Foreign Aid Is a Matter of National Security
In February of 2018, the Trump administration released a budget proposal indicating deep 29 percent budget cuts to the state department and steady 13 percent increases to the defense department. These state department cuts materialize into $16.2 billion taken away from the previous $55.6 billion allocated in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. The Trump Administration justifies the cuts by stating that aid will remain in the accounts of “friends” of our future foreign policy decisions.

Ramifications of the 2018 Budget Proposal

Meanwhile, the proposed budget increases the amount of money spent on national defense by 13 percent, raising the $600 billion budget to nearly $690 billion. The increased defense budget will be used to completely update the United States’ nuclear arsenal and increase the amount of ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska working to address the increased threat of the Korean Peninsula.

Assessing nuclear threats is a fair concern and position for the United States government to take, however it should not come at the expense of drastically decreasing foreign aid. In truth, foreign aid is a matter of national security.

Foreign Aid is a Matter of National Security

While it may not appear obvious at first, foreign aid is known and regarded by many U.S. military officials as beneficial to United States foreign policy and national security. To illustrate, in 2017-retired General Mike Mullen and retired Admiral James Jones wrote a piece explaining the hands-on benefits they saw foreign aid bring in leading American troops.

Both officials explain that military power alone cannot prevent despair within vulnerable countries from turning into outbursts of violence and instability. Robust foreign aid should not be looked upon as a no-strings-attached giveaway to the poorest nations in the world, but rather as stability enhancement to places most susceptible to radical influence.

Threat of Extremism

The generals explain that countries with limited social hope and foreign assistance are the most prone to radicalization that materializes into extremism. Terror organizations like Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, Boko Haram and ISIS take root in countries with common characteristics — instability and poor governance. These terror cells bring about a sense of social support that citizens do not believe their public officials and service programs will be able to provide them.

The former military officials further explain that Congress can, and should, fully fund the International Affairs Budget, as the funding leads to active approaches from the U.S. government, non-government organizations and in-country support to provide services that meet citizens’ basic needs.

Foreign Aid and the Military

Moreover, foreign aid goes hand-in-hand with a strong military. Without support after a strong U.S. military presence, countries can remain unstable and vulnerable to extremist influence. Therefore, foreign aid creates proactive conflict-prevention strategies which are far less expensive in resources and expended lives than reactionary use of United States Armed Forces.

In 2013, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis bluntly summarized the words of the retired officials and explains why foreign aid is a matter of national security: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think it’s a cost benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget…”

Diplomacy is ultimately less expensive than the wars that a lack of diplomacy brings about. While a strong military is considerably important in 2018 and beyond, cutting foreign aid to increase military spending weakens our strength as a nation, a role model and peacekeeper.

The words of these military officials should be kept in mind in future policy decisions so as to clearly explain why foreign aid is a matter of national security.

– Daniel Levy
Photo: Unsplash

Media Misrepresents Iran
Western media has a notorious reputation for misrepresenting developing countries. This article will discuss how the media misrepresents Iran with framing, agenda-setting and manipulation. It will also debunk the common stereotypes embedded in these examples of misinformation.

Iran as a Pro-Terrorism Country

Categorizing Iran as a pro-terrorist country is the largest example of how the media misrepresents Iran. Western media is very quick to blame Iran-based problems on terrorism and, often times, radical Islam. In fact, Iran’s legislation and government officials have clearly proven that they’d prefer Iran to be on sound terms with other nations.

Iranian citizens have been dissatisfied about government spending and its foreign ventures for over a decade now; they would rather spend money internally. To note, reformist president Hassan Rouhani was actually approved for office because of his promise to improve relations with other nations.

Both him and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif are seen as national heroes for their desire for peaceful relations with other countries. To note, western media emphasizes this (false) aspect of Iran the most.

Iran as an Anti-Israeli Country

Characterizing it as a nation with a vendetta against Israelis is the next most common way of how the media misrepresents Iran. Though some Iranian leaders have verbally attacked Israel (like president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose presidency ended in 2013), Iranian citizens have proven to contradict this anti-Israeli feeling.

