2010 Archive Selected News Articles

December 2010

  • Dec-29-2010
    The Economist: The United States, Israel and the Arabs: Please, not again! Without boldness from Barack Obama there is a real risk of war in the Middle East.
    NO WAR, no peace, is the usual state of affairs between Israel and its neighbours in the Middle East. But every time an attempt at Arab-Israeli peacemaking fails, as Barack Obama’s did shortly before Christmas, the peace becomes a little more fragile and the danger of war increases. Sadly, there is reason to believe that unless remedial action is taken, 2011 might see the most destructive such war for many years. One much-discussed way in which war might arise stems from the apparent desire of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons at any cost, and Israel’s apparent desire to stop Iran at any cost. But fear of Iran’s nuclear programme is only one of the fuses that could detonate an explosion at any moment. Another is the frantic arms race that has been under way since the inconclusive war in 2006 between Israel and Hizbullah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon. Both sides have been intensively preparing for what each says will be a “decisive” second round. Such a war would bear little resemblance to the previous clashes between Israel and its neighbours. For all their many horrors, the Lebanon war of 2006 and the Gaza war of 2009 were limited affairs. On the Israeli side, in particular, civilian casualties were light. Since 2006, however, Iran and Syria have provided Hizbullah with an arsenal of perhaps 50,000 missiles and rockets, many with ranges and payloads well beyond what Hizbullah had last time. This marks an extraordinary change in the balance of power. For the first time a radical non-state actor has the power to kill thousands of civilians in Israel’s cities more or less at the press of a button.

  • Dec-29-2010
    The Economist: America & The Middle East: Great sacrifices, small rewards. Has America’s obsession with this region been worth it?
    THE Middle East holds a giant chunk of the world’s energy reserves, and also generates its biggest political headaches. Small wonder that the United States has long had an outsize interest in the place. Since September 11th 2001, and the rise of radical Islam as the sole violent challenge to an American-shaped international order, America’s focus on the region between the Nile and the Indus rivers has been obsessive. Yet all the attention would seem to have been in vain. America’s influence has dwindled everywhere with the financial crisis and the rise of emerging powers. But it seems to be withering faster in the Middle East than anywhere else. Two decades ago, when America marshalled a daunting force to toss Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, it stood unchallenged in the region. Kings and presidents-for-life vied for American favour. Countries such as Iran that would not, or Somalia that could not, were ignored. When America summoned leaders to Madrid in 1991 to sort out the most intractable Middle Eastern mess, the Arab-Israeli struggle, some grumbled, but all fell into line. Most of them still come when America beckons, but ten years ago things began to slip. Despite the commitment of successive American presidents, and despite near-consensus worldwide on the outlines of an agreement, Arab-Israeli peace has kept receding out of reach. The invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 vastly expanded America’s bootprint in the region. But the smoke of those Pyrrhic triumphs cleared to reveal America in trouble. The global “war on terror” declared by George Bush displaced al-Qaeda and prevented several serious attacks. But those successes drained America’s treasury, alienated its friends and emboldened its enemies. Recalcitrant, revolutionary Iran found itself magically enhanced.

  • Dec-28-2010
    New York Times: Iraq Wants the U.S. Out. Prime Minister, in Interview, Says Troops Must Leave Next Year as Planned.
    BAGHDAD—Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, saying his new government and the country's security forces were capable of confronting any remaining threats to Iraq's security, sovereignty and unity. Mr. Maliki spoke with The Wall Street Journal in a two-hour interview, his first since Iraq ended nine months of stalemate and seated a new government after an inconclusive election, allowing Mr. Maliki to begin a second term as premier. A majority of Iraqis—and some Iraqi and U.S. officials—have assumed the U.S. troop presence would eventually be extended, especially after the long government limbo. But Mr. Maliki was eager to draw a line in his most definitive remarks on the subject. "The last American soldier will leave Iraq" as agreed, he said, speaking at his office in a leafy section of Baghdad's protected Green Zone. "This agreement is not subject to extension, not subject to alteration. It is sealed." He also said that even as Iraq bids farewell to U.S. troops, he wouldn't allow his nation to be pulled into alignment with Iran, despite voices supporting such an alliance within his government. "For Iraq to be dragged into an axis or an orbit, that's impossible, and we reject it whether this comes from Iran, Turkey or the Arabs," he said. He added that a kind of "paranoia" about a Tehran-Baghdad alliance in the U.S. is matched by a fear in Iran about U.S. influence: "An Iranian official visited me in the past and told me, 'I thought the Americans were standing at the door of your office,' " he said. In his first media interview since the Iraqi Parliament confirmed his new cabinet in December, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sat down for an exclusive conversation with The Wall Street Journal's Sam Dagher. Here are some excerpts.

  • Dec-27-2010
    Foreign Policy: The Year in Foreign Policy. In global politics, it was a year of highs and lows. Readers were mostly interested in the lows.
    In writing this article last year, I noted that Foreign Policy's readership appeared most interested in clicking on stories about the darkest corners of the planet -- and expressed hope that happier subjects would predominate in 2010. Well, consider my hopes dashed. Another year has passed, and our readers are still captivated by the world's most blighted places. FP's most popular articles from 2010 included images from the world's failed states, a list of the planet's most tyrannical despots, and an angry plea for why the rest of us should care more about flood-ravaged Pakistan.

  • Dec-21-2010
    Sovereign Challenge: The Strange Survival of the Arab Autocracies.
    Five or six years ago, it felt like the springtime of the Arabs. The Iraqi experiment had survived the assault on it by the jihadists, the media, and the rulers of the neighboring Arab states. Much as Arabs discounted the new order in Iraq as the imposition of an American imperium, much as they spoke of a despotic Iraqi culture that knew no middle ground between anarchy on one side and tyranny on the other, a democratic example was putting down roots in the most arid of soil.

  • Dec-15-2010
    The Economist: The Madoff Fraud: An Affair To Remember
    IRVING PICARD, the court-appointed trustee overseeing the Madoff estate’s bankruptcy (pictured), has earned his year-end break. December 11th, the second anniversary of Bernie Madoff’s arrest for perpetrating the largest financial fraud in history, was also the deadline for lawsuits to help recoup investors’ losses. Mr Picard has been furiously busy, firing off dozens of lawsuits seeking a total of around $50 billion for investors who lost money in Mr Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

  • Dec-13-2010
    The Economist: Photography: Going round the bend - A camera that can see around corners
    PHOTOGRAPHY can perform many tricks. Until now, though, looking round corners has not been one of them. Ramesh Raskar of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (http://web.mit.edu/) plans to change that. He and his students, Ahmed Kirmani and Andreas Velten, have developed a camera that can see what other cameras cannot. In standard flash photography, a bulb on the camera releases a burst of light. This light strikes objects. Some of the light then bounces back to the camera, where it is used to generate an image. Dr Raskar’s device is similar, but with one crucial difference. Instead of recording light reflected directly from the object to be photographed, it records light that has been reflected several times on the journey.

  • Dec-13-2010
    Foreign Policy: Let There Be Light -- How a new kind of bulb will transform the developing world.
    We in the developed world are preoccupied with the consumer technologies of the 21st century -- ubiquitous high-speed Internet, the iPad, and the Wii Fit. We forget that vast swaths of the developing world have yet to be transformed by a technological upheaval we experienced more than a century ago: the advent of electric lighting. But the latest illumination innovation could change that, bringing not just greater efficiency to the well-wired West but also better quality of life to everyone else. The first lighting revolution was powered by gas. As gaslight replaced candles over the course of the 18th century, the amount of artificial illumination produced in Britain each year shot up more than 100-fold. In 1879, Thomas Edison began the second lighting revolution when he strung his Menlo Park headquarters with electric lamps using carbonized bamboo filaments. By 1881, a few blocks of southern Manhattan were illuminated by electricity, and the West has never looked back. Over the past 100 years, there have been many bulb innovations -- including tungsten halogen, metal halide, sodium, and compact fluorescent. And thanks to improved manufacturing and design, it costs 1,000 times less to light a room today than it did 100 years ago. Still, the vast majority of light bulbs worldwide today --12 billion of them -- use a filament system similar to Edison's. And for all the progress over the last century, these bulbs remain very inefficient. The amount of energy pushed through a filament that actually emerges as visible light is around 2 percent -- most of the rest is lost as heat. This inefficiency is the big reason why in the United States, the power used to light Edison bulbs produces half as much carbon dioxide as the country's car fleet. And it is why governments around the world are so keen for consumers to switch to more efficient bulbs like compact fluorescents.

