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Obama Opens Libyan Pandora’s Box

March 29, 2011

President Barack Obama speaks about U.S. and NATO involvement in military action against Libya during a speech at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, March 28, 2011. AFP Photo / Saul LOEB

While hindsight is 20/20, the scope of vision into what lies ahead for Libya is limited at best, making Obama’s decision inevitably controversial.  Limited intervention was decided upon based on the evidence indicating eventual violence against the Libyan people.  President Obama authoritatively stated Monday night, “I refuse to let that happen.”

By only committing the U.S. to protecting lives and not facilitating a regime change, Obama hopes to hold an already fragile U.S. coalition together.  “To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq,” the President said.  “Regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars.  That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”

Many are opposed to the implementation of a no-fly zone, claiming a drain of resources already spread too thin, while others feel Obama took too long to reach the decision.  In defense, he cited the one-year time frame the international community needed before intervening on the slaughter in Bosnia.

But will Obama’s move with Libya implicitly commit the U.S. to any of the other protests breaking out in the region?  Where do America’s obligations begin and end with facilitating democracy?  Obama noted: “There will be times when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are. Challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security, responding to natural disasters, for example, or preventing genocide…these may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us…In such cases we should not be afraid to act.”

However vague he left his criterion for instigating U.S. intervention in Libya, the President reaffirmed: “Wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.”

-By Kaeleigh Forsyth, Contributor

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Contagious Unrest Reaches Yemen

March 18, 2011

Girls shout slogans during a rally demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa March 18, 2011. Yemen's beleaguered president declared a state of emergency on Friday after gunmen including snipers shot dead at least 25 protesters at an anti-government rally, but denied his police forces were behind the violence. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Over 50 people have been declared dead and more than 200 have been reported wounded following a March 18 government crackdown on protesters in Sanaa, Yemen.  President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Yemeni National Defense Council have consequently declared a state of emergency, further fanning the flames of the protests nation-wide.

Similar to the recent uprisings in neighboring countries, the driving force behind these Yemen protests was the conspicuous corruption of those in power.  The resignation of President Saleh and his politically empowered relatives is the objective.  Another parallel between the Yemeni rebellion and those in Northern Africa is the apparent lack of unifying factors or collective goals among the protestors beyond the resignation of the government; citizens of all ages, incomes, and levels of political awareness are working together to dismantle the regime.  This may result in obstacles similar to those that Egypt is currently facing—what direction does the country go together after these immediate goals are achieved?

Yemen’s government will use the protests as an opportunity to impose curfews and restrict media access, but these undertakings won’t be any easier than they’ve been elsewhere in the region.  Saleh’s family is so entrenched in all branches of the country’s political structure that a route of civil cooperation or opposition-regime communication doesn’t seem plausible.  The Yemen armed forces also fall under the umbrella of the Saleh family influence, which is already resulting in major factions within the army.  The protests will likely only inflate until Saleh announces his departure.

 

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Hope in the Destruction

March 11, 2011

The earthquakes and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan yesterday were undoubtedly devastating.  But amid the tragedy and destruction, there are things to be grateful for.

The investments in downtown structural engineering that paid off

These swaying skyscrapers give us only an idea about how many lives were saved by Japan’s new judicious building codes.

The persistence of humanity

Photo from AP

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote yesterday:

“Japan’s orderliness and civility often impressed me during my years living in Japan, but never more so than after the Kobe quake. Pretty much the entire port of Kobe was destroyed, with shop windows broken all across the city. I looked all over for a case of looting, or violent jostling over rescue supplies. Finally, I was delighted to find a store owner who told me that he’d been robbed by two men. Somewhat melodramatically, I asked him something like: And were you surprised that fellow Japanese would take advantage of a natural disaster and turn to crime? He looked surprised and responded, as I recall: Who said anything about Japanese. They were foreigners.

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Rising Food and Energy Prices Fueling Unrest in Latin America

March 6, 2011

By Oscar Montealegre

Recently, the World Bank announced that rising food prices throughout the world have reached ‘dangerous levels.’ According to the World Bank, international food prices have increased by 30 percent since February 2009. Even more alarmingly is that it is estimated that oil and metal prices have skyrocketed 100 percent compared to a year ago.

In certain parts of Latin America, citizens have passionately voiced their concerns with rising prices. For instance, in Southern Chile, protestors assembled in opposition against the Chilean government intentions to increase gas prices. Eventually, the Chilean government reached a compromise, agreeing to only increase prices 3 percent, instead of a whopping 16 percent.

Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, had planned to increase gas prices by 73 percent and diesel fuel by 83 percent. This announcement did not go well with the Bolivian people. A five-day national protest resulted, causing a dent to Bolivian commerce, business and daily operations. No resolution or compromise has been reached as of yet.

In Venezuela, food prices are getting out of control, increasing at the tune of almost 40 percent.  In Argentina, independent economists and analysts reported that Argentine wage increases are being diluted with the rapid rise of food prices. To make matters worse, inflation in Argentina reached anywhere between 25 to 30 percent in 2010, with no stabilization in sight for the near future.

The unrest with higher food prices can be seen in other continents. Algeria suffered numerous fatalities due to protests that quickly evolved into violent riots. Just last year Mozambique was jolted with angry protestors fighting against the increase of bread prices, leaving more than ten deaths. In fact, food inflation was one of the many factors that sparked the Egyptian revolution this year.

