Spiegel Online: 'It's Politics, Stupid!' Don't Just Bash the Bankers.
Enraged crowds have been gathering in New York and other cities around the world to protest against presumed bank misconduct. Many in politics have sought to profit from their anger. But blaming the financial industry misses the point. It is the politicians themselves who are to blame. For all of our knee-jerk sympathy for the protesters that have recently been gathering on Wall Street as well as in cities like Frankfurt and Barcelona, it would be interesting to know whether they're actually in favor of rescuing Greece or of booting it out of the euro zone. Likewise, are they fighting speculation and the power of the markets -- or simply capitalism as such? So far, the signals have been ambivalent. The cluelessness of the elites has become the cluelessness of the street, and now average people are creating what might be called their own befuddlement. Given this situation, congratulations are in order for our completely overwhelmed politicians, who have managed to divert attention away from their own impotence by joining forces with the protesters against the easiest common enemy to target: the evil bankers! Bashing banks has always been popular, though it has often, since the 19th century, come with anti-Semitic overtones. Even today, some crackpots are convinced that Goldman Sachs is part of some global Jewish conspiracy. Banks are, of course, responsible for things like excessive bonuses, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and financial instruments ranging from the murky to the devastating. But others have failed as well, including economists, journalists and, most of all, those politicians who, feigning understanding, are currently aligning themselves with the young protesters. Economists have failed because they predicted neither the 2007 nor the 2011 crisis -- and because now they are talking each other to death in ideological trench warfare. We in the media must also admit to having failed because we've hardly been able to explain the crisis and because, now that a whiff of resistance is developing against "those at the top," we are looking forward to an anti-capitalist global revolution with greedy enthusiasm.
Stratfor: Libya and Iraq: The Price of Success.
In a week when the European crisis continued building, the White House chose publicly to focus on announcements about the end of wars. The death of Moammar Gadhafi was said to mark the end of the war in Libya, and excitement about a new democratic Libya abounded. Regarding Iraq, the White House transformed the refusal of the Iraqi government to permit U.S. troops to remain into a decision by Washington instead of an Iraqi rebuff. Though in both cases there was an identical sense of “mission accomplished,” the matter was not nearly as clear-cut. The withdrawal from Iraq creates enormous strategic complexities rather than closure. While the complexities in Libya are real but hardly strategic, the two events share certain characteristics and are instructive.
Washington Post: Years in Iraq change U.S. military’s understanding of war.
The most profound legacy of the American intervention in Iraq may be the way it changed the U.S. military’s understanding of war. President Obama promised Friday that U.S. troops will have vacated the country by Christmas, effectively ending an occupation that claimed more than 4,400 American lives and stretched for nine years. The Iraq war has long been plagued by its contradictions. It toppled a hostile dictator, but many Americans remain troubled that the conflict was launched on what proved to be the false contention that the country was developing weapons of mass destruction. Even within the U.S. military, there is no broad agreement that the war’s outcome should be judged a victory. The 2003 attack on Baghdad was premised on the idea that overwhelming American firepower could do extraordinary things. Precision bombs and American tanks, linked by new information technology, could liberate a country with little risk to U.S. forces. With a little help from American troops and civilians, a new democracy could take root.
Stratfor: Special Series (Part 1): Assessing the Damage of the European Banking Crisis.
Europe faces a banking crisis it has not wanted to admit even exists. The formal authority on financial stability, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde, made her institution's opinion on European banking known back in August when she prompted the European Union to engage in an immediate 200 billion-euro bank recapitalization effort. The response was broad-based derision from Europeans at the local, national and EU bureaucratic levels. The vehemence directed at Lagarde was particularly notable as Lagarde is certainly in a position to know what she was talking about: Until July 5, her title was not IMF chief, but French finance minister. She has seen the books, and the books are bad. Due to European inaction, the IMF on Oct. 18 raised its estimate for recapitalization needs from 200 billion euros to 300 billion euros ($274 billion to $410 billion).
Spiegel Online: Gadhafi's Death. The End of a Tyrant.
Both a dictator and his own court jester, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi was among the most enigmatic world leaders of our time. He was known for both extreme brutality and ludicrous eccentricity. There are dictators who defy anecdotes, lead bureaucratic lives or never reveal the person behind their stiff public persona. And then there was Moammar Gadhafi, the general born to Bedouins in 1942, a dictator with whom one hardly knows where to begin when it comes to describing the man. Perhaps it is best to begin with just one of his legendary television appearances -- the time he farted his way through a BBC interview. The flatulence was reportedly so loud and odiferous that reporter John Simpson later said the cameramen were startled and Gadhafi's assistants lit incense. "Does Libya's revolutionary leader have an uncontrollable digestive problem?" German daily Bild asked at the time. To this day, it remains unclear whether the digestive emissions were a provocation. Such behavior, at least, would not have been out of character. Once, during an Arab League Summit, in front of rolling cameras, Gadhafi chose to enter the bathroom instead of the meeting hall, as if to show just how little he thought of the event. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced to haul him into the meeting.
Washington Post: Europe’s real problem: a lack of growth.
Europe is facing its most severe challenge since 1945. If the Greek crisis morphs into an Italian crisis, the entire structure of post-World War II Europe could unravel. Finally, European leaders seem to recognize that their strategy of kicking the can down the road has not worked. The result will not be a dramatic solution — that is not how Europe works — but, more likely, a series of steps that together will be more comprehensive than anything done before. Still, they will not address Europe’s core problem: a lack of growth. It is an irony of history that the crisis has placed Germany firmly at the helm of Europe’s affairs. France conceived, planned and pushed for the continent to have a single currency, largely to dilute the influence of Germany, its central bank and its currency. But economic realities have proved stronger than organizational structures. Germany is by far Europe’s biggest economy and is in sound fiscal health. That makes it the only country that can write checks or issue guarantees that markets take seriously. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been criticized in many quarters for not endorsing a big-bang solution — something like euro-bonds, which would, in effect, extend a German guarantee for the debt of all euro-zone countries. But any such solution would allow countries such as Greece and Spain to borrow again at “German” interest rates (which are much lower than they could get on their own), meaning that these countries would have no incentive to cut their budget deficits and implement reforms to spur economic growth.
Washington Post: Steve Jobs's Apple Legacy.
Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple Inc., passed away on Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 at the age of 56. Born on February 24th, 1955 in San Francisco, Steven Paul Jobs was adopted as an infant by Paul and Clara (née Hagopian) Jobs. While attending Homestead High School in Cupertino, California, Jobs began working at Hewlett-Packard where he met Steve Wozniak. Indeed, Jobs’ relentless drive to push Apple and industry forward continued until his very last product announcement as Apple’s CEO: a service called iCloud which would wirelessly keep the company’s devices in sync through the use of cloud storage technology. After kicking off the PC era with the Apple II, reinventing the PC with the iMac, and finally extending the PC’s status as a digital hub with the iPod, Jobs was ready to do away with the PC entirely.
Foreign Policy: Remembering Steve Jobs. The Apple Generation Loses Its Visionary.
Apple visionary Steve Jobs has died at the age of 56 after a long battle against cancer. He was one of the great inventors of his time and an inspiration to an entire generation. Right up until his death, Steve Jobs' health was the subject of rumors and speculation. Observers suggested that Jobs could have made a surprise appearance at Tuesday's presentation at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. Instead, his successor, Tim Cook, took the stage alone to introduce the iPhone 4S. Insiders suspected that it was not a good sign. Around 24 hours later, Steve Jobs, the legendary Apple co-founder and IT pioneer, died from cancer at the age of 56. On the Apple website, the usual colorful links to the company's products immediately disappeared, replaced by a black-and-white portrait of Jobs in better times and the simple message: "Steve Jobs, 1955-2011." "Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius," the company said in a statement confirming Jobs' death. "Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor." The statement included an e-mail address where fans could share their "thoughts, memories and condolences": email@example.com. The brief but unusual statement says it all. Apple is more than just a company -- it's a whole way of life. And Steve Jobs was more than just a corporate leader. He was an inventor, a visionary and the inspiration for an entire generation.
Foreign Policy: Checkbook Diplomacy. In shopping for hearts and minds in Iraq, the State Department made some bizarre impulse purchases.
In 2009, the State Department sent me to Iraq for a year as part of the civilian surge deployed to backstop the more muscular military one. At the head of a six-person Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), I was assigned to spend U.S. government money creating projects that would lift the local economy and lure young men away from the dead-end opportunities of al Qaeda. I was to empower women, turning them into entrepreneurs and handing them a future instead of a suicide vest. This was newfangled hearts and minds, as practiced with a lavish checkbook and supervised by a skittish embassy looking for "victory" anywhere it could be found. We really did believe money could buy us love and win the war. The work was done by amateurs like me, sent to Iraq on one-year tours without guidance or training, and eager to create photogenic success stories that would get us all promoted. No idea was too bizarre, too gimmicky, or too pointless for us hearts-and-minders: We actually preferred handing out croissants and children's calendars to tackling tough issues like health care or civic services. One month it might be guaranteed-to-fail small businesses like car washes and brake repair shops in an economy struggling just to take a breath; the next, an Arabic translation of Macbeth, with some of Saddam Hussein's henchmen in bad-guy roles. As one Iraqi told me at a U.S.-funded art show in Dora, one of the most violent suburbs of Baghdad, "It is like I am standing naked in a room with a big hat on my head. Everyone comes in and helps put flowers and ribbons on my hat, but no one seems to notice that I am naked." Here are some of the wacky ideas we came up with to rebuild Iraq, and remember: These are the wacky ones that actually got U.S. taxpayer funding.