  • Dec-13-2010
    The Economist: Kock-ups and conspiracies
    FOR a moment, they almost had us fooled. It looked very much like a press release from Koch Industries, announcing that the big American conglomerate would stop funding various lobby groups (http://www.scribd.com/doc/45044630) that question the scientific consensus on global warming or oppose laws to curb emissions. Earlier this year Greenpeace issued a report detailing Koch’s aid (http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/media-center /reports/koch-industries-secretly-fund/%20) to such groups, calling it “a financial kingpin of climate-science denial”. The New Yorker followed up with a profile of the company and its owners (http://www.newyorker.com /reporting/2010/08/30/100830fa_fact_mayer) , the brothers David and Charles Koch, detailing their generous, if discreet, support for these and other right-wing courses. If all this adverse publicity had indeed induced a bout of “climate conscience” in the brothers, it would be quite some story. But it was a spoof. A well-executed one, mind. The release appeared on Friday on www.koch- inc.com (http://www.koch-inc.com) , which one might easily have assumed to be the American conglomerate’s official website. Someone had gone to the trouble of registering and creating this site in the hope that it would convince journalists “checking” the story that it was authentic. By Monday it seemed to have been taken down or blocked, and Google was redirecting searchers to the company’s real homepage (http://www.kochind.com/newsroom/news_releases.aspx).

  • Dec-02-2010
    The Economist: WikiLeaks: Read cables and red faces - Even those who back more disclosure should hesitate before condoning WikiLeaks’ torrent of e-mails
    YOU don’t have to be Julian Assange, the man behind WikiLeaks, to think that governments have a nasty habit of abusing their powers of secrecy. Or that, whether governments are corrupt and malign or merely negligent and incompetent, then sunlight is often the best disinfectant. One of the jobs of journalism is to make a grubby nuisance of itself by ferreting out the establishment’s half-truths and embarrassments. And one of the jobs of the courts is to police the press by protecting whistle-blowers while also punishing libel and treachery. But the most recent WikiLeaks dump of diplomatic cables has overturned that order in two ways. First by its sheer volume. When you have not just a handful of documents to release, but more than 250,000 e-mails seemingly touching on every file in the State Department, however dusty, you discredit not just one government official or one policy, but an entire way of going about diplomacy (see article). It is too soon to know what effect the leak’s revelations will have. The newspapers have so far published the e-mails piecemeal, and a lot more are to come. Foreign-policy experts are right when say they have learned little that is radically new. Revelations about the tireless nightlife of Italy’s ageing prime minister will surprise no one. Given that hundreds of thousands of people had access to the cables, the sensitive stuff will already be in the hands of many a spy service.

  • Dec-02-2010
    The Economist: Arab Democracy: A commodity still in short supply - Despite a recent flurry of elections, true democracy is still a rarity in the Arab world. None of the explanations on offer is conclusive
    AUTUMN has been a busy season for Arab democracy—or at least the semblance of it. Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan have all run noisy general elections, and the Iraqi politicians elected last March finally, last month, came close to ending the haggling over how to share their spoils. Yet none of these exercises seems to augur deep democratic change. Even adding the elections held over the past few years in places as diverse as Algeria, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen, the practice of democracy across the Arab world appears to produce much the same result: perpetuation of rule by well-entrenched strongmen, the demoralisation and sometimes radicalisation of the forces opposed to them, and the degradation of the word democracy, to the point where there is often little discernible difference between those Arab countries that make a show of practising it and those, like Saudi Arabia, that do not even pretend. Two decades after the cold war’s end prompted a global wave of democratisation, and nearly a decade after George Bush tried to stir his own hopeful wave, Arabs seem to remain unusually immune to democracy’s spread. Of the 22 countries of the Arab League (of which admittedly several are not in fact Arab), only three can lay much of claim to being true democracies, and even those have flaws. Iraq, despite continuing bloodshed, seems to have broken away from one-party rule but lacks a cross-sectarian consensus and decent institutions. Lebanon sustains an open and pluralist society, albeit fractured and polarised among and within sects and beholden to the feudal sway of powerful families. And the Palestinians freely elected a legislature in 2006, but the winning party was prevented from exercising power across the divided territories. Every Arab country now has a form of representative legislature, even if most have little power and some, like Saudi Arabia’s, are appointed by a king.

  • Dec-01-2010
    Foreign Policy: The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers
    Foreign Policy presents a unique portrait of 2010's global marketplace of ideas and the thinkers who make them.

November 2010

  • Nov-25-2010
    The Economist: Insider tading on Wall Street: Outside the law - A government investigation shakes the hedge-fund industry
    IN A SPEECH in October, Preet Bharara, federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, laid out his plans to root out insider trading, which he compared to a “performance-enhancing drug”. Some of the hedge-fund industry’s top brass may soon stand accused of using what Mr Bharara called “financial steroids”. On November 22nd the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided three hedge funds as part of a sweeping investigation into insider trading that could prove to be the largest that the industry has ever faced. Several well-known hedge funds, mutual funds and consulting firms have already been ensnared and the list of firms from which the government is demanding information continues to grow. Some are related to SAC Capital Advisors, a big outfit run by Steven Cohen, one of the industry’s most famous managers. Two of the hedge funds that FBI officials visited, Diamondback Capital Management and Level Global Investors, are headed by former SAC traders, one of whom is also Mr Cohen’s brother-in-law. SAC itself has received a subpoena from the federal government, which has made a request for broad swathes of information. By November 24th only one person had been arrested and charged with securities fraud: Don Ching Trang Chu, an employee at an “expert networking firm”. These firms, which purport to provide consulting services, enable investors to pay them for advice on specific companies and industries, some of which may include non-public information. Many hedge funds are likely to suspend dealings with these firms while details of the investigation are sorted out. The probe could also dent hedge funds’ nascent recovery by causing spooked investors to withdraw their money. The winners include lawyers and public-relations firms, which are seeing a surge in demand for their services, according to one hedge-fund executive.

  • Nov-25-2010
    The Economist: Cancer and obesity: Malignant flab - At last, an understanding of how overeating causes cancer
    OVERWEIGHT women are more likely to develop breast cancer than lean ones. Why has been a mystery. But it is now less mysterious thanks to the work of Kevin Gardner, a researcher at America’s National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr Gardner and his colleagues have found that processing calories affects the activity of BRCA1, a gene that encodes a well-known tumour-suppression protein. Mutations of this gene are strong predictors of breast and ovarian cancer—so strong that the gene’s DNA sequence is the subject of litigation in America about whether natural gene sequences can be patented, and thus the market in tests for these mutations cornered. Dr Gardner’s discovery is that a substance called C-terminal binding protein (CtBP) helps regulate BRCA1. Since the activity of CtBP is, itself, governed by the processing of calorie-rich molecules, the more of those molecules the body processes, the more at risk of cancer it becomes. Previous work has shown that CtBP senses the amount of energy in a cell by binding to a small molecule called NADH. This chemical is a by-product of metabolism, and cells that are processing an excessive amount of energy for storage have a superabundance of it compared with the amount of a related molecule called NAD+. As the ratio of NAD+ to NADH falls, CtBP combines with NADH. This changes CtBP’s shape and enables it to form complexes with several other proteins. These complexes control the activity of DNA by shutting off certain genes. Dr Gardner and his team report in the latest issue of Nature Structural & Molecular Biology that one of the genes so controlled is BRCA1.

October 2010

  • Oct-08-2010
    Investopedia: The Best And Worst Investing Advice
    Investing is a confusing endeavor for many people, so much so that an entire industry has grown up around giving advice to those in need. Sometimes that advice works out and sometimes it doesn't. Let's look at few timeworn concepts that don't always work out so well for investors despite the industry's recommendations. There are few absolutes in the world of investing, but for decades leading up to the late 2000s, there were a few Wall Street mantras that investors were told over and over again. Here are some of the best and the worst investing advice you've probably heard.

September 2010

  • NO ARTICLES FOR SEPTEMBER

August 2010

  • Aug-26-2010
    Wall Street Journal: A Muslim Reformer --Irshad Manji-- on the Mosque. The warriors for tolerance and the antimosque crusaders are both wrong.
    Debates across America over Islamic centers and mosques won't soon be resolved. But this summer's hysteria is giving the upper hand to one nefarious force: the culture of offense. Election-year politics, ratings-hungry media and deep personal fear foment raw emotion. In such an environment, "I'm offended" takes on the stature of a substantive argument. Too many Americans are mistaking feeling for thinking. That's true not just among antimosque crusaders, but also among warriors for tolerance. Consider Bob, who feels so offended by antimosque activists in his state of Tennessee that these feelings alone drive him to support more mosques—without prior thought to what, exactly, he's supporting. "I found local citizens to be intolerant and un-American," Bob tells me over email. "So as a gesture of tolerance and Americanism, I donated to the mosque building fund."

