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The Snowden Question

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Edward Snowden, the man behind the NSA leaks, has found himself in quite a precarious position.  Holed up inside a Moscow Airport and lacking a valid passport to travel anywhere else, Snowden is desperately hoping to obtain political asylum, but has yet to receive a viable way out of his fix.

Why is Snowden having so much trouble?  The answer lies in the fact that Snowden is not the only one in a difficult situation at present.  Many world leaders face a multifaceted array of diplomatic pressures they must consider before deciding whether or not Snowden can take refuge in their country.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where Snowden flew to after leaving Hong Kong several weeks ago, might be in the most interesting position.  Putin has taken an apparently neutral stance on Snowden’s presence in his country, not cooperating with American requests to hand him over but also refusing to grant Snowden the freedom to leave the airport.  In doing so, he has taken a middle ground, annoying American officials by refusing to extradite Snowden back to the United States but not infuriating the U.S. by allowing Snowden freedom to leave the airport and find refuge in Russia.

Putin’s choice is emblematic of a larger diplomatic schism between Russia and the U.S.  Neither country wants to alienate the other due to needed cooperation in the United Nations Security Council (where both nations have veto power) as well as on issues like nuclear arms reductions.  However, relations between the two nations have a long history of tension, as Russia and the U.S. often have opposing foreign policy goals, a phenomeon currently seen in their differing attitudes towards the Syrian Civil War.  So Putin’s plan, at present, is to avoid appearing inferior to the U.S. by complying to American demands and handing over Snowden, but also to refrain from dramatically increasing tensions with an offer for asylum.

However, the Latin American countries of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have gone one step further than Russia and actually offered Snowden asylum.  Since Snowden currently has no means of safely travelling to any of countries, he has not been able to capitalize on their offers.  Still, the fact that these countries have even offered asylum in the first place shows that Latin America, which used to be heavily swayed by American interests, is beginning to have confidence to act in opposition to American policies.

Of course, Snowden still faces giant hurdles in actually making it to one of these countries, and the U.S. is likely to continue its attempts to apprehend him.  But while Snowden’s fate is up in the air, the diplomatic manifestations of his actions are already beginning to affect international relations.  Russia is once again playing the middle ground in its testy relations with the U.S. while many Latin American countries are continuing their recent trend of asserting their own policies over those of the U.S.  But until Snowden’s odyssey is complete, no matter where it ends up, the relations between involved countries are likely to be just as interesting as Snowden’s predicament itself.

 

 

Filed under International
Jul 13, 2013

Land of the Pharaohs, But Not of Democracy

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The Great Pyramids at Giza still stand as testaments to Ancient Egypt’s role as a foundation for civilization. However, the foundation for democracy in modern Egypt appears unstable.
Picture Source: CIA World Factbook

Ever since the autocratic Hosni Mubarak was forced out of the presidency in 2011, political instability in Egypt has been as predictable as the annual flooding of the Nile River.  Mubarak’s ouster led to a period of military rule, and promises of a quick transition to democracy faded as the military clung to power for more than a year.  But then, in what appeared to be a sign of progress, Egypt successfully conducted it’s first democratic presidential elections in 2012, choosing Muhammed Morsi to be the country’s new leader.

Unfortunately, a successful election does not guarantee a successful presidency, and Morsi faced an uphill battle from the start.  Even after Morsi took office, the Egyptian army attempted to maintain control of the country, going as far as demanding that the newly elected Parliament be disbanded.  Morsi’s first few months were essentially a power struggle against army leaders, but since still Egypt lacked a Constitution, he had little legal legitimacy in his actions to wrest control from the army.

Morsi’s government managed to create a new Constitution, but many in Egypt were angered by his attempts to include Islamic law into the Egyptian legal code.  Morsi originally ran as a candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist group, but his polarizing choices as president (often involving religious issues) began to hurt his popularity and led to fears that he would be no better than Mubarak.  Having only won 52% of the vote when he was originally elected, Morsi began to see a swift decline in his popularity after taking office.  Persistently high levels of both unemployment and inflation also hurt his public perception.

