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Dear Readers,

The posts on this blog are intended to accompany the chapters in the text Introduction to Global Politics. They are intended to interest, excite, entertain, and allow you to immerse yourselves in the subject matter. Some involve scholars about whom you will read; others involve events described in the text – past and present – and still others will allow you to delve more deeply into topics described in those chapters.

Please navigate the blog through the use of the category links on the side. You can browse posts by the type of material they contain or by the chapters to which they are related.

US Ambassador Killed in Attack on US Consulate in Libya

September 12, 2012

The US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed along with three other Americans in an attack yesterday on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attack, which occurred on the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., was undertaken by a crowd protesting an amateur YouTube video that insulted the prophet Muhammad. The Christian Science Monitor describes the video in question:

It shows Muhammad as a grinning fool, talking to a donkey and dubbing it “the first Muslim animal.” … [A] 14-minute video of the movie in English … is even worse, one badly acted anti-Islamic caricature after another, with all Muslims portrayed as cartoonishly violent and depraved child rapists, and a running “joke” that constantly calls Muhammad “the bastard of the unknown father.”

The controversy began when clips from the trailer (dubbed in Arabic) were shown on an Egyptian television network on September 9 and were presented, according to The Christian Science Monitor (linked above), as having been produced by the US government and Coptic Christians in Egypt. The true origins of the video are unclear. The Lede blog reports the video was posted to YouTube on July 2 by

Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian ally of Terry Jones, the Florida pastor known for Koran-burning. So far, however, all that is known for certain is that Mr. Sadek played a small role in publicizing the video, by passing on a link to the English-language trailer in a rambling blog post, an e-mail and a message to his Twitter followers, who numbered less than 80 as of this morning [September 12, 2012]. Mainstream Copts have denounced him as a fringe figure who does not represent their community.

Protests followed in Cairo, Egypt, on September 11 but did not turn violent. Protestors there stole the US flag from the American embassy, destroyed it, and replaced it with an Islamic flag. Protests erupted in Libya, as well. But there the protests were violent, resulting in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Stevens. It was initially reported that the Ambassador’s death was a consequence of “spontaneous mob” violence (similar to that in Cairo). However, US officials now suspect the attack on the US consulate may have been planned. The New York Times reports:

The protesters in Cairo appeared to be a genuinely spontaneous unarmed mob angered by an anti-Islam video produced in the United States. By contrast, it appeared the attackers in Benghazi were armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Intelligence reports are inconclusive at this point, officials said, but indications suggest the possibility that an organized group had either been waiting for an opportunity to exploit[,] like the protests over the video or perhaps even generated the protests as a cover for their attack.

The topic has been trending on Twitter today, where you can find reports from Libya of protests condemning the attacks, as well as links to analyses of the challenge this event poses for US foreign policy (see here, here, and here, for example). You might consider the following questions that arise in these analyses: How significant will these attacks be for the future role of the US in the changing Middle East? Are they a sign that Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Americanism are on the rise? Or do they simply reflect the Libyan government’s lack of control over its population?

In addition to reading more about the attacks via these links, you can also view a chronology of how the violence spread (including twitter posts and videos of US leaders’ responses) and read real-time updates on The Lede blog at the New York Times.

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Drug Reform in Latin America

July 30, 2012

In June Uruguayan officials announced a plan, proposed by President Jose Mujica, to legalize marijuanna as a means to combat the trade in and use of harder drugs, like cocaine and pasta basica (a cocaine paste similar to crack). Under this plan, the government would sell and tax marijuana, using tax revenue to fund drug rehabilitation. The goal of the plan is to use easy access to marijuana to turn Uruguayan users away from the harder, more addictive drugs. You can read more about this plan in the LA Times.

Uruguay’s plan is novel for the state-managed monopoly it would create over the marijuana trade. However, the idea that relaxing drug laws and regulating the drug trade may be what’s necessary to curb drug-related violence is spreading across Latin America. Officials across the region, including in Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, have long been frustrated with drug policies that have failed to curb drug trafficking or drug violence. Officials in these and other countries are talking more openly about the possibility of drug decriminalization as a means to undermine drug cartels.

Such efforts do face resistance, both at home and abroad. The US has opposed legalization, as have many medical professionals and security officials in the countries where these debates are taking place.

For more on this issue, see these stories in the New York Times and the Atlantic. To learn more about regional and national drug policies in the Americas see this analysis and a drug policy map provided by InSight Crime and see the TNI Drug Law Reform Project (a pro-drug reform site). You can read more about US drug policy in Latin American states at the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.Country fact sheets are found here.

Arab Spring highlights tradeoffs between American values and interests

July 30, 2012

US foreign policymakers may have gotten more than they bargained for in the Arab Spring. As David Kirkpatrick observes on The Lede blog on the New York Times website, President Obama

could not have guessed that the demand for Arab democracy [in his Cairo speech in 2009] would instead become one of his presidency’s greatest foreign policy challenges, forcing whoever wins the November election to confront tough trade offs between American values and interests.

