Duck

Ferguson and American Foreign Policy

by on 2014-08-16- Leave a reply

I see a connection between what is happening in Ferguson, the now roiling suburb of St. Louis, and American security policy. An odd connection to
Continue reading

Thursday Linkage

Thursday Linkage

by on 2014-08-14- Leave a reply

Potpourri this week with Micah Zenko on the tendency for mission creep in humanitarian interventions and other U.S. military missions, Marc Lynch pushing back on whether arming the Syria rebels would have worked, story on ISIS' capture of the Mosul Dam and an interesting twist on water and security challenges, bad air in China (I'm shocked) and the challenges the country is finding tapping its shale gas reserves, and, finally, why the lead Sierra Leone doctor fighting Ebola didn't get the experiment treatment.
Continue reading

Thinking About Governments and Violence

by on 2014-08-14- 1 Comment

I got into an extended twitter discussion about the 1992 LA riots.  Why?  Because that event helped to inform much of my thinking about ethnic conflict and because I see in Ferguson some key similarities despite the on-going events being about police aout of control rather than riots.  How so?

Continue reading

Monstermind or the Doomsday Machine? Autonomous Cyberwarfare

Monstermind or the Doomsday Machine? Autonomous Cyberwarfare

by on 2014-08-13- Leave a reply

Today in Wired magazine, James Bamford published a seven-page story and interview with Edward Snowden. The interview is another unique look into the life and
Continue reading

Friday Nerd Blogging: Stata and Death

by on 2014-08-08- Leave a reply

Fun post that sorts the patterns of life and death in Westeros and beyond.

Continue reading

The Politics of Artificial Intelligence and Automation

The Politics of Artificial Intelligence and Automation

by on 2014-08-07- 1 Comment

The Pew Research Internet Project released a report yesterday, “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs” where it describes a bit of a contradictory vision:
Continue reading

Thursday Morning Linkage: Ebola Edition

Thursday Morning Linkage: Ebola Edition

by on 2014-08-07- 1 Comment

The death total of the Ebola viral outbreak in West Africa now exceeds 900, leading the World Health Organization to declare it a "global health emergency." Urbanization and weak states in the region, coupled with rural practices of bush meat consumption, appear to be some of the problematic drivers of the epidemic. Local populations skepticism of health workers and attachment to traditional practices of care and burial are making the situation worse. The army is being deployed in Liberia to contain the spread and be able to enforce quarantine policies. The potential spread to Nigeria by a Liberia American official is especially worrisome.

Ebola spreads only through bodily fluids (i.e. saliva, urine, blood) and appears to have a low transmission rate (1 to 1.5 people per infected person on average) but high lethality (killing about 70% of those it infects). At present, there is no vaccine or treatment, other than palliative care, though there are some promising possible therapies. Two American aid workers who were infected received an experimental treatment and appear to be on the mend. They are now back in the United States for continued care, which has spurred a spate of public and media interest and irrational fear. In the midst of this crisis, the weakness of the international community, the World Health Organization in particular, loom large. It's unclear if the topic will be added to the margins of the agenda of the on-going African leaders summit in Washington. Links below.

Continue reading

Civic Action at a Federal Detention Center

by on 2014-08-05- 4 Comments

About two weeks ago I had pledged to go on blogging hiatus in order to vacation with my family, a pledge I only broke once so far. However, while traveling south from Durango, CO with my partner and son last week, I ran across this post by LGM’s Erik Loomis,’ on the treatment of Central American refugees in US facilities north of the Mexican border. I also read the entire linked document by Wendy Cervantes, an Immigration and Child Rights expert First Focus – one of several NGOs who were permitted to tour the facility in Artesia, New Mexico, the previous week. I also found other sources on the subject including this, this, this, and this.

All these articles point to overcrowding and the absence of adequate medical care and legal representation for these families, as well as the wider problem of what international lawyers call “refoulement” – forcible return of asylum seekers who likely face persecution or violence in their home country. This is of course a violation of the Refugees Convention, which requires governments to accept and aid individuals fleeing their country due to a well-founded fear of persecution should they return; and which prohibits them from forcibly returning such people or prosecuting them as illegal immigrants.*

Our route by car from Albuquerque to Roswell / Carlsbad took us directly past Artesia. It seemed wrong to carry on cavorting through limestone caves and UFO museums knowing we were driving right by a facility where refugee women and children were being held, allegedly without adequate supplies. So we decided to make a brief detour and see what would happen if we drove up to the base asking questions and offering help. Our primary objective was to obtain an audience with someone, anyone, in a position to receive feedback from some concerned citizens about the fate of the refugees.
Continue reading

Jus Ex Bello in Gaza

Jus Ex Bello in Gaza

by on 2014-08-04- 3 Comments

The New York Times recently reported that unidentified Israeli officials claimed that Israel is looking to unilaterally end the conflict with Hamas in Gaza. After more than 1800 Palestinian casualties in three weeks of fighting, international pressure to cease hostilities appears to be working. However, this strategy of the “silent treatment,” rather than a negotiated settlement may not be right course of action. In fact, there may be no morally right way forward, given the complexity of this case.

The anonymous Israeli officials told the Times that they did not want to “reward” Hamas with negotiations or a ceasefire. Thus Israel would merely wind down operations, since it has destroyed many of the tunnels it claimed were its primary objectives. The logic, reportedly, is that officials hope that a slow truce will take hold, as it did after hostilities in 2009.
Continue reading

The Cost of Spying

by on 2014-08-02- 7 Comments

As my first official post as a guest contributor to the Duck, I would like to take a moment to thank Charli, Jon, and the
Continue reading

Thursday Linkage: The Future of Israel edition

Thursday Linkage: The Future of Israel edition

by on 2014-07-31- 5 Comments

In the wake of the latest Gaza military intervention by the Israeli government, the liberal Jewish diaspora appears to be coalescing quite significantly around the view that, as awful as Hamas' rockets and ideology are, the current Israeli government's actions in Gaza are immoral and unwise.

I start with a link to celebrated Israeli writer David Grossman and a column he wrote for the Times. From the Jewish diaspora, there are important pieces this week by Jonathan Chait, Ezra Klein, Peter Beinart, Michael Walzer, Mira Sucharov, Roger Cohen, Jonathan Freedland, Sam Sussman, and Adam Dembowitz that echo aspects of this perspective. They go beyond the current military campaign to talk about the occupation, settlements, and the ways that the current Israeli government has undermined Palestinian moderates and made a two-state solution less likely. Links and extracts below, plus a re-up of a Tony Judt piece.   
Continue reading

“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- 3 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.
Continue reading

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- 5 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.
Continue reading

If Gaza Isn’t a Genocide, What Is?: discourse as resistance

by on 2014-07-27- 65 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. "
Continue reading

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:
Continue reading

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. 
Continue reading

Confronting the Putin Doctrine in Full Force

by on 2014-07-26- 6 Comments

th (3)

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?
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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
Continue reading