Thursday, March 31, 2005

"Expect nothing and you won't be disappointed"

Today, I suggest that we take a small break from political analysis and enjoy some humor from a fellow Blogger who tells the story of her recent Birthday outing. Enjoy, and by the way, please wish Lauren a Happy Birthday while you are on her Blog.

Lauren's Birthday Story

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Faiza's Barometer for Change in Saudi Arabia

When I picked up the Sunday paper in my favorite coffee shop this past weekend, I had just had a discussion with an Iranian friend of mine about the state of civil liberties and human freedom in the Middle East. More specifically, we compared Saudi Arabia to Iran in terms of human rights, governance, and women's rights. I told him that I found it disturbing that Saudi Arabia where women are fully segregated; can not drive; can not share public spaces with men; and can not vote, receives docile criticism from the US when Iran where there is an electoral process (though circumvented by the ruling Mullahs) and where women are much less segregated; can drive; can share public spaces with men; and can vote is demonized and vilified continuously. We agreed that U.S. interests and American values are, after all, not as aligned as the president had claimed in his inaugural speech.

Not that we were exonerating the repressive regime in Iran by comparison to a more repressive regime. In fact, we both agreed that Iranians live under a theological tyranny that must be denounced for the decent and bright people of Persia to regain their freedom and dignity. But I was reminded by my reading of Alexis de Tocqueville that comparison is fundamental to all human thought; that comparison is, indeed, the methodological core of the scientific study of politics. So we compared Iran and Saudi Arabia and the more we did, the more agitated I became about the deafening silence on this side of the hemisphere about the cruelty of Saudi society.

My friend left and so I tried to relax myself by reading the paper. I came across an article on Saudi Arabia by Faiza Saleh Ambah and thought ‘how timely’. I must admit that it put my optimism about further Middle Eastern reform into perspective and as such I recommend that you too read this courageous and thoughtful article.

The Case The Saudis Can't Make (Click HERE for the full article)
By Faiza Saleh Ambah

"It's hard not to be intoxicated by the breeze of democracy wafting across the Middle East. An Arabian Spring, analysts call it, heralded by round-the-clock demonstrations in Lebanon, suffragists out on the streets in Kuwait, rare protests in Egypt, voting in Iraq and reform even here in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where limited municipal elections are being held this year. But just as I'm about to get carried away by the spirit of hope, my mind stops, does a U-turn and returns to three men -- two academics and a poet -- who've been behind bars in Saudi Arabia for a year. Their case, and not the ballot box, has become my barometer for real change in the kingdom."

Monday, March 28, 2005

More from Central Asia

As we continue to monitor events spurred by last week's ousting of the ruling regime in Kyrgyztan, we ought to be wary of definitive statements about the future of this Central Asian nation at the present time. Many questions remain unanswered about the unity of the opposition that forced president Akaev into exile. Furthermore, it is not yet clear whether the opposition is attached to the values of democracy, nor is it clear at this time whether the obituary of the ousted regime has indeed been written. Therefore, in seeking some more answers about the emerging situation in Kyrgyztan, I asked my friend who is currently in Bishkek to provide me with some of her insights with regards to the following questions:

(1) What is the expressed intent of the opposition and their expressed political agenda?
(2) Is the opposition united?
(3) How does Russia fit in this story?

My friend was gracious enough to take time and provide me with the following answers, which I am sharing in hope that it furthers your understanding of a very delicate situation in what is undoubtedly a very unique region of the world.

"Part of the problem here is that the opposition didn't have much of an agenda besides getting rid of Akaev and his corrupt regime. The opposition is somewhat fragmented. It has never been clear to me which oppositionists were genuinely interested in democratic reform and which ones were merely upset that they were on the outside of a lucrative 'resource capture' system. I think there are some of each type involved.

Right now the oppositionists seem to be negotiating amongst themselves for who gets what part of the power. However, because of the speed with which the transition occurred, much has to be sorted out under pressure. It is also not clear to me that this new government is stable and that the previous regime is really vanquished. It is possible, in my mind, that Akaev and his people will try to retake power in some way - I just don't know. Fortunately, as far as I have been told, there's not a lot of military hardware lying around here so any power struggle will rely on limited means of force.

For now, the biggest danger is to retail establishments which are being looted by what appear to be very well-organized gangs (guys drive up in Mercedes and BMWs with trucks, break in, take the best stuff, and then quickly move on to the next place) followed by opportunistic criminals and ordinary people. The new government is pleading for people to behave responsibly, but I get the sense they can't really control the looting just yet.There have been no attacks on people, and no street fights between supporters of various sides (at least nothing I've heard of yet). Also, there have been no ethnic clashes or anything like that.

