Iraqi Kurdistan: To Free Or Not To Free

By Casie Slaybaugh, Guest Writer 

The Kurdish Freedom Referendum that took place on September 25th, 2017 brought to light the long-enduring plight of a stateless nation. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been semi-autonomous since 1970. Recent developments in the fight against the Islamic State and advances of the Kurdish government have given rise to intensified nationalism and the belief that a free Kurdistan could not only survive as a nation but thrive. Despite many sources’ belief that this prediction could ring true, the Trump administration has put itself in agreement with Iran and stated that the United States does not support a free Kurdistan. I would argue, however, that this administration is mistaken in its disapproval of the independence of the region. A free Kurdistan would not only be beneficial to the Middle East but to the United States as well.

The Middle East is a region teeming with political turmoil. Between oppressive governments, Islamist militant organizations, and more armed conflicts, the Middle East is in dire need of a strong government to serve as a peacekeeping force. Iraqi Kurdistan has shown its military competence time and time again during the fight against the Islamic State. Kurdish forces, called the Peshmerga, played an influential role in the retake of Mosul, as well as in the Battle for Kobane in Syria. Not only can the Kurds hold their own militarily, but the region had been experiencing a decade-long economic boom prior to the rise of the IS. Technology in the Kurdish capital of Erbil is said to be “light years ahead of Baghdad.” The Kurdish government also serves as an example in modern diplomacy and trade: often holding meetings between Iraqi-Kurdish and Turkish leaders, for example, as well as negotiating trade deals with corporations including Exxon Mobil. Clearly, the Kurds are capable of leading their own people into a thriving democracy that is capable of serving as an example and strong military power in one of the most turmoil-stricken regions of the last two centuries. For these reasons, the United States has every reason to support the formation of a free Kurdistan.

Additionally, the American tradition of supporting democracies that share our values must not be ignored. In the decades since the start of the Cold War, a fundamental pillar of American foreign affairs has been a commitment to supporting fledgling democracies. It has been proven time and time again that democratic nations are less likely to engage in war with each other and generally foster good relations with and perceptions of each other. By setting up democracy in a region as chaotic as the Middle East, the Western perception of the area as a whole will evolve into considering it a more similar entity to the West itself, lessening the numerous negative stigmas associated with the region. Helping to establish a democracy that has proven its capabilities to be successful, as Kurdistan has done, in such a turmoil-stricken region could only improve relations between the Middle East and Western nations. The Kurdish people have more than earned the support of the United States and other large democracies and they deserve for their struggle toward full autonomy to be defended.

American must give support because the Kurdistan people share many fundamental values. Compared to other countries in the region, Kurdistan has shown a remarkable commitment to gender equality, with Syrian Kurds passing over 20 “equality decrees” in the year of 2014 alone, allowing women to hold political office, entitling them to equal pay and inheritance, and outlawing non-consenting marriage of women under 18. The Peshmerga is also one of the sole fighting forces in the area to allow female soldiers. Kurdish political parties also strongly favor the separation of mosque and state, clearly similar to the United States’ own separation of church and state. Kurdistan has also been known as a protector of minorities in the region, with many minority populations supporting the formation of a free Kurdistan, even those outside of Kurdish territory. Protection of Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities in the Nineveh Plain and around the Middle East has become a hallmark of Kurdish policy and a large reason for much of the local support of Kurdish independence.

Some would argue that a free Kurdistan would irreparably fracture the fragile political system of the Middle East even further. I would argue against with an analogy to a crumbling building. If the current situation in the region is collapsing ceilings, shattered windows, decaying drywall, wouldn’t it make sense to ensure that the foundation of the building was as strong as one could possibly make it before starting to add reinforcement to the interior? By ensuring the creation of a stable democratic institution in the heart of this “building,” the walls can be more easily rebuilt and the windows more easily replaced.

Certainly, the region would become unstable in the short term, but the high odds of long-term stabilization make this temporary destabilization a risk the West should be willing to take. The numerous issues that a free Kurdistan would immediately bring up—Kurdish revolts in Turkey, minority groups in other countries gaining confidence against their governments—should not be ignored, but instead, be weighed against future benefits that a stable democracy in the region would create.

After September 25th, Iraqi Kurdistan was thrust abruptly into mainstream news. The argument of whether a free Kurdistan should come to exist is one of complex political dynamics and colossal implications. Kurdistan has proved extensively their capability to become a thriving democracy despite their location in the center of one of the most turmoil-stricken regions of the world. This fact combined with the many values they share with the West and the American tradition of supporting fledgling democracies give numerous reasons for the United States to give its support to this prospective nation. While the chaos of the Middle East will likely remain for decades to come, it certainly will not harm the region in the long term for there to be a stable democracy at its center. The United States should support an independent Kurdistan to implement stability and prosperity in an area where these two concepts are seldom present.

