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Conflict Watch: Syrian Rebels Advance, Assad’s Prospects Dim


(A video of Syrian’s burning a statue of Hazef-Al Assad, a symbol of the Assad families 40+ year rule in Syria)

 

Syrian rebels have made significant gains over the last few days, capturing strategic locations in their attempt to topple President Bashar-Al Assad. The Rebels seized the country’s largest hydro-electric dam, as well as military airports. Additionally, rebel troops have closed in on the capital city of Damascus, cutting off supply lines and highways on the way. While historically gains by the rebels have been short lived, as Assad has used aerial power to “shell” any areas the rebels captured, it seems that recent gains may be more sustainable. As Assad turns his focus towards fighting in Damascus, and his aerial supremacy is reduced, rebel gains in the periphery of the country (really anywhere not in firing range of Damascus) will become more permanent in general.

Cutting off the dam will compromise the ability of the Assad regime to provide water and energy to its loyal Alawite sect. If the advances at military airports are as significant as initial reports indicate, this could go a long way in forcing President Assad’s hand in negotiating a transfer of power in Syria. Aerial warfare has been the Assad regimes primary advantage in the 23 month Syrian civil war, without this advantage Assad prospects for military victory are virtually non-existent.

Without the ability to provide water, energy, food or security to Alawites, the regime may find its loyal supporters in a humanitarian crisis similar to the one currently affecting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. Perhaps Alawite suffering will help convince Assad to negotiate in a way that suffering by the rest of Syrians has not.

Iran and Russia, Syria’s two strongest allies, have stated they will not send military help to the Assad regime. While one could question the legitimacy of these claims, it seems that without international help and in light of a diminishing aerial advantage, Assad will sooner rather than later realize he must negotiate with his opposition if he has any hopes of leaving the country alive (and if he hopes to secure the well-being of the Alawite minority he will leave behind).

The Syrian opposition has officially changed its message that Assad must step down in order for negotiations to begin. While it still remains firm that Assad must ultimately step down, it is willing to work with the President if it will help end the bloodshed in Syria. The opposition has offered to speak with Assad in a neutral country or in liberated areas of northern Syria.

It may seem counter-intuitive to increase military pressure while simultaneously offering a political solution to the civil war, yet this is a solid strategy. By appearing increasingly flexible, the opposition is putting the “ball in Assad’s court” in terms of ending the civil war. This will put pressure on Assad to come to the table, especially as his (Alawite) people are made to suffer and his military prospects seem increasingly bleak.

Of course, this potential for a political resolution rests on there being some element of rationality that so far has been absent from the Assad regime. Assad continues to refer to the opposition as “terrorists”, and has made no public which would leave us to believe he has backed off his position that he will never leave Syria. Still, Assad and his supporters ultimately live in the same world as us, and eventually Assad will face pressure from his own constituents to come to the bargaining table with the opposition.

Anything that weakens Assad’s position should help bring about a resolution to the Syrian civil war; a 23 month war that has claimed over 60,000 lives. Hopefully, a humanitarian crisis does not unfold for the Alawites, as most of them are innocent of any crime except being part of the group associated with Assad. However, cutting off vital supplies is certainly a tactic the opposition will consider in its attempt to “put the screws” to Assad and force him to negotiate his departure from power.

We will have to monitor the situation and see how it plays out, although advancements by the Syrian rebels are reason for cautious optimism.

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Monday Morning QB: The Top 10 Infields in MLB

Continuing my pre-spring-training ranking of MLB teams, today we will be focusing on the best infields in MLB. This list primarily focuses on the best offensive infields in the league; every MLB player has at least a certain level of defensive skill, there is much more variation in player’s offensive abilities.

One notable exception here is catcher, whose main job is to successfully manage a pitching staff and stop other teams from stealing bases; a catcher’s defense is arguably more important than his offense. With this in mind, having a good offensive catcher can help boost you up this list, but having a more defensive catcher will not seriously penalize you.

I will write out each teams projected infield by last name in the following order: 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, Catcher.

For comparisons sake, here’s how ESPNs Buster Olney ranked em.

