Saturday, November 9, 2013

The top international problems that will face the world in the 21st century.

This was an assignment I had to do for gov last week, and I went a little overboard. So here it is.

The five top international problems of the 21st century:

1) Destabilization of key areas due to global climate change.

Much of the human population lies within a few hundred meters of sea level. Many of the largest cities in the world- New York, Sao Paulo, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Miami, Dhaka, and others lie right on the coast. Thus, when sea level begins rising due to global warming, these areas, where perhaps ½ of the world population lives, will be the first affected. Billions, perhaps trillions will need to be spent to pay for levees, floodwalls, and such in order to keep the people in these areas safe. For wealthy countries such as the Us and Japan, this will be a fiscal nuisance, money that could be better spent elsewhere. However, for poverty-stricken countries such as Bangladesh, Nigeria, Vietnam, and others, the money needed for these projects is non-existent, leaving these countries vulnerable to rising tides. Hurricanes and cyclones will increase, both in numbers and intensity, leaving the inhabitants of these countries even more destitute then they are currently. Poverty breeds instability, and the developed world may see a reaction grow amongst poorer developing countries. Finally, already there have been record droughts in places as diverse as California, Australia, and Russia, causing greater strains on agriculture to feed the increasing number people.

We need to work to minimize the effects of climate change by doing our part to reduce greenhouse gases.

2) The Middle East

The situation in the middle east is not unlike early Bismarckian Europe. Entangling alliances between populous countries such as Israel, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, coupled with a poor population and nationalistic tendencies, makes it increasingly likely that a major crisis will occur involving the entire middle east sometime this century. The possibilities are endless for a crisis: Iran obtaining nuclear capabilities, frightening both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia supporting and arming jihadi militants in the Syrian civil war, against Iranian-backed Assad. A fight to the death in Egypt between Mubarakesque military forces and Morsi-supporting islamists in Egypt, which has left Israel guarded. Turkey taking a nationalistic stance against non-Muslims. The Arab Spring was a huge simplifier. It brought to power popularly-elected governments in many countries. However, this has opened the door to the possibility of a popular war, one caused by nationalism and fanned by extremism. The protagonists are united and yet divided. Yet the field is beginning to simplify, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey drifting away from U.S. influence with Iran drifting in a favorable direction. Much as in World War I, we may see that unambiguous alliances and loyalties are the catalysts for conflict.

There is not much we can do in the Middle East, besides working for popular stability in the gegion, nd by trying to defuse the Iranian threat via diplomatic means.

3) Pandemic

It is quite possible that we will be facing a worldwide pandemic this century. Innovation on antibiotics has slowed to a trickle, and some diseases, such as SARS, have become resistant to most of our vaccines. Sanitation remains at low efficacy in most poor areas of the world. Overcrowding persists in areas such as Mumbai, Cairo, Kinshasa- perfect conditions for a virulent disease to appear and grow. With globalization comes the fact that diseases can be brought to other countries by plane, ship, or automobile, increasing the ability of a disease to spread rapidly before precautions can be taken.Such a disease could potentially dwarf the Spanish flu of 1918, due to the above factors.

We need to continue developing new antibiotics in anticipation of a major pandemic. This effort could be led by the NIH or the WHO.

4) Foreign relations between the three superpowers: Russia, China, and the US.

Relations between Russia and the United States took a turn for the worse this year, after American whistleblower Edward Snowden escaped to Russia, and the United States and Russia took opposites sides in the Syrian Civil War. Considering the ambitions of both U.S. Presidents in general as well as Russian leader Vladimir Putin, it is possible that the post Cold War detente could deteriorite into truly icy relations.

Relations with China are also somewhat strained, as china’s economy continues to grow during the recession, despite recent signs of slowing down. It will be interesting to see whether or not China manages to make the transition to a consumer driven economy, as opposed to the produce-driven economy of today. It’s growing power has begun to rattle Japan and South Korea, among other nations, such as its claim to the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

We need to take a harder line stance on Chinese labor conditions as well as human rights abuses in both Russia and China.

5) Growing extremism in Europe

The most recent recession has wracked europe particularly hard. Many countries, such as Greece, Ireland, and Spain, have been forced to implement austerity. Unfortunately, this has led to a further tanking of the economy, with unemployment reaching 25% in Greece. The general misery has led to an increase in extremist groups who decry austerity. In Greece, they are represented by the extreme leftist party SYRIZA, and on the right by neo-fascist party Golden Dawn.

