Tuesday, December 31, 2013


The FAA's decision to approve a number of new drone testing sites should not be a cause for shock or concern. As technology evolves so do social expectations - years from now, we'll accept drones as an every day part of life. The simple fact is that drones will become an increasingly important part of the US economy. To be sure, drones will continue to play a critical security role. Nevertheless, we should welcome research that offers the potential for thousands of jobs in a way that benefits broader society.

Anyway, here are some of my previous thoughts on drones:

Monday, December 30, 2013

Assassination in Beirut

I posted an earlier version of this piece on Saturday. However, some readers were confused that the earlier post was combined with some other thoughts on the NSA. So, paying heed to developments from over the weekend, here's an updated new post without the NSA material!

         Friday's bombing in Beirut was almost certainly the work of the Syrian GSD and/or Hizballah. I make that argument based on three factors. 

1) Hizballah is under extraordinary physical and political pressure inside Lebanon. The group is thus desperate to reassert its domestic power-perception position. Because of Chatah's symbolic representation of the March 14 bloc and his well known association with the Hariris, he offered an opportune target from which Hizballah could broadcast their overarching message - 'we are prepared to wash the streets with blood in order to maintain our power'. Let's be clear, this is political terrorism in its most unambiguous form.

2) The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (established to investigate the Hariri assassination and a number of other attacks) will shortly begin its trial (in absentia) of a number of Hizballah operatives. Those accused include Mustafa Badr al-Din (the suspected head of Hizballah's foreign operations directorate)*. In this regard, Chatah's assassination was likely intended to send another basic message to the international community - Hizballah will not acquiesce to outside pressure.

3) The Lebanese Hizballah has a long history of engaging in assassinations against its political opponents. Further, the Syrian Civil War provides abundant proof that the group has little compunction about massacring anyone who stands in their way (a truth that I once underestimated). As SOP, Hizballah denies any responsibility for these kind of atrocities. Still, their record is transparent.

                On a related note, it's critical that we pay heed to Siniora's evident fury (which reflects popular concerns) over what's just happened. In articulating that the March 14 bloc will push for restrictions on illegal arms, Siniora is (as the Daily Star notes) issuing a thinly veiled threat to Hizballah. In short, he's laying the foundations for a tougher counter-response. As a corollary, Saudi Arabia's grant of $3 billion to the Lebanese Army is surely designed to provide a counter-weight to Hizballah. The walls are closing. In further vein, it will be interesting to see how Michel Aoun reacts to this attack. Although he remains largely sympathetic to Hizballah, Aoun has also publicly flirted with the notion of a rapprochement with the Future Movement. Should Aoun decide to move towards Siniora/Hariri, even in a limited way, this assassination could cause major blowback for Hizballah. After all, it's hard to underestimate how much Hizballah relies upon Aoun; both for political support and cross-sectarian political cover.

*Interestingly, much of the evidence against Badr al-Din was garnered from cell phone intercepts. These may have been provided to the Tribunal by the NSA (Hizballah is a high priority collection target for the US Intelligence Community).

Saturday, December 28, 2013

NSA - Metadata legal

As I thought would be the case (no pun intended), the Federal Judiciary has overturned last week's ruling that the NSA metadata programs are unconstitutional. That was the correct decision - management of these programs belongs with the Executive and the Legislature. As the reviewing Judge noted, these NSA programs help to find valuable information in an ''Ocean of seemingly disconnected data''. As I've argued before, the US experience in Iraq proves how this method of intelligence collection can save many lives.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Shinzo Abe's Strategic Miscalculation

Shinzo Abe was wrong to visit the Yasukuni Shrine.


Because at a foreign policy level, Abe's pilgrimage will be regarded by Beijing as a one-fingered salute. Indeed, Abe almost certainly intended to send such a message. The Japanese Prime Minister might have had fun, but his action was ill-advised. For a start, it's crucial to remember that the Chinese are desperate to advance their regional power base and perceptions of that power. This unambiguous reality is evident in both the East China Sea and in Space. In this sense, by challenging China in such an emotionally evocative way, Abe is playing straight into the hands of the Politburo hardliners. In essence, he's granting them the political cover that they need in order to push a tougher line against Japan. With Sino-Japanese relations already poisonous, this injection of emotion is thus likely to further destabilize the region. China's Foreign Ministry has already hinted that China may respond - they've stated Japan will bear responsibility for the ''consequences'' that follow. Let's be clear, this wasn't the way to send a (necessary) signal of Japanese courage. This wasn't the way to let China know that Japan won't back down in face of growing Chinese aggression. Instead, calm resolution is the far better option - China must understand that Japan and the US will not equivocate; that while we favor good relations, if necessary, we'll use force to defend our interests. 

