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Chaos in the Ukraine

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It has been a long month for the editors at RantAWeek, and free time to write posts has been hard to come by. But, there is currently a huge crisis developing in the Ukraine, so it is high time we wrote an article.

The general state of the crisis right now is this: after Russian-backed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was forced to resign as president and fled to Russia, the unidentified troops (which are likely Russian, and we will just call Russian) invaded the Ukrainian region of Crimea, taking over the semi-autonomous region. Okay, that is a lot, so let’s break it down.

Who is this Yanukovych guy?

Viktor Yanukovych rose to power by becoming involved in local politics and then became governor of an economic powerhouse of a state in 2000. He was appointed Prime Minister in 2002 and was elected to President in 2004. However, following those 2004 elections, huge protests broke out in the Ukraine, and, in what became known as the Orange Revolution, the elections were declared fraudulent and Viktor Yushchenko ended up winning the election. After serving another term as PM from 2006-07, he cleanly and clearly won the election in 2010. While his tenure as President was fraught with a few problems, such as the imprisonment of his political rival Yulia Tymoshenko, his Presidency was largely popular, mainly because of his attempts to garner closer ties with the EU.

So how did he fall from grace?

The issue of relations with the EU was exactly what made him fall from grace. In November 2013, days before he was supposed to sign a deal to increase economic relations with the EU, he rejected the deal, instead opting for a deal with Russia. This to public outcry and widespread protests. The Ukrainian people preferred the deal with the EU for two major reasons: first, they feared falling under the influence of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and second, the EU deal offered much greater, long-term economic gains. Because of this action, protests, which were bigger than the Orange Revolution protests, broke out across the nation, eventually becoming rather bloody, resulting in the deaths of 88 people. After increased pressure from the EU, Yanukovych agreed to pass power onto his Parliament and to hold elections early. However, soon after making this agreement, he fled Kiev (the capital of the Ukraine) to take refuge in Russia.

So how did this lead to Russia invading?

Because of the chaos that has ensued in the Ukraine since Yanukovych left the capital, Russia felt that Russians in the Ukraine (mainly in Crimea, more on that in a second) were in danger. Crimea became a hotspot because of its huge Russian population. Roughly 60% of the population of Crimea is made up of ethnic Russians. Russia has always felt a duty to defend those who claim Russian heritage in other countries, and has a tendency to flaunt its power to come to their defense. In this case, the actions Russia has taken are not unprecedented, but their scale is.

Where is the precedent?

In 2008, while many dumb Americans were fretting about Russians in Atlanta, Georgia, Russians were actually invading the Caucus nation of Georgia. In a region of Georgia, South Ossetia, a group of separatists took over and declared the region independent. The Georgian army invaded and Russia invaded retaliatory. The conflict ended days after when the EU brokered a cease-fire, and the region remains semi-autonomous and under supervision of both Russian and Georgian forces.

What makes Crimea different?

There are two key differences between South Ossetia and Crimea. First and foremost is the size of the two regions. Crimea has a population of just under 2 million, while South Ossetia has a population of just over 55 thousand. But, beyond the size of the two regions, there is also much more at play in Crimea on an international level. The reason for this is because of a document called the Budapest Memorandum, signed by the Ukraine, the US, the UK, and Russia. The Budapest Memorandum essentially states that in exchange for the Ukraine joining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the other countries would stay out of the Ukraine’s business. Russia, by taking any action in Crimea, is clearly in violation of this, and the Ukraine is using this agreement to condemn Russia’s actions. While this is unlikely to cause the US or the UK to take any military action, it will certainly cause both parties to take diplomatic action, and the US has already come out and condemned the actions.

The future of this is incredibly uncertain, but if any other major events occur that require analysis, we will try to keep up with it! However, because of our small team, we are unable to have constant breaking news, so for that, try the great liveblogs that are put together at The BBC, The Guardian, and Reuters.