How ISIS Changed History’s Cultural Landscape

By Sarah Taylor

Palmyra, Syria used to be a city of magically stoic Roman ruins, steeped in ancient history: a city that bore the scars and wrinkles of a storied civilization. The landscape of ancient Assyria and Mesopotamia was once the pinnacle of civilization, home to the most ancient cities and the dawn of humanity. Palmyra itself represented the fluctuating artistic and architectural influences of the major imperial powers of antiquity, as it went through various periods of independence and control under the Roman Empire. Today, the land is marked by destruction and stands not only as a monument not of historical significance but also of the tragedy that the Islamic State has brought upon Palmyra. One example is the Temple of Bel, a structure that is almost two thousand years old, and was the last remaining early Roman pilgrimage complex. It was completely razed in 2015, as it represented the polytheism of Roman pagan religion. There are countless other examples of destruction that have swept across the Middle East. The library of the Great Mosque in Aleppo was burnt down, causing it to lose rare religious manuscripts. The once-well preserved porticoes and Byzantine mosaics of Apamea in Western Syria have been replaced by complete desolation. ISIS has taken up a program of destroying historic and once-sacred sites in order to clear the area of symbols that go against their Islamic extremism, hiding behind their radical interpretations to justify the destruction of ancient cultures in Syria and Iraq.

Dura Europos is considered the oldest and by some accounts the first, true Christian city of the ancient world. It represented a blending of cultures and religions, with Christianity, Judaism, and Roman paganism influencing each other and producing unique works of antiquity. It is home to not only the world’s oldest synagogue but also the first Christian house church, the predecessor to the development of churches and cathedrals throughout the Roman Empire. Once a truly sacred site to the Christian community, the house at Dura Europos has been taken under control by the Islamic State. ISIS has ransacked over 70 percent of the city, destroying archaeological evidence, and reaping the profits of their looting. Perhaps what is most devastating about the destruction of Dura Europos is the loss of future excavation. When the city was co-opted by ISIS it was still relatively unexplored, having been abandoned in the third century AD and re-discovered in the twentieth century. The future hope to uncover more about how the ancient civilization led to the development of a greater Christian culture is now lost.

Mosul is another example of the extent of the destruction wreaked by ISIS on cultural landscapes. Once standing as an exemplar of rich cultural heritage and some of the oldest historical sites in the world, the city now lies as Iraq’s Ground Zero, the most devastating destruction at the hands of ISIS.  In Mosul, they have not only destroyed Christian communities, but also Sufi and Shia temples and mosques, demolishing archaeological sites from the Ottoman imperial period. Mosul also sits at the crux of ancient civilizations; at different points in time, it was the heart of the Assyrian, Parthian, and Sumerian empires. The Nouri mosque, built in the 12th century, was the seemingly indestructible soul of the city as it withstood regime changes and civil unrest. In June 2014, ISIS declared its capture of Mosul from the mosque. Three years later, the mosque ceased to exist and was replaced by rubble, fear, and a fierce realization of the new reality. ISIS’s destruction, in this case, was spurred by political rather than historical motivations. Since the mosque was a landmark of the city, destroying it would effectively destroy the cultural epicenter of the city, sending a message of authority to the citizens of Mosul.

Rebuilding these cities will be no easy task. The landscape that once stood as the backdrop for the development of all humanity is now irreparably reduced to rubble. These projects are often mismanaged by the governments attempting to restore what once was, as corruption, financial mismanagement and waste, and the existing political and social conflict, prevent them from focusing on rebuilding these lost cities. The rubble and ash marks stand as permanent reminders of the new reality of the remaining citizens now living in fear. Their houses of worship, an institution needed more than ever in this time of despair, have been ripped from the ground. Archaeologists have asked experts to refrain from acknowledging ancient sites, as it will only attract the attention of ISIS to another site to demolish. These sites are also subject to bombing from the powers fighting ISIS, namely the United States and Russia. The new field of “cyber archaeology” is working to create digital reconstructions of lost artifacts, hoping to create digital renderings of not only lost items but entire museums and cities. Though these strides bring us closer to restoring the evidence of such sites, it will never repair the damage done to the landscape itself, which has now lost its uniqueness. The unbroken history of humanity that once stood at sites like Palmyra has been broken by the inhumanity and radicalism of ISIS.

Sudanese Sanctions Lifted

By Javan Latson

For much of the nineties Sudan was very much an international pariah. The regime of President Omar Al-Bashir and the National Islamic Front tested the patience of its neighbors and the global community. The Islamist party was connected to various terror groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Jamaat al- Islamiyya. Sanctions were imposed by the UN Security Council after the Sudanese government provided refuge for individuals who tried to assassinate Egyptian President Mubarak. This action, in addition to the regime’s support for armed rebels in Eritrea, Uganda, and Ethiopia, made other African states loathe any engagement with the Sudanese state. However, the action that sealed Sudan’s isolation was granting Osama Bin Laden refuge in 1991 following his expulsion from Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda associates were ideologically similar to the government in  Khartoum which had recently imposed Islamic law upon the citizens. Under the protection of President Al-Bashir, Al Qaeda flourished as it conducted bombings against US troops in Yemen as well as embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.This led to the Clinton Administration placing Sudan on the list of state sponsors of terror in 1993 and a trade embargo being created in 1997.