Simply put, Morsi’s first year in office was far from the return to normalcy and stability many Egyptians had hoped for, and the first anniversary of his inauguration sparked renewed protests in the streets.  These protests quickly became violent, prompting the still-powerful army to give Morsi an ultimatum.  Either Morsi would give some concessions to his opponents or the army would force him from office.  The result of this ultimatum has been front page news – Morsi refused to give in, and the army followed through on its threat, reclaiming political power for itself.

This means that, for now, the future of Egyptian democracy is in the hands of army generals.  Considering their reluctance to cede any authority the last time they were in power, Egypt may be wise to expect a long period before any elections are held.  However, the army justified their most recent takeover as being in the interests of the populace, who were increasingly against Morsi’s policies.  If the army feels they are now working as an agent of the people, they might be more inclined to promote a democratic transition than they were back in 2011 and 2012, when they appeared reluctant to hand over power.

Of course, given the army’s record, optimism about their willingness to promote democracy should be kept to a minimum.  And even if the army is willing to hold elections and cede authority to the victor, Egypt still faces polarizing political divisions that it must come to terms with.  Mubarak’s old autocratic government would often simply ignore dissenting opinions, but if Egypt wants to be a democracy, it must find a way to bridge the gap between supporters of secularism and Islamism as well as determine how powerful the nation’s executive should be.  Morsi’s actions in regard to both of these issues led to the public discontent that eventually forced him from office, and any new chief executive would be wise to learn from Morsi’s mistakes.

Muhammed Morsi was a controversial and divisive figure in Egypt.  But by ending his rule, Egypt’s army has created fertile ground for more controversy and division before Egypt can finally have a chance to reach the stability it has so desperately been seeking.

 

For another article that explains the underlying problems Arab Spring revolutions have faced, read “The Revolution Paradox“, which applies historical examples to modern revolutions.

Filed under International
Jul 5, 2013

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

Protests in Turkey: Erdogan Running Out of Time

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Turkey has long been upheld as the bastion of things actually working in the Middle East. The country has managed to strike out a balance of secularism and Islamism. They have a secular government that is influenced by Islamist ideas, without being fully controlled by them. For this reason, much of the Western world has looked towards Turkey to act as a vital link with the Middle East. Sure, the Western world still has minor problems with Turkey’s insistence that it did not commit genocide against the Armenians, and there is bad blood that still exists between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus, but overall, Turkey is generally liked by the Western world. Not liked to the point where the EU is actually willing to admit Turkey into it, but liked enough that they at least deal with Turkey fairly regularly. The US is one of the exceptions, largely because of the clashes between Turkey and Israel. Point is, until recently, Turkey seemed to be stable and a perfect blend of Western and Middle Eastern governance. However, that may  now be changing.

Last week, a group of around 50 protesters peacefully assembled in Istanbul’s Gezi Park to protest the destruction of the park. The destruction was stopped, but only temporarily. A short time after, while the protesters remained, destruction continued, and police used tear gas against the protesters who still did not resist. Admittedly, this was not just any park, it was one of the city’s few remaining public parks, and also a place where many homeless people regularly found shelter in the park. After another few days of protests, police started to increase the methods, including more tear gas, water cannons, and plastic bullets. At this point, protests started to skyrocket. Thousands began to gather in Taksim Square, next to the park, protesting. Protests even began to spread throughout the country, resulting in many protests and The impetus for the protests was largely police brutality, but the protests have turned into something more. It is hard to find a unifying thread between the protesters. They have different religious views, different political ideologies, different party identifications. The key is a sense of grievance towards the Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan.

The biggest problem that many Turks have with Erdogan is his overbearing nature. While far from a Mubarak/Qaddafi/Ben Ali-type dictator, Erdogan has been shifting towards a more authoritarian style of rule as of late, and this has been very disconcerting to many Turks, and after the police brutality, they were finally given an opportunity to express their gripes. Officially, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party is secular, though often mischaracterized as Islamist. As such, many Turks have supported the party for its relatively moderate stances in Turkey. However, Erdogan lives up to the misconception of the party, and has begun to push many more Islamist-influenced policies, including alcohol restrictions. Others are also enraged over the Syrian situation, where Erdogan has continually supported the rebels, and has taken in countless refugees from Syria. In the end, the protests demonstrate one thing: Erdogan’s time may be numbered. While the protesters do not seem to particularly support one alternative or another, the anti-Erdogan rhetoric is strong enough that even if protests die down, it is unlikely he will be successful if he tries to run for president next year.

