The Many Wars of John Kerry

Pete Souza

White House photo by Pete Souza

John Kerry finds himself in a familiar position or two on the issue of Syria.

As the Obama administration continues to make its push for a military strike in Syria, a familiar face has emerged at the center of this global diplomatic effort: Secretary of State John Kerry, one-time Democratic presidential candidate, long-time U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, and part-time windsurfer.  No one has been logging more frequent flier miles or hours on camera than Kerry in this push to convince global allies and the American public that Assad’s misdeeds must be punished through military strength.

This is hardly the first time that Kerry has found himself at the center of the debate over a controversial war.  In fact, there are few people who could have been more ironic spokespersons for a Syrian assault than our current Secretary of State. Continue reading

Angela Merkel: Mädchen in Flammen

Aleph

Photo by Wikipedia user Aleph

Germany’s Chancellor looks set for another victory in this month’s parliamentary elections.  What, if anything, can we learn from her success?

On September 22, Germans will head to the polls to choose who will represent them in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament.  At the center of attention will be Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor (similar to a prime minister).  As head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the largest party in the Bundestag, Merkel has served as Bundeskanzlerin since 2005, and she is widely expected to remain in that position after the election.

Merkel’s time at the top of German politics has come at a critical period for Europe.  The financial meltdown of 2008 and ongoing Eurozone crisis have placed her at the pinnacle of global power, the head of the most dynamic economy in the European Union.  Although the country’s economic growth did slip into negative territory in 2009 – the result of an international slowdown – it has since rebounded and is looking much better than France, Spain, or Italy. Continue reading

The Russians are Coming

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Photo courtesy of www.kremlin.ru

As President Obama spends the day at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, trying desperately not to get caught dissing Vladimir Putin on an open mic, it appears that the Russians are planning to send their own delegation in the opposite direction. Moscow is naturally quite interested in the current congressional debate over the possible use of military force in Syria.  The Atlantic has an article up today by Abby Ohlheiser that details reports of lobbying efforts by the Russians on Capitol Hill.

Russian president Vladimir Putin suggested a plan to directly lobby Congress was in the works on Monday, after meeting with Valentina Matvienko and Sergei Naryshkin, speakers for the upper and lower houses of Russian parliament. They apparently proposed the idea to Putin, arguing that they could work U.S. lawmakers towards a more “balanced” stance on Syria.  Continue reading

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to War

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Official UK government photo of the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street

Today, President Obama announced that he will seek authorization from Congress for a military strike in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, an act apparently committed by the Assad regime.  “This attack is an assault on human dignity.  It also presents a serious danger to our national security,” Obama said in his speech.  “In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.”

The President stressed that the scope of these strikes would be limited.  “This would not be an open-ended intervention.  We would not put boots on the ground.  Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.  But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.” Continue reading

The Trouble with Swallowing Syria

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U.S. soldiers delivering non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. They may soon be asked to do more. (Department of Defense photo)

WARNING: This is not an article about Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs on Sunday.  It is an analysis of a serious news story.  If you are looking for less serious news coverage, please feel free to check out any of America’s 24-hour cable news networks.

“Syria is not easy to swallow.”

This rather odd quote was made yesterday by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem in regard to possible military action by Western nations against the Assad regime.  We can interpret it in a couple of different ways.  One would be to go for the most literal meaning: it is true that attempting to swallow all 71,479 square miles of Syria would not be easy.  In fact, if this is the meaning Mr. Moallem was going for, I would say he is a bit guilty of understating the issue. Continue reading

The CIA Fesses Up…60 Years too Late

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President Truman and Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in happier times

Did you hear the big news?

No, not that Bradley Manning wants to undergo hormone therapy and prefers for us to refer to him/her as Chelsea Manning.  That’s a somewhat shocking and yet oddly predictable end to what has been a media circus of a military case.

