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Since the presidency of FDR, our nation has made agreements with foreign nations to secure vital interest for oil, mainly in the Middle East. Over the decades, it has become apparent that America is dependent on foreign oil and our economic life depends on it now; with that, our security both domestically and internationally is at risk.

The oil crisis in the 1970’s made it obvious that we are subject to the will of others. In the mid 2000’s, again our nation was hit with another oil crisis, followed by a recession that we are in today, which has put us deeper in debt with foreign nations. Brazil, on the other hand, began its trek toward energy independence in the 1970’s and now is energy independent.

Recently, President Obama announced that he would allow off shore drilling exploration, ending the ban that has existed for 20 years.  President Obama has said

“We need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.”

The President’s statement shows his understanding that in order for our nation to be free as it once was we must shake ourselves free of the foreign entanglements that endanger the security of our nation.

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For me, being a Regional Coordinator at AIDemocracy involves putting together awareness, advocacy and action events in the context of global peace & security– my program area of choice.

Having grown up in Oman and India, I learned early that peace and security go hand in hand, chicken AND egg, both at the same time. I also learned that without development, peace and security measures often died still-born. According to Noeleen Heyzer,

“Peace is the absence of war, but beyond that peace is a commodity unlike any other. Peace is security. Peace is a mindset. Peace is a way of living. Peace is the capacity to transcend past hurts — to break cycles of violence and forge new pathways that say, “I would like to make sure we live as a community where there is justice, security, and development for all members.” At the end of the day, peace is an investment; it is something you create by investing in a way of life and monitoring where your resources go.”

An investment. Gandhi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

I believe the same holds true for human security: how can you worry about democratic processes, the global significance of the war in Iraq or climate change if you don’t have access to clean running water, if your government changes every 8 months or if you have to bribe your way into a school or a job?

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Post by Dylan Matthews, Campus Progress

The nation’s initial response to 9/11 was one that could have easily come from an eleven-year-old. Let’s hope we’ve moved beyond the need for war as a response to terrorism.

9-11 tribute

The Tribute in Light is an art installation of 88 searchlights placed next to the site of the World Trade Center to create two vertical columns of light in remembrance of the September 11 attacks. (Flickr/macten)

I was in my sixth grade newspaper class when I heard that a plane had hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. It wasn’t until the second plane struck the other tower that my middle school sent around notes to teachers telling them to make the announcement. One plane, I suppose they had reasoned, could have been an accident and perhaps not worth causing panic. Two was something altogether different. After a brief and, in retrospect, fairly odd warning from my teacher against assuming it was Muslim terrorists that were responsible, we flooded into the school library to watch madness unfold on the school’s 50-inch TV as Dan Rather informed us that the Pentagon had been hit as well.

Everyone one of us, old and young, has of these stories. For people my age—that is to say, those of us currently in college or late high school—the impression of that day has been particularly formative. Before that day, this country we lived in was not one that fought wars. We were barely sentient for the Gulf War, if alive at all. Our country was not one that was attacked on its own soil.

This was the first truly huge event of our lives, and its sheer scale overwhelmed all but the most immediate details. We were too overwhelmed to wonder or care whether al-Qaeda or Iraq or a Timothy McVeigh-like domestic terrorist had planned the act.

That evening, President George W. Bush addressed the American public, “Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution.” My eleven-year-old self understood his logic and took the next step. Big acts, Bush was saying, necessitate big responses.

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CB Trinidad Americas SummitWhile many the world over continue to celebrate the election of an African American to the highest post in U.S. government, participants in the IV People’s Summit  are waiting for more than rhetoric and token reformist changes.

While President Obama may be saying the right things, in the eyes of many, he has yet to confront the systemic oppression that U.S. foreign policy has afflicted on Latin America and the Caribbean for decades, if not centuries.

Easing the travel ban on Cuban Americans is not enough, they want an end to the blockade against Cuba and the state’s readmission to the OAS.  They want a foreign policy for the 21st century, not tired ideological battles of the Cold War.

Half a million in increased foreign aid and increased lines of credit will do little if economic and governmental structures are not changed to incorporate more active participation of the grassroots.  They demand a shift in objective from capital gains to human well-being and self-actualization.