Regarding Putin's position, he has been very noncommittal. There was a report before all this happened (Monday or Tuesday) that Akaev had gone to Moscow to meet with Putin and had been denied an audience. On Friday(last week) he said on TV that he knows the leaders of the opposition movement and they are 'decent, responsible people' (sounds almost like an endorsement) but that 'everything must be done according to the constitution'. He also said he is open to discussing things with Akaev. My sense is that he is keeping his options open, since Russia was made to look so stupid in Kiev."

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The UN Report on the Fact-Finding Mission to Lebanon

The United Nations has released its fact-finding mission report on the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The UN team that conducted this inquiry was headed by Ireland's deputy police commissioner, Peter FitzGerald.

In one of the most vivid parts of the report, testimony given to the UN investigative team describes a meeting in Damascus at which Assad ordered Rafik Harriri to support amending Lebanon's constitution in order to extend by three additional years the presidential mandate of Emile Lahoud. According to that testimony, Assad told Harriri that "Lahoud should be viewed as his personal representative" in Lebanon and that "opposing him is tantamount to opposing Assad himself". Assad then allegedly warned that he "would rather break Lebanon over the heads of" Hariri and Druze political leader Walid Jumblatt "than see his word in Lebanon broken."

Furthermore the UN team also charged that in the aftermath of the assassination, Syrian-controlled Lebanese authorities tampered with evidence and showed a "distinct lack of commitment" to conducting an objective and credible investigation into Hariri's assassination. The UN team stopped short of directly accusing Syria and its agents in Lebanon for the murder of ex-Prime Minister Harriri although the report charges that Syria "bears primary responsibility for the political tension that preceded" the assassination. Click HERE to download a copy of the repot in PDF form.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Why Do So Many Young Americans Kill Themselves?

According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of youth suicides has tripled since the 1950s in the US. Today, suicide is the third leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. More teenagers and young adults die of suicide in the US than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.

The US National Institute of Health (NIH) explains that "suicide deaths outnumber homicide deaths by five to three." While 84 people commit suicide every day in America, still more alarming is that three suicides are attempted every two seconds in this country. The NIH says that "it has been estimated that there may be from 8 to 25 attempted suicides per every suicide death."

In the year 2000 alone, 29,319 Americans ended their lives in a single year. Among those are 9,084 teenagers and young adults. Also consider that a total of around 500,000 people (that's half a million!!) attempt suicide in America every year. Just to put these numbers into perspective, recall that some 3,000 people died as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that close to 1,500 soldiers died as a result of war in Iraq.

Suicide in America is a serious public health problem with devastating effects for thousands of families. It begs to ask: Why do so many people decide to commit suicide in one of the richest, most prosperous, and freest countries on earth?

Click on the chart below to see suicide statistics by age group and gender in the US.

Posted by Hello

An Update on the Situation in Kyrgyzstan

As I explained in my previous post, one of my friends is currently in Bishkek to conduct research for a doctoral dissertation on conflict resolution. She had a front seat to the latest political developments there. She shared the following update with me, which I am in turn posting for your information.

"Yesterday afternoon there was a sort of a bloodless coup here, as you already know by now. The opposition took over the White House, which is the main government building here. Some stores are closed, though I can't tell whether this is out of fear of the instability or whether it is a show of "strike" solidarity with the protesters. Otherwise, everything seems quite calm. [my translator's] father, who had been downtown, said there was quite a bit of fighting overnight. But, things are completely quiet in my neighborhood and we heard no sirens overnight.

One of the problems during the elections here in February and March was that the government controlled all 3 TV stations as well as the radio(the only independent radio station was shut down by the government before the elections). However, yesterday afternoon one of the TV stations changed sides and made their studios totally available to the opposition movement. First, the TV people came on and apologized to the public for having given biased reporting and for having lied under government pressure. Then, they spent the rest of the evening broadcasting programs featuring opposition people.

On TV, the opposition people said that they had not intended to take over the White House yesterday, but only to hold a meeting. However, aggression on the part of government agitators so inflamed the crowd that it surged onto the White House grounds and overwhelmed the police there, who put down their equipment and either joined the protestors or fled. From what I saw myself yesterday, there was aggression on both sides. Following this there were some incidents of window breaking - particularly of a large store downtown - and other destruction nearby, which the opposition leaders pleaded with people to stop. After taking the White House, opposition supporters freed Felix Kulov, a key opposition leader who had been in prison off and on for the past 5 years on reportedly spurious charges. All last night, opposition leaders repeatedly talked about this being a historic day in Kyrgyzstan and how everyone must remain orderly and begin immediately to work toward the future.

They talked about doing everything according to law and the constitution (except, I suppose, what they themselves have already accomplished by taking over the government and freeing Kulov). There were definitely some rowdy guys in the opposition crowd yesterday, but most people were responsible and I believe the level-headed people are managing things now.