Twenty years after the creation of economic sanctions, the Sudanese government has reason to celebrate. President Trump officially terminated the embargo on October 12th marking the final stage in a diplomatic thaw that began during the Obama Administration. The gradual normalization of relations between the two states can be seen even further in the revised travel ban which no longer features Sudan. Proponents of this course of action argue that the sanctions have failed to drive any significant change and that the government has made significant strides in combatting terrorism in the region. However, this does not consider the possibility that ending the embargo will simply embolden a regime that frequently violates human rights.

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir is president in name only, and has ruled the country since he took power in 1989. He is not the only autocrat in the region nor is the only government leader that imposes authoritarian rule. The thing that differentiates Al-Bashir from the others is the fact that he is the only head of state in the world that is wanted for genocide. A warrant for his arrest was issued by the International Criminal Court back in 2009. In addition to genocide, he is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. These allegations stem from the role President Bashir played in the tragic Darfur Conflict which killed over 300,000 and displaced over a million. The situation was so dire that then Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to it as genocide back in 2004, marking the first time the US Government has used this term in reference to a conflict. With Al-Bashir’s permission and support an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sudan’s black Christian and Animist tribes. Torture, subjection of women to rape, indiscriminate bombing of civilians, and the intentional contamination of water supplies in non-Arab villages, are all crimes that fill President Al-Bashir’s resume. Human rights doesn’t seem to be a part of the African leader’s vocabulary as he frequently violates international norms without any fear of repercussion. Most recently Amnesty International published a report documenting the use of chemical  weapons by the government throughout 2016 that killed more than 200 people. More concerning should be the revival of the Janjaweed, which was rebranded as the Rapid Support Forces. An act of total defiance, this revival goes directly against a 2004 UN Security Council resolution that called for the militia to be disbanded. Instead, the name of the group was changed and it was incorporated into the state apparatus to personally serve the president.

It would be inaccurate to describe Al-Bashir as the only one responsible. Other prominent regime officials such as former minister of the interior Abdel Hussein and current governor Ahmad Harun currently face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their support and funding of the Janjaweed during their time in office. Without international sanctions in place there is a new opportunity for Al-Bashir and his cronies inflict more damage unless certain regulations are reinstated. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, a part of the Treasury Department, has a list of individuals and companies referred to as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) . Under US law companies are prohibited from conducting business with anyone on the list making this an effective mechanism for targeting the wallets of key officials without negatively harming the populace. Some of the more notable names on the SDN list include Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. However if one were to search for President Al-Bashir they would not find his name listed on the sanctions list nor would they find Abdel Hussein. Two international criminals that are charged with crimes against humanities are somehow not listed. The removal of the embargo allows US companies to export goods to Sudan and make investments in the nation’s economy. On the surface it is hard to see how this is could have negative effects. Ironically, Sudan still remains on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror, which makes it hard for the regime to obtain foreign aid, blocks arms imports and exports, and restricts the importation of goods that could be used for military purposes. Though these measures are in place, the ability for the Sudanese government to earn revenue and reclaim frozen assets will likely just put money into the hands of the regime. Afterall Sudan was ranked the 6th most corrupt nation on earth out of 176 in the 2016 by the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. Unless the aforementioned individuals are included on the SDN list they will likely receive a financial windfall that tightens their grip on society.

Sudan may not be exporting extremism as much as it did during the nineties, but the government is certainly creating an atmosphere of terror domestically especially in Darfur and the southern regions. Though the flames of the Darfur conflict have fanned out a bit Sudan is far from a pluralistic society. Freedom house has declared the African nation not free and Open Doors ranks Sudan as the fifth worst place in the world for Christians due to the Arab supremacist policies enforced by the government. The winners of this deal are not the people of Sudan but the government and companies that stand to benefit from the removal of restrictions. There’s a reason why Khartoum hired D.C. law firm Squire Patton Boggs LLP to lobby the government for $40,000 a month. No one seems to care that millions of dollars will be pumped into the hands of a genocidal authoritarian regime. The Trump Administration is happy Sudan has cut off ties with North Korea, the CIA is content with new partners in the counterterrorism efforts, and businesses are excited with potential profits to be made in oil possessing nation. Yet the plea of the oppressed falls on deaf ears.

Same Problem, New Solution: President Nieto’s Approach to Drug Trafficking

By Naveen Krishnan

From the entertainment realm with Netflix’s Narcos to the political stage with Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, the subject of drug trafficking has grown to demand greater attention within public discourse in America. Annually, drug cartels receive around $19 to $29 billion USD in revenue from sales within the United States causing countries in the Americas to grapple with the destruction caused from their violence. Regarding the issue of combating drug trafficking, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico announced a departure from the policies of his predecessor President Felipe Calderón. As Calderón famously declared war on the cartels in 2006, with a ‘kingpin’ strategy which involved directly targeting the leaders of cartels, Nieto ran on the platform that he aimed to reduce the violence which results from drug trafficking and not engage the cartels directly.