Stratfor: The Crisis of Europe and European Nationalism.
When I visited Europe in 2008 and before, the idea that Europe was not going to emerge as one united political entity was regarded as heresy by many leaders. The European enterprise was seen as a work in progress moving inevitably toward unification — a group of nations committed to a common fate. What was a core vision in 2008 is now gone. What was inconceivable — the primacy of the traditional nation-state — is now commonly discussed, and steps to devolve Europe in part or in whole (such as ejecting Greece from the eurozone) are being contemplated. This is not a trivial event. Before 1492, Europe was a backwater of small nationalities struggling over a relatively small piece of cold, rainy land. But one technological change made Europe the center of the international system: deep-water navigation. The ability to engage in long-range shipping safely allowed businesses on the Continent's various navigable rivers to interact easily with each other, magnifying the rivers' capital- generation capacity. Deep-water navigation also allowed many of the European nations to conquer vast extra-European empires. And the close proximity of those nations combined with ever more wealth allowed for technological innovation and advancement at a pace theretofore unheard of anywhere on the planet. As a whole, Europe became very rich, became engaged in very far-flung empire-building that redefined the human condition and became very good at making war. In short order, Europe went from being a cultural and economic backwater to being the engine of the world.
National Geographic: December 1914 Issue.
Special National Geographic issue from December 1914. Topics, articles, and text/photo essays on Iraq.
Foreign Policy: The Long, Lame Afterlife of Mikhail Gorbachev.
A cautionary tale about what happens when you fail to see the revolution coming. In the most notable of the many photographs snapped at the gala held to mark his 80th birthday, Mikhail Gorbachev seems shorter and rounder than he did in his prime, back when he was one of the most important people in the world. He is inscrutable, only half-smiling; he also looks disheveled, and perhaps unsure of himself. Those impressions may of course be exaggerated by the fact that in this particular picture, the onetime general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has his arm around Sharon Stone. Stone is wearing a slinky, champagne-colored dress and bright red lipstick. She is grinning widely. In heels, she is a good 6 inches taller than Gorbachev, which certainly takes away from his aura of authority. But then, it has been a very long time since Gorbachev actually had an aura of authority. In fact, everything about his garish birthday party screamed "B-list celebrity." Stone hasn't starred in a hit movie for a good while; neither has Kevin Spacey, who co-hosted the event alongside her. Also in attendance were Goldie Hawn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ted Turner, Shirley Bassey, and, I'm sorry to say, Lech Walesa. The gala was ostensibly a fundraiser for the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation, which helps raise money for the care of children with cancer. But mostly the evening served to underline the strangeness of Gorbachev's fate. Here was the man who had launched glasnost and perestroika, who had presided over the dismantling of the Soviet empire and then the Soviet Union itself, one of the founding statesmen of modern Russia -- and yet his birthday gala was held in the Royal Albert Hall, in London, among people who hardly knew him.
Foreign Policy: A Five-Star Retirement Home for Dictators. Welcome to sunny Saudi Arabia, land of fallen tyrants.
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia—Where once there were gilded gates and sweeping views, now there are parking lots, hospital ceilings, and object lessons for the Arab Spring's new dictators-in-exile to contemplate. For the routed presidents of Tunisia and Yemen, the latest additions to Saudi Arabia's guest list of leaders no longer wanted by unappreciative homelands, exile after their people pulled the plugs on their presidencies- for-life is appearing gloomy and isolated. Their Saudi hosts are forbearing but not especially thrilled, either. From King Abdul Aziz, the founder of the modern Saudi state, on down, the ruling al-Sauds have followed Arab tradition by offering asylum even to some toppled leaders they haven't particularly liked, Prince Turki bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Kabeer, undersecretary of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told me in Riyadh this week. In the case of Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the Saudis offered refuge to a leader who wasn't even an ally; who had failed, like Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh, to support the U.S.- and Saudi-backed Gulf War after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Prince Turki said. "This man asked for our protection. This custom is part of our life," Prince Turki, who is the Foreign Ministry's official in charge of multilateral relations, said. "You can't refuse if someone comes and asks for your assistance and protection."
Foreign Policy: Postcards from Hell, 2011. Images from the world's most failed states.
Hear the words "failed state," and a certain unshakable set of images likely floods your vision. There is poverty, insecurity, and a disregard for human dignity. Families fight for their survival, and political regimes fight to extend their rule. Some weak states are simply geographical aspirations on a map, filled with destitution and squalor. Others are, if anything, too strong; citizens of Zimbabwe and Syria might be better off if their countries' security forces weren't quite so good at repression. This is the world of the fragile state -- a world that is a grim reality for an alarming percentage of the global population. A quarter of the world's human beings live in the 60 worst-ranking countries on the 2011 Failed States Index (FSI), which examines the year 2010. Here's a glimpse of their daily existence.
The Atlantic: Iraqi Prime Minister Accused of Plot to Frame Opposition Leader as Terrorist.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has accused Iraqi security forces of imprisoning and torturing a political opponent of current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, part of an alleged effort to frame Allawi as a sponsor of terrorism. Allawi, in an interview with TheAtlantic.com, presented as evidence a letter that he said was from Najim al-Harbi, a member of his own political party. The letter describes months of detention and brutal mistreatment by government forces, who told Harbi they would relent if he accused Allawi of organizing terrorist attacks against the Iraqi government. Though allegations of abuse have swirled around Maliki's tightly controlled security forces for years, Allawi's charge of a political conspiracy is unprecedented. Allawi and Maliki were on opposing sides of a months-long political crisis in Iraq after their respective political parties nearly tied the March 2010 national elections. Though the stalemate ended in November with Maliki retaining the Prime Minister's office, the split has raised tension and distrust in Baghdad politics. Allawi's allegations and Harbi's letter are impossible to verify, but the former Prime Minister's accusations against his own government reveal the level of animosity and suspicion that remain in Iraqi politics.
Foreign Affairs: Fighting Corruption After the Arab Spring. Harnessing Countries' Desire to Improve their Reputations for Integrity.
From Tunisia to Yemen, the corruption of Middle Eastern regimes has played a significant role in motivating the Arab Spring. Former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his family now face trial in absentia for, among other crimes, money laundering and drug trafficking. Meanwhile, Egyptian courts have charged former President Hosni Mubarak with corruption and sentenced in absentia his former finance minister, Youssef Boutros-Ghali, to 30 years in prison on charges of corruption and embezzlement of public money. Frustration with cronyism and corruption is a key grievance of those protesting in the streets in Libya, Syria, and Yemen as well. These corrupt leaders have managed to stash much of their collected wealth abroad, despite international obligations designed to prevent such looting. The Arab Spring has thus highlighted the inadequacy of current international efforts against corruption.
Foreign Policy: The Cynical Dairy Farmer's Guide to the New Middle East. How a couple of cows explain a changing region: equal opportunity offender edition.
In the early years of the Cold War, in an effort to simplify -- and parody -- various political ideologies and philosophies, irreverent wits, in the spirit of George Orwell, went back to the farm. No one really knows how the two-cow joke known as "Parable of the Isms" came about, but most students of Political Science 101 have likely come across some variation of the following definitions.
Foreign Policy: The Man Who Would Be King.
In the five years since taking office, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has consolidated a dangerous amount of power. Now, his citizens are angry and his opponents scheme. But is it too late? Iraqi government forces arrived at the headquarters of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) at about 2 a.m. on Feb. 23, half a block from Baghdad's Firdos Square, where eight years earlier news cameras had captured the iconic toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue. The soldiers jumped out of their Humvees and began trying to break down the front door. Inside, the building's night watchman had been sleeping in his ground-floor apartment. He woke to the banging and opened the door, where he was met by a score of armed men, some wearing black clothing and ski masks, some in military fatigues stripped of any identifying insignia.
The Atlantic: Time to Disband the Bahrain-Based U.S. Fifth Fleet.
The massive American naval base provides legitimacy for the autocratic Bahraini regime, reinforces our problematic reliance on the Gulf, and may be strategically unnecessary. After months of popular protests against the regime, Bahraini officials are desperate to convince anyone who will listen, and most importantly to their long time allies in Washington, that the Persian Gulf island nation is returning to normal. On Tuesday, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa visited the White House, where he offered assurances that the regime is serious about political reform and engaging in a "national dialogue" with the country's beleaguered opposition. Although it has directed muted criticism toward the Bahraini government, the Obama administration has offered repeated reassurances that it intends to stand by the ruling family. The White House appears to believe, or is banking on hope, that the Crown Prince is both willing and able to shepherd the country through the current crisis. But it may be time for the U.S. to reconsider its largest commitment to the Bahraini monarchy -- the massive U.S. Fifth Fleet docked on the island -- and the complicated relationship of mutual dependency that got us here in the first place.