Larry Cohler-Esses, Jewish journalist, decided to travel to Iran for an exclusive look at Iranian citizens daily lives and genuine feelings. He found that most Iranians are, again, more concerned with domestic issues, with fears surrounding isolation and struggling economically. Indeed, individual citizens have no interest in attacking Israel, but the Iranian government does.

Iran as an Oppressive Country

Western media also misrepresents Iran as a country that oppresses and discriminates against religious minority groups. Iran is known for typically having a conservative, Muslim government that many assume oppresses other religions.

It is true that there has been discrimination against the Baha’i community, but this is because the Baha’i faith has been consider heretical since the 19th Century; however, discrimination is only directed toward the Baha’i community but not to Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and other religious communities.

Iran as a “Backwards” Nation

The media has presented Iran as an impoverished country that is struggling to modernize society. When Cohler-Esses traveled to Iran, he saw no evidence of this.

Instead, he saw a well-educated, youthful population that was fashionable, modern, and critical of their own government. The media also presents Iran as a country with little to no free press, but instead, reformist newspapers have gotten more popular over the years. While Iran does frequently have issues with legislation that constantly changes and effects freedom of press, the nation’s press ultimately has a fair range of freedom to vocalize their concerns.

The media continues to paint Iran as a country with little to no growth or progress, ignoring its efforts to modernize and industrialize society; fortunately, though, this myth continues to be disproven, time and time again.

The media landscape continues to paint blurry pictures of developing countries, but as countries continue to modernize, the reality will present itself — especially in the case of Iran.

– Chylene Babb

Photo: Flickr

Counter-terrorism laws enacted by the U.S. and U.K. are proving detrimental to potential relief efforts in certain parts of Somalia.

Somalia is experiencing the worst drought in the region in 40 years, which is threatening an estimated six million people with famine.  Two million of these people are occupying areas run by al-Shabaab.

Somalia is a country in eastern Africa that has been riddled with political turmoil and instability. Al-Shabaab, or “The Youth” as is translated from Arabic, have contributed heavily to some of the issues in Somalia. They are a product of the radical youth wing of Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts (which is no longer in existence). Al-Shabaab is banned by both the U.S. and U.K. as an active terrorist group.

For the non-radical starving and dehydrated citizens of these Somalian regions, the “bans” and anti-terrorism laws affect humanitarian efforts from reaching them. Humanitarian officials say that these laws are discouraging them from sending support for fear of prosecution, as it is impossible for them to ensure that no aid gets into the hands of members of al-Shabaab. If it did, these organizations would be at risk of going to court and possibly even being shut down.

In addition to just the aid itself, the moving of said relief aid by land in Somalia involves paying “taxes” at roadblocks that are run by various armed groups — some of which are controlled by al-Shabaab, which received an estimated $180,000 per year from aid groups at these road blocks in 2010.

David Concar, the British ambassador to Somalia, said this in an interview recently about the degree at which anti-terrorism laws affect humanitarian efforts in Somalia: “[Counter terrorist] legislation is not intended to stop — and nor should it actually stop — any aid groups from working in such areas as long as they have the necessary controls in place and they’re not deliberately supporting terrorists.”

Despite this apparent clarification, the counter-terrorism laws are still very present, and anxiety among these aid organizations remains, who say need clearer guidance from the U.S. and the U.K. in regard to relief efforts in Somalia. Politically, this “guidance” is hard to execute, as it could be interpreted as negotiations with a terrorist group.

The last major famine in Somalia was in 2011. An estimated 250,000 died as, at the very least, a contributing result of these strict anti-terrorism laws, when little to no aid made it to al-Shabaab-controlled areas.

Dustin Jayroe

Photo: Flickr

Guns are more of a threat mechanism for Boko Haram. It is knives they use to kill.