Note: It may appear that I snubbed the Angels from this list, but that is not the case. The Angels do not appear on this list only because Mark Trumbo is slated to be their DH and not their 3B this year. The Angels have a good IF, but other than Pujols most of their star power is in the OF / DH spots.

1)      Rangers (Moreland, Kinsler, Andrus, Beltre, Pierzynski):

These Rangers have one heck of an infield. Adrian Beltre was arguably the hottest hitter in MLB down the stretch last year. Ian Kinsler is an elite 2B, and a 5 tool player at a traditionally weak position offensively. Elvis Andrus is a great contact hitter with remarkable speed. A.J. Pierzynski is coming off a career year, and while he probably won’t repeat his 2012 success, he is an above average offensive catcher. Mitch Moreland is not the best offensive 1B, but he is a solid hitter, and there is a possibility Lance Berkman ends up being the regular 1B if he can get back to his 2011 resurgent form. One of the top prospects in MLB, Jurickson Profar, is ready to make an impact if anyone goes down to injury or is traded. This IF is talented and deep, and the best in baseball.

2)       Cardinals (Craig, Delasco, Furcal, Freese, Y. Molina):

I am a huge fan of the Cardinals offense, and it is amazing that just a year after losing Albert Pujols to free agency, this team ranks so high on this list. Allen Craig is a great hitter with prodigious power; it will be fun to see what he can do with a healthy full season as the everyday first baseman in St. Louis. Rafeal Furcal is a scrappy veteran who knows how to help a team win. David Freese is one of the best young 3B in the league, and has proven he can be a clutch hitter. Yadier Molina has developed into one of the best offensive and defensive catchers in the league. This talented and well rounded group is one of the best in MLB.

 

3)      Tigers (Fielder, Infante, Peralta, Cabrera, Avila):

Miguel Cabrera is coming off the first Triple Crown season in 45 years, and played a surprisingly strong 3B last season. Prince Fielder is a great power and contact hitter. Together they make up the most dangerous 3-4 combo in MLB, and along with any other players would be assured a spot on this list. But the rest of the Tigers IF is nothing to scoff  at. Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila are all above average hitters at their positions. Add up all this talent, and you get the number 3 IF in the league.

 

4)      Yankees (Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, Youkilis, Stewart):

Lots of people are down on the Yankees this year, although I do not see why. True, the Yankees are a year older, and they have question marks at catcher as they wait for young talent to become MLB ready. But the Yankees have All-Stars around the horn. Mark Teixeira is a switch hitting power hitter and the best defensive 1B in MLB. Robby Cano is the best offensive 2B in the game, a player in the prime of his career whose potential seems limitless. Derek Jeter is a year older and coming off an injury, but he will be ready to play. Since Jeter slumped leading up to his 3,000th hit, he has hit well over .300. This was the only prolonged slump of his career, and while there will be people saying he can’t recover from an injury at his age, Jeter will once again silence his critics. A-rod will be missed (?), but I actually like having Youkilis at 3B, he will quietly contribute on offense while posting a .400+ OBP. The Yankees are underrated going into this year, it’s nice to be the underdog for once.

5)      Nationals (Laroche, Espinosa, Desmond, Zimmerman, K. Suzuki/ Ramos):

Adam Laroche finally lived up to his potential, and the Nationals rewarded him with a 2 year $24 million dollar contract. Despite past consistency / durability issues, I expect Laroche to play up to his contract. Danny Espinosa is a young player with power and speed, although his career .239 BA leaves much to be desired. Apparently he played with a torn rotator cuff last year, perhaps his average suffered because of that. Ian Desmond emerged last year as one of the best SS in MLB. Ryan Zimmerman is a stud third baseman and the leader of this young Nationals team. Whoever ends up being their catcher, this is a top 5 IF.

6)      Dodgers (A. Gonzalez, Ellis, Gordon, Ramirez, Ellis)

Although the Dodgers do not currently have Gordon starting at SS, I think sooner or later the Dodgers will move Hanley to 3B and play Dee at SS. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the best hitters in MLB, and Hanley Ramirez has shown the talent to be considered amongst the best hitters in the league as well. Dee Gordon is a speed demon who could develop into a star in the years to come. Mark and A.J. Ellis are both consistent hitters who should see lots of good pitches to hit this year with the Dodgers star-studded lineup. The Dodgers have spent a lot of money to win, now it’s time to see how well that money was spent.