Filed under International
Mar 2, 2014

Venezuela, After Chavez

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Hugo Chavez, the longtime leftist leader of Venezuela, died in March 2013 after a long battle with cancer.  Over his fourteen years of ruling Venezuela, Chavez worked to nationalize many of the nation’s industries, socializing the country while also building a cult of personality around himself.  While Chavez was able to pass on his socialist visions to his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, Maduro lacks the cult of personality that Chavez employed so successfully to garner support for his policies.

Maduro’s lack of a public mandate manifested itself early on after Chavez’s death.  Despite Chavez naming Maduro as the man to replace him, emergency elections held after Chavez’s death left Maduro with a thin 200,000 vote lead over center-right opponent Henrique Capriles.  More recent local elections confirmed that opposition to both Maduro’s party and policies remains strong.

There’s good reason for discontent with Maduro’s socialist policies.  Economic problems that first surfaced during the end of Chavez’s reign have only intensified during Maduro’s first few months in office.  The nation has faced shortages of staple goods like sugar, milk and toilet paper as price controls set by the central government have limited supply.  Inflation, a common woe for emerging Latin American economies, has skyrocketed to dangerous levels.  While developed economies are happy with a 2% inflation rate, Venezuela has been dealing with inflation rates upward of 50%, well above normal levels.  To add fuel to the fire, growth rates are slipping, threatening a possible recession.

Chavez could always rely on his cult of personality to help him power past economic difficulties and limit criticism.  Unfortunately for Maduro, the economy is even worse now than it was under Chavez, and he has no similar cult of personality he can use to deflect blame.  Whether or not Maduro can strong-arm the economy back to relative stability is likely to be the main decider of public opinion toward his leadership.

However, Maduro faces problems that go beyond the economy.  Violence within the country has also shown a marked increase during his first few months in office.  Venezuela had violence problems even when Chavez was in power.  Still, Venezuela’s history of violence did not stop a 14% rise in homicides in 2013 alone.  One murder in particular, that of former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear, has attached a face to the rising violence.  Spear had transformed herself into a popular television star since her days as a model, and her widespread fame in Venezuela makes her the most well-known example of the government’s failure to control the murder rate.  Maduro announced a plan to increase the police presence during his first days in office, and the failures of this plan to ameliorate the worsening problems with violence bodes poorly for his effectiveness in office.

Chavez was able to enforce a strict status quo on Venezuelan politics, but Maduro’s newcomer stance leaves him in a much weaker position.  Maduro has faced a rocky first few months of power, but it is his response to Venezuela’s growing woes that will define his presidency and determine the nation’s direction forward.  Hopefully, his 2014 will be better than his 2013.

Filed under International
Jan 19, 2014

Syrian Rebels: What the US Withdrawl of Aid Means

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When it comes to US foreign policy, generally we go one of two directions to exercise influence: huge gobs of money, or our huge military. However, due to our drawn-out engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, many Americans are increasingly weary of military use, and so we turn to our monetary influence. This past week in Syria, some Islamist rebels captured key rebel warehouses which acted as the foreign aid intake and processing facilities. So, in response to this instability, the US cut our monetary influence to the rebels, ending all nonlethal aid to the Syrian rebels. Without this aid, the rebels will be scrambling to take all necessary steps to get the aid back. With a civil war which has waged on for almost three years and has taken the lives of over 120,000 people, the cutting of this nonlethal aid could diminish any advantages the rebels have gained; after all, if they are unable to feed themselves, they will be unable to fight. So, in response to the cutting of aid, the rebels will naturally scramble to form a more moderate, all-inclusive and Western-backed coalition, meaning that the aid cutoff will have short term detrimental effects, in the long term it may expedite the end of the civil war.

To understand this point of view, it is important to first look at how weak the rebels are without the backing of the West. The obvious dependencies are on aid; rebels depend on the West for arms and basic necessities alike. The Syrian people as a whole also depend on the goodwill of the West to ensure that refugees in countries like Turkey can at least live (although certainly not comfortably). But beyond the obvious, the rebels are dependent on the West to represent them diplomatically. Understanding why will require a slight detour into an explanation of the actual makeup of the rebels.

