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A (Potential) Iranian Shift

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Iranian cleric Hassan Rouhani will be Iran’s next president. But even though he campaigned as a moderate voice, it is currently unclear how much he will alter Iran’s conservative policies. (Picture Source- CIA World Factbook)

For the past few years, Iran has been controlled by a hard-line, conservative government that has escalated not only Iran’s nuclear program but also tensions with other countries.  As such, many found it to be quite a relief when Iran’s recent presidential election was won not by a ultra-conservative but by Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned as a moderate.

At first, Rouhani’s more moderate stances would seem to signal an imminent change in Iran’s relations with the rest of the world, hopefully changing relations from standoffish to conciliatory.  After all, part of Rouhani’s platform was to appease the international community in exchange for an end to the sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.  Unfortunately, investigating the election more closely leads to the realization that change might not be as rapid or as forceful as many Western nations would like.

The first hurdle to a shift in Iran’s policies and foreign relations is its governmental structure.  Rouhani, as president, will only have a small slice of power in the Iranian government.  More powerful than the office of the presidency is the office of Supreme Leader, a lifetime position held by Ayatollah Ali Kahmenei.  Even if Rouhani attempts a shift to more moderate policies, Kahmenei, a strict conservative hardliner, will likely be able to resist most changes.

The second hurdle is Rouhani himself.  While Rouhani was endorsed by the reformist movement and widely viewed as a moderate candidate, he is also a cleric, meaning that his election actually enhances the theocratic aspects of the Iranian government.  Considering that some reformers want to steer Iran away from its Islamic system of governance, it seems odd that the reform movement would back a cleric’s campaign, especially after eight years of having a secular president.

Indeed, the perception of Rouhani as strongly connected with the goals of Iran’s reform movement is seriously flawed.  While Rouhani did receive the support of Iran’s reform movement, the support was far from enthusiastic.  He was only officially backed by the reform movement two days before the election.  Rouhani’s position as the reformists’ candidate was more or less crafted for support in the days leading up to the election, and some aspects of his political history actually show him supporting anti-reform policies.

Still, completely writing off a move towards the center is flawed thinking.  Rouhani garnered more than twice as many votes as his nearest opponent, signaling a clear public referendum against the current conservative orthodoxy and showing public opinion favors more moderate options.  And while Rouhani may not be the dream reformist candidate, he does represent some change from the hard-line conservative thinking of the past decade.  Rapid change is unlikely, but public pressure for change, especially amid a devastated economy, may start to sway Iranian policies.

 

Filed under International
Jun 17, 2013

Economics – Confusing As Ever

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Lately, there have been two main viewpoints regarding the American economy, and they are pretty much polar opposites.

The first viewpoint is the optimistic way of looking at things.  Proponents of this glass-half-full belief can cite financial markets, which have rebounded from 2009 lows and have recently hit new all-time record highs.  Moreover, the U.S. economy has consistently added jobs each and every month for the last two years, showing that the days of rapid job losses appear to be over.  The unemployment rate has dropped from a scary 10% to a much more manageable 7.6%.  And even though the current unemployment rate is higher is not as low as it could ideally be, America’s 7.6% unemployment is still much better than the eurozone’s 12.2%.

However, all this good news avoids the less-than-pleasing economic indicators that the pessimists focus on.  Even though the U.S. economy has been gaining jobs, the rather slow rate of job creation means that the unemployment rate is likely to remain stubbornly high.  For example, the U.S. gained 175,000 jobs in May, but that did not stop the unemployment rate from actually increasing by .1%.  Not only are new workers entering the workforce, which is why the number of available jobs must grow just to keep a relatively stable level of unemployment, but the U.S. still faces a huge problem with both discouraged workers and workers who are stuck in low paying or part time jobs.  Worse, government cutbacks from the sequester combined with ineffective legislation from Washington makes our economic future murky at best.

