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Posts Tagged ‘basic and applied social sciences’

The Obama Doctrine

Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history

American influence has long been pervasive in the Middle East and when problems emerged, Washington saw itself as the region’s fireman. When Saddam invaded Kuwait in the early 1990s, the U.S. led a coalition to drive him out in the First Gulf War. When Lebanon fell into chaos, U.S. marines landed and after Sept. 11, with an upsurge of Islamic Fundamentalism and fears that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan.

But now the U.S. is distancing itself from the seemingly intractable problems in the Middle East as part of a major foreign policy realignment. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, historian and Middle East specialist Max Boot called this sea change “The Obama Doctrine.”

There a striking parallel between what is transpiring today and what happened after World War II, when an exhausted and bankrupt Great Britain and France shifted their assets and pulled out of most of the Middle East. Great Britain literally pulled out of the Mandate of Palestine overnight and the new Jewish State of Israel was left to fend for itself.

With the Cold War heating up and the implementation of the Truman Doctrine, the United States moved into the region, filling the vacuum left by the exit of Great Britain and France. It inherited all the problems, including the protection of the nascent State of Israel. In the early 1950s, Washington found itself immersed in the region, not only out fear of Soviet expansion but also as the protector of oil rights held by Anglo-American corporations.

To be sure, the United States is hardly bankrupt but the Middle East has exhausted its well of patience. Washington has grown tired of the intractable problems, the sectarian violence, the internecine violence, and the revival of the Sunni-Sh’ia rift. After so many small and large wars in the region, the American public has grown weary of our involvement in the Middle East. The lives and treasure we have poured into the Middle East have yielded as little fruit as the Arab Spring.

In essence, this foreign policy realignment started the moment Mr. Obama took office. He was dismayed by Israel’s intransigence on the Palestine statehood question. Complicating matters was the abject failure of the Arab Spring (perhaps with the exception of Tunisia), the rise of Islamic radical fundamentalism, the civil war in Syria, the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the problems with Hamas in Gaza. The emergence of ISIS, with its stated desire to rebuild the Sunni Muslim Caliphate, has only complicated an extraordinary complex situation. At the advent of Mr. Obama’s presidency, there were more than 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq; today, less than 3,000 special forces. In 2010, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan tripled but today there are less than 10,000 and the president has stated that all will be withdrawn by the end of his presidency.

Sensing all this, the Saudis, Jordanians, and Egyptians formed the Joint Arab Force, a military alliance to balance Iran’s growing regional influence. At its core is Egypt and it is no coincidence that Mr. Obama lifted an embargo on sending arms to Egypt.

A gradual withdraw by Washington does not mean it will abrogate its treaty obligations with the Sunni states and Israel. They will be honored and the U.S. Fleet will be used to implement its power if needed to ensure stability. But if the past is prologue—and it may not be in the unpredictable Middle East—Egypt and Iran will emerge as the major geopolitical players, a revival of the ancient balance of power between the Kingdom of Egypt and Persia.

Worth Her Weight in Gold

Brittany Heysler believes in accountability.

Brittany at the Ontario County Safety Training headquarters.

The criminology and criminal justice major just completed an extensive project to help Ontario County’s STOP-DWI office research and document a list of unpaid DWI fines dating back to 1986. It turns out nearly a quarter million dollars is owed to the county by some 156 individuals convicted of DWI charges.

On Oct. 31, each defendant was sent a certified letter to their last known address – carefully researched by Heysler. But to ensure no stone went unturned, the full list of delinquent fines, with names, year of conviction and case numbers, was published by the Daily Messenger newspaper in Canandaigua a week later. WHEC-Channel 8 in Rochester also broadcast the launch of “Operation Personal Responsibility,” highlighting Heysler’s work. Those with delinquent fines have 60 days to pay in full or arrange a payment plan with the STOP-DWI office before court action begins to collect what they owe.

STOP-DWI Administrator Sue Cirencione said her office has already collected $8,000 of the total $238,533 unpaid in the first week of the public phase. Cirencione, a Keuka College Class of ‘96 graduate herself, took the helm of the STOP-DWI office in May after 10 years as a probation officer for Ontario County. She said coming in, she knew recovering unpaid fines was a significant need, given fines fund the program budget. Such a time-intensive project would probably take Cirencione alone a year or more, given the many responsibilities of her new post, she said.

Instead, Cirencione knew it would be the perfect project for an intern. Enter Heysler.

As a senior criminology and criminal justice major, Heysler is required to complete a full-semester internship of 490 hours. She already boasted three previous internships at the Sherrill, N.Y. police department in her hometown; the Oneida Tribal Indian Nation police near Canastota; and with the U.S. Marshals office in Syracuse. That’s because the Keuka College Field Period™ program requires every undergraduate to devote at least 140 hours a year to a hands-on internship, cultural study, artistic endeavor or spiritual exploration.