Rather, this was a product of arrogance. The Japanese political elite remains largely unwilling to face up to the horrific crimes that Japanese military forces committed during WW II. By hiding from that reality, the Japanese Government has failed to understand how deeply those crimes are etched into the Chinese socio-political psyche. Their failure catalyzes the deeper problem - emotion plays a toxic influence in political strategy. It fosters mistrust in place of effective communication and it makes a miscalculation all the more likely. By playing games under the umbrella of American security, Abe has dishonored the United States. While that unyielding umbrella should (and will) of course remain in operation, Obama should also make clear his dissatisfaction over this profoundly unproductive act.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

North Korea Latest

I'll be writing about North Korea in the next couple of days. I have concerns about their latest statements regarding potential nuclear tests. I'll explain why. Until then, here's a link page for some of my previous writings on North Korea. Anyway, Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Repression in the UAE

This is just one story of many. Nevertheless, it encapsulates a profoundly important truth. Whether in Iran or the Sunni Arab Kingdoms, repression remains a very real fact of life for the average citizen. While human rights are the most obvious concern in face of these social restrictions, political stability is another deeply relevant issue. Relevant, because the lesson of recent history is clear - until states respect the rights of their citizens, they'll fail to achieve a lasting stability. In fact, they'll make stability even more distant. Faced with major demographic challenges (young populations that demand jobs and greater opportunity), continued repression only delegitimates the very power structures that it aims to protect. Sadly, the lessons of the Arab Spring continue to be ignored. In my opinion, extremists are the ones most likely (see point 5) to benefit from bad governance.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Iran and Congress - A moment of consequence

A few thoughts on the moves in Congress to pass a tough new sanctions bill.

1) It's already clear that the Iran deal is in jeopardy. The Iranians have yet to commit to a timetable for enaction of the Geneva protocols. At the same time, the Iranian government is complaining about US action to tighten existing sanctions. In short, the omens don't look good. For a Congress that was already deeply skeptical of the President's deal, evidence of Iranian non-compliance is a catalyst for existing trepidation. In this sense, it's obvious that the President is going to have a tough time convincing Democrats to back down.

2) It's also clear that Israeli concerns are heavily influencing this deal. In contrast to the President, the Israelis believe that only a full cessation of Iranian nuclear activities will suffice. Obama is open to a final agreement that allows for a low-enrichment capped continuation of the Iranian nuclear program. If this bill does in fact pass and carries a stipulation that the President must only accept a deal that ends Iran's nuclear program completely, the Israelis will have dragged the Administration into alignment with their own position.
           That being said, as Commander-in-Chief, Obama has significant flexibility in the conduct of US foreign policy.

3) In its present reported form, this bill would, if passed, also bring other US-Iranian points of discord into the nuclear negotiations process. For a start, the bill contains caveats that continued Iranian support for terrorism against the US, and/or a bad faith negotiating strategy, would both cause these new sanctions to kick in. While I understand and share these concerns (more so than many others), their introduction into this process will be profoundly unhelpful. It would create two negative follow on effects. First, Iranian hardliners would never agree to halt ongoing covert operations against the US (these occur all the time, but rarely make the news). Second, the caveats would be destabilizing to those on the Iranian side who are prospectively amenable to a deal. It's important to remember that Iran's negotiating strategy is infected by hesitation and a balancing of interests - Rouhani's 'moderates' vs IRGC hardliners. New pressure in different areas of policy would isolate the moderates. For one example, do we seriously expect that Iran will cease support for groups like the Lebanese Hizballah?* At a basic political level, these concerns seem to have been included in the bill in order to provide Congress with a subjective window of opportunity in which to enact sanctions at a point of their own choosing. After all, Congressional leaders are fully aware that Iran will never conform to the stipulations that this bill would lay down.