 

7)      Blue Jays (Encarnacion, Izturis, Reyes, Lawrie, Arencebia)

I’m still high on the Jays, and for good reason. Edwin Encarnacion was the breakout player of the year last season, and should continue to post impressive power numbers for years to come. Brett Lawrie is a young player with exceptional speed and power, I expect him to develop greatly as a player this year, being surrounded with all that talent in Toronto. Jose Reyes will have a bounce-back year, and has the potential to be one of the most dynamic players in MLB if he stays  healthy. Maicer Izturis is slated to be the starting 2B, and while he is a decent player, I would not be surprised is Emilio Bonifacio takes over as the everyday 2B once the season is underway. J.P. Arencebia provides some pop behind the plate as well; this Blue Jays team sure has one stacked lineup.

 

8)      Phillies (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Young, Ruiz):

This group would’ve been number 1 on my list 5 years ago, but since then injuries and age have slowed this them down. Still, everybody seems poised to be healthy coming into the 2013 season, so I would not be surprised to see a resurgence of the Phillies this season. If Howard, Utley, and Rollins can stay healthy, this unit will probably perform better than 8th best in the league. This year, Michael Young takes over at 3B for the Phillies; one of the games best pure hitters and a possible 3,000 hit club candidate, Young should fit in well with the rest of the talented veterans on this club. Carlos Ruiz is one of the better offensive catchers in the game; the Phillies are a solid pick for a bounce back season after a disappointing 2012 campaign.

9)      Reds (Votto, Phillips, Cozart, Frazier, Hanigan):

Joey Votto is one of the best hitters in MLB. He hits for power, for average, and is always among the league leaders in OBP and OPS. Brandon Phillips is one of the best 2B in the game; his game features speed, power, and the ability to hit for contact. Zack Cozart and Brandon Frazier are not stars, but they are both solid young players who will continue to improve. When you have Votto and Phillips on your team, you don’t need much else to be considered a great IF.

 

10)   Mets (Davis, Murphy, Tejada, Wright, Buck)

The biggest surprise on this list, and I am very happy to give the Mets some credit where it is due. The Mets ownership did the right thing and  spent the big bucks on their franchise player, David Wright, and have a young talented team to build around him with. Ike David has the potential to be an Adam Dunn type offensive machine, and Wright has proven year in and year out that he is one of the premier hitters in MLB. Daniel Murphy is a solid hitter who should bat around .300 this year, as is Ruben Tejada. The Mets are probably a year or two away from being a legitimate contender, but I think they will be surprisingly successful this year.

Notable exceptions (“X-factor” player listed in parenthesis):

Orioles (Manny Machado), Rockies (Tyler Colvin), Giants (Pablo Sandoval), Royals (Eric Hosmer), Diamondbacks (Paul Goldschmidt)

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Transparency Watch: The Justice Department’s “White Paper”, and Mr. Brennan Goes to Capitol Hill

This post is an attempt to track recent developments with regards to a Justice Department “white paper” detailing targeted killings with drone strikes, and Mr. Brennan’s confirmation hearing with Senate with regards to his nomination as Director of the C.I.A. Most of the post is direct quotes from relevant actors. At the end of the post I will explore some different opinions on drone strikes.

I have separated the post into different sections (although they are all related) to make the information as accessible as possible. There are quotes from a number of articles, and sometimes different parts of an article will appear in different sections of this post. If you cannot find the source of a quote, check one of the other links, as I have linked all of the articles I pulled quotes from. The post is a bit complicated, but that is the nature of the issue being addressed. Be sure to leave any questions and opinions in the comment section.

The DoJ “White Paper”:

“We learned this week, thanks to reporting by NBC News, of a 16-page, unsigned, undated Justice Department “white paper” that outlines the Obama administration’s legal reasoning about targeted killing. The paper asserts that the government may lawfully kill a United States citizen if “an informed, high-level official” decides that the target is a high-ranking Qaeda figure or affiliate who poses “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” and that capturing him is not feasible.’”

