Article of the Day: France to begin Syria reconnaissance flights, mulls air strikes

France to begin Syria reconnaissance flights, mulls air strikes

France has taken a bold first step in attempting to quell the dual onslaught in Syria of pro-Assad forces and ISIS which have led to the untenable refugee situation spilling out of its borders. The answer to this humanitarian crisis is not merely to welcome more refugees in Europe – although that is part of the solution.

I believe that all the moderate actors need to come together and undertake a multidimensional solution to stem this crisis. The first, obviously, involves providing immediate relief to those most in need of help. This means more funding for refugee camps and a greater concerted effort by Europeans and Middle Eastern states to welcome more Syrians fleeing death and persecution in their home land.

The second involves pursuing diplomatic channels, both to bolster a moderate Syrian oppositions (at least what’s left of it) and to exert diplomatic pressure on states buttressing the Syrian regime – notably Iran. Engaging Tehran over this issue, particularly with the mutual opposition to the ISIS, may not provide any immediate gains, but it must be part of a comprehensive solution. As of now, Assad’s grip on power rests almost solely on Tehran’s assistance. Engaging Iran at this crucial time is a necessary step, no matter how unlikely it is to produce results.

Finally, a military option cannot be discarded. France is right in taking initial steps to strike ISIS. The argument that ISIS is checking Assad’s power is nonsensical. Neither is a good solution, but ISIS and its indiscriminate killing fueled by a crazed ideology is clearly a greater threat to regional stability than Assad. An international coalition must step up its attacks agains ISIS before engaging Assad. And when I say international, I don’t simply mean Europe and the United States. Arab nations must take part in this effort, for ultimately they stand to gain the most from regional stability.

As a last note, I was pretty shocked that this story was only covered in a handful of english language publications. I had to look through a bunch of websites to find this story; my usual suspects (New York Times, New Yorker, FT, WP) did not even carry it. I think this is part of the problem, we, as an international community, need to get serious about this problem. Hoping that it will solve itself is no longer possible.

I applaud the French for their action. Hopefully this is but the first step in a much larger quest to address this issue head on!


Article of the Day: Refugees Who Could be Us

Refugees Who Could be Us

My apologies for not posting regularly the past few days – it’s Labor Day Weekend here in the US and I’ve been enjoying the last few days of summer. Yesterday, I went to the National Book Festival in DC. Among the many cool things there, I attended a panel by The New York Times’ Nick Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof is consistently brilliant and he does an amazing job of shining light on problems that are too often underrepresented in traditional media.

Fittingly, I think his column from today is certainly worth the read. While the Syrian refugee crisis is hardly an obscure issue, it is a timely one and, as usual, Kristof’s take is excellent. The refugees fleeing their country are not doing so out of a deep desire to live in some other land, but rather because they have no other choice. They are stuck between the barbaric actions of ISIS and the indiscriminate killing of the Assad regime.

The horrible truth is, these people did not seek this outcome. I was fortunate enough to be born in a country not rocked by war and instability, and therefore I can’t even to begin to imagine what these people are going through. Yet, it is everyone’s duty to show solidarity toward the people of Syria – be that in the form of ending the brutal Syrian civil war or helping to accommodate those people seeking merely to live their lives in peace.

When I used to work at the United States Senate, my boss, Senator Joe Manchin, used to say “if you can count your blessings, you can share your blessings.” I think that phrase is very relevant today. I would therefore urge everyone to reach out to your elected officials to ask them to do more. Also, consider donating to charities working directly with these refugees. The International Rescue Committee is a great charity that I have donated to.

I think Kristof is right, this could be us. Since it isn’t, we have an obligation to act.


Article of the Day: Why I tweeted the photo of the dead Syrian toddler

Why I tweeted the photo of the dead Syrian toddler

The photo of the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi is not only shocking, it is a reminder to everyone that the crisis in Syria is having a very real human impact. When I first saw the photo, I, like many others, was both shocked and angry. Shocked that children are an accessory to this brutal conflict, which frankly shows no end in sight. Angry too that governments, mostly European and Arab, are failing at their duty to accommodate these innocent civilians seeking but the most basic common right – that of a peaceful life.

This article, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful I have seen about this photo. I think it would do us good to all read it an realize that our collective humanity is only as strong as the most frail, and vulnerable among us. It is our job to act, it is our duty to act. Politics has no place in this debate.