Another interesting aspect of the protests are that they seem to cause a seemingly inconsistent party line. On the one hand, Abdullah Gul, current President of Turkey, Erdogan’s predecessor and also a member of the Justice and Development Party, has actually praised the protesters. Gul believes that protesters are simply expressing their democratic rights and supports them for that. While some of this may be partially inspired by the probably show-down between Gul and Erdogan in next year’s presidential election, it also indicates a sort of inconsistency in policy aims between the two leaders. Additionally, Bulent Arinc, Erdogan’s deputy, apologized on behalf of Erdogan for the police brutality, however many doubt whether or not he was actually speaking on behalf of Erdogan or simply himself. Erdogan, on the other hand, is currently in Morocco and has remained silent on the issue, but for obvious reasons opposes the protests.

The protests demonstrate not only a decreasing amount of unity within the government and the party, but also demonstrate a sharp decline in Erdogan’s popularity. Erdogan’s time in power seems very limited, however what happens after he leaves seems up in the air. Clearly, a more secular-influenced government is needed, but as for Turkey’s relations with Syria and the West, nothing is clear. But for now, it is time to ready our goodbyes to Mr. Erdogan.

Filed under International
Jun 4, 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

Venezuelan Presidential Elections: Maduro’s No Chavez

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Last September, one of the last of the remaining wildly eccentric world leader category, Hugo Chavez was reelected his post as President of Venezuela, continuing his 13 year reign. Unfortunately, after a long struggle with pelvic cancer, we lost a true favorite here at RantAWeek (for his eccentricities, not his policies). His then vice-president, Nicolas Maduro was the heir apparent, and when Chavez died became interim president. But under Venezuelan law, a special election for president must be held, and this past Sunday, the election was held. Nicolas Maduro faced off against Chavez’ previous opponent, Henrique Capriles. Capriles, after having a comparatively successful time at opposing Chavez, handily won the bid for the primary opposition coalition, led by the Justice First party. The race ended up being incredibly tight with Maduro just barely squeaking by, garnering only 50.8% of the vote. Capriles meanwhile garnered over 49% of the vote. Compared to the consistently strong turnout for Chavez, which never dipped below 55%, Maduro had a relatively poor showing.

Maduro, Chavez, and the Socialist Party have long represented the ideals of the Bolivarian Revolution, primarily equality, a largely nationalized corporate sector and a large redistributive state. Their success has resulted primarily from economics; both the economic growth brought about by nationalizing the energy sector and the extensive welfare system which benefits most people have contributed to the parties continued popularity. However, even though Chavez still garnered 55% in his previous election, this was relatively low for his party and represents a movement away from the socialist party. The primary problem faced is slowed economic growth. While nationalization of the energy sector lead to a long economic boom, the economy is going to soon be limited by the nationalization. Additionally, with the decline of Chavez as a public figure because of his illness, and now his death, the party has been unable to truly continue “Chavismo.” Put simply, “Chavismo” is a combination of the policies employed by Chavez and the cult of personality that resulted from his charismatic appearance. Maduro lacks even a considerable fraction of Chavez’ personality, and without it, the policies may also fall by the way side. Ultimately, this leaves Maduro and his socialist party out of luck.

As for Capriles, to say the least, he is not pleased with the election results. Already he has called for a recount and investigations into fraud, both of which have been denied. Carpiles simply refuses to give up, and as a result, many of his supporters have started to turn to rioting and violence. Carpiles has even gotten the support of the US government behind him. The State Department has already issued a statement calling for the Venezuelan government to recount and verify the legitimacy of the votes. This is not much of a surprise given that Chavez and the US actively hated each other, and Maduro is an attempt to reincarnate Chavez. Additionally, since Chavez has come to power, the US has called for a recount almost every single time, even though many outside sources claim Venezuelan elections are less fraudulent than American elections. Even though Capriles may not have much of a legitimate case for fraud, and certainly a recount seems unlikely, the unrest that this will instill in the Venezuelan people will likely work to his advantage the next time around, and in subsequent parliamentary elections.