There’s information to support both fields of view, but it seems like many people are quick to align themselves with one side or the other.  The one viewpoint that gets lost in the optimist versus pessimist battle is also the most sensible one – a realistic take of all forces affecting the U.S. economy.  This realist take on the economy celebrates the economic gains of the last few years while also recognizing the corresponding weaknesses of our current economic situation.

Would markets have rallied to record highs if the economy still had an imminent threat of a precipitous drop into a double-dip recession?  Should a healthy economy have 7.6% unemployment even after 4 years of fairly consistent GDP growth?  Both of these questions deserve an emphatic ‘no’ as an answer, showing that things are neither as dire nor as cheery as many are apt to argue.

Politicians and pundits need to take a more moderate stance on American economic progress.  It’s hard to plan the right path forward if you disagree on your current position.  Instead of bickering about what the current economic facts mean for our economy, the U.S. must accept its economic strengths along with its weaknesses, and use this realist viewpoint to help spur the economy into a truly healthy state so no one can disagree.

Filed under Domestic, Economy
Jun 10, 2013

What’s going on in Syria?

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In the early months of 2011, the middle eastern nation of Syria experienced anti-government protests as a result of the growing Arab Spring movement.  But back then, almost no one expected that those protests would morph into a more than two year long, extremely bloody civil war resulting in tens of thousands of deaths nationwide.  While this gloomy scenario was unexpected, it has transformed into an unfortunate reality for not just Syria, but also the entire world.

How did this remarkable transition from clustered protests to widespread civil war occur?  One explanation lies in the fact that while leaders of many other nations affected by the Arab Spring were hesitant to respond with excessive violence, Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad quickly resorted to violent means to quell protests.  Not willing to allow a totalitarian crackdown against descent, rebels responded with violence as well.  As both sides stepped up their tactics, the conflict quickly devolved into an all-out war that has included the targeting of civilians.

Unfortunately, the conflict does not appear to be approaching any satisfactory conclusion.  Recent attempts at peace negotiations have been met with extreme skepticism from all parties, as Syria seems to be too entrenched in conflict to find an easy resolution.  Worse, recent evidence shows that chemical weapons may have been used in the conflict.  The use of chemical weapons demonstrates that the war is escalating, exacerbating the conflict in the face of international hopes to stop the fighting.

But even though the majority of the international community has attempted to curb the fighting, these attempts have been extremely limited in their effectiveness.  A major factor for this limited success has been the overwhelming influence of Russia, a nation that not only has veto power on the United Nations Security Council but also has been supplying arms to Assad.  The United States government has deliberated on whether or not the U.S. should intervene more directly than Russia has allowed the U.N. to do, but so far, the rebels are only receiving limited support from western governments.

Russia is not the only reason the U.S. is hesitant to offer more assistance to the rebels, however.  Al-Qaeda influence has spread into many rebel groups, forcing the United States to question whether they are willing to help defeat Assad if doing so might hand the country over to terrorists.  Basically, the U.S. has found its foreign policy stuck between a rock and a hard place, and while it may be uncomfortable with the status quo of civil war, it doesn’t want to commit itself to either the rebels or Assad.

The idea of a status quo works well for Syria right now, as little action seems to be occurring that could transition the country towards peace.  However, we must remember that the status quo so many nations seem comfortable with has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.  While an easy path to stability and peace in Syria seems unlikely, that doesn’t mean the international community should give up on Syria.

Filed under International
May 22, 2013

North Korea’s War of Words

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The Korean War has long been considered more apt for history books than for newspapers.  But strangely enough, that viewpoint is not shared by North Korea, which recently nullified the armistice that ended the Korean War back in 1953.  And while North Korea often acts belligerently, it seems to be stepping up its rhetoric against not only South Korea but also against the United States.

North Korea claims its recent martial actions, including the movement of a missile to its coast and direct military threats against the U.S., were instigated by joint U.S.-South Korean military operations that took place last month.  However, this statement should not be trusted, as the United States military commonly works alongside South Korea without receiving such an inflammatory response from the North.  After all, the U.S. has kept tens of thousands of troops in South Korea for years, and North Korea has rarely protested in such a threatening way.