With President Calderón’s initiation of the Mexican Drug War with missions like Operation Michoacán, which deployed federal troops to combat drug cartels, the country suffered approximately 120,000 homicides during his tenure. His efforts resulted in the capture or assassination of twenty-five out of thirty-seven of the top drug leaders within Mexico while the carnage extended into the civilian sphere as nearly one hundred current and former mayors were targeted in cartel violence. The uptake in kidnappings, murders, and general violence due to drug trafficking caused many within the Mexican political spectrum to look for new alternatives to the current policy against the cartels. With the sharp increase in the homicide and no end in sight to the current cycles of violence, the political climate turned to Nieto who advocated an indirect approach to the cartels.

Nieto’s term has brought about a gradual decrease in the homicide rate, (with a recent uptake in 2016 which some individuals attribute to territorial conflict due to Guzman’s recapture by authorities), despite seeing numerous large cases such as the disappearance and presumed murder of forty three college students in 2014. Furthermore, in June 2017 Nieto legalized medical marijuana through a decree with support from the Senate and Lower House of Congress. With regards to other criminal legislation surrounding drugs, Nieto announced efforts to increase the number of grams of drugs in an individual’s possession which would warrant prosecution.

However critics have quickly pointed out that extrajudicial killings by Mexican forces still present a major problem. Yet Nieto has maintained that his hardline strategy was successful and indicates that there will be little change in the future. The capture of “El Chapo” and his subsequent extradition to US authorities has boosted Nieto’s perceived clout within the realm of drug trafficking as he has maintained strict stances on Trump’s proposed border wall and other issues, holding opposition to US military involvement in Mexico with regards to combating drug trafficking. While the demand of drugs in the United States continues to draw from south of the border, there is no immediate end in sight to the violence within Mexico as the world awaits to see how President Nieto will navigate his country into the future.

The Looming Crisis in the Heart of Africa

By Thomas Bell

Africa as a continent has a complicated history, but its modern past has been unstable and violent.  African countries, unable to cope with the ethnic, political, and economic constraints imposed by European imperialism, have proven largely unable to industrialize and modernize since independence.  Civil wars, genocide, and massive poverty are all traits commonly associated with Africa, for good reason.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the DRC, and formerly Zaïre, is one of the better examples of this reality.

The Congolese saga began with colonialism.  Much of the first contacts with Europeans involved trading, eventually for slaves.  Belgian colonial control later spread, leaving the nation subjugated under the weight of direct imperial rule from 1908 to 1960.  Since independence, the DRC has not enjoyed a single peaceful transfer of power, with assassination, civil war, and even invasion being the catalysts for political change.

The current Congolese President, Joseph Kabila, has been in power since January of 2001, with his second and final term under the constitution having expired in December last year.  Under the constitution of the DRC, Kabila is limited to two terms and should have stepped down.  This, however, did not happen; Congo’s electoral authority announced that the election would be postponed to allow time for a census to take place, an invalid reason under the country’s laws.  Predictably, that decision plunged the DRC into chaos.

Protests in December left dozens dead, resulting in an increased police presence and the blockage of social media.  The government has delayed the elections until at least December 2018, though in principle that could stretch further.  In the meantime, mediation by the Catholic Church has proven moderately successful at quelling the immediate threat of violence, while the appointment of an opposition leader as Prime Minister is a step in the right direction.

However, the risks in Congo are horrifyingly apparent.  Past power shifts have not only been violent, but often catastrophically so.  In 1996, the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko’s government by Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and rebel groups left up to a million dead and led to an even more cataclysmic conflict only two years later.  The Second Congo War, linked directly to the 1996 overthrow, killed more people in any conflict since the Second World War.   It brought nine African national armies into conflict in Congo, plus over twenty rebel groups.  It also led to the political involvement of nearly half a dozen other African nations.  It has been appropriately dubbed by historians and journalists as “Africa’s World War”.

Simply put, the Congo is a volatile, dangerous place, where continental warfare was waged barely over a decade ago.  Rebel groups still roam Eastern Congo, killing and raping countless people.  Political instability could lead to the growth of these groups, and perhaps even the involvement of national governments again.  The DRC is a place where widespread, tumultuous violence is commonplace both now and in the recent past.

This is why Kabila’s actions could be so disastrous for Congo.  The lack of a successful transition of power in national history sets a poor blueprint to follow, especially for a leader in power for so long.  Since Mobutu, Congo’s leaders have proven autocratic and unwilling to relinquish control.  Tales of Mobutu’s “Versailles of the jungle”, a spectacular marble palace, is just one example of the corruption that made Congo famous.  If Kabila is seeking a long reign such as that, it could similarly dissolve into disarray and war, just as Mobutu’s did.

But many feel that not enough is being done to stop Kabila.  Belgium and France, two of the most important influencers in Congolese policy, both merely stated that they would review their respective relationships with the DRC.  The United States and the United Kingdom both offered similar statements, if a bit more strongly worded.  The point is, none of the countries most able to hurt the government, both politically and economically, have bothered to take steps in that direction.  A fairly widespread lack of media and public interest among western populations in African affairs likely has something to do with it.  The aforementioned Second Congo War, though being the deadliest conflict since World War II, is seldom discussed in academic settings, let alone the public square.  A history of American inaction in Africa dates back to the Clinton presidency when the administration knew about the Rwandan genocide yet chose to ignore it.  The sad reality is that not enough people in the west care and intentional ignorance could again be the policy of the west.