No, not that Ben Affleck is set to play Batman in the next Superman movie.  Apparently, the two superheroes are going to face off against one another, which strikes me as odd for two reasons: 1) I thought they were both supposed to be good guys, and 2) We all know that Superman would win in an actual fight.  However, it makes sense that they couldn’t bring back Christian Bale because then they would have to admit to casting two British guys as America’s two greatest comic book icons. (Well, them and Aquaman…)

The big news that I am actually referring to is the CIA’s admission that it was behind a coup in 1953 that unseated the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh.  New details in a CIA document declassified under the Freedom of Information Act provide proof that the CIA helped to organize and carry out the operation through a combination of propaganda, bribery of Mossadegh’s supporters, inducing the population to riot, colluding with Iran’s security forces, and pressuring the Shah to dump the prime minister. Continue reading

A Bad Week to be Bo

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Photos from Voice of America and the White House

While most of the news these days seems to be an endless train of unrelated tittle tattle, every so often two stories coincide in a way that sheds new light on our society.  More to the point, it allows a writer such as myself to take two apparently unrelated issues and smoosh them together because they both involve someone, or something, named Bo.

Upon waking up this morning, I was greeted with the news that the trial for disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, former mayor of the city of Chongquing and prominent voice within the Chinese Communist Party, had begun.  He stands accused of bribery, corruption, and abuse of power, the latter charge stemming from his alleged involvement in covering up the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, whom Bo’s wife has already been convicted of murdering. Continue reading

What Do NSA Violations Tell Us About The Nature of Government?

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A part of the NSA’s interior that it apparently doesn’t mind you seeing.

The Washington Post has been filled with revelations recently about an internal audit at the NSA which revealed thousands of violations of its privacy rules.  The linked article says the May 2012 report “counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications”.  Post author Barton Gellman added that, “Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure.”

The newspaper also draws attention to an October 2011 ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which found that the NSA was using illegal methods to track and store internet communications of U.S. citizens and legal residents.  Only one page is made available for public viewing, with the author’s name redacted by the Post.  A Freedom of Information Act request for more details of the case is currently pending. Continue reading

Egypt’s Never Ending Revolution

People often ask me what I think about the situation in Egypt, knowing that I worked for the Egyptian Press Office in Washington, D.C. through three and a half years of revolution and political transition.  I understand the curiosity, especially since Egypt is a country that few Americans understand, but the fact is that my opinion isn’t worth that much, and neither are the opinions of most of the people you see on television.

Take a look at the situation in Egypt today: the security forces have moved in to clear the Muslim Brotherhood’s protest camps, leaving approximately 525 people dead.  This is the latest in a long line of chaos that started with the 2011 revolution and has now gone through a ruling military council, an elected Islamist government, and then another takeover by the armed forces. Continue reading

A Change of Strategy in the War on Drugs

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Yes, this is a picture of crack cocaine, brought to you by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

28 grams of crack cocaine can earn you a $28,000 per year prison sentence.  A growing consensus of policy makers and activists hope to see that changed.

U.S. President Richard Nixon is credited as the first person to declare a “war on drugs”, stating in a 1971 press conference that the abuse of drugs was “public enemy number one”.  Unfortunately, America’s War on Drugs has proven to be much like Vietnam, the other war of Nixon’s presidency: long, destructive, only moderately successful, and often suffering from an unclear sense of purpose.  The following year, 1972, Nixon became embroiled in the Watergate scandal, thus insuring that he – not drugs – would become public enemy number one.

Today, America’s prisons are overflowing with those convicted of drug-related offenses.  While some are hardened criminals at the center of massive drug rings, others are serving a mandatory sentence of five years for being found in possession of just 28 grams (about one ounce) of crack cocaine.  Outside the U.S., Americans’ drug habits fuel violence in Mexico and around the world that is claiming thousands of lives.  While it may not be clear what “winning” the War on Drugs would look like, it is obvious that we are far from that point. Continue reading