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“Zen” and U.S. Foreign Policy in A Time of Disquiet

“Zen” and U.S. Foreign Policy in A Time of Disquiet

by on 2014-07-28- 2 Comments

What with Gaza, Ukraine, Syria, and other events, this has been an awful few weeks/months for international news and is a profound challenge to the world community, such as it is, and, if you are care about this sort of thing, U.S. foreign policy. While similar screeds from John McCain and Dick Cheney are likely to be dismissed as partisan hyperbole, Fred Hiatt in today's Washington Post lambastes the Obama Administration for its failures and may be harder to waive off summarily. He compares Obama's foreign policy to a natural experiment in disengagement and suggests the results have been a disaster, as the U.S. missed the occasion to cement a democratic transition in the Middle East and rivals have taken advantage of the U.S. retreat:

Obama’s determination to gear down in Europe and the Middle East, regardless of circumstances, guaranteed that the United States would not respond strategically to new opportunities (the Arab Spring) or dangers (Putin’s determination to redraw the map of Europe).

[As an aside, Hiatt's blast echoes the critique from the left by Peter Beinart on Obama's Iraq policy, which he describes as having allowed Maliki to run roughshod over Sunni Muslims, with administration policy driven by a desire to have Iraq off the front pages in time for the 2012 election.]

I think both Hiatt and Beinart raise fundamental questions about U.S. agency to shape the world in its image.
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It’s Not Just Big Data: Data Granularity and Aid Targeting

It’s Not Just Big Data: Data Granularity and Aid Targeting

by on 2014-07-28- 4 Comments

Earlier this spring, I had a chance to talk to Mark Dybul, the head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and former administrator of PEPFAR, the U.S. bilateral AIDS program. At the time, he expressed optimism about using geo-referenced data on HIV/AIDS prevalence to better to target AIDS foreign assistance. In advance of the recent AIDS conference in Australia, researchers (which include Dybul) released a new study in The Lancet ($) that modeled that potential in Kenya by focusing on the hot spots of high HIV/AIDS prevalence (see above East Africa map, purple represent high prevalence levels). Dybul's comments were music to my ears. For the past year, I've been part of the AidData Research Consortium's project (ARC) to develop sub-national foreign assistance data. Already that project has worked to help geo-reference World Bank, African Development Bank and Asian Development Bank projects as well as foreign assistance from all donors in a number of countries. As many of you know, I've been part of climate vulnerability mapping for the better part of five years through my work on Africa through the Minerva Initiative and the CCAPS program at the Strauss Center. This fall we will embark on a new Minerva project to look at disaster vulnerability and complex emergencies in South and Southeast Asia. In this post, let me say a few more words on the importance of data granularity and aid targeting.
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If Gaza Isn’t a Genocide, What Is?: discourse as resistance

by on 2014-07-27- 27 Comments

At the moment many of us are watching the news with bated breath. New sites,  facebook and twitter feeds are filling with images of civilian deaths and the leveling of Gaza. There is growing sentiment that the 'targeted' operations in Gaza by the IDF have been willfully indiscriminate- with example upon example of civilian safe havens being directly targeted (4 UN schools in 4 days, 46 schools in total, 56 Mosques and 7 hospitals). The UN has called for an investigation of war crimes by Israel, and there is a growing international public movement to protest the killings- in the face of almost universal silence by major world leaders on the issue.
One question that has not been consistently raised is why the term 'genocide' is not being used to describe the activities of Israel in Gaza. It seems that only 'extreme' activist groups or Hamas and the Palestinian Authority themselves would accuse Israel of genocide, with the rest of the international community preferring to qualify their criticisms using terms like 'indiscriminate' 'disproportionate' or 'criminal.' The politics of Israel and Palestine have become so muted, so tangled with discursive landmines that it is difficult to even pose such a question. Yet one does not need to be a radical to at least try to evaluate Israeli actions against the established UN definition of genocide. Serious questions about the end goal of the current military actions, along with longstanding Israeli policies and their impact on the ability of Palestinians to exist require attention.
It is worth quoting the following section from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide- not only to assess whether the current military offensive constitutes a genocide, but also to reflect on the international community's 'punishable' role as actors 'complicit' to a genocide.
"Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide. "
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In Search of a New Warrior Ethos

by on 2014-07-27- Leave a reply

Steven_Pressfield's__Cover_for_KindleIt’s not often that a Marine officer writes a book that goes head-to-head with a title currently listed as “Commandant’s Choice” book by the Marine Corps, but in this case, I had little choice but to lay down the sword and take up the pen in order to debunk the honor-bound, shame-based relic of dead cultures espoused by Steven Pressfield’s 2011 monograph, which the current Commandant has made mandatory reading for all Marines.