4) Although the present character of this bill is unhelpful, Congress can play a constructive role here. First, as is the case with Israel, Congressional anger over this deal may actually strengthen the President's hand in the negotiating process - encouraging the Iranians to swiftly comply with that which they've already said they would comply with. Second, if Congress were to pass a simpler, tighter bill - one that focused on a clear articulation of automatic sanctions if Iran fails to enact the Geneva deal within a short time window (for example...), they could reinforce the strength of their role as noted in point one. An effective bill would also offer automatic sanctions in the event of Iranian 'game playing' with the implementation of Geneva. By pursuing this course, Congress would produce a necessary understanding in the Iranian hardliners - that the US is neither weak nor open to perpetual delays.

* - Were the bill to specify that the caveats only applied to specific terrorist attacks against US citizens, that would of course be legitimate.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Absurdity of the ASA Boycott of Israel

I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know. Plato’s delivery - The Apology of Socrates.

In their boycott of Israeli academic institutions, the American Studies Association (ASA) has betrayed the ideal of learning.

Academics are supposed to be dedicated to the unencumbered advance of knowledge.

Because if ‘knowledge’ has one sustaining certainty, it’s that the pursuit has no limit. By boycotting Israel, the ASA has incorporated the opposite understanding. They’ve clarified that when it comes to Israel, they know that there’s nothing left to know.

Theirs is the undeniable inversion of the Socratic Method. Rather than trying to persuade Israel to enact policy changes, the ASA has joined a cabal of intellectual retrenchment. They’ve staked their place in a new understanding of ignorance – ignorance as knowledge. The ASA claims that their boycott won’t prevent Israeli academics from engaging with their US counterparts, but they're being disingenuous. Were the ASA’s ban ever implemented, Israeli professors would no longer be able to represent their institutions or their country.

Let’s cut the spin, this boycott is an academic apartheid.

But this isn’t just about philosophy. It’s also about political reality. 

Although the ASA obviously believes otherwise, their actions will do very little to facilitate the agenda they pursue. For a start, the Israelis don’t tend to appreciate attempts at blackmail. Even then, this boycott also flatly ignores the present Israeli political landscape. While fashionable opinion asserts that Netanyahu is a trademark hardliner, the reality is more complex. Consider that alongside his tough stance on Iran, Netanyahu has thrown his support behind the latest US drive on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He's doing so against the wishes of cabinet ministers who are deeply skeptical of that agenda. Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett provide two such examples. The ASA should have recognized this evident reality. Instead of coalescing with the cause of peace, the ASA has decided that it’s easier to be ignorant. And now, by showing their disregard for Netanyahu’s efforts, they'll only strengthen the hand of those Israelis who say his efforts are pointless.

There’s also a deep moral issue at stake here.

At a basic level, this boycott is extraordinarily hypocritical; it applies to only one state.

Regarding Israel, the ASA is perfectly happy to bracket independent academic institutions with the Israeli government. Yet, the ASA doesn't apply those same standards to Gaza. They apparently care little that Gaza is run by an organization that revels in blowing up Israeli children. Of course, it's not just Gaza. Iran? No problem. Syria? Absolutely. Venezuela? You bet. 

See the sick dichotomy? While democratic Israel is public enemy number one, totalitarian regimes are de-facto partners. When the New York Times asked the ASA’s President to explain this impossible incongruity, he offered a pathetic response: ‘’One has to start somewhere’’. 

Maybe it’s just me, but this solitary blacklisting carries some unpleasant echoes.

            Unfortunately, it’s not just the ASA. It’s clear that the academic boycott of Israel is growing in strength. In equal vein, the support of a few big names is lending a deeper pretense of legitimacy. We must remember it’s a veneer. The ultimate truth is unambiguous.

The frontiers of knowledge have no geographic boundary; to claim otherwise is to deny the known and unknown bounty of human creativity.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Merkel, NSA and Metadata Ruling

As I suggested would be the case (here and here), the diplomatic fallout from Snowden's leaks is increasingly obvious. American allies are recalibrating their approach towards co-operation with the US. Their actions speak to a broader political complexity. Just as the United States must continue to spy on Europe, so too will American allies continue to react to evolved domestic political environments at home (these governments know that the US spies and why it does so - but they must also satisfy the increased demands of their citizens for concerns like privacy etc.).

On a related note, it's my opinion that the NSA 'metadata' judgment will be overturned. I believe that the Federal Government will be able to show a compelling state interest in the collection of this narrow bracket of data. That being said, I also expect that the government will ultimately be compelled to reduce the time frame of its metadata storage on US persons.

Related thoughts.