Known for attacking Christians, government officials and schools in an effort to halt anything it considers to be Westernization, Boko Haram is an Islamic jihad terrorist organization that aims to form an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria. Their violent campaign, which began in 2002 under Mohammed Yusuf, is increasing in intensity and inciting fear throughout the region. This past year alone saw hundreds of deaths at the hands of Boko Haram and the group’s official recognition as a terrorist organization by the United States.

Many innocent Nigerians have been severely affected by the horrors around them. One young woman was held captive for three months and ordered to slit the throats of newcomers brought to her camp. Orders such as this, in addition to the slaughter of numerous people in front of captives, are not uncommon circumstances in the presence of Boko Haram.

Attacks on schools have resulted in an unfortunate educational hiatus. Borno state, for example, closed down all of its schools prior to the normal end of term in order to keep children and educators safe. And the conflict is spreading.

Thousands of refugees have run away from the region, taking refuge over international borders. Navanethem “Navi” Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has recommended a regional effort in order to take on the tumultuous issue of Boko Haram’s terrorist activity.

Nigeria’s national security advisor, Sambo Dasuki, also offers a new path to solve the problem. Claiming that corruption, injustice and a lack of opportunity have led many young Nigerians to support or even join Boko Haram, Dasuki proposes a plan quite different from the military campaign currently attacking Boko Haram camps that is failing to make much progress toward peace.

Dasuki calls it a “soft approach” and purports to enroll past Boko Haram members in vocational schools while local imams deliver different, more pacifist, interpretations of the Quran. The primary issue, however, is that a great many Nigerians, alienated in the northeastern section of the country where Boko Haram runs rampant, harbor a deep distrust for President Goodluck Jonathan’s counterinsurgency program in the area. This military action is expected to continue even through Dasuki’s new approach.

The hope is that a mobilization of “family, cultural, religious and national values” can turn the tide of the situation in northeast Nigeria. With enough energy behind these new initiatives, perhaps the number of people terrorizing civilians will subside and a feeling of safety and security will form as a replacement for fear.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: The Economist, BBC, Al Jazeera, All Africa
Photo: Daily Post

More than a year ago, Mohamed Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origins, shot seven people in three different assaults. Among the victims, three were military personnel shot during two different attacks in a two day span in the French city of Montauban, one was a teacher, and three were children, killed after Merah’s attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse.

Merah claimed to have an affiliation with Al-Qaeda, and was known by the French secret services for his extreme views and was considered a potential threat. Even though he had been under surveillance for some time, police forces were still unable to prevent Mohamed Merah’s attacks.

Since 9/11, radical Islam has become a major security concern for the U.S. and other countries. The World Wide Web and the ease of access to Islam extremists’ thoughts have played a major role in the spread of radical ideologies.

Recent discoveries at Merah’s older brother’s in-law’s house have shown that access to radical Islam propaganda is almost as easy as a simple click. In a hard disk belonging to Merah’s brother, a digital library composed of several thousands of texts was found. These texts are both a guide for newbie jihadist as well as a guide to salafi indoctrination.

The websites visited by the murderer show the role of the Web in the spread of the radicalization of Islam. The websites appear in the headlines of searches of key words such as “Sharia” and “Jihad.” They espouse a more radical Islam centered around a rigorous defense of the Jihad. Translated in many languages, these websites are capable of reaching a larger public and thereby pose a greater threat.

Internet surveillance has become a national security priority in countries all over the world. And even when sites are censored because they are deemed dangerous, they often reappear with a different name.

The Internet, by facilitating access to ideas worldwide, has been greatly beneficial to the public, who can now hope for more transparency and easier access to knowledge. Nevertheless, this facilitated access to ideas has also become the unfortunate tool of many terrorist groups, who use it for both recruitment, financial purposes and as a source for their propaganda.

To this day, no international standard has been established to regulate the content of the internet available to the public. Each country makes its own rules, and there is little to no regulation at an international level. The challenge now is to create an international standard in order to avoid abusive censorship and promote freedom of speech and the spread of ideas in a context of mutual respect.

– Lauren Yeh

Sources: Washington Institute, Islam Et Verite, The Independent, Huffington Post
Photo: AIM