Spiegel Online: City of Gamblers: Libya's Future to Be Decided on the Streets of Tripoli.
At night, NATO bombs strike strategic targets in Tripoli. During the day, pro-Gadhafi loyalists battle it out against pro-democracy insurgents. Amid the turmoil, a Frenchman is trying to save his business, and to get the two sides to the negotiating table in Paris. The oil executive leans back in the rear seat of the white government limousine as it travels along the corniche, headed for downtown Tripoli. For once, his iPhone is silent, and his other mobile phone isn't buzzing either. Waves crash onto the beach, sending plumes of spray into the air. Pierre Bonnard, a French national, has had a lot of experience in this city. He has sealed deals worth millions, witnessed his friend being mowed down by a contract killer, and once even met Moammar Gadhafi in his tent. That was seven years ago. Bonnard had just helped clean up an ugly mess. A group headed by Gadhafi's brother-in-law had blown up a French passenger jet in 1989, killing 170 people. Bonnard arranged a deal so that Gadhafi could talk with the French again: The victims' families received more than $200 million in compensation from Tripoli, and relations with Paris improved again. Now Bonnard is back in Tripoli. He heads the Paris-based French Chamber of Commerce for the Near and Middle East, which also has an office in Malta. At the moment, however, he has two of the most difficult jobs in the world. While French jets are bombing Libyan bunkers and tanks, Bonnard, representing French oil companies, is preserving contacts for the post-war period. At the same time, he and his Tunisian business partner, Ghazi Mellouli, are trying to secretly bring Libyan rebels and regime loyalists to Paris for peace negotiations.
Stratfor: The Palestinian Move.
A former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, has publicly criticized the current Israeli government for a lack of flexibility, judgment and foresight, calling it “reckless and irresponsible” in the handling of Israel's foreign and security policies. In various recent interviews and speeches, he has made it clear that he regards the decision to ignore the 2002 Saudi proposal for a peace settlement on the pre-1967 lines as a mistake and the focus on Iran as a diversion from the real issue — the likely recognition of an independent Palestinian state by a large segment of the international community, something Dagan considers a greater threat. What is important in Dagan's statements is that, having been head of Mossad from 2002 to 2010, he is not considered in any way to be ideologically inclined toward accommodation. When Dagan was selected by Ariel Sharon to be head of Mossad, Sharon told him that he wanted a Mossad with “a knife between its teeth.” There were charges that he was too aggressive, but rarely were there charges that he was too soft. Dagan was as much a member of the Israeli governing establishment as anyone. Therefore, his statements, and the statements of some other senior figures, represent a split not so much within Israel but within the Israeli national security establishment, which has been seen as being as hard-line as the Likud.
The Atlantic: Danger: Falling Tyrants.
AS DICTATORSHIPS CRUMBLE ACROSS THE MIDDLE EAST, WHAT HAPPENS IF ARAB DEMOCRACY MEANS THE RISE OF RADICAL ISLAMISM? DOES PROMOTING AMERICAN VALUES WHILE PROTECTING AMERICAN INTERESTS—MOST NOTABLY, CONTAINING IRAN AND PRESERVING OUR ACCESS TO OIL—REQUIRE THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO CALL FOR MORE DEMOCRACY IN ONE COUNTRY WHILE PROPPING UP THE MONARCH NEXT DOOR? IN A WORD, YES. THE LIBRAIRIE AL KITAB is a crowded bookstore on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main boulevard of Tunis, the once-drowsy capital of the previously lethargic North African republic of Tunisia. Today, of course, Tunisia is known as the cockpit of the Great Arab Revolt of 2011. During the reign of the now-deposed president, the debauched kleptocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali—whose capitulation in January in the face of furious street protests triggered uprisings across the Arab world—the employees of the Librairie al Kitab kept a weather eye on the secret police. As luck would have it, the secret police kept their headquarters just across the street, in a whitewashed building housing the Interior Ministry. If the Librairie al Kitab had dared to carry a book containing even an insinuation of Ben Ali’s perfidy, it would have been “goodbye to the bookstore,” Kamel Hmaïdi, one of the employees, told me when I visited in late March. “We would go to jail,” he said, pointing out the window toward the looming ministry building. “Just there.”
Wall Street Journal: The Gates Farewell Warning. America can be a superpower or a welfare state, but not both.
Robert Gates, who steps down next month after four-plus years at the Pentagon, is making his retirement lap a tutorial on America's defense spending and security needs. His message is welcome, especially on Memorial Day, and even if he couldn't always heed it in his time as Secretary of Defense. In a series of farewell speeches, Mr. Gates has warned against cuts to weapon programs and troop levels that would make America vulnerable in "a complex and unpredictable security environment," as he said Sunday at Notre Dame. On Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Gates noted that the U.S. went on "a procurement holiday" in the 1990s, when the Clinton Administration decided to cash in the Cold War peace dividend. The past decade showed that history (and war) didn't end in 1989. "It is vitally important to protect the military modernization accounts," he said, and push ahead with new capabilities, from an air refueling tanker fleet to ballistic missile submarines. *** America's role as a global leader depends on its ability to project power. In historical terms, the U.S. spends relatively little on defense today, even after the post-9/11 buildup. This year's $530 billion budget accounts for 3.5% of GDP, 4.5% when the costs of the Afghan and Iraq wars are included. The U.S. spent, on average, 7.5% of GDP on defense throughout the Cold War, and 6.2% at the height of the Reagan buildup in 1986. But on coming into office, the Obama Administration put the Pentagon on a fiscal diet—even as it foisted new European-sized entitlements on America, starting with $2.6 trillion for ObamaCare. The White House proposed a $553 billion defense budget for 2012, $13 billion below what it projected last year. Through 2016, the Pentagon will see virtually zero growth in spending and will have to whittle down the Army and Marine Corps by 47,000 troops. The White House originally wanted deeper savings of up to $150 billion.
Stratfor: The Bin Laden Operation: Tapping Human Intelligence.
Since May 2, when U.S. special operations forces crossed the Afghan-Pakistani border and killed Osama bin Laden, international media have covered the raid from virtually every angle. The United States and Pakistan have also squared off over the U.S. violation of Pakistan's possible complicity in hiding the al Qaeda leader. All this surface-level discussion, however, largely ignores almost 10 years of intelligence development in the hunt for bin Laden. While the cross-border nighttime raid deep into Pakistan was a daring and daunting operation, the work to find the target — one person out of 180 million in a country full of insurgent groups and a population hostile to American activities on its soil — was a far greater challenge. For the other side, the challenge of hiding the world's most funded intelligence apparatus created a clandestine shell game that probably involved current or former Pakistani intelligence officers as well as competing intelligence services. The details of this struggle will likely remain classified for decades.
Stratfor: Obama and the Arab Spring.
U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech last week on the Middle East. Presidents make many speeches. Some are meant to be taken casually, others are made to address an immediate crisis, and still others are intended to be a statement of broad American policy. As in any country, U.S. presidents follow rituals indicating which category their speeches fall into. Obama clearly intended his recent Middle East speech to fall into the last category, as reflecting a shift in strategy if not the declaration of a new doctrine. While events in the region drove Obama's speech, politics also played a strong part, as with any presidential speech. Devising and implementing policy are the president's job. To do so, presidents must be able to lead — and leading requires having public support. After the 2010 election, I said that presidents who lose control of one house of Congress in midterm elections turn to foreign policy because it is a place in which they retain the power to act. The U.S. presidential campaign season has begun, and the United States is engaged in wars that are not going well. Within this framework, Obama thus sought to make both a strategic and a political speech.
Foreign Policy: Blinded by the Right. The GOP's blatantly partisan love for Bibi obscures a dangerous reality: that unwavering support for Israel actually hurts wider U.S. interests in the Middle East.
In 2003, Democrats upset about President George W. Bush's plans to invade Iraq invited French President Jacques Chirac, an opponent of the war, to address a joint meeting of Congress. It was blatant political play, an attempt by the opposition to work with a foreign leader in offering a counterargument to the president's invasion plans and limit his ability to carry though with his decision to go to war in the Middle East. Chirac was feted across Washington by liberal think tanks and pro-French lobbying groups as American politicians and Democratic activists fell over themselves to be identified with a strong anti-war leader. This, of course, did not happen. The idea that Congress would openly side with a foreign leader against the president of the United States seems too far-fetched to believe. Remarkably, however, something not dissimilar happened in Washington Tuesday, May 24, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint meeting of Congress (a speech interrupted more than 25 times by a rapturous standing ovation). While these types of congressional addresses are rare, this particular event is even a bit more unusual: The speech's intention -- with the full assistance and backing of the Republican leadership in Congress and implicit support of Democrats -- was to give Netanyahu a public forum to offer a rebuttal to President Barack Obama's recent proposals for moving forward with the Arab-Israeli peace process.
