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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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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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News coverage of Afghanistan has skyrocketed over the past few weeks. Reporters everywhere from CNN to PBS have regularly invited policy analysts to offer their opinions on the best strategies for Afghanistan.

Throughout his campaign, President Obama repeatedly articulated his desire to proverbially “win” the war in this country. Last July, he wrote an op-ed calling for withdrawal of troops from Iraq and a more fortified military presence in this South Asian nation:

As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more non-military assistance to accomplish the mission there. I would not hold our military, our resources and our foreign policy hostage to a misguided desire to maintain permanent bases in Iraq.

Many analysts argue the United States has lost much credibility in Afghanistan after air assaults left legions of Afghani citizens dead.  In an interview with Robert Frost on Al Jazeera, President Hamid Karzai reiterated this sentiment, citing haphazard night raids into Afghan homes and other military mishaps as reasons for mistrust of the American military.

Some  argue that President Obama’s current policy proposal to implement a surge of troops in Afghanistan would essentially be an extension of Bush administration policies. The New York Times reports that the proposed 30,000 troop increase would still leave troop levels at 200,000-400,000 less than in Iraq during the troop surge.

So, is military intervention an appropriate solution? Should President Obama embark on a military strategy that foreign policy experts allege may be inherently flawed? Should we implement a troop surge to mimic the Iraq model? If we’re not careful, this inherited war could easily become the “Iraq” of the Obama presidency.

As many Americans grow weary of continued investment in failed enterprises abroad, this may be exactly what we need to “win” Afghanistan. Yet, US government aid and development policies crucial to any success in the country have been woefully inefficient at best, and avariciously conducted at worst.

Andrew Bacevich, an international relations professor at Boston University, stated in the New York Times:

My understanding of the larger objective of the allied enterprise in Afghanistan is to bring into existence something that looks like a modern cohesive Afghan state. Well, it could be that that’s an unrealistic objective. It could be that sending 30,000 more troops is throwing money and lives down a rat hole.

What exactly does Bacevich mean by “rat hole”? Phillip Hilts, former New York Times health and science correspondent and author of the 2005 book, “Rx for Survival,” addresses the myth of the “rat hole.” Arguing against commentators who assert the need for “trade not aid,” Hilts claims that smart aid. such as investment in human capital and private domestic businesses, produce more results than hierarchical, wasteful corporate projects. Hilts argues that smart aid is what has propelled the development of East Asian countries.

In other words, post-conflict reconstruction in Afghanistan has failed primarily because of inherent flaws in funding allocation. Oxfam reports that much of USAID funding to Aghanistan has been funneled through US private contractors, who develop projects at sky-high, easily avoidable costs. Astoundingly, nearly half of USAID funds are allocated to private companies; much of this money is later lost in the quagmire of corporate profits.

This set-up represents both the inefficiency of US strategy to develop Afghanistan, as well as the utter lack of outreach to involve Afghanis in the process of nation-building. Should the United States wish for a sustainable, lasting peace in the region, many more localized and entrepreneurial development projects must be undertaken.

As we have all heard before, Afghanistan is at a crossroads right now. Facing a mounting humanitarian disaster, food shortages, deaths from inadequate heating, and a rapidly deteriorating security situation, the country is on the brink of collapse. Should the United States wish to alter Afghanistan’s future, current policies must be re-evaluated. The United States must recognize that any lasting peace in the country will only be achieved through collaboration with the Afghani people. A blind shipment of troops and extension of Bush-esque aid paradigms will only damage the country’s already tenuous security crisis.

Last week, the BBC reported Rwandan forces finally captured Laurent Nkunda, alleged orchestrator of  recent mass killings and civil strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2002. Last DecembGeneral Nkundaer Rwanda’s government surrendered to international pressure, finally sending in troops to bring down Hutu rebels led by Laurent Nkunda.