New Energy and Climate Partnerships must be grounded in the lives and needs of everyday working people.  They demand sovereignty and systems that end poverty (not hand outs) over any form of corporate or state-led initiative at security.

Read for yourself. Is President Obama’s foreign policy grounded in structural changes that will prevent further crises, or is he working merely to advance an image of the United States and a failed form of capitalism for fear of exploration of true alternatives?  Or is he merely getting started, working within bureaucratic confines and the real change is yet to come?

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And just a soon as it had begun, it was over. The two-day Rabat, Morocco, conference was a great success, drawing inquisitive, engaged young people from the US and Morocco to discuss two big issues: democracy and security. While the first day included discussions by three panels of experts, the second day was dedicated to youth dialogue (hence the “American-Moroccan Youth Dialogue” title).

On account of the caffeine delivery delay, we started the day a half hour late, but made up the time throughout the day. We divided the 40-odd participants into four groups, making…? That’s right, 10 for each group. (And we’re not math majors). The groups were given the first topic—“ Democracy”—and were told to discuss for 1.5 hours. Clearly, you could spend years discussing this topic and could approach this topic from many angles. We wanted to give each group the opportunity to speak about what they found most interested and to see what direction the discussion led. I hopped from room to room, and was very impressed and surprised by some of the comments, especially from the Moroccan side. Several young Moroccans were very outspoken and critical of the king and his policies (especially regarding the alleviation of poverty). The Moroccans felt they were able to share these thoughts and these criticisms, which I took to mean one of two things. Either, they felt that this forum was a “safe space” in which criticisms of the king’s policies would be accepted, or they are not afraid to speak out against unpopular policies in general. Either way, I took this is a very good sign.

The second 1.5 hour discussion session was dedicated to “Conflict and Security.” Terrorism in Morocco is completely rejected, deemed “un-Moroccan” and “un-Islamic.” Perhaps even more so than the Americans, the Moroccans spoke about the threat of domestic terrorism and the pressing need to begin to address root causes of terrorism—especially poverty and education. Throughout both sessions, groups were developing policy recommendations addressed to the Moroccan and American Government that were to be voted on and, optimally, ratified in the afternoon.

After lunch, the large group reconvened and debated the 33 draft policy recommendations under the titles: Education, Media, Moroccan Politics and Governance, Combating Terrorism, and American Democracy Promotion Projects. In the democratic tradition, we welcomed amendments (2) and debate about each recommendation. At the conclusion of debate, each participant voted on secret ballot “yes” or “no” to the recommendation. After three hours of debate and amending, we ultimately ratified 20 recommendations (by getting a majority of votes from both nationalities). We were all very pleased with the result, this body of recommendations we had organically created through democratic practice—consultation, voting, consensus.

Laurel Rapp

Rabat, Morocco

Written on May 26

The first day of the Rabat, Morocco, conference has just come to a close! We’re all exhausted, but very pleased with the way it turned out! Al Jazeera (Qatar-based pan-Arab TV station) was there broadcasting introductions and two of the three panels all day, which adds a bit of excitement to the mix. In the US, Al Jazeera is perceived as quite negative, portraying a skewed image of the US to the world, but for all of the Middle East, it’s THE moderate news source. But I’ll return to press coverage later…

I kicked off the conference to a room of 80+ with a welcome and introductions including a picture of the rather dismal world opinion of the US. I detailed the purpose of the two-day conference, to increase cross-cultural understanding, to give young people a voice because they so often fall on deaf ears, and to create a space for Americans and Moroccans to discuss their countries’ policies in a neutral forum. Conference partners James Liddell of the Project on Middle East Democracy (Georgetown-based student group) and the President of the Moroccan Center for Strategic Studies spoke about the importance of such a dialogue at this very critical time in history.

Introductions were followed with some very knowledgeable and renowned scholars, activists, and politicians. The first day had three panels entitled:

1) “Talking About Democracy”

2) “US Democracy Promotion Projects in Morocco”

3) “Security in the context of US-Morocco Relations”

All of the panels were fascinating, but perhaps the most fun to watch due to the tension among the panels (and the one that received the most bizarre and misinformed press coverage) was the third panel.