Friday, December 13, 2013

We shouldn't raise the Minimum Wage

Also posted at The Huffington Post.

Living on the minimum wage is anything but easy. In flowing vein, a raised minimum wage seems so logical, so morally clear; a small measure of support for those who need it most. A benefit without hard cost. The polls reflect this understanding – a ‘raise’ seems to be the perfect servant of social mobility. Moreover, most Americans agree that social mobility isn’t just a political ideal, but a national imperative.

‘Seems’ is the unfortunate but operative word here. Ultimately, raising the minimum wage isn’t an opening to a fairer, more prosperous America. It’s an obstacle.

For start, while wage-raise supporters claim that a raise would avoid negative employment aftershocks, the economic data suggests otherwise. To support their case, the pro-raise movement often points to a study by David Card and Alan Krueger (a former Chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers) which claimed that when compared to a Pennsylvania control group, New Jersey’s 1992 minimum wage increase did not reduce employment in the fast food industry.

Not so fast.

In fact, in a 1995 study that relied upon payroll data (rather than the telephone surveys of the Card/Krueger study), David Neumark and William Wascher found that New Jersey’s actions lead to a 4.6% decrease in employment against the Pennsylvania data set. Other economists have also made convincing arguments that Card and Krueger’s collection methodology was both functionally flawed and poorly focused.

These alternate studies speak to a broader base of understanding. As Harvard’s Greg Mankiw points out, there’s strong evidence to suggest that raising the minimum wage has a particularly pernicious impact on the employment prospects of younger Americans. Gary Becker and Richard Posner make a similarly compelling case when they posit that minimum wage hikes serve as a form of income segregation for the poorest in our society.

For me, the economic-morality argument is actually pretty clear.

While it might well be true that a minimum wage hike will cause small correlative price rises, these rises will nevertheless force socially negative monetary transfers. At the defining level, the ‘raise’ argument assumes that by transferring income from a higher income consumer to a lower income employee, savings are transferred to those with a higher marginal propensity to consume (MPC). Correspondingly, ‘raise’ supporters claim that the economy will benefit from the multiplier effect born of increased consumer activity. Yet for society’s long term interests, this is by no means a good thing. If one accepts that investment is the key to a nation's long term economic productivity, by reducing savings we will see an associated reduction in long term productivity. At a national level, the cents quickly add up. Or in this case, disappear.

A minimum wage increase would also carry a basic, unambiguous challenge at the personal level. For many patrons of McDonalds, for example, marginal cost is hardly a minor consideration.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t energize social mobility; we must. And with urgency. It’s just that there are far better alternatives than increasing the minimum wage. Here are some other options. First, we need to ensure that greater in-house training/promotion opportunities are offered to those who work in low wage positions. We also need greater funding for government sponsored skills programs – especially those that operate at irregular hours (so that service industry workers can attend outside of their work schedule). Most importantly, we need an education system suited to the 21st century - good schools cannot be the right of wealthy counties. Conservatives also need to realize that inner city politics demand our attention. Subsuming all of this; as a country, we need to get over the idea that massive welfare programs help those trapped in poverty. In actuality, they restrain economic mobility and penalize personal responsibility.

In the end however, real reform will have to start at the top. If the President is serious about increasing the number of well-paying jobs, why won’t he lift the lid on an American energy boom? If the President is serious about investment, why doesn’t he find savings in serious entitlement reform? If the President is serious regarding social mobility, why does he revel in wealth transfers from the youngest Americans to the oldest?

As someone who worked in a restaurant for a number of years, I know firsthand that cost-control is an intrinsic component of effective business management. Businesses cannot allocate resources in the moment; they must do so with a view to durable profitability over the long term. In the same way, by forcing businesses to put a premium on an individual from the instant of their employment application, a minimum wage raise will do most harm to those at the bottom of the skills pool. In many cases, it will simply price these individuals out of the workplace. By denying applicants a step on the first rung of the employment ladder, they’ll be unable to show their hidden potential.

Forgive me, but that’s a strange form of social justice and an uncomfortable partner to the American dream.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Conservatives shouldn't celebrate Ann Kuster's Benghazi remarks

Ann Kuster came across as ill-informed and arrogant (see video below). She may well be both.

Nevertheless, conservatives shouldn't claim her comments as a victory.