Article of the Day: The French should be watching the antics of the UK’s Labour party

The French should be watching the antics of the UK’s Labour party

Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is quite an enigma. If he, as many anticipate, wins the internal election to become Labour leader, the perplexing MP from Islington North will be the newest in a series of far-left leaders rising to the top of his party in Europe. Already in Greece and Spain, Syriza and Podemos have electrified the traditional center-left while other similarly hard-left leaders make inroads in other European countries. To be fair, this is not quite a pandemic in Europe. Germany’s left has been essentially decimated by Angela Merkel’s steady and effective rule. Similarly, Matteo Renzi’s pragmatic style of centrist rule has galvanized Italy’s left around him.

One country where this issue does stand out is France. In 2011, during the socialist primary campaign, François Hollande painted himself both as a left-wing ideologue and as a consensus building figure. Two ideas which, at the outset, appear mutually exclusive. In governance, this paradox has proven almost untenable. Those on the far left who were seduced by Hollande’s promise to take on the world of finance (his sworn enemy) and tax the wealthy with intention of redistributing, feel profoundly betrayed. Similarly, those in the center who saw the appeal of a Hollande presidency must look at the current state of affairs with much disappointment. Indeed, instead of unifying the left, Hollande has managed to split it into two “currents”: one driven by the charismatic and openly Clintonian Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and the other by the effusive Don Quixote of the hard left, Arnaud Montebourg.

This piece in the Financial Times interestingly compares Mr. Montebourg to Mr. Corbyn. While that comparison is certainly interesting, I find the odds of a similar leftward lurch unlikely in France. While Montebourg may be a romantic choice for many seeking to return to a system of government redistribution, many in the socialist party recognize that this line is not only impractical, but it has also contributed to an electoral erosion for the socialists. What’s more, the base of voters looking for a fringe candidate is would be widely split between Montebourg and the rising National Front.

If anything, I think the biggest opportunity for the French based on the election of Jeremy Corbyn is for the right. By moving to the center, they could take up the votes of many disaffected socialists, leaving the remaining left-wing base to split itself between Montebourg and Valls. For the socialists, however, Jeremy Corbyn’s victory might prove to be a problem in the short run. However my sense is that his eventual implosion will be proof enough that this romantic left is indeed not a viable alternative to sensible, centrist governance.


Article of the Day: Obama and Europe

Obama and Europe

I really like Anne Applebaum. I don’t always agree with her, but I do think her articles are well written and espouse an interesting point of view – particularly as it relates to eastern European affairs. This article is no exception. I don’t have a ton of commentary but I think that it does a good job of summarizing the missed opportunities in the Obama administrations “handling” of European affairs. Worth the read!


Article of the Day: The Other France

The Other France

It’s been a few days since I’ve published an article recommendation. Despite my best intentions, time (or the lack thereof) often gets the best of me. Hopefully, this article will make up for my shortcomings.

France, for me, is more than just an area of interest, it is a passion. A passion nurtured through my childhood in Paris and my current longing to return. It therefore deeply pains me when I see my country thrust in such a negative light for the perceived treatment of muslim communities in underprivileged neighborhoods. France is such a beautiful country, yet the stigmatization and inherent belief held by a vocal minority that somehow your religion or ethnic background disqualifies you from being truly French, is not only abhorrent but anathema to the very concept of being French.

What’s more, the way that we, as a society, have dealt with this issue undermines France’s ability to speak out against other transgressions in other countries. How can the country known as a bastion of human rights speak out against injustices when they exist a few kilometers away from the glitz and glamour of the Champs Elysées?

This issue is profoundly troubling, yet articles like this fascinating piece in the New Yorker give me hope. There are people who are willing to break down the stereotypes and seek to build a more wholesome and inclusive France. Citizens, from all walks of life, coming together with the realization that France as a country is only as great as its people are united. This year has been a particularly painful one for my our country, and it is in these moments where our collective ability to address these fundamental problems will define us for years (if not generations) to come.

This piece shines a light on the kind of people we, as a society and as a world, need to focus on: the community organizer, the disenfranchised youth working to make his kids’ lives better. Let’s stop focusing on the lives of a handful of mentally deranged extremists and instead focus on the good. That is what this piece does, and I seriously hope it brings about many more like it!


