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Well after what seemed like months in the making, we have finally launched the Road to Zero Tour! We are very excited to begin this tour and are anxious to hit the campus streets in Ohio, Massachusetts and Maine delivering our message and building support for a world without nuclear weapons.

We believe that this tour is essential to bring youth into the effort to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, because once the power of youth is tapped and behind this cause, extraordinary things will happen. And to help us garner that support, we are enlisting the help of a brand new documentary film that was released in theaters and will be released on DVD very soon called Countdown to Zero. It is a fantastic film that clearly and convincingly makes the case for a world without nuclear weapons. It is from the same makers of the Academy-Award winning An Inconvenient Truth and we will be screening it at campuses in the three states we will be visiting.

Here is the info. for the screenings we have booked thus far:

Ohio State – Monday, Nov. 15th @7:00pm at the Ohio Union Cartoon Room 2

Kenyon College – Tuesday, Nov. 16th @8:00pm (Location: TBD)

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If you have not, then you’re in luck because AIDemocracy has made it very easy to contact your Senator and urge them to ratify New START without delay!

New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is the first treaty in more than a decade that calls for significant reductions in the strategic nuclear arsenals of both the United States and Russia, the two nations that possess over 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons. And it also provides for intrusive inspections and verification that each party to the treaty is holding up their end of the bargain. The treaty has received overwhelming support by both Democrats and Republicans, and it is a key first step towards achieving a world without nuclear weapons, a goal that President Obama has explicitly set for the United States.

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The present NATO strategy in Afghanistan is referred to as COIN (counterinsurgency strategy). The main objective of this strategy is gaining the trust of Afghan civilians by winning their “hearts and minds,” a strategy that decreased violence and possibly prevented an all out civil war in Iraq in 2007. In Afghanistan however, violence has increased dramatically the past two years, and although it is still early to say whether the COIN strategy is working or not, the statistics show a dark image of the future of the country. Lorenzo Zambernardi, a University of Bologna-Forli lecturer and doctoral candidate of Ohio State University’s Political Science department has written an interesting article on the “impossible trilemma of counterinsurgency.”

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By Tahira Saleem, GPS Issue Analyst on Iraq and Afghanistan

The Afghan President Hamid Karzai has recently announced the formation of a new Peace Council headed by the former President Burhanudin Rabbani. The new peace council is another effort for reintegration of the Taliban in the country’s political system. The earlier Kabul conference and London conference had similar aims of brokering peace with the warring factions in Afghanistan. But the question arises about whether this new council promises any hope for the war-torn country.

The peace council, the brainchild of Karzai, has neglected the Afghan traders, intellectuals, and the members of civil society. All of its 69 hand-picked members are Afghan warlords; the key figure among them is Burhanudin Rabbani, who is implicated in war crimes of killing and displacement of Afghan people.

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Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Iran is ready to resume talks with the West regarding its nuclear program. He stated however, that any negotiations will fail if the West does not clearly come out against Israel’s suspected nuclear arsenal. He made it clear that there will be no achievements whatsoever if the West does not change its policy towards Israel, Iran’s archrival. The West, especially the U.S., will have to make great sacrifices in its foreign relations with Israel in order to meet Iran’s demands, which is something that is highly unlikely to happen. It may appear that Iran is using Israel’s suspected nuclear program in a way to move tensions away from its own.

EU foreign affairs and security Chief Catherine Ashton has suggested the talks to be held in Vienna in November with the P5+1 Countries (the U.S., the U.K., China, France and Russia plus Germany) while U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it was up to Iran to set a date. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has signaled that October or November seems like a suitable time for talks with P5 + 1.

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One of the main reasons for the declining violence in Iraq the past few years was that the Sunni insurgents gave up their arms and started working with and for the American military and the Shia government. Salaries from the Americans and promises of jobs and influence within the government made the Sunnis realize that supporting Al-Qaeda would have devastating results for Iraq and possibly throw the country in to an all-out civil war. This switch of sides is known as the “Sunni Awakening”, and it has helped in restoring hopes for a more secure Iraq.

In the past few months however, Iraq has seen an increase in violence, as the Americans are withdrawing and the country is at a political standstill. Members of the Sunni awakening group are also switching sides again, due to an Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia recruitment offensive. The Sunni ex-insurgents are complaining that they are not getting the relevant jobs they were promised by the government, and that salaries are rarely being paid. An ex–Awakening Council leader, Nathum al-Jubouri says that “The Awakening does not know what the future holds because it is not clear what the government intends for them.”  Less than half of all Awakening members have been offered jobs within the government, and rejoining Al-Qaeda and the insurgency seems like the only solution for many of the Awakening members.

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About 40 % of the Afghan population are Pashtuns, and there are 4 million Pashtuns living in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a nation divided, a nation that holds the key to security in the region. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a Pasthun native, has to some degree neglected the Pasthun population the past 9 years, and while keeping up a tight relationship with India, Pakistan is stirring up the Pashtuns in order to undermine the Afghan government.