The third panel included the President of the research center partner organization, a Moroccan from a local NGO currently staging a boycott against the American Embassy, and an American Government representative. Awkward? Younes Foudil of the Moroccan NGO participating in the boycott went head-to-head with Craig Karp, the seasoned diplomat from the American Embassy in Rabat (in a very civilized and respectful way, as professionals do, of course. Sorry kids, little to no Jerry Springer action).

Karp, of the Embassy, generously told Foudil that he was encouraged by the development of Moroccan civil society and its realization that boycotting and striking are powerful tools to social change (even boycotting his work….quite generous). Despite the impressiveness of all three panelists, the audience directed a barrage of questions solely at Karp—questions ranging from—more or less—“how do you sleep at night” to more nuanced, less personally offensive questions about official policy towards the contested southern region of Morocco (or region south of Morocco, depending on who you talk to). The first day ended on a high note with applause and positive energy that participants will take to tomorrow’s day of dialogue.

And now for some comic relief: As we all filed outside to the pool terrace of the hotel for Moroccan mint tea and cookies in our business suits, we came across a rather curious sight. Right in the middle of our tea break space was a European couple lounging by the pool facedown, in bikini and speedo, I had to chuckle to myself as Al Jazeera started setting up its cameras to interview us and had to move to avoid this h’shuma (shameful according to Islam) sight.

Laurel Rapp

Rabat, Morocco

Written on May 25, 2007

For the past several months, even during final exams and preparation for Bosnia, my thoughts have been increasingly pre-occupied with the ghastly humanitarian situation in Iraq. Here in Sarajevo, I’m surrounded by the unsettled ghosts of the past, and the demanding, ever-expanding specter of present atrocities in the country invaded by my country more than four years ago. Last night, I stayed up until 3AM with a Bosnian co-worker, discussing Iraq, intolerance, militarism, genocide, collective responsibility, and the long, hard, uncertain road home from war.

Today, the Iraq spending bill passed, so funding of US military involvement in the war will go on for the time being, but it won’t –and simply can’t– go on forever. Our presence there is the only thing keeping the current Iraqi Government from being overwhelmed by the insurgency. Unless a damn good political compromise is worked out –and perhaps even if it is– the Iraqi Government will face a swift end when American forces leave. However, our presence is exacerbating the sectarian civil war and making the security situation for the vast majority of ordinary Iraqis worse.

The bloodbath will continue with us or without us. Hundreds of thousands of people are already dead, and at least as many will suffer from debilitating physical injuries for the rest of their lives. There is evidence that Iraqi security forces and the insurgents are both using torture on a wide scale. The International Committee of the Red Cross is being denied access to Iraqi prisons, a grim indication of how much the Iraqi Government has to hide. Ethnic cleansing is happening, and the demographics of many parts of the country are already irreversibly altered. Entire minority groups are facing extinction or permanent exile from the lands they have inhabited for thousands of years. The Iraqi refugee crisis is one of the worst in the world, and is threatening to overwhelm neighboring countries.

So, what do we do now? Iraq needs a political solution, a security solution, immediate and massive amounts of humanitarian aid, a long-term reconstruction plan, a plan for bringing the perpetrators of international crimes to justice, and a strategy for achieving some measure of reconciliation, even if in the distant future. But who will foot the bill for the reconstruction? Who will provide security? Even if a political solution manages to lessen the violence taking place in the streets, a peacekeeping force will still be needed for some time after. When the dust settles, and the true extent of the crimes that took place during the war become visible, who will introduce the UNSC resolution to create the International Criminal Tribunal for Iraq –or permit the ICC to begin an investigation?

Una’s note: Laurel blogged these a while back, but they didn’t show up, so I’m posting them now. The Cairo conference took place May 3-5.

Report 1.

Bringing the World Home:  An American-Egyptian Youth Dialogue on U.S. Policy

After a two week lull, the second conference in the three-part “Bringing the World Home” series was held this weekend at the American University in Cairo.  Unlike the Amman conference that focused on democratization in Jordan, the Cairo conference was to assess US policy in Egypt and the Middle East.  The evening opening ceremony was open to the public, drawing many Egyptians from the environs and Americans studying at the university. The American contingent was decidedly smaller, bringing about 10 students from around the world (Europe, North Africa, New Zealand, the US) and about five Americans studying abroad in Cairo.