Maduro is currently in an incredibly weakened state. What he needs to do now if he wants to truly prove himself a leader is reform. He needs to prove that even if he lacks to charisma of Chavez, he can take Venezuela in a new direction. This must be all-encompassing. Maduro must ensure continued economic prosperity, continue to provide for the poor, while still balancing incentives for the rich. His economic policy should be the focus, but he must also work on foreign policy. Currently, Venezuela is shut off to the largest oil markets in the world due to Chavez’ previous anti-American rhetoric. If Maduro can prove to the world that he is more tempered than Chavez and that he does not actively hate the US and much of the rest of the west, his relations with these countries can improve vastly; after all, they can only go up. This last election proves that the voters of Venezuela are not fooled; they know Maduro is no Chavez. Now Maduro needs to use this to his advantage and prove that even if he cannot be Chavez, he can be something better.

Filed under International
Apr 15, 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

Myanmar’s Required Shift: Ethnic Violence’s Destabilizing Effects

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For the past two years, under the leadership of Thein Sein, Myanmar has been trudging towards democracy, yet for all of the benefits of Myanmar’s quasi-democracy, there are some unintended consequences, most notably sectarian violence. There are two major ethnic groups in Myanmar: the Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims. The Rohingya are a suppressed minority and the two groups have had many bloody clashes, primarily where many Rohingya live in the Rakhine province in the west. You see, the Buddhists in Myanmar have a strange mindset about the Rohingya; the Buddhists still resent the Rohingya, many of whom arrived with British colonialists. Now however, the Rohingya have become just as Burmese as the Buddhists. When faced with this issue, most of the time the government, including dissident-turned-politician Aung San Suu Kyi, have remained silent on this issue. Occasionally they speak out in favor of the Buddhists, but never do they speak to the horrors of the violence. As if the violence were not bad enough in the Rakhine province, the violence is beginning to spread to the rest of Myanmar, recently sweeping through the cities of Mandalay, Meiktila, Okpho and Gyonbingauk. These cities are gradually getting closer to two key cities, Yangon, the former capital and business hub, and Naypyidaw, the current capital. Authorities in both of these cities are keeping a very careful watch to ensure that tensions do not rise too high to create a spark. The violence also epitomizes hypocrisy as Buddhist monks, normally the heralds of peace, look on and support the violence. The bloodshed in Myanmar is a tragedy, but it also reveals underlying issues with the governance of Myanmar.

Until 2011, when Thein Sein began his democratic reform movement, the military junta oppressed the rights of all people. When they first came into power, they shipped many Rohingya back to India, but after that left them alone. Because of the iron grip of the military, the Buddhists were too afraid to riot or incite violence against the Rohingya, so they simply lived alongside them. Yet once reform was initiated in Myanmar, the military’s power started to weaken. Eventually it got to a point where the military was no longer a huge threat, merely something mutually disliked by everyone. With a weakened military, the Buddhists saw their chance to exact their revenge on the Rohingya for coming in and supposedly taking all of the jobs and destroying Burmese culture. So, tensions flared and Buddhists attacked many Rohingya, beginning in the Rakhine province and now spreading to the rest of Myanmar. Since the government is primarily Buddhist, they have done nothing about it. But there are also underlying fears of action. Because tensions are high, should the government even do anything as subtle as allow the Rohingya to finally become citizens, it would likely spark even more anti-Rohingya sentiment, and in turn more rioting and violence.

The government of Myanmar has a lot on their plate. Their primary focus recently has been ensuring democratic reform, lifting restrictions on press and commerce among other aspects of Burmese life. These are certainly very pressing issues, but Myanmar has made plenty of progress in these areas. It is time to shift focus, if only temporarily, to the more pressing and destabilizing issue of ethnic violence. This is an incredibly complex issue that will likely take months, if not years, of investigation and negotiation together with piles of legislation to solve.  They must tread carefully in order to avoid inciting more violence, or worse yet bring back memories of the military’s iron grip, but continuing inaction on the issue is no longer a fathomable option.

Filed under International
Mar 28, 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

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