When looking at other civil wars, they are certainly never clean wars; in civil war, determining loyalty is often a very messy process. However, the situation in Syria is considerably worse. The Syrian rebels are fighting from a diverse set of backgrounds, for a number of different goals. Sure, there are “rebel leaders” who the West officially recognizes to have control over some number of people, but many rebels are fighting in small packs with a single leader, but ultimately not looking for direction from some higher up. Throw in the presence of al-Qaeda, and the situation is increasingly messy. A large part of the reason the US has tried to keep its hands clean of the whole situation is simply that we have no idea who to help and who not to help. The entire rebel force is essentially leaderless, and even the “leaders” have very little sway among large swaths of the rebel forces. This not only creates a complicated situation, it also creates a weak force.

The culmination of this weak force was seen when Syrian President Bashir al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. The rebel forces, while they condemned this use of force, really could not do anything to stop it. It was not until the US an Russia brokered a deal to get the weapons out of Assad’s hands that the situation was able to be dealt with. Sure, everyone knew that Assad had violated international law, but without the rebel forces having organization, they were unable to truly do anything about it. This lack of organization has forced the rebels to be dependent on the West for basically everything.

So, with this dependence on the West, which is being weaned, and a lack of organization, where do the rebels go from here? Rather than let the infighting between Free Syrian Army (the group that had previously controlled the warehouses) and the Islamic Front (the group which gained control of the warehouses) continue, the rebels have to find a balance between the two. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is already Western-backed, but there was a fear for a long time that if they incorporate the Islamic Front (IF), they would lose Western backing because countries like the US generally are against Islamism. But, in an unprecedented move, the US recently announced that they would be open to the IF being folded into the FSA, striking a balance between moderate secularism and Islamism. The FSA would be wise to heed this advice. If the FSA and the IF can combine their efforts, then hopefully the West will be back on board with aid, and eventually the rebels will be successful in their endeavors to overthrow Assad. If the efforts are combined effectively, Syria may be able to become what has, up until this point, only existed as an oxymoron: a stable Middle Eastern democracy.

Filed under International
Dec 15, 2013

Nigeria: A Case Study in New Terror

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On September 29th, 2013, a group of Islamist militants in northeastern Nigeria stormed a college, killing 40 students. The group responsible for the attack was a group called Boko Haram (literally translates to “Western education is sinful”). Boko Haram was formed in 2001, and since 2010 has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks across Nigeria. Boko Haram is interesting, partially because of their impact in Nigeria, but mostly because the way Boko Haram operates, and the way they always have, is increasingly becoming the norm for terrorist organizations across the globe.

A key thing to understand about terrorist organizations is that while, at their core, they are built around some extreme ideology, this is not the main reason they get supporters. Terrorism is normally strong because it offers a better alternative. Pirates in Somalia’s al-Shabaab join because it offers an alternative to the low standard of living in Somalia. al-Shabaab creates jobs in Somalia, no one else does. Terrorism is risky business, but terrorist organizations attract supporters because they allow the member to support their family. In addition, terrorist organizations, however unfortunate this is, are often more meritocratic than governments in countries in which terrorism thrives. Governments are corrupt, but terrorits organizations rarely are. The same is true of Boko Haram. In a country plagued by political and police corruption, Boko Haram grew by attracting young, unemployed men to speak out against this very corruption. This means that dismal economic situations, corrupt politics and inconsistent law enforcement create perfect breeding grounds for terrorists. Increasingly, we are seeing the rise of terrorism in not just Nigeria, but in other countries  which meet these standards (Yemen, Mali, Syria). In essence, terrorists are beginning to find themselves striking fear into “weak” governments, trying to eventually gain some level of control. While this is nothing entirely new, the effects this has upon the terrorists actions is a key difference. Instead of focusing on bringing terror to developed countries, as was seen on 9/11, terrorists are seeing success in gaining power in these countries with “weak” governments, meaning that terrorists, including Boko Haram, are increasingly focusing on more regional targets.