  • Aug-26-2010
    The Economist: American power: After Iraq. America has had a bruising decade. But do not underestimate either the superpower or its president.
    When Barack Obama confirms next week that all American combat forces have left Iraq, you can be sure of one thing. He will not repeat the triumphalism of George Bush’s suggestion seven years ago that America’s mission there has been accomplished. Mr Obama always considered this a “dumb” war, and events have proved him largely right. America and its allies may have rid the Middle East of a bloodstained dictator, but Saddam Hussein’s vaunted weapons of mass destruction turned out to be a chimera and the cost in American and especially Iraqi lives has been hideous. Iraq, it is true, is no longer a dictatorship. Thanks in part to Mr Bush’s lonely refusal in 2007 to heed the calls to cut and run, the sectarian bloodletting that followed the invasion has abated. But the country’s new democracy remains chronically insecure (see article), which is one reason why some 50,000 American “support” troops are to stay behind to shore it up.

  • Aug-23-2010
    Stratfor: Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks, Again.
    The Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) have agreed to engage in direct peace talks Sept. 2 in Washington. Neither side has expressed any enthusiasm about the talks. In part, this comes from the fact that entering any negotiations with enthusiasm weakens your bargaining position. But the deeper reason is simply that there have been so many peace talks between the two sides [2] and so many failures that it is difficult for a rational person to see much hope in them. Moreover, the failures have not occurred for trivial reasons. They have occurred because of profound divergences in the interests and outlooks of each side. These particular talks are further flawed because of their origin. Neither side was eager for the talks. They are taking place because the United States wanted them. Indeed, in a certain sense, both sides are talking because they do not want to alienate the United States and because it is easier to talk and fail than it is to refuse to talk.

  • Aug-18-2010
    Wall Street Journal: Article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali: How to Win the Clash of Civilizations. The key advantage of Huntington's famous model is that it describes the world as it is -- not as we wish it to be.
    What do the controversies around the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France have in common? All four are framed in the Western media as issues of religious tolerance. But that is not their essence. Fundamentally, they are all symptoms of what the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington called the "Clash of Civilizations," particularly the clash between Islam and the West. Huntington's argument is worth summarizing briefly for those who now only remember his striking title. The essential building block of the post-Cold War world, he wrote, are seven or eight historical civilizations of which the Western, the Muslim and the Confucian are the most important. The balance of power among these civilizations, he argued, is shifting. The West is declining in relative power, Islam is exploding demographically, and Asian civilizations—especially China—are economically ascendant. Huntington also said that a civilization-based world order is emerging in which states that share cultural affinities will cooperate with each other and group themselves around the leading states of their civilization.

  • Aug-18-2010
    Foreign Policy: The Global Cities Index 2010.
    We are at a global inflection point. Half the world's population is now urban --and half the world's most global cities are Asian. The 2010 Global Cities Index, a collaboration between Foreign Policy, management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, reveals a snapshot of this pivotal moment. In 2010, five of the world's 10 most global cities are in Asia and the Pacific: Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, and Seoul. Three --New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles --are American cities. Only two, London and Paris, are European. And there's no question which way the momentum is headed: Just as more people will continue to migrate from farms to cities, more global clout will move from West to East. And yet, even as we see the dramatic effects of globalization at work in the rise of up-and-coming cities like Bangalore, Sao Paulo, and Shanghai, what's also remarkable is just how dominant the great capitals of old- school commerce remain. New York, London, Tokyo, and Paris are the top four, as they were in the first Global Cities Index two years ago, and they are ahead in most of the criteria that make a truly global city. Influential networks boost global impact, and having a giant head start --as New York does in market capitalization, Tokyo in Fortune Global 500 companies, and London in international travelers --will only amplify those advantages in the future. Success breeds success.

  • Aug-17-2010
    Stratfor: The U.S. Withdrawal and Limited Options in Iraq.
    It is August 2010, which is the month when the last U.S. combat troops are scheduled to leave Iraq [2]. It is therefore time to take stock of the situation in Iraq, which has changed places with Afghanistan as the forgotten war. This is all the more important since 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq, and while they may not be considered combat troops, a great deal of combat power remains embedded with them. So we are far from the end of the war in Iraq. The question is whether the departure of the last combat units is a significant milestone and, if it is, what it signifies. The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 [3] with three goals: The first was the destruction of the Iraqi army, the second was the destruction of the Baathist regime and the third was the replacement of that regime with a stable, pro-American government in Baghdad. The first two goals were achieved within weeks. Seven years later, however, Iraq still does not yet have a stable government, let alone a pro-American government. The lack of that government is what puts the current strategy in jeopardy.

  • Aug-10-2010
    Sovereign Challenge: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are the new tools of protest in the Arab world.
    Khaled Said is not the first Egyptian whom police allegedly beat to death. But his death has sparked a virtual revolution that is affecting Egypt's tightly controlled society. Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian businessman, was brutally beaten, his family and activists say, by two plainclothes police officers on June 6. An Interior Ministry autopsy claimed that Said suffocated after swallowing a bag of drugs he tried to hide from police. But a photograph of a shattered body that his family confirmed was his started circulating online. Teeth missing, lip torn, jaw broken and blood pouring from his head: It was difficult to square such trauma with suffocation. His family said he was targeted after he posted a video online allegedly showing police sharing profits of a drug bust. If social media in the Arab world were merely outlets for venting or "stress relief" -- as detractors claim -- then Said's fate would have ended with some angry comments on Facebook and a tweet or two railing at the Egyptian regime. Instead, thanks to social media's increasing popularity and ability to connect activists with ordinary people, Egyptians are protesting police brutality in unprecedented numbers. On July 27, the two police officers connected to his death stood trial on charges of illegal arrest and excessive use of force. If convicted, they face three to 15 years' imprisonment.

July 2010

  • Jul-30-2010
    Spiegel Online: Iraq's Garden of Eden. Restoring the Paradise that Saddam Destroyed.
    Saddam Hussein drained the unique wetlands of southern Iraq as a punishment to the region's Marsh Arabs who had backed an uprising. Two decades later, one courageous US Iraqi is leading efforts to restore the marshes. Not even exploding bombs can deter him from his dream. Azzam Alwash is an anomaly in Iraq, a country devastated by war and terrorism. As he punts through the war zone in a wooden boat, his biggest concerns are a missing otter, poisoned water and endangered birds. Who thinks about the environment in southern Iraq, and who is willing to risk his life to save a marsh? "Isn't this wonderful?" Alwash asks as his boat, accompanied by armed guards, glides through a channel lined with reeds. Flocks of birds fly through a reddish evening sky above the marshland, where the air temperature has dropped to 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) -- cool by local standards. Basra, a city devastated by war, is only 60 kilometers (37 miles) away, and yet it might as well be on another planet. Water buffalo snort as they swim past the boat. Alwash, a broad-shouldered man with bushy gray hair and a moustache, is beaming as he sits upright on the rowing bench. "Just look at this," he says. "There was a desert here just a few months ago."

  • Jul-27-2010
    Spiegel Online: The Whistleblowers. Is WikiLeaks a Blessing or Curse for Democracy?
    The whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks, which posted the Afghanistan war logs this week, has made publishing government secrets its mission. Many see founder Julian Assange as a hero, but others, including the Pentagon, consider him a threat to national security. He walks in quickly, a spring in his step. Even before greeting anyone in the room, he searches for a power outlet for his small, black computer. It's a simple, inexpensive notebook, but the world's intelligence agencies would pay a lot of money for the chance to see what's on it. The man's name is Julian Assange. He has just come from Stockholm, following a brief stay in Brussels. Before that, he was off the radar for a couple of weeks. Assange is practically a wanted man these days. It's almost as if he were on the run. Five agents from the United States Department of Homeland Security tried to pay him a visit two weeks ago, just before he was scheduled to speak at a conference in New York. But their efforts were in vain. Assange decided to stay in England after his attorney had told him that various other US government agencies were also very interested in speaking with him. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently characterized Assange and his work as "irresponsible."

  • Jul-26-2010
    Wall Street Journal: The Cop on the Banks of the Nile. No great upheaval has taken place in the Egypt of Hosni Mubarak. But the country has stagnated, and some of its children have blamed the U.S. and embraced terror.
    He was there on the reviewing stand on Oct. 6, 1981, when the assassins struck down his flamboyant predecessor, Anwar Sadat. Few thought that Hosni Mubarak, an unassuming military officer, would survive the tumult of Egypt's politics. The country was on the boil, the assassins who took Sadat's life had been brazen beyond imagination. They had stormed the reviewing stand on the eighth anniversary of the October War of 1973. Lt. Khalid Islambouli, the leader of this band of assassins, told Mr. Mubarak to get out of the way for they had come only after "that dog." Mr. Mubarak was spared that day, and still, three decades later, he rules. Rumors of poor health swirl around him, and the Egypt he has dominated for so long is a crowded, broken country. "I shot the Pharaoh," Lt. Islambouli said, without doubt or remorse. He and his band of plotters had no coherent plan for the seizure of power. They would kill the defiant ruler, for them an apostate, make an example of him, and hope that his successors would heed his fate. Mr. Mubarak would confound the militants. In his years at the helm, he would stick to the big choices Sadat had made: He would stay in the orbit of the Pax Americana, and he would maintain the "cold peace" with Israel. The authoritarian, secular state, with the army as its mainstay, would keep its grip on political power. But there is no denying that Mr. Mubarak had internalized the lessons of Sadat's assassination.