“When I met Brittany, I knew right away she’d be great and she’d be able to tackle this,” said Cirencione.

Eager to “take charge of a project of my own and make a difference for the county,” Heysler said she began digging through the data, spending Aug. 25 – Oct. 29 building and refining the list. She removed the names of those who had passed away, any youthful offenders, and any who had made even sporadic payments. She also ran checks on all 156 names to see if they had a valid license or any other judgment filed against them. Ultimately, the list of delinquent fines represents those who never made an effort to pay what they owed. (more…)

Understanding Vladimir Putin

By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history

To understand why he took the action he did in the Ukraine, one needs to understand this about Russian President Vladimir Putin: loyalty to Mother Russia and to him is non-negotiable.

Putin was born in Leningrad in 1952, 10 years after the imperial city created by Peter the Great was surrounded and nearly starved to death by the Germans. Both of his parents served in the Red Army and a brother died of starvation. Putin passed his formative years in a Russia still recovering from a war that cost the nation over 20 million people. He holds an advanced degree in international law and worked for the KGB, first stationed in Dresden (East Germany) and later in Leningrad. Putin is a Russian nationalist to his core and to put it delicately, shares the same authoritarian tendencies of those who ran Imperial Russia. A new Stalin, he is not. He is a slick politician who emerged from his position in Leningrad to the post of president.

Aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, his first aim was to rebuild Russia’s lost sense of pride and self-confidence. At the Winter Olympics, held in a city rebuilt on the Black Sea, Putin paraded before his people and the world those who projected Russian power and culture, from Peter the Great to composers and writers. The outfits worn by the Russian athletes featured the symbol of Tsarist Russia on their jackets.

Putin believes the collapse of Russia was avoidable and he harbors a deep bitterness against those responsible. On Oct. 3, 1990, the two Germanys were reunited, Moscow withdrew its forces from Eastern Europe, and the once mighty Soviet Empire started to implode. This was accelerated by the actions and indecision of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. For reasons that are still unclear, in December 1991 the process of breaking up the empire started. An agreement was signed that stated that after Jan. 1, 1992, the USSR would no longer exist and each of the former Soviet Republics emerged as separate nations.

One of those nations, the Ukraine, remained in the Russian orbit but over the past decade, nationalists and liberal-minded politicians started to look West, hoping to reorient the nation as part of the European Union (EU). Ukrainians argued that their economy was in a freefall due to corruption and cronyism. With a GDP of only $293 billion and a per capita income of just over $6,000, they looked to the prosperity in Poland and the Baltic States as success stories and concluded that if the Ukraine was to be successful, it had to detach its economic ties with Russia and connect with the EU. While the pro-Russian president Victor Yanokovych was in control, hopes of moving in the direction of Europe were dashed. However, in late February of this year, he was ousted from office and an interim government was installed.

The prospect of the Ukraine being part of the EU and possibly NATO is unacceptable to Putin.  When it was clear to Moscow that the aim of the effort to overthrow Ukraine’s president was to move the nation into the EU, Putin took steps to keep the country in the Russian orbit.

Talk of Putin rebuilding the defunct empire may be exaggerated as well as claims that a new Cold War is on the immediate horizon. However, to suggest that Russia in no longer a major power is wrong. Yes, its GDP of $2.4 trillion is far less than that of the United States ($16 trillion). However, Russia’s economic power was never measured in the production and consumption of consumer goods, rather in natural resources and military clout.

It has plenty of both.

The US and Iran: Appeasement or Good Sense?

By Dr. Sander Diamond, professor of history

When al-Assid used poison gas against his people in Syria, President Obama threatened to remove the stockpiles by force. Instead, he opted for diplomacy. al-Assid “promised” to permit the removal of the gas stockpiles from his territory, which most observers believe was unworkable in the middle of a violent civil war. It was here that Washington, Moscow, and Tehran found common ground. The last thing any of them wanted was for poison gas to fall into the hands of al-Qaeda, which is freely operating in Syria. The upshot of these back door talks was the opening of a portal for further talks.

This coincided with the end of the presidential term of Iran’s belligerent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who many Iranians viewed as an embarrassment. He was replaced by Hassan Rouhani, who the West viewed as ‘moderate’ within the context of Iranian life. His international debut came at the United Nations, and rather than a tirade of Holocaust denials, calls for the destruction of Israel, and strident anti-Americanism, his remarks suggested that Tehran may be open to talks with Washington.

From Iran’s vantage point, they saw in Obama a president who may give diplomacy a chance, as well as a slight cooling in Washington’s relationship with Tel-Aviv. From Obama’s point of view, the time had arrived to test the waters with Iran after 34 years of isolation.

