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The Drug War Moves South

The violence resulting from the drug war in Mexico has killed just over 34,600 in the four years since President Calderon declared an official “War on Drugs.”  The situation in Mexico is a key priority on the US foreign policy agenda, in part because the drug-related violence from our southern neighbor has trickled over the border causing episodes of violece from California to New York.  Much of the horror of the war has been concentrated in the northern regions of Mexico and the Pacific coast so cartels can have better control of key land transit routes and coastal ports.  However, recent developments reveal a strong and growing presence of Mexican drug cartels in the southern regions of the country.  The Zetas reign this territory almost unchallenged.  This cartel is unique in that it has no geographic concentration, so they operate like franchises, sending a member to an area they want to control.  They then recruit local criminals and instill a fear in the people so they will obey.  The Zetas have established criminal networks that now stretch into Guatemala to control Central American transit routes for drugs, migrants, and contraband.  They have made hundreds of millions of dollars from goods coming through Guatemala.  Their violence has also spread across the border into northern Guatemala, and many migrants have been targeted in the violence.  The Zetas were blamed for the death of 72 migrants this past summer, and just last month they were accused again in the disappearance of 40 more migrants.

This expansion of the drug war into the south of Mexico has serious ramifications.  The violence has now spread across mexican borders, north and south.  The drug war is no longer solely a problem for the Mexican government and people because the drug cartels have a strong influence in mulitple countries.  It stretches from the origins of the drugs in South America to the consumer market in the US and even in Europe.  Thus, the cartels have formed a global network that generates huge sums of money that keeps them in control.


Jailbreak in Iraq

Iraqi authorities are now in pursuit of 12 militants who escaped from prison, in the southern region of the country known as Basra. The prison was an old compound used by Saddam Hussein. The men obtained police uniforms, and wore them to walk out the front door, unquestioned and unobstructed. All of the prison guards in the complex have been arrested, as it is obvious some of them aided the escape of the prisoners.

The militants, whom are members of the insurgent Islamic State of Iraq, whose goal is to establish a caliphate in Sunni-dominated regions of Iraq. The group is affiliated with al-Qaeda, which has provided training and funding to the group. The Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for numerous bombings through out Iraq, especially in Baghdad, causing massive devastation in the area.

Half of the militants had confessed to being involved with bombings in the Southern Region of Iraq near Basra. This jailbreak puts numerous militants back on the battlefields, meaning more bombings and firefights could break out no only in pursuit of these men, but also in their new freedom, they can now continue to wreak havoc in the region. They already posed a massive threat to security prior to their arrests; now they have extra motivation and one can only wonder what they will be capable of, especially because of their links to al-Qaeda, after escaping prison.

Israeli Style Airport Security in US airports??

Fox news reported on a story about Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s visit to Ben Gurion airport in Israel. The purpose of this visit was to discuss possible changes to US airport security. On her visit, Napolitano toured Ben Gurion airport to observe the current security measures used there. Instead of extensive full body scanners, like those found in the United States, Israel uses manpower rather than machines. What Israel uses is “behavioral profiling of travelers.” Many of those interviewed in the article spoke of how they remember being asked various questions about why they were in Israel or whether they purchased “gifts” while in the country. Israel has found that profiling passengers works better than having the extensive security measures the United States uses.

While Napolitano was impressed by the Israeli airport security, she is convinced it would not be as successful in United States airports. For one, she says, Israel has one major airport, whereas the United States has almost 400 major airports that shuffle millions of passengers in and out on a daily basis. It is easier for Israel to use security methods such as behavioral profiling because with only one airport, the means of security can be more focused. In recent news, Americans have shown their annoyance and dislike of the new full body scanners and “pat downs” along with other new security measures. They say it is an invasion of privacy and see other countries’ methods of security as being better. Napolitano, along with other politicians, believe that the United States’ current security methods are the best fit for the country right now but they do plan to partner with other countries to continue to better American security as the threat of terrorism changes constantly.

While the Israeli security style seems to have worked so far, I do not think it would be effective in the United States. For one, there are too many airports and too many people. It would take an extremely large amount of manpower to use the “behavioral profiling” process. Then, you would have to train people to become profilers, which is more money and time that should not be wasted. Yes, the new airport security scanners and “pat downs” may be something that some see as an invasion of privacy, but it keeps Americans safe. If someone has nothing to hide, then they should not be concerned. In a world where terrorists place bombs in their shoes or hide it in their underwear, I do not think that we as a nation can take anything for granted. Full measures of security are taken to keep Americans safe. As someone who flies at least 8 times a year, I am not concerned with the current US security measures in airports. Personally, I feel safer at the airports, now that I know more people are being thoroughly scanned. I do think it is important for Homeland security to continue looking to other countries for new ways to secure airports and I guess it stands true that you can never be too prepared or too careful.

Obama’s Deficit Commission puts Defense Spending on the Table

A New York Times article by Gordan Adams and Matthew Leatherman states that Obama’s deficit commission has finally brought up military spending in budgeting talks. Secretary Gates however has attacked the deficit commission, calling their report “math, not strategy.” Instead of slashing the defense budget, Gates wishes to actually move money around. He hopes to shift $ 100 billion to actually war fighting as opposed to research, development, etc.