First, there's the fact that Benghazi isn't actually in the Middle East. Although Kuster used that fact as an excuse not to address the Benghazi issue (which is an important one), geography is also important. Many conservatives are claiming that Libya is in the Middle East. It just isn't. Yes, Libya rightly falls under the MENA geo-political orbit, but it isn't actually in the Middle East. By claiming otherwise, conservatives are embracing a far too inadequate intellectual simplicity with regards to the geo-politics of the region.

As an extension to this simplicity, conservatives also need to realize that although Democrats are very, very far from perfect in their regional policy prescriptions, conservatives also have their issues. For a start, far too few conservatives are willing to accept the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in perpetuating anti-US sentiments around the Islamic world. More than that, they associate anti-Israeli sentiments with arguments that the peace process is valuable. In reality, both the peace process and pro-Israel sentiments exist together. Second, too many conservatives are willing to tolerate a virulent strain of anti-Muslim sentiment in conservative dialogue. This is an unacceptable dynamic and it has to change. Third, a good number of conservatives are willing to allow their personal antipathy towards the President to cloud their judgments on the virtue of his respective policies. The conservative rejection of Obama's admittedly absurd authorization of force request on Syria is a case in point. Some of the conservative reaction to the Iran deal is also a good example.

There are many areas where President Obama/Democrats should be criticized regarding US foreign policy towards the Middle East and North Africa. Still, conservatives must be willing to accept that the MENA region deserves steady and objective scrutiny. Partisan rancor serves no one.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ryan-Murray Deal

I support Congressman Ryan's deal. I do so for two reasons. First, government dysfunction is never a cause for celebration. It fosters a climate of economic doubt and a culture of self-perpetuating disdain. It's clear that many conservatives oppose this deal. Still, in order to make the spending reforms that are necessary for the long term of the country, Republicans will have to control Congress. In similar vein, if liberals want to have a chance of asserting the Warren agenda, they'll also need to control Congress. This deal recognizes those two competing truths. In essence, it ends the dysfunction by deferring those judgments to a later date. Second, the United States military is being gutted by the sequester. As I've argued before*, this cannot continue. Especially in the context of growing threats from China and a splintered but metastasizing collection of extremist groups. This is the essence of a compromise. It's a deal all sides can learn to live with.

* The title is a little harsh - Although I disagree with him, I've grown to respect Norquist.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

ObamaCare, Afghanistan and the question of liberal morality

Breathing a sigh of relief, the President is dusting off his salesman cap. ObamaCare seems to be on the mend. Some problems remain, but Healthcare.gov now appears pretty functional.

Yet the future of the Affordable Care Act is far from certain. As David Freddoso notes, Democrats are going to have a hard time getting past the ‘sticker shock’ that many Americans are experiencing with their new plans. After all, it’s hard to persuade a middle class family that they should be happy paying more for a plan that suits them less. There’s obvious political risk here. If common dissatisfaction becomes the norm, November 2014 isn’t going to be fun for Democrats.

Certainly, liberals are going to have to learn from this experience. They’re going to have to accept that good intentions and good policies are not the same thing.

Ultimately, ObamaCare’s difficulties didn’t flow from unfortunate circumstances; they flowed from the arrogance of self-assumed moral superiority. Consider our political discourse. Where conservatives often deride liberal philosophy as delusional, liberals often regard conservatism as implicitly immoral. Regarding ObamaCare, prominent liberals frequently claim that conservative opposition is racist, or motivated by a hatred for the poor, or just plain stupid, or really, really racist. Indeed, the Washington Post's Ryan Cooper has stated that opposing ObamaCare is ''morally wrong''.

Look, I’d be the first to admit that conservatives need to offer serious alternatives to ObamaCare. Nevertheless, liberals desperately need to buy a mirror.

Just reference the recent liberal record in Afghanistan and Iraq…

Iraq, January 2007. A nation on the verge of implosion. Every day brought new bombings and beheadings. Iranian provided explosives were turning armored Humvees into human grinders. Al Qa’ida was fracturing Iraqi society with a ruthless brutality. Then Bush ordered ‘the surge’. With time, JSOC and ‘The Awakening’, the surge dramatically reduced the bloodshed and created space for basic political reconciliation. Without it, Iraq would have almost certainly descended into an ethno-sectarian holocaust. In other words, a moral abyss. Yet, even when its dividends were becoming clear, liberals fastidiously opposed the surge. Not only that, just as the liberal base now gleefully defends Snowden as a great patriot, during the surge, those same liberal activists were happy to deride Americans soldiers as traitors. Consider the dichotomy of this worldview; celebration of a defection to a mafia state, treason by fifteen months military service in 120 degree heat. 

