Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Is Academia Killing Political Science?

Posted in United States by Dan on August 3, 2010

I’ve been a member of the college community for over four years now, and I will continue to be a member over the next year as I enter graduate school at Syracuse University later this fall.  When taking that into consideration, perhaps it’s not a shocker that I sometimes ask myself why so many professors and researchers are devoted to specialties that are both boring and trivial to a majority of the American population. Molecular biology and clinical psychology is one thing…how can you spice up a discipline as confusing and methodological as that?! You can’t, unless you have a really great mentor who is willing to show you the hidden gems of the field and steer you in the right direction.

But political science is something entirely different.  Political science is not molecular biology or clinical psychology, or mathematics (although math is prevalent in the field).  Politics is an exciting and lively study of social interaction at the highest levels of society; a place where a quest for power, fame, money, ethics, and revenge intersect and often get mended together in due course.  Politics express America’s best and worst qualities, as both a beacon of democracy and debate as well as a hub for corruption and short cuts.

So given the nature of political interaction and the scandal that is often produces in the end, why the heck are some scholars in the field so afraid of pursuing a project that is exciting and useful to the outside world?  Have you taken a glance at some of the academic journals in the American Political Science Association?  Most of the stuff out there is drivel and has absolutely no use for the likes of ordinary people like you and me.

Take this list from the January/February/March editions of the American Political Science Review as an example:

1) Cross-cutting Cleavages and Ethnic Voting: An Experimental Study of Cousinage in Mali

2) Broad Bills or Particularistic Policy? Historical Patterns in American State Legislatures

3) Without Foundations: Plato’s Lysis and Postmodern Friendship

4) Building Strategic Capacity: The Political Underpinnings of Coordinated Wage Bargaining

Oh goody, where do I sign up (sarcasm anyone)?  I’m sure each article is well-researched, documented, and respected in academia, but what average person is going to sit down and read this stuff without getting heavy in the eyes (by the way, if you have read any of these pieces, send me a quick email and I will personally send you a congratulatory letter)?

It’s the 21st century.  So many developments are going on, from the war on terrorism to the current global economic crisis to the spreading popularity of counterinsurgency doctrine.  Why, even during one of the most turbulent periods in world history, are scholars at all levels and of all magnitudes sticking with projects that stray away from the types of issues that are affecting the United States today?

Here are some quick comments as to why this might be, although my observations are anything but universal.  If you have your own, by all means contribute.

In today’s environment, it’s very difficult for an academic to research anything controversial, regardless of what issue in political science we are talking about. Society over the last few decades has gotten so politicized and politically correct that any outspoken piece of writing or any interview out of the mainstream is viewed as either inflammatory or insensitive. Just a few weeks ago, the longtime Washington reporter Helen Thomas was pressured to resign over her comments towards Israel (which, I have to say, were quite hurtful to the ears), ending a 50-year career in journalism on a negative note.

Professors in universities and research institutions may not want to follow in her shoes.  In fact, doing so would pose a great risk to an individual’s career, even if his/her work is a few inches away from the conventional.  People who step outside the box usually get challenged or thrown out my management if their work- however innovative and groundbreaking- draws money away from their organization. Say what you want, but most Professors simply don’t want to put their reputation as a scholar in jeopardy. They want to remain in the field, make more money, produce more work, and rise to the highest position possible on the totem poll.

But it’s this overly sensitive P.C. culture that the United States now finds itself in that could gradually destroy the field of political science. Like all subjects out there, the strength and quality of political science as a discipline depends on the willingness of younger generations to join the cause. Attracting up-and-coming scholars is the only way political science departments across the country will sustain itself. But the field is not likely to attract these students if mundane topics are continually addressed and controversial ideas are not expanded upon. No one wants to spend the rest of his or her life in a boring occupation. But the study of politics may be getting to that point if today’s academics are not brave willing to go outside the box and bypass the traditional rules of academia.