Unfortunately, Pressfield’s book is a rambling mixture of Laconophiliac hero worship, Eastern mysticism, and pop psychology, and the “Warrior Ethos” it proposes is more suited for the Bronze Age than the Information Age.

My new book is now available in paperback and Kindle formats, and has been critically reviewed at Battles and Book Reviews and on War Is Boring. Written during my last tour to Afghanistan, it attempts to provide better answers to the questions posed by Pressfield in his earlier work:
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Genital Mutilation: Facts, Fictions, Faux-Feminism and Fortitude

by on 2014-07-26- 1 Comment

isisAlthough I'm technically off the grid, the news that ISIS proclaimed women and girls in Mosul should submit to genital mutilation (FGM), and the report's subsequent debunking, compel me to emerge from hiatus.

Leaving aside why a fake report on FGM should be viewed as needed to discredit a group who is  executing civilian, forcibly displacing minotiries and destroying cultural property,  I have mixed feelings about the outcry this story raised.

On the one hand it indicates a widespread norm in the West, in UN circles and among the Muslim population in Mosul to view FGM as a heinous human rights violation: that's a good thing.  That said, the appropriation of women's issues to denigrate men "we" might wish to cast as barbaric enemies has a long history and has rarely served women or feminist interests. Using feminist causes for propagandistic ends should not be confused with genuine feminism (which we can define for simplicity's sake as HuffPo did today) since it undermines efforts to reach gender equality in two ways.

First,  it perpetuates conflict through stereotyping and emnification, conflicts in which women often suffer disproportionately.  If we are following global affairs critically, we should be conscious of these dynamics and find ways to promote women's human rights without contributing to war propaganda. Second, pointing fingers at "Them" blinds "Us" to ways in which our own institutions and policies also perpetuate harmful gendered practices. Too often the media spotlight on barbaric foreigners closes the space for feminist activists on the home front to press for greater gender equity at home. And simplistic narratives of bad men oppressing women in foreign lands obscure the complexity of these practices - which implicate and affect men as well as women - and too often substitute for exploring efforts at change.

playgirlIn the case of genital cutting, for example, consider some actual facts: Even though ISIS is apparently not going to be forcibly circumcising girls and women in Iraq, millions of girls do face non therapeutic genital cutting in the Mideast/Africa / Southeast Asia.  Female circumcision as practiced in the US as recently as the 1970s: Playgirl magazine promoted it in 1973, and Blue Cross Blue Shield covered the procedure until 1977. The US no longer tolerated circumcision of girls, but baby boys are still cut primarily for cultural reasons in the US - as well as Africa, Israel, Canada, Australia, much of the Muslim world and parts of Europe. Moreover, inter-sex children undergo involuntary genital surgeries in the name of gender 'normalcy'.

None of this is consistent with human rights unless chosen voluntarily by consenting adults, according to the Genital Integrity movement, which is meeting this weekend for its Bi-ennial Symposium in Boulder, CO.  I have been attending this meeting to present research findings from my recently published book project and can attest to the inspiringly multi-vocal and genuine efforts here to eradicate all forms of genital cutting - in a way that engages, respects and builds bridges to communities who engage in it, with fortitude and compassion, rather than demonizing. 
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Confronting the Putin Doctrine in Full Force

by on 2014-07-26- 6 Comments

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Just as the international community appeared at long last to be taking a stronger stand against Russia, President Putin upped the ante. Unlike its annexation of Crimea, Russia is now in open warfare with Ukraine on its eastern border. There is fresh evidence indicating not only that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by Russian-aided rebels in eastern Ukraine, but also that the Russian military has been firing missiles and artillery from its own territory at targets inside Ukraine proper. Russia has redeployed over 20,000 soldiers near the Ukrainian border.

The SA-11 mobile missile battery was supplied by Russia and crossed into Ukraine in a large Russian military convoy a week in advance of the attack, which included additional missile batteries. Radar information, wreckage from the crash, and intercepted phone calls implicate the rebels directly, as well as Russia’s involvement in the cover-up. The crash site was thoroughly tampered with by the rebels, who delayed releasing the bodies of victims and have yet to release the monitoring officials from the OSCE that they have held captive for months.