Foreign Affairs: Same Netanyahu, Different Israel. The Demographic Challenges to Peace.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, much will look familiar to the last time he was accorded this honor, 15 years ago, during his first term as prime minister. Then, Netanyahu felt more at home in a Republican-led Congress (the GOP held both houses in 1996) than at Pennsylvania Avenue in a Democrat-inhabited White House. And he did little to disguise his willingness to play adversarial politics on the president's home turf. Back in the mid-1990s, Netanyahu offered no flexibility on peace. This week, he will likely serve up more of the same. Yet as much as Netanyahu himself remains constant, Israel has undergone some dramatic changes over the last 15 years. In some respects, these changes have made Netanyahu more representative of the country he leads; in others, less so. Israel's parliament, its politics, and its public discourse have all shifted to the right, in the direction of Netanyahu's Likud party. The rump Zionist left-of-center in Israel's Knesset has shriveled from 43 members in 1996 to just 11 today. The leaders of Israel's three largest political parties today -- Tzipi Livni of Kadima, Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, and Netanyahu himself, the leader of Likud -- are all descendants of the revisionist or right-Zionist ideological tradition. Yet Netanyahu as a person has become less reflective of Israeli society. He is a descendant of Western-oriented, secular Ashkenazi stock: the stuff from which Israel's old elites were drawn, not its new and ascendant communities.
Foreign Affairs: A Fourth Wave or False Start? Democracy After the Arab Spring.
The decades-long political winter in the Arab world seemed to be thawing early this year as mass protests toppled Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February. It appeared as though one rotten Arab dictatorship after another might fall during the so-called Arab Spring. Analogies were quickly conjured to 1989, when another frozen political space, Eastern Europe, saw one dictatorship after another collapse. A similar wave of democratic transitions in the Arab world was finally possible to imagine, particularly given the extent to which previous transformations had been regional in scope: Portugal, Spain, and Greece all democratized in the mid-1970s; much of Latin America did shortly thereafter; Korea and Taiwan quickly followed the Philippines’ political opening in 1986; and then a wave of change in sub-Saharan Africa began in 1990. All of those were part of the transformative “third wave” of global democratization. In March, many scholars and activists reasonably imagined that a “fourth wave” had begun. Two months later, however, a late spring freeze has seemingly hit some areas of the region. And it could be a protracted one. Certainly, each previous regional wave of democratic change had to contend with authoritarian hard-liners, opposition divisions, and divergent national trends. But most of the Arab political openings are closing faster and more harshly than happened in other regions -- save for the former Soviet Union, where most new democratic regimes quickly drifted back toward autocracy.
Carnegie Endowment For International Peace: The Future of Kirkuk.
Few places embody the challenges of today’s Iraq better than the governorate of Kirkuk. Home to large communities of Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs, the region is torn by both ethnic and religious divides. An oil-rich province, Kirkuk has struggled to gain financial independence from Baghdad and deliver basic services to its citizens. The security situation remains unstable, a point underscored by a recent terrorist attack that killed at least 29 people and wounded over 90 others. Many of Kirkuk’s citizens wish to join the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, but a referendum to determine Kirkuk’s status remains a flashpoint that threatens Iraq’s future stability. Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim, recently appointed to lead the difficult province, discussed the current situation in Kirkuk and its future prospects. Carnegie’s Marina Ottaway moderated.
The Economist: Syria and the region: What happens if Assad goes? Governments opposed to Syria’s still fear his downfall.
A WEATHERED Middle East truism holds that, while there can be no all-out Arab-Israeli war without Egypt, there can be no long-term peace without Syria. Poor and militarily feeble, Syria has used its location as a geopolitical hub and its nimble, ruthless politics to make itself indispensable to the regional order. But as a two-month-old uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad refuses to be suppressed, Syria risks losing that position as a linchpin, perhaps enough to alter the Middle East’s balance of power. “When something has been in the icebox for 40 years, there is no telling how it will look when it melts,” says a human-rights activist who covers Syria, referring to the decades of dictatorship under Mr Assad and his father, Hafez, an air-force commander who seized power in 1970. The prospect of prolonged unrest, outright anarchy or sudden regime change confronts all Syria’s neighbours, as well as allies such as Iran, Lebanon’s Shia party-cum-militia, Hizbullah, and various Palestinian factions, including the Islamist movement, Hamas, with a conundrum. Most of them would rather Mr Assad stayed. Even the Israelis, despite seeing Syria as their most diehard Arab foe, know that the Assads have kept their mutual border quiet. Facing restlessness from his own people, Jordan’s King Abdullah does not want a democratic uprising to succeed next door. Iraq, now shakily ruled by its Shia majority after ugly years of sectarian war, fears what may happen if Syria’s Sunni majority, three-quarters of the population, seized power after decades of domination by Mr Assad’s Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam numbering a tenth of Syria’s people. Turkey, which has cultivated close ties to Mr Assad as part of its “zero problems” policy, also fears chaos on its longest border and the empowerment of Syria’s long-oppressed Kurdish minority.
Spiegel Online: Has the Arab Spring Stalled? Autocrats Gain Ground in Middle East.
Burning churches in Cairo, dead and wounded in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and a deathly silence in Bahrain. The Arab protest movement has come to a standstill, and the kings, emirs and sultans are rallying to launch a counterrevolution. According to the "Fundamental Law of Revolution," regimes fall when those at the bottom are fed up with the status quo and those at the top are no longer capable of remaining in power. That was the experience of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. But difficulties arise when there is one thing those at the top are still quite capable of doing, namely deploying tanks to deal with their opponents -- as is the case in Syria and Libya. Last week, the Syrian regime sent heavy artillery into the rebel city of Dara'a, while its forces attacked protesting students with clubs in the previously calm city of Aleppo, in Banias on the Mediterranean coast and in the northwestern Syrian town of Homs. According to Amnesty International, by last Tuesday 580 Syrians had died in the unrest. The United Nations human rights office puts the number of deaths at up to 850. In Libya, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi is attacking the rebels with snipers and mortars. Supported by NATO air strikes, the rebels did manage to capture the airport in the coastal city of Misurata. Nevertheless, it didn't feel like the revolutionary leader's days were numbered, despite rumors that surfaced on Friday evening that Gadhafi had been wounded in a bombing attack and had already left the capital city Tripoli. In a subsequent radio address, Gadhafi informed the "cowardly crusaders" that he was living in a place "where they cannot find and kill me."
The Atlantic: Obama and Bush: Two Very Different Wars.
Officials from the previous administration are taking credit for bin Laden's death, but the current president has corrected his predecessor's misguided thinking on terrorism. Ever so gingerly, even as they praised President Obama's success against Osama bin Laden, some former senior Bush administration officials have sought to take a little credit for the mission themselves. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, interviewed by MSNBC this week, even called the operation "a good story for continuity across two presidencies." That assessment couldn't be further from the truth. Behind Obama's takedown of the Qaida leader this week lies a profound discontinuity between administrations--a major strategic shift in how to deal with terrorists. From his first great public moment when, as a state senator, he called Iraq a "dumb war," Obama indicated that he thought that George W. Bush had badly misconceived the challenge of 9/11. And very quickly upon taking office as president, Obama reoriented the war back to where, in the view of many experts, it always belonged. He discarded the idea of a "global war on terror" that conflated all terror threats from al-Qaida to Hamas to Hezbollah. Obama replaced it with a covert, laserlike focus on al-Qaida and its spawn.
The Atlantic: Hillary Clinton: Chinese System Is Doomed, Leaders on a 'Fool's Errand'.
In an exclusive interview, the secretary of state says Beijing's human rights record is "deplorable" and it is "trying to stop history" by opposing the advance of democracy. It was during this part of the conversation, when the subject of China, and its frightened reaction to the Arab Spring, came up, that she took an almost-Reaganesque turn, calling into question not just Beijing's dismal human rights record, but the future of the Chinese regime itself. The Obama Administration has been ratcheting-up the rhetoric on China's human rights record lately, especially since the arrest of the dissident Ai Weiwei, but Secretary Clinton, in our interview, went much further, questioning the long-term viability of the one-party system. After she referred to China's human rights record as "deplorable" (itself a ratcheting-up of the rhetoric), I noted that the Chinese government seemed scared of the Arab rising. To which she responded: "Well, they are. They're worried, and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand. They cannot do it. But they're going to hold it off as long as possible."
Wall Street Journal: The bin Laden Raid and the 'Virtues of Boldness'. Paul Wolfowitz on the death of Osama, the pro-democracy Arab Spring, and the importance of U.S. leadership.