Currently at stake is the survival of the European Union. If conditions become worse in Greece, a far right group, possibly buttressed by Golden Dawn, could withdraw Greece from the EU. This could possibly lead to the demise of the EU as a working institution. The various European countries would begin competing against each other, rather than with each other, and nationalism could rise to the forefront yet again.

Golden Dawn has been outlawed by the Greek government on account of corruption. However, it is only a cover to the real problem. So long as destabilization continues, we will continue to see a weak EU, and a weak EU means a weak US.

Austerity must end. The primary goal now should not be to cut debt, but to take the European Union out of recession.

Friday, October 18, 2013

2014 Senate Elections, Part II

I’m late with this, but here goes: the second part of the 2014 senate landscape:

Iowa: Senator Tom Harkin is retiring next year, leaving an open race in the state. Democrats have largely coalesced around Representative Bruce Braley, while Republicans have vague “no-name” candidates in the running. This is looking increasingly likely to be a democratic hold.

Electorally, Iowa is a very unique state. It is a very white state, yet it is always more democratic than the rest of the nation. In fact, it was the only state outside of New England where Barack Obama won a majority of the white vote in 2012. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, Iowa has a heavily unionized history, similar to neighboring states Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. The eastern portion of the state is culturally similar to Minnesota, in that many Iowans vote democratic because of the labor union influence. The first settlers in Iowa also arrived from the Midwest, giving it a closer connection to those states.

Finally, Iowa democrats tend to have a populist streak, as evidenced by Senator Harkin and to a lesser extent Representative Braley. They tend to not talk about social issues that much, but focus on economic issues, such as unions, the social safety net, and higher taxes on the rich. So, despite the fact that Iowa has one of the whitest populations in the nation, it still is comfortably democratic for the moment.

In addition, republicans faced a recruitment fail this year. Their top possibility was Representative Tom Latham, a popular, politically savvy establishment republican. However, early polls showed him losing in the primary to firebrand tea party representative Steve King, and so dropped out. King also declined to run, and so currently there is a 6-way primary amongst mostly no-names.

Iowa republicans dug themselves into a deeper hole by adopting a rule saying that if no candidate gains 35% in a primary, then a convention will automatically be held to determine the nominee. This is risky for the republicans because the Iowa GOP is largely controlled by libertarians in the mold of Ron Paul, who will probably select one of their own as the candidate to face Braley. This would probably be attorney Matt Whitaker, far from the most electable candidate in the primary.

Ultimately, barring a republican wave, it is safe to say that Representative Braley will be the new junior senator from Iowa next year.

Kentucky: This will be a very important race to watch. Current senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is facing a challenge from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

McConnell is a fixture in Kentucky politics much as Harry Reid is a fixture in Nevada politics: he is very much disliked, however he runs a powerful machine and is adept at bringing home pork barrel spending to the state. He is also known as a powerful fundraiser and a ruthless campaigner: most of his opponents have not re-entered politics after losing to McConnell.

However, Grimes is a significantly stronger candidate than most previous McConnell challengers, and appears to be a money magnet (she outraised McConnell in the last fiscal quarter). In addition, she is another red-state democrat with a family name: her father was Jerry Lundergan, former president of the Democratic party and one of the foremost power brokers in the state. Coupled with the fact that McConnell’s favorability ratings have rarely broken the 44% mark in the past few years, and that McConnell himself is facing a wealthy and well-funded tea party challenger for the primary, means this will probably be a close race.

Ultimately, McConnell is slightly favored. He has been much quieter this year than in previous years, and indeed helped craft a negotiation with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to end the government shutdown. He has formed an alliance with Libertarian power-brokers in the state, including senator Rand Paul, who in 2010 upset McConnell’s protege Trey Greyson for the GOP nomination. If the national environment shifts against the Republicans next year, perhaps due to another government shutdown McConnell may very well lose. However, the powers of incumbency are very strong, especially for someone as entrenched as McConnell, so it would be foolish to underestimate his chances.

Louisiana: In my opinion, I think this is going to be the bellweather, the most important senate race next year. The incumbent is democratic senator Mary Landrieu. She is a prominent “blue dog” or conservative democrat, and has made a name for herself by breaking with the party on certain issues, notably oil subsidies. She is also an extremely savvy campaigner, and is one of the few blue dogs who I feel is intelligent. She was elected in 1996, and faced tough reelection campaigns  in 2002 and 2008.