Why then is North Korea increasing the scope of its military endeavors?  The answer appears to not involve international disputes but instead is focused on domestic politics.  North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un might not need to worry about elections, but he is still a young leader with a great deal to prove to his people.  Navigating the country through a crisis – even a manufactured one – will help him gain credibility and mettle.  This domestic focus seems to be the underlying reason for North Korea’s belligerence, and it is also the reason why other countries aren’t afraid of North Korea’s hostile actions.  Kim Jong-Un could care less if his missiles spur fear internationally, because he really wants them to inspire respect at home.

It’s not just North Korea that has been handing out mixed signals.  China, which is North Korea’s main trading partner and benefactor, has been doing exactly the same.  On one side, China has maintained both relations and trade with North Korea.  But on the other hand, China has allowed new economic sanctions against the North, bucking the trend of using its powerful position on the United Nations Security Council to block increased sanctions.  However, most of China’s recent criticism has been limited to words, not actions.  With the notable exception of allowing for those increased sanctions, China has merely been slapping North Korea on the wrist for their belligerence.  Considering that China is North Korea’s main ally and holds great influence over North Korea, it could do much more to stop the North’s recent aggression.

But while China may be maintaining somewhat of a relationship with North Korea, this recent aggression from North Korea will likely make the U.S.-North Korean relationship even more rocky.  Kim Jong-Un is willing to threaten America in order to improve his domestic standing, showing how little he values possible cooperation with the U.S. in the future.  Still, this standoffish tone towards the U.S. isn’t just a recent development, as it has manifested itself throughout Kim Jong-Un’s short tenure in office.  Even last year, Kim Jong-Un was quick to violate the terms of a food aid deal with the U.S. in order to test his country’s missile technology.  When this food aid deal was being created, we here at RantAWeek hedged our bets, arguing “there is no specific policy-based reason that would make Kim Jong Un voluntarily give up the nuclear program his father so obstinately worked to create” and warning that “failure to successfully execute this compromise could doom diplomatic relationships with the North Koreans for years to come”.

Kim Jong-Un still lacks any policy-based reason to stop his aggression, especially since China isn’t exerting pressure as harshly as it could be.  Worse, North Korea seems to have abandoned plans to cooperate with the United States.  But at the very least, the U.S. should take comfort in the fact that North Korea is not an international threat, just a country willing to sacrifice international cooperation for a new leader’s domestic credentials.

Filed under International
Apr 7, 2013

Exceptionally Ridiculous – Part 3 of 3

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In a multi-part article, RantAWeek editor Tyler Miksanek explains why the doctrine of American exceptionalism ultimately hurts American foreign policy.  This is the 3nd installment- so first read Part 1 and Part 2.

Even though the tenets of American exceptionalism have largely failed the U.S. in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is still possible to view exceptionalism as the best path to pursue in foreign policy.  Following this train of logic, many analysts argue that American exceptionalism is a necessary part of world affairs.  Former New York Times correspondent Clifford May sums up this viewpoint by arguing, “At present, there is no substitute for American leadership.  America is the indispensible nation.  That is what makes it exceptional” (May).  May’s belief views America’s large defense budget and frequent interventions not as consequences of nationalistic narcissism but instead as needed forces for global peace.  No other nation, after all, has the money or the resources to easily finance America’s 700 billion dollar defense budget.  According to this argument, even the influence of emerging powers should be discounted.  While a nation like China may soon be able to obtain the needed resources and finance a similarly large budget, America doesn’t want a nation with undemocratic values having an increased say in world affairs.