Kirkpatrick emphasizes three “pressing dilemmas” for American policymakers following from the Arab Spring: 

  1. The rising power of Islamist parties that have been democratically elected in Egypt and Tunisia; 
  2. The threat insurgents pose to other undemocratic American allies, like Bahrain; and 
  3. The eruption of sectarian conflicts that had previously been contained by autocrats, like Syria’s Bashra al-Assad. 

Read the full story here at the New York Times website. 

President Obama Ordered Cyberattacks Against Iran

June 1, 2012

The New York Times is reporting today that:

From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.

 

Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name:Stuxnet.

 

You can read the full story here and view a multimedia graphic showing how the cyberwar program worked here.

You can read two early analyses of this issue here and here.

Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, sentenced for War Crimes

June 1, 2012

Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, was sentenced this week to 50 years in prison. The sentence was issued by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the body that convicted him last month for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including supporting Sierra Leone’s former rebels, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

The New York Times reports:

“In what was viewed as a watershed case for modern human rights law, Mr. Taylor was the first former head of state convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials in Germany after World War II.

 

Mr. Taylor was found guilty of “aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history,” said Richard Lussick, the judge who presided over the sentencing here in an international criminal court near The Hague. He said the lengthy prison term underscored Mr. Taylor’s position as a government’s leader during the time the crimes were committed.”

 

Taylor’s crimes included murder, rape, slavery, violence and other inhumane acts, and the use of child soldiers. A complete list of the charges can be found here. By the rules of the court, Taylor could not impose a life sentence or the death penalty. It is required to impose a set prison term.

Both sides may appeal the sentence. The defense argues the sentence is “excessive” and “disproportionate to [Taylor’s] circumstances, his age and his health.” The prosecution had sought an 80-year sentence. Once the appeal process, expected to take a year, finishes, Taylor will serve his sentence in a prison in Britain. Taylor, who is 64, will in all likelihood spend the rest of his life in prison.

Bosnian War Crimes Trial Begins

May 16, 2012

Proceedings began today in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the trial of General Ratko Mladic. Mladic, the head of the Bosnian Serb army during the 1992-95 Bosnian war and the last suspect from that war to be tried in the ICTY, is accused of 11 counts of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Known as the “Butcher of the Balkans,” one of the genocide charges is for his involvement in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed over several days in a UN-designated safe zone. The second genocide charge is for his involvement in planning the ethnic cleansing campaign designed to drive Croats, Muslims, and other non-Serbs out of Bosnia to gain territory for Serbs.

Now 70 years old, Mladic remains defiant in court. He has refused to enter formal pleas in response to the charges, but also says that he is not guilty of wrongdoing. In a pre-trial hearing last year, he stated “The whole world knows who I am… I am General Ratko Mladic. I defended my people, my country… now I am defending myself” (BBC). He has also declared “I am a very old man and I am close to my end as far as my health is concerned, and I am not important… It matters what kind of legacy I will leave behind, among my people” (Reuters). In fact, many hard-core Serbian nationalists continue to regard Mladic as a hero, as described in this article in the International Herald Tribune, and they view his trial as further evidence of they ICTY’s bias against Serbs.

You can read more analysis of the trial in these articles in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and Al Jazeera. You can also view a news report, including interviews with victims and a Serb nationalist, from Al Jazeera below.

Nigeria’s Population Challenges

April 14, 2012

Nigeria, with a population of 167 million people, is the world’s sixth most populous country and is already experiencing the effects of rapid population growth, reports the New York Times. Continued growth may soon present a demographic crisis. The country’s urban unemployment rate for young adults aged 15-24 is almost 50 percent and such high unemployment is fueling a number of social and political problems, including urban overcrowding, crime, radicalization, and illegal immigration (to the US and elsewhere).

“Population is key,” said Peter Ogunjuyigbe, a demographer at Obafemi Awolowo University in the small central city of Ile-Ife. “If you don’t take care of population, schools can’t cope, hospitals can’t cope, there’s not enough housing — there’s nothing you can do to have economic development.”

As we have already seen in Latin America, Asia, and North Africa, reducing birth rates will alleviate these problems and bring economic benefits. Nigeria’s goverment is trying to manage population growth by promoting contraceptive use and limiting family size, but there are many obstacles, including religion, as devote Roman Catholics and Muslims have opposed contraceptive use.

Culture has posed another hurdle:

Large families signal propserity and importance in African cultures; some cultures let women attend village meetings only after they have had their 11th child. And a history of high infant mortality, since improved thanks to interventions like vaccination, makes families reluctant to have fewer children.

Read more about the causes and consequences of Nigeria’s population boom in the New York Times article. You can also view a slideshow illustrating Nigeria’s population problems here. You can view population projections and fertility rate trends by region here.