Mr. Brennan, as Obama’s nominee for head of the C.I.A., was due for a confirmation hearing before he assumed the position anyhow. However, the timely release of the DoJ “white paper” certainly puts more of a spotlight on the hearings, and shifts most of the attention from “enhanced interrogation techniques” to “targeted killings” via drone strikes.

Mr Brennan’s History: 

“Mr. Brennan, who has wielded tremendous power as the president’s top White House counterterrorism adviser, is expected to face occasionally sharp questioning on a range of topics: from the drone campaign in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere to his role in the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program carried out while he was a top official at the C.I.A.”

“As the agency’s [C.I.A.]deputy executive director when waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods were approved, he said, his job was to help “manage the day-to-day running of the agency” and he had no direct involvement in interrogations but had “significant concerns and personal objections” to elements of the program.”

“Brennan has been something of a Forrest Gump of toxic national security policies, having been in the room when everything from torture to the killing of an American citizen was being debated,” wrote Christopher Anders, the A.C.L.U.’s senior legislative counsel.

Given his wide-ranging portfolio of the past four years, Mr. Brennan’s move to the C.I.A. would narrow his responsibilities. He would have a role in the debate about whether the agency should gradually shift drone operations to the Defense Department, as many experts advise.”

Proliferation of Drone Strikes:

“Stanley McChrystal, the retired general, has warned that drone strikes are so resented abroad that their overuse could jeopardize America’s broader objectives. The secretary of state, John Kerry, spoke at his confirmation hearing of the need to make sure that ‘American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone.’”

“Leon E. Panetta, who headed the C.I.A. from 2009 to 2011 and has served as defense secretary since then, told NBC News on Sunday that he favored shifting most strikes to the military. ‘The advantage to it is it becomes much more transparent,’ Mr. Panetta said.”

“…the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit news organization in London, estimates the number of persons killed in drone attacks at 3,000 to 4,500, including well over 200 children.

“The White House has said it is still developing rules for when to kill terrorists. The United States has conducted more than 400 total strikes in at least three countries — Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — killing more than 3,000 people in its war on Al Qaeda, according to a report by Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The majority killed were part of a C.I.A. covert program begun in 2004 and aimed at militants in Pakistan. At a minimum, United States rules should specify that no one can be killed unless actively planning or participating in terror, or helping lead the Taliban in Pakistan or Al Qaeda. Killing should be authorized only when it can be demonstrated that capture is impossible. Standards for preventing the killing of innocents who might be nearby should be detailed and thorough.

“The confirmation hearing provides an opportunity for Mr. Brennan to explain his view on whether there is any check on presidential decision-making, especially when American citizens are targeted, and whether targeted killings are creating more militants than they are eliminating.”

Because so much of the targeted killing program remains shrouded in secrecy, however, it is unclear how much the Senate Intelligence Committee will press Mr. Brennan for detailed answers about the program during the public session, or whether it will wait until the additional “closed hearing” that is routine for the confirmation hearings of C.I.A. directors.”

“An investigator for the United Nations Human Rights Council said last month that he would study the “exponential rise” in drone strikes in counterterrorism operations. More than 50 nations have or are trying to get the technology. The United States will set the standard for them all.”

Senate Hearing:

“In his opening statement, Mr. Brennan acknowledged ‘widespread debate’ about the administration’s counterterrorism operations but strongly defended them, saying the United States remained ‘at war with Al Qaeda.’

He [Brennan] said later that when C.I.A. drone strikes accidentally kill civilians, those mistakes should be admitted. ‘We need to acknowledge it publicly,’ he said. ‘In the interests of transparency, I believe the United States government should acknowledge it.’

But senators repeatedly complained that there was too little transparency about the targeted killing program, sometimes producing misleading information in the news media.

‘I think that this has gone about as far as it can go as a covert activity,’ Ms. Feinstein [Democratic Senator from California] told reporters after the hearing.’”