In November, Secretary of State Kerry and representatives of our Western allies met with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva. A six-month agreement was cobbled together:  in exchange for Iran applying some braking power on the production of fissionable material in its far-flung facilities and re-opening these sites to outside inspectors, some of the most pressing sanctions will be lifted and Tehran will gain access to some of its frozen cash assets.

For those who applauded the agreement, it represented a major diplomatic success which transcends the details. President Obama expressed the hope that diplomacy could help turn the tide in the turbulent Middle East

Elsewhere, the Geneva Accord was greeted with anger and bitterness. The Israelis and Saudis saw the Accord as a concession to Iran that will tilt the balance of power in its favor. Both believe that Obama cannot be trusted and that his actions are not borne out of a lack of experience but a concerted effort to redirect U.S. foreign policy. Many in Obama’s party were also dismayed, as were members of the Republican Party. They were in complete agreement with Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, who said that now Iran “is a turn of a screwdriver away” from having WMDs.

For those with long memories, the Geneva Accord could not have been more poorly timed. September 2013 marked the 75th anniversary of the Munich Agreement, which added the word “appeasement” to the lexicon of diplomatic mistakes.  For Iran’s most strident detractors, those who call the shots in Tehran are the sons of Hitler who will in time strike Israel and expand their theocratic vision to the entire Middle East. Obama and some in the West see it differently.  They are well aware that the Supreme Leader calls the shots, but working with President Rouhani may lead to internal changes inside Iran and it is time to give diplomacy a chance. And testing the waters for six months hardly rises to the level of appeasement.

The Geneva Accord may come to little in six months. If the chatter out of Tehran can be believed, the Supreme Leader is not happy with the direction the new president has taken. And if Israeli intelligence is accurate, Iran will have atomic weapons by spring. Once again, the shifting sands of the Middle East are at work and talk of war is in the air. Obama knows that a massive strike against Iran by either the U.S. or Israel will trigger a major regional war. He believes that diplomacy can arrest a march toward war. As we prepare to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, we can only hope he is right.

Smile, You Really Are on Candid Camera

Candid Microphone was a popular radio show hosted by the late Allen Funt, who asked ordinary people oddball questions, not knowing they were being recorded. When they gave bizarre and funny answers, the audience collapsed into laughter when Funt told them they were on national radio. It was a formula that worked and ABC picked up the show for TV, employing a hidden camera. It was renamed Candid Camera, which debuted Aug. 10, 1948, and ran on and off for 56 years. Funt’s catch phrase— “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera”—caught on and is still heard today at the conclusion of well-timed practical jokes.

In reality, Candid Camera is a metaphor for what is happening today, namely, we are all on candid cameras. Cameras are pervasive—in stores, streets, airports, toll booths, and police cars—embedded everywhere we go in the name of security. To be sure, we are still navigating our way through the early years of the Age of Terrorism and a rising epidemic of domestic violence.  However uncomfortable we might be with these intrusions into our lives, and while we might not smile about being on one of these candid cameras, most Americans are willing to let security trump privacy. On the eve of the New York City Marathon, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly revealed that the NYPD had mounted free-standing cameras, 2,100 in all, along the 26-mile route. After what happened at the Boston Marathon in April, when images of the bombers were captured by a camera mounted on a department store, no one was complaining.

But the collection of data about the American people goes much further than capturing our images. No different than the use of cameras, the collection of massive amounts of data is part of a concerted effort to afford us greater security. The National Security Agency (NSA) is vacuuming every scrap of information about us, our opponents, and friends overseas. It is one thing for the NSA to spy on those living outside of our borders. Spying has been going on since the dawn of civilization. But it is a far different story when it comes to the NSA’s collection of data about ordinary citizens. The NSA is vacuuming all of our communications— phone calls, Web searches, Facebook and Twitter messaging—in essence, everything we send out and receive.

When we contracted with purveyors of computer websites, Google and others, we never imagined that our searches and all sorts of electronic communications, more often than not the minutiae of our lives, would be of any interest to the government. This being said, it is in this minutiae where the NSA hopes to find key words, nuggets so-to-speak, which when connected with other data will lead not to our doorstep but to the doorstep of those who plan to do harm.

A Congressional committee has recommended limitations on this surveillance and we have been assured that the government is not opening our mail or listening to our calls. We are still protected by the Fourth Amendment and a long list of legal decisions that protect us from unreasonable searches without probable cause. Still, some argue that in time, we will move in the direction of a quasi-totalitarian society as the collection of our data accelerates. Such allegations have been aired before. However, while many people were shocked to learn what the NSA has been doing, it has not coalesced into a tidal wave of protest, with most of us believing it just may be necessary in this new environment where we have come to learn security remains conditional.

It’s Candid Camera on an epic scale, and we can only hope that we can smile about our long cherished desire for privacy being preserved.