Traveling in the Middle East over the past week has been extraordinary, to say the least. In a region where change is measured in incremental adjustments over decades, the days of rage and anger should not be interpreted as anything but transformational.
Observers have been tracking the angst of this new generation for about a decade. The question was always where and when the teapot would sing. Without any other release mechanism, overflowing anxiety simply funneled to the streets.
Although the activism in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, and Yemen reflect the distinctiveness of those particular countries, some significant common denominators thread through the region. First, the demonstrations reflect a chronic angst stemming from the challenges of living in authoritarian states beset by stagnation and corruption; political, economic, and even social, cultural and religious repression, to a noticeable degree. The call to action came not from political leaders but from frustration cutting through the younger set.
I have written before on this blog about the dangerous assumptions that currently haunt thinking in the beltway, and the State of the Union address made this apparition rise again. Specifically, that we will start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July, by the end of this year we will leave a stable Iraq, and all troops will be home by 2015.
Wars are remarkably costly – about $1 trillion between Iraq and Afghanistan thus far, to say nothing of the human costs. And those costs continue once everyone is home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Equipment will have to be repaired, replaced, or modernized. Health care costs don’t end for the wounded, including those with post traumatic stress or traumatic brain injuries, nor should our obligation to these heroes. And the U.S. military will still be deployed around the world engaging partners, and even potentially engaged in wars unknown (when has the world ever stopped for us to catch our breath?). (more…)
Some teachers in junior high school would allow students to sit wherever they wanted in the classroom. Whenever this was the case, undoubtedly we would quickly group ourselves with our friends. The jocks sat with other jocks. The nerds sat with other nerds (generally my group). And the heavy metal thrashers sat with other heavy metal thrashers. As you can imagine, there wasn’t much communication between the groups. Other teachers assigned seats. All the cliques got mixed up and we were forced to interact with people that weren’t in our normal social circles. Although it was uncomfortable at first, I sometimes found myself learning a bit about the people around me. I learned to appreciate Metallica and the identify who was playing in the lineup for the weekend’s football game – not life changing discoveries, but important nonetheless in junior high interactions.
It turns out that the seating arrangements of the upcoming State of the Union address present a situation that is not altogether different from a junior high classroom. Our elected representatives will be faced with a simple question: is it better to sit with my close friends or reach out to to someone who isn’t in my clique?
Traditionally in the tightly choreographed State of the Union address, everyone plays their part. Democrats sit with Democrats on one side of the room. Republicans sit with Republicans on the other side of the room. Democrats stand and clap at their signature issues and Republicans do the same for their issues. Everyone plays their part – a bit like junior high.
Recently, however, something changed. After the tragedy in Tuscon, we’ve all been rethinking the roles that we play. There is a growing realization that there is lack of civility in our public life.
Ordinary Americans work with, socialize with, and go to church with people of many different political beliefs. Unfortunately, our political discourse has been polarized by right wing and left wing media outlets that encourage people to see issues in black and white terms. This harmful discourse was characterized by the outburst of Representatives Joe Wilson who exclaimed, “you lie!”, during President Obama’s last State of the Union address. We see and hear it every day in the partisan attacks on cable news and talk radio. (more…)
Walking in to a meeting of Middle East civil society activists in London last week, I expected the usual somber, intellectual examination of how the increase in recent political upheavals was negatively affecting respect for human rights and civil liberties. Renewed violence in Iraq; another delay in installing winners of the faulty elections in Afghanistan; Egyptians lighting themselves on fire; Hezbollah bringing down the Lebanese government; a reconstituted Israeli government reflecting the disintegration of the peace movement; more violence in Gaza; and the overthrow of the chronic Ben Ali regime in Tunisia.
Instead of the usual angst and anguish, these usually serious scholars exhibited a child-like, back-slapping giddiness. The primary instigator was no less than the Brother Leader and “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.”
In a televised address this week, Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi railed against the online world of Facebook, YouTube, and the blogosphere – citing the internet as helping to bring down Ben Ali’s two decade rule in Tunisia, saying that he thought the dictator would continue to run Tunisia “for life.” (more…)
PSA Board of Directors member Dr. Andrew K. Semmel recently co-authored a new Stanley Foundation report with Jack Boureston, managing director at FirstWatch International, called The IAEA and Nuclear Security: Trends and Prospects. The report concludes that the international community should strengthen the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The authors state that adequate international nuclear security standards to prevent non-state actors from acquiring nuclear materials are absent. Currently, the international community has only “a diverse patchwork of initiatives that, when combined, constitute an awkward architecture of prevention, detection, and response.” The report urges the adoption of an international agreement to lay out minimally acceptable standards and create increased international coordination, monitoring, and reporting. The authors suggest that, while no international organization is currently vested with the level of responsibility for nuclear security functions to achieve these standards, the IAEA is “best positioned to fill that role.” To download the full report, click here.
PSA joins with President Obama and Congressional Leadership in condemning the attack on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, her staff and the constituents whose participation in Saturday’s event demonstrated the values that make the United States a strong democracy. We mourn the loss of Christina-Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, John M. Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwin Stoddard, and Gabriel Zimmerman. We hope that the behaviors exhibited by these Americans will remind us all that there are constructive and mutually respectful ways of addressing issues and differences. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were lost or wounded in this senseless attack.
As Hungary prepared to take the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on New Year’s Day, the country faced a slew of criticism over its new censorship laws. The laws put Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party in control of overseeing the public media and create a party-run media council to regulate both public and private broadcasters. Hungary’s Nepszabadsag newspaper declared that “the freedom of the press in Hungary has come to an end.” A Washington Post editorial decried the law as “more suited to an authoritarian regime than to a Western democracy.”
Troubling as the media censorship is in itself, it is even more troubling when considered in tandem with the approach Orban is taking to deal with the ailing Hungarian economy. Since his party’s victory in the parliamentary elections in April of last year, Orban has focused on short-term measures to the chagrin of the EU and the International Monetary Fund, which both want Hungary to focus on long-term spending cuts. One measure is a controversial reversal of a 1997 pension reform, a move that may in the long-run slow efforts to deal with Hungary’s debt, which is 80 percent of its GDP. Orban has also sought to increase the party’s influence on monetary policy, allowing a Fidesz-controlled parliamentary committee to fill vacant posts on the Central Bank’s Monetary council. But rather than ease these concerns, the measures have done little to assure others. International unease continued as Fitch rating agency downgraded Hungary’s foreign currency credit rating to just above junk status last month. (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.