Opposing the surge, liberals offered two weak alternatives - abandon Iraq or ‘hope for the best’. Terrible human suffering had become an abstraction. At best, an uncomfortable reality to be pushed from the mind.

Then there’s Afghanistan.

The majority of liberals have long believed that Afghanistan is a unworthy cause. Nonetheless, whether embracing an inverted McNamara-esque number count, or an assumed self-righteousness, a far too casual faux morality is in play. We’re witnessing a new national security liberalismone defined by easy populism and devoid of moral anchor. A paradigm in sad distinction to the leadership of FDR.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that American military deployments are morally simple questions (nor that conservatives are perfect)But liberals must more honestly pay heed to American’s unique role in the world. While the Afghan President might possess the temperament of a five year old, the evidence also shows Afghanistan’s gradual movement towards stability. By calling for policy changes on the basis of the first consideration but ignoring the latter, liberals would greatly empower those who find justice in the hanging of children. I know they don't intend that, but it's exactly what will happen.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Analysis - Latest developments with Hizballah, Iraq and Ukraine

1) The Lebanese Hizballah appears to have lost another leader. Whoever was responsible for Lakkis's death last week, it's obvious that hostile pressure on the group is growing. With Hizballah now fully invested in Assad's survival, sectarian reactions to that strategy are also growing in intensity - hence the less of three senior leaders in as many weeks. In basic terms, Hizballah's political adversaries are taking advantage from the group's associated guilt for incidents like this one. As I've written before, Hizballah is suffering from an identity crisis of serious proportions. Devoid of a cross-sectarian base of sympathy, the organization's carefully constructed 'anti-oppression' narrative is being rendered for the lie that it is. Whatever happens with Assad, in Lebanon and beyond, Hizballah's strategic choices will leave them increasingly vulnerable. For a few of my related thoughts on Hizballah, please click (point five here), here and here.

2) ISIL continues to wreck havoc upon Iraq. In the absence of US Intelligence capabilities (please see my BBC debate on the NSA - takes a minute to load!) and amidst continuing political discord (please see my thoughts here), ISIL and its affiliates are once again endangering Iraq's stability. As the ISW's Jessica Lewis notes, ISIL has embraced a highly effective strategy of impatient resurgence. Again, it's important that we note the targeting methodology that ISIL embraces. As with their Salafi violent-extremist counterparts around the world, they are members of a death worshiping cult. Recognizing this truth, we should still be astute to the political grievances that allow groups like ISIL to prosper. Nevertheless, we must also grapple with the reality of a movement that sees cafes, markets, malls, roads and playgrounds as military targets.

3) The protests in Ukraine continue to grow. President Yanukovych has a problem. At a basic level, he has wagered against a long brewing discontent. Outraged by endemic corruption and Yanukovych's subservience to Putin's bullying/influence, many Ukrainians believe they're in a struggle for the very future of Ukraine. Quite understandably, these citizens have little interest in a future that abandons them to the ignominy of existence as a buffer state for Putin's Russia. While it's true that Ukraine is far from unified in its support for a pro-west future, younger Ukrainians are firmly ensconced with the pro-EU/US crowd. The trend lines are clear. Still, there are US policies that could help catalyze this process. Recognizing Ukraine's deep vulnerability to Russian energy blackmail, the US should urgently begin to provide an alternate source of energy to Eastern European states. By loosening regulations on US companies, exports of US Liquefied Natural Gas exports could begin in earnest. That alternate supply portfolio would enable Ukrainians to break free from their present headlock-like relationship with Russia. For some of my thoughts on Putin, please click here and here.

Other related writings can be found here.

Friday, December 6, 2013


I never had the privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela. Yet, like so many others, I feel like I knew him. As we grieve the loss of an extraordinary leader, we should also pay heed to the legacy of a life well lived. I’ll remember Mandela in three key regards.

