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International Relations Foreign policy

ISN Weekly Theme: US Achievements in Iraq

Welcome to Baghdad, photo: Austin King / flickr
Welcome to Baghdad, photo: Austin King / flickr

In the wake of US troop withdrawals from Iraqi cities and with the scheduling of full withrawal still ahead, the ISN looks at the past, present and future of US involvement in Iraq. With a new president, a new strategy and a set of new challenges at home, the level of US engagement is changing drastically and rapidly altering the realities and demands on the ground. Will Iraqi troops stand up once Americans stand down? Will political reconciliation and institution-building take root?

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International Relations Security

What is that A-Bout?

An alleged international weapons trafficker, searched for by Interpol and placed under an international travel ban by the UN, will soon be running free?

What is that about?

Kalashnikov: Photo: melomelo/flickr
Kalashnikov/Photo: melomelo/flickr

On 11 August, a Thai court ruled against extraditing Viktor Bout to the US. The US is accusing Bout of trying to sell weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC, a group that is deliberately targeting Americans assisting the Colombian government in the drug war. (A year ago, ISN Security Watch featured an in-depth analysis on Victor Bout’s unsavory career: see part I and part II).

Yet unlike the US and the EU, Thailand does not consider the FARC a terrorist group – hence, in the eyes of the Thai judge, Bout cannot be extradited for ‘political’ reasons. This is a big slap in the face for US counterterrorism efforts. To capture international terrorists and those supplying them with weapons, the US relies on a strong network of allies – and Thailand has historically been a strong ally of the US.

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Health

‘Socialized Medicine’ in America: Old Habits Die Hard

Health care reform, a painful issue / Photo: Z Peckler/flickr
Health care reform, a painful issue / Photo: Z Peckler/flickr

The health care debate in the US continues to become more heated by the day, revealing new characters with dramatic twists and turns. From the outside it almost plays like a movie (well, maybe not a great movie) where I nearly reach for a soda and a bag of popcorn while watching constituents yelling at their local representative during town halls or US politicians debate about whether the health care reform will create so-called “death panels.”

However, as an American with family stretched across the country I am soon reminded of the sobering reality that this debate cuts much closer to home.

Family members on Medicare or Medicaid? Check. Family members uninsured? Check. Family members with insurance but poor, expensive coverage? Check. Family members struggling or unable to pay health care bills? Check. Family members discriminated by insurance companies due to pre-existing conditions? Check.

Categories
International Relations History

Dear Santa: A Letter to Obama

Letter packed with lists to pass along to Santa, photo: Scott / flickr
Letter packed with lists to pass along to Santa, photo: Scott / flickr

If you could write an open letter to US President Barack Obama, what would you write? The question almost makes you think of something like a wish list to a Santa, who will do his best to fulfill your desires.

The open letter written by 22 Central and Eastern European intellectuals and former leaders made me think about this Christmas tradition. A letter intended for the US president, in which Eastern European children make a wish list and, in order to be convincing, explain how good they have been in the past.

During the last months the media has seen innumerable open letters to Obama. And this is yet another one. It is a doleful and angst-ridden letter, one whose main argument is that the Obama administration is not taking the necessary measures for rebuking “revisionist Russia.”

I first had a reflective look at the senders’ list. Václav Havel and Lech Wałęsa are there, symbols of the people who led the revolutions of 1989. However, beyond all emotions, I realized the word ‘former’ is too prominent on the senders’ list. Valdas Adamkus, former president of the Republic of Lithuania; Martin Butora, former ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the US. The list goes on.

‘Former’ refers to something or someone belonging to a prior time. Even the letter reads ‘former’ to me, with arguments that in the current international context have acquired their dustiness.

The letter’s nostalgia-conjured past does not truly reflect historical realities. “Our nations are deeply indebted to the United States,” the letter argues. “Many of us know firsthand how important your support for our freedom and independence was during the dark Cold War years.”

These words make me think of my Romanian grandfather and how he told me that years after the end of World War II he was looking at the sky, asking himself when would the Americans come. And the Americans never came. So what is Central and Eastern Europe so indebted for? Apart from listening to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, there was not much of an important support to be felt in the region during the Cold War.

Categories
International Relations

ISN Weekly Theme: US-Mexico Border

At a beach in Tijuana, a balloon vendor attempts to bring some joy, photo: Romel Jacinto/flickr
At a beach in Tijuana, a balloon vendor attempts to bring some joy, photo: Romel Jacinto/flickr

Almost 12 million people live in the US-Mexico border area: hundreds of thousands cross the 3000 km-long border every day – legally and illegally. It is the most protected US border, with no less than 90 percent of all US border patrol agents working there. In addition to immigration and associated human rights challenges, cross-border security issues include organized crime, drug trafficking and human smuggling.

Here’s an overview of some ISN website highlights:

  • The ISN Special Report Desperation Route, in which Sam Logan offers a first-hand account of the circumstances that keep the drugs, guns and desperate people pouring across the US-Mexico border
  • The CGD’s Don’t Close the Golden Door by Michael Clemens in our Policy Briefs section, outlining policies on immigration for the US administration
  • New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s speech on comprehensive immigration reform in our Primary Resources section