Obviously not all professors embark on boring research projects with no outside application. Most of my mentors at SUNY Plattsburgh (and I’m hoping at my graduate school as well) are in fact satisfied with their current careers and excited about issues that have been under-researched in the past. It also helps that these very same people were practitioners and had “real world” experience before they settled on academia. It would just be nice to have more of these people out there, since these are the people who will ultimately draw students in and contribute to the discipline’s future success.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Stephen Walt at FP.com**

My Second Unpublished Letter to the Washington Post

Posted in United States by Dan on July 31, 2010

After a second straight rejection from the Washington Post’s editorial board, I’m starting to get the feeling that the paper’s editors either don’t like what I’m writing, or are completely swamped with thousands of letter requests each and every day.  For good measure, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Here is my second (but certainly not final) unpublished letter to the editor.  Brief and straight to the point…just like letters to major newspapers should be:


As always, David Ignatius provides a refreshing evaluation, this time on Barack Obama’s demeanor (A President Tripped Up By the Spontaneous, July 25).  As Mr. Ignatius makes clear, Obama has been largely impersonal during his first 18 months in the Oval Office.  Few news conferences are called, and unpredictable events often baffle the President in the opening moments.

There is always a possibility that Mr. Obama’s “dry intellect” is to blame.  But his “scripted” personality may also reflect a desire to avoid the same mistakes that other president’s have made in the past.

American history is rife with presidents discrediting themselves by overextending in front of the cameras.  Lyndon Johnson did so during the Vietnam War by passionately defending America’s involvement in a seemingly endless conflict.  Ronald Reagan did so during the Iran-contra scandal, when many Americans began to question not only his administrative style but his sincerity as well.  George W. Bush did so by constantly affirming that the U.S. was making progress in Iraq, despite the deaths of thousands of American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

Obama may be afraid of spontaneity.  But a desire to avoid shooting himself in the foot may also have something to do with it.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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Wall Street Journal Overplaying The Iran-Taliban Connection

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia, Iran by Dan on July 28, 2010

The leak of thousands upon thousands of classified Afghan war documents has created a political firestorm in Washington.  Why is anyone’s guess; most of the information that was leaked is only a confirmation of what most Americans already think about the war.

This is why I’m baffled by conservative news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, whose editors are trying to hype up charges that Iran is working with Taliban insurgents and Al’Qaeda operatives against the United States in Afghanistan.  But, like everything else contained in the Wikileaks document dump, this charge has been floating around for years.

Take this statement by former U.S. Commander Stanley McChrystal as an example.  Or this intelligence official who argued the same thing in early April of this year.

U.S. commanders and the Afghan Government have raised this assertion many times in the past two years. So why are commentators acting like the Iran-Taliban-AQ connection is some sort of smoking-gun discovery?  Given Iran’s tendency to support insurgent and terrorist networks against U.S. objectives- regardless of ideological orientation- you would hope that the editors are just writing this story to drag readers in.

Let’s not make the Iran-Taliban alliance more than it really is. The Iranian Government, the Taliban, and Al’Qaeda all have the same enemy in the United States and NATO. Other than anti-Americanism, all three groups have very different agendas in Afghanistan and in South Asia more broadly. So the idea that the U.S. now has to confront some strong, new threat is totally baseless and exaggerated. Opposing the U.S. presence is the only reason why all three are coming together, nothing more.

Remember how hostile the Taliban Government was towards the Iranian theocracy in the mid to late 1990’s? Iranians were (and still are) viewed by the Taliban movement as apostates and unbelievers. This hostility rose to new heights in 1998, when Taliban soldiers captured and assassinated eight Iranian diplomats, which almost propelled Iranian military retaliation.

This crisis may have erupted in the past, but the distrust between Iran and the Taliban is still there, which is why some in Tehran are worried about Hamid Karzai’s negotiations with Taliban leaders.