Regarding the government itself, as of last night, President Akaev was not in evidence and the Prime Minister, Tanaev, had resigned. There were rumors that deposed President Akaev had already left the country and a Chinese news source (Xinhua) reported that Akaev has gone to Almaty. Last night the 2 remaining state controlled TV stations were avoiding all news broadcasts and showing movies and MTV instead, so there were no official pronouncements from the government, as far as we could tell.

Reactions here are mixed. People such as my roommate/translator who were strongly pro-opposition are ecstatic. Others, families such as [a friend's], seemed frightened when I spoke with them last night. [a friend's] relatives are Akaev supporters but I never see them any more so I don't know how they're dealing with this situation.

For news, I would recommend the following two sites:



I just checked some other new sources and want to reassure you that looting has NOT engulfed Bishkek. That is sensationalism. Things in my part of town are very quiet."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Show of Force in Bishkek

Over the last few weeks, Kyrgyzstan witnessed countrywide demonstrations by supporters of opposition candidates who felt that recent parliamentary elections there were manipulated by the government and its agents. The elections in question had taken place in two rounds on February 27 and March 13 of this year. However, as recently as last week, protesters in the south of Kyrgyzstan moved from condemning government manipulation of election results to an outright demand for the ousting of President Akaev ahead of the presidential election planned for October.

Amid the unrest, the opposition seized key regional government buildings in Jalalabad and Osh (two southern cities in Kyrgyzstan) despite an initial heavy-handed reaction by the government. The Special Police units that were sent in to regain control in those two cities were overcome by protestors only a few days after the initial assault that gave the government momentary control over government buildings there. Initial reports from Human rights organizations indicate that the government assault on those buildings sent 14 protestors to the hospital.

Following that unsuccessful bid to regain control through force and the fact that many local law enforcement officials joined the opposition, the government of President Akaev proposed a negotiated compromise. This was seen by the opposition as too little, too late. A prominent opposition leader explained: "The authorities have been trying the voters' patience for too long: they waited more than ten days, hungry and in the rain, for government representatives to come and see them, but no one did. Now we've realized what Akaev's vaccine is: to crush the people's will by exhausting their physical strength and nerves. I don't think the people will negotiate with him now."

It also appeared last week that the opposition may, after all, show some flexibility and accept negotiations, but only if they were to be had directly with the president and not with his ministers. But earlier this week, another opposition leader warned that "the situation in the south is changing rapidly and people are becoming less controllable, and that is causing grave concern to our representatives in Osh and Jalalabad. The situation is extremely explosive."

According to a friend of mine who is in Bishkek to conduct research for a dissertation on conflict resolution in Central Asia, the government closed all the universities in Bishkek on Tuesday this week and ordered the students to attend a massive pro-government rally in the city. She was told by her Kyrgyz translator that the government was making very strong statements against all international aid organizations, USAID, and the US Ambassador, Stephen E. Young. At the end of the meeting, the organizers handed out a newsprint copy of a forged statement they said was issued by Ambassador Young in which he says that the US goal is to remove President Akaev from power. The newsprint, which she says is clearly not written by a native English speaker, is likely to be seen by many in Kyrgyzstan as authentic, due to existing skepticism about US intentions in the region.

Nonetheless, today, protesters stormed the presidential compound forcing President Askar Akayev and his family to flee the Kyrgyz capital. Following the take-over, an opposition leader, former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev said: "We will establish order. We will not allow looting. We will hold our own elections to start our rule."

It appears that Russia has lost yet another of its strong men in a country it once controlled. This is now three in a row. First it was Georgia, then the Ukraine, and now Kyrgyzstan. This may very well serve as a turning point for the rest of Central Asia. It also may just send a reminder to those 'nostalgic soviets' in Russia that this is, indeed, a new world we are living.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Crystal Ball of US Intelligence

The following conclusions represent the 2020 global landscape trends reported by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in a recent report titled: 'Mapping the Global Future'. The NIC is the US Intelligence Community's center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking.

Relative Certainties:

  • Globalization largely irreversible, likely to become less Westernized.
  • World economy substantially larger.
  • Increasing number of global firms facilitate spread of new technologies.
  • Rise of Asia and advent of possible new economic middle-weights.
  • Aging populations in established powers.
  • Energy supplies “in the ground” sufficient to meet global demand.
  • Growing power of nonstate actors.
  • Political Islam remains a potent force.
  • Improved WMD capabilities of some states.
  • Arc of instability spanning Middle East, Asia, Africa.
  • Great power conflict escalating into total war unlikely.
  • Environmental and ethical issues even more to the fore.
  • US will remain single most powerful actor economically, technologically, militarily.