How can drone strikes operate in a more transparent way? Mr. Panetta has called for shifting drone operations from the C.I.A. to the D.o.D for accountability reasons. However, drones are generally used in covert missions, gathering intelligence and visually monitoring an area without striking. How can covert national security missions be made more “transparent”? While Mr. Brennan agreed more transparency was need, he had a hard time explaining how that could be achieved.

“Even Mr. Brennan had a hard time explaining how much information he thought should be disclosed about targeted killings. ‘What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time, optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security.’ he said.”

 “Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, told Mr. Brennan that the committee had never been given the full list of countries in which the C.I.A. has carried out lethal operations.” Creating such a list would go a long way towards increasing accountability with regards to drone strikes. But do we really want national security operations on a list which could potentially fall into the wrong hands?

Another idea [proposed by Ms. Feinstein] was creating a special court to oversee drone strike issues, an idea that Brennan gave a lukewarm response: “Mr. Brennan was noncommittal, noting that lethal operations are generally the sole responsibility of the executive branch. But he said the administration had “wrestled with” the concept of such a court and called the idea “certainly worthy of discussion.”

Different Opinions About Drone Strikes:

Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of law and international dispute resolution at Notre Dame, is critical of the U.S. use of drone strikes:

“Today, the United States is involved in a true armed conflict only in Afghanistan. Yet drone attacks have been carried out in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan and may soon begin in Libya, Mali and Nigeria.” (and honestly, who knows where else)

“For years, Mr. Obama has stretched executive power to claim that the 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda gives him the unilateral authority to order people, including American citizens, killed away from any battlefield without judicial oversight or public accountability. He took a step in the right direction on Wednesday when he directed the Justice Department to give Congressional committees its classified legal advice on targeting Americans.”

“Terms like ‘armed conflict,’ ‘combat’ and ‘battlefield’ are integral to the proper functioning of human rights law and international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions. Such definitions are well established and can no more be tampered with to suit the administration’s preferences than can the definition of torture.

Putting aside whether the targeted killings are even effective, the law must take precedence. Outside of armed conflict zones, the killing of innocent bystanders cannot be tolerated. The Justice Department has concocted an elastic definition of necessity — attempting to justify force in the absence of an immediate lethal threat — without citing any treaty or decision by an international court.’”

Counterpoint:

The U.S. is not legally bound to U.N [or any international organizations] decisions. The U.S. remains autonomous from the U.N (although the two work very closely, legally U.S. military action is decided by Congress and the President; how closely a President works with the U.N. varies by administration). Definitions need to be changed to meet to evolving nature of conflict. Terrorism is becoming more sophisticated with the use of new technology, therefore counterterrorism measures must keep up.

As a nation, we did not do enough to prevent 9/11 or take terrorists (Al Queda specifically) abilities to strike on U.S. soil seriously; we must not underestimate their abilities again. While humanitarian injustices are good reasons to fight terrorism abroad, the number one objective of U.S. foreign policy is to ensure no future attacks are carried out on American soil. If drone strikes help this goal, then they are a worthwhile tool to use (perhaps less liberally than the Obama administration has, although how would any regular citizen have any insight into when and where drone strikes are “justified”.  


I have personally heard many different opinions on this issue. Those opinions range from “who cares, if they are  terrorists it’s fine” to “this is an over-extension of executive powers, it undermines due process and is therefore unconstitutional.”

Every President has expanded executive power in some way to deal with the issues of the day. Is what the Obama administration doing justified? Is it constitutional? How do you feel about other countries using drone strikes? How can we improve our drone operations to make the process more effective and transparent / accountable without undermining national security interests?

This is a very interesting topic; as the debate shifts to the public realm, I can only imagine more and more people will have strong opinions about the issue. While public opinion may shape how certain actors in the media perceive the issue, ultimately these difficult decisions will have to be made by defense experts and not ordinary citizens.


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Economic Outlook: Helping the Poor and Changing Our Standards, The DoJ vs. S & P

Say what you will, but you can’t say the Department of Justice isn’t going after the institutions responsible for perpetuating and deepening the housing crisis. First it went after the big banks (which recently settled for$ 8.5 billion), and now Standard & Poor’s (marking the first such case against a credit rating agency):

“The Justice Department plans to file civil fraud charges against the nation’s largest credit-ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, accusing the firm of inflating the ratings of mortgage investments and setting them up for a crash when the financial crisis struck.”