At best, the Iran-Taliban-AQ connection is shallow and convenient. When U.S. troops finally withdraw from Afghanistan, I doubt that the Iranians will be working with members of Al’Qaeda anytime soon.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Marc Lynch at FP.com**

Democracy Delayed in the West Bank

Posted in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East and North Africa by Dan on July 27, 2010

Hamas supporters celebrate their victory in 2006. Palestinians are still waiting for another election.

Palestinians in the West Bank were supposed to vote last week on a new set of local politicians.  To us Americans, municipal elections aren’t a big deal.  But for people who haven’t had a taste of democracy in years, just the slightest chance at waiting online to cast a ballot is an exhilarating experience.  For Palestinians- a people under persistent occupation, divided between two political factions, and separated in two geographical areas- this exuberance would have been even more fulfilling.

Sadly, those elections were cancelled by the Palestinian Authority, which argued that elections at the present time would have fragmented Palestine’s national identity and diverted attention away from the more pressing problem of Gaza’s humanitarian catastrophe.

Little do they know that Palestinian identity hasn’t been unified for quite a long time; Hamas and Fatah have been battling it out for the past four years.  1.5 million Palestinians are separated from another 2.5 million in the West Bank.  And if you want to get mired in technicalities, the Palestinians don’t even have a national identity.  The lack of a Palestinian state kicks the “national” right out the door.

Something else is at work here.  The cancellation had nothing to do with Gaza, and it certainly had nothing to do with efforts at unity.  Instead, fear of who would win and who would lose was most likely the culprit.  And in some strange way, the United States is partly to blame for Palestine’s increasingly authoritarian behavior.

Back in 2006, the United States encouraged Palestinians to come out and vote for their next national government.  At the time, it was an historic moment; the first elections since the death of longtime leader Yasser Arafat and the beginning of a new era in Middle East democracy.  But when the elections were over, and the winner was announced (Hamas), encouragement in Washington quickly turned into despair and disappointment.

The right thing for Washington to do was applaud the Palestinians for their trust in democracy- even if the U.S. didn’t necessarily like the results.  This positive response may have been able to serve as a precedent for further elections into the future.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration took the exact opposite approach. The same democracy that Washington trumpeted beforehand quickly turned into an embarrassment. Due to Hamas’ place on Washington’s terrorist list, the United States refused to declare the contest legitimate.  The U.S. dug itself deeper by not engaging Hamas at a low level, which would have at least shown Palestinians that the U.S. meant what it said about democratic institutions.

Four years later, what we have in the Palestinian Territories is a powerless legislative branch, a Palestinian President ruling by decree, and an authority that is divided internally between old-time technocrats and upwardly mobile moderates.

We are still suffering from that disastrous 2006 experience.  Just as the U.S. was afraid about the results back then, the P.A. is afraid about what’s on the minds of Palestinian voters today. Canceling the elections gives them more time to delay the inevitable.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Mustafa Barghouthi of the Palestinian National Initiative.  His article can be read at FP.com’s Middle East Channel**

Top Secret America: First Reactions

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy, United States by Dan on July 25, 2010

I haven’t yet had a chance to read Dana Priest and William Arkin’s investigative bombshell in the Washington Post (called “Top Secret America”), but from the endless amount of responses on the blogosphere, I felt like I’ve memorized the whole thing (for a nice replay of what people have said so far, click here, here, or here).

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I highly suggest you jump online, because it only takes a few clicks (if that) to get a glimpse of the story.

But in any case, the entire Washington Post series is a two-year project in the making that takes a rare in-depth look into how large and secretive the U.S. intelligence community has become.  Through Priest and Arkin’s remarkable work- with personalized interviews, declassified records, and a frank tone to back that work up- the reader gets the sense that the United States is hostage to a besieged mentality.  Private contractors with top-secret security clearance are lurking in your neighborhoods, the National Security Agency is wiretapping your phones, and every move that you make (from swiping your credit card to calling a distant relative) is tracked by the government and packed away in a database for future use.  You are, in effect, a citizen with a million eyes on you at all times; a citizen who’s heard earned money is sent to fund this “Top Secret America” behemoth.  The trouble is that you don’t know who is really spying on you, or which agency your money is going to.