Her most likely opponent is Bill Cassidy, a GOP representative from West Louisiana. It appears that Cassidy however has not consolidated support; he is facing at least two primary challengers.

Louisiana is notable for holding a jungle general election. This is similar to California’s jungle primaries, where all candidates are placed on the same ballot, and the top two candidates advance. In addition, if no candidate reaches 50% of the vote, there is a runoff between the top two finishers.

These two rules will probably have a large effect on which side is victorious. Since multiple republicans will be competing against Landrieu, the chances that one of the less electable candidates pushes past Cassidy to the runoff with Landrieu. However, runoffs tend to have more conservative electorates as solid democratic groups such as African-Americans and young people stay home. Thus, it is quite possible that Landrieu would lose the runoff while winning a plurality in the jungle election.

My gut feeling is that Landrieu will barely survive. She has won three elections already, including a runoff in 2002, and has a famous last name (both her brother and father served in politics). Cassidy is a strong challenger, but he will likely be hobbled by overzealous challenges from the right. Of course, Landrieu’s chances decrease if she is forced into a runoff, but even then she could possibly count on a coalition of New Orleans blacks along with whites from Acadiana to beat a conservative opponent.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Iran's new president, and implications forthe nuclear community.

I was originally going to write about free-trade this week. However, the spectacle at the UN General Assembly offered instructive hints about a thawing between Iran and the Western nations.

Historically, the beginning of tensions between Iran and the United States began when the United States orchestrated a coup to overthrow Iran’s elected leader Mohammad Mosaddegh and the consolidation of power by the Shah Reza Pahlavi. Pahlavi was then overthrown in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution, which installed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the supreme leader of Iran. Iranian-American tensions have been tense since the Revolution, such that until Friday, the president of the United States and the president of Iran had never communicated by phone.

Pro-reform presidents have been elected in Iran, most notably Mohammad Khatami, who was in office from 1997 to 2005. Unfortunately, none have been able to break fundamental deadlock in Iran-American relations. Ultimately, the current Ayatollah Ali Khameini took negotiating power away from Khatami, and ultimately Khatami was replaced by the fundamentalist, Holocaust-denying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

What we have now is a situation where both Iran and the United States want peace and stability, but neither quite trust the other to deliver, and with both sides containing anti-detente factions. In the United States, President Barack Obama definitely wants normalized Iran-US relations. However, Obama is proceeding cautiously to avoid angering opposition Republicans, who could accuse him of being soft towards the Iranian regime. In addition, Obama’s quest for peace has been complicated by Israel, most notably Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Since Obama’s ascension to the presidency, his relations with Netanyahu have been strained, and Netanyahu has publicly voiced cynicism regarding possible negotiations with the Iranian government.

Before discussing the political situation Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran, finds himself in, I’ll briefly describe the election that brought him to power. Rouhani was one among eight candidates “approved” by Ayatollah Khameini to run in this year’s presidential election. Originally one of two “moderates” running; the other moderate, Mohammed Aref, dropped out early and endorsed him. Rouhani went on to win a surprise 51% majority in the first round of balloting, enough to avoid a runoff. This result indicates that perhaps Iranians have had enough of the current norm of economic sanctions and inflammatory rhetoric, and wish to be more open to the country. Iranians as a whole are more affluent and better educated than other areas in the Middle East outside of Israel. They also are more moderate towards Western culture than many other areas in the Middle East.

That said, the main reason I think Rouhani can bring about negotiations in a way Khatami did not is that he is overall a better political strategist. He has spent several years inside the government, most notably as head of a negotiating team in charge of working in the West to halt the Iranian nuclear program. while Khatami fell from favor, thus paving the way for Ahmadinejad to take power, Rouhani has maintained close cooperation with Khameini. As such, he will be able to make politically more risky moves than Khatami was.

Of course, the problem with this scenario is this: the office of president has relatively little power in Iran; most power ultimately resides with Khameini. And there is no guarantee that Khameini wants better negotiations with the West and with Israel. But consider this: the value of the Iranian rial dropped 80% between 2011 and 2012, and oil exports have similarly plunged. Sooner or later Khameini would end up cooperating, lest he fall as the Shah did due to political discontent. We may be seeing the fruits of the economic sanctions that took effect 2-3 years ago.