While Nkanda’s arrest is an ostensibly positive development, it does not connote the dawning of a new era of peace and stability for Central Africa and especially the DRC. The world’s major powers must continue to exert diplomatic pressure on Rwanda and ensure that it does not continue its damaging presence in Eastern Congo under the pretense of capturing Hutu rebels responsible for the Rwandan genocide.

The Obama administration appears to be pursuing policies of aggressive diplomacy across the globe. But just as recently as early January 2009, the United States government (albeit under the Bush administration) delivered military equipment to Rwanda for purported peacekeeping in Western Sudan. The United States must discontinue these outdated and politically expedient acts of militarization and join the ranks of European countries like the Netherlands and Sweden to relinquish all forms of aid to Rwanda.

Should the United States remain complicit in this mounting Central African conflict and maintain its friendly relations with Rwanda, it could indirectly fuel rekindling of the brutal wars that plagued the DRC during the 1990s. A covert deal signed by the Congolese President (without the consent of the Congolese legislature or people) and the Rwandan government allowed Rwandan troops inside the DRC in December. Now that Nkunda has been captured, the international community must hold Rwanda accountable and immediately push the country to withdraw its forces.

Bloggers at the website Friends of the Congo astutely unveil the flawed logic of allowing Rwandan troops in DRC territory to capture “Hutu rebels”. Was it not the Rwandans who had invaded the DRC in the ’90s, robbing the poor republic of its mineral wealth and fueling a proxy war with Uganda, under the same defense of capturing Hutu Rebels?

It is my sincere hope to see a President with such strong roots in Africa to once and for all propel a United States policy which promotes human rights and sustainable economic development in Africa, rather than short-sighted amassment of wealth and resources coupled with long-term militarization, forced migration, refugee-crises, and destabilizing warfare.

An editorial in today’s New York Times talked about Mr. Bush’s Health Care Legacy. An important piece of this legacy, and one that has been discussed frequently on this blog, as well as hotly debated in the health world is President Bush’s most recent reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). This important piece of legislation will renew the original PEPFAR for the next five years to fight global AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and increase the funding for it to $48 billion.

While many criticize the Bush administration for it’s dismal handling of many other health issues, the reauthorization of PEPFAR stands out as a significant achievement in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, and one that could not have been done without President Bush’s support and consistent work on this issue.

However one must also wonder what spurred the original creation of PEPFAR in 2003 and then reauthorization by President Bush, especially with an increasingly severe economic crisis at hand, America’s steady fall from being a great power, and the continuous difficulties the US faces with war, oil dependence, job loss and more.

Maybe we should be looking at the possibility of how PEPFAR has been used as a political maneuver to make the US look better in the eyes of the rest of the world. With little else to show for in the past 8 years, this could be viewed as a way for President Bush to use this as the exemplar for how good the US is about providing foreign assistance, which maybe will make other countries cast a slightly less disapproving eye towards to US.

Either way, PEPFAR certainly will stand out in the Bush administration as a shining jewel amidst a whole lot of bad policy and governance muck.

Hey all!

My name is Sahar Durali and I’m a new blogger for Americans for Informed Democracy’s Global Development Program. I’m finishing my last year at Penn State University, where I study History and Political Science and am looking forward to writing about and discussing global development issues with you! Anyhow, I wanted to call all of your attention to the worsening situation in Congo.

A few weeks ago, I read a BBC opinion poll asking readers what can be done to stabilize the crisis-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo and if current UN peacekeeping efforts are enough. Though there were a few responses from South Africa and Nigeria, comments predominantly streamed from the US, Canada and Europe. Many expressed outraged at the prospect of more aid committed to what they saw as a politically-inept, chronically war-ravaged continent of Africa. More than one responder listed recolonization as the only way forward for a continent “clearly incapable of governing itself.”

Yet, many fail to understand the complexity of Western aid relations in Africa.

