Posts Tagged ‘national security’

On The Ground:

stock-photo-16681817-jerusalem-and-tel-aviv-road-signsAs expected, Jerusalem is vastly different from Tel Aviv. Weather: sure, architecture: definitely; however the cultural variations are most stark. Certainly the intersection of Arab/Palestinian communities with Jewish ones is among the most distinct and economically disparate faults of the Israeli government, but when chatting with a lot of locals in Jerusalem I’ve found that the commingling of various Jewish sects often creates more friction that an outsider might expect. I envisioned most Israeli Jews living in relatively peaceful coexistence under the banner of a  Jewish State, happy to be among a social majority. Though there aren’t protests in the streets, per se, there is evidently a lively and heated debate between more secular Jews and their ultra-Orthodox counterparts over issues of economic integration and “sharing the burden“. As a function of neglecting a formal education in English, math, the sciences, and computer skills, these ultra-Orthodox communities are vastly under-qualified to enter the modern workforce and are additionally exempt from serving in the military (as all other Israeli youth are mandated). The ultra-Orthodox are growing at a much faster rate than secular Israelis due to an exponentially higher birth rate, and are demographically gobbling up neighborhoods in order to sustain their expanding communities’ needs. These communities then implement conservative norms such as forbidding the operation of vehicles on the sabbath, enforcing strict codes of social conduct, and many others. One interesting quote I heard from some locals was that “we get along better with the Arabs than we do with the Orthodox,” and I was very surprised to hear such a claim. As someone who expected Jerusalem to be a city personified by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I found it interesting that Jerusalem suffers from internal dissension as much (if not more) than it does from various foreign pressures from its neighbors and the international community.

Touristy Stuff:

No trip to Israel would be complete without the standard trips to the Old City, Dead Sea, and various other notable locales. I had the privileged opportunity to be shown a slew of holy and historic cites by a fantastic tour guide named Natalie (who’s contact information I would be happy to pass on). Evidently, Israel takes its tourism very seriously and implements a very rigorous certification requirement  entailing 2+ years of training for all official tour guides. The quality of the tours we received really reflected this commitment to excellence, and Natalie demonstrated a keen expertise in all aspects of Jerusalem’s history. We toured the Western Wall, al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock (where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Issac/Ishmael – depending on your faith), among other noteworthy sites. Even as a very secular person, I couldn’t help but be moved by some kind of magical mysticism surrounding a city as vested in religious and anthropological history as Jerusalem. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the location of Jesus’ crucifixion and eventual ascension into heaven, and needless to say it was a very powerful place to behold. They have places where you can reach your arm in and literally touch the rock that Jesus’ cross was fastened to, and I was sure to rub all sorts of Holy juju onto myself wherever I could. A large amount of the biblical history of Jerusalem was beyond what I could recall from my brief stints in childhood Catechism class, but it was certainly fascinating to learn bits about the original City of David, the various demolitions of Jerusalem by various marauding powers, and the evolution of Jerusalem’s society as a result of generations of conflict.

More Interesting Visits:

Some high points of my trip to Jerusalem, and Israel in general, include visits we made to the Golan Heights and to Rosh Hanikra (a city on the northwestern border with Lebanon). Being able to see Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon from various perched vantage points, I photoreinforced my understanding that Israel simply cannot afford to be wavering, timid, or overly defensive in its national security strategy. The Golan Heights is an occupied territory in northeastern Israel that was claimed from Syria as a result of the 1967 Six Day War. Though there has been relative peace between the two nations over the past few decades, a bloody civil war continues to wage inside Syria and now along its border with Israel. Regional instability emanating from the revolutionary tides inside Syria, Jordan, or Egypt have the ability to destabilize Israel if for no other reason than sheer proximity. Former treaties, agreements, and détente, with the Mubarak and Assad regimes to Israel’s south and north are now at risk, and this concerns Israel tremendously when analyzing the prospects for peace in a post-Arab Spring Middle East. At multiple points when driving north or south along the Israeli coastline, the border with the West Bank is no more than 9-10 miles to your east. I had a chance to study Afghanistan and Pakistan security challenges this past semester, and the concept of Afghanistan as a source of “strategic depth” for Pakistan continually came to mind when surveying how territorially narrow the Israeli homeland actually is. There is no place for Israel to fall back to, and major population hubs are a matter of miles (if not meters) away from contested/hostile territories. This sobering fact forms the backbone of Israel’s obsession with security, and it is no longer surprising to see the preemptive measures Israel’s military is willing to take to protect the country. I have yet to come to a conclusion on how I feel about this strategy as I find myself perpetually grappling with the legal and realist arguments for courses of action or inaction.


The delicate balance of multiculturalism, vigilant national security, and religious sanctity makes Israel the most unique country I have visited thus far in my journeys. Israel occupies a unique place in the world politically-speaking by being the only true democracy amidst a sea of dictatorships, monarchies, and fledgling democracies who’s fates are not yet known. In terms of government organization, provision of civil services, and generally liberal attitudes and lifestyles, there is little to suggest that Israel is not a “western” country. However, as you barter the prices of melons and candies in the shuk, suffer the fate of a thousand car horns in the crowded streets near the Old City, and realize just how little personal space you have in lines for restaurants and ATMs, Israel appears very Middle Eastern in nature. In a way, Israel was the perfect springboard into my next stop: Cairo, Egypt. Israel possessed just enough Middle Eastern charm, coupled with various western creature comforts, to make the culture shock less severe than it could have been. Politically, I’m glad I was able to observe the domestic dynamics and international concerns facing Israel before living in an Arab country. Israel and Egypt possess a highly interesting history characterized by very high highs and very low lows that have cumulatively shaped the current relationship in profound ways. Much has yet to be seen about the fate of Egypt-Israel relations under President Morsi, and I am excited to see (from the sidelines, of course) how that relationship unfolds. Surely I will encounter plenty of critics of Israel during my stay in Egypt, but I will encounter them knowing that the Arab-Israeli conflict does not alone define Israel or the region. Israel grapples with environmental concerns, internal political debates, territorial disputes, and even rifts among its native Jewish communities- all in addition to a stagnant peace process and constant potential for military conflict. I look forward to experiencing Cairo for all that it is and is not, and sharing my journeys with all of you in the weeks to come.


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.


Welcome to al-Ra˚yee, or “the opinion”, in Arabic. Contained in this blog are a series of provocative articles I’ve found across the web pertaining to broader issues in international relations, national security, and terrorism, as they apply to the U.S. and the Middle East. I found the following articles intriguing, upsetting, or praiseworthy enough to share with all of you, and I hope to elicit some brief, yet academic, discussion about some of the toughest moral and political issues in our world today. I am by no means an expert in any field (including those listed above), but merely a student and a passionate follower of all things IR. I [far too] often play the devil’s advocate, and encourage my readers to take one of many controversial stances on the issues presented.  I aim to post something that caught my eye at least weekly, and to provide you with a very brief personal commentary about the matter at hand. If you’re looking for something long and scholarly, you’ve come to the wrong place.

A colleague once shared with me quote from 20th century politician/lobbyist/lawyer/actor Dudley Field Malone which went: “I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me.” That being said, leave your PC at the door and feel free to share your ra˚yeeka with the rest of us.