Of course, there are still hard-line factions within the Iranian government, such as the Revolutionary Guards, who are still staunchly opposed to improved relations with the West. It will be Rouhani’s job to maneuver through the hardline elements of the Iranian government to set up better relations. Early indications are that he is succeeding.

Of key importance in the negotiations with the new government of Iran will be Iran’s nuclear program. Despite Iranian claims that their program is solely for nuclear power, political leaders in both the United States and Israel will still insist on a halt of uranium enrichment operations by the Iranian government.

It is really hard to determine conclusively whether or not Iran is in fact trying to manufacture a nuclear weapon. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Iranian centrifuges have only produced a handful of 20% enriched uranium,  well below the 80-90% required to synthesize a nuclear weapon. In addition, much of the uranium they do have is being converted into uranium oxide rods, which cannot be easily enriched.

The proposition Rouhani made at the UN General Assembly meeting last week is interesting- he called for Israel to enter into an accord with Iran where both sides would agree not to develop nuclear weapons. Israel still has not “confirmed” that they have nuclear weapons, but it is very certain that they do. Along with Iran, they have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is a smart debating point for Rouhani, knowing that the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be forced into a spot. Netanyahu is loath to weaken his bargaining position with Iran (he has repeatedly threatened to bomb Iran should they continue with their nuclear program), yet at the same time should he reject this olive branch, he will look overly hostile to the new government.

One argument made is that Israel should not make nuclear concessions to Iran. Frankly, I think this attitude is silly. Netanyahu has made threats to bomb Iran, and it would make sense for Iranians to fear a preemptive Iranian strike. Deterrence seems to be a reasonable argument, until you realize that each side wants to deter the other. This has the potential to lead to a cold-war type conflict, with each country developing increased nuclear capability. this would leave both countries vulnerable either to some sort of breach of intelligence or to a terrorist group gaining weapons.

Ultimately, I do not see the need for Israel to maintain nuclear weapons. As of now, I do not see any necessity for Israel to even use nuclear weapons. First off, Israel has already proved itself quite dangerous with conventional weapons. Secondly, any nuclear attack upon Israel would almost certainly result in the full annihilation and overthrow of the government of the perpetrating country. Thirdly, if Israel was foolhardy enough to preemptively strike via nuclear weapons, they would become a pariah state, even more than North Korea is. A deterrent force should not require 2-3 weapons. Each one is capable of annihilating a city. There is absolutely no need for Israel to develop more, let alone keep  most of the weapons they currently own. It would be a massive image-building move in the international community, and would put the onus on Iran to follow through with their pledge to not make nuclear weapons.

What is my solution to the Iran situation? Make it very clear that the US will continue sanctions until the Iran nuclear program has been dealt with. However, we must also do everything possible to come to a solution to the nuclear situation. Let Netanyahu know that if he becomes the extreme party he will be treated as such. And let Rouhani and Khameini know that the US does not expect to be hoodwinked.

Monday, September 23, 2013

US Senate Elections 2014- Part I

It is fourteen months until the 2014 midterm elections. Most of the primaries have already crystallized, and in many races SuperPACs and other groups have begun spending money. So, without further ado, here are the 34 senate races that we will be looking at. Font size corresponds to relative importance. An important thing to realize is that the last time these seats were last up was in 2008, when a democratic wave swept the nation and led to a Democratic supermajority in the senate. So Democrats will mostly be playing defense next year.

The overarching theme of the election will probably be Democrats in vulnerable states such as Montana, Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska asserting independence from the White House and from congressional Democratic leaders. Crossover voting will be essential for these “Red-state Democrats” to win. As such, they will be attempting to localize the races, make them about local issues that voters would be more comfortable entrusting to a Democrat. By contrast, Republicans will attempt full nationalization.

The second overarching theme will be the struggle between Establishment Republicans and Republicans whose base of support is the Tea Party. While both factions are very conservative, the Establishment wing tends to support compromise with the Democrats and President Obama. By contrast, tea partiers pursue a hard line approach. An example of an Establishment Republican would be Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, while a Tea Partier would be Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

Democrats are most likely to lose between 2 and 4 seats. In order to keep control of the senate they must limit their losses to 5 seats or less.