One of the Nigerian government’s primary goals in the past decade has been fighting Boko Haram. They have poured lots of government and military resources into fighting Boko Haram. When going after terrorist organizations, the traditional technique is to go after the leaders, hoping that by destroying the leadership, the organization will become ineffective and eventually fall apart. This has not worked at all in Nigeria. Every few months, the Nigerian government will make an announcement saying that they killed some important leader in Boko Haram. Yet, despite making this announcement, no one really knows whether or not that person was an important leader. Boko Haram is a very unorganized group, with disparate groups of members, and posessing only a very loose idea of what they would actually like achieved. Increasingly, this is the trend in terrorism, as more organizations lack an organizational structure, just a bunch of people who have a loose idea of what to do. This makes increasingly hard to fight terrorist organizations, as our traditional method is thrown out the window.

With this new terror, it is, of course, imperative to find new ways to fight terrorism. The best way to fight new terror goes back to the idea of “weak” governments. Since we can no longer attack the structure of the organizations, we need to focus on cutting off the source from which terrorists grow their strength. In the case of Nigeria, the solution rests with President Goodluck Jonathan. While Goodluck Jonathan is fairly clean by Nigerian standards, the rest of his government is far from it. Jonathan is fairly passive, but he needs to pick up his act and become more aggressive in fighting corruption, both politically and in law enforcement. The other key that Jonathan needs to get down is the economy. Nigeria has immense potential for economic prosperity. With Africa’s largest population, and immense oil reserves, Nigeria could be a true economic powerhouse. But Nigeria lacks the infrastructure and education to take advantage of their potential, and with this dismal economy, terrorists prosper. Yet despite this, Jonathan has spent over a quarter of its annual budget this year just on fighting Boko Haram. Its money would likely be better spent on infrastructure and education, hitting at the root of Boko Haram better than continuing its failed military campaign. These two ideas can be applied in how governments worldwide approach terrorism. Rather than focusing so much on military offensives, commit fewer resources to military defensives, and use the rest of the resources to cut down on corruption and boost the economy, choking terrorists out of power, and thus fighting new terror.

Filed under International
Oct 8, 2013

The New Syrian Plan

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The last couple months have seen a whirlwind of news stories concerning Syria, the Middle Eastern nation in the midst of a bloody civil war that has already killed over 100,000 according to U.N. estimates.  The impetus for this increased importance was the United States accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of deploying chemical weapons against civilians, an abominable war crime.  The United States, along with a cohort of other Western nations, seemed ready to launch a military strike against Assad.  However, international support started to dry up when the British Parliament refused to approve British military involvement and Russia, a supporter of Assad and a critic of Western involvement in the Middle East, started to increase its rhetoric against international action.

Even with dwindling international support, President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve a military strike.  But when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said offhand that the only way the Obama administration would reconsider its position was if Assad handed over his supply of chemical weapons, Russia sensed an opportunity.  Still against any Western intervention, Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a deal where Assad would give up his supply of chemical weapons in exchange for the U.S. to agree to withhold the use of military force.  Suddenly, possible violence turned into diplomacy, and it appears that all sides so far are happy with the arrangement.

But the real question remains to be answered, what does this mean going forward?  For the United States, the fact that Russia was able to engineer a diplomatic solution and prevent a likely American military strike is a little bit of an embarrassment.  Conversely, Russia gets to walk away from the deal knowing it was able to successfully assert its foreign policy, making it seem stronger on the international stage.  But while the Syrian plan was an interesting show of Russia’s power and perhaps a small diplomatic retreat by the United States, this one data point hardly provides convincing evidence that America’s power on the world stage is diminishing.  A more simple explanation is that America, having learned its lessons from its unilateral intervention in Iraq, is more willing to accept diplomacy in 2013 than it was a decade ago.  And even if American exceptionalism is on its way out, the original goal of military intervention in Syria was to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again, and this compromise with Russia aims to do that without violence.  America’s actions can be construed as weak, but they can also be interpreted as using better means to reach the same end.

