Tag Archives: political science

Kyrgyzstan and the United States

The BBC reports today that Kyrgyzstan will be shuttering the United States air base outside the capital city of Bishkek. This is pretty big news any direction that you cut it, but given our new “focus” on fixing things in Afghanistan, the closing of the Manas base is really, really, really important. You can check out my paper about Democratization in Kyrgyzstan on GoogleDocs; it has a few bits about the air base and its importance.

We’ve never really treated our Central Asian presence as seriously as I would have hoped for, and it shows. The turning down of American interests in Central Asia is to be expected, even in the face of President Obama’s hopes for changing the perception of America. Russia has come out ahead, largely because they have decided to pay the Kyrgyz for the privileges of hanging out.

This sucks, yes, and I don’t know how to recoup these losses. Between Manas and the Kharshi-Khanabad “issue” in 2005, the United States is being edged out of one of the most important places on earth.

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Tit for Tat

OK. Punching someone just because they hit you is not good. This isn’t just me speaking as a (more or less) pacifist. Preemption is an even more dangerous game, as we have found with our Mesopotamian excursion. News this past week makes me think that we earthlings still haven’t figured these things out.

In the midst of renewed fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, a report was released detailing Israeli pleas in the first part of 2008 to launch strategic strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The US government refused to go along with the plan, thankfully. I don’t think that this news piece is getting enough play. It is pretty darn important.

Tehran makes no secret of its wish to see Israel dissolved – we know this. I make no excuses for the last 29 years of Iranian history. But if we are to figure out how to make progress toward peace in the Middle East and beyond, we’re going to have to look at the reasoning behind the rhetoric. Iran is calling for action against Israel, who is calling for action against Iran. It’s not like Tel Aviv is just thinking about doing something drastic – their attack plans are drawn up and they have asked Washington for flyover privileges in Iraq.

I’m not going to get involved in arguing about who threatened who first, or in what context such a thing would have happened, but when I see our Congressional leadership and other elected officials repeatedly stressing Israel’s right to defend itself, why is there no recognition of the abject fear than many Iranians have of Tel Aviv? Does a right of self-defense not extend to states that far east?

I’ll caveat everything that I’ve said here by noting that my studies are in democratization and religious/political identity. I have precious little coursework or reading background in security strategy and preemption theory. I am, however, a historian at heart, and I see our policymakers giving the historical record either too much or too little weight. Let’s have some more conversation about his, shall we?

Philadelphia

I finished off my whirl of a week in DC with a trip to Philadelphia to visit my aunt. She works for the Atwater Kent Museum, close to Independence Hall, the little brick building where such fine documents as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed. It was a real treat to walk around the city and see these things again.

I last visited Philadelphia in 1995 when I was a little kid, when seeing the chair where Washington sat only excited me as a history piece. Now, as a student of political science, I see these places (Philadelphia prides itself on American “firsts”) as so much more.

It was inspiring to be walking around the places where some really, really important decisions in our history have been made. Despite all of the history and monuments, though, the place had a feel much like Denver – it’s a big town with a small town feel.

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Governance and Social Media (Digital Superstructure pt. 1)

I was picking through two old posts, one about the disembodied nature of empire and the other about the shifting nature of political/economic/social authority on a global level, and I started to think about how to apply my older thoughts on such things to my current interest in social contract theory and the growth of the “digital superstructure(s)” that are increasingly front-and-center in our lives.

In this case, being a contributor, or at least a mildly active participant in one’s own “digital life” (since you’ve got one even if you’re not online!) is a better idea than sitting back. The benefits (real or perceived) of being plugged in are simply higher than staying out. Pragmatism, not popularity, is driving us onto the internet – into the diffuse, sometimes highly-selective networks that are changing the speed of news, connecting consumers to producers, or even helping people.

We have absolutely no idea what is coming next, but we know that when things change, or when something big happens, there will be reflexive, collaborative and, above all, supportive networks in place for dealing with whatever it is. Best of all, these networks are, to a certain extent, self-regulating. We are governing ourselves by a loose set of rules that become more and more codified as time goes on. I doubt we’ll ever have a “Blogger’s Bill of Rights” or anything like that, but things are progressing, whatever that means.