Here’s the summary in a nutshell: beware, because 854,000 people on the government’s payroll are watching you.

I don’t want to say that the article exaggerates the situation, because in many ways, Priest and Arkin are accurate in their reporting.  U.S. intelligence has grown dramatically since the September 11 attacks, with more workers in the industry than ever before.  There are 16 separate intelligence agencies across the U.S. Government, most of whom track the same information and come to the same conclusions.

But I can’t help but wonder if this whole story has another motive buried deep between the lines.  Could one of the Post’s messages be “look how much of your money is being wasted on keeping this country safe?”  From all of the comments surfacing up on blogs and editorials across the country, it appears that this could be a motive.  I doubt the Washington Post (or anyone in journalism) would be talking about the bloated national security bureaucracy if the U.S. economy were still in relatively healthy shape.

Arkin and Priest are not only making the point that U.S. Intel has gotten redundant and overweight (which is not necessarily a bad thing, as Dan Drezner pointed out earlier this week), but that this redundancy is costing American taxpayers billions upon billions of dollars every year.  It’s a quick and classic way to discredit a particular policy, and it’s also an easy way to criticize how things are being done inside the government.  Reporters have done this many times in the past, for good or for ill.

I don’t know if Arkin and Priest have a partisan agenda here, but by drilling the money aspect into this investigation, it gives you a reason to believe that they both may be trying to expose their own true feelings.

This isn’t an exercise in poor judgment, because democracy is all about conflicting views and outspoken mantra.  It’s just another factor to consider as you read the article.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Dan Drezner, Thomas G. Mahnken, and Peter Feaver**

China and India Could Save The U.S.

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy, Uncategorized by Dan on July 22, 2010

We have all heard about China’s rapid rise as a world power.  Economically, China is projected to pass the United States as the world’s largest economy by 2040; politically, China is projecting itself to be the most influential state on the Asian continent…or at least in its immediate neighborhood.

India, too, is experiencing this same trend.  The Indian population is expected to increase in the next decade, with more people entering into the types of jobs that actually make a decent living (like doctors, lawyers, computer engineers, and professors).  The Indian GDP- currently a hefty $3.56 trillion- will likely improve as the Indian economy diversifies into different areas, particularly the technology sector which is already extremely popular among educated Indians.  The CIA World Factbook confirms that the Indian economy grew by over 6 percent in 2009, which is an astounding rate given the global economic recession of the past two years.

It seems like the future for China and India is all roses.  But what happens when energy demand starts to outweigh Beijing and New Delhi’s supply?  India is already ranked 6th in oil consumption as of 2009, and China’s place on the consumption scale is even higher (they are in 3rd place, behind the European Union and the good old U.S.A.).  Given future trends in population, oil imports will have to substantially climb if both countries want to maintain their economic success.

China and India could get on Russia’s good side in order to fulfill its energy needs, but dealing with those pesky Ruskies is a tricky business (they love to spy, and they have some interests that conflict with China in particular, like control of Central Asia).  So once again, the Middle East- with all of its oil glory- is not going to go away.  In fact, if you like to bet, place your wager on the Middle East being the most important region for at least the next ten or twenty years.

It’s going to be interesting to see how China and India- who have thus far been able to distance themselves from the turbulent politics of the Middle East- maneuver with governments in the Islamic world.  Are they going to assert themselves, much like the United States has in the last three decades?  Or will they take a more passive approach; building economic ties while keeping a distance from the region’s messy politics?

The second option is by the far the most desired.  If there is anything that can be taken away from America’s involvement in the Middle East, it is the fact that the region’s politics is a terribly frustrating and spurious thing to deal with.  The problem is that the same energy demands that drew the U.S. to the Persian Gulf could eventually drag China and India into a similar predicament.

