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Millennial Letters

The EU Cozies with Iran at Its Peril

Since last summer’s nuclear deal, Iran has been pushing a full court press to be treated as a legitimate member of the international community. Its behavior suggests otherwise. Since the accord, Tehran has stepped up support to the Assad regime in Syria, persisted in testing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, and continued human rights abuses within its borders. Nevertheless, on October 25, the European Parliament passed a resolution affirming its desire to normalize political and economic ties with Iran.

A Visit to Cairo's 'City of the Dead'

“There’s a dead body inside our kitchen table” said Ahmed, a bright-eyed boy about 7 years old. “It’s OK though—it’s normal” he said with a smirk. “On what planet is this normal?” I asked my father, who had spent the summer in Egypt during college. Ahmed is one of an estimated half-million people living in Egypt’s ghoulish “City of the Dead,” one of two massive inhabited cemeteries in Cairo. Ahmed’s home is in the Southern Cemetery, not far from the famous Mohammed Ali Mosque, near the Muqattam Hills.

Remembering a Winter on Fire

Before the winter of 2013-2014, Ukraine had spent its 22 years of independence peacefully. Where Russia had seen wars with separatist regions (Chechnya, 1994-1996 and 2000-2005), witnessed its president turn tank barrels on the parliament (October 1993), and had seen opposition-leaning Russians jailed and beaten by riot police for peaceful demonstrations (Winter 2012-2013), Ukraine had remained quiet. Certainly, the country had its share of political assassinations in the 1990s, but even 2004’s Orange Revolution was concluded peacefully and without violence against the protestors in the street or the politicians involved.

So the decision by then-President Viktor Yanukovych to use force on the thousands of Ukrainian citizens peacefully protesting his choice to forego signing an association agreement with the European Union came as a great shock to the body politic. Netflix’s newest documentary, Winter on Fire, tells the story of what happened next, as Ukrainians were killed, kidnapped and beaten by their government for daring to believe in the possibility of a new, uncorrupt, and European Ukraine.

The President’s Preferred Bad Deal

“What is your preferred alternative?” President Obama challenged critics of his nuclear deal with Iran during a press conference last week. “There really are only two alternatives here,” he then claimed. “Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation or it’s resolved through force, through war.”

Upon announcing the nuclear deal the day before, Obama made a similar point. “Consider the alternative,” he warned. “Consider what happens in a world without this deal. … No deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.”

Iran’s Dubious Track Record

With the recent weeklong extension of the deadline for a final nuclear deal, Iran’s track record of incrementalism and obfuscation toward the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has never been so instructive. Indeed, recent revelations suggesting an increase in Tehran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile are merely the latest example of its incremental transgressions. As international negotiators go into overtime seeking to transform a framework into a final accord, they may discover that the history of IAEA dealings with Iran is more useful in helping draft, implement, and enforce any deal than is their current political back-and-forth with Tehran.

Guatemala’s Legitimacy Crisis Dooms Obama’s Aid Package

The Obama administration’s proposed $1 billion aid package to Central America’s Northern Triangle—composed of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—already faced stiff resistance on Capitol Hill. But Guatemala’s growing “legitimacy crisis” makes the odds the United States will ultimately triple its aid to the region slim to none.

Originally proposed in January, the aid package was intended to stem the tide of unaccompanied minors at the US-Mexico border. Vice President Joe Biden explained in a New York Times op-ed that the aid would address the three countries’ “security, governance and economic challenges” and make the region a safer, more vibrant place for those who would otherwise flee. He even heralded Guatemala’s removal of corrupt government officials as a critical component to the countries’ joint economic reform plan.

Has Islamic State Entered Afghanistan?

In late February, 31 men, mostly from the Shiite Hazara minority, were kidnapped in Afghanistan, and remain held hostage. This week, five Hazara men were beheaded in the remote eastern district of Malestan, and 36 civilians were killed and 125 wounded in a suicide bombing outside a bank in the city of Jalalabad. These attacks have shaken an Afghan population hardened by decades of war, not just because of their brutality, but because of the whispered name some believe to be behind them: the Islamic State of Khorasan. But how real is the threat from this new group?