For an interesting look at what might be coming around the bend, take a look at Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega Point Theory, but instead of viewing it in terms of true global consciousness, put it in the language of social networking and the internet. Doesn’t sound quite so far-fetched now. Or does it?

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The Digital Contact, pt. 1

I would say that I am a political scientist. It’s not the first thing I do, nor is it the most important, but it’s a big part of my life. I’ve been studying quite a bit about the concept of the “social contract.” In its most basic terms, the social contract is a descriptive theory about why human beings choose to join together in civil society and appoint people to lead them. The idea is that before the rise of civil society/government, humans existed in a “state of nature,” an amoral place wherein there was a great risk of violent death. Furthermore, in the state of nature there could be no real progression; history was not important because everything, day in and day out, was the same.

The social contract is the agreement between a people and the leader or leaders that they appoint to lead them. The social contract assumes that the people will give up a number of their rights in order to be protected and supplied by the sovereign, or leader. Political scientists have been writing about the social contract for 4oo years. Every new author has an interesting twist or a different viewpoint that furthers the dialogue and contributes to our understanding of the need for government in our modern era.

My intention is to combine extant theoretical notions of the social contract theory with modern network theory and social media to build a framework for the Next Big Step. It is an ambitious project, to be sure, but I think that it is eminently possible.

The basic idea is this: Things have gotten to the point where the traditional systems of government are no longer doing what they were created to do. The growth of communication/globalization has changed the way that people (be they citizens of whatever state) relate to one another and to their leaders. A possible example of the “new way” is Barack Obama’s change.gov, which provides Web 2.0 functionality to the American government. Whatever the case, we are in a very good position to provide not only a descriptive account of what the new social contract theory will look like, but also a prescriptive account of what we ought to be doing in order to make the transition.

I will be posting periodical updates here, and when I have a whole bunch of stuff written down, I will make the GoogleDoc live, enabling all who have thoughts to weigh in and aid me in producing what will hopefully be a practical, hopeful schematic for the future of social media, governance, and the world community. Best to you all. These are exciting times.

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President Barack Hussein Obama II

We have elected our 44th President. He is an American who grew up among other cultures. He is an American who has overcome great obstacles, but who has persevered. He is an American who represents the possible futures for the youth of this nation, and for the youth of the world.

But he is an American president who will inherit a broken nation, one that is divided and confused. He is an American president who will be tasked with rectifying out economic woes. He is an American president that must, must work very hard and diligently to restore the American vision. This American vision, this American Dream, is what has bound our nation to the rest of the world.

He is an American who understands these things, and he will not shy away from the hard road ahead.

He is Barack Hussein Obama II, and he is the 44th President of the United States of America.

He is going to need our help.

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Interfaith Coalitions and Revolution


I was sitting there in my “Introduction to the Middle East and Islamic Politics” course today, listening to Dr. Hashemi lecture about the relationship between authoritarian states and their effect on political expression. He did this through a case study of Iran, explaining the ways in which politicized Islam grew to be a legitimate outlet for Iranians because there was no other outlet. This is what happens when a government squeezes its own civil society.

As he was speaking, I zoned out, and found myself wondering (because I’ve never checked it out) where the other religious groups stood in those months leading up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Despite Tehran’s vociferous condemnations of Israel, Iran still boasts a population of 25,000-ish Jews (they’ve been there a very, very long time). At the time of the Revolution, there could have been as many as 80,000. There are of course Christians of various shades and Zoroastrians and probably bunches of others. I’m going to do some research and see if I can find out how involved, if at all, these groups were before, during, and after the Revolution. And of course find out if they are involved today.

It’s worth noting that interfaith coalitions are really a value-added way to promote revolution/social change. Martin Luther King walked with Abraham Joshua Heschel. Gandhi collaborated with Indian Muslims and the panoply of South Asian faiths. There were Christian/Muslim/Jewish coalitions working to end apartheid in South Africa.

In all these cases, and for our current hour, the power of people of faith cooperating to do good things is readily apparent, and cannot be underestimated.