Russia decided to up the ante of its double game prior to the shooting down of Flight 17, a response to the recent gains the Ukraine military forces have been making against the pro-Russia rebels. In fact many of these rebels are not just pro-Russian, they are full-fledged Russian citizens—including some notorious bad apples that Russia previously used in not so subtle attempts to destabilize former members of the Warsaw Pact.

But just as the EU is about to drop a new sanctions hammer on Russia, the Russians have taken the Putin Doctrine to a new more dangerous level. They have transitioned from weeks of waging irregular warfare against Ukraine to low grade standard warfare, and they appear to be preparing to raise that grade and potentially invade Ukraine Georgia-style. What more crystal clear evidence could there be that western allies have yet to establish conventional deterrence vis-à-vis Russia?
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Anti-Semitism in Germany: A Comment

Anti-Semitism in Germany: A Comment

by on 2014-07-25- 2 Comments

“Mutti,” aka Angela Merkel, is not amused. Neither is the rest of the German political establishment, the German media, or the vast majority of German people. Three days ago, some of the protesters against the Israeli campaign in Gaza yelled anti-Semitic hate paroles, a man wearing a kippah was chased through Berlin, and the police didn’t interfere. This is absolutely shameful for all of us Germans and it is very understandable that the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, condemned the acts in the strongest words. However, Mr. Hadas-Handelsman is wrong to insinuate parallels between the current situation and the Germany of 1938.
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Thursday Linkage: Gaza, Russia, Rhinos

Thursday Linkage: Gaza, Russia, Rhinos

by on 2014-07-24- 2 Comments

This past week has been a doozy for awful international news, and I've been thinking about a post on Gaza, another on Russia, possibly a third on immigration, or staying in my lane of expertise by commenting on wildlife conservation, the environment, and public health.

Well, Thursday is upon us, and I've taken the path of least resistance for now. There are far too many good pieces out there worth a read on all fronts. So, read on for links and comments on the long TNR piece on the failed Israeli-Palestine peace negotiations, Joshua Rovner's optimistic take on Putin's self-defeating actions, and a mix of other stories, South Africa's possible desperate relocation of rhinos from Kruger before they are hunted to extinction.

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Why Do Peacebuilding Interventions Often Fail?

by on 2014-07-23- Leave a reply

Why do international peacebuilding efforts often fail in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and the Central African Republic? Séverine Autesserre's work in
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The Responsibility to Protect: Israel & Gaza

by on 2014-07-23- Leave a reply

gaza bomb

The London School of Economics Middle Eastern Studies Center recently advertised that it is going to hold a symposium on whether the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine applies to the current conflict between Israel and Palestine. In particular, it is gathering a cohort of experts to debate R2P’s standing in the conflict, as well as if the norm is the correct framework to be “useful;” however, “useful” for what is not at all clear.

R2P, which holds that states have a responsibility to protect their peoples against gross crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing, is a contentious and nuanced doctrine. How it applies to the current situation in Gaza is not at all evident, given that this particular situation is not an “easy” case. The conflict is not “internal” in the way that Syria’s civil war is, and as such, few have called upon the parties to clearly uphold their “responsibility to protect.” Thus before anyone rings the death knell for R2P (again), we ought to consider the facts of the case.
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What I’ll Be Reading While Off The Grid

by on 2014-07-20- 1 Comment

beach-reading1As of tomorrow I am turning on my "vacation" auto-responder, ceasing blogging for a bit, and hitting the road for some combined business/leisure.

Highlights will include:

Between all this I'll drag along various bits of light reading, among them the following, in case you're interested in reading along:
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Germany: Beyond Its History, Again

by on 2014-07-19- 1 Comment

world-cup-2014-germany-celebrates-1-0-win-argentina

Germany won the World Cup in soccer, demonstrating to all that its team truly is the best in the world. The German players and coaches were dominant, dispatching a succession of opponents with near masterly strategy and skill—including a historic drubbing of the overwhelming local favorite Brazil, expected by many to emerge with a symbolic victory for the host country. Instead, the Germans beat them handily at home, before going on to prevent Argentina from denying them from an even more symbolic victory of their own.