Adams and Leatherman assert that shifting money around is simply not enough, that the United States must actually reduce the amount it is spending on defense and weapons in order help reduce the massive deficit. They state that the American military is still in the mind set that we are preparing for a conflict similar to what we would be facing during the Cold War. Adams and Leatherman assert that Americans must recognize that the American military is light years ahead of any other military in the world, that Americans are much more secure than they were in 1945, and that even trimming $100 billion a year for the next ten years from the defense budget (currently about $700 billion), would reduce the national debt by $1 trillion.

I personally believe that a strong military is key in maintaining the number one position on the world stage, and thus am reluctant to cut military spending. However, I do believe that our country is spending more than enough on defense that it could easily spare tens of billions of dollars, if not $100 billion. I truly agree with Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that said that currently “the single-biggest threat to our national security is our debt.”

Spreading christmas cheer and viruses from our computer to yours

Last week a Washington Post article chronicled a story on the shortcoming of current cybersecurity measures. This attack falls on the heels of the WikiLeaks controversy and shows just how unprepared the United States really is. The cyber attackers in question sent a virus through an email that was disguised as a White House Christmas card. Instead of a picture of the Obama family standing in front of a Christmas tree, the recipient received ZueS-email.

Government workers and law enforcement officials were among the recipients of this seemingly methodical attack. Officials working on the case believe that the attackers were probably going after documents thats contained information on investigation techniques and cases on cybercrime. The attackers could then potentially sell the information to criminals and create a more expansive and more dangerous cybercrime ring.

While the United States government does have certain measures in place that are designed to detect cybercrime, this most recent case did not set off any alarms. I think that the lack of detection and level of secrecy presents a host of problems to our cyber vulnerability. The information that these individuals gather with each successful hack just adds to the complexity and difficulty of adequately protecting sensitive information. Obviously the United States is working on these issues, but I think that our goal should be to stop every attack- no matter how small.


North Korea Reaches Out

According to a New York Times article, North Korea reached out to its southern counterpart with an offer to open dialogues between the two nations later this month.  North Korea sought to build economic ties with South Korea but the south quickly turned down the offer, instead suggesting a discussion of the north’s artillery attack in November and the sinking of a South Korean ship last year.

The South Korean government claims that North Korea is attempting to seek relief for its struggling economy and refuses to talk until North Korea explains its earlier aggressive actions.  The fact that such a reclusive nation decided to take the first step toward discussions shows that the north has either seen the need for talks or, more likely, is in a desperate enough situation that its authoritarian leadership sees no solution but to engage with the south.

I think it’s important for South Korea to show it will not simply fold under pressure from the north and that it can be assertive in engaging with talks, but it is also key for the two nations to have clear channels of communication that will hopefully lead to reduced tensions between the north and south.  South Korea is right to demand that North Korea take responsibility for last year’s attacks and use the situation to ensure similar events will not occur again.

Rogue Military?

In a recent New York Times article concerning Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ visit to China, an interesting situation arose in a meeting between Secretary Gates and the Chinese President Hu Jintao, one of critical security importance: China’s civilian control over the military.

During the meeting Gates inquired into the hours old test of China’s new stealth fighter, the J–20, only to find the Chinese leader duly unprepared to answer his questions. For American officials, on a mission to ease the growing tensions between Washington and Beijing, this is obviously not reassuring.

Despite experts’ attempts at minimizing this event as a part of regular military procedure, one question comes to mind, “Why would such a groundbreaking exercise be conducted without the knowledge of China’s top military civilian leader?”. To add, a similar situation occurred in 2007, where American officials were unable to secure straightforward, unambiguous information from Chinese diplomats on their military’s missile launch to destroy a Chinese satellite.

The fact remains that with increasing military tensions and a growing Chinese military, American officials must pay close attention to the relationship between Chinese civilian control over the well-financed military bureaucracy. A too independent force in the Pacific will undoubtedly raise tensions in an already rigid stance between China and the United States in the region.

To follow:

Sanctions, Iran, and the Bomb

Speaking in the United Arab Emirates today, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said with regard to multilateral sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear program “The sanctions are working,” she added. “Their program, from our best estimate, has been slowed down.”

Any moment now we can expect President Obama and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.”

Not so fast.

Three important points come to mind. 1. It is not clear how much of the widely reported slow down in Iran’s nuclear program is due to the stuxnet worm and how much is due to sanctions. 2. Does Clinton really mean that Iran will not be able to develop nukes if the sanctions hold? If they want nuclear weapons badly enough, they will develop them even if the sanctions currently in place remain so. The only thing these sanctions can do is slow the Iranians down if they care enough to suffer a little squeeze. 3. Given current US military obligations and the lack of appetite for force in the Obama White House, I read Clinton’s statement as at least in part a statement about what we aren’t going to do. That is, since we’re not going to use force, sanctions HAVE to work (aside from an objective assessment of whether they are/will). Of course, if we don’t use force, and Iran moves ahead (even if it takes them awhile), don’t expect the Israelis to stand still.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the Israeli aircraft warming up now….

For the story see:

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