All the while, Joseph Kabila sits in his massive Kinshasa palace, reportedly playing video games and collecting motorcycles.  Outside those walls, millions live in abject poverty, violence plagues the streets, and an oblivious world looks the other way.  As Congo descends further and further towards chaos, it is anyone’s guess how the crisis will play out.  A country with such a dark history, however, cannot afford to allow that history to repeat itself.

A Problem Like Maria

By Anne Hicks

Just two weeks after Hurricane Irma, Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane Maria, a smaller yet significantly more devastating storm. The destruction of the island, in the wake of Maria’s massive winds and heavy rains has overwhelmed the city’s infrastructure and caused significant damage to the environment and raised concern over the accurate portrayal of death tolls in the aftermath of disaster.

While Irma was a powerful Category 5 hurricane, it passed West and did not directly hit the island of Puerto Rico. Maria, on the other hand, although categorized as a smaller category four hurricane, proved more devastating than Irma because it passed straight over the island and hit at its most intense moment. After Irma, one million Puerto Ricans were left without power. By the time Maria hit on September 20th, thirteen days after Irma, 60,000 of those one million people were still without power. Now, in early October, many of the 3.4 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are still missing power. According to a statement made by the Department of Defense on October 11th, three weeks after Maria, only 16% of the population has electricity. Unfortunately, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority suspects that an outage at a Puerto Rican nuclear plant may have decreased that number to 10%. Maria’s 150 mph winds have destroyed the island’s infrastructure and rendered the people powerless, waterless, and with limited fuel and access to communication services. Without electricity, it is impossible for water to be pumped into homes for drinking, bathing, and flushing toilets. Access to clean and fresh water has become a predominant problem. Because the energy system on the island was already poorly established, the storm destroyed an estimated 80% of the island’s power lines and it is projected to take from four to six months to restore power. It is understood that the implications of such prolonged power loss are many for a hot, tropical climate that will be left without air conditioning or electric water pumps, hospitals running on generators and limited fuel, and for anyone attempting to leave the territory.

All of the infrastructures on the island has been shocked. Because the main dam was structurally damaged in the storm, water supply became immediately threatened. Without electricity, generators on the island are relying on gas and a shortage of fuel and difficulty distributing fuel has become a major concern of officials and residents. As previously mentioned, the poor management of the government-owned power company has complicated the reconstruction of connection to power lines. It is approximated that 80% of the “transmission and distribution infrastructure” has been lost. Further complicating the mess, the fact that Puerto Rico is an island has made it extremely difficult to deliver relief. In response to the limited operation of hospitals, the U.S. Navy brought its floating hospital, the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico last week.

In addition to massively damaging the territory’s infrastructure, Hurricane Maria destroyed much of El Yunque, the only tropical forest in the U.S. and one of the island’s main tourist attractions, bringing in 1.2 million visitors each year. The overwhelming defoliation of the forest poses risks not only for the animals who inhabit the forest but for the people who rely on the health of the ecosystem to direct the water. Research suggests that 20% of the water used for drinking on the island comes from the capturing of water by plants in these forests which direct the water towards streams and rivers. The efficiency of this process is now at risk, especially considering the destruction of tree mosses like Bryophytes that used to help collect water that is drained into rivers. Animals who made their habitats in the forest, especially birds and bats, will face a long battle to establish new homes and sources of food. Although much of the forest vegetation has been decimated, the pre-established biodiversity of the forest is suspected to aid in the recovery of the ecosystem over time.

An emerging concern in the wake of Hurricane Maria is over the reported death toll and how that number might vary across sources.  How fatality counts are decided, and when certain deaths are deemed directly related to the hurricane have become topics of debate. The cause of death is left to be determined by the individual’s coroner or doctor, making many deaths that have resulted from the hurricane instead labeled as the result of other contributing health factors. The way a death is interpreted, then, is often open to a variety of conclusions. This grey area is perpetuated further by the infrastructural incapacity to accurately count death tolls, the hesitance of families of illegal immigrants to report deaths, and the politics behind the numbers reported. President Trump, for example, made a point of comparing the low death toll in Puerto Rico to that of Hurricane Katrina in order to defend the administration’s response to disaster relief efforts. In a developing country, on the other hand, the death toll may be dramatized to muster more support and donations for relief efforts. Regardless of the motivation, it is clear that death tolls for this disaster and disasters to come may never be truly telling of the actual situation on the ground.

Hurricane Maria has devastated the people of the island of Puerto Rico, leaving in its wake the destruction of the territory’s infrastructure and environment, as well as raising questions about the ability of any government to report death tolls accurately after a disaster has occurred. As the territory begins to rebuild, it will be important to continue to support Puerto Ricansand the environment that they call home.

