Within international relations studies, it is a useful rhetorical exercise to group states as rational, individual actors with clearly defined interests, strength, and—perhaps just as important—borders. This allows us to apply general theories of international relations to global events in order to understand and predict future action. But what happens, while viewing the world through this lens, when borders are softened? What if borders are permeable and far from static, constantly changing due to massive human flux? Conflict, drought, famine, and income inequality are major drivers of mass migration across borders and have the potential to destabilize countries and regions in profound ways. Below we will examine the impact of how a non-state actor uses permeable borders in conflict zones to its advantage.


On January 2, 2013, a car bomb exploded in Haret Hreik district, a suburb of Beirut, killing five including Lebanese ex-ambassador to the United States Mohamad Chatah. Chatah had been a staunch critic of the Assad regime, and was hailed by Secretary of State John Kerry as “a voice of reason, responsibility, and moderation.” External link This bombing was merely the latest of dozens of recent terrorist bombings in Lebanon directly resulting from spillover from the neighboring Syrian civil war. Concurrent attacks have occurred across Iraq as well.

The porous borders of northern Syria allows for the unfortunate free-flow of fighters and terrorists between Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. Al Qaeda-linked affiliates, specifically the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, seek to reignite sectarian conflict throughout the region. The ISIL, a major rebel force in the Syrian conflict, complicates the issues of U.S. military aid to rebel fighters.

Al Qaeda, far from being a decimated organization, has shown resilience by adapting quickly to changing environments throughout the Middle East. While Al Qaeda may be dismantled in Afghanistan, having its leadership picked off one by one in U.S. drone strikes, it has resurged in the Syrian conflict as a major player in the rebel fighting. Syria, a country that is 74 percent Sunni, serves as a springboard to the ISIL, launching transnational operations from Syria into Lebanon and Iraq. Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist organization operating from Lebanon with support from Iran, has pledged its support of the Assad regime, further complicating already tense sectarian relations throughout the region.

The spillover of Al Qaeda violence across borders is not a new phenomenon. During the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Syrian terrorists crossed into Iraq in droves to wage asymmetrical warfare against the U.S. military. For Al Qaeda, a perpetual game of whack-a-mole seems to be a correct analogy; couple this organizational dynamic with the weak borders of Syria, and we see that Al Qaeda is primed to restart the bloody sectarian violence in neighboring countries.

What does the resurgence of Al Qaeda in Syria, and the eventual spillover of violence into neighboring countries, mean for the region?

First, the conflict will become more violent and complicated as the Sunni-Shiite divide is widened further due to discriminate targeting of Shiites by Al Qaeda, in turn leading to violent retribution from actors like Hezbollah. Emboldened individuals could lead to a rapid escalation of violence that could claim the lives of thousands. Furthermore, as Al Qaeda continues to be forced out of Syria External link by Assad’s government forces, we will perhaps see a correlation of increased violence in neighboring countries.

Second, the resurgence of Al Qaeda in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq greatly complicates the issue of U.S. military aid to rebel groups that oppose the Assad regime. Al Qaeda, whose major purpose is the expulsion of U.S. presence in the Middle East, is unwittingly supporting a U.S. foreign policy goal: the removal of Assad. Unfortunately, that is the only similarity between the goals; while the United States desires a transitional government and eventual democracy, Al Qaeda hopes to institute sharia law and restore the caliphate.

Finally, it is possible that the international community—fearing the spread of a civil war throughout these Middle Eastern states—will step in with heightened vigor. Syrian refugees have already begun fleeing to neighboring states like Turkey and Israel, complicating the crisis and expanding the conflict’s reach in the region. Perhaps international actors can provide logistical support to increase border security while at the same time supplying and unifying the more moderate rebel groups. Other major regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and Iran have strong interests in the Syrian conflict and will want to participate in any conflict resolution negotiations.

Containment of the Syrian conflict, and support for clearly identified moderate rebel groups, may be the best option for U.S. policymakers and their allied counterparts. Al Qaeda’s resurgence in Syria over the past three years can almost certainly be attributed to the international community’s inertia. One only hopes that U.S. policymakers and international actors recognize the significance and address the spillover of this conflict.