The Rwandan genocide of the 1990s left approximately one million dead. Countries around the globe recoiled in collective shame at their indifference to intervening in this bloody humanitarian crisis. Today, Rwanda is one of the United States’ staunchest allies in Africa. Surprisingly, however, Rwandan officials have been publicly denounced by the UN as exacerbating conflict through backing of Congolese rebel forces led by Laurent Nkunda, who claims to be defending ethnic Tutsis.

The New York Times reports the recent resurgent fighting has 250,000 people internally displaced and in need of immediate assistance. In some towns, up to 70 percent of women are reporting to be victim of rape and sexual assault, now recognized by UN officials as the highest in the world.

Congo is the size of Western Europe, and many call it the “fulcrum of Africa.” The conflict has the potential to destabilize much of the continent and has already drawn in neighboring Angola.

The U.S. State Department claims it aggressively pursues a policy of stability and democracy-building in Africa. But so long as the United States and other governments continue to provide support to Rwandan officials without holding them accountable for their share in the violence, the fighting in the Congo will not cease.  The unscrupulous comments of responders to the BBC poll not only overlook the devastating and lasting impacts of colonialism, but also reveal a mass ignorance regarding past and current US foreign policy in the region.

President-elect Barack Obama recently stated that resolving the Congolese conflict would be critical to a prosperous Africa. Let us hope that his administration does not fall trap to the same short-sighted policies of increased militarization of the past, but assumes collective responsibility along with other African governments to ensure progress and a process of peace that protects the political rights of the Congolese people.

I thought this article interestingly points to some very thought-provoking questions about continuing U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Malaki drew comparisons between the present turmoil between armed ethnic and religious militias in Iraq, the predictive future of that country, and those that led to Somalia’s current situation as an anarchic society without a nationally recognized central government. This, I think, strikes at the heart of confused and sometimes cross-pollinating justifications for the American occupation.

Case in point: the Bush administration has alternately called the invasion and subsequent occupation a search to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, a fight to prevent de facto control of Iraq by the terrorist network al-Qaeda, and an all-important theatre in the almost-evangelical pursuit of democracy (self-determination by gunpoint, I suppose). His would-be successor and ideological bedmate, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (AZ-R), recently went further by painting the predictive consequences of a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces in terms of "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing," undercutting the mission to spread to democracy but underscoring this continuing realist-turned-idealist approach to foreign policy.

Which leaves a preponderance of questions in the wake of an extremely confused objective in Iraq: Is a continuing military occupation for the United States a moral obligation or a matter of national self-interest? Would leaving Iraq, a country in conflict, simultaneously and recklessly abandon the Iraqi people to acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing by diverse factions?

It calls into light the contrast between foreign policy objectives behind President Clinton’s short-lived 1993 venture into Somalia and his administration’s subsequent decision to remain quiet about the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

Another predictive model finds use here: what U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker has described as "Lebanonization," or the usurpation of one state’s sovereigny to another’s intervention. The term denotes Syria’s de facto control of internal Lebanese politics through military presence and sponsorship of various political parties, and has been used to describe a post-U.S. occupation role for countries like Syria and, more importantly, Iran, which continues to ship Iranian-made arms to Iraq and allegedly trains and funds Shi’ite militias.

I draw on this because it eerily reflects the conditions on which different factions in Somalia relied to initiate clan-based civil war and oust that country’s dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre, between 1986 and 1992. Militias and clans then existing received outside funding from Ethiopia, which enabled them to fight pro-Barre parties, internal factions, and subsequently amongst themselves for control of Somalia, ultimately paving the way for that country to become a failed state circa 2008.

Another potential consequence of U.S. withdrawal is hereby illustrated: Does leaving also mean opening an unstable Iraq to outside control and subjugation by local powers interested in arrogating sovereignty of that country to themselves?