One morning when he was deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz had breakfast at the Pentagon with a group of congressmen. His boss, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "was talking about the difficulties of predicting the future and the dangers of surprise," Mr. Wolfowitz recalls. "He said, 'You know, historically every time we think the threat has gone away, something comes along and surprises us.'" Mr. Wolfowitz's next meeting was interrupted by the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Soon after, the Pentagon was evacuated after being hit by another hijacked aircraft. Recent months have brought new surprises, as a wave of pro-democracy demonstrations has swept across the Arab world. Then, this week, President Obama announced that al Qaeda's leader was dead. "The most striking thing is that even before Osama bin Laden was killed, he seemed largely irrelevant to the Arab Spring," Mr. Wolfowitz says when I ask about the confluence of the two events. "I don't know of a single instance of these Arab freedom fighters holding up pictures of bin Laden. I know many instances of them displaying American flags in Benghazi or painting 'Facebook' on their foreheads in Cairo. The idea of freedom . . . is absolutely contradictory to what bin Laden stood for, which was . . . taking Muslims back to some medieval theocracy and encouraging people to die not for freedom but to go to paradise and to kill innocent people along the way. The contrast is really striking." The Arab Spring is a source of satisfaction to Mr. Wolfowitz, whose advocacy of democracy promotion as a "fundamental point of strategy" made him a demon figure for the antiwar left. Typical was a speech delivered by an obscure Midwestern state lawmaker in October 2002, as Congress considered military action in Iraq: "What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by . . . Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne."
Wall Street Journal: Islam Needs Reformists, Not 'Moderates'. Bin Laden's followers represent a real interpretation of Islam. Why don't more Muslims challenge it?
President Barack Obama should be applauded for his risky—and lonely—decision to take out Osama bin Laden. But in announcing bin Laden's demise, the president fudged a vital fact. Echoing George W. Bush, he insisted that al Qaeda's icon "was not a Muslim leader." But this is untrue. Bin Laden and his followers represent a real interpretation of Islam that begs to be challenged relentlessly and visibly. Why does this happen so rarely? "Moderate" Muslims are part of the problem. As Martin Luther King Jr. taught many white Americans, in times of moral crisis, moderation cements the status quo. Today, what Islam needs is not more "moderates" but more self-conscious "reformists." It is reformists who will bring to my faith the debate, dissent and reinterpretation that have carried Judaism and Christianity into the modern world.
Stratfor: Making Sense of the Syrian Crisis.
Syria is clearly in a state of internal crisis. Protests organized on Facebook were quickly stamped out in early February, but by mid-March, a faceless opposition had emerged from the flashpoint city of Daraa in Syria's largely conservative Sunni southwest. From Daraa, demonstrations spread to the Kurdish northeast, the coastal Latakia area, urban Sunni strongholds in Hama and Homs and to Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus. Feeling overwhelmed, the regime experimented with rhetoric on reforms while relying on much more familiar iron-fist methods in cracking down, arresting hundreds of men, cutting off water and electricity to the most rebellious areas and making clear to the population that, with or without emergency rule in place, the price for dissent does not exclude death. (Activists claim more than 500 civilians have been killed in Syria since the demonstrations began, but that figure has not been independently verified.) A survey of the headlines would lead many to believe that Syrian President Bashar al Assad will soon be joining Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak in a line of deposed Arab despots. The situation in Syria is serious, but in our view, the crisis has not yet risen to a level that would warrant a forecast that the al Assad regime will fall.
Foreign Affairs: Al Qaeda's Prognosis. Can Terrorist Groups Live Without Their Leaders?
What will the death of Osama bin Laden mean for the future of al Qaeda? That depends on whether al Qaeda more closely resembles the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) -- or Hamas and Hezbollah. The former two groups were crippled by the capture of their leaders. Peruvian authorities apprehended the Shining Path head Abimael Guzmán in 1992, virtually eradicating the group. Turkish authorities arrested the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999. Although the PKK continues to exist, it lacks the operational capacity it once had under Öcalan’s direction. Hamas and Hezbollah, in contrast, have flourished despite the past loss of their top brass. In 2004, Israel eliminated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s founder, and then his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, employing helicopter-fired missiles in both cases. Israel killed Hezbollah's secretary-general, Abbas Mussawi, in a helicopter strike in 1992, and its director of military (i.e., terrorist) operations, Imad Mughniyeh, with a car bomb in 2008. Yet both organizations are stronger today than when they lost their respective leaders. Hamas now controls the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah recently managed to topple the pro-Western government of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and install Najib Mikati, a candidate more to its liking. Both movements are quickly becoming quasi-regular forces, armed with a frightening array of missiles provided by their patrons in Damascus and Tehran.
Wall Street Journal: From Guantanamo to Abbottabad. The bin Laden mission benefited greatly from Bush administration interrogation policies, but President Obama still prefers to kill, rather than capture, terrorists. This costs valuable intelligence.
In the space of 40 minutes on Sunday night, two Navy SEAL teams descended on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed the fugitive leader of al Qaeda. They brought a rough measure of justice to the man responsible for the killing of 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001 and thousands of others in countries from Spain to Iraq. Credit goes to the armed forces, which executed the operation; the intelligence agencies, which found the target; and the Obama administration, which approved it. Sunday's success also vindicates the Bush administration, whose intelligence architecture marked the path to bin Laden's door. According to current and former administration officials, CIA interrogators gathered the initial information that ultimately led to bin Laden's death. The United States located al Qaeda's leader by learning the identity of a trusted courier from the tough interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, and his successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi. Armed with the courier's nom de guerre, American intelligence agencies later found him thanks to his phone call to a contact already under electronic surveillance. Last August, the courier traveled to bin Laden's compound, but it took another eight months before the CIA became certain that the al Qaeda leader was hiding inside.
Wall Street Journal: Civilization Vindicated. It took an advanced society to visit vengeance where it belonged.
It took steady application and a few tactical insights to pull off the 9/11 attacks. You could get box cutters through security at U.S. airports. Personnel were trained not to worry about box cutters. You could commandeer a passenger plane because airline doctrine was to cooperate with hijackers. You only had to disable two cockpit crew members. You didn't have to fight off a hundred passengers. In contrast, it took the kind of resources that only the world's richest society could muster to locate one hidden individual and kill him. From a network of operatives and bases around the world, to electronic eavesdropping and spy satellites, to the ability to train and dispatch forces to a suburb of the Pakistani capital, to the facilities to match DNA, to the aircraft carrier over whose side the body was ceremoniously dumped, Operation Get Osama was the feat of an enduring civilization. Though terrorists may have murdered 3,000 Americans in the heart of our biggest city, 9/11 was the act of a passing band of vandals. All this was easy to overlook at the time, with some seriously fretting that the economy would come to a halt, that no more buildings would be built, from fear of terrorist attack. With America's new domestic philosophy that nothing succeeds like excess, we threw money at the airlines, at people in the vicinity of Ground Zero, at airport security, at free terrorism insurance for one and all.
Foreign Affairs: The Canadian Election That Changes It All What Harper’s Victory Means for Canada -- and the United States.
It is a credit to Canada that few outsiders pay much attention to what goes on there. Prosperity, stability, and centrist politics make for dull news. But now and then, something truly interesting -- even revolutionary -- takes place. The Tories’ sweeping victory in this week's federal election marked just such an occasion. Canada is a country that has benefited from risk aversion. Unlike their counterparts in the United States, Canada’s large banks have long been well regulated; they issued no subprime mortgage loans and resisted the temptation to trade heavily in toxic securitized debt. In response to the global recession that began in 2008, Canada created a moderate stimulus program that led to a moderate deficit. Its soldiers have fought bravely in Afghanistan, and its jets participated in the recent military intervention in Libya -- with little fanfare abroad or violent dissent at home. Its Muslim population is generally moderate, wealthy, and well integrated. Canada is a land that attracts immigrants from all corners of the globe, yet has barely been touched by a clash of civilizations. Politics, too, is a gentler business in this country than in the United States (even if Canadians endlessly wring their hands over "American-style" political attack ads). South of the border, the two-party system creates a relatively simple left-versus-right dynamic. Canadian politics are more complicated, because the parliamentary system allows smaller parties to gain regional footholds. Although the Liberals and the Tories usually claim most of the vote between them, the pro-union New Democratic Party (NDP) and the avowedly separatist Bloc Québécois (BQ) are also significant players. There is even a small Green party that, in parts of Canada’s west coast, has split the vote even further.
Foreign Affairs: The Bin Laden Conspiracy Theories. Why Falsehoods Flourish in the Muslim World.
Summary: After the death of Osama Bin Laden was announced, rumors about it swirled throughout the Middle East. Given its history and politics, the region is particularly prone to conspiracy theories--and there is little that can be done to counter them. Immediately after the death of Osama bin Laden was announced, rumors about it swirled through the streets, coffee shops, and Internet cafés of the Middle East, Pakistan, and other parts of the Muslim world. The raid took place, some claimed, only to hand U.S. President Barack Obama a political victory, or to give him political cover for the troop drawdown in Afghanistan. Other, more outlandish, theories proposed that bin Laden had been collaborating with Washington all along. Another one had it that bin Laden died years ago but that his body had been frozen and retained for later use by the United States; still others suggested that he remained alive. “There are numerous question marks still seeking clear and honest answers from the American administration,” went an opinion piece in the Palestinian paper Al-Quds Al-Arabi. “Why did we not see the corpse of the Sheikh until this moment, while all we have heard was that it was ‘buried’ at sea because his homeland the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia refused to receive it?” Some have even suggested that the world’s most wanted terrorist was not real but an American invention. Conspiracy theories like these are especially common in the Middle East and western Asia. Why? At the simplest level, conspiracy theories in the region are a way of displaying skepticism toward the United States. But they can also be earnest attempts by the angry to explain dramatic events, particularly when people have difficulty accepting them: most residents of Abbottabad were no doubt amazed to learn that they had been neighbors of bin Laden. Media reports have quoted some Abbottabad locals as saying that in the absence of any evidence that bin Laden or other Arab extremists had been living in the town, the bin Laden story simply had to be a conspiracy.