  • Jul-22-2010
    DR. KADHOM HABIB: LETTER TO SISTANY -- ISLAMIC RITUALS MUST STOP (in Arabic).

  • Jul-26-2010
    Stratfor: Geopolitics, Nationalism and Dual Citizenship.
    Geopolitics is central to STRATFORs methodology, providing the framework upon which we study the world. The foundation of geopolitics in our time is the study of the nation-state, and fundamental to this is the question of the relationship of the individual to the nation-state. Changes in the relationship of the individual to the nation and to the state are fundamental issues in geopolitics, and thus worth discussing. Many issues affect this complex relationship, notable among them the increasing global trend of multiple citizenship. This is obviously linked to the question of immigration, but it also raises a deeper question, namely, what is the meaning of citizenship in the 21st century?

  • Jul-20-2010
    Spiegel Online: America's Hour of Truth. The Risk of Failure in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    Barack Obama is caught in a Catch-22 situation: If America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq fail, they will overshadow any of his domestic achievements. The end game in the leadership role of the United States in the world began long ago. Can the Afghanistan conference deliver a breakthrough?

  • Jul-18-2010
    Sovereign Challenge: The Fatwa & Extreme Militant Extremism.
    A frail old man, wearing a black turban and ankle-length robes, stepped out of an Air France 747 into a chill February morning. His back hunched, he clutched the arm of a steward as he took faltering steps down a portable ramp to touch Iranian soil. After 15 years in exile, Ruhollah Khomeini had come home, the 78-year-old spiritual leader of a popular revolution that had toppled the shah of Iran and humbled SAVAK, his American-backed secret police force. Several million people from all across the country thronged into the capital to welcome the ayatollah, lining the 20-mile route out to Behesht-Zahra cemetery, where many of the martyrs of the revolution were buried. "The holy one has come!" they shouted triumphantly. "He is the light of our lives!" At the cemetery Khomeini prayed and delivered a 30-minute funeral oration for the dead. Then a boys' chorus sang, "May every drop of their blood turn to tulips and grow forever. Arise! Arise! Arise!" In the decade between Khomeini's return to Tehran and the imposition of his fatwa on Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses -- and it was almost 10 years to the day that the one followed the other -- Islamism mutated from being a minor irritant to nationalist regimes in Muslim countries into a major threat to the West. The Rushdie affair, and the fatwa in particular, seemed like a warning that the seeds of the Iranian revolution were being successfully scattered across the globe, not least into the heart of the secular West. And yet the fatwa was an expression as much of the failure of radical Islam as of its success. In 1989, the radicals in Tehran were on the defensive. Iran had been forced, the previous year, to abandon a bitter and bloody eight-year war against Iraq that cost the lives of up to a million Iranians. Khomeini was facing increased domestic opposition from reformers such as the speaker of the parliament, Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had condemned the "shortsightedness" of Iranian foreign policy for "making enemies without reason" and was pushing for improved relations with the West.

  • Jul-15-2010
    Wall Street Journal: Karl Rove -- My Biggest Mistake in the White House. Failing to refute charges that Bush lied us into war has hurt our country.
    Seven years ago today, in a speech on the Iraq war, Sen. Ted Kennedy fired the first shot in an all-out assault on President George W. Bush's integrity. "All the evidence points to the conclusion," Kennedy said, that the Bush administration "put a spin on the intelligence and a spin on the truth." Later that day Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle told reporters Mr. Bush needed "to be forthcoming" about the absence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Thus began a shameful episode in our political life whose poisonous fruits are still with us. The next morning, Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry and John Edwards joined in. Sen. Kerry said, "It is time for a president who will face the truth and tell the truth." Mr. Edwards chimed in, "The administration has a problem with the truth." The battering would continue, and it was a monument to hypocrisy and cynicism. All these Democrats had said, like Mr. Bush did, that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD. Of the 110 House and Senate Democrats who voted in October 2002 to authorize the use of force against his regime, 67 said in congressional debate that Saddam had these weapons. This didn't keep Democrats from later alleging something they knew was false—that the president had lied America into war.

  • Jul-15-2010
    The Economist: Thank you and goodbye For good or ill, change is coming to Egypt and Saudi Arabia soon.
    The fate of the Arab world’s two most important states lies in the hands of ageing autocrats. Hosni Mubarak, an 82-year-old air-force general who has ruled Egypt since 1981, is widely reported to be grievously ill. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who assumed the throne of the Arabs’ richest country five years ago but has run the show for longer, is reckoned to be 86. The grim reaper will bring change in both places soon. Maybe the old men will manage to control their succession. President Mubarak has been preparing the ground for his son, Gamal, to take over (see special report). King Abdullah’s anointed successor, Crown Prince Sultan, one of his 18 surviving brothers, has long been poorly, but there are plenty more where he came from (see article). Decades of repression have ensured that the opposition is quiescent in Egypt and virtually inaudible in Saudi Arabia. But they have also made these countries vulnerable to violent disruption. Transition in autocracies often means instability. The fate of these two countries matters to the West for two big reasons: energy and security. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been reliable, if flawed, allies. Should they stumble, the West’s interests in the region will be imperilled. That is why those regimes need to be encouraged to liberalise their countries’ economic and political systems further and turn them into places where change brings hope not fear.

  • Jul/Aug 2010
    Foriegn Policy: Who Else Is to Blame?
    From security short falls to lack of government accountibility, Mo Ibrahim, Paul Wolfowitz, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Bruce Babbitt, and Raymond C. Offenheiser explain those contributing factors that cripple societies and inevitably keep failed states failing.

  • Jul/Aug 2010
    Foriegn Policy: Where Left Means Right. What happens when political parties trend in the other direction?
    From security short falls to lack of government accountibility, Mo Ibrahim, Paul Wolfowitz, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Bruce Babbitt, and Raymond C. Offenheiser explain those contributing factors that cripple societies and inevitably keep failed states failing. Ever since rival factions arranged themselves on opposite sides of a meeting hall during the French Revolution, the political meanings of the terms "left" and "right" have been pretty constant. Left-wingers everywhere like high taxes, big government, and social change. Right-wingers prefer low taxes, small government, and free markets. Except when they don't.

  • Jul/Aug 2010
    Foriegn Policy: Where Autocrats Don't Fear to Tread. Why dictators love the United Nations.
    In May 2007, Zimbabwe was elected to chair the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development. It was a novel choice, as "sustainable" wasn't exactly the In May 2007, Zimbabwe was elected to chair the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development. It was a novel choice, as "sustainable" wasn't exactly the first word most people would use to describe the course President Robert Mugabe has charted for his southern African nation. Radical economic policies imposed by the revolutionary-turned-strongman had systematically destroyed Zimbabwe, plunging a once relatively prosperous country of some 12 million people into destitution. Farm productivity had fallen three-quarters for some crops; the U.N. World Food Program found that 3.3 million people were at risk of hunger, and nearly as many had fled to find work and refuge elsewhere. There was also the inconvenient fact that Mugabe's environment and tourism minister, Francis Nheme, who would represent Zimbabwe on the commission, was banned from traveling to the European Union on account of EU sanctions. But the Zimbabweans had firm African support, so there was little that other U.N. members could do but look on in horror.

  • Jul/Aug 2010
    Foriegn Policy: The Worst of the Worst Bad dude dictators and general coconut heads.
    A continent away from Kyrgyzstan, Africans like myself cheered this spring as a coalition of opposition groups ousted the country's dictator, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. "One coconut down, 39 more to harvest!" we shouted. There are at least 40 dictators around the world today, and approximately 1.9 billion people live under the grip of the 23 autocrats on this list alone. There are plenty of coconuts to go around. The cost of all that despotism has been stultifying. Millions of lives have been lost, economies have collapsed, and whole states have failed under brutal repression. And what has made it worse is that the world is in denial. The end of the Cold War was also supposed to be the "End of History" -- when democracy swept the world and repression went the way of the dinosaurs. Instead, Freedom House reports that only 60 percent of the world's countries are democratic -- far more than the 28 percent in 1950, but still not much more than a majority. And many of those aren't real democracies at all, ruled instead by despots in disguise while the world takes their freedom for granted. As for the rest, they're just left to languish.