Alabama Alaska Arkansas Colorado Delaware Georgia Hawaii Idaho Illinois Iowa Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota Mississippi Montana Nebraska New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico North Carolina Oklahoma Oregon South Carolina South Carolina (Seat 2) South Dakota Tennessee Texas Virginia West Virginia Wyoming

I guess I’ll start with half the competitive races and finish some other time. So here goes:

Alaska- This was a classic 2008 wave pickup for the democrats. Mark Begich unseated incumbent Ted Stevens after Ted Stevens was indicted on corruption charges. Most likely Begich will be facing Anchorage mayor Mead Treadwell. From what I’ve seen, Treadwell is basically your standard GOP politician; he’s not the type to make a career-ending gaffe. Then again, that may not be so much of an advantage in the primary.

There are a couple other people running in the primary; chief among them Joe Miller, the guy so extreme he lost to a write-in candidate named MURKOWSKI. He probably has no chance of winning the primary, so we will probably be looking at a Begich-Treadwell match in the general election.

Alaska has a very strong libertarian streak, consistent with much of the west. Alaskans are for the most part tolerant of same-sex marriage, so it makes sense that both Begich and Murkowski came out in favor of same-sex marriage legalization earlier this year. However, they tend to be quite conservative on energy and economic issues. Begich is overall moderate to conservative on these issues, so he is overall a pretty good fit for the state. Alaska also tends to have a strong incumbency bias.

Optimistic Democratic scenario: Begich rides on his moderate stances and incumbency and comfortably beats Treadwell in the general.

Likely scenario: Begich has some trouble winning in a fairly red state. It’s a toss-up to the end, with a slight advantage to Begich based on incumbency.

Optimistic Republican scenario: Begich’s moderate credentials fail to win over enough republicans. He loses narrowly to Treadwell, perhaps by two to three percent.

Arkansas- Arkansas is currently home to one of my least favorite Democratic senators- Mark Pryor. He is very wishy-washy on the issues, and acts like a moderate hero on many votes. On top of which, he cannot articulate his views well, so he ends up angering both Democrats and Republicans. However, Arkansas is still willing to elect conservative Democrats, and Pryor has a lot of good will from his father, former governor David Pryor.

Pryor has drawn a fairly strong opponent in Representative Tom Cotton. Cotton seems able to unite both the establishment and tea party Republicans behind him. However, on many issues he seems hardline, and he has a checkered past, including some comments perceived as sexist.

All indications point to this race being a tossup, and both sides will be spending heavily on their respective candidates. Cotton will attempt to tie Pryor to Obama, who is insanely unpopular in Arkansas, while Pryor will paint Cotton as extremist. A wild card will be whether former president Bill Clinton will heavily campaign for Pryor.

Optimistic Democrat scenario: Pryor consolidates Clinton democrat support, and Cotton is sidelined by a gaffe on a sensitive issue. Pryor wins by a moderate amount.

Likely scenario: Pryor will see some defections of Clinton Democrats to Cotton, and Cotton manages to keep his mouth out of the papers. Pure toss-up.

Optimistic Republican scenario: Anti-Obama fervor sweeps Pryor away. Toss-up/lean R, and a Republican pickup.

Georgia- Current two-term senator Saxby Chambliss is retiring, and a this seat represents a rare possibility of a pickup for the Democrats, with the loss of incumbency advantage for the Republicans. Currently the Democratic candidate looks like it will be Michelle Nunn, daughter of former senator Sam Nunn, a beloved former Georgia senator. The GOP field currently looks like a clown car, a colloquial term for a crowded primary where no one appears to have an advantage. Among the candidates are Representatives Paul Broun (famous for saying that evolution and the big bang theory were lies “straight from the pit of hell”) and Phil Gingrey (who claimed Missouri candidate Todd Akin was right when he said that the female body can shut itself down in the case of “legitimate rape”). Also in are Representative Jack Kingston, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.

Just the specter of Broun or Gingrey winning the primary is a boon for Democrats, since polls show that they are very unpopular in Gwinnett County, a key suburb of Atlanta that has been trending Democratic. Unfortunately, Georgia is a deeply polarized state, and an anti-Obama atmosphere could cause either to win an election. If either Handel or Gingrey wins, the Republican will be favored.

Optimistic Democratic scenario: Nunn rides on her father’s popularity and suburban dislike of either a Broun or Gingrey candidacy, and wins a narrow victory.

