Monday, April 9, 2007

Meeting the Deciders

Getting to meet actual policy makers would give USC's School of IR a boost:

The University of Southern California is a powerful academic institution. Its schools are internationally known, well funded and have produced a robust alumni network. However part and parcel of being a powerful institution is to constantly seek to improve upon whatever weaknesses may exist in the system. It is always necessary to ensure that programs remain robust, inspiring and relevant to contemporary needs. One such way that USC encourages this kind of improvement is through the Deans prize, which offers students the chance to make recommendations on how to better their undergraduate education at the college. While I do not expect to compete for the prize myself, I would like to make a suggestion on how to augment the fine work already being done by the School of International Relations (abbreviated SIR, who’s main facilities are pictured on the right). I suggest that the university focus on bringing more current foreign policy experts into our classrooms.

An article was recently published in Foreign Policy magazine listing the top twenty universities nationwide for IR in three categories, PH.D., masters and undergraduate programs. Sadly USC made only one appearance, in the bottom position for masters’ studies. The article notes that proximity to Washington D.C. is important for those scholars who are interested in foreign policy careers, with schools in D.C. filling four of the top ten spots. Clearly this is where improvement is needed. For while USC will never move so much as an inch closer to Washington, in no way is it impossible to garner some of the benefits that location provides. To be clear, it is my view that having so many practitioners of foreign policy close at hand allows schools like Georgetown and Columbia to draw on their expertise, by both sending students to them to study, and by bringing in experts to the classroom. Therefore I suggest that USC, using its immense financial resources, extensive alumni networks, beautiful surroundings and other various strengths, seek to bring foreign policy professionals to our campus. If the SIC could establish a system like the of the Cinematic Arts School, where high profile industry leaders were frequent visitors to many classrooms, they would be augmenting several aspects of their program. Each IR course should incorporate into its schedule at least one class per semester for a guest speaker of high regard to the subject matter. The benefits of these high profile visits would be quickly identifiable and increasingly fruitful for all parties involved as time progressed. For example, students would be given the opportunity to see how their academic pursuits translate into practical implementation, as well as receiving inspiration as to the direction of their studies. Furthermore frequent visits from policy makers would enhance the renown and prestige of the school, which at the least would allow the school to raise the bar academically for its students and faculty. Finally these visits would establish links between students and the leaders in their fields, at the least allowing students to gain access to ideas and insight they might never otherwise encounter, and at best establishing robust working relationships for future endeavors.

As the second oldest school for International Relations in the nation, USC has a strong history of preparing scholars for global thinking. Indeed the highest point on campus, and a powerful symbol of the school is the von KleinSmid Center, whose foundation is the International Relations library, and peak is the golden globe that can be seen for miles in all directions. This is also fitting considering the university’s 2004 strategic plan recognizes that contemporary situations “will require leading educational institutions to become truly international in presence, focus, and scope […] and if USC is to cement her status as a great university she must expand her global presence.” It seems logical to me that the SIR through its studies, faculty, students and alumni networks, and focus should be perfectly situated to facilitate this goal. And brining field professionals into the classroom would be a great step towards this goal. SIR students are well prepared for, and would doubtlessly make the best of such opportunities, which in turn would make the future of such a program even brighter. It is high time for USC and the SIR to embolden their academic methods, and allowing students to move from merely studying texts, available at any library, to engaging with trendsetters face to face is an excellent place to start.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A Narrowly Avoided Crisis

The safe return of British sailors should not erase the seriousness of the situation:

A potentially serious international crisis was averted yesterday as a group of British sailors and marines were released, after having been captured by the Iranian Revolutionary guard. Iran claims that the British forces were violating Iranian territorial waters as they conducted a search of a vessel bound for Iraq. Though Britain maintains that the group was clearly within Iraqi waters, Iran had held the sailors in a secret location for nearly two weeks, while rumors circulated of criminal trials. Then on Wednesday the 4th of April it was announced that all members of the party had been “pardoned” and were being released back to Britain.