The Continual Cold War Redux

By Noah Butler

On December 26, 1991, the USSR officially dissolved when the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union voted the country out of existence. Since that historic day, which saw the end of one of the world’s most powerful nations and one of the two global superpowers, the United States has continued to pursue an antagonistic foreign policy towards Russia. Many U.S. legislators (if not practically all, considering a July 98-2 Senate vote to slap more sanctions on Russia) have actively rallied against and painted Russia as the biggest threat to global peace, only behind ISIS and North Korea.

Why should the United States not work with Russia or try to remedy relations that have long been neglected? Cooperation with Russia would be in the short and long term benefit of the U.S. by helping combat terrorism originating from the Middle East, creating more diplomatic unity on things such as pressuring North Korea, and stunting the ascendency of China.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency saw an uncertain future for U.S. foreign policy, especially on the issue of Russia. Candidate Trump promised that he would attempt to remedy relations with the Russian Federation and seek partnership with President Putin. This came much to the dismay of neoconservatives and neoliberals on both the left and right who have continuously beat the drums of war whenever Russia is mentioned. One of President Trump’s main reasons for working with Russia is the fight against terrorism. This is common sense to anyone with a pragmatic view of the world. Defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq is a top priority so why would we make it more difficult on ourselves just because some perceive Russia as a bad actor and our eternal enemy? President Bashar al-Assad has been painted as a vicious tyrant by Western media but he brings a strong and stable hand to a region wrought by volatility–acting as a stalwart defense against the expansion of terrorism. The previous U.S. policy of helping Syrian rebels was thankfully ended because it would have led to a similar situation like Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell if Assad was ousted. Coordinating has already proved fruitful with a July 2017 regional ceasefire brokered by the U.S. and Russia–reached by Trump and Putin during their G-20 meeting on July 7–that has largely held even when multiple Western analysts predicted it would fail. Working with Russia on things such as coordinated military strikes on ISIS targets would hasten the collapse of their rapidly shrinking territorial possessions.

The United States would create a formidable diplomatic front with Russia if relations were improved. Russia and China are North Korea’s main and most important economic partners. Both nations believe that if North Korea were to fall, the South would assume control of the peninsula thus putting the U.S. right on their respective borders. This would not be in either of their interests because of their current relations with the United States. If the U.S. were on more friendly terms with Russia, they would be more inclined–if not compelled–to completely cut off North Korea in wake of their recent belligerent stance along with nuclear and missile tests. This would effectively put their economy on life support and would place enormous pressure on China for being their last substantial trading partner. This leads into my next point that an alliance with Russia would be almost a nightmare scenario for China. Being surrounded by U.S. allies: India to the South, Japan and South Korea to the East, and Russia to the North, would greatly hinder the expansionist policy of the current Chinese administration. The U.S. would be able to refocus its efforts away from the Middle East and pivot to the Asia-Pacific region as President Obama attempted to do in his last few years in office with things such as the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). President Obama had the right intentions to refocus U.S. efforts in the Pacific because of China’s expansionist moves in the South China Sea and their attempts to form partnerships in the region; however, hostilities with both China and Russia greatly hinders the extent of U.S. influence in the region. Even though Russia is no longer the superpower it was, it is still one of the most powerful global actors and has been ascendant under Putin.

To those who believe that we should not work with Russia, I say that Russia has only been acting in their best interest and has not done anything to directly harm the interests of the U.S. Arguing that Russia should not be trusted because they meddled in our elections is pure political posturing since Russia did not change or alter anyone’s vote; also, it is quite hypocritical considering the U.S. has meddled in other countries’ elections for years. Russia’s annexation of Crimea was surprising in the international arena, but is of no means reason to isolate a nation claiming what was historically theirs. Officially acknowledging Crimea as a part of Russia, advocating for the return of Russia to the G8, and rolling back economic sanctions would put the U.S. and Russia on a path to a mutual relationship of cooperation and possibly friendship.

Trump’s Habit of Abandonment

By Jessica McHale

Traditionally, American presidents have encouraged diplomacy and peace through treaties and international agreements before resorting to threats or violence, as that is one of the most significant shared values demonstrated by democracies (regardless of whether the state being dealt with is also a democracy.)  However, American foreign policy has experienced a powerful and incredibly dangerous shift away from this established practice since the inauguration of President Trump. Although Trump’s foreign policy endeavors have often remained unexplained and sporadic, one focus of his has proved consistent throughout his 8 months in office: his habit of retreat, which runs contrary to America’s historical precedent for international affairs. This switch in America’s approach to foreign policy is incredibly harmful. From his abandonment of peaceful dispute resolution frameworks to his withdrawal from previously established international treaties, agreements, and organizations, Trump is actively weakening the United States and its position as a global hegemon.

To justify his international approach, Trump claims that Americans need to reclaim American jobs and set the example that America must put itself first. He discredits the notion that the United States has some sort of moral responsibility to help other, less fortunate states (which are often in their position due to toxic Western imperialist endeavors), mostly relying on the argument that American innovation and economic advancement is hindered by international interference.