However nice the ‘indispensible’ excuse sounds, it still fails to address key problems with American exceptionalism.  While Americans like to believe their country is needed to help run world affairs, there is already an organization that is supposed to do just that – the United Nations.  But instead of cooperating with other nations at this readily available world forum, the United States often chooses to ignore global initiatives in favor of its own policies.  The Boston Review explains “There is a long list of such self-exemptions [including] the refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty regulating the pollution of the environment [and] the refusal to strengthen the convention on biological weapons” (Zinn).  Even though the United States has the ability to partially relinquish its role as the world’s policeman, American leaders often steer the country away from international cooperation.  And while the U.S. cites certain abuses of human rights when explaining why it refuses to closely cooperate with emerging countries like China, the Boston Review also points out that America has a history of being hypocritical about its own human rights abuses. “The United States sends suspects—people who have not been tried or found guilty of anything—to prisons in Morocco, Egypt, Libya, and Uzbekistan, countries that the State Department itself says use torture” (Zinn).  The United States argues from an assumed moral high ground, but in reality has a questionable recent history of human rights as well.  So while many Americans believe that an exceptional United States is the best force for good on the world stage, the truth is a bit more muddled.  Instead of America being the only indispensible superpower, the U.S. is instead unfairly hesitant to share power with other nations.

United States policymakers have adopted the belief of American exceptionalism to support the United States unilaterally dictating international affairs, but this belief ultimately prevents collaboration and hurts the nation’s foreign policy.  By ignoring the opinions of other nations, the U.S. has strained relationships, and by being overconfident in its military, America has worked itself into prickly situations such as Afghanistan.  While some people are quick to call this exceptionalist thinking necessary for foreign affairs, that thought process is just another manifestation of America’s inflated ego.  Economist Jeff Faux explains in The Servant Economy that “only in the United States did a majority agree with the statement ‘Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others’.  Even the notoriously proud French were only half as convinced of their exceptional culture as Americans were” (16).  This ‘holier than thou’ attitude might be comforting, but it actually hurts America’s position in the world.  By refusing to work with other nations, the United States burns bridges that might be needed in the future.  Cooperation, not exceptionalism, is the key to a more successful foreign policy as well as increased global stability.

Faux, Jeff. The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite Is Sending the Middle Class. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012. Print.

May, Clifford D. “In Defense of American Exceptionalism.” National Review. National Review Online, 2 June 2011. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.

Zinn, Howard. “The Power and the Glory.” Boston Review. Boston Review, Summer 2005. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

Filed under International
Mar 20, 2013

Exceptionally Ridiculous – Part 2

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In a multi-part article, RantAWeek editor Tyler Miksanek explains why the doctrine of American exceptionalism ultimately hurts American foreign policy.  This is the 2nd installment – for Part 1 – click here.  To find Part 3 – click here.

In part 1, we left off with the idea that by following the doctrine of American exceptionalism in regard to our drone program, the United States ignores the potential for valuable relationships and makes enemies instead of friends.  But that’s not the only trouble American exceptionalism has gotten us into.

The unclear legality of drone strikes also makes America seem like an aggressor, placing U.S. foreign policy in an increasingly negative light.  International uproar over the use of drones, often leads to criticism that America attacks foreign nations indiscriminately.  Unfortunately, with improperly used force, the United States is making this criticism easy.  The Economist explains that “the vast majority [of drone victims] appear to have been militants, but some have been unlucky civilians” (“Unmanned”).  Because the drone program has occasionally killed civilians, America has aroused acrimony and discontent across the Middle East.  However, the acceptance of American exceptionalism means that U.S. leaders ignore this international outrage in favor of continuing American policies.  After all, widespread controversy has not stopped the Obama administration from expanding the drone program into other countries.  Even while receiving international backlash for using drones in Pakistan, Obama has allowed an exponential increase of drone strikes in Yemen.  Instead of cooperation, the doctrine of exceptionalism has led to America ignoring other nations.  This unilateral approach complicates foreign policy as former allies become estranged.  The more that other nations dislike the U.S., the more difficult it will become to manage diplomacy abroad.