A massive celebration immediately ensued across Germany, among Germans the world over, and vast throngs that were cheering them on for the World Cup victory they achieved in grand style. Strangely however, not all Germans were among the jubilant. In fact, a sizable minority of Germans remain uncomfortable with such a widespread and vibrant display of patriotism. The weight of history remains staunch, so much so that some of this ilk have publicly called for banning the display of German flags in public. It is an odd phenomenon, to say the least.

For don’t Germans deserve at long last to be proud, and unreservedly so; in fact, doesn’t Germany deserve to be treated like—and become again—a normal country? After all, the horrors of World War II took place more than half a century ago. Successive German generations have grown up in a culture of collective guilt, in which the vestiges of pride and patriotism were purposely kept out of reach. But Germany long ago has paid its debts, with memorials to the holocaust strewn across the country and decade after decade of responsibility displayed on the European and world stages by every Chancellor since Konrad Adenauer in the name of everyone that elected them.
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Generations of Presidential Voting

by on 2014-07-19- Leave a reply

As we all know, the social sciences are a messy business. People change their minds, don’t always follow law-like rules, and often have the guts to defy our theories by reflecting on their past behavior. For these reasons, it is always nice to see when our work receives support from other scholars, especially when these scholars operate within another paradigm, sub-field, or use a different methodological approach. In the case of my own work, which focuses on the explanatory value of the concept of generations and its applications in Foreign Policy and International Relations, this just happened. On July 7, Yahir Ghitza and Andrew Gelman at Columbia University published “The Great Society, Reagan's Revolution, and Generations of Presidential Voting,” a working paper, which was featured prominently, with some very pretty graphics, in the New York Times.
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Israel in Gaza: What’s the Plan?

by on 2014-07-18- 3 Comments

10557671_684954708219777_6909228407805769384_o(Photo by Oliver Weiken—EPA)

What's the Israeli plan with all of this? According to the Israeli Defense Forces statement, "The IDF's objective as defined by the Israeli government (in the ground offensive) is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas' terror infrastructure."

Despite the somewhat ambiguous language here, what this apparently means is that the Israeli government wants to return to some kind of status-quo ante -- albeit one with a weakened Hamas stockpile of rockets and tunnels. It doesn't want to return to full-scale occupation in Gaza and it doesn't want to defeat Hamas. Both would be too costly. As Aaron David Miller writes :
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Friday Nerd Blogging: Force for Change

by on 2014-07-18- Leave a reply

A depressing series of news days lately.  What can make us feel good?  Jon Stewart?  Stephen Colbert?  Star Wars?  How about all three?

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Thursday Linkage: Hey! A Non-World Cup/Brazil post

Thursday Linkage: Hey! A Non-World Cup/Brazil post

by on 2014-07-17- Leave a reply

I'm ready to move on from Brazil and football/soccer news. Really I am. Here are some links related to climate change and I've thrown in a link to Will Moore's post about using satellite rain data rather than rain gauge data to track rainfall (the latter may be subject to variation due to conflict. Hard to collect rain gauge data in conflict zones!). In other news, Australia votes to repeal carbon tax, while lots of action afoot to deal with emissions from autos, HFCs, impacts, etc. 
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Meanwhile in Cambodia: The Detention of Mu Sochua

by on 2014-07-17- Leave a reply

Mu Sochua a leading member of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested on Tuesday along with five others after a demonstration to gain access to Phnom Penh's Freedom Park turned violent in clashes between police and some of the protesters. Sochua was elected to the Cambodian parliament in 2013 and is a leading human rights and non-violence advocate in Cambodia. Despite their calls on the protesters to remain calm and non-violent, Sochua and the five others have been charged with insurrection and incitement and have been detained in Phnem Penh's maximum security prison.  If convicted, they could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. The US State Department, and others, including my home institution Mount Holyoke College have already called on the government for their release. Human Rights Watch called the government to investigate and prosecute those opposition supporters who committed violence, but is also called the insurrection charges "absurd" and yet another "pretext for threatening opposition leaders with prison."

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Rape-Stoves, Techno-Rationality and Global Humanitarian Policy

by on 2014-07-15- 1 Comment

Cookstove_1Samer Abdelnour and Akbar Saeed have published a terrific article in International Political Sociology. "Technologizing Humanitarian Space: Darfur Advocacy and the Rape-Stove Panacea" critically traces the emergence of fuel-efficient cook-stoves as a global "solution" to sexual violence in refugee camps.