His Courage
Few of us would have the courage to withstand 27 years in prison. Even then, how many of us would have the courage to forgive our captors? Throughout his life, Mandela embraced that rarest and most honorable of political qualities – seeking the common interest in preference to his own. From the days of his military resistance, to the years in his tiny prison cell, to the moment of his election, Mandela embodied a pure understanding of courage. The courage to know that without the realistic pursuit of a moral objective, unleashed anger would simply bring further bloodshed and continued pain. In his earnest negotiations with a racist regime, Mandela laid the surest course towards a lasting justice. But there was also a deep personal courage to Mandela. As President, recognizing that his ambitions for a new South Africa would have to be seen in order to take root, Mandela declared a ‘rainbow nation’. A nation where rugby would be a sport for blacks as much as for whites, and soccer a sport for whites as much as for blacks. The movie Invictus gives a hint to the tensions that followed. Still, the adoration of his former bodyguards tell the real story. For Mandela, life was about service. He was, quite literally, willing to risk everything for the cause he believed in. For the cause he achieved.

His Humility
Although Mandela was never afraid to give voice to his cause, he defined the value of silent reflection. In forging deep, personal friendships with individuals ranging from Queen Elizabeth II to the poorest of South Africans, Mandela proved that different personalities need not preclude meaningful relationships. This is a lesson from which we can all take note. Today, it’s all too rare for us to look for the best rather than the worst in others. All too often, we value confrontation and political purity over dialogue and compromise. Instead, Mandela proved that humility can be the great ally to an extraordinary life. In our age of cynicism, Mandela’s life gives proof to the virtue of honesty and idealism.

His Inspiration
The global reaction says it all. From capitalists to communists, from the White House to the Soweto Township, Mandela’s passing has been met with an almost universal grief. Yet, this grief is unique. Sustaining the personal reflections of millions across the world, we’re witnessing a remembrance that is both collective but also deeply personal. Whatever our individual beliefs and even if only for a brief moment, our celebration of Mandela’s life is uniting humanity in common cause. In the manner of his life and in the things that he achieved, Mandela reminds us that even in the worst of circumstances, humanity’s propensity for good has no obvious limit.

In life; through pain and sacrifice, Mandela forged a path for the freedom of South Africa. 
In death, Mandela’s legacy will find eternal meaning in the hearts of those empowered by his story.
Photo: Getty Images

How Europe is Indulging Al Qa'ida

My latest @ The National Review - How Europe is indulging Al Qa'ida

Thursday, December 5, 2013

NSA Cell Phone Monitoring

The Washington Post has published its latest Snowden expose'. The reporting concerns NSA/NGIA monitoring of cell phones around the world. 

This leak is a big deal - it's likely to get a lot of public attention.

These are some of the key points that stand out to me.

Scale - According to the Post, the US Intelligence Community (IC) is collecting up to five billion cell phone records a day. At the same time, the NSA is storing a huge portfolio of records in order to allow analysts to back-reference data. This storage enables analysts to access intelligence material that's utility has only become clear after collection. In essence, many cell phones are now collection platforms on their owners!

Reach - The NSA has apparently developed targeting capabilities which allow analysts to target and back-trace the location data on a cell phone. This means that if they so desire, the US IC can track where someone has been and who they've met (by referencing that second individual's data). Linked with the scale point, the Post notes that US citizens have inevitably been caught up in the drag net. 

In another area, the NSA has established programs that heavily scrutinize individuals who apply a 'call and chuck' approach to cell phones. It's hard to emphasize how serious this particular leak is. 'Call and chuck' procedures are standard for intelligence officers/terrorists. Now these individuals know how the US pays attention to their activities. As a corollary, the Post also reports that the NSA pays close attention to cell phones that are turned off (to avoid monitoring) at the same time and place as other phones. The NSA's understandable thinking is that this activity is deserving of special scrutiny.

Variable utility - The Post concludes with a hint that these programs have been expanded for counter-intelligence purposes as well as intelligence gathering purposes. Specifically, the Post notes a proposed effort to monitor cell phones that consistently follow CIA case officers abroad. The thinking being- consistent presence of one cell phone in proximity to an officer = potential surveillance.

               Anyway, while many of these capabilities were already known/perceptibly likely, the degree of specificity in the Post's article is noteworthy. There's no question that these leaks will have great intelligence value to US state/non-state adversaries. These actors will certainly change how they operate in order to try and evade detection. As a final point (and as I've noted before), these type of collection programs have been instrumental in countering terrorist activities across the world. That reality must form part of the public debate amidst the ongoing Snowden fallout.

If interested, my related writings can be found under 'Other' header of this page.