With the release of the 15 British sailors and marines on the 4th there has been heavy media coverage of how well Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pictured to the right with one of the captives), and the Iranian government handled the situation. Many news anchors and political commentators have claimed that Iran, “played its hand just right”, seemingly standing up to the west, avoiding a serious military confrontation and then appearing to be a benevolent host by returning the group as a “gift”. There has also been a great deal of airtime devoted to showing the sailors and marines meeting with President Ahmadinejad, shaking hands and thanking him for being so kind and merciful, while also admitting to violating Iranian waters. Indeed, remembering how long the Iranian hostage crisis on 1979 had dragged on, this turn of events is indeed surprising and in many respects the most beneficial outcome for all parties involved. However there are three things that should not be forgotten during the homecoming celebration for British service men and women.

The first and most widely noted point is that President Ahmadinejad was not likely the deciding party when the time finally came to release the hostages. While the President was able to seize the opportunity and make a very good public relations gesture, it must not be forgotten that he is not simply the benevolent smiling patriarch that has been shown repeatedly in the last 24 hours. For instance, even though this crisis is now over Ahmadinejad and Iran are continuing to operate against UN and IAEA nuclear protocols with each passing day. Second, the gratitude of the British sailors (shown on the left arriving in Britain) should be put into context. While it is clear that each captive was exceedingly grateful to be returning home it should be noted, as was made clear in an interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, that British sailors are trained to capitulate with their captors in the event of their imprisonment. One former British serviceman, Royal Marine Scott Fallon who had also been taken hostage in Iran noted that captured soldiers try to be as cooperative and friendly as possible in order to develop a personal bond with their captors, hopefully improving their treatment and ensuring their survival.

Third, it is still unclear whether Iran was justified in their action. The British maintain that they have GPS data that indicates that the incident took place within their rightful zone of influence. In the map the published, (pictured to the right) they note the orginaly postion declared by the Iranian Navy, whcih was later modified by military spokesperson. If this is the case then the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that made the arrests, were in effect committing and act of war, and then falsifing evidence of their actions. This is especially disturbing when it coupled with recent claims by the Bush administration that parts of the Revolutionary Guard are operating outside of the control of Iranian government. If this is the case then the events of the last few weeks are another indication that at least part of the military command in Iran is unconcerned about instigating a conflict with allied forces in the region. Given that there are still two American aircraft carriers, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS John C. Stennis, operating in the region, it is truly fortunate that this crisis did not spiral out of control. In short, while this crisis ended up smelling like a rose, we must not forget the bed of thorns that was very narrowly avoided in the process.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Honoring With Distinction: Why John Lewis Gaddis Should be Given an Honorary Degree from USC

Seeing that spring has arrived, and with it a growing realization that graduation here at my home institution of the University of Southern California is just around the corner, I have been pondering the end of the academic year. This train of thought led me to wonder, who will be speaking at commencement in a few weeks time? With a little research I discovered that the commencement speech is always dilivered by someone who holds a special place in the university’s esteem. The speaker is one of a handful of recipients of the university’s honorary degrees which are bestowed each year. Past speakers include Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and USC alumni Neil A. Armstrong. With this year’s honorees not yet announced, I spent some time considering whom I might first present with a degree, and then ask to address USC’s graduating seniors. My conclusion was a scholar of significant stature in both the historical and international relations communities. His name is John Lewis Gaddis, and in my opinion he is an outstanding fit when set against the various criteria asked of potential recipients of the honorary degree for doctor of humane letters. To demonstrate, let me address those various criteria.

According to the USC Honorary Degrees Homepage, there are four possible requirements for potential nominees, filling any one of which is sufficient for bestowing the honor. For the sake of concision I will only discuss two that Gaddis meets with distinction. The first is “to honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities, whether or not they are widely known by the general public”. With his extensive body of published works, such as "What We Now Know" and "Strategies For Containment”, Gaddis has made an extraordinary achievement in scholarship. His more then half dozen books detailing the Cold War present an astoundingly detailed account of the last era of human historical thinking. James M. Lindsay the vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations has said that Dr. Gaddis is “widely seen as being the leading historian on Cold War history”. Furthermore his literary contributions have earned him the National Humanities Medal, which is awarded to those who have deepened the nations understanding of the humanities. As such a distinguished scholar, I feel that Dr. Gaddis would be an excellent choice as a recipient of this degree. What is more, his uniquely deep understanding of American history and foreign policy, and his assessment of the nation’s current needs and direction, would likely result in a timely and motivating commencement address. However it is not just the graduates or Dr. Gaddis himself who would benefit from his receiving this degree.