The relationship amongst the Pashtun people is one of the reasons why the U.S. objective of a secure and stable Afghanistan has failed so far. Pashtunwali, the Pashtun social code, was one of the reasons the Pashtun population of Baluchistan, FATA and the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan gave shelters to the Taliban and al-Qaeda warriors, and thereby letting them regroup and conduct operations, rest and recreate, and train from inside their bases within Pakistan. This creates a situation that makes it difficult for the U.S. and NATO to achieve their goals in Afghanistan, as most of the main insurgent groups have their bases in Pakistan. The provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Kunar are the most violent regions in Afghanistan, and the insurgents in these provinces conduct their operations from Pakistan (e.g. the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network)

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As the international community views all Israel settlements as illegal, Israelis moved in to 4 new villages only hours after the 10 month building moratorium was over. The political goal of the settlers is to occupy so much land that a shared state between Israel and Palestine will be impossible. What will happen to the peace talks between Israel and Palestine now is uncertain. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said this Saturday that Israel now will have to choose between “peace or settlements”. Abbas now is in a tight spot, as he risks losing support with both the Palestinians and members of his own Fatah party if he continues the peace talks even though the Israelis are restarting their settlements processes. At the same time, Fatah has started a reappeasement process with Hamas, and they have appearantly agreed upon the procedures for new elections. As Israel sees Hamas as a terrorist group, and so does the EU and the U.S., it might be difficult for Abbas to have a normalized relationship with Hamas, and still negotiate peace talks with Israel.

Abbas has said that the peace talks will end if Israel restarts the building of the settlements, but the Palestinian president has called a meeting with the Arab League on October 4th to discuss the situation, and review his options. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that his intentions for peace are genuine. The big issue still remains that as long as the Israelis are building settlements in the middle of the West Bank, the more unlikely will we see a two-state solution to this conflict. And even if the peace talks will be somewhat successful, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will still be in conflict with Israel, as Israel only recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization.

However, the U.S. pressure to keep the peace talks going might be the extra push to the backs of both the Palestinians and the Israelis (at least to get back on track). The U.S., in the long run, is hoping that the parties will go back to negotiate the Arabian Initiative from 2001/02 that said that if Israel will withdraw from the occupied areas, there will be a total peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem. Syria is essential in this, considering that Israel still occupies the Golan Heights. Even though such an agreement may seem long ahead in the future, it is a beginning.

Within the mainstream media, the Taliban in Afghanistan is often portrayed like many other enemies to America…”ruthless killers who are bent on destroying America and providing aide to Al-Qaeda if they are to regain control of Afghanistan.” Granted, this characterization is not completely devoid of some truth. I do think it is entirely fair to claim that they would provide a haven to Al-Qaeda if they came back into power in Afghanistan. However, the characterization of them as “ruthless killers who are bent on destroying America,” undoubtedly leaves me a bit skeptical. After all, waging a war against an enemy has many fronts, including on the front of public opinion, so naturally, I hesitate to believe much of the picture that the mainstream media tries to paint. And my skepticism was justified after I saw this:

Taliban Primp, Sing, Snipe U.S. Troops In Rare Video

The video is an approximately 20 minute documentary film by a Norwegian documentary filmmaker who managed to embed himself with a Taliban troop outfit hiding up in the mountains of Afghanistan, launching repeated attacks on American convoys. The film does not glorify or romanticize the Taliban in my view. It tells the story of the war in Afghanistan from the point of view of the Taliban (albeit a small subsection of it) like it is, which is simultaneously disturbing and fascinating. It portrays “them” as they are and gives particular insight into who they are and why they are fighting. At the very least, the film humanizes them, and while I was watching it, I was frequently reminded of several other war films I have seen of late, the most recent of which being “The Hurt Locker.” I am continually fascinated by the portrayals in this film (and others) of the desensitization of violence that occurs amongst the troops and the  dehumanization of the enemy that takes place so that it’s easier for American troops to kill them in combat without feeling remorse. The reason I was continually reminded of this while I was watching the documentary was because I noticed that the Taliban troops exhibited the same characteristics.

The conclusion I came to after watching this film, of which I think should be the goal that we all aspire to, is to recognize that war is something that needs to be avoided, at all costs, because the result is that it causes us to dehumanize each other when instead we should be recognizing and embracing the commonalities that we all share. After all, if we instead focused more on seeing each other as fellow human beings, we just might have less of an inclination to kill each other.

It seems that given all of the fire and brimstone that Republicans love to shout will be raining down upon us for our shameless “tax and spend” policies of recent years, you would think that they themselves, to remain consistent with their statements, would be hawks when it comes to federal spending. And indeed they are, when it comes to spending on providing adequate health care of America’s citizens and various other social welfare services. However, there seems to be a rather large exception for when it comes to military spending, particularly when it comes to nuclear weapons, and especially when the spending can directly affect how much money comes into a particular state.

Take Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) as an example, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is tasked with the responsibility of voting the New START out of committee so it can be put to a vote before the full Senate for its ratification. Recently, he has stated that he feels the federal funds for the upkeep of the nuclear weapons complex, of which the Obama administration has already allocated $80 billion for (which is already an unprecedented increase), is somehow $10 billion short of what is needed. There is much debate in Washington about where he actually is getting that figure from, and most accounts say that he is pointing to inaccurate and outdated figures, but that’s not what the larger issue is here. What is at play here is Sen. Corker’s willingness to delay the ratification of New START, thus tampering with our nation’s national security efforts, all because he wants some more funding for the Uranium Processing Facility planned for the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Do you know what they call this type of frivolous and unnecessary spending? You should, and so should Sen. Corker because he and his party have used the term constantly to derail various other spending projects, especially by Democrats. It’s called “pork.” However, don’t count on Sen. Corker using that term when talking about acquiring more money for this facility in his home state. Why would he anyway? Hypocrisy and irresponsibility seem to be a suit that’s tailor-made for him.

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