The hostility the U.S. has created in Pakistan through its use of drones is dangerous because it mirrors the hostility created during America’s 1980s involvement in Afghanistan.  That intervention in Afghanistan paved the way for the Taliban to seize control of the nation and then encourage terrorism against the United States.  But considering that an American intervention led to the Taliban’s rise, it is a little ironic that America’s plan to oust the Taliban was another intervention.  However, twelve years into the Afghan war, this plan to oust the Taliban has not been successful.  According to the London Guardian, the Taliban is still strong enough to carry out brazen attacks against Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense – the very building that should be protecting Afghanistan from these sort of attacks (Graham).  Even when the U.S. is working under clear terms of international law, unlike the case with Pakistan, its attempts to intervene still appear to be failing.  The root of the problem lies once again with American exceptionalism, as these exceptionalist beliefs spur trust that the American military can defeat all of America’s foes.  This logic dictates that the U.S. military is powerful enough to win conflicts against militant networks like the Taliban, but the results of the twelve year Afghan War say otherwise.  Original optimism in the military’s ability dragged America into what soon became a mess in Afghanistan.  Against exceptionalist ideology, twelve years of commitment from the world’s most powerful military has done little to ensure stability.

America’s overconfidence did not stop with the decision to invade Afghanistan, as American troops were also overly optimistic in their ability to train Afghan security forces to better defend themselves against the Taliban.  Unfortunately, for all the American optimism involved, the program has by and large been a failure.  In regard to the supposedly trained Afghan troops, the New York Times explains “the crucial back end of the army — the logistics and supply teams that get bullets, fuel, food and water to where they need to be — is woefully unready, American and even some Afghan officers say” (Rosenberg).  One of the tenets of American exceptionalism is that countries in need should be taught to copy the American model of repairing their problems.  Following this viewpoint, the training program was designed to make the Afghan army more like America’s army.  However, as the current situation in Afghanistan clearly shows, the American model does not always work.  Afghanistan is in a time of need, but all the American assistance and training they have received has not led to a successful combat record against the Taliban.  American exceptionalism led to optimism that Afghan forces trained in American fighting techniques could keep the Taliban at bay, but years of unsuccessful efforts have proved this optimism wrong.

Graham-Harrison, Emma. “Taliban Suicide Bomber Attacks Afghan Ministry of Defence.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 09 Mar. 2013. Web. 14 Mar. 2013.

Rosenberg, Matthew. “U.S. Military Faces Fire as It Pulls Out of Afghanistan.” New York Times 16 Feb. 2013: A1. The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Feb. 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

“Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – Death From Afar.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper Limited, 3 Nov. 2012. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.

Filed under International
Mar 19, 2013

Exceptionally Ridiculous – Part 1

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In a multi-part article, RantAWeek editor Tyler Miksanek explains why the doctrine of American exceptionalism ultimately hurts American foreign policy.

America is in love with itself.  The crux of this national narcissism is written into the message of ‘America, the Beautiful’, a song which triumphantly proclaims “America! America! God shed His Grace on thee”.  While citizens of other nations also have national pride, Americans have taken their nationalism to a whole new level, even claiming divine intervention as being the source of the country’s prosperity.  However, the idea of American exceptionalism transcends domestic boundaries, and political journalist Glen Greenwald explains that “this nationalistic prerogative, is, far and away, the primary objective of America’s foreign policy community” (Greenwald).  Many of our nation’s leaders and policymakers use American exceptionalism as a rationale for intervention in world affairs, giving the United States the role of ‘world policeman’.  Unfortunately, many of the United States’ recent interventions, such as the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, demonstrate that the pursuit of American exceptionalism in world affairs might not be as beneficial to the nation as many Americans think.  The premise of American exceptionalism in regard to America’s place in the world is not only misguided, but also creates hostility that is ultimately detrimental to our foreign policy goals.

American exceptionalism has played a crucial role in American foreign policy, often creating a justification for American involvement overseas.  America views international order as a national duty, and as the Iraq invasion demonstrated, America has no qualms about intervening unilaterally.  In just the last decade, America has intervened not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in Haiti, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Libya.  However,  America does not simply become involved in the affairs of other nations.  It also stays involved, maintaining a presence long after the original conflict has subsided.  After all, the Korean War ended sixty years ago, but the U.S. still maintains a force of almost 30,000 troops in South Korea.  All this interventionism showcases the belief that American involvement is a crucial component of global security.  Ex-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed this view on Meet the Press when he explained, “We have the most powerful military force on the face of the Earth right now.  It is important in terms of providing stability and peace in the world” (“February”).  However, America’s exceptionally large military does not come cheap, meaning that America is only able to pursue interventionist policies by dramatically outspending other nations.