Wall Street Journal: Victory in Abbottabad A measure of justice for the thousands he killed, and a warning to others.
The death of Osama bin Laden at the hand of U.S. special forces doesn't end the war against Islamic terror, but it is a crucial and just victory that is rightfully cause for celebration. Especially so in a war fought against combatants who hide in the world's dark corners, who rarely fight in the open and who attack innocents far from any conventional battlefield. Even if it took nearly 10 years, the skillful tracking and daring attack on al Qaeda's founder shows that democracies can prevail in such a struggle and is as notable as landmark victories of other wars that involved the taking of cities or island-hopping. The battle of Abbottabad is a triumph of intelligence, interrogation and special operations that are by necessity three of the main weapons in what the U.S. military has called this "long war."
Stratfor: Bin Laden's Death and the Implications for Jihadism.
U.S. President Barack Obama appeared in a hastily arranged televised address the night of May 1, 2011, to inform the world that U.S. counterterrorism forces had located and killed Osama bin Laden. The operation, which reportedly happened in the early hours of May 2 local time, targeted a compound in Abbottabad, a city located some 31 miles north of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. The nighttime raid resulted in a brief firefight that left bin Laden and several others dead. A U.S. helicopter reportedly was damaged in the raid and later destroyed by U.S. forces. Obama reported that no U.S. personnel were lost in the operation. After a brief search of the compound, the U.S. forces left with bin Laden's body and presumably anything else that appeared to have intelligence value. From Obama's carefully scripted speech, it would appear that the U.S. conducted the operation unilaterally with no Pakistani assistance — or even knowledge. As evidenced by the spontaneous celebrations that erupted in Washington, New York and across the United States, the killing of bin Laden has struck a chord with many Americans. This was true not only of those who lost family members as a result of the attack, but of those who were vicariously terrorized and still vividly recall the deep sense of fear they felt the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, as they watched aircraft strike the World Trade Center Towers and saw those towers collapse on live television, and then heard reports of the Pentagon being struck by a third aircraft and of a fourth aircraft prevented from being used in another attack when it crashed in rural Pennsylvania. As that fear turned to anger, a deep-seated thirst for vengeance led the United States to invade Afghanistan in October 2001 and to declare a “global war on terrorism.”
Spiegel Online: Are Assad's Days Numbered? Syria's Neighbors Fear Regime Change.
Despite its brutality, the Assad dynasty which has ruled Syria for 40 years is valued by the West because of its predictability. But the regime's days may be numbered as unrest continues. The country's neighbors are greatly concerned about the future of the strategically important state. Of course he wants to talk about what is happening in Homs, where he lives. But it's complicated. He has to keep himself hidden and conceal his intentions, the man says hoarsely on the phone, because he is being watched. "Call me Abu Kamil. I'm about 60 years old." Abu Kamil was at the large demonstrations in Homs last week, as were tens of thousands of other people -- including a friend of his who was shot in the head and is now at home. "I can't take him to the hospital," says Abu Kamil. "Anyone who is brought to the hospital with a bullet wound will be arrested." Instead, he called a doctor he trusts. The doctor said that the friend needed surgery, but explained that could only be done in the hospital. "Now he'll die at home," Abu Kamil says quietly. Heba, 37, also attended the protest, spending 12 hours on the square. "The mood was friendly at first," she says. "We did not expect the security forces to attack us so brutally." On the next morning Heba, a mother of three children, wanted to go the hospital to donate blood for the wounded. "But the police had blocked off the hospital," she says. "They were literally waiting for the wounded so that they could arrest them." Doctors complained that the 25 people who died on that day could not be identified, because their relatives did not contact them. "The parents of people who were shot to death were forced to go on television and state that their children were radical Islamists," says Heba. "That's why no one is coming forward anymore."
Foreign Policy: Think Again: Dictators Arab autocrats may be tottering, but the world's tyrants aren't all quaking in their steel-toed boots.
Rarely, if ever. In the first months after the Arab revolutions began, the world's televisions were filled with instantly iconic images of a crumbling old order: the Ben Ali clan's seaside villa on fire in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak's stilted pre-resignation speeches in Egypt, Muammar al-Qaddafi's rambling, defiant diatribes from a bombed-out house in Libya. They were a reminder that one of the most enduring political archetypes of the 20th century, the ruthless dictator, had persisted into the 21st. How persistent are they? The U.S. NGO Freedom House this year listed 47 countries as "not free" -- and ruled over by a range of authoritarian dictators. Their numbers have certainly fallen from the last century, which brought us quite a list: Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Pinochet, Khomeini, and a host of others now synonymous with murderous, repressive government. But invoking such tyrants, while a useful shorthand in international politics, unfortunately reinforces a troublesome myth: that dictatorships are really only about dictators. The image of a single omnipotent leader ensconced in a mystery-shrouded Kremlin or a garishly ornate presidential palace took hold during the Cold War. But dictatorships don't just run themselves. Performing the basic tasks expected of even a despotic government -- establishing order, levying taxes, controlling borders, and overseeing the economy -- requires the cooperation of a whole range of players: businessmen, bureaucrats, leaders of labor unions and political parties, and, of course, specialists in coercion like the military and security forces. And keeping them all happy and working together isn't any easier for a dictator than it is for a democrat.
Foreign Policy: The New Geopolitics of Food. From the Middle East to Madagascar, high prices are spawning land grabs and ousting dictators. Welcome to the 21st-century food wars.
In the United States, when world wheat prices rise by 75 percent, as they have over the last year, it means the difference between a $2 loaf of bread and a loaf costing maybe $2.10. If, however, you live in New Delhi, those skyrocketing costs really matter: A doubling in the world price of wheat actually means that the wheat you carry home from the market to hand-grind into flour for chapatis costs twice as much. And the same is true with rice. If the world price of rice doubles, so does the price of rice in your neighborhood market in Jakarta. And so does the cost of the bowl of boiled rice on an Indonesian family's dinner table. Welcome to the new food economics of 2011: Prices are climbing, but the impact is not at all being felt equally. For Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we've seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity. But for the planet's poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute -- and it has -- to revolutions and upheaval. Already in 2011, the U.N. Food Price Index has eclipsed its previous all-time global high; as of March it had climbed for eight consecutive months. With this year's harvest predicted to fall short, with governments in the Middle East and Africa teetering as a result of the price spikes, and with anxious markets sustaining one shock after another, food has quickly become the hidden driver of world politics. And crises like these are going to become increasingly common. The new geopolitics of food looks a whole lot more volatile -- and a whole lot more contentious -- than it used to. Scarcity is the new norm.
The Economist: The Salafist challenge: Coming out of the Arab woodwork. Extreme Islamists are growing more confident in the wake of the upheavals.
The ancestral way of swotting VITTORIO ARRIGONI did not live like a good Islamist. The 36-year-old Italian idealist who was strangled in a Gaza flat on April 15th had tattoos on his body, which Sunni Islam forbids, including the name of God in Arabic, a double profanity. And he was a bit Bohemian; he and his colleagues from the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group which has sometimes provided human shields against Israeli attacks, were said to be friendly with local women. Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, overlooked such lapses and offered him a state funeral for services rendered to Palestine. It has condemned his killers, radical Muslims who call themselves Salafist-Jihadists, as outcasts, and used his murder to put their own Islamist brand in a softer light. The struggle between Hamas’s Muslim Brotherhood strain and the Salafists, whose name derives from the Arabic for “forefather”, denoting their wish to emulate the behaviour of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions, is decades old. The Brothers’ movement was born in Egypt, the Salafist one in Saudi Arabia, and the duel has long reflected the way their motherlands vie for regional influence. Brotherhood preachers are pragmatic and have less bushy beards. The Brotherhood’s mentor, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, is said to enjoy listening to recordings of Egypt’s matronly diva, Um Kalthoum, which send Salafists into paroxysms of puritanical anger. Across the region, the Muslim Brotherhood challenge rulers much like a civil-rights movement. Salafists, by contrast, accept their governments, unless they deem them non-Muslim, which the more activist jihadist types tend to do with remarkable ease. Then they try to blow them up. But the lines separating the two schools are increasingly blurred. Across the region many share similar experiences. When Egypt suppressed the Brothers in the 1950s, many found refuge in Saudi Arabia, where the movements cross-fertilised. Repressive Arab regimes have dumped both lots in the same prison cells, where they study and pray together. Under Salafist influence, the Brothers have adopted more classical jargon; and the recent Arab uprisings have helped the Brothers sway fellow Salafis into pondering whether civil opposition might not be better at changing regimes than setting off bombs.
The Economist: The revolt in Syria: Not so easy. The uprising against Bashar Assad presents a trickier conundrum than previous Arab upheavals.