The keynote speaker, Ambassador Sobeeh, spoke very briefly about U.S. policy in the region, more specifically about the state of Israel.  He was somewhat coolly receive by the American participants for his strong, unbalanced words against Israel and his general failure to address U.S. policy outside of its unconditional support of Israel. 

The evening continued with speeches of introduction by sponsoring organizations, including my presentation of AID and a short film the Egyptian delegates prepared on the importance of the conference.  The film was a series of still images, and our initial concern surrounding the film (which initially featured many anti-American images), came to represent a variety of positions.

Report 2.

Cairo Conference Day 2

The first full day of the conference was very intensive—several panels, a lot of discussion in small groups, and informal conversations scattered in between.

Friday kicked off on a good start.  The first panel on “US Democracy Promotion Strategy” was composed of a professor from the American University of Cairo, conference chair Rashad Mahmood, and Saana al-Banna, the great granddaughter of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.  After an overview of the six phases of American foreign policy as seen by Prof Lynch, Rashad and Saana discussed impediments to US democracy strategy in the region. 

After the panel, students went off to their small discussion groups to delve deeper into issues covered by the panel.  I attended a rather large group, perhaps 20 Egyptians, 4 Americans.  Clearly, the topic we were to be discussing is INCREDIBLY controversial and difficult.  Unfortunately, some of the Egyptian participants went on the offensive against the outnumbered Americans, lambasting US foreign policy in their region, lamenting the double standards of its policy, and supporting claims with faulty or no evidence.  One 19-year old Egyptian student claimed that because of America’s moral depravity (claiming that most Californians walk around naked all the time—a suspect claim at best, but then again, I’ve never been to CA myself.  Neither has he coincidentally.)  Little to no substantive solutions were offered to complaints (we were charged with preparing policy recommendations stemming from the discussion). The Americans left feeling rather frustrated and upset.   

I found the afternoon panel on “US and Regional Conflicts{“ incredibly interesting. The two panelists—representatives from the US Dept of State and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, spoke about US involvement in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the War in Lebanon this summer.  The American deleaguate was generally optimistic about America’s role in the Middle East, although did admit to concerns about the War in Iraq.  The Egyptian deleguage discussed, among other things, his personal relationship with September 11 (in Washington at the time) and how it changed the world forever and set the US on a new, more aggressive course. 

Afternoon discussions seemed to be generally more productive.  People listened to each other, questioned in a more respectful way.  Many Egyptian participants concurred that the US should stop its support for Israel and begin supporting Arab countries in the region more.   Several Egyptians were concerned with the powerful “Zionist Lobby” in the US, concerned that it did not represent the wishes of the American people.  I and several others responded to this concern—I think there is a general misperception in the Arab world about a) the power of the pro-Israel lobby and; b) the degree to which Israel is supported by the American people.  I would argue that the majority of Americans feel some kinship with Israel as this little chunk of land is the spiritual homeland for a large percentage of America’s population.  I do believe that Americans care what happens to Israel and that it’s partially our responsibility to protect Israel as we were instrumental in its establishment.  In any event, it was important for participants on both sides to hear the mainstream views of Egyptians and Americans, understand that we both hold misconceptions about the other side, and move to a more productive place once these have been debunked. 

The first full day concluded with a talk on Islam from the Bridges Foundation, an organization that organizes educational programs about the true tenants of Islam.

Report 3.

Cairo AID Conference, May 5

Saturday was a full day of debate, discussion, and really delving into the issues we’d been discussing in passing the previous day.  We broke down into smaller groups (about 8), which turned out to be an excellent way to talk about the issues in a non-confrontational way.  Each group offered policy recommendations that were later combined into a list of 35.

After the morning panel on “War of Words,” I gave a presentation on effective international communication.  I had a whole presentation prepared that discussed methods of bringing what you’ve learned home to your communities and presenting it ina way that they will relate to.  After Friday’s events, I realized that we didn’t even know how to really talk to one another and brining the messages home is the second step; the first is communication.  I gave a presentation on the do’s and don’t of communication.  Participants did an exercise that made them stand in the shoes of another; the American participant was the Egyptian Ambassador the US and the Egyptian the American Ambassador.  With this role reversal, the ambassadors were charged in presenting their government’s position, strategic interests, and concerns for its foreign policy.  Participants said that it was a very effective way of understanding the other’s positions and misconceptions of Egypt’s and the US’s interests and goals. 