It is logical to assume that if America is spending an unparalleled amount of money on its military, then the military should successfully support the nation’s foreign policy goals.  However, the drone program in Pakistan, both expensive and controversial, shows that this assumption is not the reality.  The United States has carried out more than 300 drone strikes in Pakistan over the last ten years, but Pakistan remains firm in its belief that the U.S. lacks any right to carry out drone strikes within their borders.  Retaliating to what they consider American aggression, Pakistani leaders have called the U.S. drone program both a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and illegal.  But following exceptionalist ideology, President Obama has ignored these protests in favor of U.S. involvement, believing American counterterrorism interests should not be sacrificed to placate the Pakistani government.  The Economist points out that while Obama has tried to defend the legality of his drone programs, he has made sure to avoid the mention of “a principle that some lawyers regard as indispensible: the consent of the country where the attack is to take place” (“Unmanned”).  America’s blatant disregard for Pakistan’s opinion has caused anti-American sentiments in Pakistan, often sparking negative consequences for U.S. foreign policy.  In 2011, these strained tensions led the Pakistani government to close a vital supply route for American troops into Afghanistan.  Without this crucial route, America’s counterterrorism efforts in the Middle East were greatly hindered.  In order to more successfully combat terrorism, the United States should be developing strategic partnerships with countries like Pakistan where terrorism often occurs.  However, by following the doctrine of exceptionalism and refusing to cooperate, the United States ignores the potential for valuable relationships and makes enemies instead of friends.

Want to continue? – see part 2.

Greenwald, Glenn. “The Premises and Purposes of American Exceptionalism.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 18 Feb. 2013. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

“Meet the Press.” Meet the Press. NBC. 3 Feb. 2013. Nbcnews.com. National Broadcasting Corporation, 3 Feb. 2013. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. Transcript.

“Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – Death From Afar.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper Limited, 3 Nov. 2012. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.

Filed under International
Mar 14, 2013

Is the Economy Really On the Mend?

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average, a basket of stocks that is often used as a bellwether for economic health, broke 14,000 back in the fall of 2007.  Less than two years later, it had plummeted to less than half that value.  But recently, the Dow Jones proved to everyone that not only had it recovered from this serious stumble, but it was actually doing better than ever.  On March 5, the Dow Jones broke its previous record high from the fall of 2007, meaning that is actually worth more now than it was pre-recession.

Of course, just because a commonly cited indicator of the stock market is back to pre-recession levels does not mean the economy as a whole has recovered.  That being said, the Dow Jones was not the only good economic news as of late.  The other half of the story lies with the recent release of February’s unemployment statistics.  In February, payrolls increased by an unexpectedly high 236,000 jobs, sending the unemployment rate down to 7.7%.  All the economic signs are appearing rather rosy, and its not hard to assume that our economy might once again be clear of serious headwinds.

Unfortunately, unchecked optimism is just as risky now as ever.  While the economic headlines might paint a pretty picture of economic recovery, these headlines are still set against a backdrop of economic insecurity.  Take those unemployment headlines, which are quick to talk about the new jobs created but mostly skip over the fact that the labor force actually shrank by 130,000 jobs in February.  Clearly, not all the current economic numbers yield optimistic conclusions about the state of the economy.

Worse still, government leaders have gotten our economy into an even more shaky situation.  Budget cuts due to the sequester have yet to be stopped, and this sudden cutback in government spending could throw the economic recovery off balance.  If Congress wants to oversee a stable economic recovery, they should start off by passing sensible economic legislation.  The instability caused by the unresolved sequester, in addition to the lack of clear economic policy coming from Congress, means that government is far from ensuring economic stability in both the short and long term.