It is important to point out that the ‘better means to reach the same end’ hypothesis depends on Assad actually giving up all of his chemical weapons.  The only time crunch Assad faces right now is to submit an inventory of his weapons; they don’t have to be handed over until the middle of next year.  Of course, the agreement does allow the UN Security Council to vote on military action against Syria if Assad fails to fully comply.  But questions are still present even with this stipulation in place.  What happens if Assad only appears to relinquish all his weapons but actually keeps some hidden? What happens if the U.S. tries to bring up a later vote in the Security Council that is vetoed by Russia?

Clearly, the civil war in Syria, and the international diplomatic conundrum it presents, are far from being solved.  However, the move to rid Assad of chemical weapons without resorting to violence is a victory for diplomats around the world.  America was wise to accept what may be perceived as weakness now for what is hopefully a better international environment in the future.

Filed under International
Sep 15, 2013

Egypt’s Transition: International Perspectives

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Halfway through the summer, it looked as if Egyptian democracy was turning towards failure. At that point in time, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) had recently removed former president Morsi from office, and instated interim president Adlay Mansour. Since then, the situation has only worsened. After several weeks on being in power, a combined effort of the police and military stormed a mosque and a university where supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s party, were camped. The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, remains adamant about getting Morsi reinstated and refuses to compromise.

The situation in Egypt is a mess, however, the international approach to the situation is rather interesting. Having a foothold in Egypt is essentially a current balance of power battle. On one side, the United States and some Western allies (though many Western countries remain indifferent) are still used to having a foothold in the country. During the Mubarak days, the United States had a very close relationship with the Mubarak regime. And while Mubarak is gone, the relationship has largely persisted because of one entity: the military. The US gives Egypt billions of dollars in aid, but much if this aid is meant for the military of Egypt. Additionally, this miltiary aid is given with the stipulation that any arms aquired must be bought from the United States. And when it comes to training the Egyptian military to use these arms, the best people to train are of course the United States military. The US and Egyptian militaries have very strong ties, which have led to very strong ties and persistent ties between the US and Egypt.

On the otherside in the battle for a foothold in Egypt, are regional players, such as Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Since the coup in Egypt, all three of these countries, and others, have stepped up their aid in Egypt, trying to ensure that whatever happens after SCAF creates a real government, they have close ties with Egypt. Yet while these nations understand the importance of Egypt, the US often seems indifferent about Egypt and is losing sight of this importance.

In the end, the struggle to get a strong foothold in Egypt, and influence their future direction will continue. However, the United States should realize that Egypt could help promote important foreign policy goals. Not only is Egypt is a strategic location for military deployments, but improved relations could potentially establish Egypt as a permanent broker for the United States in the region. Additionally, if the United States plays it right, they could use their partnership with the military to help smooth over the transition for Egypt to true democracy. Recently, the United States has approached Egypt pretty apathetically, however policymakers need to realize the foothold that the US has, the advantages of strengthening it, and the potential detriment if it continues its apathetic approach.

Filed under International
Sep 8, 2013

Chemical Weapons in Syria – A Potential Turning Point

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Believe it or not, the bloody conflict now known as the Syrian Civil War started out in 2011 with a glimmer of hope.  It was originally viewed as an expansion of the Arab Spring protests and had the laudable goal of wresting power from autocratic Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Unfortunately, Assad’s government responded with violence, refusing to acquiesce to the demands of the rebels, and rebel groups have been fighting government-led forces ever since.  The resulting violence has led to a estimated death toll of over 100,000.  Even in the face of this devastating statistic, world leaders have still been hesitant to support the rebels, largely due to the influence of al-Qaeda among certain rebel factions.  While the rebels have received some assistance over the course of the two year conflict, it has been extremely limited.

Although Assad has been able to count on minimal interference from Western nations in Syria’s conflict in the past, the situation is changing rapidly, and he may have pushed his luck too far.  Evidence has been stacking up that Assad’s government not only has been using chemical weapons, but also that these weapons have been used against innocent civilians.  These actions are grievous violations of international law.  With these new revelations about Assad’s likely war crimes, rhetoric against Assad’s government has been increasing.  President Obama has previously stated that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line and trigger foreign intervention.  It is unclear exactly what that foreign intervention will be, although the fear of becoming entangled in yet another drawn out conflict in the Middle East will likely pressure the U.S. to favor strategies like missile strikes over more direct military combat.