Another USC criterion states that the honor may be presented “to elevate the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor.” To be frank Dr. Gaddis, already possessing a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as various medals and awards, may not need another degree, but USC would reaffirm its commitment to honoring academic excellence by bestowing the award upon him. It would be in keeping with the university’s most revered attributes, particularly those of scholarly and skillful, to recognize this contributor to the academic community. While the USC alumni community is already vibrant, accomplished, successful and held in very high regard, it would never the less behoove the university to show its appreciation of academic virtue by associating with this award winning, presidentially recognized, Yale professor. It seems Dr. Gaddis would be an exemplary recipient to elevate the university in the eyes of the world. Further, such a gesture would be beyond any questions as to the validity of the policy of honorary degrees, such as those voiced by James Freedman, who claims that the academic integrity of such honors has been trivialized in recent years. Freedman emphasizes “In bestowing an honorary degree [of which there is a long tradition in American higher education], a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.” By presenting Gaddis with a degree our university would be making a strong statement about its regard for sustained academic pursuits and skillful scholastic contributions.

In short, the University of Southern California should extend its arms to John Lewis Gaddis, perhaps not this next month, but certainly in the years to come, as both a recognition of the tremendous academic achievement this scholar has made, and as a demonstration of the values that our university cherishes and seeks to instill in the thousands of minds that enter its gates seeking knowledge. It is only fitting that a dedicated academic mind, who’s texts have already enriched many USC students, be recognized for his contribution, and inducted into the Trojan family.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What I believe

This week I would like change tack somewhat, and take some time to explain what motivated me to develop an interest in both Medicine and International Relations. I am compelled to do so because I have recently been spending a fair amount of time reading over other personal affirmations of motivation and belief that have been compiled by the National Public Radio segment entitled This I Believe. In so doing I have discovered that many of those who have contributed essay’s seem to have a common theme or motivation driving their tale. That theme is hard to define, being more a feeling than any stated category. That said, I can try to describe it as a combination of the enduring nature of the human spirit, the realization of the difficulties encountered in everyday life, and yet the persistency in believing that, despite odds and adversity there is a need to perform and appreciate kind deeds and all that is good, and might be good about the future.

This sentiment is expressed many different ways, as I am sure that each person has a unique reason for understanding it. My introduction to it came when I was around ten years old, on an avenue in east L.A. sometime after dark. Having lived in Los Angeles all of my life I had grown accustomed to the occasional tell tale signs of gang activity that are ever-present in most parts of the city. Graffiti and depressing nightly news stories about violence effecting innocent passers by were numbingly frequent. But I had never seen the stark pain and senselessness that accompanies such lawless behavior. That night I saw it first hand. It changed me.

My family and I were coming home from the city some time around nine o’clock. In order to get home from downtown we needed to pass through an area that is home to “The Avenue” gangs.As we drove down one of these avenues I noticed a huddled shape lying in the road. My mother, the driver, also saw the figure and as we drew closer, we all realized that the shape was a person. He was a boy, maybe slightly older then myself. His bicycle lay discarded nearby. He had been shot, what turned out to be four times, if I recall correctly.

My mother is a doctor. Though she practices dermatology, she is a veteran of what is dubbed “the knife and gun club”, the L.A. county ER. While I cannot remember the exact decision to stop the car, I do remember her tending to the wounded boy in the road. I remember her doing what she could until the ambulance arrived. I remember that she was able to help while no one else could. I remember her telling us later that he had been shot because, when asked by a passing car full of gang members where he lived, he had replied “a few blocks up”, and that had been the wrong answer.

