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Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of weekly blog posts designed to build on Professor Jeremi Suri's foreign policy column, which runs every Tuesday.
Professor Jeremi Suri wrote last week that the U.S. needs to adopt a new approach towards fighting terrorism. Instead of applying punitive sanctions or military force, he argues, the U.S. should promote economic development and education.
Indeed, as Suri wrote, American interventions in the Middle East have been absurdly ineffective. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein led to eight years of Nouri al-Maliki and a sectarian conflict that enabled the rise of ISIS, neither of which benefits human rights, democracy, or America’s commercial interests. And despite having spent over a decade fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the U.S. hasn’t come any closer to eradicating the spread of Islamist extremism. Clearly, Suri is right that there is a better way to promote democracy, cultivate free markets, and defeat the hydra of fascistic terrorism.
That being said, there’s no need to plunk billions of dollars in aid and investments into unstable countries with untrustworthy leaders. The European Investment Bank has been doing exactly that for years with zero success, and America’s financial support for Iraq and Afghanistan has only managed to prop up kleptocrats like al-Maliki and Hamid Karzai. Instead of trying to build up failed states, the U.S. should empower those that have already laid the foundations for a free and prosperous society. To that end, creating an independent state in Iraqi Kurdistan should be America’s top priority in the Middle East.
Iraq’s Kurdish region is situated in a tinderbox of insurgency, nestled between the country’s border with Syria and its ISIS-controlled western provinces. Yet in spite of its tenuous location, it has become a safe haven for ethnic minorities like the Yazidis and the Circassians, many of whom have been displaced by Iraq’s inner turmoil. It has a strong and American-armed security force that has played a critical role in the war against ISIS. Its capital, Erbil, is a thriving and rapidly developing metropolis. It supports other crucial U.S. allies in the region, including Armenia and Israel. And, most importantly, its democratically elected government fiercely rejects any form of religious fundamentalism or ethnocentric extremism.
In light of these virtues, an independent Kurdistan would become a beacon of hope for the region. It would provide military and diplomatic support to counterterrorism efforts, and its success could even motivate movements in favor of secularism and democracy across the entire Middle East—a true Arab Spring. But in order to do so, it must first achieve full sovereignty over its internal affairs and full representation in international agencies like the U.N. and the WTO.
Fortunately, granting Iraqi Kurdistan that sort of legitimacy is a far simpler proposition than it was in the past. The Turkish government was once resolutely opposed to Kurdish independence, as Kurds claim sovereignty over a large part of eastern Turkey. However, in recent years, Turkey has come to view Iraqi Kurdistan as a potential homeland for its own Kurdish minority, and it recently established a consular office in Erbil to promote deeper diplomatic ties between the two nations. Similarly, the U.S. resists recognizing Iraqi Kurdistan on the grounds that Kurdish secession would kill its dream of forming a multiethnic democracy in Iraq. That goal has clearly failed, as Iraq has only become more fragmented and lawless since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
For Kurdistan to languish in stateless purgatory while Syria and Iraq have collapsed and ISIS runs amok is an affront to human decency and an indefensible failure of American foreign policy. But Iraq’s current circumstances and Turkey’s declining recalcitrance have given President Obama the perfect opportunity to rectify this injustice. Whether or not he takes it will have major consequences for the future of the Middle East.
Shenhar is a Plan II, government and economics sophomore from Westport, Connecticut. He is a research assistant to Suri.
Public education is a major talking point for Texas' gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates during their races, but the rhetoric often centers around the general goal of funding, while candidates should also emphasize other methods of improving education that don't necessitate an increase in funds. More money for education is a noble goal and is obviously essential to an extent, but instead of focusing so much energy on the financial side of education, legislators should balance this focus with finding methods to improve education without spending more money.
