Kim Jong-Il’s passing is untimely in the sense that his son and designated successor, Kim Jong-Un, is clearly not ready to take the reins of power. Still, one assumes that the various elite factions in the North, including the military and the party, while wanting to signal to the outside world that they are prepared for any attempt to take advantage of the situation, are not interested in rocking the boat. At least for now.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a bad piece of legislation, but not for the reason most people think. The NDAA has set the political world alight over fears that it allows the U.S. government to arrest American citizens inside the U.S. and then ship them off as terrorists into indefinite military detention without trial. Reasonable fears, to be sure – except they don’t arise from the NDAA; rather, the power to do just that likely already exists.
The real problem with the NDAA is that it does nothing to resolve the root, underlying threat to American civil liberties: Congress' abdication of its responsibility to define the standards that govern for whom and when military detention is appropriate.
For a bill being sold as a last best alternative to military confrontation, H.R.1905 sets a destructive precedent that will silence our diplomats, endanger our troops, and dangerously intensify the danger of war with Iran.
The bill contains a provision—inserted without debate in committee after garnering the majority of its cosponsors—that would outlaw contact between U.S. government employees and certain Iranian officials. This would not just tie the hands of our diplomats, it would prevent U.S. troops in the field—particularly members of the U.S. Navy operating in the tense Persian Gulf—from making military to military contacts with their Iranian counterparts.
Against a backdrop of continuing turmoil and expanding terror ties in the region, critical elections took place in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt that will have profound consequences for North Africa, the US, and Europe. In all three, Islamist parties made a strong claim to national leadership, as people opted for change through voting rather than violence.
For many observers, the victories of Islamist parties in all three polls raised as many questions as it answered. But like most labels, reports of an “Islamist” trend don’t begin to capture the significant differences and realities moving the region.
Case in point — Morocco, which went to the polls November 25 to elect a new Parliament. It was an historic milestone for the country, coming on the heels of a new Constitution proposed by King Mohammed VI, which Moroccans overwhelmingly approved July 1. In a peaceful election, contested by 34 parties and certified free and fair by 4,000 observers, Morocco’s PJD (Justice and Development Party) won the most seats, 107 out of 395.
As the US combat mission in Iraq draws to a close, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will be meeting President Obama in Washington today, with no doubt Iranian influence over Iraq a major topic of discussion.
The downgrade of the US military presence in Iraq coincides paradoxically with an announced decision by the Iraqi government to close Camp Ashraf, home to 3,400 Iranian dissidents for the last two decades.
As Americans, we should be outraged by the story of Alan Gross. Mr. Gross is an American citizen and USAID subcontractor. He was arrested nearly two years ago in Havana as he prepared to return home to the United States. In March of 2011, he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on trumped-up charges of subversive activities. Gross was helping members of the Jewish community in Cuba connect to the Internet with computers and satellite phones. Despite numerous appeals and attempted intervention by US officials, his 15-year sentence has been upheld.
Over the last two years, President Obama has attempted a conciliatory approach to Cuba. He has negotiated with a country that has clearly demonstrated an aggressive animosity toward America. As regards the case of Alan Gross, the Obama Administration offered concessions to free a prisoner who had committed no crime. He has softened America’s policy toward our southern neighbor, only to discover that Castro’s Cuba is not interested in working with America any more than it has been for the last half century.
Last week, Reuters reported that Teodorin Obiang, son of the autocratic leader of Equatorial Guinea, will challenge the U.S. Department of Justice’s asset forfeiture claim against his $30 million Malibu estate, $38.5 million Gulfstream jet, millions of dollars in Michael Jackson memorabilia, and other property. The Department of Justice alleges that the assets were bought with the proceeds of corruption.
The United Nations has dedicated today, December 9th, to be International Anti-Corruption Day. Teodorin Obiang, who officially makes just $60,000 in his job as the Equatorial Guinea Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, was in possession of over $70 million dollars of property in the U.S. alone. He had plans also, reportedly, to build a $380 million yacht.
Teodorin Obiang’s brazen profligacy provides a prime example of corruption on a day where we should work to call attention to corruption and its horrible consequences for the world’s poorest people, including the people of Equatorial Guinea.
Upon the release of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa noted, “serious shortcomings on the part of some organs of our Government” including “instances of excessive force and of the mistreatment of persons placed under arrest.”
These “instances of excessive force” led to the death of at least 26 pro-democracy protesters, while “mistreatment” constituted systematic human rights violations including torture, according to the BICI report. The Government of Bahrain has been using the November 23rd release date of the report to delay a substantive conversation on its human rights record for months.
And while dodging and delaying real reform, the monarchy has undertaken a pricey public relations blitz to rebuild their image. But the Bahraini ruling family doesn’t have an image problem; they have a policy problem.
Last summer, a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) made a splash on the political scene by touting themselves as Americans solely concerned for Israel’s security. But a quick rundown of their leadership -- Republican luminaries Gary Bauer, William Kristol, and Rachel Abrams -- made it clear that ECI was something other than a group of concerned ordinary Americans.
Their subsequent malfeasance included narrowing the definition of “pro-Israel,” lying in campaign ads against Democrats, and engaging in McCarthyite tactics against those who they deem as “merely pay[ing] Israel lip service,” among other actions. ECI’s behavior made it crystal clear that the organization is nothing more than a Republican front group bent on turning Israel into a partisan wedge issue.
During the 2010 election, Pennsylvanians had a choice between Democratic Representative and retired Admiral Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) -- who had personally contributed to the strengthening of the U.S.-Israel relationship during his service in the Navy -- and former Republican Representative Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) -- who consistently put partisan politics above supporting aid packages to Israel.
The immediate lesson emerging from Egypt’s historic first-round electoral process is that the eventual victor has no alternative but to lead an inclusive power-sharing government of national unity. It must be representative of a cross-section of Egyptian society. Devising a new system, accompanied by a fresh constitution, must unfold as a collective effort.
The transition from autocracy to democracy, and confronting pressing economic challenges, requires critical burden-sharing. Increasing international aid and restoring foreign direct investment and tourism are indispensable to Egypt’s economic survival. This was further underlined by its recent credit downgrading.
Expectations are for the Muslim Brotherhood, now rebranded as Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to emerge as victors after completion of the electoral process. Effectively leading a government of national unity would help bridge its credibility gap, allay fears of secular skeptics and broadly appeal to mainstream Egyptian society, the yet-to-emerge silent majority.