That night has influenced me greatly. Over time I developed two distinct ideas in response to it. First, that I should make myself ready to help the injured or dying. For most people, thinking of a doctor brings memories of dentists’ drills, funny paper gowns, cold linoleum flooring and uncomfortable exams. Some who watch dramatic television picture legions of beautiful men and women pausing from sordid lives to help sympathetic patients in crowded emergency rooms. I think of that boy, bleeding in the gutter. I think of a stranger stopping to do everything in their power to make sure that boys’ life would not end there in the street. I think of medicine as a tool to bring people from vastly different backgrounds together, no matter what the circumstance, in order to save lives, and repair the damage done by cruel deeds.

The second idea was that I should always try to keep the safety of my community a high priority, and that supporting law and justice to protect innocent lives was of the utmost importance. But as I have grown, I think that is no longer enough. That night sensitized me to all the news stories I had come to believe were just a fact of life. I quickly realized that it was not just one avenue a few miles from my home where laws and justice had failed innocent people. I began to see that entire nations were at risk of similar victimization. A notion that was driven home as if by a sledgehammer in September a few years later.

Thus I have turned to studying both International Relations and Medicine. My hope is to learn, on the largest, and most personal scales, how to help people live their lives safely, and how to help when things inevitably go wrong like that night in the streets of Los Angeles, or the other day in Iraq. While I state sardonically elsewhere in this blog that I hope to cure all the worlds’ ills, that night has made me believe that by helping one person live to see another day, by fighting to repair an injustice, you can make a world of difference. It may be idealistic, it may be unrealistic, but that is what I believe.

Monday, March 5, 2007

It is Time to End Polio: The Final Stretch of a Terrible Race

We may be on the verge of a historic achievement, or we might soon be witness to an unacceptable failure. Recent talks between the leaders of global health organizations, doctors and politicians have re-ignited the drive in humanitarians and physicians around the world to do something that has only one precedent in recorded history, the complete eradication of a disease. That disease is polio. Over the last twenty-five years astonishing progress has been made to wipe out this once widespread killer. The maps to the left show just how far polio has been forced back since 1988. However it is still a little too early to pop open the champagne and celebrate. Though the disease is nearly gone, the few strands that remain pose a great risk, not just to those infected, but also to the world. They represent the last hurdle in this race, but concern is growing that this final obstacle is insurmountable. Hence we find ourselves at a crossroads in history. One course can see the end of a terrible disease, the other shows us the inability of modern science to capitalize on a golden opportunity.

To provide a degree context for these talks we should invest some time in understanding the virus. Poliomyelitis lives in the intestinal track and throat of its hosts, and once it is contracted it can never be removed. It is highly contagious, normally being spread though poor sanitary conditions, and as such is normally though of as a disease of the third world. While the disease spreads rapidly, it debilitating effects vary. As Polio.com points out though, "Although polio has the ability to cause paralysis and death, most people who are infected with the polio virus don’t get sick, but these people can still spread the virus to others.”

This is where the treat to those countries that have already beaten the disease hides. Because naturally occuring polio has not been seen in America since the 1970’s many children today may not undergo vaccination for the virus. Therefore should they come into contact with someone carrying the disease, perhaps from a foreign visitor or while traveling, they have the potential to spark an outbreak in polio free environments. The possibility of allowing a resurgence of polio is unacceptable. UNICEF points out that "At its peak, polio paralyzed and killed up to half a million people every year." Fortunately vaccination is a relatively simple process, only requiring an orally administered dosage, shown above, or a series of four injections. While vaccination efforts have caused that number to plummet to 2000 new cases per year, the risk of complacency in dealing with the disease is still great. Polio can kill within hours in some cases, so the threat posed by a possible resurgence of the virus within the United States could go from being strictly hypothetical, to demanding drastic action within days.

With this in mind the present opportunity to finish off the virus should be seized. Currently only four countries worldwide are still known to have naturally occurring polio. Those countries, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have all pledged to help end the spread of the virus. However there are persistent challenges to ending the virus permanently, and it is here that those concerned with international relations should be concerned. The major setbacks to stopping the disease have often been military instability in the effected countries, or insufficient funding to ensure that vaccination methods can be achieved. Many countries have to resort to importing the vaccine through small U.N. backed missions, while making use of anything and anyone that can help, as pictured on the left. One World Health Organization report, for instance stated the following: “The main reason for continued transmission in southern Afghanistan is the increasingly serious security situation in that area, which has a negative impact of the ability of health workers to plan, implement and evaluate SIAs.”