  • Key Uncertainties:

  • Whether globalization will pull in lagging economies; degree to which Asian countries set new “rules of the game.”
  • Extent of gaps between “haves” and “have-nots”; backsliding by fragile democracies; managing or containing financial crises.
  • Extent to which connectivity challenges governments.
  • Whether rise of China/India occurs smoothly.
  • Ability of EU and Japan to adapt work forces, welfare systems, and integrate migrant populations; whether EU becomes a superpower.
  • Political instability in producer countries; supply disruptions.
  • Willingness and ability of states and international institutions to accommodate these actors.
  • Impact of religiosity on unity of states and potential for conflict; growth of jihadist ideology.
  • More or fewer nuclear powers; ability of terrorists to acquire biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear weapons.
  • Precipitating events leading to overthrow of regimes.
  • Ability to manage flashpoints and competition for resources.
  • Extent to which new technologies create or resolve ethical dilemmas.
  • Whether other countries will more openly challenge Washington; whether US loses S&T edge.
    • WB Loan to Jordan

      "The World Bank today approved a $15 million loan to support the Government of Jordan to strengthen the capacity of the civil service to carry out the national program of reforms. The Public Sector Reform Capacity-Building will assist the government in strategic staffing in key agencies involved in administrative reform and providing training to ensure the civil service can actively manage the reform process."

      "The proposed project seeks to advance Jordan's broad program of civil service reforms by hiring staff, providing goods and equipment, as well as technical assistance to government agencies responsible for carrying out an ambitious public sector reform program. The project will also support the timely implementation of reforms in range of areas from policy coordination to improved financial and human resource practice."

      Arab Summit in Algiers

      In light of the ongoing Arab Summit in Algiers, I would like to share some thoughts on the Arab League, which I expressed in an article a few weeks ago. Please click on the following link to be redirected to that previous post:

      The Inconsequential Existence of the Arab League

      Monday, March 21, 2005

      Rummy's Noodles

      Donald Rumsfeld has a new explanation for the ongoing failure to suppress the insurgency in Iraq, which he shared with Fox News on Sunday morning: It is Turkey's fault. Of course it is. They refused to allow the 4th infantry division to invade Iraq from the north. How dare they deny the US passage rights through their territory? The secretary explains that because US forces were not able to execute an assault from the north, ‘Saddam loyalists’ were able to disperse into hiding and cause the ongoing insurgency.

      This sounds as ridiculous as the secretary's past 'wisdom' on body armor and Abu Ghraib. Blaming the insurgency on Turkey's sovereign right not to take part in the US military operation in Iraq is like blaming a missed field goal on Astroturf. It has, indeed, been long since President Truman placed a sign that read ‘the buck stops here’ in the oval office. Today, Secretary Rumsfeld would rather place another sign on his desk that reads: ‘the buck stops anywhere but here’. According to him failure to contain the insurgency is not the result of inadequate troop levels and force protection sent into battle. It is not the result of poor post-invasion planning which failed to secure weapon storage facilities and sensitive sites. It is not the result of the policy to disband the Iraqi army, which created a defacto resistance force. And it is certainly not the result of a failure to quickly restore public services, which fueled Iraqi anger and, hence, increased recruitment for the insurgency. The Secretary says it is all somebody else’s fault.

      It is Syria although a large number of foreign fighters who are joining the insurgency are Saudis and Jordanians (two key US allies who also share borders with Iraq). It is Iran although the Mullahs there support the Shia in southern Iraq who themselves are the victims of bloody terrorist attacks by Sunni insurgents. Finally, it is Turkey because they refused the right of passage to the US military although Baatists would have behaved exactly the same way as they have to date. Iraq’s neighbors, indeed, cause complications for the US in Iraq. Syria and Iran are, indeed, subversive actors with regard to US policy in Iraq because they have a direct stake in the outcome of the political process there. The inability of the US to get the 4th infantry division in from the north did complicate the war planning effort. But, you don’t go to a war and think you will waltz into a perfect environment free of any external interference, unexpected setbacks, and operational risk. Contingency planning is certainly not an unfamilar term within the Pentagon.

      Regarding this latest claim by the secretary, it is easy to speculate, as he once said, on ‘unknown unknowables’. But, the fact of the matter is that, regardless of whether the 4th infantry division was allowed to come in from the north or not, Baatists would have faded into the landscape and prepared to fight a guerilla war against US forces because that was their plan from the get-go. They knew from their experience only ten years earlier that a conventional war against the most powerful military in the world is out of the question. Therefore, the so-called ‘regime remnants’ who put their strategy into action several days before US troops reached Baghdad, never intended to fight US forces in the open. In addition, let us not forget that the Kurdish militia, the Pesh Merga, and US Special Forces did operate in the north in support of the invading forces from the South and West and that the US had total air supremacy during the entire campaign. It is also important to remember that it took US forces only about a week to enter Baghdad. Would it have mattered if they got there a day or two earlier? Maybe, but that’s highly debatable because the main policy failures that led to the current security situation in Iraq took place days if not months after the ground assault on Baghdad was completed.

