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Most people know that Iran developing and possessing a nuclear weapon is a major problem that we have to solve, and we need to do it soon. And the latest poll from the Pew Research Center confirms that conclusion.

Public Supports Military Action Against Iran to Prevent Nuclear Weapons – Pew Research Center.

However, what the poll also shows is that although most Americans believe that we should pursue a diplomatic solution to the problem, they also, almost paradoxically believe that such efforts will ultimately fail. Therefore, a majority also said they would support military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. And keep in mind as well that there is not much partisan division over this approach. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support this.

I completely agree with and understand the sentiment of the people polled, Iran developing a nuclear weapon is incredibly dangerous and the problem needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. But where we differ is in the last part, the use of military force part.

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by Jill Brown, student at GMU

On the twenty-sixth of March, I had the privilege of attending a lecture and dinner with Ambassador Ahmed Kamal, former U.N. Ambassador to Pakistan. Ambassador Kamal spoke on the promotion and maintenance of peace in the modern world. While I found him and his subject fascinating, I believe he made several generalized statements in his lecture that were erroneous and this concerned me greatly.

It was clear that several of the students gave his speech a great deal of credence, but I was not pleased with the sweeping conclusions he was drawing from his premises. For example, one of the statements he made that colored much of the rest of his speech (and even the dinner conversation) was that young people, those under thirty years of age, ought not pay heed to the counsel of those beyond thirty when making decisions regarding the future of our world. His premise, that young people between the ages of twenty and thirty are at their peak both physically and mentally, supported by examples like Joan of Arc, Chopin, and Keats, was fairly sound. It is true that young people are endowed with a great deal of energy and that the brain seems to function at its peak creativity within this decade; therefore, the younger generation of any age has a great deal of responsibility for making use of this incredible potential. However, his assertion that we, as young people, ought not listen to the counsel of our elders, was, in my opinion, incorrect.

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America has a long history of involving itself militarily around the world. Our primary justification for military action is always the protection of the citizens of the United States from harm from external forces. We also justify wars by claiming to protect the rights and wellbeing of citizens of other nations who cannot successfully fight for themselves.

By providing ethical motives for our military presence abroad, our government rationalizes most everything we do. Daniel Volman, director of the African Security Research Project, recently spoke at John Hopkins University here in D.C. and argued quite effectively that we may need to question these motives.

Mr. Volman studies the evolution and activities of AFRICOM, the U.S. military command in Africa. He believes that a significant amount of why we are militarily present in Africa has to do with our reliance on African oil supplies. He notes the correlation between our increased military action in Africa in the last decade and our increased need for African oil. (The U.S. intelligence community predicts that the U.S. will be receiving 20% of its foreign oil supplies from Africa by 2015.)

Until about 10 years ago, Africa was quite marginal from the point of view of the Pentagon. As it became clear that we would come to rely on resources from the continent much more heavily than we had in the past, the need to protect those resources, and our access to them, became increasingly vital.

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              The United States has taken a big step in U.S.-Muslim relations… we hope.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed the very first State Department envoy to Muslim communities—Farah Pandith. [1]   This follows President Obama’s promising speech in Cairo, Egypt which was lauded by Muslims, Europeans, and many Americans. People continue to have high hopes in this administration’s dedication to reach out to the naitonal and worldwide Muslim communities. 

For what it’s worth, the following is my wish list for Ms. Pandith; I hope she does not let this awesome opportunity slip away.  She could do an outstanding job by doing this and more: Read the rest of this entry »

Americans are having trouble believing it—their president is not making regrettable statements about the Iranian election.  Millions of facebook networkers, twitter users, and bloggers responded to what was immediately called an unfair election and its brutal aftermath.  Politicians and political junkies on both sides of the aisle chastised the great Obama for not taking a stand on the contested outcome and sequential outcome.  President Obama responded appropriately and thoughtfully.

As a huge Obama fan, I’m unapt to begin criticizing our President without all the facts.  He has responsibilities to his own people, to those who came before him, to the Iranian people, to the world’s people.  Completely isolating and insulting either Mahmud Ahmadinejad or his challengers could prove disastrous later in international affairs.  Illegitimating the unfavorable outcome of the election in Iran, a nation that had so hoped for a fair election, did not really feel right, especially while we were all still a little high on HOPE.  The appalled president condemned the actions of the Iranian government in a timely manner, but did not take the stand that so many Americans still thought was necessary

He still walks a “tightrope,” as CNN called it.[1] Jon Stewart joked that America can’t win and that seems to be true… or at least, Obama can’t win.  He was criticized by almost everyone when he didn’t say much and then was called a meddler and compared to President George W. Bush when he called for the violence to stop.  America got in trouble for meddling in 1953 and again in 1979, and now that we’re not meddling, suddenly we’re not doing enough.