Firstly, prematurely retracting from diplomatic means and resulting to threats and eventual violence posits significant economic consequences. Not only is war incredibly costly, but international isolation and protectionist policies are also economically harmful to the United States considering how heavily we rely on necessary resources (including human capital) from other states to fuel our own economy as well as provide raw materials and final goods to American companies. The current international world order is remarkably characterized by state-to-state dependency and one state’s reliance on another for economic means is not as zero sum as Trump would like to argue. The more the United States presents itself as unwilling to compromise with other states and promote peaceful decision-making, the less other countries are going to commit to economic partnerships that benefit the American economy.

In addition to economic considerations, Trump’s foreign policy agenda of retreat also demonstrates severe political repercussions. His complete dismissal of participating in any method of international cooperation that does not directly impact the United States in a positive manner has cut important strategic political allies and will continue to do so. As the United States has historically served as an exemplar of democracy and diplomacy, other states will soon begin to mock the U.S.’s new approach of disruptive behavior and political discord which can potentially become the new norm, resulting in little urgency to promote cooperation. The loss of life due to war and intrastate disagreements over politics is just one of the many severe consequences of states pursuing policies purely according to their own interests. At its worst, this tactic can lead to a dystopian disregard of state autonomy. At its best, it leads to a superiority complex and ignores the desperate need of assistance for states victim to extreme poverty, violence, and turmoil. Although cooperation and the prospect of peace through diplomatic means is one of the core tenets of liberalism, pro-Trump realists should also discover the need to eschew support for Trump’s routine abandonment, as mediation and partnership increasingly become a matter vital to state security and survival, and as Trump’s retreat has often allowed for other countries to gain economically and politically.

Trump’s policy of retreat is also socially harmful. His persistence in building a wall along the US-Mexico border, blocking US travel from Middle Eastern citizens, and rejecting DACA have demonstrated his disregard for foreigners, especially those who can offer little to the United States and who have historically been discriminated against. This sort of retreat has caused especially harmful relations regarding race and citizenship status throughout the United States. Whether he intended a negative impact or not, his desertion within this realm of foreign policy has caused severe domestic issues aimed toward normalizing harmful behaviors toward immigrants and minorities, especially those connected in some way to the countries he attempts to distance from the United States.

The arguments put forth by Trump and his supporters that foreigners and international involvement are hindering the U.S. economy are simply untrue. Not only do immigrants complete a significant portion of jobs within the United States economy deemed as unwanted by Americans, but they also (unfortunately) provide this work for lower wages than American citizens, allowing companies to benefit from larger profits which ultimately supports our overall GDP. Additionally, as was discovered after the disturbance ensued by Trump’s desire to alter the HB1 visa provision (predominantly from tech companies that chiefly rely on the minds of foreign engineers and innovators), the American economy is greatly dependent on foreign employment for our own success and technological advancement over other states. Ultimately, Trump’s tendency to retreat from the global community actually does not in fact put “America First,” but rather it weakens our stance within the global community while providing economic, political, and social consequences.

The Fragile State of U.S. Cybersecurity Policy: Is it enough?

By Sarah Taylor

Google the word “hack” these days and thousands of hits come up regarding large, multinational companies being hit by attacks that you think shouldn’t have happened in the first place. In the current media frenzy focusing on the North Korean missile crisis, hurricanes and natural disasters, and humanitarian crises, cybersecurity threats and attacks fly relatively under the radar. Only when the attack threatens an election or millions of identity thefts does the news of a detrimental hack make headlines. Most recently, the Equifax hack released the private information of 143 million of Americans that resulted in many having their identity stolen and leaving their credit ruined. The United States has been the subject of thousands and thousands of cybersecurity threats, and yet the policy (both domestic and foreign) regulating them is relatively undeveloped. The investigation into Russian cyber-meddling in the 2016 Presidential election seems as though it has stalled at best. At worst, it has been completely forgotten in the sidetracking hearings of former F.B.I. Director James Comey. What should have been a hallmark case in foreign cyber attacks turned into a political tête-à-tête.

Cyber attacks are nearly impossible to predict, and even harder to prosecute after the fact, as there are no fingerprints or DNA  evidence left behind in a purely digital invasion. Thus, the policy surrounding cybersecurity is notably lacking in specificity, especially with regards to foreign entities performing the attacks. Often times, the attacks are a result of pure human error, which makes policy formulation that much harder. For example, in the Russian hack into the DNC emails, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta clicked a link to reset his password that he thought was sent by “the Gmail team”. This very basic phishing email gave Russian hackers full access to Podesta’s emails and sent the final months of the 2016 presidential campaign into a frenzy that included the word “emails” being exhausted in every debate. By the time the breach was even discovered, the irreparable damage had already been done.