Middle Eastern politics is full of cataclysmic situations where violence always seems to be one step away. Political turmoil between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program, and the continued frustration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may eventually threaten the oil market.  What would Beijing or New Delhi’s reactions be in this circumstance?

If the oil market is volatile, or if regional tensions somehow stop the oil from flowing at a relatively low cost, China or India may need to get involved in a much more aggressive fashion. One of the reasons why the United States decided to establish military bases across the Middle East (despite preserving a balance of power among the Middle Eastern states) was to protect oil interests and ensure that a conflict doesn’t get out of control. China and India (and perhaps Japan) may need to act in much the same way.

But in all honesty, Chinese and Indian foreign policy is not want I’m concerned with.  Rather, the reason I’m bringing this whole affair to light is because China and India’s future energy needs could actually lift some of the burden from America’s strained shoulders.

Most Americans are sick and tired of acting as the world’s policemen, and some simply want to withdraw all together. Being the world’s primary guardian requires lots of manpower and lots of taxpayer money, and after three decades of filling that role, Americans want to cut their losses and stop spending money on what many deem to be hopeless ventures (like the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, although wouldn’t put myself in this camp).

A resurgent China and India in perhaps just the excuse Americans are looking for to finally cut back their forces and disengage militarily from the region. The United States will no longer feel the pressure of going it alone on some of the world’s most important security issues.

Whether this is what Washington is thinking is a whole other story. Lawmakers probably view a strong China as a threat to U.S. interests, and they may be right in some areas. But they should also remember that the U.S. has the strongest and most technologically advanced military in the world…not to mention the ability to influence countries indirectly through billions in economic assistance. A few Chinese soldiers won’t change that.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Geoffrey Kemp of the Nixon Center.  His article can be read on FP.com**

Deceiving Polls on Obama and Afghanistan

Of all the instruments used to determine what people are thinking, polling is the most widely used in social science and the easiest to conduct.  But you have to be careful of the results, because polls are also used to bolster partisanship on certain issues (like war or health-care), or to damage a person’s reputation during an election cycle.

Take this poll by the USA Today, which is used by Third Way‘s Kyle Spector on why Americans still support President Obama on Afghanistan:

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that 58 percent support the president’s timetable to begin withdrawing some troops in July 2011. And, although the question isn’t asked as frequently, other polls found significant majorities believe in the mission in Afghanistan even as they see U.S. efforts hitting obstacles. Sixty-one percent believe that “eliminating the threat from terrorists operating from Afghanistan is a worthwhile goal for American troops to fight and possibly die for,” and 76 percent believe what happens in Afghanistan matters to their security in the U.S.—

Poll results are only as accurate and reliable as the poll themselves. So when a poll asks a very specific question, geared towards a specific answer, like “eliminating the threat from terrorists operating from Afghanistan is a worthwhile goal,” the poll itself doesn’t really capture the real opinions of Americans. How can American citizens not respond positively to the question of eliminating terrorists? That’s like asking an American if he/she likes democracy, or giving a fat kid the choice between a piece of cake and a carrot stick. Obviously he’s going to choose the cake.

This is not to say that Third Way is a bad organization. Third Way has a great reputation in Washington D.C. But this poll is a little shaky. A real good question shouldn’t introduce bias in order to sway a respondent towards a particular answer. All polling companies do this, of course, but that still doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Kyle Spector of Third Way.  His article appears on FP.com’s AfPak Channel**

My Unpublished Letter To The Washington Post

Posted in Iran, U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy by Dan on July 18, 2010

One of the great things about having a blog is that you can publish what is “un-publishable” or rejected by newspapers and magazines.  It provides a writer with a forum of expression that is wide open, even if other forums turn down what you have to say on a specific issue.

So when I found out that the Washington Post was going to pass up on my letter about an op-ed piece that one of their columnists wrote last week, I wasn’t really angry or disappointed (ok, maybe I was for a little bit…).  The Post may have decided against it, but I still had the opportunity to release it in the blogosphere.