Increasing awareness of these types of problems should be of the utmost importance to scholars, civil servants and medical professionals who have understand how international conflicts are disrupting the eradication campaign. Only then can it be corrected. It is equally important that the rest of society takes part in advocating the continued funding and implementation of eradication efforts.

We are all truly close to a historic achievement. Should polio finally be driven off the face of the earth it would represent the culmination of one of the largest multinational humanitarian projects ever undertaken. It would be the final act in what has been a 5.3 billion dollar event, supported by 193 member states, to do something for the benefit of mankind as a whole. We must seize this chance to make such a valuable contribution to world. As Americans we have been the greatest supporter of this initiative. Let us insure that we finish this fight, and end polio now.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Others Answers

While it is my goal (as stated in my bio) to understand the world, and then cure all its ills, I have found it is tough going it alone. Therefore I am looking for other people’s solutions this week. The plan is to find a few different points of view on today’s major international issues, and see what other serious bloggers suggest we do about them. Then, after some careful consideration, comment with what recommendations I have, in hopes of further developing the discussion. Thus without further ado I would like to direct your attention to a Needlenose.com article entitled “Persian Paranoia?” and a Huffington Post blog from February 24th: “How to End the War in Iraq - In A Way That Will Actually Work”. For your convenience I will post my responses to these articles below, along with direct links to the corresponding pages.

Comment 1: To Needlenose in regards to “Persian Paranoia?”

I have to thank you for this post and the light it sheds on this issue. Like you, I am far from an “Islamic scholar” and as such I have only the most basic of understandings when it comes to sectarian differences in the Arab world. Knowing only as much about the “civil war” between the Sunni and Shi’a as CNN will tell me, I am that much more grateful to find a article that will look at the intricacies of the situation.

I could not agree more that poking things with a stick at this point would be inane beyond comprehension. But as someone who (if labels had to be applied) would be leaning more right then left I would like to say that it is not just the progressives that need to ensure that this issue is handled with finesse. We all need to take a more Bismarck like approach to understanding not only the factors involved in the Middle East, but also how to reconcile our actions and support with our own ideals and self interests.

Comment 2: responding to “How to End the War in Iraq - In A Way That Will Actually Work”

I think you have some champion-able causes here. We do need to take a more hands on approach when it comes to our representation if any change is to be made. And I agree that we as Americans need to overhaul the face we show the world. But I wonder about a few things. If Iraq were to pursue the decision to “divide into more than one country along ethnic lines”, countries that would be self determined and nationalistic in nature, wouldn’t we be confronted with another 1930’s German analogy? That is, several small, relatively weak ethnic states bordered by large and militarily ambitious countries with traditional rivalries to those ethnicities.

And while the world would certainly benefit from more charitable donations, certainly far too many people go hungry every day, isn’t the United States already the world’s largest charitable donor? Maybe the key to helping reshape the global economy isn’t the percent of donations given, but better organizing and administering what we already do.

What ever the case may be, I agree that it is high time we start moving away from “private solutions” and work together to make things better and safer for us all.

- T.W.M.K- http://twmkatirusc.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The British are Coming!... Home

The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, pictured on the left, announced the phased withdrawal of UK troops from Iraq earlier today. He called for return of nearly 1,600 troops within the next few months and the removal of all British troops by early 2008. Britain’s force, which currently stands at around 7,000 men will transfer control of the southern part of Iraq, particularly the town of Basra to Iraqi security forces over the next year until full Iraqi authority is established.

The announcement has been met with praise from many different sources. President Bush and Vice President Chaney have stated that they viewed the decision as evidence that things in Iraq are starting to shape up. Many residents of Basra themselves have expressed happiness in seeing the British force there leave. Many parts of the British government have also expressed their approval of the decision.

Yet while it is a positive sign that the local commanders feel comfortable enough to transfer control back to the Iraqis, there are several factors that most news reports seem to be overlooking.