The lesson for governments in Latin America and others is that food inflation cannot be taken lightly. Obviously, food is a basic necessity, and the humanitarian spirit in me adheres to the notion that food should be a basic right for all of humanity. However if food becomes unaffordable and unattainable, societal unrest is to be expected. For the purpose of Latin America, which is experiencing a positive outlook, it’s economic momentum can easily be derailed if food and energy prices continue to increase without governments making an effort to tame its’ inflation. Just look at what happened to Mubarak and his reign on Egypt.

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Is Putin Losing Russia’s War on Terror?

January 29, 2011

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, center, and other Cabinet members observe a minute of silence in memory of the victims of Monday's suicide bombing at Moscow's main airport, in Moscow, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011. Putin is vowing retribution for the suicide bombing attack at Russia's busiest airport that killed several dozen people. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Pool)

By Kaeleigh Forsyth, Contributor

The Moscow suicide bombing at the Domodedovo airport that killed 35 people and injured approximately 130 more is raising questions about how to increase security measures in large public places with public access, known as “soft targets.”

This attack on an area of relatively little security is similar to past acts of violence by militants from the northern Caucasus region of southern Russia.  Rebel groups from republics such as Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan have attacked Russian interests for years.  In 2010 these groups were responsible for a similar attack on the Moscow subway system.

This incident raises questions about the effectiveness of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s war on terror.  He was appointed in 2008 under the banner of fighting terror, yet jihadist acts of violence have grown six times since he’s been in power, according to former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov.

Putin and Medvedev’s challenge now is to reign in national security in the face of growing public fear and anxieties. The political obstacles only increase as mistrust and disapproval of the government become stronger.

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Lebanon, Syria & Saudi Arabia: Alone Together

January 20, 2011

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, right, meets with Saudi King Abdullah, center, and Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, upon their arrival at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, July 30, 2010. The leaders of Syria and Saudi Arabia launched an unprecedented effort Friday to defuse fears of violence over upcoming indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

By Kaeleigh Forsyth, Contributor

A peaceful resolution to the current conflict in Lebanon suddenly seems like a distant pipe dream, as the collapse of the country’s government last week has resulted in the worst political crisis that the region has seen in years.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal announced on January 19 that the Saudi kingdom is withdrawing from its mediation efforts in Lebanon.  Adding to the contention this week is the UN-authorized Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigation of the former prime minster’s assassination, which will potentially result in the indictment of prominent leaders from the region’s militant Shiite political party, the Hezbollah.

This makes a Lebanese civil war an imminent possibility save an understanding between Saudi Arabia and the other middleman in the region’s ongoing conflict, Syria.  Action from the Hezbollah remains a looming threat as alliances unexpectedly break and relationships suddenly shift within the region.

The appearance of relative civility in Lebanon has made it the Middle East’s top prospect for peaceful cohabitation between varying religions and ethnicities.  Now, this precarious state of peace is tenuously dependent upon how these regional relationships shift, as Saudi completely abandoning Lebanon and leaving Iran to dominate the region would lead the nation right to the doorstep of civil war.  Syria, Qatar and Turkey know that this political instability will result in social problems for their own countries, and are trying to rally an international conference to assist Lebanon in quickly establishing some form of government.

Saudi Arabia and Syria are waiting for each other to return to the negotiation table because of their interests in containing Iran and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, respectively. While all three countries hang in a state of suspension, Lebanon will probably engage in what their long history of violence and mediation have caused them to become exceptionally well-versed in—accommodationist politics.

 

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The Immense Value of Incremental Progress

January 19, 2011

Against a backdrop of ice covered trees, national flags of China and the U.S. fly along Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House in Washington January 18, 2011. Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday flew to the U.S. for a state visit. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Kaeleigh Forsyth, Contributor

Add mounting economic and military tensions with an upcoming election and you have a recipe for political paralysis during this week’s talks between China and the United States. Many issues will be addressed during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s delayed trip to Washington, including the appreciation of the Yuan, a strategy for subduing North Korea, the reform of China’s territorial claim strategy, and the reigning in of Beijing’s growing cyber capabilities; yet significant progress is not anticipated on any of these fronts.

Entering these discussions after years of deteriorating relations, China’s impending leadership transition will only serve to further handicap any potential progress. What is anticipated to result from these talks are a number of “new cooperative deals,” including minor concessions in sectors such as energy, environment, infrastructure, and technology. But how meager these agreements will really be deemed depends on how much value is placed on the diplomatic intangibles- evidence that these two superpowers are still capable of working together within the confines of civil discourse, as well as experience compromising with each other on issues of equal economic investment, seemingly insignificant as they may be.

With a “cold-war”-type confrontation looming overhead, a week of friendly dialogue may serve to be more valuable than it appears.  U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates reported after his visit to China last week that North Korea’s missile program will pose a threat to the U.S. within five years save mediation on China’s part. In regards to China’s resistance of an appreciating Yuan, it seems more likely that the U.S. will allow the already immense pressure in Congress to build than it does that any confrontational action will be taken during this week.  Considering this context, what value does maintaining a discursive foundation of civil diplomacy have, and how much effort can a country justify expending in its name before seeing significant political compromise?  This week may reveal insight into President Obama’s answer to these questions.

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