Afghanistan’s Precarious Future

The horrific attack in Jalalabad on Saturday by a group claiming affiliation with the Islamic State was another reminder that security risks in Afghanistan continue to metastasize and threaten the stability of the Afghan government. The coming drawdown of US forces—to be reduced to fewer than 1,000 by January 2017—will not only exacerbate this vulnerability but also reveal a sticky problem: Afghanistan cannot pay for its own government, including its army and police forces, and has no viable path to self-sufficiency.

Dealing with Iran: Get It in Writing

On March 25th, the New York Times reported that Iranian negotiators are resisting putting onto paper the yet-to-be-finalized political framework for a comprehensive agreement on its nuclear program. Anyone who’s ever waited four months for a landlord to fix a leaky faucet he “promised” to fix “tomorrow,” knows the importance of the age-old adage, “Get It in Writing,” or as the seasoned diplomat and scholar Dennis Ross explains more eloquently, “As important as it is to forge conceptual understandings, they must still be translated into concrete agreements that get expressed in writing.”

The Irresponsibility of the Iran Letter

Last week, in an unprecedented political move, 47 US Senate Republicans addressed a public letter to the leadership of Iran, promising to oppose and undermine American negotiations with that country. Our diplomats are in the final stages of securing an agreement that would prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. This obvious effort by some members of Congress to undercut national security policy is not only unconstructive and embarrassing—it is irresponsible.

As a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and like a clear majority of Americans, I support negotiations that have a real chance of keeping America and her allies safe and preventing another uncertain war in the Middle East.

Obama's Comprehensive Approach to Counterterrorism

In Washington last week, President Obama convened a conference with leaders from local and faith communities, the private sector, law enforcement, and foreign nations to discuss “countering violent extremism” (CVE), a catch-all term for pushing back against terrorist recruitment and propaganda. Only days after the CVE summit ended, newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter met with a similar group at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, including US military combatant commanders, regional military leaders, and representatives of partner states. The purpose of the meeting was to analyze the ongoing efforts to defeat the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and dive deep into the complex civil and military issues underlying the conflict.

Why Isn’t Ukraine Front Page News?

Kharkiv University, like the city it serves, is caught between both sides of the war in Ukraine. Housed in a former Soviet military academy, the stolid campus encircles Kharkiv’s Freedom Square, formerly known as Dzerzhinsky Square, after the founder of the Bolshevik secret police. All that’s left of the city’s Lenin statue is one boot, in which some enterprising protester stuck a Ukrainian flag after toppling the rest of Lenin’s body this September. Next door, in the humanities building, undergraduates from all corners of the country study current events in the university’s small Media and Communications Department; one of their subjects is America’s news media, and how they cover the war in Ukraine. One frigid Tuesday morning, I had the unenviable task of explaining it to them.

Jordan Deserves US Support

Following the gruesome murder of First Lieutenant Moaz al-Kasasbeh, Jordan has reportedly launched more than 50 airstrikes in three days in Syria, marking a dramatic increase in its direct military action against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. King Abdullah II has said his nation will continue to fight ISIS until it runs out of “fuel and bullets.”

Jordan’s decision to avenge the death of its airman has now become central to the debate on how to combat terrorism in the region. Jordan has always been a close ally against extremism; however, the death of Kasasbeh has ushered in a level of direct military engagement as yet unseen from our Arab allies. This heightened engagement from Jordan is exactly what is needed to combat the spread of ISIS in the region.

Power Politics and Putin

“The only language Russians understand,” asserted Edmundas Jakilaitis during a panel discussion last fall, “is power.” A Lithuanian journalist whose birth certificate bears a hammer and sickle, Jakilaitis knows what he is talking about. 

Estonia Adds E-Citizens—and Security

Much fuss has been made about the Estonian government’s debut of its e-citizenship program, which some 13,000 foreigners have already signed up for, and rightly so. The first measure of its kind, it will allow someone from any country to acquire Estonian citizenship and enjoy all of the accompanying freedoms and tax breaks. “Acquiring this status would allow, say, an Indian entrepreneur to establish an Estonian company that he runs from Dubai but which does the bulk of its business in Spain; he’d also be able to use his electronic signature to execute contracts with customers throughout the European Union—and pay no taxes by keeping his profits in Estonia,” Eric Schnurer writes in Foreign Affairs. Introducing e-citizenship is an undoubtedly shrewd move on Estonia’s part, one that will bring welcome business revenues to the small but resourceful Baltic state—Estonia hopes to gain 10 million citizens through the program—and set the standard for e-governance around the world.

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