The 7,000 British troops represent the largest coalition fighting force in Iraq aside from the American forces. While their departure may represent a step forward for the Iraqi security forces, it also serves as a signal for other coalition allies to revisit the possibility of leaving the fight. In fact Denmark announced the removal of all of its forces as Britain made its announcement. While the U.S. had been bearing the brunt of this war for its duration, it seems hard to share the president’s optimism as two allies tap out of the fight.

Of further concern is the situation the British leave behind. While most accounts again are positive, there are reasons for concern. The city of Basra, which as shown on the right, is located at the southeastern edge of Iraq, will be significantly weakened. The city and most of the surrounding region is mainly identified as Shia in religious ethnicity. And while the city has not experience the levels of sectarian violence that areas such as Baghdad have suffered, it is certainly not free of bloodshed. It seems reasonable that groups such as Al Qaeda, which is a Sunni extremist group, might find the diminished coalition presence in Basra the perfect opportunity to ignite a new front in the ethnic conflict.

Also, Basra is one of the larger cities that lies a very short distance from the border with Iran. Aside from geographical proximity, the two are both Shai dominant regions. Given the recent concerns of Iranian contributions to the violence in Iraq it seems shortsighted to reduced coalition forces in the area.

What is more, it is overly optimistic to praise the removal of forces from Iraq when most non-government agencies still view the nation as too volatile to occupy. Groups such as Doctors Without Borders, who pride themselves as being international first responders to crisis situations, continue to avoid the country because of the nature of the violence. Suffice it to say, their absence underlines the seriousness of the issue. Though many groups are still attempting to aid in humanitarian efforts though other channels, the situation, at least medically, is still far from acceptable. According to the World Health Organization, Iraq has approximately 1 physician for every 2000 people, and facilities are insufficient to meet demand.

With factors like this in mind it seems disconcerting that a sizable military force is leaving Iraq. While it is always heartening to see soldiers come home safely, we have to wonder what they are leaving behind. If indeed the situation in Basra is secure enough to reduce the number of combat troops, would it not be a perfect opportunity to shift those forces to supportive non combat roles elsewhere in the nation. 1,600 troops could be immensely helpful in speeding up reconstruction of important infrastructure, or in securing areas for international aid groups to reenter the country.

As it stands I salute each returning British soldier, and give my heartfelt thanks to them, their families and their nation for all the contributions and sacrifices they have made. Truly, whatever your stance on the war may be, we must be thankful to have such a steadfast and dependable ally. However I can not help but fear that as British troops leave southern Iraq, the void they leave will be a magnet for insurgent and terrorist forces to expand the regional conflict, further hurt chances to improve medical and humanitarian relief to Iraq, and give Iran greater leverage in the region.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Exploring Alternative Views

This week I have the privilege of turning to other blogs to provide sustenance for my intellectual curiosity. In hopes of inspiring the cross pollinization of thoughts and ideas I am seeking out two other blogs that deal with international relations to shed light on a looming specter in current events. Actually two specters; Iran, and North Korea.

Once heralded as members of the “Axis of Evil” these two countries have continued to be of eminent importance to the United States, especially in regards to national security. Indeed, either one of these states can usually be found on the nightly news on any given day. And now, with growing concerns over Iranian involvement in Iraq, and questionable nuclear developments in both countries in the last few months, I feel it is important to gather information on what appear to be the next major centers for global political development and security.
With all due modesty I can say I know very little about both countries, and hope that by interacting with other writers concerned with nations I may alleviate that unfortunate condition. As mentioned before, it is my intention to make this excursion interactive, and to that end will not only be commenting on what I find, relating my findings here, to be listed below:

My first find in this excursion was a fellow blogger post providing a history and commentary on North Korea. My hope was that it would provide a solid foundation for interpreting the events that are unfolding on that peninsula, and hopefully provide some analysis of those same events. The post does indeed provide a rich background of the nation’s history, which will likely alter one’s views on current events. However the point of view of the post verges on being radically different then a standard western viewpoint. Indeed the author would probably consider “radically different” from standard western views a compliment. But seeing as the most informative and productive modes of enlightenment and learning can often come from developing an understanding and appreciation of alternate views, I was encouraged to proceed.

