The Politics of Oil in Today’s Middle East

Old Gas Station. Image: Rob Brewer/Flickr

On 26 March 2015, the ISN hosted an Evening Talk on “The Politics of Oil in Today’s Middle East.” The featured speaker was Dr. Gawdat Bahgat, who is currently a Professor of National Security Affairs at the US National Defense University’s Near East South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies. The following video excerpts highlight the observations Dr. Bahgat made in his prepared remarks and in a follow-on question and answer (Q&A) session which was moderated by the ISN’s Peter Faber. » More

Ethics on Film: Discussion of “Timbuktu”

Jihadists of the group “Ansar Dine” near Timbuktu, Mali. Image: Magharebia/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs on 25 February, 2015.

2014, 97 minutes. Nominated for Oscar for best Foreign Language Film.

For an American audience used to war movies with explosions, good guys and bad guys, and finite conclusions, the Oscar-nominated, Mauritanian film Timbuktu is a departure. The violence is never gratuitous, most of the jihadists seem like normal (albeit dangerously misguided) people, and, at the end, the fates of the eponymous city and several main characters are left hazy. The people who would most likely choose to see Timbuktu are already numbed by the constant stream of horrific news out of Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, etc., so this low-key approach is the perfect strategy. We know about the executions, suicide bombings, and coalition airstrikes. But what we don’t realize is, perhaps, the main takeaway from the film: This type of militant extremism, more than anything else, is soul-crushingly boring for the occupied populations. » More

Book Review: The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication

The flag of the Lebanese Hizbullah party. Image: Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the LSE Review of Books, hosted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, on 23 March, 2015.

The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication. Lina Khatib, Dina Matar and Atef Alshaer. Oxford University Press. 2014.

In The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication, Lina Khatib, Dinar Matar and Atef Alshaer offer a comprehensive analysis of the group’s sophisticated political communication strategy since its inception in 1982. Although they offer no startling insights into the group’s socio-political aims and approaches within Lebanon or its relations with foreign powers, their contribution lies in their detailed analysis of how Hizbullah has continuously sought to legitimise and market itself to domestic and foreign audiences. This is a highly valuable contribution that sheds much needed light on a key causal dimension in the movement’s endurance. » More

Cuba: Not a Terrorist Threat

Revolutionary propaganda of Camilo Cienfuegos. Image: 819043/Pixabay

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute on 11 March 2015.

This blog is the first in several leading up to the World Policy Institute Board trip to Cuba in May. The trip seeks to re-open a once highly effective dialogue with Cuban leaders. WPI plans to examine the achievements of 55 years of revolutionary society and explore ways to highlight what the U.S. and Cuba can learn from each other.

As the Obama administration and Cuban negotiators examine the 54-year-old unilateral embargo (or “blockade” as the Cubans refer to it), one obstacle—particularly painful for Cubans and extremely important to American interests—must be addressed: Cuba’s continued presence on the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

President Obama directed the State Department to review this designation in December 2014, since Cuba’s removal from that list is entirely justified and long overdue. As a result, when the State Department issues its annual Country Reports on Terrorism on April 30, it is likely to be the first time in 33 years that Cuba is not designated a sponsor. » More

Bad Theatre

French soldier guarding the Eiffel Tower. Image: DerekKey/Flickr

This article was originally published by European Geostrategy on 26 February, 2015. Republished with permission.

Pairs of Belgian soldiers have been standing guard at the entrance of NATO headquarters and other sensitive locations in Brussels since the Belgian security services successfully raided a terrorist cell in the Belgian city of Verviers on 15 January, just days after the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. One rather hopes that NATO especially was already somewhat protected before; two foot soldiers will hardly make much difference in any case.

Indeed, why deploy the army in the streets of Brussels at all? What one seems to forget is that no terrorist attack took place. Unlike in May of last year, when a returned French ‘foreign fighter’ murdered four people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, this time an attack was prevented, thanks to excellent police and intelligence work – and yet now the army was deployed whereas last year it was not. That does not mean that there is no more remaining threat, quite the contrary, but it does more than nuance the causal link between troops in the street and security at home. Khaki in the streets is mostly bad theatre, a feeble attempt to signal resolve in the face of a threat that can never be entirely prevented (although in this particular instance it actually was). » More

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