THE frightening spiral of violence in Syria and the determination of its ruler, Bashar Assad, to crush peaceful opposition are a bleak reminder of how far the Arab spring still has to go before summer arrives—and how easily the region’s hopeful mood could turn wintry again (see article). Syria, unlike Libya, is a hub of the Arab world. If it were to embrace a democratic future, the beneficial regional impact would be enormous. Conversely, a successful reimposition of Mr Assad’s iron rule would give succour to all Arab despots. Unfortunately, the West has no simple way to ensure that the forces of good will prevail. It can help in the margins by encouraging the opposition and putting sanctions on Mr Assad’s regime. But Syria is primarily a challenge for the Syrians themselves, with help from their Arab and Turkish neighbours. Syria is a hub of influence by virtue of its geography, history and the canniness—plainly on the wane—of its leaders. It is neither rich, having only modest amounts of oil, nor especially populous, with some 22m inhabitants. Despite some tepid reforms, most of its economy remains stuck in a dirigiste impasse. Its army, though crucial to Mr Assad’s survival, is not powerful in global terms, having been serially swatted over the years by its Israeli neighbor.
The Economist: Revolt and repression in Syria Could the Assad regime fall apart? As protests spread, Bashar Assad faces opposition from within and without,
AFTER swinging between reform and repression, President Bashar Assad has cracked down on anti-government protesters with renewed and desperate vigour. On April 22nd more than a hundred Syrians were killed in at least 14 different towns, by most counts bringing the death toll since demonstrations began in earnest a month ago to more than 450. On April 25th the repression reached a new ferocity when tanks rolled in to the southern city of Deraa, where the protests had begun. The death tally could yet rise sharply, as Mr Assad’s legitimacy falls fast. Before the army launched its attack on Deraa, electricity and communications were cut off and outsiders banned from entering. Water and bread have been running low. Wounded protesters are being denied access to medical treatment. Scores of people there and in other areas, including Douma, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, have been locked up. Checkpoints have proliferated. Parts of the country feel as if they are under siege. After lifting the emergency laws that had prevailed in Syria for nearly half a century, Mr Assad seems to have run out of concessions to offer the protesters, who are demanding more vociferously than ever that he and his regime should go. But Mr Assad may think he can copy the methods that kept his father, Hafez, in power for 30 years until his death in 2000. When Islamists revolted in 1982 in the town of Hama, it is generally reckoned that the senior Assad, ordering his army to shell the place, left 20,000 people dead. Today’s president has also shown he can be tough: when suppressing a Kurdish uprising in Syria’s north-east in 2004, 30 were killed. But now he looks set to kill a lot more.
The Atlantic: What Does Your Phone Know About You? More Than You Think,
Author: "Figuring that I've got nothing to hide or steal, I'd always privileged convenience over any privacy and security protocols. Not anymore. I plugged my phone into my computer and opened an application called Lantern, a forensics program for investigating iPhones and iPads. Ten minutes later, I'm staring at everything my iPhone knows about me. About 14,000 text messages, 1,350 words in my personal dictionary, 1,450 Facebook contacts, tens of thousands of locations pings, every website I've ever visited, what locations I've mapped, my emails going back a month, my photos with geolocation data attached and how many times I checked my email on March 24 or any day for that matter. Want to reconstruct a night? Lantern has a time line that combines all my communications and photos in one neat interface. While most of it is invisible during normal operations, there is a record of every single thing I've done with this phone, which also happens to form a pretty good record of my life."
The Atlantic: What Determines the Price of Gas: A Visual Guide. Think the U.S. can drill its way out of expensive gas? Think again,
Gas prices are on a collision path with $4, putting additional burden on an economy that's recovering from a housing bust, credit crunch, and deep recession. What goes into the price of gasoline and why is it rising so fast all of a sudden? Let's look at the price at the pump. Every year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration breaks down the price of a gallon of gas into four major components: First, there are state and federal gas taxes, which add between 20 and 50 cents to the final price. Second, you have additional costs like distribution, marketing and refining. To turn crude into gasoline and sell it at the pump, the oil has to be refined, shipped by pipeline, loaded into trucks to drive to individual stations, and purchased for resale to the public. Longer shipping routes, more refined gas, and more convenient service station locations are all culprits in higher gas prices.
Stratfor: Iraq, Iran and the Next Move.
The United States told the Iraqi government last week that if it wants U.S. troops to remain in Iraq beyond the deadline of Dec. 31, 2011, as stipulated by the current Status of Forces Agreement between Washington and Baghdad, it would have to inform the United States quickly. Unless a new agreement is reached soon, the United States will be unable to remain. The implication in the U.S. position is that a complex planning process must be initiated to leave troops there and delays will not allow that process to take place. What is actually going on is that the United States is urging the Iraqi government to change its mind on U.S. withdrawal, and it would like Iraq to change its mind right now in order to influence some of the events taking place in the Persian Gulf. The Shiite uprising in Bahrain and the Saudi intervention, along with events in Yemen, have created an extremely unstable situation in the region, and the United States is afraid that completing the withdrawal would increase the instability.
Spiegel Online: Syria on the Edge of the Abyss. Assad's Regime Escalates Crackdown on Protesters.
Syrian President Bashar Assad missed the opportunity to legitimize his rule with genuine reforms and is now fighting for survival. The authorities' crackdown on protests entered a new, even more brutal level on Monday as tanks rolled into Daraa. The whole region is looking on with concern as the country slides into chaos. The images, as blurry and shaky as they are, can no longer be erased. They are mobile phone videos taken by demonstrators who, after 30 years of total silence, suddenly find themselves at war with their government. Two men can be seen lying on the ground while half a dozen troops beat them. Soldiers kick them with their boots while armed security forces patrol nearby.
Investopedia: Guide to Stock-Picking Strategies.
When it comes to personal finance and the accumulation of wealth, few subjects are more talked about than stocks. It's easy to understand why: the stock market is thrilling. But on this financial rollercoaster ride, we all want to experience the ups without the downs. In this tutorial, we examine some of the most popular strategies for finding good stocks (or at least avoiding bad ones). In other words, we'll explore the art of stock picking - selecting stocks based on a certain set of criteria, with the aim of achieving a rate of return that is greater than the market's overall average.
Foreign Policy: Syriana: After Bashar al-Assad, the deluge.
The late Princeton scholar Philip K. Hitti called Greater Syria -- the historical antecedent of the modern republic -- "the largest small country on the map, microscopic in size but cosmic in influence," encompassing in its geography, at the confluence of Europe, Asia, and Africa, "the history of the civilized world in a miniature form." This is not an exaggeration, and because it is not, the current unrest in Syria is far more important than unrest we have seen anywhere in the Middle East. "Syria" was the 19th-century Ottoman-era term for a region that stretched from the Taurus Mountains of Turkey in the north to the Arabian Desert in the south, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to Mesopotamia in the east. Present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, western Iraq, and southern Turkey were all included in this vast area. In other words, the concept of "Syria" was not linked to any specific national sentiment. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I led to Greater Syria being carved into a half-dozen states. Although territory had been cut away on all sides, the rump French mandate of "Syria" that came into existence, nevertheless, contained not only every warring sect and regional and tribal interest, but also the spiritual headquarters in the capital Damascus of the pan-Arab movement, whose aim was to erase all the state borders that the Europeans had just created.
Foreign Policy: A Life Less Ordinary: The Photographs of Chris Hondros. Remembering the extraordinary life and work of an FP contributor and friend, tragically killed on April 20 in Libya.
On April 20, war photojournalist Chris Hondros was killed, apparently by a rocket-propelled grenade, while covering the front lines of Libya's civil war in the besieged rebel outpost of Misrata. For the staff of Foreign Policy, Chris was far more than a credit line under a photo, though he was certainly that: His name appears on countless FP stories, from a devil's grab bag of locations -- Liberia, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Haiti, Egypt's Tahrir Square, and most recently, Libya. But we didn't merely rely on Chris's ability to vividly capture the most extreme moments of human existence -- from the immediacy of close-quarters combat in ravaged Libyan apartment blocks to a quake-injured Haitian child looking for solace in a makeshift balloon. We also considered him a friend. His humanism, courage, and artistic brilliance will be sorely missed in this office as well as in many, many other parts of the world. In celebration of Chris's life and work, we present a selection of our favorite photos.
The Economist: Syria's president: Ever more embattled. For President Bashar Assad, things are going from bad to worse.
The president of Syria is in a fix. Bashar Assad must decide whether to copy the tactics of Hosni Mubarak, who tried too late to appease the protesters, or those of Muammar Qaddafi, who killed many hundreds of his people when they turned against him. But he is swinging between those two poles. Neither course is doing him much good. The killing of at least 15 people in the early hours of April 19th in Homs, the country’s third city after Damascus, the capital, and Aleppo, may have marked a turning point. Mr Assad’s grip looks increasingly weak. His first attempt at dampening dissent by promising reform, in an address to parliament on March 30th, was a failure, because his belated offer seemed vague and haughtily insincere. On April 16th he tried again, this time with a speech to government insiders. He said citizens needed dignity. He acknowledged Syria’s economic woes and spared his audience his usual railing against foreign conspiracies. He sounded more sincere (and more desperate) than before. He may even have been trying to signal a change of tack. But the people on the street no longer take much notice. The protests in Homs got going immediately after his second speech. Getting a foothold in that city is a big step for the opposition, which had failed to foment sustained unrest in the heart of Damascus or Aleppo. On April 18th thousands of demonstrators sat down in Homs’s main square, which they renamed Tahrir (Liberation) Square, after the Cairo one. But at 2am, after the protesters refused to move, the security forces opened fire with tear-gas and bullets.