I find that I do disagree with the author on several points, but am still grateful for an opportunity to better understand how others; and probably a significant number of others, interpret the situation in North Korea. Due to a formatting issue with blogger, the link to that comment can be found at the end of this post.

My second search found the politically motivated DigbysBlogspot which had a recent post regarding American diplomatic and military policy with Iran. The poster had provided a appreciable number of provocative print sources to substantiate his point. The effect made what appeared to by a cynical commentary turn into a thought provoking presentation of evidence of diplomatic failures in dealing with Iran. Again I was compelled to make a statement of my own which can be seen here.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Surviving After Combat: Soldiers Live, But at What Cost?

America’s current "war on terror" is unlike any that the nation has fought in its history. The battlefronts spread out over several countries, the tactics employed by both friends and foes are unconventional, and technology has drastically altered the combat environment. New technologies are being implemented in command and control systems, weapons, and of particular interest, medical treatment of injured soldiers in abroad and at home. Indeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, state of the art field hospitals are allowing unprecedented levels of care for those who can be evacuated form the combat zone. And while these field hospitals are able to save lives that would surely otherwise be lost, they create unique new problems that are as unprecedented as the fields of combat that cause them. These problems are not only physical but psychological. They arise from soldiers who survive that would have previously been lethal wounds and then must reenter a mostly peacetime society. It falls to us, as the members of that society to both acknowledge these unique challenges faced by returning soldiers, and do what is in our power to support their rehabilitation and reincorporation to life here at home.

To understand the situation it is important to have a basic knowledge of the incredible levels of health care being provided by the field hospitals in places such as the 21st combat support hospital (or CSH) near Balad, a city just north of Baghdad in Iraq. Because allied forces have nearly unchallenged air superiority in Iraq the first stage of care for an injured soldier is often a medical transport helicopter. These field units are often able to assess and prepare their patients for surgery as they leave the combat zone. The next stop is a combat support hospital, which is staffed by both military and civilian doctors.

These hospitals are on the cutting edge of medical technology and are able to provided services previously unheard of in a combat zone. For instance the 31st CSH reported preforming over 80 neurosurgeries in three months in early 2004. It is truly remarkable that field surgeons are able to perform brain surgery within hours of the initial injury. Such capabilities have saved hundreds of lives throughout the duration of the war.

However the effort does not stop there, because the primary mission of the field hospitals is only to stabilize its patients for more encompassing treatment elsewhere. Most patients treated in the CSHs are transported out of the combat zone to permanent hospitals in Allied countries such as Germany to undergo prolonged care before being brought back to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in the United States.

This entire process is carried out with impressive haste. Soldiers that need to be removed from active duty normally leave Iraq within 72 hours, and are back in the US in a matter of weeks. However most of these soldiers return with life changing injuries. Because the field hospitals are able to do so much, survivors are returning with injuries that are as unprecedented as the technologies that saved them. In the case of Iraq in particular, the type of injuries that are most common, such as those from improvised explosive devices, are severe head injuries that result in trauma to the brain which is irreversible. And while the field hospitals are saving lives, they cannot promise a full recovery.

One field surgeon from Iraq in a interview with Washington Post acknowledged the sucess of thier medical operation, while aluding to emotional and moral dilemas that it caused, saying "We're saving more people than should be saved, probably,” in regards to a patient who was alive, but was going to loose a significant amount of brain function. Another doctor, Maj. Richard Gullick stated that most soldiers returning after having a traumatic brain injury will have permanent disabilities that are similar to those that occur from mild or moderate strokes. Furhtermore a full quarter of those patients would have severe disabilities. There are indeed some accounts of soldiers coming home in permanent comas, which forced their families to decide whether or not to continue life support.