      Another element to consider very carefully is that the insurgency is not confined to ‘Saddam loyalists’ or ‘regime remnants’. Failure to properly identify the problem is the first sign that real, sustainable solutions are not forthcoming. The idea that all those who belong to the insurgency are trying to bring the Saddam regime back into power is ludicrous. It is a simplistic approach that may play well on US media, but misses the point entirely. Many in this insurgency today are diametrically opposed to the Baatists. They include regular Iraqis whose resentment of the US was fueled by lack of public services and by military offensives into Iraqi cities (i.e., Fallujah); they include Islamists (including foreign fighters) who are seeking to ‘martyr’ themselves; and they also include Iraqi nationalists. Furthermore, the Mahdi army of the Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has given US forces lots of problems in southern Iraq last year. The recent calm there does not mean that this militia is finished. In fact, we may very well see them take up arms again sometime after the new Iraqi government is formed. When that happens again, it would be mighty tough to blame Turkey and I suppose much easier to blame Iran instead, because according to Rumsfeld everything that happens in Iraq is always somebody else's fault.

      By the way, Harry Truman has been dead for thiry three years now.

      Wednesday, March 16, 2005

      Presidential Appointments

      This week, two major presidential appointments were announced by the White House. The first caused a reaction very much like that caused by the nomination of John Bolton to the position of U.S. Ambassador to the UN, while the other drew a much more measured response from the president’s chief opponents. Be that as it may, both of today’s announcements are significant in that they confirm and solidify this president’s new strategy for international relations and public diplomacy.

      Hawk in the Bank

      President Bush hardly waited for the dust to settle down from his nomination of John Bolton to the UN, before striking again tapping another hard-hitting conservative, Paul D. Wolfowitz, to become the next president of the World Bank. Although there have been hints for about a week now that Mr. Wolfowitz was being considered for the job, many did not expect the president to hit yet again with another controversial appointment. The official announcement caused quite a stir in international circles and drew some pointed comments from the democratic leadership in the House. It is not surprising that any appointment that concerns a polarizing operator like Mr. Wolfowitz would produce a controversy. However, even die-hard democrats have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, they are happy to see Mr. Wolfowitz vacate the halls of the Pentagon, and on the other, they are worried that his political philosophy would deepen the rift between the US and the international community. Mr. Wolfowitz was after all one of the chief architects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

      Mr. Wolfowitz will be in for some animated exchanges with democrats over his nomination, but he will be easily confirmed into the World Bank presidency. His impact in the World Bank, I suspect, will be more positive than negative. This is because he will bring the management style that is needed in the short-term to steer the bank into the direction of performance-based and results-oriented development assistance.

      It is also helpful to note that although the U.S. hosts the bank and is its largest shareholder, the ultimate decision-making authority within the bank is held by a Board of Governors where the U.S. share of votes is 16.4 percent. The other 181 member countries collectively hold close to 84 percent of the vote. Other notable shareholders of the Bank are: Japan (7.87 percent), Germany (4.49 percent), the United Kingdom (4.31 percent), and France (4.31 percent).

      The Lady from Texas

      The White House also announced that the president nominated his long-time adviser, Karen P. Hughes, to the post of Undersecretary of State in charge of Public Diplomacy. This post, which was created after 9/11, has already seen two short-lived appointments. Mrs. Hughes will now have to pick up the pieces and formulate a comprehensive outreach policy to deal with mounting resentment of the U.S. in the Middle East and in the rest of the world. This is going to be an immensely difficult job. Karen Hughes must know that a propaganda campaign will not do the job. In regards to the Middle East, she should not make the mistake of following Arab regimes into the habit of insulting the intelligence of the people of the Middle East with blatant propaganda. What will cut it here is a concrete change in policy for which she will have to lobby relentlessly in the White House.

      Mrs. Hughes should also move to get the Arab community in the US to be more involved in U.S. public diplomacy efforts. But for that to happen in a legitimate manner, the Arab community in the U.S. should not feel alienated and discriminated against. As such, an important aspect of Mrs Hughes job will have to coordinate with other government agencies to stop hate speech against American Muslims (especially in conservative media). Although, some may view this as beyond the scope of foreign service work, Hughes must push for a domestic strategy to educate Americans about their fellow Arab and Muslim citizens for it is they who will help her educate the Middle East about America. The American administration will not find better messengers to carry its goodwill to the Middle East than its own Arab and Muslim community. Karen Hughes has something her predecessors did not have: access to the president. She will need that access to influence policy change both domestically and internationally for her to succeed in her new job because words and TV programs alone will not suffice.