The Economist: Removing the Qaddafis: Crunch time in Libya. The allies are sending out dangerous signs of confusion just when resolution is most needed.
Only five weeks after Western aircraft flew their first sorties over Libya, the fight has already become wearily familiar. The rebel advance and Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s claw back towards the east have been succeeded by what looks like stalemate. The outrage that united the world against the threat of butchery in Benghazi has begun to dull. The coalition’s different interests have reasserted themselves. The particular argument at the moment is about whether America will supply the special aircraft needed to attack the colonel’s troops in urban areas (especially wretched Misrata where his men have been committing atrocities). Barack Obama has been stalling, the Europeans hyperventilating. The aircraft are desperately needed and losing Misrata would be a hefty blow (see article), but the worry is that the dithering is symptomatic both of a broader reluctance to see the job through and division over how it should be done. It is the moment in a campaign when, for the lack of application and clear thinking, the endeavour is in danger of slipping away. It is crunch time, when commitment counts.
The Economist: Direct democracy: Vox populi or hoi polloi? Does more voting necessarily mean more democracy? People power has its perils.
In 2004, while tossing chunks of meat to his pet Bengal tigers, Saif Qaddafi (then seen as the Libyan ruler’s reformist scion) outlined to a foreign visitor his plans to convert his father’s rambling theory of direct democracy into a real political system. Something on Swiss lines would be ideal. The particular ambition may seem risible now. Yet the general sentiment is common. The Alpine federation’s political system, in which citizens may vote 30-plus times a year in a mixture of local and national polls, is proving seductive for politicians and voters of all stripes. Some Swiss votes are ordered by politicians, yet many, known as “initiatives”, are binding votes on national legislation triggered by citizens’ petitions. In recent years these have widened state health-insurance to cover alternative medicine; enforced deportation of foreigners guilty of serious crimes and benefit fraud; and banned the building of mosques with minarets.
The Economist: Cuba's communist congress: The start of a long, slow goodbye. Age has at last caught up with the Castros and their revolution. New ideas are emerging slightly faster than new leaders.
When serious illness forced him to hand over power in 2006, Fidel Castro had been running things for almost half a century. This included an incident when, needing a knee operation, he contrived to have an epidural so that he could remain conscious and therefore in charge. Under Fidel, term-limits seemed less likely in the Plaza de la Revolución than in, say, Buckingham Palace. But on April 16th Raúl Castro, who formally took over as president from his older brother in 2008, broke with tradition. Speaking at the opening of a four-day Congress of the ruling Communist Party, he declared that senior officials, including himself, should be limited to two consecutive five-year terms in office. “It’s really embarrassing that we have not solved this problem in more than half a century,” Raúl, who is aged 79, said. As the generation that led the revolution of 1959 has grown old in office, Cuba has lacked “a reserve of well-trained replacements with sufficient experience and maturity,” he admitted. But the Congress largely failed to put Mr Castro’s words into practice. He was duly elected as party first secretary, replacing Fidel. José Ramon Machado, an 80-year-old Stalinist, will remain his number two, and Ramiro Valdés, aged 78, number three. The 15-member politbureau contains only three new faces. Fidel himself made a surprise appearance at Raúl’s side at the end of the Congress (see picture). The message seemed to be that change can only happen if the old guard approve. Term limits will be discussed at a party meeting in January. It is hard not to imagine that the recent Arab uprisings against dynastic dictatorships influenced this attempt to curb the power of future leaders. And some will see the announcement as a snub to Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, the Castros’ closest ally and chief benefactor, who has been in office since 1999 and is preparing to run for another six-year term in 2012.
Stratfor: Immaculate Intervention: The Wars of Humanitarianism.
There are wars in pursuit of interest. In these wars, nations pursue economic or strategic ends to protect the nation or expand its power. There are also wars of ideology, designed to spread some idea of “the good,” whether this good is religious or secular. The two obviously can be intertwined, such that a war designed to spread an ideology also strengthens the interests of the nation spreading the ideology. Since World War II, a new class of war has emerged that we might call humanitarian wars — wars in which the combatants claim to be fighting neither for their national interest nor to impose any ideology, but rather to prevent inordinate human suffering. In Kosovo and now in Libya, this has been defined as stopping a government from committing mass murder. But it is not confined to that. In the 1990s, the U.S. intervention in Somalia was intended to alleviate a famine while the invasion of Haiti was designed to remove a corrupt and oppressive regime causing grievous suffering. It is important to distinguish these interventions from peacekeeping missions. In a peacekeeping mission, third-party forces are sent to oversee some agreement reached by combatants. Peacekeeping operations are not conducted to impose a settlement by force of arms; rather, they are conducted to oversee a settlement by a neutral force. In the event the agreement collapses and war resumes, the peacekeepers either withdraw or take cover. They are soldiers, but they are not there to fight beyond protecting themselves.
Foreign Policy: The Myth of the Useful Dictator In propping up autocrats in countries like Yemen and Bahrain, the United States has long weighed its interests against its principles. Is it a false choice?
In a recent column mocking the argument for a military intervention in Libya, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd cited John Quincy Adams's famous dictum that the United States "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy." Foreign-policy realists count Adams as their founding father; like him, they view American meddling in the internal struggles of faraway places as a species of national folly. The Arab world has a way of turning American policymakers into realists: The stakes are just too great for it to be otherwise. Anyone can thunder against rogue leaders in Sudan or Zimbabwe, or for that matter in Libya, where the United States has no vital interests. In the Middle East, where publics disagree -- often vehemently -- with Western policy on Israel, counterterrorism, and Iran, unaccountable leaders are prepared to ignore public opinion so long as they see those policies as in their country's (or their own) interests. What's more, autocrats offer a form of one-stop shopping that makes them vastly easier to deal with than parliaments and an unbuttoned media. But the events now transforming the Arab world illustrate the degree to which Adams's intellectual heirs are making a false choice. America's national interests now depend on the well-being of people in remote places as they did not in the early 19th century. The chaos not only in Libya but in formerly staid autocracies like Bahrain and Yemen seriously threatens American interests and shows how foolish it was to have counted on the stability of these states.
Foreign Affairs: Why the Rich Are Getting Richer? American Politics and the Second Gilded Age.
The U.S. economy appears to be coming apart at the seams. Unemployment remains at nearly ten percent, the highest level in almost 30 years; foreclosures have forced millions of Americans out of their homes; and real incomes have fallen faster and further than at any time since the Great Depression. Many of those laid off fear that the jobs they have lost -- the secure, often unionized, industrial jobs that provided wealth, security, and opportunity -- will never return. They are probably right. And yet a curious thing has happened in the midst of all this misery. The wealthiest Americans, among them presumably the very titans of global finance whose misadventures brought about the financial meltdown, got richer. And not just a little bit richer; a lot richer. In 2009, the average income of the top five percent of earners went up, while on average everyone else's income went down. This was not an anomaly but rather a continuation of a 40-year trend of ballooning incomes at the very top and stagnant incomes in the middle and at the bottom. The share of total income going to the top one percent has increased from roughly eight percent in the 1960s to more than 20 percent today.
New York Times: The Eve of War: Four Days of Diplomacy.
The history of the Persian Gulf War has been well documented, but the release of declassified transcripts of Saddam Hussein’s deliberations on Feb. 24, 1991, the first day of the Persian Gulf land war, provide gripping new details. Studied along with an archive of transcripts at the George Bush Presidential Library, these records disclose what led up to, and what occurred, on that fateful day.
The Atlantic: A $50 Billion Facebook Valuation Might Not Be So Crazy.
When the news broke last night that Facebook had raised $450 million from Goldman Sachs, arguably one of the world's most powerful banks, my Twitter feed was clogged with notes of shock and awe. That investment, along with an additional $50 million coming from a Russian firm that already had a stake in Facebook, valued the social network at $50 billion. $50 billion?! That's twice what Starbucks is worth and more than United, American, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines combined. (As of this writing, more than 65 percent of respondents to a Mashable poll said the valuation was too high.) But I don't understand what everybody is so shocked about. Sure, this investment is reason to argue about the function that secondary trading markets do or do not serve and whether or not Goldman plans to sneak its way around Securities and Exchange Commission regulations that restrict shareholders of a private company to 500 or fewer individuals by arguing that an investment pool of well-to-do clients constitutes only one investor. But the valuation itself shouldn't be that surprising for two reasons: Goldman is positioning itself, as it has in the past, to win the prestigious assignment of handling Facebook's initial public offering when that day (inevitably) comes, perhaps even spurred by the Goldman investment itself in a bit of circuitous manuevering; and Facebook has been valued at $50 billion on the secondary market for months.