The Justice Department has decided to sue S & P for $5 billion. S & P contends it did no wrongdoing leading up to the housing crisis. The company will point to the facts that the Fed didn’t even know the severity of the housing bubble just days before it popped, and that its ratings were similar to those of other agencies.

“The case is said to focus on about 30 collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s, an exotic type of security made up of bundles of mortgage bonds, which in turn were composed of individual home loans. According to S.& P., the mortgage securities were created in 2007, at the height of the housing boom. S.& P. was paid fees of about $13 million for rating them.

Prosecutors, according to the people briefed on the discussions, have uncovered troves of e-mails written by S.& P. employees, which the government considers damaging. Portions of those e-mails are likely to be disclosed in the government’s complaint, these people said. The firm gave the government more than 20 million pages of e-mails as part of its investigation, the people with knowledge of the process said.”

Here’s the role the DoJ will argue S&P played in perpetuating the housing bubble:

“The three major ratings agencies are typically paid by the issuers of the securities they rate — in this case, the banks that had packaged the mortgage-backed securities and wanted to market them. The investors who would buy the securities were not involved in the process but depended on the rating agencies’ assessments.”

The three major ratings agencies are S&P, Moody’s, and Fitch; at this point the suit is only set to be filed against S & P, although subsequent cases could implicate the other two agencies, especially if the DoJ is successful in proving wrongdoing between S & P and the financial institutions it rates.

Paul Krugman weighs in on why financial reform is still important: Financial reform and holding financial institutions responsible for past violations are not the same thing. But viewed together, they both represent taking America back from corporate interests and making the country work for the average U.S. citizen. It represents a Wall St. vs. Main St. fight that has been long overdue.

“How can the G.O.P. be so determined to make America safe for financial fraud, with the 2008 crisis still so fresh in our memory?…Right now, all the media focus is on the obvious hot issues — immigration, guns, the sequester, and so on. But let’s try not to let this one fall through the cracks: just four years after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees, Senate Republicans are using every means at their disposal, violating all the usual norms of politics in the process, in an attempt to give the bankers a chance to do it all over again.”

The Obama administration and the Justice Department seem to be thinking along the same lines as PK. Some may argue that more resources should be focused on holding responsible those individuals who were central in perpetuating the housing bubble. The issue with this goal is who to go after? Should it be the CEOs [who still received huge bonuses and salaries despite taxpayer bailouts]? Should it be the financial engineers who created derivatives that were too complex for most people to understand, or perhaps the bankers who made large commissions by knowingly selling mortgages to people who could not afford them?

By focusing on the organizations as a whole, and pursuing a civil case instead of a criminal case, the DoJ is giving itself the best opportunity to win the case. Sometimes we have to look past the narrow definition of what we feel would be “right” and instead focus on what is most feasible.  In these cases, a significant portion of the money won is supposed to go directly towards helping those whom were taken advantage of and lost their homes due to delinquent practices by financial institutions (who tend to be the poorest people who were seen as easy targets).    If the DoJ can prove wrongdoing by S & P and win this case, you can be sure that Moody’s and Fitch will be the next rating agencies in the hot seat.  Every dollar won back to help those who lost their homes due to illegitimate business practices by financial institutions is a dollar worth fighting for.

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Conflict Watch: Syria (Update), Seperating “Positions” and “Interests”

Negotiation almost always plays a part in resolving any political, economic, or philosophical / ideological divide. Negotiation theory proposes that by moving past each side’s positions (which tend to be incompatible), and instead focusing on each sides interest, bargaining space can be created where seemingly none exists. Whether arguing with a friend, or trying to negotiate the end of a bloody civil war, the first step is almost always getting the right people to come to the table together and talk with open minds:

“The [Syrian National Coalition] regime must take a clear stand (on dialogue) and we say we will extend our hand for the interest of people and to help the regime leave peacefully,” he said in separate comments to Al Jazeera television.”