  • Jul/Aug 2010
    Foriegn Policy: The Known Unkowns.
    When U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to the "known unknowns" that remained in Iraq in 2002, he was mocked endlessly -- and those mysterious black holes ended up confounding his administration's project there. Rumsfeld's not the only one to encounter this epistemological puzzle: Known unknowns are everywhere, waiting to trip us up. Here are a few of the most enigmatic.

  • Jul/Aug 2010
    Foriegn Policy: How to Be a Middle East Technocrat. A look at the rising class of results-minded bureaucrats who are finding a new way across the Islamic World.
    The Arab world's fire-breathing guerrillas and military despots get all the attention. But the men who run the region's day-to-day affairs are a different breed. Across the Middle East over the last decade, a new class of technocrats -- all in their 40s and 50s, with advanced degrees in law and economics, many from Western universities, and backed by powerful patrons -- has risen to power in governments from Syria to Egypt to Palestine, resolutely focused on tackling the mundane problems affecting their societies. And they are achieving surprising success by adhering to three relatively simple rules.

  • Jul/Aug 2010
    Foriegn Affairs: Veiled Truths. The Rise of Policitcal Islam in the West.
    In The Flight of the Intellectuals, Paul Berman argues that it is not violent Islamists who pose the greatest danger to liberal societies in the West but rather their so-called moderate cousins, such as Tariq Ramadan. Such a reading of contemporary Islamism, however, misses the many nuances of the movement and the real battles between reformers and Salafists. This spring, Tariq Ramadan arrived in the United States nearly six years after being denied a visa by the Bush administration. The U.S. government had previously refused Ramadan entry on the grounds that he had donated to a French charity with ties to Hamas. Then, last January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Ramadan was welcome. His appearance in the United States seemed to manifest the White House's changing rhetoric about the Muslim world. In June 2009, President Barack Obama spoke in Cairo of reaching out to Muslims with "mutual interest and mutual respect." Figures such as Ramadan -- symbols of a nonviolent Islamism long shunned as enablers of extremism -- may now represent a bridge across previously intractable divides.

  • Jul/Aug 2010
    Foriegn Affairs: Honolulu, Harvard, and Hyde Park. The Making of Barack Obama.
    Barack Obama's appeal has always been something of a paradox. On the one hand, Obama's election as the United States' first African American president can be seen as a triumph for "identity politics" and a blow to the near hammerlock that white Protestant males have had on the presidency since George Washington. On the other hand, it moves the country closer to an era of nonracial or postracial politics, in which racial identity will matter less and less. Obama is a clear break from past generations of black politicians. In the parlance of the civil rights movement, he is a member of "the Joshua generation" -- a term drawn from the Bible that refers to the generation of Jews who did not remember the Exodus but lived to enter the Promised Land. And he has embraced a very different political style from those of other black politicians, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. With a white mother and a Kenyan father who lived in the United States only briefly, Obama had little personal connection to the forces and history that shape African American identity. Growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, two places where black-white relations were a marginal and distant force, young Barry Obama's life was touched only tangentially by race. From this start, Obama emerged as the most commanding figure in African American politics ever and was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win a majority of the popular vote since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

  • Jul-12-2010
    Investopedia: The Hidden Differences Between Index Fund.
    Think of your trips to the candy store as a child. You'd pick out your favorite candy... let's say it was jelly beans. Orange tasted like oranges and yellow tasted like lemons - but sometime later, the yellow jelly beans you purchased might taste like pineapples, or popcorn! What was up with that? The lesson here, that appearances can't be trusted, can be applied to index funds too. Although an S&P 500 or Dow Jones Industrial Average index fund should each replicate its respective index, the fund's performance is not guaranteed to be the same as others like it or as the index it mimics. Read on to learn about the sometimes hidden differences between index funds. Not all index funds perform the same. Expense ratios, fees and tracking error can drastically affect an index fund's performance. Investors should carefully investigate an index fund before buying in to make sure that its fees are low and that they have a firm understanding of what the fund invests in, as well as the strategies and goals that management uses to meet its objectives. Index funds can be very dependable investments, but investors are more likely to find one they can count on if they weed out any element of surprise.

  • Jul-12-2010
    Investopedia: Invest In Hollywood With The Film Futures Market.
    Want to make a bet on the next mega blockbuster? Well a movie futures market is a concept that has been tossed around for several years but it wasn't until 2010 that Commodity Futures Trading Commission took it seriously and approved the concept. The idea of a film futures market may seem a little odd. You've seen the futures market work with the agriculture industry, but backers of this market, such as some film funds, studios and movie producers, attest that it can help the turbid Hollywood film industry while giving a lucky speculator an enormous payoff on an unlikely outcome. Meanwhile, firms such as Cantor Fitzgerald are alleviating worries and securing transparency. The brokerage firm is reassuring its experience in capital markets to the public. It has also laid out a set of solutions in congressional committee meetings to counter concerns about gambling and manipulation. The firm claimed before a congressional meeting that it could detect inaccuracies of studio data by comparing it to electronically captured sales records. The film futures market may be a new concept, but it will have to go through some trial and error to better determine whether it will be the right choice for you.

  • Jul-12-2010
    Investopedia: 15 Insurance Policies You Don't Need.
    Fear of the future sells insurance. Because we can't predict the future, we want to be ready to cover our financial needs if, or when, something bad happens. Insurance companies understand this fear and offer a variety of insurance policies designed to protect us from a host of calamities that range from disability to disease and everything in between. While none of us wants anything bad to happen, many of the potential catastrophes that happen in our lives are not worth insuring against. In this article, we'll take you through 15 policies that you're probably better off without. There are so many policies to chose from, and they all cost money. While a certain amount of insurance coverage is necessary and prudent, you need to choose carefully. In general, broad policies that offer coverage for a multitude of potential events are a better choice than limited-scope policies that focus on specific diseases or potential incidents. Before you buy any policy, read it carefully to make sure that you understand the terms, coverage and costs. Don't sign on the dotted line until you are comfortable with the coverage and are sure that you need it.

  • Jul-12-2010
    Investopedia: 5 Insurance Policies Everyone Should Have.
    Protecting your most important assets is an important step in creating a solid personal financial plan. The right insurance policies will go a long way toward helping you safeguard your earning power and your possessions. In this article, we'll show you five policies that you shouldn't do without. Insurance policies come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and boast many different features, benefits and prices. Shop carefully, read the policies and talk to the salesperson to be certain that you understand the coverage and the cost. Make sure the policies that you purchase are adequate for your needs, and don't sign on the dotted line until you are happy with the purchase.

  • Jul-09-2010
    Foriegn Affairs: The G-20’s Dead Ideas. Why Fiscal Retrenchment is the Wrong Response to the Crisis.
    The recent G-20 meeting in Toronto ended with the world's largest economies promising to cut deficit spending. But such a course is unwise and unlikely to lead to growth -- it is time for finance ministers to take on the speculators who are calling for retrenchment. One of the most well-known lines in John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory notes how politicians think of themselves as reacting to “events” when they are in fact “usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” The latest G-20 meeting, held last month in Toronto, proves Keynes’ wisdom once again -- with a twist. The G-20 meeting ended with a collective endorsement of “growth-friendly fiscal consolidation,” which assumes that if G-20 member states tighten their fiscal belts, states will have to borrow less, pay less interest, and, therefore, will not “crowd-out” private-sector growth. Such a strategy may sound sensible, but it relies on the same fallacy of composition that brought on the banking crisis -- that by making individual banks safe, you make the system as a whole safe -- only in reverse. That is, although it may make sense for any single state (or firm or household) to clean its balance sheet, if all the G-20 states embark on such a course at once, the results could be disastrous. The whole -- Keynes’ critical insight -- is not equivalent to the sum of its parts. The finance ministers of the G-20 states seem to believe that by retrenching in the middle of a recession, they will somehow improve their states’ balance sheets and thus return to a period of economic growth. Deflation, in other words, is now good for growth. How did we get here?

  • Jul-08-2010
    Investopedia: 4 Dishonest Broker Tactics And How To Avoid Them.
    Any industry has its bad apples, and the brokerage industry is no exception. While most investment professionals are honest, there are always people who will take advantage of people when given the change - especially when it comes to money. As a result, it helps to be armed with information to help you understand the investment profession, and ask the right questions when seeking its services. For the most part, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) do a fairly good job regulating and policing the brokerage community. Even so, the best way to avoid deceitful brokers is to do your homework. And even then, the most thorough background check of the firm, broker or planner doesn't always prevent investors from falling prey to fraudulence. Here we look at the most unscrupulous practices brokers have used to boost their commissions and push poor-quality investments onto unsuspecting investors.