The afternoon was dedicated to voting on the policy recommendations put forth by small group discussions.   We voted on 35 resolutions ranging from the need for increased cultural exchange programs between the US and the Arab world to the importance of respecting UN resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Participants were welcome to make two amendments to the recommendation, after which point, secret ballot voting occurred.  The votes are now being tabulated, and I look forward to see what passed and what was voted down.

By the end of the two days, progress had been made.  We both understood the others’ positions better, were aware of misperceptions that our counterparts possessed of us, and came together to create and vote on policy recommendations.  Compared to the general harmony of the Amman Conference, Egypt was a bit of a wake-up call in terms of the general hostility towards the US government and Americans.  What was interesting to both sides, I think, was that although we expected to share very little common ground, we happened to agree on many of the issues when we got down to it.  I hope we will bring the lessons learned in Cairo back to our communities and share these messages.

While I don’t usually recommend CNN.com as a news source, there was an interesting article posted this morning about a new report on climate change and national security.

The report is available here on the CNA Corporation website, the  research group (linked to the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Public Research) that sponsored the study. You guys should check it out!

America has always maintained a strong focus on security, but in recent years it feels as though we’ve taken this concentration to a new level, losing sight of issues that appear less related to self-preservation, such as global poverty, the environment, etc. (Note: check out our military spending as compared to other countries throughout the world.) (Now, check out how much money we donated in foreign aid last year. Look carefully at the percentage of our gross national income (GNI). Pretty sad, huh? You can read more about nations’ donations here.)

Now there’s a new report that demonstrates, not surprisingly, that we have taken the wrong approach. For good or for ill, the Security and Climate report is expected to provide a direct link between climate change and our own national security. While we probably should have been making greater efforts earlier, we now have yet another reason to reduce our impact on the environment and contribute more to nation building.

Some of its central findings and recommendations have already been made available to the public.

Their findings include:
•    Projected climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security.
•    Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.
•    Projected climate change will add to tensions even in stable regions of the world.
•    Climate change, national security and energy dependence are a related set of global challenges.

Some of their inclusions include:
•  The national security consequences of climate change should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies.
•  The U.S. should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate changes at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability.
•  The U.S. should commit to global partnerships that help less developed nations build the capacity and resiliency to better manage climate impacts.

This blog is not intended be to one of the many ‘the sky is falling’ reports that circulate throughout mainstream media on a daily basis. Rather, I hope this report reminds us that the environment, international development, and the security of people throughout the world are interrelated. Let’s act, and encourage our government to act, accordingly!

Best regards,

Lindsay

As usual, there’s some great foreign affairs commentary over at openDemocracy.net, one of my favorite websites. They’re running a great debate called “The Politics of Climate Change” (click on this link) with a very helpful backgrounder on the topic at this link that goes into key aspects such as the science of climate change, creative energy options and climate politics.

One of the many insightful threads that runs through this series is the idea that climate change is not just important in and of itself but also because of the impact that it can have on nations’ security, economies and well-being. In an article called “Kazakhstan: Glaciers and Geopolitics,” author Stephan Harrison points out that the retreat of the glaciers in Central Asia due to climate change could have significant impacts on the geopolitics of the region. You can find the article at this link.

Scientists and observers of the region have two main concerns about climate change in Kazakhstan. The first worry is that infrastructure and transport in the country’s capital, Almaty, the powerhouse capital of the strongest economy of the former Soviet republics, will be disrupted (and endangered) by the severe flooding and debris flows that the melting glaciers might cause. The second worry is that a threatened water supply will destabilize the fragile political balance in Central Asia, since rivers do not recognize national boundaries.

Here’s the money quote:

“The case of Kazakhstan reveals two things: how intimately related are climate, landscape, political and economic systems; and that assessing the risks from future climate change is about more than producing flood hazard maps or knowing where sea-level rises will affect coastlines… More widely, climate change has the potential to disrupt the context within which economic and political decision-making operate. Few non-scientists recognise the extreme rapidity with which climate can alter, and the non-linear and dynamic nature of the climate system. Politicians have consistently failed to listen to the warnings or take them seriously. This means that climate change is likely to have some very unpleasant surprises in store for us.”

The good news is that there’s still time to start taking the advice of scientists. And the time to start addressing climate instability is now.

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