Here's the abstract:

We examine how an unassuming domestic technology—the fuel-efficient stove—came to be construed as an effective tool for reducing sexual violence globally. Highlighting the process of problematization, the linking of problems with actionable solutions, we show how US-based humanitarian advocacy organizations drew upon spatial, gender, perpetrator, racial, and interventionist representations to advance the notion that “stoves reduce rape” in Darfur. Though their effectiveness in Darfur remains questionable, efficient stoves were consequently adopted as a universal technical panacea for sexual violence in any conflict or refugee camp context. By examining the emergence and global diffusion of the rape-stove problematization, our study documents an important example of the technologizing of humanitarian space. We postulate fuel-efficient stoves to be a technology of Othering able to simplify, combine, decontextualize, and transform problematizations from their originating contexts elsewhere. When humanitarian advocates construe immensely complex crises as “manageable problems,” the promotion of simple technical panaceas may inadvertently increase the burden of poverty for user-beneficiaries and silence the voices of those they claim to champion and serve.

I remember teaching about the firewood/rape nexus in refugee settings during my days at GSPIA, but I was not aware of how the technology had proliferated since then or of many of the pernicious side effects of this technocratic solution to a multi-dimensional problem (here is an op-ed version by Abdelnour). It was nice to read a detailed critical assessment of such a policy, and to think about how many other globalized practices are doing more harm than good (or maybe some good and some harm) in places where well-meaning agents are struggling to deal with so much nastiness. Fuel-efficient cook-stoves to reduce rape are a band-aid, but so are refugee settings themselves: technocratic efforts to cordon off nastiness from vulnerable populations, and cordon off vulnerable populations from their host societies. The takeaway is that looking below the rug of humanitarian policy leads to some pessimistic conclusions.
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Gaza Thinkage, Outside-The-Box

by on 2014-07-14- 5 Comments

gaza bombLots of ink is being spilled over Gaza. Watching and reading, I am reminded of something I read early in my career, while writing my second book. This thing I read was a manual for reporters, written by veteran British war correspondents Annabel McGoldrick and Jake Lynch. Jaded by knowledge of how the media can exacerbate or dampen conflicts, their manual contained specific suggestions for producing "peace journalism."

For example, McGoldrick and Lynch suggest reporters avoid portraying conflicts in zero-sum terms, emphasizing essentialist divisions, adopting language that victimizes or demonizes, or reporting only the horrors. Instead, they suggest, war reporters should "disaggregate the two parties into many smaller groups pursuing many goals," engage in "asking questions that reveal areas of common ground," and ask victims "how they are coping and what they think."

Like many I am today watching unfolding events in Gaza with sadness, outrage and a sense of helplessness. As a non-expert in the region, I have very little value to add in terms of insights. But what I can do, I figure, is a) pass along things I've seen come across my feeds that exemplify this kind of reporting and b) dwell especially on some under-covered angles that might complicate the conventional story of intractable hatreds in ways consistent with McGoldrick and Lynch's suggestions.
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Germany Didn’t Win the World Cup.

by on 2014-07-14- 3 Comments

japanwinsGermany won the Men's World Cup. The other half of the tournament takes place next year, in Canada.

Calling the men's half of the tournament 'The' World Cup while excluding half the world's population including some of the best players in the world is really nothing more than gendered language at its sexist best.

At Huffington Post last week, Jezebel's Valerie Alexander penned a terrific piece on why this semantic distinction is so important:

American commentators, please stop announcing that Landon Donovan is the "all-time U.S. leading goal scorer." He is not. With 57 international goals, he's not even in the Top Five. The all-time U.S. leading goal scorer is Abby Wambach, with 167 goals, followed by Mia Hamm (158), Kristine Lilly (130), Michelle Akers (105) and Tiffeny Milbrett (100). In fact, Abby Wambach is the all-time leading goal scorer in the world, among all soccer players, male or female.

I don't want to take anything away from what Landon Donovan has achieved. But every time he sits there, silently allowing that phrase to be rattled off -- 'all-time leading U.S. goal scorer' -- without pointing out that he is the all-time leading men's goal scorer, it does take away from what Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm have achieved -- total world domination. It would be great if he displayed some of the dignity and grace we know he possesses and say, 'All-time leading men's scorer. There are seven U.S. women higher on the list than me.'

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