      Sunday, March 13, 2005

      The State of Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

      The data presented below was extracted from the latest Freedom House survey data contained in the organization's annual 'Freedom in the World 2005' Report. Freedom House is a non-profit, non-partisan organization. The survey data rated a total of 192 countries and 14 territories. The ratings range from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free).
      (Click on thumbnail below to see a larger picture)

      Posted by Hello

      Saturday, March 12, 2005

      The Hilly Side of Freedom

      When the sun peaked over the horizon of enlightenment, two wise men were vigorously debating the state of humanity, natural law, and the role of authority in addressing man's intentions and natural characteristics. They advanced two opposing views that helped shape the course of enlightenment and provided the impetus for the intellectual revolution that rippled through the West from the 17th century on. One John Locke preached an optimistic view of humanity for he sees man as being governed ‘according to reason’, hence, capable of coexisting with his fellow man peacefully. Thomas Hobbes on the other hand, was rather pessimistic and cynical for he sees man to be solitary and self-interested, hence, living in a perpetual ‘state of war’ with his fellow man. Both, however, agreed that all men are equal in nature. But as Hobbes believed that the equality of men exists in a ‘state of war’ where even ‘the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest’, Locke believed that the equality of men resides in the idea that all men are naturally in a state of ‘perfect freedom’, ‘equality’, and ‘liberty’. In other words, if Hobbes believed that natural law is a constant ‘state of war’, Locke believed it to be humanity’s state of equality and freedom.

      Today, the debate between Hobbes and Locke remains largely unresolved. I suspect that it is because there is much of both Hobbes and Locke in humanity. The advance of human liberty, indeed, presupposes that the natural state of humanity is one of equality and freedom. But, is the drive to free man, in itself, not a struggle to rid humanity of the natural characteristic of man to be ‘selfish’, ‘nasty’, ‘brutish’, and ‘evil’? Is the role of government not to both preserve (Locke’s view) and control (Hobbes’ view) natural law for and against man? If so, then, both Hobbes and Locke have, indeed, argued two opposite sides of the same coin, whereby when Hobbes prevails entirely, one witnesses tyranny and when Locke prevails entirely, one risks anarchy.

      The idea of freedom would be straight forward if it were not for mankind. Throughout history and into modern times, the world has witnessed many struggles against pronounced forms of tyrannical and evil authority. But history shows that man’s struggle for freedom does not end with the demise of any one oppressive force. In the last century alone, we have seen Europe fight the evils of Nazism all while millions in Africa fought against the injustice of European colonialism. We have seen the United States fight the oppressive forces of communism all while Black Americans marched to claim their own freedom from the evils of racism. At times, the words of Thomas Hobbes come into a life of their own as man stretches his cruelty over his fellow man. Yet, the inspiring words of John Locke sustain our hope for an endgame where a global state of freedom, equality, and good governance is attained. It is after all the same hope that led Francis Fukuyama to predict the ‘end of history’ following the demise of the Soviet Union. It is the same hope that is now driving the arguments advanced by the American presidency as it seeks to promote democracy in the Middle East.

      The world’s most powerful nation on earth says that it is now at the service of the oppressed and at the helm of the free world. In speaking on behalf of man’s inherent desire to live in freedom, President Bush often projects the optimism of John Locke. But when he expresses his cynicism of the international community, he in effect sides with Thomas Hobbes. This is in itself an illustration of how man has come to believe but hardly trust. The belief in man’s predisposition to be good comes from a hopeful vision for the future, whereas mistrust and cynicism of human nature is rooted in the painful reminder that is our past. This is the all-too-familiar debate between painful realism and hopeful optimism.

      The president’s impassioned speech about the promotion of democracy and freedom in the Middle East is necessary. It serves as a catalyst for change and renewed confidence in the forces of reform and democracy in the region. But it is ultimately up to the people of the Middle East to rise against the forces of tyranny in their midst and break with a past in which Thomas Hobbes was mostly right and into a future where John Locke is more discernible. The Middle East needs its own intellectual revolution whereby questions of freedom, natural law, and the role of government are debated in the tradition of enlightenment.

      Every revolution needs an enabling force, a trigger, and a control mechanism. The U.S. by virtue of its leadership position can provide the trigger and assist with a control mechanism. But, it can not insert itself in place of the people as an enabling force for change in the region. As such, American policy must be directed to empower the people of the Middle East and shun the temptation to obsess over short-term interest. It is encouraging to observe that the U.S. is now willing, although hesitantly, to nudge its allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia into reform. It is way overdue that tyrants be placed under international siege for their internal strength is indeed overrated and their rule unsustainable. In a world far more interdependent and interconnected than that of Hobbes and Locke, the future should be far more hopeful than it used to be.

