This month marks two years since the start of the Syrian crisis. The civil war has claimed at least 60,000 lives and sent 755,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Nearly half of the refugees in Jordan are younger than twelve years old, and women outnumber men two to one. Over two million Syrians are internally displaced and unable to cross borders. The United Nations reports that more than four million Syrians are in urgent need of assistance. President Bashar al-Assad’s “iron fist” has responded to global condemnation and the rise of opposition forces with increased violence and overwhelming force.
This week marks the five-month anniversary of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.
By now, we should know which terrorist groups were responsible. We should have identified, detained and interrogated suspects. We should know the connections between the attack in Benghazi and the series of other attacks on U.S. embassies in Cairo, Tunis and Sana’a the same week, where American flags were torn down and replaced with al Qaida flags. We should have held the State Department officials responsible for the internal failures described in the Pickering Report accountable.
Yet we have nothing.
This week (Feb. 14) marks the second anniversary of sweeping peaceful demonstrations in the oil rich Kingdom of Bahrain in which citizens, inspired by the unfolding Arab awakening, took to the streets in support of democratic reform and respect for fundamental rights. Rather than introducing sustained and long-promised reforms, the monarchy has responded with cosmetic actions and further repression. In a speech on the Arab Awakening in 2011, President Obama noted that “mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens...The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”
In an unfortunately predictable manner, yet another congressional hearing held on 5 February 2013 entertained biased, misleading, and inaccurate statements about what is happening in Palestine. The hearing was titled “The Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation: Threatening Peace Prospects,” and yet no Palestinian representatives were invited. It is important to delineate several matters of concern.
First, Hamas has acknowledged that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has the mandate to negotiate a final status agreement with Israel. Their only concern is that the final agreement be put to referendum. Second, the reconciliation process is not complete. The PLO, chaired by President Mahmoud Abbas, has made it clear that any reconciliatory measures with Hamas must commit to garnering and sustaining the diplomatic efforts to reach a peace agreement with Israel, bearing in mind the PLO’s previous agreements and accords with Israel. Third, reconciliation efforts have been supported by many allies of the United States in the region, including Egypt and Jordan, the only two countries that ratified and continue to hold permanent peace agreements with Israel. Finally, the Israeli leadership itself has repeatedly remarked that it cannot pursue a peace agreement with a fragmented Palestinian government.
Thursday, John Brennan will face confirmation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to become the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. If confirmed, Brennan will lead a CIA that is more involved in paramilitary activities than at any time since its founding. In the past, Brennan has voiced suspicion over the increased role of the CIA in drone warfare, yet these types of operations have increased under his watch. Good, bad or indifferent, this is a fact. It’s time to sort out just how much of America’s national security will be relegated to secret warfare under the auspices of the CIA.
As President Obama and Congress lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform, it is essential that this reform does not leave out vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers who have fled their home countries because of torture and persecution.
As a torture survivor rehabilitation center, the Center for Victims of Torture provides healing services to victims of government-sponsored torture. A majority of the survivors we treat are asylum seekers who have suffered unimaginable abuse at the hands of repressive regimes. Many lost family or friends as a result of violence and oppression and have been detained and tortured more than once before fleeing for their safety. Receiving asylum in the United States is their lifeline.
Last week, Sen. Hagel’s confirmation hearing sparked a heated debate over the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Some still define our arsenal by the rigid paradigm of the Cold War, a paradigm that is out of touch with today’s dynamic, multipolar security environment.
This week, the two-year anniversary of the entry into force of the last U.S.-Russia nuclear agreement - the New START Treaty - invites us to examine further steps to bring our nuclear deterrent into the 21st century.
We must update our strategy by eliminating excessive nuclear capabilities, maintaining a safe, secure, and usable deterrent force, and investing in defense capabilities that effectively address 21st century challenges.
Today, the House holds its first hearing on immigration reform, followed next week by President Obama’s State of the Union address and the Senate’s own immigration hearing. Amidst the hours of testimony and discussion we are about to hear, lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure that immigration reform legislation includes measures to restore this country’s commitment to providing refuge to those who seek protection from persecution.
I watched with utter dismay this week as former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel tried to respond to a blatant, coordinated inquisitorial attack for nearly eight hours by his fellow Republican executioners at the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.
If many of the GOP solons hoped to dissuade idealistic American youth from public service, they surely succeeded beyond all expectations. With little exception, Senators McCain, Graham, Cruz, Inhofe, Ayotte, Sessions, Fischer and others displayed behavior at times that can best be described by the following adjectives:
- Callow, sophomoric
The security news from abroad hasn’t been good for ol’ Uncle Sam lately, especially the alarming headlines coming from North Korea and Iran, which tell troubling tales of advancing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Not only is this worrisome, it also provides plenty of warning of some of the hot issues we’d better take firmly into account as we develop strategies such as the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review and prioritize Pentagon budgets.
Just last week, North Korea provocatively announced to the world — but especially for its sworn enemy, the United States, to hear--its intention to conduct a third nuclear weapons test sometime soon, following tests in 2006 and 2009.
Some experts believe the purpose of the newest test, when it comes, is to further refine North Korea’s ability to develop a nuclear warhead for placement atop the various ballistic missiles in its inventory.
This is no small matter.