Originally published on International Relations Online at American University


This past Monday, American University’s International Relations Online Blog posted the following infographic. “Understanding the Human Capital Index” takes a beautiful and comparative look at World Economic Forum human capital indicators across countries.

Infographic creator John Sinden states:

From November 18–20, thought leaders within the business, government, and civil society fields will gather in Abu Dhabi for the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda. The purpose of this summit is to deliberate the great challenges of our time, including but not limited to, society, technology, economics, and inclusive growth. One of the major challenges to inclusive growth and economic growth is the development of human capital on a national and global scale.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a major human capital thought leader and continues to provide insight as to how human capital investment propels national and global economies. To measure nations’ human capital, the WEF considers factors and indicators of individuals as well as long-term trends that shape a nation’s workforce and talent pool. This infographic, brought to you by American University School of International Service’s International Relations Online, breaks down the four pillars that the WEF uses to measure human capital and provides a comparison of nations’ performance within the context of the index.

For the full post, click here.

International Relations Online Blog: Understanding the Human Capital Index [INFOGRAPHIC]

International Relations Online Blog: Understanding the Human Capital Index [INFOGRAPHIC]

Hey there.

Enjoy George Mason University play a little bit of Rage Against the Machine.

I’ve never wanted to break things while listening to a marching band before. This takes the cake. Killing in the Name of.



The Long Run

How do you defeat an ideologically-driven movement?
Why is it, for example, that in the world today, no government espouses National Socialism?  Why was there a second German war, but not a third?  Why is it that Nazi aggression is not a problem – or even a conceivable problem – in the world today?  Let us not imagine that it is because these were ideas that never commanded any popularity.  Hitler came to power, originally at least, through entirely constitutional means, and at the time, right-wing governments sympathetic to National Socialism.  The invasion of the Soviet Union was a multilateral effort supported, not only by Germans, but by Austrians, Romanians, Spaniards, Finns, Poles, Italians, and Hungarians, among others.  And yet, by the end of the war, Nazism had been repudiated by the German populace, every German government since 1945 has banned its advocacy, and no other world government has taken up Nazism, no matter how hostile to the United States or Western Europe.  What explains this?
The unhappy truth, or so I would argue, is that National Socialism was destroyed and renounced because, during the course of the Second World War, it became associated in the popular mind with death and devastation.  By the end of the war, with the Allies in Berlin, the message had been sent: if you espouse Nazism, your cities will be bombed, your countries will be destroyed, invaded, and occupied, and your leaders will be tried and executed.  It did not matter whether any individual German happened to support the Nazi regime: they became guilty by association.  The mere toleration of Nazism became associated with military retaliation on an overwhelming scale. 
Why, for example, was there no Nazi “insurgency” after the German surrender?  The reason is this: it was clear to everyone in Germany that if a discontented Nazi had dared to pick up a rifle and start taking shots at Allied soldiers, then the war would simply had been renewed and that disgruntled Nazi, along with everyone around him, would have been wiped out.  It should not imagined that every German was reconciled or happy with defeat and occupation.  But what they had learned was that the consequences of using Nazism as a weapon of resistance were infinitely more terrible than what was being resisted.  Militant fascism was renounced because it had become synonymous, for the average German, with complete defeat: as an ideology, it had been humiliated and discredited.
Imagine, then, the following scenario.  The United States announces a new policy: any village or town in Afghanistan suspected of harboring Taliban will be destroyed without discrimination.  Any village or town in Afghanistan that cooperates with the United States in suppressing the Taliban will be helped.  How many villages would be wiped out by B-52s before the Taliban would become pariahs, and people were chasing them out of town with pitchforks?  How long until the fear of American airpower became much greater than the appeal of anything the Taliban might have to offer, just as fear of the American Third Army had become stronger than fear of the Gestapo in Germany by 1945?
In reaction to all my talk of ruthlessness and total war, some will no doubt say the following: “But that is inhuman, what you are suggesting.  That we, the most affluent, educated society in world history should have found a better way of destroying our ideological enemies is only to be expected.  For, you see, it is we who are to blame for terrorism.  In its essentials, after all, terrorism is a grassroots reaction to social despair.  We are talking about societies where poverty is endemic, where tragedy and crime present constant threats, where lack of education creates intellectual vacuums for fundamentalist ideologies.  Of course such societies will breed the kind of discontent that will manifest itself in violent attacks upon those who are perceived to be responsible for the deleterious conditions, namely, the wealthy nations whose economic and political policies drive the forces of globalization.  Therefore, in order to root out terrorism, we must work to eliminate poverty and raise the general standards of human health and development in these countries.”
I reply: faced with a country whose rulers have ideological objections to every accepted method of human development and social modernization, be it the emancipation of women, access to modern medicine, birth control, secular education, open markets, freedom of religion and expression, democratic government – how is one to stimulate human development?  Other than a ruthless association of the ruling ideology with military destruction – the only method, so far as I can see, which has worked in the past – what is to be done?
War is organized murder: here, more than anywhere, one can least afford to be romantic.  One does not wage organized murder against people “for their own good.”  The Allies did not go to war with Germany to “liberate the German people from Nazism.”  They went to war with Germany in order to destroy whatever appeal Nazism had by imparting the idea that the only fruits of Nazism were complete defeat and humiliation.  Once that message had been sent, then Germany was democratized and made prosperous with Allied humanitarian aid. 
But then, we have become better than that.  We have become more civilized, more humane.
Let us only hope that the Taliban have as well.