One such method is prioritizing parents' involvement in their children's schools. I understand that for many working parents, devoting a large amount of time to their children’s school activities isn't entirely feasible, but schools should do everything possible to work with parents to develop flexible ways that would get them more involved. Higher parental involvement, which consistently leads to students performing better in school, doesn't require much change in funding — just a change in priorities.
Also, teachers should have a larger role in determining how the state allocates its education budget because even the most experienced education committees cannot fully understand all the challenges of being a teacher. Only two of the eleven members of the Texas House Public Education Committee have been teachers. An increase in school funding would be great, but other, non-monetary methods of education improvement are just as important.
Congestion is the buzzword when talking about Austin traffic, most notably in the discussion of Austin’s growth. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2013 study on I-35 traffic predicted the commute in a personal vehicle from Round Rock to Austin would reach 3 hours by 2035 despite efforts to improve the flow of traffic. That amount of time is intolerable in a car.
The TAMU Institute also conducted a poll this year and found that only 38 percent of Texans agreed with the statement “public transportation reduces congestion.” While not surprising, the study involves a flawed premise: that the purpose of public transportation is to reduce congestion for commuters in personal vehicles. Of the people surveyed, 91 percent used a personal vehicle as their primary mode of transportation, further evidencing the bias of the respondents.
The mentality that public transportation’s primary purpose is to reduce congestion is flawed. Improvements in public transportation will not reduce congestion, according to the TAMU’s 2013 study, but public transportation can provide an alternative.
Regarding Austin’s urban rail proposal, the general consensus is, again, that it will not solve congestion for the people who continue to use their personal vehicles. But for the people who do decide to use the public transportation options available to them, such as rail that can skip the traffic, congestion is non-existent. The current proposal is the beginning of an expanded network that would eventually reach Round Rock. Austin is growing, and the mess that is I-35 will only worsen, but with public transportation alternatives, Round Rock residents will have the option to skip the 3-hour commute.
Texas’ stubborn auto-centric mindset, continually prioritizing concerns of unwavering drivers of personal vehicles, will be a detriment to any public transportation initiative because the question will always be, “How will it help me drive my car faster?” when it should be, “How will it help me get where I’m going faster?” From planning to funding to fundamental disputes of development priorities, there are plenty of problems with Austin’s urban rail proposal up for a vote this November. But the fact that the proposal will not solve congestion of personal vehicles is not one of them.
Haight is an associate editor.
Last month, State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, the Democratic candidate for governor, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, her Republican opponent, squared off in the first of two debates for the general election. Barely 10 days later, Tuesday night, Abbott and Davis faced one another in the second debate. There was a world of difference.
In the first debate, held in McAllen, Davis sounded painfully scripted and non-relaxed. "Robotic" is the word that the pundits kept circling around toward. Erica Grieder, a senior editor at Texas Monthly, tweeted that Davis "sounds like she's running for student council." Abbott, for his part, appeared cool and at ease throughout the debate. Policy issues aside, Abbott figuratively wiped the floor with Davis the first time that the two butted heads on television. All of that changed in Dallas Tuesday night.
While Davis did not score the decisive victory needed to bolster her long-shot campaign, she did regain her footing and fought back hard against Abbott. While Davis still sounded scripted, her words appeared somewhat more sincere and effective this time around. On points such as Abbott's alleged involvement in the mismanagement of money with the Texas Enterprise Fund, Davis repeatedly put her opponent on the defensive.
In the second debate, Abbott was still a formidable foe. He never slipped up in a way that the Democrats had been waiting for him to. And Davis did herself no favors by ignoring — not once, not twice, but three times — moderators’ repeated queries as to the price tag of her education plans. But she still exceeded expectations, and then some.
Still, the debate format lacked real chutzpah. While the unbearable arrangement of the first debate was merely two concurrent press conferences, this debate had the feel of two concurrent tough interviews. A panel of skilled and respectable journalists asked good follow-up questions, and wouldn’t let either candidate get away with pivots. But I suppose actual argument between the candidates is still a quixotic dream. After all, that would make it…a debate?