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By Sara Hooker
Sara is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Sara below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

Dambisa Moyo, author of the book Dead Aid, made headlines for three reasons.  The first two were quite simply that she was a young black woman talking about foreign aid, an area whose academia and discussion is dominated by middle-aged white men.  The third reason she made headlines was that she advocated for no aid at all. She argued that the way aid was given to countries worsened their condition rather than improved it.

This is a point of view the US will never endorse, simply because inherent in the American psyche is a commitment to improve the human condition elsewhere. And it does this in vast quantities, committing $21 billion in 2005. However, even the US is starting to adjust to the changing face of aid. Barack Obama has acknowledged the need to be much more careful about how aid money is spent.

His first visit to the African continent was carefully chosen to be Ghana, a success story on the continent with relatively little corruption and a stable democracy. His white house convention of young African leaders on the 13th of August was praised as emphasizing new approaches to the continent as he warned that ‘sometimes the older leaders get into old habits.’ This all sends a strong message that the era of signing blank checks to corrupt regimes is over. Or is it?

US foreign aid is still crippled by its politics. In the Middle East, most obviously Iraq and Afghanistan it endorses corrupt regimes and fuels ethnic tensions by misappropriating aid. In Africa and Latin America it lacks the efficiency of Chinese infrastructure projects which have been praised for quickly building schools, roads and hospitals (although China’s generosity is ethically questionable).    

So what is the role of young people in this changing landscape? If the youth want a stronger voice they need to force the discussion from the boardrooms of huge inefficient multinational and government organizations to small NGO’s with innovative ideas and room for incorporating young people. The solution is not no aid as Moyo claims, but rather more intelligent aid, with more access for us the youth.

My name is Sara Hooker and I go to school at Carleton College, Minnesota. I am an international student here, originally Irish, but I spent most of my childhood in Southern Africa; in Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. I plan to major in International relations but also enjoy economics. I am really loving my time in the U.S and hope to visit at least 15 states by the time I graduate. I am currently on 5!  🙂

Given the title of this post, you may be understandably asking yourself, “what’s New START?” Well, let me explain. New START is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and Russia to reduce the numbers of strategic nuclear weapons that each of us have in our nuclear arsenals down to 1,550 each, a reduction of about a third of the current stockpiles. The reason the treaty is preceded by the word “New” is because there was a previous START, which was negotiated and ratified back when President George H. W. Bush was in office in 1991. That treaty expired on December 5th, 2009. Therefore, we have not had a treaty in place to replace the first START in almost a year. New START attempts to fill this gap.

I provide all of this background to you for several reasons. One, because I feel it is critically important to simply be aware of current events, especially with regard to nuclear weapons. However, more importantly, it is crucial you understand the issues surrounding arms control and nonproliferation if you are to work towards the goal of the elimination of all nuclear weapons, of which ratifying New START is an integral step.  Now you may be asking yourself, but why do I want to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons? Don’t they assure that another country who also has nuclear weapons won’t launch an attack against us because they know we would do the same to them? Again, allow me to explain briefly.

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Here in the US, abortion has been a contentious issue for decades. Clinics where abortion services are provided often have protesters in front showing gruesome and inaccurate pictures of aborted fetuses.  Pro-choice activists are sometimes labeled as murderers; once, when I mentioned that I was working at Planned Parenthood, I was told by a med student that she was studying to “be able to save babies, not kill them.” And yet here in the United States women do have the right to choose when and if to have children, and whether pregnancy is right for us. Of course, preventative contraception methods are always preferable, but accidents happen. What sexually active girl hasn’t had a pregnancy scare at some point?  Birth control is not a guarantee. Abstinence only campaigns have been proven over and over again to be ineffective – sexuality is a part of our humanity. As American women, we are privileged to have access to that basic human right, the right to have control over our own bodies.