      See Also Previous Posts:

      Sunday, March 06, 2005

      To Kill Or Not To Kill: That Is The Question

      In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States declared the execution of criminal juveniles unconstitutional this last Tuesday. This decision is apparently drawing the wrath of some conservative pundits who have recently declared war on the Supreme Court calling it everything from tyrannical to incompetent. It is odd that these conservative voices are professing love for human life by condemning abortion but are ready to zap people in execution chambers. Strangely enough, this contradiction goes the other way in Europe where abortion is acceptable but the death penalty is not.

      The conservative commentator George Will wrote a column in the Washington Post today attacking Justice Kennedy on this latest court decision. Although he mentioned in passing that Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens have also joined the prevailing opinion, his target du jour was Justice Kennedy. George Will was apparently offended by Justice Kennedy’s explanation that “the nation's ‘evolving standards of decency’ now rank such executions as cruel and unusual”. Mr. Will projects what is a perfect stand by a perfect traditionalist who can not accept that societal ethics are dynamic in nature and, thus, evolve. He seems to forget that at one time segregation was defended and legislated on the basis of constitutional interpretation. He may have forgotten that the constitution at one time treated non-propertied men, women, and Blacks as inferior citizens by limiting their rights and participation in society. That changed of course because enlightened minds sought to rectify the wrongs of their times, as their standards of decency evolved, by passing amendments and giving new meaning to the constitution. Therefore, Justice Kennedy is not mistaken when he asserts that the country’s standards of decency evolve with time, hence, the need for a constant state of debate and pondering. Otherwise we can just read from the texts of those who came before us and continue to perpetuate their wrongs regardless of the realities we now live or the ethics we now espouse to.

      No wisdom and no text are so sacred that they can not be re-thought and eventually altered. I shiver at the thought that we should do things just because someone said so a long time ago. That is certainly not the spirit that brought this nation into being. If it were so, the founders could have just modeled American democracy on European aristocracy. But they were better than that. They certainly recognized that they had an independent intellectual capacity to use in pondering the questions of their time within the contextual realities of their environment. They were brilliant because first and foremost they rejected intellectual laziness and embraced the insights of such greats as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Before they passed, they also told us that their logic was indeed a starting point, not the final destination, for the creation of a better, more righteous society. They would be stunned if they were to return to find us obsessing about their every word as opposed to being inspired by their wisdom. The genius is not in the words, George, it is in the application of knowledge for the advancement and betterment of society.

      What we are told in every critical opinion directed at the court nowadays is that judges are now assuming a public policy role or 'legislating from the bench'. May we be reminded that the end of segregation was triggered by the bench, not congress and certainly not the segregationist state capitols of the time (Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954). I doubt that anyone would venture to call that decision a case of 'legislating from the bench'. The court plays its intended role by making rulings that generate public debate and spur new legislation when the legislative branch has been inept or slow in addressing social ills. This is not new although we are now urged to believe otherwise.

      Nonetheless, a debate on the role of judges in the public policy process is warranted. I do not advocate that such debate is without substance for even the 'Men in Black' need to be reminded of their constitutional limits. This is a discussion that must continue even if it were to lead to a potential reform of the Judiciary. As I said earlier, nothing is so sacred as to escape the test of time. But let us at least recognize that we do not live the lives of those who came before us and as such we may not always find all of their deeds to be appropriate for our times.

      The death penalty is neither an effective tool of judicial punishment nor is it something I find to be morally defensible today. If we are the true advocates that we claim to be for mankind, then we ought to walk the talk even when it comes to those in our midst who defile the value of human life. I disagree with the dissenting voices condemning this recent Supreme Court decision. I believe that the court actually got this one right, although I would rather welcome a complete ban on the death penalty all together.

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      Friday, March 04, 2005

      A Whistleblower's Testimony

      Before the House Committee on Government Reform
      Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and Internal Relations
      March 2, 2005

      Emerging Threats: Overclassification and Pseudo-classification

      Good afternoon. I have been invited to provide you with testimony today regarding my direct experience with the use of excessive secrecy, rare privileges, and over-classification by the Department of Justice against me during the past three years. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I believe that my case clearly illustrates how the government uses secrecy laws and classification to avoid accountability, to cover up problems and wrongdoing, and to gain unfair legal advantage in court.

      I began working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a language specialist for several Middle Eastern languages starting shortly after 9/11, and was granted Top Secret Clearance. During my work, I became aware of problems within the translation unit involving criminal conduct against our national interests, potential espionage, serious security breaches threatening our intelligence, intentional mistranslation, and blocking of intelligence. I was asked, and later ordered, to refrain from reporting these allegations. I reported them, together with evidence, to higher management within the bureau. They refused to take any action, and again, they asked me not to pursue them. I then took these issues and evidence to the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General and to the Senate Judiciary Committee, because I believed that according to our laws these were the appropriate steps to take in this situation. As a result, I was retaliated against, was ordered to submit to a polygraph, and had my home computer confiscated. Finally, in March 2002 I was fired. The only explanation I received for getting fired was 'for the convenience of the government.'