But Assad thinks he can win the war against the rebels, whom he still describes as terrorists:

“Assad has described the rebels as foreign-backed Islamist terrorists and said a precondition for any solution is that Turkey and Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab states stop funding, sheltering and arming his foes.”

Both sides have maintained that the other side must stop doing what it is doing as a precondition for negotiations. If neither side will budge, then Syria will be in what is known as a “hurting stalemate”, a situation whether neither side of a conflict advances or regresses meaningfully. Resources continue to be depleted, while people die as a result of fighting and malnutrition and Syria loses years [possibly decades] of economic progress and development. Alkhatib, a SNC leader, has drawn unfair criticism from some of his more radical supporters in offering to negotiate with Assad:

“Alkhatib said it was not “treachery” to seek dialogue to end a conflict in which more than 60,000 people have been killed, 700,000 have been driven from their country and millions more are homeless and hungry.”

Yesterday, the rest of the SNC seemed to have officially fallen in line with its leader’s softer stance; The opposition hopes Assad will be open to leaving if he is given amnesty for his role during the 22 month Syrian civil war:

Syria’s opposition coalition gave qualified backing on Monday to its leader’s surprise offer last week for a dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad to end the civil war, pressing him to respond definitively and even offering the added inducement that he could avoid trial if he resigned and left the country… “We say we will extend our hand for the interest of people and to help the regime leave peacefully,” Sheik Khatib said in the interview. “It is now in the hands of the regime.”

“Mr. Bunni [a Syrian human rights activist] also said, “If this goal, Assad stepping down, can be achieved through a political solution, then we are going to receive it in a positive way.”

The SNC has backed off its position that Assad must step down before negotiations can take place, in hopes of pursuing its interests of ending the bloody civil war and ensuing humanitarian crisis in Syria. It remains to be seen if Assad has reconsidered his position and is willing to put his interests (keeping his life and avoiding the shame/punishment resulting from a trial for war crimes against the Syrian people) ahead of his position that he will never willingly leave Syria.

The only way any progress can be made in the Syrian conflict is if: A) The two sides of the conflict agree to drop preconditions for talks or B) An outside power shifts the tide of the conflict by increasing support for either side (realistically, only the rebels have hopes of getting additional support, as Assad has few supporters left.)

One of Assad’s few remaining supporters, Iran, has seemingly become increasingly disenfranchised with Assad’s prospects for victory. If Iran decides Assad must go, then Assad will be without any official supporters in the region, and will have to seriously consider the SNC’s offer of amnesty:
“The army of Syria is big enough, they do not need fighters from outside,” Iran’s Salehi said in Berlin on Monday.

“We are giving them economic support, we are sending gasoline, we are sending wheat. We are trying to send electricity to them through Iraq; we have not been successful.”

“We believe that (deciding) whoever stays or goes is the right of the Syrian people. How can we interfere in that? We must strive to achieve national understanding, and free elections.”

Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden all met Alkhatib in Munich at the weekend and portrayed his willingness to talk with Syrian authorities as a major step towards resolving the war.”

However, questions still remain as to who will fill the power vacuum left by Assad’s departure, which has caused reluctance among Western powers to arm the Syrian rebels:

“The majority of the insurgents are Islamists but those affiliated with al Qaeda are smaller in number, although their influence is growing. For that reason, Western states have been loath to arm the rebels despite their calls for Assad’s ouster.”

The power vacuum created by Assad’ removal, coupled with the large costs associated with direct military intervention (not to mention such an action has been vetoed numerous times by China / Russia in the U.N.S.C.) have resulted in relative inaction by the West at the expense of the Syrian people. While the West slowly decides how best to handle the situation in Syria, regional actors Iran and Egypt may be able to play a bigger role in ending the civil war:

“Egypt is concerned by Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is trying to crush an uprising inspired by the revolt that swept Mubarak from power two years ago. Egypt’s overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim population is broadly supportive of the uprising against Assad’s Alawite-led administration.”