In many developing countries, that is not the case, and this is hugely affected by U.S. international policies. The Mexico City Policy, better known as the Global Gag Rule, prohibited any organization abroad that receives federal US funding from performing abortions, or even counseling or referring patients for abortion. This is even if the organization was doing so using outside funding.  Or, as laid out by USAID on its website:

“The Mexico City Policy required foreign nongovernmental organizations to certify that they will not perform or   actively promote abortion as a method of family planning using funds generated from any source as a condition for receiving USAID family planning assistance.”

This means that a US policy can determine what an individual doctor, who works for a US funded organization, can say to his or her individual patient halfway around the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Now I don’t usually look to Foreign Policy magazine for my advice on revolution, but this article just seemed too relevant not to share.  Not only have I long struggled against this country’s over-enthusiasm for online organizing (seemingly at the sacrifice of actually rolling up sleeves and getting out in the streets talking to people), but as some of you know, my college classmate Adnan Hajizada was jailed last July for his politicized video blogging as a part of his effort to organize Azeri youth for democracy in Azerbaiajan.

Food for thought to share.

“Twitter Will Undermine Dictators.”
Excerpt from “Think Again: The Internet”, Foreign Policy May/June 2010

#Wrong. Tweets don’t overthrow governments; people do. And what we’ve learned so far is that social networking sites can be both helpful and harmful to activists operating from inside authoritarian regimes. Cheerleaders of today’s rapidly proliferating virtual protests point out that online services such as Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube have made it much easier to circulate information that in the past had been strictly controlled by the state — especially gruesome photos and videos and evidence of abuses by police and the courts. Think of the Burmese dissidents who distributed cell-phone photos documenting how police suppressed protests, or opposition bloggers in Russia who launched Shpik.info as a Wikipedia-like site that allows anyone to upload photos, names, and contact details of purported “enemies of democracy” — judges, police officers, even some politicians — who are complicit in muzzling free speech. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown famously declared last year that the Rwandan genocide would have been impossible in the age of Twitter.

But does more information really translate into more power to right wrongs?

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Hilary Clinton’s trip to Latin America this week has ended in disappointment after Brazil’s president, Lula da Silva, rejected U.S. pleas to support tougher sanctions on Iran. This firm stance in the face of Western pressure is not simply meant to be a slap in the face to U.S. diplomacy. Rather, it symbolizes a geopolitical power shift where an increasingly important Brazil seeks a central space for itself on the world stage – as a superpower with an equal status to other global giants.

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The continually unfolding tragedy brought about by the recent earthquake in Haiti has once again raised an age-old debate on the U.S.’s place in the world. The superpower has often been accused of acting as the world’s self-appointed police force, intervening where it sees fit under the auspices of moral obligation. Obama’s decision to send over 10,000 troops to Haiti led to cries of ‘occupation’ and ‘imperialism’ from many critics on the Left, and has provoked an internal debate over the U.S.’s role as “globocop”.

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For his first presidential act upon taking office on Jan. 20 last year, President Obama signed an executive order requiring the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year. Many liberals and human rights activists breathed a sigh of relief as Obama promised to return the U.S. to the “moral high ground” and put an end to a shameful chapter in modern American history. One year later and that high ground appears beyond the reach of the Obama administration, as Guantanamo Bay prison remains open with the White House lacking a comprehensive plan to deal with its estimated 245 detainees.  

Obama’s laudable plan to close the prison has stalled for various reasons, some of which are beyond his control. The first reason relates to his attempts to re-house some of the prisoners on American soil. Local senators and governors have fiercely objected to the notion that their state should house suspected terrorists on the grounds that the new prisoners could endanger the safety of Americans. This nonsensical affirmation has been echoed by other partisan commentators and TV networks, despite the fact that the U.S. already houses many convicted al-Qaeda terrorists, as well as various other dangerous criminals. 

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The foiled terrorist attack on Christmas Day served as a timely reminder that the U.S. remains vulnerable to plots from Al-Qaeda. As more details emerge about the security lapses that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board his flight to Amsterdam and later to Detroit, President Barack Obama has come under intense criticism from opportunist Republicans over his handling of the so-called War on Terror. Yet instead of dodging the role as a partisan punching bag, Obama appears willing to engage in domestic squabbling, at great cost to his foreign agenda.