Thirty-nine states have found evidence of invasions by Russian hackers into software systems and voter databases, using this data to attempt to delete or alter votes. While this is clearly an extreme situation, little has been done to our relationship with Russia to ensure this doesn’t happen again, or to at least show that we are taking this as seriously as we should be. The implications of Russia hacking into the election are far-reaching. If they are able to alter voter data to alter to outcome of the election, then the entire integrity of the American political system is at danger. It is as though the fears of the Red Scare and the anti-communism nightmares of the mid-twentieth century are being realized as technology has made them an available possibility. Currently, the Department of Homeland Security has a “Framework” for private sector businesses to investigate and respond to cyber threats. Most multi-national corporations have an information security department that handles these matters as well. However, the United States’ body of foreign policy is lacking specific measures to identify and stop or respond to attacks from foreign nations that have malicious intentions. These attacks are especially dangerous when the attacks are backed by the government, as is suspected in the Russian election intrusion.

While I argue that Homeland Security should develop a similar framework with more specific details on how the United States’ public and private sectors should respond to foreign attacks, it is understandable how this goal can be significantly roadblocked by gaps in capabilities and detection. For obvious reasons, government entities are not quick to lay claim to an attack, especially when it impacts the political integrity of another country or hundreds of millions of Americans. DHS is making positive strides in identifying potential threats. Most recently, they identified a Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab, as using antivirus software to spy on the government. The firm likely has ties to the Kremlin. Though these are steps in the right direction, these incidences are still found when it is likely too late. In the case of Kaspersky, their ties to the Kremlin should have been an automatic red flag and disallowed business in or with the United States. Cybersecurity threats by foreign nations have been proven to have irreparable and unthinkable damage on the core of the United States, whether it be a presidential election or the credit of half the country.

Corruption in the Rainbow Nation

By James Raubenheimer

The idealism, optimism, and hope that spurred from post-apartheid South Africa brought the country ahead and away from its recent dark past. Such a trend can be seen across many countries and history such as global idealism following World War I and the Cold War. In recent years, forces of corruption have risen in the ranks of the South African government. The corruption that exists is only a symptom of several underlying problems. The main issues identified are lack of education, widespread economic inequality, and a lack of government infrastructure. The Rainbow Nation has focused on integrating those damaged by the apartheid regime and uniting the country after the racial divide.  However, post-apartheid South Africa has yet to fully develop a new era of governance, and this change needs to happen in order to secure a stable and successful future for South Africa.

South Africa is a fledgling democracy currently ruled by the African National Conference. The party has won all of the post-1994(post-apartheid) elections. The one-party state nature of the South African government and the people’s historical support for the ANC has led to the numerous elections where the ANC nominated candidate cruises to a victory. South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma, is infamous for laughing off all questions as seen in the above comic. As President Zuma states “my laughing’s not hurtful, it’s healthy” even when this laughter is in response to serious issues ranging from South Africa’s drought to unemployment to mob murders.  Most notoriously though President Zuma has received 783 payments worth more than 4 million rand from his financial advisor and his associate companies. Zuma’s financial advisor has also been convicted of two corruption charges relating to the cover-up of an investigation into a previous arms deal. Surprisingly, corruption charges have yet to be brought up against Zuma amidst years of an alternating between corruption and cover-up.

The most current political scandal in South African revolves around the wealthy and elite Gupta family. SAP, the German software corporation, has leaked emails showing that the company is involved in paying the Gupta family to gain key business positions. Four executives in the company have been fired as it has launched further investigation into the scandal. The chief executive of Bell Pottinger, a British relations firm, stepped down and four workers were fired amidst an investigation into the firm’s connection with the Gupta family.  The Guptas have been accused of using their ties to Jacob Zuma and the South African government to secure contracts for the Gupta’s mining empire. The Gupta’s business is thriving due to special government assistance, and there exists a great tone of secrecy regarding this issue.

The South African government has a history of addressing complex issues with simple solutions, which inevitably results in many unintended consequences. If people are poor, the government prints more money. If people are not getting educated, the government makes education free.  If the employment rate is low, the government makes government jobs. In some countries, such solutions can be implemented very successfully, but South Africa lacks the infrastructure to ensure such solutions are implemented properly. This leads to a lack of successfully implemented solutions and a government, which refuses to hold accountability for failure. A government, which refuses to hold accountability will inevitability abuse its power and stretch the boundaries of what is considered honest and just. A non-transparent government lacks trust and the South African government lacks transparency.

The African Union is tasked with promoting unity, solidarity, and creating a prosperous Africa. In order to fix the widespread corruption prevalent not only in South Africa but existent in many African states, the leaders of African nations need to be held accountable for their actions. The African Union can serve as a body, which governs and supports the mission in order to help African nations prosper. A government in which officials are not held accountable for their actions cannot possibly prosper even with widespread support and a commitment to succeed.

In a speech in 2013 at a memorial for South African soldiers, President Zuma stated: “The problem in South Africa is that everybody wants to run the country. The government must be given the space to do its work of running the country to implement the policies of the ruling party that was voted into office by millions of our people.” This mindset in governance results in an excess of power given to those government officials ruling the country and an increase in power taken away from the citizens of the country. A cloak is placed over the inner workings of a government, which results in secrecy and allows for the abuse of power. In order for South Africa to reach its full potential, the issue of corruption must be addressed first in order to ensure other solutions to prevalent problems can be implemented.