So here it is, word for word:


“Iran 101”

One of the main concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran is whether the United States would be able to contain what comes next.  Charles S. Robb and Charles Wald made it abundantly clear in their July 9 op-ed (“Sanctions Alone Won’t Work on Iran”) that it is going to be exceedingly difficult- if downright impossible- for the international community to actually constrain the behavior of a newly-empowered Tehran.

Robb and Wald do make some intellectual observations about what could happen in the Middle East as a result of an Iranian bomb, such as a strengthened Hezbollah or a more violent Iraq.  Yet they both conveniently neglect to mention the one concept that makes all of these consequences increasingly unlikely: nuclear deterrence.

Although the Islamic Republic of Iran is clearly different than the Soviet Union in an ideological sense, it is difficult to foresee how Tehran would be immune to a doctrine that has been successful at keeping nuclear peace for over six decades.  Ever since its founding, Iran’s clerical leadership has demonstrated its obsession with self-preservation, whether it’s through harsh crackdowns on summer protestors or monetary and logistical support for unsavory characters in the Middle East.

Self-preservation is a sign of rationality.  And this is precisely what Iran is: a rational state.  “Overstepping its boundaries,” as Robb and Wald suggest, would not only produce a devastating international response.  It would also destroy Iran’s Islamic government.  The mullahs would surely want to avoid such an outcome.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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The Case Of The Mysterious Iranian “Spy”

Posted in Iran by Dan on July 16, 2010

For the past five years, much of the world has stayed on the sidelines over the U.S.-Iran squabble over Tehran’s nuclear program. The only countries that have taken a side in the dispute- or at least responded in some way- have been the really powerful members of the U.N. Security Council (the Council has already passed four rounds of economic sanctions on Iran for its refusal to provide specific information on its nuclear progress). The facts, assertions, claims, and counterclaims have basically remained consistent; the United States and the west believe that the Iranian Government is secretly building a nuclear weapons capability, while Iran insists that its only operating a peaceful program for peaceful purposes.

This same saga has been ongoing since 2003, when an Iranian dissident first broke the news about the existence of the clandestine Iranian program. A few nuclear facilities later, nothing really new has surfaced. After all this time, Washington still doesn’t know whether Iran’s Government has made the decision to cross the nuclear threshold, or whether the ayatollahs have even started researching weapons designs. In fact, U.S. intelligence agencies are still conflicted as to how long it would take Iran to assemble a single nuclear bomb in the first place; CIA Director Leon Panetta claims 2 to 3 years, while others in the government already believe that the Iranians have enough uranium for a bomb.

So when an Iranian nuclear scientist named Shahram Amiri somehow found his way to the United States, it’s safe to say that people in Washington were pretty ecstatic. When Amiri shared intimate information about Tehran’s nuke program- some of which may have been used to modify America’s 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran- Washingtonians were happier still.

But as always, there’s a problem. After a year as a resident in the United States, Amiri has decided to return home. And what’s more problematic is the reason for his departure: his lack of adjustment to U.S. culture.

As with any immigrant who arrives in the U.S., it’s difficult for a young Iranian to start a new life and meet the lofty expectations of the “American dream.” Generally, immigrants don’t see the United States in the same vein as a typical suburbanite. The big houses, green lawns, and white picket fences that have come to categorize the American lifestyle disappears quickly in the mind of foreigners trying to start a new life in America. This was particularly the case with Amiri, who not only traveled thousands of miles by himself to a strange new land, but who also had a hard time figuring out how to start living and acting as an “American.”

Amiri’s predicament doesn’t end there. His wife and young child remained a half-a-world-away in Iran, which undoubtedly added to his homesickness. Plus, lets face it; Iranian authorities aren’t known for treating relatives of defectors very well.