  • Jul-08-2010
    The Economist: Lament for a Lebanese cleric. He tried to calm things down. The death of a Shia ayatollah who had increasingly called for tolerance.
    AMONG the hundreds of thousands who thronged the narrow streets of Beirut’s Shia quarter for Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Fadlallah’s funeral on July 6th, a few chanted “Death to America!” Once upon a time the pugnacious cleric might have joined in. After all, many Lebanese accused American agents of sponsoring the massive car bomb that targeted him in 1985, killing 80 people on these same streets in what was widely assumed to be revenge for the Shia suicide-bombing that had earlier killed 241 American marines in their barracks in southern Beirut. The ayatollah will be hard to replace. No one of his stature can now gently counter Hizbullah’s claim to represent all Lebanese Shias or question its fealty to Iran. And there is one less ayatollah to challenge Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, in his claim to lead all the world’s Shias.

  • Jul-08-2010
    The Economist: Gold. Store of value Low returns on other investments and fears about the world economy have caused the price of gold to soar. Don’t count on its continued rise.
    ON THE kind of hot, sultry day in which the brutal Delhi summer specialises, the attractions of lingering languidly over gold jewellery in air-conditioned comfort are easily understood. Yet customers are thin on the ground in the jewellery section of the Central Market, an unruly hive of commerce in the middle-class district of Lajpat Nagar. “Business has never been this slow in the 14 years that I’ve run this place,” complains Mrs Anand, owner of Hans Jewellers. Lajpat Nagar’s jewellers estimate that sales are down by 40% or more on a year ago. In a typical year India soaks up perhaps a quarter of all the gold mined in the world. Now, however, not only are people not buying; more and more of them want to swap their gold jewellery for cash. Jyoti Pal, a shop assistant, reckons that these days about as many people come in to sell as to buy. Suresh Hundia, president of the Bombay Bullion Association, goes further: “There are only sellers in the market at these prices and most jewellers are buying back only old jewellery.”

  • Jul-08-2010
    The Economist: A special report on gambling. Shuffle up and deal. The internet is radically changing the business of gambling. Now policy must catch up, argues Jon Fasman.
    INPOINTING a precise moment when the world changes is never easy, even in retrospect. Yet it is possible to say with relative confidence that the world of gambling was changed dramatically by events around a green felt table at Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas on May 23rd 2003, the final day of that year’s World Series of Poker (WSOP). The hand immediately preceding the final table—the last nine of the tournament’s 839 competitors who would play for $2.5m—pitted Phil Ivey, one of the sharpest and most ruthless players of his time, against Chris Moneymaker, an unknown 27-year-old accountant from Nashville. The newcomer eliminated Mr Ivey thanks to a lucky draw on the last card dealt. Mr Ivey, a stone-faced old- school player, declined to shake his vanquisher’s hand. Mr Moneymaker went on to win the tournament. His victory created what came to be called “the Moneymaker effect”: interest in poker soared. Suddenly spending time playing a game on a computer looked like a road to riches. And those riches seemed attainable. The stars in poker, unlike those in professional sport, look very much like the spectators; they just happen to be more successful. In the years since Mr Moneymaker’s victory, the tournament has variously been won by a patent lawyer, a Hollywood agent and a 21-year-old professional poker player.

  • Jul-01-2010
    The Economist: The threat from the internet: Cyberwar. It is time for countries to start talking about arms control on the internet.
    THROUGHOUT history new technologies have revolutionised warfare, sometimes abruptly, sometimes only gradually: think of the chariot, gunpowder, aircraft, radar and nuclear fission. So it has been with information technology. Computers and the internet have transformed economies and given Western armies great advantages, such as the ability to send remotely piloted aircraft across the world to gather intelligence and attack targets. But the spread of digital technology comes at a cost: it exposes armies and societies to digital attack. The threat is complex, multifaceted and potentially very dangerous. Modern societies are ever more reliant on computer systems linked to the internet, giving enemies more avenues of attack. If power stations, refineries, banks and air-traffic-control systems were brought down, people would lose their lives. Yet there are few, if any, rules in cyberspace of the kind that govern behaviour, even warfare, in other domains. As with nuclear- and conventional-arms control, big countries should start talking about how to reduce the threat from cyberwar, the aim being to restrict attacks before it is too late.

June 2010

  • Jun-30-2010
    CONGRESS OF UNITED STATES: LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ: HIS EXCELLENCY NOURI AL-MALIKI.
  • Jun-24-2010
    Stratfor: Criminal Intent and Militant Funding.
    STRATFOR is currently putting the finishing touches on a detailed assessment of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the al Qaeda-inspired jihadist franchise in that country. As we got deeper into that project, one of the things we noticed was the groups increasing reliance on criminal activity to fund its operations. In recent months, in addition to kidnappings for ransom and extortion of businessmen — which have been endemic in Iraq for many years — the ISI appears to have become increasingly involved in armed robbery directed against banks, currency exchanges, gold markets and jewelry shops. This increase in criminal activity highlights how the ISI has fallen on hard times since its heyday in 2006-2007, when it was flush with cash from overseas donors and when its wealth led the apex leadership of al Qaeda in Pakistan to ask its Iraqi franchise for financial assistance [2]. But when considered in a larger context, the ISIs shift to criminal activity is certainly not surprising and, in fact, follows the pattern of many other ideologically motivated terrorist or insurgent groups that have been forced to resort to crime to support themselves.

  • Jun-17-2010
    Stratfor: Watcing for Watchers.
    In last week's Security Weekly we discussed how situational awareness is a mindset that can — and should — be practiced by everyone. We also described the different levels of situational awareness and discussed which level is appropriate for different sorts of situations. And we noted how all criminals and terrorists follow a process when planning their acts and that this process is visible at certain times to people who are watching for such behavior. When one considers these facts, it inevitably leads to the question: “What in the world am I looking for?” The brief answer is: “warning signs of criminal or terrorist behavior.” Since this brief answer is very vague, it becomes necessary to describe the behavior in more detail. Surveillance It is important to make one fundamental point clear up front. The operational behavior that most commonly exposes a person planning a criminal or terrorist act to scrutiny by the intended target is surveillance [8]. Other portions of the planning process can be conducted elsewhere, especially in the age of the Internet, when so much information is available online. From an operational standpoint, however, there simply is no substitute for having eyes on the potential target. In military terms, surveillance is often called reconnaissance, and in a criminal context it is often referred to as casing or scoping out. Environmental activist and animal rights groups trained by the Ruckus Society [9] refer to it as “scouting.” No matter what terminology is being used for the activity, it is meant to accomplish the same objective: assessing a potential target for value, vulnerabilities and potential security measures. Surveillance is required so that criminals can conduct a cost-benefit analysis.

  • Jun-17-2010
    The Economist: Iraq's flagging democracy. Stop messing around. Iraqis and their neighbours need to get a grip—or their country could slip back to its bad old ways.
    FEW countries more urgently need governing, yet Iraq is languishing without a real leader. No party or alliance clearly won the election held three months ago, so a period of horse-trading was inevitable. But now the country is dangerously adrift. The new parliament has only just assembled for the first time. No laws have been passed since March. Vital legislation to bring in foreign investment and share out the proceeds of oil production is stalled. Above all, Iraq needs a leader who can appeal to its Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, divided by a chasm of ethno-sectarian hatred. If not, it risks falling back into the sort of authoritarianism that was supposed to have been banished by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The chief rivals for the post of prime minister are Iyad Allawi, whose alliance won the most seats in parliament but still got barely more than a quarter of them, and Nuri al-Maliki, the caretaking incumbent. Both Mr Allawi, pictured left, and Mr Maliki, pictured right, are Shias, as are well over half of Iraq’s people. But they seem incapable of doing the job (see article). Mr Maliki at one time raised hopes that he could, especially after he boldly dispatched the national army to the southern city of Basra to chase out thuggish Shia militias. But since then he has fallen back on a core of assertive Shias and is widely reviled by Sunnis and Kurds. He is not the unifier Iraq needs. For his country’s sake, he should give way to another man.

  • Jun-13-2010
    Metatransparent: Problems of Democracy in the Arab World - Part 1 (in Arabic).

  • Jun-13-2010
    Metatransparent: Problems of Democracy in the Arab World - Part 2 (in Arabic).

  • Jun-08-2010
    Stratfor: The Limits of Public Opinion: Arabs, Israelis and the Strategic Balance.
    Last weeks events off the coast of Israel [2] continue to resonate. Turkish-Israeli relations have not quite collapsed since then but are at their lowest level since Israels founding. U.S.-Israeli tensions have emerged, and European hostility toward Israel continues to intensify. The question has now become whether substantial consequences will follow from the incident. Put differently, the question is whether and how it will be exploited beyond the arena of public opinion. The most significant threat to Israel would, of course, be military. International criticism is not without significance, but nations do not change direction absent direct threats to their interests. But powers outside the region are unlikely to exert military power against Israel, and even significant economic or political sanctions are unlikely to happen. Apart from the desire of outside powers to limit their involvement, this is rooted in the fact that significant actions are unlikely from inside the region either.