This backlash against Assad’s regime goes beyond the borders of the U.S., and international support seems to be lining up for military intervention.  One country, however, is withholding support for any intervention.  Russia, which has been vociferously arguing for Western powers to stay away from the Syrian conflict over the past two years, still has yet to change its position.  Increased tensions with Russia will have to be a risk factored into any intervention plan in Syria, but it does appear that the vast majority of Western nations, including the permanent U.N. Security Council members France, the U.K. and the U.S., are advocates of some form of intervention.

Even if a limited missile strike is the ultimate intervention these allies (among other nations) decide on, extreme caution still needs to be exercised.  Assad’s government may be committing grievous atrocities, but that doesn’t mean the rebels are saints.  Western nations are sure to fear creating a power vacuum that could allow al-Qaeda affiliated groups to seize more power in the midst of the destruction the war has caused.  Syria is currently a breeding ground for terrorism and, as we all now know, also has chemical weapons.  These weapons are bad enough in the hands of Assad, but they could be even worse in the hands of extremists.

Syria is an extremely delicate situation, but many world leaders have finally decided a line has been crossed that calls for intervention.  Let’s all hope that whatever intervention actually occurs is a success.  Thousands of lives, and stability in an increasingly unstable Middle East, depend on it.

Update: World leaders have avoided a direct military strike on Syria in favor of a deal that allows chemical weapons to be confiscated and taken out of Assad’s control.  Follow this link for more information.

Filed under International
Aug 27, 2013

Bo Xilai’s Trial: Opened Windows Into China

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In the United States, we tend to think that party politics run the government. While a bit true, the real masterminds behind the parties (RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz) are often behind the scenes. And with names like those, it is no surprise they stay veiled. Yet in China, party politics truly do run everything as the Communist Party and the Chinese government are not two separate entities. Between the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, China experienced its rare transition of power, as the President changed from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping and the Premier changed from Wen Jiabao to Li Keqiang. In addition, seven of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the key decision-making entity in the Chinese Communist Party were replaced. This staged transition, which only occurs once every decade, was undermined by a scandal that rocked the party.

The scandal began in November 2011, when Neil Heywood, a British expatriate was found dead in his hotel room. In February 2012, Wang Lijun, a former police chief in the region where Heywood was found dead came forward, claiming that Heywood was murdered. After further investigation, the murder was pinned on Bo Gu Kailai, wife of rising Communist Party start Bo Xilai. Soon after, for unrelated reasons (which will be discussed later), Bo was sacked from one after another of his political posts until he was finally kicked out of the Communist Party altogether. Now, Bo is awaiting a trial for corruption, embezzlement and abuse of power. The trial has been scheduled for Thursday, and is really largely a ceremonious event. In reality, the shear indictment of Bo means that he will be convicted as the Communist Party leaders have likely already made up their mind about the case. Bo’s case will likely simply join the other 98% of trials which turn into convictions in China. However, while speculating about the trial is pointless, and thus cannot be made sport, like it often is with US trials, the implications of the trial are important to understand. From our liberal, Western perspective, the trial seems to represent one step forward and one step backward.

First, the step backward. The trial reveals to the world just how tightly controlled everything is in China by the Party. Technically, China has an independent judiciary, but in reality, the judiciary is simply an extension of the Party. The likely conviction demonstrates the breadth of political repression in China. The sacking of Bo demonstrates the lack of room for dissenters within the Party. The list goes on. But in all, Bo’s case truly represents the human rights side of China has continued to remain the same, and has barely liberalized at all.