And even though we’ve made some gains in the fight against unemployment the last few months, we are still far from solving the unemployment problem.  While unemployment is down from a high of 10% back in 2010, it’s current 7.7% level is not even close to the 4-5% unemployment expected in a healthy economy.  Just because we’re recovering does not mean that we are recovered.

That being said, the current economic indicators are still showing a recovery, and while the recovery may not be as straightforward or as fast as we would like, some economic momentum is better than none at all.  A few years ago, we had almost nothing to be optimistic about economically.  And while the data is far from perfect now, we at least seem to be moving in the right direction as a whole.  While its not time to get out the party hats just yet, we may be able to put those doomsday signs back in storage.

Filed under Domestic, Economy
Mar 9, 2013

From Afghanistan to Africa, a Quick Pace for the Spread of Terrorism

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Whack-A-Mole is a classic arcade game that is played exactly like it sounds.  Moles pop up from several different holes on the playing surface, and it is your job to whack them back down.  But as soon as you whack one mole back into its hole, another mole pops up somewhere else.

There’s a defining characteristic of those darn moles: no matter how assiduous the attacker, they never give up, and a new one will always surface from a new hole.  Unfortunately, a scary truth lies in the fact that the Western world’s counter-terrorism policy for the last few decades has ended up like a poorly thought out game of Whack-A-Mole.  We first tried to whack the terrorists out of countries like Afghanistan, but after that mole was knocked down, pockets of Islamic extremism were simply able to move location.  For this reason, the Western world has witnessed the spread of Islamic extremism to new areas.  From Syria to Yemen to Mali, the moles keep on popping up.

There’s a common thread between the new nations these rebels have moved to – lack of political stability.  Syria and Yemen have both faced a loss of central authority in the wake of the Arab Spring, Mali has faced years of political turmoil and a weak central government.  But while Syria and Yemen still represent the spread of terrorism, no al-Qaeda influence in these nations has been quite as shocking as what we’ve seen in Mali.

In one of the most under-reported news events of last year, extremist rebels that were part of the al-Qaeda linked Islamic Maghreb group captured the northern half of Mali, declaring themselves an independent state.  While the presence of this group is nothing new in the region, the Islamic Maghreb previously could not lay claim to any territory.  The Malian government was unable to provide a successful counter to the rebels, and the rebels were able to expand and start imposing strict sharia law on the towns they captured.  Soon, rebels were able to approach the capital of Bamako, threatening millions.  Clearly, intervention was necessary.

An intervention came in the form of military assistance from the French, who have been working on driving out rebels from the northern half of the country.  But here is where the unfortunate Whack-A-Mole game continues.  Just as the French were battling rebels in Mali, there was a retaliation in Mali’s northern neighbor of Algeria.  Islamist militants in Algeria seized an oil field, capturing its Western workers and killing many.  Just targeting one area does not solve the problem of a widely dispersed extremist base.

These recent events in Mali and Algeria highlight the fast speed that extremist violence can travel at.  Unfortunately, most of our Western counter-terrorism policies function like a man-to-man defense.  We pick one extremist group in one area and try to destroy its influence.  But if al-Qaeda linked terrorist groups are as capable of moving this quickly in the future, we must exercise more caution in combating terror abroad.  Western interventions can no longer afford to treat individual terrorist cells like they are isolated. Worse, terrorism is also increasingly spread out, and no longer confined to specific countries or regions.  We must rethink our methods of fighting terror, and work to contain the spreading influence of Islamic extremism.  Just focusing on one group at a time is not enough, Westerners should instead look at the bigger picture.  Otherwise, we will just be whacking more moles without actually solving the issue.

Filed under International
Jan 20, 2013

The Increasing Insecurity of Higher Education

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America faces harsh economic times, and unfortunately a good education no longer ensures personal economic security.  In fact, the number of highly educated Americans who face economic hardships is staggeringly high.  Read through this infographic from OnlineColleges.net to learn more!

America’s PhDs on Food Stamps

This infographic is used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Filed under Miscellaneous
Jan 13, 2013

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