I have supported Morsi’s rule in Egypt for exactly this reason. If Egypt can champion democracy and modernization in the Middle-East, while remaining an Islamic state, then it will be proof that Islamic culture and “Western values” can coexist, setting a valuable precedent in the region. Egypt can be a strong ally geopolitical ally to the west, both in the Middle-East and Northern Africa thanks to its location. Because of its Islamic population, other countries are much more likely to listen to what Egypt has to say than a Western power (Islamic nations often accuse the west of trying to impose “Western values” at the expense of tradition. Egypt can show them this is not true, that modernization and tradition are compatible).

One way or another, something has to give in the Syrian civil war. It is promising that there seem to be multiple avenues working towards Assad’s removal and a political resolution to the Syrian civil war. However, all this is contingent on Assad being a rational person and reconsidering his position in light of his increasingly bleak outlook. If Assad remains unwilling to come to a political compromise, military intervention may remain the only way to end the war.


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Monday Morning QB: After Super Bowl Sunday There is Miserable Monday

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People often joke(?) that the day after the Super Bowl should be a national holiday. Considering most people at work today are probably nursing hangovers / talking about what they did for the game all day, I would say that’s not such a bad idea (but what do I know, I just blog and go to class, I really don’t have enough stake in this debate to have an opinion, what do you guys think?)

I would like to give a big shout out to the Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl champions. I can’t believe I picked against the Ravens 3 times these playoffs. Out of the 5 playoff games I got wrong, 3 were picking against the Ravens.

I think I should defend my position with a little context, as I certainly do not hate the Ravens. The Ravens are actually one of my favorite teams in the league. I picked against them twice because I wanted to see specific matchups (first Luck v. Peyton, then Peyton v. Brady), but in the end Ravens wins produced arguably the best Super Bowl matchup possible (so long as the Giants weren’t in it of course; next year the Manning brothers will face off in the Super Bowl).

Not only did I go to high school with Ray Rice, I also went to college with Joe Flacco, there are only a handful of people who can say that! But the 49ers were my favorite team growing up, not root for them would be caving to peer pressure (Jerry Rice and Steve Young were my favorite players, Young was a lefty just like me and I was so fierce a 49ers fan I once accidentally broke my brothers arm for making fun of them losing).

I actually liked the Ravens to win the Super Bowl when the season started. They got off to that great start and looked unbeatable. Then they cooled off and so did my opinion of then. Ray Lewis got hurt and Suggs was out. But the team got healthy at the right time, and sometimes it’s better to be the “hot team” then the “better team” (just ask Giants and Patriots fans). I may have been rooting for the 49ers but I was playing with house money, as the Niners and Ravens are my second and third favorite teams respectively.

Again, congrats to the Ravens and Ray Rice specifically; Ray is a true American success story of a kid who came from nothing and worked his way to the top. Throughout all the fame and success he never forgot where he came from and continues to give back to the city of New Rochelle. Although I do not know Ray personally, I feel like I’ve gotten to know him a bit by following on Facebook. He regularly posts inspirational messages, is outspoken against bullying, and seems like a very socially conscious person. Every sports superstar has the opportunity to use their success as a platform for disseminating a positive message, but not every superstar takes that opportunity. The fact the Mr. Rice has stepped up to the plate in this way speaks volumes about who he is as a person and the environment he grew up in (NEW RO!!!!). If you do not already follow Ray on FB, I highly suggest you do.

So there you have it, the Ravens fairytale season concludes with a fairytale ending. Torrey Smith lost his little brother this season; hopefully this victory helps ease his pain in some small way. Ray Lewis put an exclamation point at the end of a first-ballot-H.O.F. career, and New Rochelle gets to bask in the reflective glory of the Lombardi trophy.

There you have it folks, it ended up being a great Super Bowl. The 49ers almost made the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history but fell a bit short. Football is over for now, which only makes the hangover from Super Bowl Sunday that much harder to stomach.

In other sports news, baseball is around the corner! Pitchers and Catchers will be reporting to spring training in about 2 weeks, and the World Baseball Classic starts in a little less than a month. I even got A glimpse of some Caribbean winter league action over the weekend. While nothing quite compares to football Sundays, at least we still have Basketball, Hockey, and {soon) Baseball (not to mention  NY teams with championship aspirations in all three sports!).