Archive for April, 2011

Zetas in the US

The Zetas were trained as an elite army to carry out anti-drug operations, and they have taken these skills to become the most feared crime organization in Mexico.  This group began the horrific style of violence seen today, as the were the first to commit gruesome acts such as mounting the severed heads of those they killed on poles and hanging their bodies from bridges throughout Mexican cities.  The group
“enjoys killing- they want to terrorize communities,” according to an expert on Mexican drug gangs.

Recent reports have proven that the Zetas are becoming a more prominent presence within the US, bringing this violence with them.  In 2010, US federal agents tied a cocaine operation in Baltimore, Maryland to the Zetas.  This drug cartel has also begun to target US law enforcement on the border more frequently.  The Zetas are estimated to have about 1,000 to 3,000 hard-core members and roughly 10,000 loyalists spread across Mexico, the US, and Central America.

Just like every other Mexican drug cartel, this gang is power hungry and wants control of the $30 billion annual drug trade.  They have proven their audacity and commitment through the horrific acts of violence that characterize the cartel.  They have no boundaries.  The Zetas will do anything to gain more power and influence, and they will go anywhere to do so- especially to the US.  The Zetas are only going to continue their expansion into the US because this country offers valuable profits.  Thus, the US must increase its awareness of this problem and force an environment that is not so appealing to these cartels.  This problem has to be addressed, and it is best to do this now instead of waiting for the gangs to become more powerful.


Cricket Star Bashes US Drone Strikes

Former cricket player turned politician Imran Khan has recently spoken out about how drone strikes by the CIA and US are failing to fight al-Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Pakistan-Afghan border. Khan claims that the US needs to win over the people and tribes in these regions rather than attacking them. All drone strikes are doing, he claims, are pushing the tribes toward al-Qaeda rather than scaring them away. The drone strikes he feels are creating an anti-American sentiment among the tribes and playing them right into al-Qaeda training camps.

While Khan is probably no expert in politics, his views are not unfounded and he can definitely make a case for these attacks to be pushing tribal leaders away from helping American interests. While a complete overhaul of American strategy in the region is unlikely, Khan is right in that more work must be done to get the tribal leaders to be on the US’ side.


Obama Hopes to Cut $400 Billion in Defense Spending

President Obama announced in a speech on deficit reduction that he hoped to cut defense spending by $400 billion over the next 12 years. Obama was very vague in his speech, but many analysts and lawmakers critical of defense cuts stated that there would be direct repercussions for any spending cuts of this magnitude. Obama on the other hand believed that these cuts were possible and that his primary concern was to make the US military more efficient.

These statements caught Secretary Gates off guard and placed him in an awkward spot. Gates stated later after Obama’s words that he was willing to search for more ways to cut spending, but warned that any cuts would directly effect the size and capabilities in America’s military capabilities.

Though despite these obstacles in formulating a good policy for spending cuts, Obama’s plan has allowed for other agencies, not just the Pentagon, to experience cuts as well. This is good news since the Pentagon will not be expected to burden all the funding cutbacks.

I believe that Obama’s wish to increase military spending cutbacks further is not necessarily a good plan. Like some of his critics in this article, I also feel that this $400 billion trim in funding his is talking about almost seems unfounded and random. I tend to agree with Gates, in that if we are to cut the military budget even further, the power projection capabilities of the United States will suffer. This is not good, especially because we are fighting wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq and just entered into the Libyan Conflict. If Obama is concerned with getting the US’ deficit under control, I am sure there are other ways to trim spending (unnecessary domestic or social projects/departments the government continues to prop up) rather than further dismantling or defense systems.


Syrian Protests

At least 200 protesters have been killed in Syria in the past four weeks according to human rights groups.  The recent month has seen civilians taking to the streets in disapproval and rejection of the current government.  Syrian President Assad’s 11 year rule is threatened by the surge of protests that have swept the entire Middle East in recent months.  In order to appease protesters, the President has promised reforms, with little to no effect.  The government security forces have reacted harshly to much of the protests throughout the country drawing criticisms from around the country.  As of April 18th, protesters have gathered in the city of Homs for a mass protest.  Currently, according to one activist, “More than 20,000 people are taking part in the sit-in at Al-Saa Square and we have renamed it Tahrir Square like the one in Cairo.  It is an open-ended sit-in which will continue until all our demands are satisfied.”

Syria’s reaction to the protests is harsh but was not unforeseeable.  Given the nature of its current government, Syria is likely to hold its ground and not give into protester’s demands quite so easily.  However, with the amount of protesters present at these demonstrations and with the growth of civil unrest, the government will have to address the wants of the protesters in the future since the rallies show no signs of stopping.  It will be interesting to see what course of action the government will take.  Will it appease the demonstrators’ demands or will it use force to quell the protests?