By no means should we narrow opinions to a predictive outcome for Iraq. I think these questions should more carefully delineate our responsibility and subsequent concerns about long-term involvement in Iraq. Otherwise U.S. citizens and their elected leaders lend themselves to a stated hypocrisy, with sides on one hand clamoring for more attention and intervention in the ongoing genocide in Darfur, and others speaking truth to power about strategic failures in Iraq and the need to withdraw, even precipitously, in the name of U.S. national interest.

These things in mind — the threat of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and outside state control — is the Iraqi occupation an obligation to keep for Iraqis, preventing their state’s potential collapse and transformation into another Somalia, or an undertaking irresponsibly taken and just as easily ended?

I suppose we’ll see our foreign policy become clearer in 2009.

The Guardian’s Mark Lattimer has written a gruesome and important piece about the situation of women in Iraq today, four and half years into a war in which they have lost nearly every fundamental freedom. Even worse, Lattimer explains in gory detail, they are now being subjected to the most brutal forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Whereas most conflicts involve murders and massacres of men and boys, Iraq’s war has given rise to increasingly common gendered targeting of women and girls for deaths so grim their descriptions leave me lightheaded.

They lie in the Sulaimaniyah hospital morgue in Iraqi Kurdistan, set out on white-tiled slabs. A few have been shot or strangled, some beaten to death, but most have been burned. One girl, a lock of hair falling across her half-closed eyes, could almost be on the point of falling asleep. Burns have stretched the skin on another young woman’s face into a fixed look of surprise.

I want to vomit. I want to grab the right wing warmongers who argued that invading Iraq would "liberate" it’s "oppressed women" and shake them senseless. This violent impulse comes from a place of profound frustration, anger, and shame. I am shaking with rage because the actions of my elected leaders led to the deaths and misery of my sisters. I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to be punished for my own sins of omission. I want to turn back time.

In March 2004 George Bush said that "the advance of freedom in the Middle East has given new rights and new hopes to women … the systematic use of rape by Saddam’s former regime to dishonour families has ended". This may have given some people the impression that the American and British invasion of Iraq had helped to improve the lives of its women. But this is far from the case.

Even under Saddam, women in Iraq – including in semi-autonomous Kurdistan – were widely recognised as among the most liberated in the Middle East. They held important positions in business, education and the public sector, and their rights were protected by a statutory family law that was the envy of women’s activists in neighbouring countries. But since the 2003 invasion, advances that took 50 years to establish are crumbling away. In much of the country, women can only now move around with a male escort. Rape is committed habitually by all the main armed groups, including those linked to the government. Women are being murdered throughout Iraq in unprecedented numbers

Surely we have passed the point at which the need for an international tribunal to deal out justice for the crimes committed by and against all sides in this war could still be a subject of debate. Investigations, prosecutions, and reparations won’t bring back the lives gone, but they can put the moral balance of the world a little less off kilter.

Furthermore, any kind of better future demands that there be a reckoning for these crimes inside and outside Iraq. The perpetrators on the individual murders and massacres, the men with literal blood on their hands, must face justice, but so too must the men who created the climate in which these crimes can be committed. Most members of this latter group today sit comfortably in the same Washington offices from which they set the wheels of Iraq’s death machine in motion. They must be made to face the consequences of their decisions. If impunity prevails, we are all lost.

Pakistan seems to be on the minds of a lot of our bloggers here at AID.  Here’s my two cents to this issue:

On Sunday, as Pakistan’s General Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan, which will enable him to severely limit democratic freedoms in that country, the Bush Administration made it clear that this will have no effect on the billions of dollars we are pouring into Pakistan as our ally in the war on terror.

Exactly how many times does the United States need to get burned by propping up unpopular leaders who attempt to keep domestic power through dictatorship-like governance? Isn’t this similar to a Shah-run Iran over a generation ago or a Taliban-run Afghanistan two decades ago? We simply had to pour our money and support into those despotic regimes because if we didn’t the Soviet Union would have jumped on that weakness and communism and evil would have won in the end.