Yet if you cannot change the system, it is a step forward to see the new policies the system seems to be adopting. In order to understand why Bo was sacked, it is imperative to understand his views and his past. The single most influential factor on Bo is his father- Bo Yibo- a key figure in Chinese politics throughout the 80s and 90s, referred to as one of the Eight Elders who greatly shaped modern-day China. This meant that Bo Xilai’s rise to power was largely due to his association with his father, and his status as a “princeling” of Chinese politics. However, with this, Bo Xilai felt a level of commitment to old traditions, and for this reason was a strong supporter of Maoism and “red culture.” However these extreme Maoist views are largely outdated, and the modern-day Communist Party has moved passed these. President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and previous Premier Wen Jiabao are all liberal reformers within the Party. Their views of primarily economic liberalization (not to the point of capitalism, but to at least allow further economic growth) have become dominant within the party, so naturally when Bo actively opposed these views, he was sacked. While the reason for his sacking, as previously discussed, represents a kind of human rights stagnation, the Party’s incentive is demonstrative of something that the citizens of China and the West can look fondly upon. Even though China continues to work within the same repressive system as always, at least their economy is beginning to open up and liberalize. The hope is that eventually, a liberal economy naturally brings a liberal political system.

In the end, Bo’ s case is nothing too extraordinary, however, the attention it has received allows it to act as a rare window into the devices at play in China. This case allows us to realize that while China continues to remain as oppressive as ever, and thus has stagnated in this arena, by economic liberalization becoming a prominent policy in China, there is hope that China will continue to make progress economically and this could lead to further cultural and social progress in the future. The fate of Bo has been sealed, but the fate of the Chinese system has not.

Filed under International
Aug 20, 2013

A Disputed Election in Zimbabwe… Again

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Zimbabwe's hyperinflation in 2008 forced the nation to print a 100 trillion dollar denomination of its currency.  While Zimbabwe's currency has since been abandoned, the country has hardly improved.

Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation in 2008 forced the nation to print a 100 trillion dollar denomination of its currency. While Zimbabwe’s currency has since been abandoned, the country has hardly improved.

Zimbabwe has had a rough recent history.  Back in 2008, hyperinflation ruined the country’s monetary system, devastating the economy and leaving a poor country even worse off than it was before.  Unfortunately, little has improved in the years since.  The country has ditched its flawed currency and now uses the U.S. dollar, among other currencies, as de facto modes of trade.  But while this has largely solved Zimbabwe’s inflationary woes, the country has plenty of additional problems that are hindering its progress.

Foremost among these roadblocks to Zimbabwe’s general welfare is an ongoing scuffle over the nation’s presidency.  A strongman who has ruled the country since 1987, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe found himself in danger of losing the 2008 elections to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.  However, a skewed first round result and violence against his supporters leading up to the runoff cheated Tsvangirai out of the presidency and forced him to end his candidacy.  But another twist of fate occurred when Mugabe, facing increased scrutiny from his neighbors over the contested election and rampant hyperinflation, was coerced into accepting a power sharing agreement with Tsvangirai.

In fairness, the power sharing agreement actually allowed for a relative period of calm in Zimbabwe’s politics, even though it was far short from helping spur democratic change.  Mugabe kept his role as president, but Tsvangirai was placed as the nation’s prime minister.  Zimbabwe’s politics were far from ideal, but at least there was stability and some semblance of legitimacy.

But power-hungry Mugabe was apparently not satiated by the agreement and being in the uncomfortable position of having his political rival as Prime Minister.  In a surprise move earlier this year, he called for a new round of presidential elections with a rushed election date that would not give his opponents, including Tsvangirai, much time to prepare.  With a rushed date and voter rolls skewed in his favor, its no surprise that Mugabe re-won the presidency.  Tsvangirai’s party is unlikely to continue working with Mugabe, meaning what little success the power sharing agreement brought is probably over.

A rigged election in a nation like Zimbabwe is hardly an unexpected occurrence.  However, the surprising side of the story is that, while the election was clearly unfair, entities including South Africa and the African Union appeared to accept the results with some degree of legitimacy.  This represents the first step to what could be a dangerous trend, as even a begrudgingly condoning attitude towards Mugabe’s power grabbing demonstrates that two of the African continent’s most important institutions – the regional power of South Africa and the international community of the A.U. – are unwilling to tackle some of the continent’s most blatant abuses of authority.  If Africa wants to move forward to a better, more democratic future, it needs to be willing to at least recognize its own problems.