Article of the Day: The Labour party is in mortal danger

The Labour party is in mortal danger

The Labour leadership contest is quickly showing that the lesson of the past general election has not been internalized by many within the party. Ed Miliband’s personality may have committed to his downfall, but his overtly left-wing policies surly alienated many voters. By choosing Jeremy Corbyn, the minority of labour electors are doubling down on a losing strategy.

Overall, I think that Peter Mandelson’s argument is correct: Labour needs to move back to the policies and center ground that worked so well in the late 90’s and 00’s. Ultimately, electing Corbyn might satiate the dreams of a vocal minority, but will discredit Labour as a genuine party of government. A repetitional hit such as that could take years, if not decades, to reverse, letting the Tories dominate the British political landscape for the near future.


Article of the Day: Born Red

Born Red

China has been on my mind a lot recently. The recent devaluation of the yuan and the subsequent political/economic turmoil is particularly interesting. Some reports have stated that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang may be on his way out – an earthquake in the highly controlled Chinese political world.

This whole issue has made me think about Xi Jingling – China’s enigmatic President/supreme ruler. His rule has appeared to me – a very distant observer of Asian affairs – as a paradox. On one hand, he seems to have undertaken a series of reforms to move the economy forward. Yet these “liberal” reforms seem to have been tempered by his authoritarian streak and tendency to consolidate power around himself.

This article does a great job of explaining how Xi became Xi. A past ridden with a turmoil between his privileged upbringing and an upswing of anti-institution sentiment at the top of the CCP seems to have guided his action. Overall, this is a fascinating piece that is certainly worth a read!


Article of the Day: A Call for Collective Action

A Call for Collective Action – Jean-Claude Juncker

Immigration is quickly shaping up to be one of the seminal issues of the Juncker commission. From the porous borders in the Mediterranean to the migrants congregating in Calais for a chance to cross the Channel, this issue directly impacts every member nation in the EU, regardless of the number of migrants or refugees in their country. Surly, it is in this vain that Jean-Claude Juncker chose to pen an editorial on this controversial subject.

While I’m generally a fan of Juncker, I can’t help but feel that this piece is far stronger in style than in substance. Beyond the flowing rhetoric of what Europe should be – grounded, fairly, in the values of the continent – Juncker does very little to explain how this issue will be solved. Although he does outline the commission’s plan, it fails to account for differing political views in the member states. In this Op-Ed, Juncker’s argument is as vaguely rooted as the “nationalists” that he decries.

I think Europe needs to adopt a policy of listening first. Listening to the needs of member states – particularly those that have been most impacted by the migrant challenge. Europe’s common values should drive the ultimate outcome, but Brussels acting in an authoritarian manner is not the answer. Neither, frankly, is the member states obstinately refusing any compromise on this subject.

Juncker is correct in saying that Europe can only succeed together – however together means all stakeholders working in unison, not merely the commission.


Article of the Day: An Unworthy Ally

An Unworthy Ally

Continuing with my weekly series of articles on Pakistan, here is a fascinating piece in Foreign Affairs arguing that rather than upping American assistance to Pakistan, Washington should disengage in an effort to change Islamabad’s behavior. The argument is predicated on the notion that Pakistan – driven by its military and the ISI (Pakistan’s secret services) – are supporting terrorist and extremist groups in an effort to continue the supply of US aid.

That argument certainly holds water as recent reports surrounding the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar have pointed to a degree of collusion at the highest levels of the Pakistani state/army. That said, I’m not convinced that Pakistan’s civilian leadership is necessarily the problem – a point somewhat made in this article. If anything, the army and secret services have the most to lose if Washington cuts assistance, or better yet, adapts it to more civil-society oriented goals.

I plan to research this issue further in order to make a real judgement, however my cursory examination leads me to believe the solution lies somewhere between a full drawback of US military support and continuing the current levels. The most fragile balance that the US wants to maintain is that between the civilian government and the army. By taking too aggressive a stance, the US risks unsettling the recent gains made by the civilian government (although many could argue that Pakistan’s hardline approach toward domestic terrorism stems from the army wresting control from the government.

Overall, this article is a fascination, thought provoking piece on the current state of affairs in Pakistan and does a good job of outlining how the United States and its foreign policy have impacted the country and the region.