Anonymous Denies Writing Letter to WBC

Read More, Here.

Took a while for this to get on the radar screen.

On February 16, 2011, “Anonymous”–self-proclaimed “hacktivist” who defended Wikileaks and who attacked scientology–wrote an open letter to the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Westboro Baptist Church, made famous by their hateful anti-homosexual propaganda, often protests at funerals of soldiers and homosexuals. Their website domain name alone (please don’t click it, we don’t want to give them the web traffic) http://www.godhatesfags.com is outright disgusting. Headed by homophobe and moron Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church is the epitome of insensitivity and ignorance. Read the Anti Defamation League Report about WBC. If you aren’t familiar with their hateful protests, you might be familiar with their protest signs.

pretty sickening, right?


You can read the full letter, here. I’ve included the two most passionate and relevant sections, below.


We, the collective super-consciousness known as ANONYMOUS – the Voice of Free Speech & the Advocate of the People – have long heard you issue your venomous statements of hatred, and we have witnessed your flagrant and absurd displays of inimitable bigotry and intolerant fanaticism. We have always regarded you and your ilk as an assembly of graceless sociopaths and maniacal chauvinists & religious zealots, however benign, who act out for the sake of attention & in the name of religion.

ANONYMOUS cannot abide this behavior any longer. The time for us to be idle spectators in your inhumane treatment of fellow Man has reached its apex, and we shall now be moved to action. Thus, we give you a warning: Cease & desist your protest campaign in the year 2011, return to your homes in Kansas, & close your public Web sites.

Should you ignore this warning, you will meet with the vicious retaliatory arm of ANONYMOUS: We will target your public Websites, and the propaganda & detestable doctrine that you promote will be eradicated; the damage incurred will be irreversible, and neither your institution nor your congregation will ever be able to fully recover. It is in your best interest to comply now, while the option to do so is still being offered, because we will not relent until you cease the conduction & promotion of all your bigoted operations & doctrines.

The warning has been given. What happens from here shall be determined by you.


Pretty crazy, right?

What do you think about this?

Is Westboro Baptist Church worthy of a swarm of hackers destroying their virtual existence? Would such an attack violate freedom of speech?

I’ll moderate the comments, below.


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What In The (Arab) World?

I have to share this amazing interactive map from The Economist, outlining key data from all countries in the Arab League. This infographic is incredibly pertinent, considering the current events unfolding throughout the Middle East.



From The Economist: Click to Interact

This info-graphic lists the Country Leader; Median age of the population; Population aged under 25 (% of total); GDP per person; World ranking for Democracy, Corruption, and Press Freedom.

However, what I found most interesting, relevant, and perhaps enlightening was the “Index of Unrest“, where 100 equals “most unstable”.

Some info to take note: Yemen is operating at 86.6 “index of unrest”. Egypt is only at 65.7, and civil unrest led to a downfall of the Mubarak regime. Something to think about?

Enjoy, and comment if you notice a pattern or trend!