The A.U.’s blind eye is one thing.  While the African Union has accomplished a lot of good for the continent, some leaders of its member nations have the same power-grabbing, election-rigging biographies as Mugabe.  Criticizing Mugabe would not only be hypocritical but also against their own interests.  However, the rest of the international community, including regional powers and functioning democracies like South Africa, need to step up their pressure on unfair elections like Zimbabwe’s.  International pressure has previously persuaded Mugabe to back off, even if it was just a little, from his tyranny.  And no matter what, if international pressure can’t help Zimbabwe’s politics, it sure can’t make them much worse.

 

Filed under International
Aug 9, 2013

Palestinian Disunity: Major Roadblocks

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Politics in Palestine can get a bit tricky. Start with the fact that they are not globally recognized as a soviergn state and pile on their disunity of political powers, and you are left with one of the trickiest political situations around. The basic thing to understand about Palestine is that there are three very different regions, with three very different political climates. The Gaza Strip is the region that has the least freedom, and in turn an extremist group Hamas has come to power. In the Golan Heights, which is more Syrian and Lebanese than Palestinian, the primary power is Hezbollah which is the radical Islamist militia from Lebanon. In the West Bank, the power is the Palestinian Authority, lead by the party Fatah. The PA is the entity which the international community recognizes, and the entity recognized by the United Nations as a observer state. Hezbollah basically stays out of Palestinian affairs as they would rather be a part of Syria or Lebanon (like the Golan Heights was prior to 1967) than a separate Palestinian state. Meanwhile, the PA are trying to make ammends to present a unified front for Palestine. However, along the way, the PA is running into many roadblocks in the process of trying to create a sense of unity.

The first roadblock along the way is that Hamas is having trouble to unify the Gazan people in the first place. If the PA wants to have any hope of creating unity, they would have no way of getting most Gazan people as a whole on their side; instead, the PA needs to try to get Hamas as a whole on the side of the PA. But of course, this is a problem if Hamas does not have the support of the Gazan people. Earlier this year, there was a volley of rocketfire between the Gaza Strip (led by Hamas) and Israel. They signed a ceasefire to stop it, but recently, it appeared as if the ceasefire was at risk of collapse. An independent militant who had no association with Hamas fired a rocket from the Gaza Strip to Israel. This meant that Hamas, which was previously thought to be the unifying force in the Gaza Strip, has not actually unifed the Gaza Strip, and if Hamas cannot unify the Gaza Strip, then even if the PA can get Hamas on their side, the PA has no hope of unifying disparate groups in Palestine.

The other major roadblock that the PA is facing is the fact that Hamas sets back peace talks. Israel only recognizes Hamas as a terrorist group, not as any sort of political power, thus Israel has remained adamant about not having Hamas present at any peace negotiations. This past Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Israel ad Palestine has both agreed to sit down at the negotiating table once again. While this is a huge step forward, as the PA prepares to come to peace talks, they will struggle with this issue of how to deal with Hamas. If Hamas is present, no doubt Israel will be less likely to give into any demands and thus Hamas will have no reason to unite since peace talks will fall through; but if Hamas is not, the PA will be unable to garner true popularity for the peace talks, once again meaning Hamas and the PA are disunited. Meaning that as of right now, the PA is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Since Hamas refuses to support anything for which they are not present, the PA will struggle to unite Hamas and the PA because it leaves the PA will essentially no way to unite Palestine.

Going forward, the continuing struggle to create a single front for Palestine is a major roadblock towards any progress in peace negotiations. In order for Palestine to unite its disparate groups, they must first control their own people, and ensure that there are two major powers with full support before moving forward.  The most logical way for the PA to treat the peace talks are to simply sit down themselves and either hope that they can convince Israel to allow Hamas to sit down as well or convince Hamas to support their actions at the peace talks. Either way, the PA has a very long road ahead of them on uniting Palestinian groups.

 

Filed under International
Jul 24, 2013

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