Sure…

Too bad back then we made problems worse for ourselves now, with a war in one of those countries, and harsh anti-US sentiment in the other. This is also a terrible move for an administration that built their foreign policy strategy on promoting democracy in the Middle East. “If your agenda is to save attacks in the U.S. and eliminate Al Qaeda, only the
Pakistani Army can do that,” said the close aide to General Musharraf. “For that, you will have to forget about elections in Pakistan for maybe two to three years.” (Source:  http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/05/washington/05diplo.html?ex=1352005200&en=bf4c7e3f9b8bbbbc&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink )

The Bush Administration has made it clear that their efforts are not to spread democracy, but first to “squash out terrorism”.  However, as Ben Franklin noted during the birth of our nation, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The advancement of democracy throughout the world has always been uneven, and fraught with setbacks and false miracles. The last few years have demonstrated this powerfully.

Latin America is becoming, overall, more democratic. This is good news, but lamentable anti-democratic tendencies in Venezuela and elsewhere warrant close watching.

Democracy in Africa is a mixed bag, with failed states and entrenched poverty proving to be as much, if not more, of an obstacle to democratisation as authoritarian regimes. In countries such as the Democratic republic of Congo, free elections have not increased security. What Africa needs most at this time is not a rapid proliferation of free elections (which could actually do far more harm than good), but rapid stabilisation, regional cooperation, and pro-poor economic development.

In Asia, the minority of democracies seem stable for now, but so do the majority of non-democratic regimes. The Saffron Revolution in Burma failed to cause the collapse of that country’s brutal junta, despite the unfathomably brave actions of its long-suffering citizens. Pakistan has just been put under martial law, with opposition activists and lawyers being rounded up en masse and independent media severely curtailed. China, the region’s fastest rising power, continues to be a powerful refutation of the oft-espoused idea that market liberalisation naturally brings greater freedom for ordinary people.

The same can be said for Russia, where civil society has been marginalized in the public sphere and repeatedly bludgeoned by the ever more anti-democratic policies of the Government of President Vladimir Putin. 

Democracy is ailing in Russia’s "Near Abroad" as well, with Central Asia dominated by authoritarian regimes of varying degrees of brutality, and the Caucasus region remaining volatile, and largely un-democratic. Just the other day, it became clear that the OSCE will not be able to effectively monitor Russia’s upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, and may have it’s election monitoring activities restricted or curtailed altogether in countries such as Armenia, increasingly swayed more by Russia’s anti-Western line than the European Union’s promises of closer ties.

If liberal democracy is entrenched anywhere, it is in Western Europe. But, even there, the forecast is not uniformly blue skies and sunshine. The rise of right wing parties is posing unprecedented social and political challenges in relatively tolerant countries (such as Switzerland and Belgium) and even the most tolerant, such as the Netherlands.

And now we come to the United States and Canada, to the majority Anglophone democracies North America. Canada, democracy-wise, falls more in line with Western European states than it’s nearest southern neighbor. With strong and independent institutions and a dynamic multi-party legislature, Canada isn’t perfect by any means, but its system is open, self correcting, and self-improving.

Tragically, this is no longer so in the United States. Eight years of unrelenting, unpunished corruption and law-breaking have badly damaged the United States’ democracy in reputation and in practice. Public faith in the legislative and executive branches are at historic laws. The Department of Justice, with its long string of corruption scandals and reputation for politically-tainted policy, can lamentably be now seen as neither as a pillar of the rule of law nor an independent branch of government. But the problem is even more severe than that: with more and more evidence surfacing of Justice Department officials –from the Attorney General on down– collaborating in criminal actions by the Bush Administration, the Justice Department itself is becoming the country’s most destructive underminer of the rule of law. To these alarming realities, American civil society has been slow to react, but rule of law organisations, most prominently the Center for Constitutional Rights and ACLU, are now, at this very late stage, working to together to strike back hard at the administration that has turned what was a flawed liberal democracy into something unrecognizable to its own citizens and the people of the world.

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