Today, partisan bickering is taking precedence over sensible solutions to the AfPak conflict. Apparently, even the safety of American citizens is considered a side concern when it comes to the labor versus business debate that characterizes much of our domestic – and now foreign policy – discourse. Democrats say that they are on the side of the workers and Republicans say that unduly constraining business hurts us all. This debate between the parties has been going on for decades. Unfortunately, this debate is spilling over into the national security realm and we’re less safe because of it. It’s time for D’s and R’s to come together on a simple trade issue that can make a difference in the struggle against extremism.
Here’s what is happening. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region of Pakistan borders Afghanistan. It’s the home base of Al Qaeda and the many of the Taliban insurgents that stream across the porous border with Afghanistan and attack our troops and destabilize Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden is thought to be hiding away in this remote tribal region. Many believe that if a future 9/11-type attack happens on the United States, its origin will likely be this remote tribal region in Pakistan.
FATA is also one of the poorest and most disenfranchised regions of Pakistan. The literacy rate in FATA is just 17.42 percent, compared to 43.92 percent in the rest of the country. It scores quite poorly on most all socioeconomic indicators – and that’s in comparison to the rest of Pakistan, which is not particularly wealthy to begin with. FATA residents are also marginalized from the political life of their country. They have no elected representatives in a provincial or national assembly who can legislate on local concerns. In this environment, it’s not surprising that extremists have had an easy time recruiting for their cause. No, poverty and marginalization don’t cause terrorism, but they can contribute to an environment where extremism is more likely to take hold. (more…)
It has been nearly two months since I last wrote about the health of American military personnel and veterans so let’s look at it again. The news, unfortunately, isn’t any better.
First, let’s look at the past. Today the Los Angeles times reports that researchers have found that soldiers who suffered brain injuries can develop seizures decades — as long as 35 years — after the initial injury. A study published in the journal Neurology found that among a group of 199 Vietnam veterans, about 13% developed post-traumatic epilepsy more than 14 years after they had suffered a penetrating head wound, such as a gunshot injury or shrapnel that entered brain tissue. Penetrating head injuries are generally linked with a higher risk for epilepsy than other types of head injuries, such as concussions.
It is unclear how the study relates to combatants returning from Iraq and Afghanistan today, the authors said. The Vietnam veterans in the study suffered from penetrating brain injuries, which are rarer in soldiers fighting in the current conflicts because helmets have improved. Today, closed-head injuries (where the brain is not penetrated) are more common, in part because of the helmet improvements and partly because of a change in the weaponry used in modern warfare. (more…)
Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet state in Central Asia, has made many headlines after its corrupt President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was toppled in April. On June 10th, riots erupted between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbek minority in Bakiyev’s stronghold Osh, leaving hundreds dead and sending a flood of refuges to neighboring Uzbekistan. The June 27th constitutional referendum ratifying a new constitution was deemed successful, but true peace is elusive in southern Kyrgyzstan. The violence continues as the Kyrgyz police abuse ethnic Uzbeks, and the unrest threatens to spread to neighboring countries. Riots may flare up anew when the local clans start vying for power in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Kyrgyzstan’s weak central authorities are unable to rein in the violence.
During this time, only the lazy refrained from opining about the Kyrgyz misfortune, but nevertheless world governments have not followed words with actions. Russia and the United States have limited their response to Kyrgyz pleas for help to providing humanitarian relief. Their continued inaction may have dire consequences. Even in the unlikely scenario that the conflict resolves itself, the indecisiveness of the two world powers will leave a bitter aftertaste in the former Soviet republics. (more…)
For the past 8 months, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Mines has been amassing a huge stockpile of diamonds plucked from the Marange diamond field in the eastern part of the country. The stockpile, which now tips the scale at around 4.6 million carats, is the unwanted byproduct of the Kimberley Process, the UN-backed regulatory body that certifies diamonds as conflict-free. Under the auspices of the Kimberley Process, 75 countries have agreed to adhere to strict standards governing the mining and sale of diamonds to ensure that the stones do not fund regional conflicts or contribute to human rights violations. If member countries are unable to meet the standards of the Kimberley Process, they are suspended or barred from selling diamonds under the Process. Zimbabwe fell into that category this past November when the Process suspended the country after investigations confirmed that the Marange mine was the site of grave human rights violations, including the alleged massacre of several hundred illegal miners by the Zimbabwean military.
Zimbabwe’s temporary suspension, however, is now under reconsideration and may soon be lifted. Several weeks ago, over 70 representatives from Kimberley Process member countries met in Israel to consider Zimbabwe’s case. Although the meeting ended without a decision, the Zimbabwean government’s position has enough support to make it conceivable that exports may be approved the next time the representatives meet. The South African businessman sent by the Kimberley Process to inspect Zimbabwean mines recommended that the country be approved, and African countries have largely backed Zimbabwe’s position. The main opposition to approval comes from three Western countries- the US, Canada and Australia- and numerous NGO and advocacy groups.
If the Kimberley Process member countries decide to lift the suspension, they will do so to the detriment of Zimbabwe’s future. On the surface, the Kimberley Process decision rests on whether Zimbabwe can prove that the Marange mining operation does not contribute to conflict or violate human rights in any way. However, as the US well knows, any decision to allow Zimbabwe to sell vetted stones on the international market will carry repercussions not only for miners in Marange but for the country as a whole. (more…)
Today’s headlines have heralded two important new developments concerning the Gulf of Mexico oil spill: BP might finally be able to cap the gushing oil well, and the Obama administration has placed a new moratorium on deep-water drilling. Another event of potentially equal importance is receiving far less national attention: a commission created by President Obama to investigate the oil spill disaster is meeting for the first time.
The oil spill commission is the second major advisory panel Obama has formed this year, following his establishment of a blue-ribbon commission on the federal deficit in February. These commissions are addressing two of the most pressing and difficult challenges facing America: energy policy and our yawning national debt.
If, like most people, you are cynical about commissions, you probably assume that these panels will not accomplish anything other than giving our elected officials an excuse for delaying tough decisions while the commissions conduct their work. But my research on over 50 commissions from the past three decades reveals that, during crises, bipartisan commissions often use their powerful political credibility to spur major reforms. (I present these findings in Terrorism and National Security Reform: How Commissions Can Drive Change in Moments of Crisis, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press in 2011.) (more…)
I was out of town when the kerfuffle about the article about Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Rolling Stone magazine became public.
Now that I am back and have read the article I am amazed at how little it takes to get a general fired. I mean, for pity’s sake, this was not something on the order of Harry Truman and Douglas MacArthur. It was not as if McChrystal was seriously criticizing Obama’s war strategy, like MacArthur did about Truman. How could he? This was the strategy, after all, that McChrystal had successfully persuaded Obama to sign off on and one that McChrystal’s successor, Gen. David Petraeus has pledged to continue. I venture to say one hears more venomous remarks around the average office water cooler than what I read in the article.
Contrary to what some in the media write this was not a sign of a “dysfunctional civilian-military relationship.” To me it is a sign of posturing on the part of President Obama and, perhaps, an attempt to burnish his hawk credibility, and to sweep under the rug, at least for a little bit longer that his Afghanistan strategy is not working. (more…)
All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.