  • Jun-07-2010
    Sovereign Challenge: Israel as a Strategic Liability?
    America’s ties to Israel are not based primarily on U.S. strategic interests. At the best of times, an Israeli government that pursues the path to peace provides some intelligence, some minor advances in military technology, and a potential source of stabilizing military power that could help Arab states like Jordan. Even then, however, any actual Israeli military intervention in an Arab state could prove as destabilizing as beneficial. The fact is that the real motives behind America’s commitment to Israel are moral and ethical. They are a reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust, to the entire history of Western anti-Semitism, and to the United States’ failure to help German and European Jews during the period before it entered World War II. They are a product of the fact that Israel is a democracy that shares virtually all of the same values as the United States. The U.S. commitment to Israel is not one that will be abandoned. The United States has made this repeatedly clear since it first recognized Israel as a state, and it has steadily strengthened the scale of its commitments since 1967. The United States has provided Israel with massive amounts of economic aid and still provides enough military assistance to preserve Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors. The United States has made it clear that any U.S. support for Arab-Israeli peace efforts must be based on options that preserve Israel’s security, and its recent announcements that it will consider “extended regional deterrence” are code words for a U.S. commitment that could guard Israel, as well as its neighbors, against an Iranian nuclear threat.

May 2010

  • May/Jun 2010
    Foriegn Policy: Attention Whole Foods Shoppers.
    Stop obsessing about arugula. Your "sustainable" mantra -- organic, local, and slow -- is no recipe for saving the world's hungry millions. From Whole Foods recyclable cloth bags to Michelle Obama's organic White House garden, modern eco-foodies are full of good intentions. We want to save the planet. Help local farmers. Fight climate change -- and childhood obesity, too. But though it's certainly a good thing to be thinking about global welfare while chopping our certified organic onions, the hope that we can help others by changing our shopping and eating habits is being wildly oversold to Western consumers. Food has become an elite preoccupation in the West, ironically, just as the most effective ways to address hunger in poor countries have fallen out of fashion.

  • May-31-2010
    Stratfor: Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion.
    On Sunday, Israeli naval forces intercepted the ships of a Turkish nongovernmental organization (NGO) delivering humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Israel had demanded that the vessels not go directly to Gaza but instead dock in Israeli ports, where the supplies would be offloaded and delivered to Gaza. The Turkish NGO refused, insisting on going directly to Gaza. Gunfire ensued when Israeli naval personnel boarded one of the vessels, and a significant number of the passengers and crew on the ship were killed or wounded. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon charged that the mission was simply an attempt to provoke the Israelis [3]. That was certainly the case. The mission was designed to demonstrate that the Israelis were unreasonable and brutal. The hope was that Israel would be provoked to extreme action, further alienating Israel from the global community and possibly driving a wedge between Israel and the United States. The operation's planners also hoped this would trigger a political crisis in Israel.

  • May-04-2010
    Stratfor: The Global Crisis of Legitimacy.
    Financial panics are an integral part of capitalism. So are economic recessions. The system generates them and it becomes stronger because of them. Like forest fires, they are painful when they occur, yet without them, the forest could not survive. They impose discipline, punishing the reckless, rewarding the cautious. They do so imperfectly, of course, as at times the reckless are rewarded and the cautious penalized. Political crises — as opposed to normal financial panics — emerge when the reckless appear to be the beneficiaries of the crisis they have caused, while the rest of society bears the burdens of their recklessness. At that point, the crisis ceases to be financial or economic. It becomes political. The financial and economic systems are subsystems of the broader political system. More precisely, think of nations as consisting of three basic systems: political, economic and military. Each of these systems has elites that manage it. The three systems are constantly interacting — and in a healthy polity, balancing each other, compensating for failures in one as well as taking advantage of success. Every nation has a different configuration within and between these systems. The relative weight of each system differs, as does the importance of its elites. But each nation contains these systems, and no system exists without the other two.

  • May-01-2010
    Elaph: The New Iraq - by Khlaid Shawkat (in Arabic).

April 2010

  • Apr-29-2010
    Stratfor: Jihadists in Iraq: Down For The Count?.
    On April 25, The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) posted a statement on the Internet confirming that two of its top leaders, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri, had been killed April 18 in a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation in Salahuddin province. Al-Baghdadi (an Iraqi also known as Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi), was the head of the ISI, an al Qaeda-led jihadist alliance in Iraq, and went by the title “Leader of the Faithful.” Al-Masri (an Egyptian national also known as Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir), was the military leader of the ISI and head of the group's military wing, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Al-Masri replaced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June 2006. Al-Zarqawi had alienated many Iraqi Sunnis with his ruthlessness, and al-Baghdadi is thought to have been appointed the emir of the ISI in an effort to put an Iraqi face on jihadist efforts in Iraq and to help ease the alienation between the foreign jihadists and the local Sunni population. Al-Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and the military leader of the ISI, was considered the real operational leader of ISI/AQI efforts in Iraq.

  • Apr-27-2010
    Elaph: Editorial (in Arabic).

  • Apr-24-2010
    Stratfor: Baghdad Politics and the U.S.-Iranian Balance.
    The status of Iraq has always framed the strategic challenge of Iran. Until 2003, regional stability — such as it was — was based on the Iran-Iraq balance of power. The United States invaded Iraq on the assumption that it could quickly defeat and dismantle the Iraqi government and armed forces and replace them with a cohesive and effective pro-American government and armed forces, thereby restoring the balance of power. When that expectation proved faulty, the United States was forced into two missions. The first was stabilizing Iraq. The second was providing the force for countering Iran. The United States and Iran both wanted to destroy Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime, and they collaborated to some extent during the invasion. But from there, their goals diverged. The Iranians hoped to establish a Shiite regime in Baghdad that would be under Tehran's influence. The United States wanted to establish a regime that would block the Iranians.

  • Apr-16-2010
    The Guardian: US foreign policy isn't thuggish. America doesn't export democracy with 'thuggish violence' – the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions were about security.
    The US has been criticised both for timidity and thuggishness in promoting democracy in Afghanistan. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images Simon Jenkins's attack on the west's allegedly "thuggish" efforts to export democracy reveals a misunderstanding of US foreign policy and the place of democracy promotion within it. Anger at the many failures of the US occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq should not lead us to conflate these with democracy promotion itself. The United States went to war in these countries because it believed, rightly or wrongly, that their rulers posed a serious national security threat. The short-term solution was to topple the Taliban and Saddam. Neither war was fought to turn Iraq and Afghanistan into Western-style democracies. Yet, for historical and ideological reasons, American policymakers once again have found it hard to frame their actions exclusively in security terms. Hardcore Nixonian realpolitik rarely finds many takers in Washington. Instead, a powerful liberal tradition drives it to pursue democratic transformation irrespective of the original motive compelling intervention. From Kabul to Baghdad, the hope has been once again that democracy would be the welcome by-product of a more urgent security goal.

  • Apr-04-2010
    Foreign Affairs: Stay the Course of Withdrawal When Should the United States Leave Iraq?
    Having held parliamentary elections on March 7 and endured a protracted period of vote counting, Iraqis are focused on the arduous process of government formation. As this Iraqi drama unfolds, U.S. military forces ar preparing to redeploy according to the U.S.-Iraq security agreement of November 2008 and President Barack Obama’s announced timetable for withdrawal. The impending drawdown -- from 96,000 troops today to abo 50,000 on September 1, 2010, and zero on January 1, 2012 -- will require the United States to defer increasin Iraqis as they dictate their own future. This, in turn, requires that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continue their development. The increased proficie the ISF is a main reason why, though Iraqis will continue to endure grievous violence in coming years, there longer a broad-based insurgency that poses a strategic threat to the political process or the government. But t progress is relatively new: although President George W. Bush said in 2005 that “as the Iraqis stand up, we w down,” the ISF has only recently achieved a substantial level of operational independence.

March 2010

  • March/April 2010
    Foreign Affairs: Armistice Now An Interim Agreement for Israel and Palestine.
    More than 16 years after the euphoria of the Oslo accords, the Israelis and the Palestinians have still not reached a final-status peace agreement. Indeed, the last decade has been dominated by setbacks -- the second intifada, which started in September 2000; Hamas' victory in the January 2006 Palestinian legislative elections; and then its military takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 -- all of which have aggravated the conflict. A further effort to reach a comprehensive settlement is bound to falter, thus increasing the dangers of another major flare-up and undermining the credibility of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The prospects of a deal between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas are slim, since Abbas already rejected former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's far-reaching proposals -- the sort of offer Netanyahu would never make. This diplomatic stalemate discredits moderates and plays into the hands of extremists on both sides who refuse to make the concessions that any viable peace treaty will require.