– Patrick

Obama Administration Considering Talks with the Taliban

The Obama administration is currently discussing holding secret talks with the Taliban. Such a decision comes in light of several factors. First, the violent summer offensive recently started, which provides incentive to negotiate a peace process to end the war. Second, NATO countries are frustrated by the inability of the Obama administration to unite to ensure a quicker end to the war. In addition, two-thirds of the American public is fed up with a war that costs $2 billion a week.
Interviews with NATO generals also revealed that many of them believe that the coalition has encountered a stalemate that cannot be resolved solely by military force.
The United States is currently working on developing a Taliban request to open a Taliban political office, which would help to generate direct talks between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and the United States. Originally, such talks were contingent on the severing of ties between al Qaeda and the Taliban. However, the United States will now permit the Taliban to meet these conditions at the end of talks. Such talks could take place in July or December.
Although the Obama administration agrees to such talks, the Pentagon is against them. The Pentagon is against withdrawing a significant number of troops this July while Obama wants to withdraw a substantial number of troops. The Obama administration wants to change course, talking less about troop levels and exploring political strategies to put an end to the war. This is probable as many top officers will be replaced in the next nine months, which would permit Obama to bring in new officers that agree with him.
I think that pursuing talks with the Taliban could potentially prove beneficial. Strategic victory in Afghanistan cannot be achieved by sheer force. Instead, the United States needs to enhance governance and rule of law in Afghanistan. Negotiations could potentially generate cooperation between the Afghan central government, the Taliban, and the American military. This could help to alleviate some of the underlying political problems that currently impede the success of the military strategy in Afghanistan. Recognition of the Taliban by the United States could encourage the Taliban to cooperate in negotiations as talks could provide a more attractive solution than launching a never-ending insurgency against a larger, more powerful force. Whether such talks produce substantial results or not, I agree with Ahmed Rashid that a desire to pursue a political strategy rather than a military strategy is a step in the right direction to eventually establishing an exit strategy for the war in Afghanistan.

Another ambassador fired over wikileaks

Ecuador expelled the United States ambassador in their country, Heather Hoges after statements were released through WikiLeaks that Hodges allegedly made about police corruption and the fact that the president knew about it.  I wrote a few weeks ago about how Mexico’s ambassador Carlos Pascual suffered a similar fate as Hodges and was expelled from Mexico because his comments about corruption were revealed through WikiLeaks.  There were a few cables in particular that caused the most outrage in the Ecuadorian government.  For instance, in July 2009, Hodges told the United States to revoke a visa for an Ecuadorian national police commander.  In that same cable Hodges implied that Ecuador’s President Correa knew about the police commander’s corrupt actions and worked to cover it up.  She went on to implicate Correa in assisting in a cover-up job.

The Ecuadorian government acknowledged that there would be no animosity between the two governments and that they were only holding Hodges responsible for her actions.  The United States State Department on the other hand has not commented as to whether or not they would take any action against Hodges, they only said that they were disappointed with Ecuador’s decision to remove her.

This shows that the Mexican case was just the beginning of a wider epidemic that could put many governmental personnel’s jobs in jeopardy.  And, while I support the fact that WikiLeaks provides for greater government transparency, I think that this could be a really big problem.  If these allegations are in fact true, the fact that these governments can so easily remove any dissenters is a major problem that needs to be addressed.  I think it is up to the United STates’ government to take these peoples’ opinions to heart and further investigate what they are saying.


American Detained in North Korea

Over the past several days, information has been trickling in on a Korean-American arrested in North Korea.  Thursday, a South Korean news agency announced that businessman Jun Young Su was arrested in November for “illegal religious activities” in North Korea.  According to the North Korean government, he had already confessed to his crimes.  The State Department confirms that an American is being held but will not confirm the name, the only source has been the news in South Korea.  Former president Jimmy Carter is scheduled to take a humanitarian trip to North Korea later this month but it is unsure whether he will attempt to ensure the proper treatment of the accused.

It will be tremendously difficult to ensure a fair trial in a country that is so secretive and hostile towards Americans.  Americans that had been arrested in North Korea previously were subjected to abuse and torture while they were detained and after their trials suffered to harsh punishments such as hard labor and beatings that violate many of the international norms of punishments which the State Department called on North Korea to obey.


Democratic night life in Iraq

Finding a balance between enforcing Islamic law and introducing Democracy into Iraq is difficult to reach. In January, clubs and bars were raided and forced to shut, in what Iraqi’s viewed as a move towards a more strict Islamic government. Recently, though these clubs have been reopening and a somewhat wild night life has emerged in Iraq. Though, the clubs were reopened due to intense protesting, on the other hand many people are against the freedom to drink alcohol. ( In Islam, it is essentially against the religion to drink) This more religious extremist group, feels that the  culture should be spun into the government, and the culture is heavily embedded in the religion of Islam. This group pushes for a ban on these clubs and bars. 

