The Expanding ISIS Threat

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack against a bank in Afghanistan, killing at least 33 people. ISIS claimed the attack was targeting government officials cashing paychecks. If ISIS is responsible for the attack, it would represent a significant expansion in the organization’s reach, which had historically been confined largely to Syria and Iraq. It also highlights the ongoing challenges faced in providing security in Afghanistan.

The expansion of ISIS also highlights a shift in the balance between terror organizations, with al Qaeda apparently in decline and ISIS clearly on the rise.

What do you think? What factors account for the increasing reach of ISIS? Has ISIS replaced al Qaeda as the primary terror threat in the region? Why? And what, if anything, should be done to address ISIS’s growing reach?

Public Education on Ebola

The actor Isaiah Washington has launched an Ebola education campaign using football (soccer) to educate the world about the disease. The Ebola Ball Kick Challenge is intended to draw attention to the ongoing plight, which has caused an estimated 10,000 deaths in West Africa and created an estimated 16,000 orphans And the regional economy has been devastated, with an estimated  $1.6 billion in one of the world’s poorest regions.

What do you think? Will the Ebola Ball Kick Challenge have the impact Washington hopes? Why? What, if anything, should be done to address the spread of Ebola in West Africa?

Dealing with Xenophobia in South Africa

As the economic situation in South Africa deteriorates, anti-foreigner violence has intensified. Migrants and refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere have been subject to attack. Hundreds of refugee have fled their homes. Foreign shopkeepers have seen their stores attacked and destroyed. And at least three foreigners have been murdered in recent days.

Protests erupted in the port city of Durban last week, as immigrants marching on city hall to demand protection and an end to the violence were met with anti-immigrant demonstrations. Violence intensified after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini allegedly told migrants to go home. Many South Africans believe immigrants drive down wages and increase unemployment, which currently stands at almost 25 percent—and is considerably higher among young South Africans. And while prosecutors announced 17 arrests over the weekend to address the violence, many immigrants continue to live in fear of further attack, seeking refuge in sports stadiums and police stations.

What do you think? How should the South African government address the xenophobic violence plaguing the country? What parallels can you draw between the debate over immigration in South Africa and that of the United States? And what might be done to address questions surrounding immigration in both countries?

Evaluating the Impact of Defense Spending

The Pentagon is again being criticized for wasteful spending. There’s some irony in this accusation, as battles between Congress and the Pentagon have frequently resulted in billions of dollars in spending on defense programs supported by Congress but opposed by the Pentagon. But a story in the LA Times this week, the Pentagon has spent more than $10 billion to develop a missile defense system capable of defending the United States from ballistic missile attack. Despite massive spending, no viable system has yet been developed. The Pentagon maintains that the task given the group is enormous—akin to shooting a bullet with another bullet—and that the spending so far provided valuable research advances that will someday lead to a viable system.

At the same time, critics of the missile defense program—and of much of the Congressional authorizations for Pentagon research—focus too heavily on outdated threats. They argue that the most significant threats to national security come from individual terrorist cells sneaking weapons into the United States or threatening our allies, not from more traditional nuclear or conventional threats from countries like Russia or North Korea. Consequently, spending they argue should shift to reflect the new global reality.

What do you think? In an era of declining defense spending, does research on missile defense systems make sense? How should the United States prioritize its defense spending? And what threats do you think the United States needs to address most immediately?

Peru’s Political Instability

President Ollanta Humala will be forced to nominate a new Prime Minister to head an unfriendly Congress after his previous Prime Minister, Ana Jara, lost a confidence vote in the legislature. Jara was Humala’s sixth prime minister since his election in 2011, and his inability to retain a prime minister is widely seen as a signal of Humala’s waning political popularity.

In Peru’s semi-presidential system, the President is elected to a single, five-year term as head of state and head of government. The President nominates a Prime Minister, who must be confirmed by the Congress and who has specific areas of responsibility, including overseeing the country’s intelligence service. And that is the root of the current crisis. Under Jana’s tenure, it was discovered that the national intelligence service was collecting information and monitoring many of the country’s business leaders and political opposition figures. These accusations generated considerably hostility in an already unfriendly Congress and ultimately led to the confidence vote.

What do you think? Is the confidence measure an effective tool in maintaining political accountability? If you were a member of the legislature in Peru, would you have voted in favor of the confidence measure and against Humala and Jana? Or would you have supported the government? Why?

The Politics of the Iranian Nuclear Talks

Ongoing talks between the six parties (the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) and Iran were extended one day to provide time for the parties to reach agreement. The talks are intended to establish a framework for ongoing negotiations around Iran’s nuclear program. But domestic American politics have often interfered with the talks. Republican critics of the Obama administration have criticized the idea of talking with Iran at all, sending a letter to hardliners in the Iranian government suggesting the US Congress would not approve any deal  and inviting Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address Congress without discussing the invitation with the White House.

Republican critics have suggested that the talks are another example of a feckless and misguided foreign policy of the Obama White House, and that the United States should take a more aggressive stance on Iran, intensifying sanctions and further isolating the Iranian regime if it is unwilling to offer wider concessions. The Obama administration counters that real progress is being made as a result of the talks.

What do you think? Should the United States continue to work under the six party framework to pursue a nuclear deal with Iran? Would such a deal be effective at limiting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons? Or should the United States take a more aggressive stance with Iran? Which approach would be more effective in achieving the US goal of a nuclear-weapons free Iran? Why?

Elections in Nigeria

Elections are taking place in Nigeria this weekend, pitting incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan against Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler.  As is often the case in Nigerian politics, the election highlights some of the sharp internal divisions in the country. Jonathan is a Christian from the southern part of the country, while Buhari is a Muslim from the north. Overlaying the election, Nigeria has faced ongoing unrest, particularly in the north, where the terrorist organization Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked villages, kidnapped civilians, and attempted to destabilize the regime and impose its own system of rule. The government’s response has been sharply criticized by many in the country—particularly those in the north—as entirely insufficient.

The election this weekend is expected to be close, and the government has imposed a strict voter identification system employing identification cards and biometric scans in an effort to stem fraud. But critics contend that the system itself is being employed to make it more difficult for critics of the regime to vote.

What do you think? Is the government of Nigeria taking sufficient steps to ensure that all citizens can vote? Is the voter identification system—and accompanying rulings limiting the ability of internally displaced person in the country to vote—an effort to retain control in a sharply contested election? Or is it an effort to ensure the integrity of the voting process? Why?