Cases like these are difficult for not only the soldiers, but the families and communities they return to. It is imperative that we as a people understand and empathize with the situations these families face and help them overcome their hardships. And while the Veterans Authority has been tackling these issues for years, many private and federal projects have started to address these issues such the Intrepid Foundation. The Foundation recently opened the Center for the Intrepid. The facility is a physical rehabilitation hospital that provides the highest levels of care to help return its patients to productive daily lifestyles. While this represents a great step forward, it should be just one of many to follow. Hopefully similar initiatives will help create centers that are just as advanced that focus on psychological and emotional rehabilitation for the grievously injured.

EDIT 3-5-07: There has been a large investigation of the failures of the Army to deal with its injured veterans, to learn more please see this CNN article

Monday, January 29, 2007

AIDS in Africa: A Disease that is Killing Countries

Since its first appearance in the 1980’s Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS has proven to be one of the most frightening and deadly diseases to befall the human race. And while the seriousness of the disease is readily apparent, its dramatic impact on international relations and national security are often overlooked. This may be due to the fact that most highly developed countries medical advances have been very successful in combating the effects of AIDS, so that now most cases it is no longer a death sentence so long as antiretroviral treatments and combination drug therapy are available. Yet while conditions improve here the American public tends to forget those who are less fortunate. For instance, many countries in Africa are facing devastating levels of HIV/AIDS infections in their populations. And as the virus ravishes the people of these countries their nations become infirm and weak as well. The cumulative effect threatens the stability of entire regions of the African continent, creating a serious concern for international security.

According to the World Health Organization or WHO, “There were 4.3 million new infections in 2006 with 2.8 million (65%) of these occurring in sub-Saharan Africa”. A quick analysis of the WHO statistics of African nations shows that ten of the fifty-three countries in Africa have infection rates of over 10% of the adult population. There are literally tens of millions of people currently infected with the virus, and hundreds of thousands of children who have already been orphaned by AIDS. While these numbers are staggering in themselves, it is not my intention to simply restate statistics. Though it is of the utmost importance to keep these figures in the forefront of public awareness there are several other serious questions to be considered with regard to this disease that tend to be overlooked in a typical conversation about AIDS. International relations scholars should ask themselves, how can countries survive when their populations are being quite honestly decimated by a disease? Additionally IR security scholars should ask how could countries destabilized by AIDS pose a security risk to the United States?

Many nations in Africa are already struggling with costly wars, unstable governments and debilitating agricultural conditions. The damage of such a dramatic toll on the population of these countries cannot be overstated. PerhapsGeorge J. Tenet, the former U.S. Director of Central Intelligence provided the most succinct analysis of the problem in his Worldwide Threat Briefing before Congress saying, “The national security dimension of the virus is plain: it can undermine economic growth, exacerbate social tensions, diminish military preparedness, create huge social welfare costs, and further weaken already beleaguered states. And the virus respects no border.”

Examples of this are readily apparent. According to its website the government of South Africa is expected to spend over a billion dollars in the next three years to treat the disease. This amount represents a sizeable percent of the national income. And in other already unstable countries the effects could be more detrimental to U.S. interests and security. The WHO fears that countries such as Somalia, which currently have relatively low reported incidences of HIV and AIDS could face rapid expansion of the virus in the next few years saying in one report “it is widely recognized that the prevalence rates within Somalia could rapidly increase over the next few years, especially given the prevalence rates in neighbouring countries.” Somalia is already an important consideration to U.S. security, with American supported forces having just removed a radical Islamic government from that country barely two weeks ago in order to end human rights violations and support of terrorist organizations.The possibility of AIDS further weakening that war torn country represents an increased threat to stability in the region.

Therefore, even though AIDS is not as prominent a feature in American public discourse as it once was, its importance to our country has never been more significant. The immense humanitarian disaster that this epidemic is causing should be morally unacceptable to peoples of every nation. Furthermore the instability that will likely result from such damage should make the search for solutions to this disaster ever more important to scholars of all fields, particularly those of international security. But regardless of our course of study, it is imperative that those who are able begin helping now. Progress is underway through both grass roots movements and federal programs such as President Bush’s HIV/AIDS Initiatives, which are contributing billions of dollars to help combat the disease. However without a concerted effort by the skilled and capable people of this planet, we could go down in history as being the generation that stood by as a silent genocide swept million of lives from the face of the earth.