I thought I was crazy or ignorant for being proud that Obama was taking the time to mull things over and react wisely.  My qualms were soothed after attending the June 22 New America Foundation forum on the Iran Election.  Most of the expert panel agreed that Obama was for the most part, doing the right thing: Read the rest of this entry »

Guest post from Ruhi Shamim

As a 2008 “Innovators in Cultural Diplomacy” fellow, an initiative brought to you by Americans for Informed Democracy (, I gained a deeper understanding of the current progressive Muslim American identity movement. While the identity issue at hand has personal significance to me as a Muslim American, it is my commitment to the bigger picture of an inclusive, diverse democracy that fuels my work in this field.

My initiative, “The Crescent Project” was developed in response to the need to organize the Muslim community on my campus based on a common principle of open dialogue that did not exclude self-identified Muslims who have diverse views, practices, and experiences. I reached out to upperclassmen who have achieved leadership positions in a variety of aspects of the university culture (athletics, student government, grassroots organizing, the arts, the sciences, etc..) and who also represent the diversity of the Muslim experience (Black Muslims, International Students, Shi’as, Sufis, Converts, Secular Muslims…) to create a network of support for incoming freshman who are negotiating identity questions upon arriving at college. We wanted to encourage Muslim youth to be engaged in the university community without being pigeon-holed as the token Muslim and without giving up their connection to the Muslim identity and heritage. Through this project, we created open dialogue for alternate views and a forum for active community engagement.

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In the almost two weeks since President Barack Obama has been inaugurated there has been much speculation and debate on the strategy that he will pursue with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Countless bloggers, analysts, and talking heads each have their own personal solution for how and when the new President should approach the Iranian leadership, about whether or not he should impose preconditions, and even about how far Iran is from producing a nuclear weapon.  Among all of this important and worthwhile debate, a different story caught my eye this week (although I did find Roger Cohen of the International Herald Tribune to be particularly insightful).  The key player in this story was neither a policy analyst nor a political operative; it was the well known travel writer Rick Steves.

Steves is the host of his own travel television show on PBS and he recently filmed an episode about Iran in an attempt to promote understanding between the U.S. and Iran.  I have not yet viewed the show itself but Steve’s travel blog describes his experiences and insights.  Some of his observations are cliché to the point of almost being insensitive, for example when he notes, “when I travel, I’m struck by how people—regardless of the shapes of their noses—are so similar the world over”.  One would hope that, as a travel writer, Steves would have stopped making assumptions about people based on their physical appearance a long time ago.  However, despite the occasional platitude, I found Steve’s description of his trip to be very interesting.  He appears to have made a genuine effort to explore Iran beyond the usual tourist sites and to connect with ordinary, every-day Iranians. He also seems to have tried to portray Iran completely and fairly (a rare occurrence in American media coverage of Iran): filming the anti-American murals but also stating, “I have never traveled to a place where I had such an easy and enjoyable time connecting with people”.

Steve’s most touching insight comes from his trip to a Martyrs’ Cemetery, one of the burial places of the millions of young men who died in the Iran-Iraq war.  Observing the profound loss suffered by Iran during that conflict he reflects, “it would be dangerously naive for America to think we could “shock & awe” those people”.

Steves concludes by focusing on the similarities between Iranian and American society, noting that “[p]oliticians come and go, but the people are here to stay”.  This message of commanalities rather than differences and of dialogue rather than the “us versus them” mentality is an important one.  I am glad that Steves has brought this perspective to American television viewers and I hope that it will be the begining of an increased interest in cultural sharing and dialogue with Iran.

Pirates have long been subjects of fascination and intrigue in the Western literary imagination. Authors have published accounts of looting, mustachsomali-piratesed, one-legged bandits toiling over treacherous waters in such epic masterpieces as “Peter Pan.” But in Somalia, where many forge a living by capturing commercial cargo ships in the Indian Ocean, the motives for pursuing a life of piracy aren’t so romantic.

Reports of Somali pirates hijacking foreign ships have circulated through the news quite frequently in the past few months. Last September, for example, the New York Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman reported a band of Somali pirates snatched a Ukrainian arms vessel headed for Kenya.  Much of the article delved into the details of the attack, the great conundrums that Somali piracy presents for the international community and African law-making bodies, as well as the deviance of the criminals responsible for the attack. Gettleman describes the pirates in the following manner:

“The gun-toting, seafaring thieves, who routinely pounce on cargo ships bobbing along on the Indian Ocean, suddenly found themselves in command of a vessel crammed with $30 million worth of grenade launchers, piles of ammunition, even battle tanks.”

