ISN Quiz: Iraq

Test your knowledge on Iraq, the topic of this week’s Special Report.



Investing in Infrastructure

Repair wanted, photo: cmh2315fl/flickr

On September 6, President Obama announced an infrastructure renewal project in the US. According the White House press release, the plan aims to create a long-term framework for the renewal and expansion of a major part of America’s transportation infrastructure (roads, railways aviation and transit infrastructure.) Its broader objectives are to contribute to the economic stimulus of the Recovery Act with a front-end investment of $50 billion.

Specifically, the plan aims to do the following in the coming six years:

  • Rebuild 150,000 roads
  • Build 4,000 miles of railroads and introduce high-speed rail systems
  • Reconstruct 150 miles of runways and upgrade the air traffic control system
  • Establish a permanent infrastructure bank to leverage capital investment in the nation’s infrastructure

This contribution is a step in the right direction, but only a step. The plan addresses only four of the 15 issues outlined by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which produces an annual report card  on the state of US infrastructure, assessing bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, public parks and recreation.

According to the most recent ASCE report, the US scored a dismal D (approx. 1.0 out of a possible maximum of 4.0.) This same report estimated a 5-year investment of $2.2 trillion would be needed to significantly improve these areas, including some 1,800 high hazard and over 4,000 structurally deficient dams, as well as 72,868 and 89,024 functionally obsolete bridges.

But, as the mid-term elections draw near, calls to reign in federal spending have grown. Republicans have vowed to oppose the plan and support among Democrats may be weak.

Ultimately, infrastructure renewal in the US will depend on murky congressional back-room deals, tough legislative cycles and the fickle political trends of the coming years.

Despite the Obama administration’s attempt to bring the issue to the forefront of domestic policy, quick action on a vital issue seems increasingly unlikely. And this is bad news for America.

Culture Foreign policy

The Politics of Video Games

Taliban versus Tetris, courtesy of daveesa/flickr/Wiki Commons

A video game recently created a big stir. Medal of Honor 8 allows you to play the role of a Taliban in Afghanistan and to fight against ISAF forces and the US Army. To their defense, the creators are saying that in any video game you should be able to play the role of the good guy and the bad guy. For example, in all World War II video games, you can to play the role of a German soldier.

Some are saying that Afghanistan is “too fresh” to allow people to play the role of a Taliban, and after all, Electronic Arts, the creator of the game, is part of the “western camp” and should support the “western cause” in its video games. In other words, they should have created a new America’s Army, the official video game of the US Army, with a real-life sign-up process built into the game’s menu.

The US Army, of course, is not the only entity that uses video games to promote itself.

Some political organization, like Hamas, have produced their own video game where you have to make your way through refugee camps and shoot at Israeli soldiers.

But video games are also not new to the world of politics and conflict.


Afghanistan in the Balance

Afghanistan in a precarious balance between great powers, photo: imagemonkey/flickr

Afghanistan has long been precariously positioned within the international balance of power, where it has served as both playground and graveyard of rival nation-states. This week the ISN takes a closer look at Afghanistan’s continued importance in relation to great power politics, in addition to its more closely documented localized conflicts.

This ISN Special Report contains the following content:

  • An Analysis by Professor John Brobst, on the importance of Afghanistan in relation to great power politics.
  • A Podcast interview with Professor Anatol Lieven of King’s College London explores the fundamental difficulties that the international community faces in trying to forge a peace or build a nation in a country with a fraught history, deep divisions and a disdain for outside interference.
  • Security Watch articles about the Wikileaks and McCrystal scandals, the donor gap and much more.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including the Institute of South Asian Studies’ papers on President Zardari in China and the Afghan peace jirga.
  • Primary Resources, like the full-text of President Obama’s June 23rd statement on the General McCrystal firing.
  • Links to relevant websites, such as the ‘Afghanistan Conflict Monitor’ blog, an initiative of the Human Security Report at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University.
  • Our IR Directory, featuring the Afghanistan Women Council, designed to assist and empower Afghan women and children.
Government Security

Mexico – A Democracy for the Brave Few

In Ciudad Juarez, Federal Police were deployed in attempts to stop the drug-related violence, courtesy of Jesus Villaseca Perez/flickr

Mexico is at a crossroads. As last week’s gubernatorial elections demonstrated, the Mexican state can no longer provide basic security and ensure the rule of law in many urban environments, signaling that Mexico might soon join the ranks of international failed states like Somalia, Afghanistan, and Haiti.

The New York Times adopted an optimistic perspective, noting the strength of the Mexican democracy amidst all the violence perpetrated by the drug cartels, as evidenced by the surprisingly positive voter turnout in many areas. These elections, however, also witnessed “the most blatant evidence of traffickers interfering in politics since Calderon came to power in late 2006,” with voter turnout at historic lows. Coming close to a stand-still in areas where drug violence has been prominent—in Ciudad Juarez, voter turnout was only 20 percent, and in the state of Chihuahua  as whole, only one-third of voters showed up—turnout can be explained by the violence surrounding electoral campaigns. Leading up to the elections, candidates had been killed and threatened, campaign offices had been bombed and general fear of the power of Mexico’s infamous drug cartels had uncomfortably set into everyday life in the country.