  • Mar-18-2010
    Newsweek: A Third Muslim-World War? Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu would do anything to protect Israel—as long as he doesn't have to believe in peace.
    Back when Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu was elected Israel's prime minister for the first time, in 1996, a Jordanian political scientist with a grim sense of humor said the only way to describe him was like a villain out of an old Western: "He's a lyin', cheatin', deceitin' son of a bitch!" The Obama administration, without using quite such colorful language, might be inclined to agree. As Aluf Benn, the respected diplomatic correspondent for Israel's Haaretz newspaper wrote in these columns recently, when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Israel last week, he "had come to offer not just friendship, but support (and protection) against Iran—Israel's greatest bogeyman—in exchange for a few concessions from Netanyahu. Instead, he got a finger in the eye."

  • Mar-11-2010
    The Economist: The wrangling has only just begun. A government reflecting the people’s will should slowly and messily emerge.
    DOZENS of explosions woke up voters in Baghdad on March 7th, heralding the day of the general election. Every few minutes another thunderous bang reminded them to stay at home, away from polling stations. Officials said the city had been hit by a barrage of mortars. Voter turnout was lower than before, in Baghdad little more than 50%. It was hardly a shining model of democracy. The American army played down the violence. Most of the bangs, said its spokesman, had been caused by water bottles stuffed with explosives. Insurgents had put them in bins around the city and set them off by mobile phones to terrify voters. Two big bombs had killed at least 38 people but nobody was badly hurt by the bottle- bombs, said General Ray Odierno, the American commander. The bangs were an act of desperation by a fading insurgency. The turnout overall was said to be 62%. Despite the fear, many Iraqis were plainly determined to assert their democratic right to choose their leaders. Barack Obama called the election a “milestone in Iraqi history”.

  • Mar-09-2010
    Wall Street Journal: Iraq's Remarkable Election. The strategic benefits of an emerging Middle East democracy.
    It takes a cynical mind not to share in the achievement of Iraq's national elections. Bombs and missiles, al Qaeda threats and war fatigue failed to deter millions of Iraqis of all sects and regions from exercising a right that is rare in the Arab world. Even the U.N.'s man in Baghdad called the vote "a triumph." On Sunday, 61% of eligible voters came out in Anbar Province, a former extremist stronghold that includes the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi. In the last national elections five years ago, 3,375 people—or 2%—voted in Anbar. The other Sunni-dominated provinces that boycotted in 2005 saw similar numbers: over 70% turnout in Diyala and Salaheddin and 67% in Nineveh, all higher than the national average of 62%. American Presidential elections rarely have such turnout. Al Qaeda as well as Sunni and Shiiite extremist groups were defeated militarily by the surge, and this election continues the trend toward settling disputes through politics, not bombs. The remaining terrorists, far weaker and organized in smaller cells, tried hard to deter voting. Thirty-eight people died in various mortar, rocket and bomb attacks on election day. But the attackers had trouble getting near voting stations, and security in Baghdad and elsewhere was good and Iraqis brushed off these threats.

  • Mar-05-2010
    CNN.com: Iraq's big test could reshape Middle East.
    Iraq holds a key parliamentary election March 7, 2010. Fareed Zakaria says this is a test of the vibrancy of Iraq's democracy. He says it will be crucial for Iraq to show that rights of minorities will be protected. Iraq could emerge as a more powerful nation and a model for democracy in the Arab world. his weekend's Iraqi election is testing the strength of the nation's young democracy and could be a turning point in the history of the Middle East, says analyst Fareed Zakaria. In the March 7 election, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition in the Iraqi parliament is seeking to win enough votes to keep him in office for another term. On Thursday, a series of insurgent attacks led to the deaths of 29 people in the city of Baquba. Zakaria said the election could have a lasting impact: "It might be the turning point in the rise of Iraq in the Middle East. Iraq is one of the largest, most important countries in the Arab world. It has the third or fourth largest petroleum reserves in the world. Even now it has $40 billion in oil revenues every year; it has a well-trained army thanks to the Americans. "It is perhaps the beginning of a return to prominence in the Middle East. It is possible that 10 years from now we'll look back and say, while everyone was obsessing about the rise of Iran, the real story in the Middle East in these years was the rise of Iraq." The Obama administration plans to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq by the end of August, leaving 50,000 Americans in advisory roles, who will leave by the end of 2011.

  • Mar-02-2010
    Wall Street Journal: Another Step Forward for Iraq. A democratic country is emerging that answers neither to Sunni Arab states nor to Iranians.
    Forgive Vice President Joe Biden the audacity of claiming last month on CNN's "Larry King Live" that Iraq is destined to be "one of the great achievements of this administration." The larger point he made—that a representative government is taking hold in Baghdad—is on the mark. As Iraq approaches its general elections on March 7, we should take yes for an answer. The American project in Iraq has midwifed that rarest of creatures in the Greater Middle East: a government that emerges out of the consent of the governed. We should trust the Iraqis with their own history. That means letting their electoral process play out against the background of the Arab dynasties and autocracies, and of the Iranian theocracy next door that made a mockery out of its own national elections. In a perfect world, the Iraqis would have left the past alone and avoided the ban that was imposed on some 500 candidates accused of ties to the Baath Party. But this is a matter for the Iraqis themselves. In the twilight of the American regency the United States can't order Iraqi political life.

  • February/March 2009
    The Atlantic: How The Crash Will Reshape America
    The crash of 2008 continues to reverberate loudly nationwide—destroying jobs, bankrupting businesses, and displacing homeowners. But already, it has damaged some places much more severely than others. On the other side of the crisis, America’s economic landscape will look very different than it does today. What fate will the coming years hold for New York, Charlotte, Detroit, Las Vegas? Will the suburbs be ineffably changed? Which cities and regions can come back strong? And which will never come back at all?

February 2010

  • Jan/Feb-2010
    The Atlantic: SimCity Baghdad. A new computer game lets army officers practice counterinsurgency off the battlefield.
    Over dinner several years ago, an Army officer lamented to Randall Hill, the executive director of the Institute for Creative Technologies, that he and his men had been unprepared for what they faced after Baghdad’s fall. “We need SimCity,” he told Hill. The institute, which receives much of its funding from the Army, modeled UrbanSim on those experiences—the blood and tears of officers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bosack and his team then built the game’s characters as autonomous agents that react not just to specific actions, but to the climate created by a player’s overall strategy. Members of a tribe, for instance, want jobs, but they won’t work if they don’t feel safe. Instead, they might join the insurgents. Patrolling neighborhoods, meeting with tribal elders, and creating more economic opportunities—tactics straight from counterinsurgency manuals—can reduce the likelihood of that outcome in the game.

  • Jan/Feb-2010
    Atlantic: How America Can Rise Again.
    Is America going to hell? After a year of economic calamity that many fear has sent us into irreversible decline, the author finds reassurance in the peculiarly American cycle of crisis and renewal, and in the continuing strength of the forces that have made the country great: our university system, our receptiveness to immigration, our culture of innovation. In most significant ways, the U.S. remains the envy of the world. But here’s the alarming problem: our governing system is old and broken and dysfunctional. Fixing it—without resorting to a constitutional convention or a coup—is the key to securing the nation’s future.

January 2010

  • Jan/Feb-2010
    The Atlantic: SimCity Baghdad. A new computer game lets army officers practice counterinsurgency off the battlefield.
    Over dinner several years ago, an Army officer lamented to Randall Hill, the executive director of the Institute for Creative Technologies, that he and his men had been unprepared for what they faced after Baghdad’s fall. “We need SimCity,” he told Hill. The institute, which receives much of its funding from the Army, modeled UrbanSim on those experiences—the blood and tears of officers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bosack and his team then built the game’s characters as autonomous agents that react not just to specific actions, but to the climate created by a player’s overall strategy. Members of a tribe, for instance, want jobs, but they won’t work if they don’t feel safe. Instead, they might join the insurgents. Patrolling neighborhoods, meeting with tribal elders, and creating more economic opportunities—tactics straight from counterinsurgency manuals—can reduce the likelihood of that outcome in the game.

  • Jan/Feb-2010
    Atlantic: How America Can Rise Again.
    Is America going to hell? After a year of economic calamity that many fear has sent us into irreversible decline, the author finds reassurance in the peculiarly American cycle of crisis and renewal, and in the continuing strength of the forces that have made the country great: our university system, our receptiveness to immigration, our culture of innovation. In most significant ways, the U.S. remains the envy of the world. But here’s the alarming problem: our governing system is old and broken and dysfunctional. Fixing it—without resorting to a constitutional convention or a coup—is the key to securing the nation’s future.