      In March 2002, the Senate Judiciary Committee began investigating my case and allegations, and in June and July 2002, during two unclassified briefings with the staff of Senators Grassley and Senator Leahy, the FBI publicly confirmed all of my core allegations. These two Senators issued public statements and letters regarding these confirmations and my case, demanding expedited investigation by the Inspector General and response from the FBI. These letters and statements were widely disseminated in the media and on the Internet; including on the Senators' own websites. When the judge overseeing my legal cases asked the government to produce any unclassified materials that was relevant to the substance of my allegations, the government took a truly extraordinary step: it moved to retroactively classify these letters, statements, and news releases that had been public for almost two years. It is quite clear that the government's motivation was not to protect national security, but rather to protect itself from embarrassment and accountability. Senator Grassley characterized this retroactive classification as 'ludicrous,' and 'gagging the congress.' However, the Congress complied. Only after this highly unusual retroactive classification was challenged in court by POGO, a government watchdog organization, did the Department of Justice reverse itself and declare that this information was not considered classified and a danger to national security after all. I would like to request that these letters from Senators Grassley and Leahy be included in the record of today's hearing.

      In March 2002, the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General began investigating my allegations, and in July 2004, after almost two years delay, completed its investigation. The Department of Justice immediately moved to classify the entire report and its findings. Six months later, they allowed the Inspector General to release only an unclassified version of its executive summary. This unclassified version confirmed my core allegations; concluded that I was fired for reporting misconduct; and stated that the FBI had failed to investigate the reported espionage, even though other facts, witnesses and evidence supported my allegations. I would like to request that the Inspector General's report also be included in the record of today's hearing.

      In the summer of 2002 I also began to pursue legal remedies to challenge my unjust dismissal, and filed cases under First Amendment and Privacy Act, and the Freedom of Information Act. Rather than respond to the merits of my claim, in October 2002, Attorney General Ashcroft asserted a rarely invoked 'State Secrets Privilege', arguing that the entire case must be dismissed in the name of national security, even if my allegations were correct. The Department of Justice asked the courts to throw out the case without any hearings, depositions, or discovery. Even though the Department of Justice's own Inspector General has confirmed the seriousness of my allegations and concluded that I was fired for raising them, the DOJ has continued to insist that my case cannot go forward because it would jeopardize national security. So far, the DOJ has been successful in this effort to silence me. In June 2004, the court ruled in favor of this far-reaching assertion of the "state secrets privilege". Currently I am appealing my case, and the Department of Justice is still invoking the "state secrets privilege" and arguing that everything about my issues is covered by classification.

      The government invoked the state secrets privilege a second time in an attempt to block me from being deposed in a case brought by families of those killed on September 11 against Saudi individuals and entities alleged to have financed al-Qaeda. The government insisted that almost every single question that the families wished to ask me would require the disclosure of classified information.

      The problems I have reported have serious consequences to our national security; and have already been confirmed by the Inspector General's report and the inquiry of Senators Grassley and Leahy. Translation units are the frontline in gathering, translating, and disseminating intelligence. A warning in advance of the next terrorist attack may, and probably will, come in the form of a message or document in a foreign language that will have to be translated. If an attack then occurs, which could have been prevented by acting on information in such a message, who will tell family members of the new terrorist attack victims that nothing more could have been done? There will be no excuse that we did not know, because we do know.

      Yet, knowing full well the seriousness of these confirmed issues and problems, rather than addressing them the FBI and the Department of Justice spend time and effort to cover them up by over use of secrecy and excessive classification. Contrary to their claims, they seem to be far more concerned with avoiding accountability than protecting our national security. I believe that my case clearly illustrates the federal government's capricious use of secrecy laws and classification to cover up problems and wrongdoing, and to avoid accountability, regardless of the damage to our national security. It demonstrates as well how excessive secrecy and pseudo classification can be used as retaliation tactics against national security whistleblowers. This type of excessive classification and the effort to expand the "statesecrets privilege" does not increase our national security but actually makes us less safe and it impedes oversight of the executive branch, as part of the checks and balances demanded by our Constitution.

      Thank you again for inviting me to testify today. You are the first Congressional Committee after three years to request my testimony and hear my story. I believe this testimony is a good first step in examining this situation but what is really needed is an actual Congressional investigation. Therefore, with respect for your critical role in our Constitution's system of checks and balances, I request that you be the first Congressional Committee to investigate not just my case but what is going on over at the FBI and the Justice Department regarding the very serious problem of over-classification and the abuse of secrecy.

      Thank you.