The reopening of these clubs  and the active involvement of young Iraqi’s in embracing night life does signal a push towards more freedom and a democratic way of thinking in Iraq. Though, many religious extremists are against these clubs, the fact that they are open does establish a separation between church and state which is important in establishing a firm and fair government. The conflict in this situation emerges, if the religious extremists view this embrace of night life as not a move towards more democratic freedom, but a move toward westernization/Americanization.  In the past, we have had problems with religious extremists, being heavily against a move towards American ideals, if this new night life is viewed as a western concept, it may create problems for America in dealing with Iraq in the future. 


~ Priyanka

Bioterrorism Program focuses on East Africa

The United States has shifted its focus to East Africa in hopes of decreasing the potential risk of terrorists obtaining biological pathogens. East Africa is known for being a natural producer of various pathogens, but suddenly the United States has realized that East Africa could be a breeding ground for terrorists looking to use these naturally occurring pathogens as non-conventional weapons of mass destruction. The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program was instituted to help the Soviet Union destroy any nuclear weapons it might have in the post Cold War era. Now, the CTRP is being expanded from being just a post Cold War program to becoming a more modern program to prevent the spread of biological pathogens that  could become lethal weapons later on. The US is focusing specifically on Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania for this program because these are regions with constant instability which puts them at higher risk for terrorists coming in and obtaining deadly diseases such as the ebola virus, Marburg, and Rift Valley fever. If any of these diseases were to be released on a population outside the natural environment, it would cause “death and economic chaos.”

It seems to be a good idea to expand the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to including bioterrorism. It seems that is primary goal, to eradicate nuclear weapons post Cold War, is not of prime importance at this time. Bioterrorism is more of a threat to the United States than nuclear weapons (unless we are dealing with North Korea, etc.) It is about time the United States focused on those areas that seem to be less poplar, yet they may hold the key in the prevention of bioterrorism by non-state actors. I wonder how the United States will go about using the CTRP in the East African countries, without rustling the bushes. I also wonder if any terrorists know how simple it would be to obtain pathogens from these areas and whether or not terrorists have already used these countries with naturally occurring pathogens to their advantage.


US Relief Efforts in Japan

After last month’s earthquake and concomitant tsunami in Japan, the United States has mobilized and shifted its resources to aid the beleaguered country. For instance, a recent New York Times article recounted the efforts of two dozen US airmen and 260 soldiers and Marines there. Arriving at the damaged Sendai Airport, the teams labored for a few hours clearing the main runway for American military traffic. Further efforts brought the airport, one of Japan’s largest in the north, back into full operational status for commercial air flights this past Wednesday.

However, by the time Japanese civilians had resumed operations, the US military teams were gone. “Their absence reflected the balance the United States military has tried to strike in Japan, where it has undertaken one of its largest relief operations, while also being careful not to be seen as taking a role that might upstage its hosts.”

The Pentagon has called US efforts in Japan: Operation Tomodachi, or “friend”, which is meant to demonstrate our good will intentions. For the Japanese these intentions are of notable importance. For the past several years, Japanese politicians have struggled to maintain its ties to the United States and balance domestic demands for the eviction of US military services from the islands. US political and military leaders have worked hard to maintain a limited presence in the field, attempting to prevent any incident that could be construed as upstaging the Japanese rescue and Self-Defense forces.

As I read this article, our discussion in class of David Edelstein’s text resurfaced in my mind. Several points stood out in particular.

Firstly, Edelstein asserts that one of the reasons US occupation of Japan has succeeded was the presence of an external threat. According to his logic, “…[w]hen an occupied territory faces a commonly agreed upon external threat, an occupation is more likely to succeed.” During the Cold War the Soviet Union represented this external threat, not only to the US, but also to the Japanese who were struggling to rebuild their war-devastated country. However, the USSR as we knew it is gone. Why are we still there? The two answers are China and North Korea, one a growing Communist power and the other a reckless Communist regime. All things held equal, if both were to disappear over night, the United States would loose its external threats, and also its geopolitical interests in Japan (for the most part anyway–unless policy makers could somehow cunningly portray Australia as a threat).

Secondly, he also discusses the ‘hearts and mind’ factor a bit. While I have already mentioned the Japanese disillusionment with the US military presence, US assistance efforts are being carefully orchestrated to minimize the corrosive effects of occupational assistance, with US military officials deferring decisions to the “indigenous” officials. For the present, this has kept the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Japanese people pacified.

Concluding, I would just say that United States has done an admirable job in maintaining the status-quo in Japan, as much as it can. And once the relief efforts are over, the US military may very well have gained a significant amount of domestic capital with the Japanese population. For US security, this can only be seen as a positive step in checking Chinese power.


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