As of today, Amiri is back in Tehran, where he was welcomed with hugs and kisses from his family and handshakes from senior Iranian officials. It’s a happy ending to a mysterious story. But the story could have been much happier if this same family reunited on American soil. The U.S. could have done a lot more by ensuring the safety of Amiri’s wife and child. That way, perhaps the scientist with important clues into Tehran’s nuclear program would have stayed around for further questioning.

It’s a possibility that Amiri disclosed everything he knew about the Iranian program before he decided to re-defect, in which case his travel back to Tehran is a trivial afterthought. But thanks to Washington’s lack of family values, we may never know the full answer.

**By the way, Amiri’s full story is actually much more mysterious than I originally described. For a full look at his journey, check out Josh Rogin’s column at foreignpolicy.com.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Josh Rogin at FP.com**

Bombing Shows That Africa Has Always Been Part of The War On Terrorism

Posted in Somalia, The Conflicts of Africa by Dan on July 13, 2010

The World Cup is supposed to be a fun and exciting event; an event where thousands of people from hundreds of nations can sit together in the same place and enjoy a competitive game full of drama, heartbreak, victory, and defeat.  So when 74 people were killed in Uganda at a restaurant and a sports club by a suicide-bomber, it was understandable that the game so many people love quickly turned into a distant afterthought.

You may not have heard, but two large bombs exploded within an hour’s time in Kampala- the capital of Uganda- killing dozens of spectators who gathered to watch the final World Cup match between Spain and the Netherlands.  Needless to say, most of those spectators were unable to finish watching the game that day, instead preoccupied with escaping death- or in the case of some, stepping over dead bodies and loose limbs in order to escape death.

Violence in Africa is anything but surprising.  Half of the world’s failed or failing states are located within the confines of Africa, and most of the world’s most disturbing conflicts- hunger, genocide, ethnic conflict, and drought- are located right in the heart of the continent.  But suicide terrorism is a particularly rare tactic used by African militant groups, and from the evidence that is being gathered at the scene, suicide bombers were in fact responsible for the incident.

But there’s more to this investigation than meets the eye.  In fact, not only have investigators discovered the cause of death in yesterday’s strike, but police are also quite confidant as to who the perpetrators are.  And Al’Shabab, the Islamic militant insurgency based in Somalia (who has ties to Al’Qaeda), are deemed the prime suspects.

You don’t have to look too far to find a direct connection between the Uganda attack and Al’Shabab’s organization.  The group has made it clear that it despises international troops on Somali soil, partly because those troops are used to build up its main adversary (the Somali Transitional Government) and partly because Al’Shabab views any foreign presence as an interference in Somali affairs.  The groups’ spokesman, Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, made this abundantly clear through a statement he issued yesterday, which claimed credit for the operation and promised more if countries like Uganda, Burundi, and Ethiopia don’t withdraw from Somali territory.

Yet perhaps what’s more frightening than the attack itself is Al’Shabab’s willingness to export violence to other African nations.  This was the first time the radical Islamist organization executed a terrorist attack outside of Somalia’s borders, demonstrating both its strength and its intent.  More importantly, the massacre in Uganda may elevate the Somalia file in the U.S. Government, which hasn’t been much of a priority in the past.

How Washington will respond is anyone’s guess.  The CIA may be authorized to increase its drone program over Somalia in the hopes of destroying Al’Shabab infrastructure and killing top terrorist leaders, similar to what the agency is doing in Pakistan’s tribal areas.  Or, the White House could funnel more money into the Somali Transitional Authority and reiterate its strong support for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia.  And of course, covert operations with regional allies- like Ethiopia and Kenya- are always a possibility.

But whatever option or combination of options the U.S. chooses, Al’Shabab has shown the world that it’s only getting stronger.  With a less than weak Somali Government in place, and with the humanitarian situation inside Somalia getting worse by the day, more and more residents may be forced to join the insurgency out of fear and desperation.  The U.S. and its African allies should take warning.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Michael Wilkerson and Elizabeth Dickinson at FP.com**