it would be very difficult to also implement the ability to identify potentially harmful silhouettes possessing weapon-shaped outlines (this vs. this, for instance), genuine fear/anger demonstrated by distinct facial recognition, or aggressive body language. Unless our enemies are planning to utilize swarms of armed, facially-neutral, and casually-demeanored children/little people, I rest assured that military-grade technology would be able to distinguish between maliciously-armed fighters and innocently-meandering bystanders.

Similarly, different security situations call for different security protocols. Whereas most fear that autonomous robots will eventually roam desolate city streets scanning for life forms to indiscriminately destroy in Schwarzennegerian fashion, evidence indicates that most modern applications for autonomous robotic systems are in border patrol/perimeter securing environments (such as South Korea’s use of the SGR-1 in the DMZ). Assuming that securing borders will be the most prevalent use of robotic systems in the near future, the potential to fire on innocent civilians becomes minimized as computer-generated lines in the sand are easily deemed “crossed” or “uncrossed”. Put another way, the algorithm used to dictate robotic behavior becomes much simpler in these scenarios: shoot anything that crosses the line in an unauthorized fashion, and spare all else.

The source author’s argument that robotic defense systems behave inhumanely is both cliche and hypocritical in an analytical sense. Deciding to illegally cross a border or fire upon security forces inherently violates the most basic and primordial (aka- “humane”) tenets of the social contract amongst individuals according to scholars such as John Locke. By challenging the freedom and security of fellow countrymen in crossing a border illegally or taking up arms against government personnel, perpetrators forsake their right to humane treatment by nature of acting inhumanely themselves. In assuming that robotic systems behave properly in an ethical sense, their implementation becomes a simple matter of efficiency and propensity to save lives during otherwise human assignments. With proper oversight, development, and implementation in appropriate field assignments, I believe that we may see efficient, dependable, and accurate robotic weapons systems in our lifetime… and that’s no fantasy.

(source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/11/19/the_trouble_with_killer_robots?page=0,1)

As if American exceptionalism and maverickism (Microsoft spellcheck anyone?) could not swell any larger, Washington recently removed the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Despite persistent condemnation of organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah who, might I add, have received legislative votes of confidence from their respective Palestinian and Lebanese populations at one point or another, the MEK has become an interesting exception to the rule: a former terrorist organization with American, Iranian, and Kurdish blood on its hands turned U.S.-approved champion of regime change and democratic values.

To provide some background information, the MEK is an assembly of revolutionary and militant Iranian forces dedicated to the overthrow of the current regime in Tehran. The MEK has a checkered past characterized by flip flopping allegiances with both the Ayatollah and Washington over the past 50 years. Whereas the MEK initially aligned itself with Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1979 Revolution due to their shared disdain for Shah-begotten western liberal interests, they soon found themselves at odds with the Ayatollah due to the inherent power vacuum that a lack of political opposition naturally foments. Seeking political refuge in Iraq during the early 80’s, the MEK proved to be a considerable thorn in Tehran’s side while fighting tooth and nail on behalf of Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War. Fast forward to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, MEK encampments near Fallujah were prime bombing targets for US forces due to their large caches of Iraqi-supplied weaponry and residual allegiance to the Saddam regime.  The MEK quickly brokered a ceasefire/surrender with U.S. forces, which bred natural criticism within Washington for Bush’s negotiations with a then-terrorist organization. More recently, and perhaps most importantly, the MEK has proven a valuable source of intelligence for U.S. security officials seeking detailed information about Iranian nuclear developments.

The MEK’s removal from terrorist organization list creates several moral dilemmas for the U.S. State Department and for U.S. national security in general.  For starters, the MEK’s history is replete with violent acts against Iranians, Kurds, and Americans alike. By sweeping these violations under the proverbial rug, the U.S. portrays itself as a malleable player of “favorites” amongst the who’s who of unsavory global non-state actors (NSA’s), further undermining our reputation around the world. Simultaneously, Hamas and Hezbollah continue to be vilified in mainstream American rhetoric (and rightfully so), despite being legitimate members of their respective nation’s[1] majority coalitions. How, then, can the U.S. so easily forgive an organization that has been credited with the deaths of not only 6 Americans in the mid-1970s, but also countless Iranian countrymen and “innocent” Kurdish Iraqis[2]? It’s simple: because the U.S. has been utilizing groups such as the MEK for decades against almost every adversary we’ve had since the turn of the 20th century.

Before we jump to a “Bush is to blame” conclusion with regard to the alleged funding and training of MEK forces in the mid-2000’s (which is a moot point anyway given the overwhelmingly bipartisan support for their removal from the list), let’s scroll down U.S. foreign policy’s Facebook Timeline a bit- which I hear they too are having a hard time adjusting to. Beginning with JFK’s infamous Bay of Pigs invasion, we find that Presidents of both parties have been equipping and training rogue NSA’s on behalf of U.S. national security prerogatives for generations. Shocking, I know, but America’s Democratic (with a capital “D”) poster child also utilized disgruntled foreign nationals as instruments of [ultimately disastrous] U.S. foreign policy. The same can be said of JFK’s CIA funding of Dominican rebels and their assassination plot against the entrenched dictator Rafael “The Goat” Trujillo, Reagan’s clandestine funding of the Contras in Nicaragua, and Bush Jr.’s use of indigenous Tajiks in Northern Afghanistan as spotters and guides during the initial days of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

According to this trend, President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s removal of the MEK from the foreign terrorist organization list should come as no surprise as Iran blossoms into a greater and greater threat with each passing spin of its centrifuges.  As long as the MEK provides credible intelligence regarding Iranian nuclear developments, as long as the MEK continues to relentlessly lobby our politicians, and as long as figures like former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former National Security Advisers, and former UN Ambassadors continue to endorse the MEK’s removal from the list, the U.S. will continue the tradition of selective favoritism towards organizations as historically distasteful as the People’s Mujahedin of Iran.

(Source: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-859784)


[1] I use “nation” liberally in terms of defining the Palestinian state.

[2] “Take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards” – Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the NCRI: MEK’s political manifestation (pictured above with former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani)

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.

(source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/09/27/no_army_for_young_men?page=0,2)

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.

(sources: http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/06/obama-sets-goals-lays-out-differences-with-romney-in-acceptance-address/?hpt=hp_t1http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/05/opinion/bergen-obama-drone/index.html?hpt=wo_c2)