While his word choice certainly grabs the reader’s attention, the analysis provided notably fails to examine driving forces behind the growing trend of Somali piracy. Might there be reasons beyond an assumed natural affinity to  lawlessness and violence?  What of the public perception of piracy as a form of national defense among Somalis?

Much to the ire of the United States and Russia, the pirates refused to turn over the Ukrainian ship, claiming the charged ransom money was to be used to fund public service projects to clean up toxic waste along the Somali coast. That is, uranium radioactive waste European and Asian companies have dumped in Somali waters for over a decade. Yes, the same Europe that is crying foul each time Somali pirates attack. Not to mention that foreign powers have been illegally draining Somali fisheries and other marine resources since 2000.

Mainstream news outlets also fail to mention the devastating poverty and weak rule of law that has drawn many Somalis to piracy as a means of livelihood. Without a reliable government or a functioning economy, most Somalis end up desperate for a means of income.

In other words, it seems convenient for the international community to dismiss Somali pirates as third-rate thugs. But, it would prove more constructive for major world powers to address the bloody conflict with U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces that has been ripping through Somalia for the past nineteen years. A thoughtful letter to the editor for the UK’s Financial Times pointed out that over the past two years, battles between the Somalis and U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops have resulted in the displacement of one million and the death of 10,000 Somali citizens. Locked in violence and pandemonium, Somalis have increasingly turned to less conventional industries, such as piracy, as a means of survival and way to exercise power over the terms of their own lives.

What can the world’s major powers do? For one, the United States should stop its funding and support of Ethiopia’s invasion and violation of Somalia’s territorial integrity. In addition, wildly hazardous, health-threatening toxic waste dumping on the part of European and Asian  companies should cease. Finally, as per usual, diplomatic intervention and humanitiarian aid will go much farther than bellicose rhetoric and short-sighted interventionist policies  in stemming the Somali piracy problem.

Oh, and the illegal usurpation and abuse of a sovereign country’s resources and territory have never been the best way to stamp out crime.

On January 20th, 2009 President Obama and his administration will be taking the reins of foreign policy, including the United States’ relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Recent appointments and statements by Obama and his transition team offer some clues as to what to expect from the next administration.

The first significant development is President-elect Obama’s announcement of his foreign policy and national security team on Monday, December 1st.  His selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is certainly interesting. During the the primary season, Senator Clinton tried to portray herself as being tougher on Iran than Obama.  She even went so far as to suggest that if Iran should “foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel”, the U.S. “would be able to totally obliterate them”.  Senator Clinton was also criticized by some Congressional Democrats for her support for a resolution labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. She has also, however, expressed support for diplomatic options, stating in 2007 that if elected President she would open a “diplomatic track” to discern “what levers of power in their society we might be able to pull and push”.

Overall, Senator Clinton’s stance toward Iran is characterized by the belief that the U.S. must “use every tool at our disposal, including diplomatic and economic in addition to the threat and use of military force”.  While I am pleased to see that our new Secretary of State is ready to use a variety of methods, including diplomacy, in dealing with Iran, it worries me that she considers the threat of violence to be an equally effective foreign policy tool.  Of course the United States must be prepared to use force to protect itself and its allies, but the militaristic threats and gesturing that have characterized the Bush administration’s approach to relations with Iran have gotten us nowhere.  I hope that as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be ready to tone down the rhetoric and use diplomatic and economic tools before resorting to threats and violence.

President-elect Obama himself has also spoken about the strategies that his administration will pursue with Iran.  Today while appearing on Meet the Press Obama articulated a carrot and stick approach that will include diplomatic engagement and the possibility of economic sanctions.  For more on Obama’s plan and the thoughts of other analysts, continue reading. Read the rest of this entry »

The analyst observes the US and Iran meeting on May 28, 2007 as a great diplomatic move for peace and security in Iraq. For the first time since 1979, the two countries met for a direct talk over security issues in Iraq. The meeting focused on possible ways to cooperate for a stable Iraq. Both delegations acknowledged that a stable Iraq was in their interests. The most interesting point of the negotiations explored the possibility to have Iran cooperate with Iraq and the US over security matters in Iraq.

This meeting represents a symbolic step for the improvement of the relations between Tehran and Washington. Whatever speculations follow that meeting, Washington should capitalize on it because it provides a helpful opportunity to cooperate with Iran over peace and security in Iraq. Cooperation  with Iran over Iraq could be a powerful signal for cooperation over broader issues including nuclear weapons. With the hope that the two sides will follow up the results of the negotiations, the analyst could hypothesize that this meeting between Iran and the US translates a progressive triumph of diplomacy.

Jacques KOKO, Senior Political Analyst -Americans for Informed Democracy


August 2020

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