Likely scenario: A Broun or Gingrey candidacy results in a competitive race, though the Republican base of support in rural Georgia boosts their support, resulting in a toss-up race.

Optimistic Republican scenario: Either Kingston or Handel wins the nomination, and the Republican base remains intact, resulting in a mid single-digit win for the Republican.

That’s it for now, I will cover Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, and Louisiana in about a week.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


So, Syria has been on my mind recently. What should we do, what should we not do. I'll try to make this brief.

Syria is probably the worst humanitarian crisis in the 21st century. 100,000 Syrians have died, and 2 million Syrians (10% of the total population) have been displaced. This is because of a civil war that has been raging in Syria for the last 2 years. It all started when a vegetable merchant set himself on fire in Tunisia in 2011, and mass movements erupted throughout the middle east. Some countries such as Tunisia and Egypt transitioned relatively peacefully, while Libya endured a bloody civil war. However, while all the other nations already have elected governments, Syria continues in its civil war.

Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite, which is a small sect of Islam, related to Iranian Shia. Problem is, Syria is 60% Sunni muslim. Now you might be asking why Syrians are killing each other just because they disagree on who should have taken the place of Mohammed as caliph 1400 years ago. And the answer: I don't know. But that's a discussion for another day.

Now, to bring in the actors. First off, the Alawite government. Bashar al-Assad is closely linked to governments in Russia, China, and Iran. Israel tolerates him because he keeps the border quiet and doesn't lob missiles every five seconds like Hamas does. For a while, the US tolerated him too.

The Free Syrian army (FSA) was organized by disaffected army officers, and led by Colonel Riad al-Assad (don't ask) and General Salim Idriss. They are nonsectarian, and have said they are pushing for democratic rule. There are currently about 70,000 FSA members fighting. For a while they have been receiving small arms training from the Americans.

The third group fighting is al-Nusra, a branch of al-Qaeda. They are fighting for a strict islamist state, based on Sharia law. Wherever they have taken towns, they have performed forced conversions, and have led to a crackdown on non-Islamists. They are being covertly supported by Saudi Arabia. What is interesting is that many al-Nusra fighters (about 7,000 in all) are not from Syria, but belong to international al-Qaeda affiliated groups that have descended upon Syria in a veritable Jihad.

Finally, we have the Kurds, an ethnic minority who have long been agitating for an independent or autonomous state. Since entering the war, they have taken over control of many Northern towns near the Turkish border.

So, we have a wonderful little 4-way civil war. those always end up well (I’m looking at you Lebanon). And chemical weapons floating around to boot!

A chemical attack utilizing sarin gas occurred on August 21st, in a Damascus suburb that is also a rebel stronghold. Hard figures are difficult to come by for obvious reasons, but the death toll is estimated at 1400. Last year President Obama drew a “red line”, saying that if chemical weapons were used by the regime, the administration would intervene militarily.

Unfortunately, the measures President Obama has been pushing for will probably not curtail B. Assad’s ability to carry out chemical warfare. The president has been calling for a “limited and proportional” strike against the Syrian government, and any chemical reserves. However, most of Assad’s reserves are stored deep underground in concrete bunkers, probably beyond the range of American rockets. A strike in the sorts President Obama is proposing will not destroy these reserves.

In addition, we do not have conclusive proof that the attack was perpetrated by Assad forces. Recently, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the UN inspector team in the country found “strong circumstantial” evidence. But even if it is likely that Assad used weapons, it would not be a great idea to launch strikes into the region unless the international community has extremely strong evidence. After all, it has been confirmed that al-Nusra has been developing their own chemical weapons, and they are most certainly not above attacking their own people.

A bombshell broke in the international community this week also, with Syria now offering to sign the Geneva Convention outlawing chemical weapons. Currently, Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the exact terms of a possible diplomatic solution to the crisis. The outcome is currently hopeful, but uncertain.

So now I’m going to switch from a general description of the Syrian conflict to my personal views on what should be done, as well as my hopes and expectations for a post-conflict Syria.

Assad must go. He is massively unpopular, and only holds onto power through brutal crackdown of resistance. That being said, how far should we go toward removing him?