Obama’s announcement on January 4 that the U.S. was to introduce tougher airport screening for “security risk” countries underlined the air of desperation and ineptitude that has gripped the White House since December 25. The countries included on the list were Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen. While some of the countries are merely the usual suspects, the inclusion of Cuba seems anomalous. Its appearance is explained by its unfortunate presence on another U.S.-produced list: state sponsors of terrorism. Nevertheless, many experts believe its inclusion is anachronistic, given that there is no current evidence to support the theory that Cuba sponsors terrorists, especially not those linked to Al-Qaeda. Many Cubans hoped that Obama’s election would help restore diplomatic relations between the two nations, and indeed the Obama administration has made tentative steps to this effect. The guileless inclusion of Cuba on a “security risk” list needlessly hinders potential rapprochement.

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With the December 6 news that it plans to build twenty new uranium enrichment facilities, Iran has dealt a serious blow to hopes of peacefully resolving its nuclear standoff with the West. After months of courtship by the international community, Iran’s announcement appears to be both a rejection of the West’s advances and a signal of its intent to step up its pursuit of a nuclear program. With the US running out of cards to play, many fear that the two countries are on a collision course to military confrontation.

Much like North Korea, the consequences of an Iranian possession of nuclear bomb are dire. The Obama administration has sought to right the wrong of American Cold War policy, when the US provided its then-ally Iran with nuclear reactors in an attempt to curry favor. Preventing proliferation is a priority for the Obama administration and confirmation that Iran has a nuclear bomb would trigger an arms race in the Middle East, with heavyweights such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia seeking to counter Iranian domination in the region. An Iranian nuclear bomb would also bring Israel and Iran closer to war. Iran’s anti-Semitic leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicised his hatred of Israel so often that Israeli leaders deem a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat. Just last year an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear sites was narrowly averted after George W. Bush refused to give Ehud Olmert the green light. The Obama administration has since tried to convince the Israelis of the virtues of diplomacy with Iran, but the latest setback means that hawks in Israel and the US will be circling Iran with greater intensity.

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Post by Amanda Young, American University ’13

Last Tuesday, President Obama unveiled his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan at West Point Military Academy. During his speech he announced plans to deploy 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. These troops will have the task of securing major cities and populations so the United States can then begin turning over responsibility to the Afghan forces in 18 months. Finally, there is a light at the end of an eight year long tunnel that cost millions of dollars and hundreds of American and Afghan lives.

As we draw closer to the end of American military presence in Afghanistan, I have to wonder, was it a success? Only time will tell, but if nothing is done to build and strengthen Afghanistan’s infrastructure you can bet these eight years will have been in vain. History has seen it before with World War I. Germany had a huge debt, lacked infrastructure, and had few to no jobs. In such a climate people turned toward extremism and twenty years after the Treaty of Versailles the world would once again find its self amidst a World War. The United States and her allies may have won World War I, but we did not keep the peace. The same idea lies behind Afghanistan. After decades of war and a poor standard of living the people have looked to the only paying jobs; the drug trade and al Qaeda. We were able to stop this vicious cycle in Europe after World War II by rebuilding Europe, creating infrastructures and jobs with the Marshall Plan. Logic tells us that the same thing needs to be done to ensure successful peace in Afghanistan.

On the White House website there are a few lines on“…implementing a civilian-military agriculture redevelopment strategy to restore Afghanistan’s once vibrant agriculture sector”. The White House must implement plans like this immediately after securing the area, so as to give hope and a future to the Afghan people. It is extremely important that the American public and international community stay active and aware even after all the troops are gone. Only then will Afghanistan continue to grow; ensuring lasting peace and we do not find ourselves fighting the same war again in twenty years.

You can find an in-depth break down of his strategy at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/way-forward-afghanistan and the full transcript of the West Point speech at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-address-nation-way-forward-afghanistan-and-pakistan

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