Many opposed to an intervention assert that any action against Assad will strengthen al-Qaeda. That is not quite true: as in Lebanon thirty years ago, the situation is extremely complex. For instance, al-Nusra has not allied itself with any mainstream rebel groups. At least two high level FSA officials have been assassinated by al-Nusra operatives. Wherever Kurdish lands fall under control of al-Nusra, the Kurdish population is often persecuted and forced to leave to neighboring Turkey and Iraq.

Despite the religious zeal exhibited by many jihadist forces, I am doubtful of their ability to control post-conflict Syria. All jihadist/Mujahideen forces make up only 20% of the opposition, and al-Nusra is less than half of that total. In addition, most of their support is coming from outside Syria. Whether these militants remain in Syria or return when the conflict is over is uncertain. The fact that they have alienated both Kurdish forces and the FSA also indicates that their influence post-conflict will not be strong. By contrast, the FSA has done a pretty good job of uniting all of Syria, with various commanders hailing from all regions, and from secularists to fundamentalists-but-not-crazy Islamists.

I think that in order to shorten the war, we should either train or supply the FSA. Currently, they are at a disadvantage in weaponry to the Syrian government. Reports have been leaking in that FSA members have been deserting and joining Saudi-funded jihadist groups due to lack of weapons, Thus, strengthening the FSA would serve two roles: to weaken Assad and to slow the influx of manpower into al-Nusra and other groups.

A problem overlooked has been the Kurdish question. The Kurds have quietly taken control of the northern extremity of Syria. So, assuming the Assad regime falls (which is not a great assumption, but bear with me) what happens to the Kurds? If they are forced to remain within Syria, we will see continued fighting in Kurdish regions, even more so if the new government is anti-anyone who is not Arab. By contrast, if this part of Syria becomes independent (unlikely, but still a possibility) the stability of the northern middle east will reach negative values as Kurds in both Turkey and Iraq attempt independence and possible formation of a new Kurdistan. While not the 800 pound gorilla in the room (that would be the fact that al-Qaeda is fighting here) the Kurds are more like the 300 pound orangutan.

I’m not a big fan of Rand Paul. And when he opposed Syrian intervention because Christians would be persecuted by the new government, I initially brushed it off as just a “Paul moment”. But he really does have a point- if an al-Qaeda supported government takes over, then the 10% of syrians who are Christian will probably be forced to leave. Therefore, it is more important than ever to weaken the extremist groups. However, it would make little sense to stay motionless over the issue just because a certain faction of the opposition is certifiably insane. I think we should cautiously attempt to remove Assad and help elect a government representative of Syria as a whole (for those Rand Paul types out there, in general Syrians have not been happy that al-Qaeda has set up shop in the area).

About me and my political philosphy

My name is Samuel Bressler. I am seventeen years old and a current senior at Troy High School in Fullerton. I am a birdwatcher, as well as lover of science. For many years, I have been fascinated by politics and policy. I feel these are important because these, more than sports, fashion, and any other common interest, will be shaping my life, along with my classmate's lives as we prepare to go to college and beyond.

My political philosphy: stick to the facts and logic, forget the dogma. Too often political dogma consists of unrelated beliefs bolted together even though they are not at all related. For example, many people opposed to abortion call themselves pro-life, yet they also strongly support the death penalty. And just to be politically correct, many liberals call themselves the pro-science party and accuse conservatives of living in the middle ages because of issues such as evolution in classrooms and discussion of anthropogenic climate change. Yet same liberals are among the most extreme and partisan opponents to nuclear energy and genetically modified organisms, even if by doing so they are directly opposing some of the greatest fruit science has produced for us.

To be politically literate, a new way of thinking should be popularized- consistency. If you accuse your opponent on one issue but use the exact logic he uses on a different issue (as in the two cases above) you are being inconsistent. Will consistency requiring softening some firmly-held beliefs? Absolutely. Will political discourse be improved? Absolutely.

I also hate talking points that are thrown into the arena from both sides of the aisle. It is an insult to the American people that politicians hoodwink us by spewing inaccurate or just plain made-up facts or statistics in order to buy votes. We the people should let them know.

I am a utilitarian rather than a Kantian. Government should not be about absolutes. With rare exceptions people are not pro-environment or anti-environment, or pro-jobs or anti-jobs. Government should be about doing the greatest amount of good for the people, in this case, the American people. With very rare exceptions, neither liberal nor conservative dogma is utilitarian.

I hope you enjoy my blog!
Samuel Bressler
Pandion haliaetus- Osprey