Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Obama's SOTU

I usually don't expect much from State of the Union (SOTU) addresses. In recent years, they have primarily served as platforms for presidents to express cliches, pander to Americans and make vague promises. I had especially low expectations for Obama's SOTU Tuesday night. Mostly, this had less to do with Obama as a politician than with situation he finds himself in right now. The economy is still in the tank and election season is already here. With that in mind, he'd spend quite a bit of time calming voters, restoring confidence in his administration, and making the case for his reelection later this year.

Of course, Obama would spend most of time on domestic issues and economic concerns. Other than highlighting past successes, I didn't think Obama would talk too much about foreign policy. And to the extent that he would, I anticipated Obama avoiding meaty topics or wading into much substance on any particular issue.

So what happened?

His thoughts and words on foreign policy were geared around the upcoming election. They were predictable, cautious, and self-congratulatory. He wanted to reassure voters that the U.S. is on the right track. In a sign of things to come, Obama opened his speech with the following lines:

We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world. For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.

To be sure, these are all good things. But let's face it, in pointing out his administration's successes to, there's some back-slapping here. In short, he's reminding us of his national security credentials so as to inoculate himself against the probable charges from republicans that he, as a democrat, is weak on foreign affairs. To the contrary, according to Obama, the U.S. is safer and more secure under his watch. It's still strong, able to project power outside of its borders to thwart and defeat its enemies.

Or take another example. In this politco-economic environment, it's routine practice, especially among the Republican presidential contenders and their supporters, to pick on China. They complain, with some justification, about China's piracy, it's currency, and its unfair business practices. In line with this rhetoric, ostensibly to show that he too is concerned about China and willing to stand up to Beijing, Obama proclaimed:

I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products. And I will not stand by when our competitors don’t play by the rules. We’ve brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration –- and it’s made a difference. Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires. But we need to do more. It’s not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated. It’s not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they’re heavily subsidized.
Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China. There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders. And this Congress should make sure that no foreign company has an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing financing or new markets like Russia. Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you -– America will always win. 

My biggest problem with Obama's speech is with what he didn't say or explain. And there were lots of things left unsaid or unexplained. Granted, because of time constraints and various important domestic concerns, Obama couldn't fit every salient foreign policy into his SOTU. Even so, there are a number of foreign policy topics I'm mildly surprised he completely overlooked. Below is an abbreviated list of such topics.

1. Not a word was mentioned on U.S.-China relations, which is, at least to me, odd considering that China is the second most powerful state in the world and clearly a strategic competitor to America.

2. Obama has stated that he won't let Iran go nuclear. Sure, fine, but how will U.S. prevent this from happening? What if negotiations just don't work?

3. Is Obama satisfied with the direction taken by Arab Spring countries like Egypt and Tunisia?

4. What about the violence in Syria? What, if anything, is the U.S. prepared to do if the death and destruction indefinitely persists?

5. The conflict in Afghanistan isn't over, no matter what Obama implied. As we know, violence is still an everyday occurrence. So what's the plan? What if peace talks with the militants fail? And would that extend America's commitment there? What's the alternative to the ongoing talks?

6. How does Washington plan to deal with North Korea during its political transition to Kim Jong Un?

7. So much for the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to solving so many of the ills in the Middle East, as Obama didn't touch the issue at all.

8. What about Europe's economic troubles? Is Obama concerned? Should Americans be concerned? Why?

9. Obama claimed a "renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe." What's the evidence? What specifically does he have in mind?

What say you? Are there other foreign policy issues you believe Obama should have addressed in his SOTU?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Quick take on Obama's State of the Union Address

Got milk?

So, having been forced by Brad Nelson to watched the State of the Union Address, let me make some general comments on it.

First, nothing new in the speech -- it was totally predictable. I am not saying that it was a bad speech, mind you. Obama has his way with words, but the substance is just so thin. It is full of generalities and lacks much substance.

Here's an outline of the speech. Sure, admittedly, it's a smart-alecky take, but there's, I hope, some truth in the statements below.

1. We are gone from Iraq. Hooray -- even though so many cautioned against a full, fast pullout.

2. I killed Bin Laden. I demolished al-Qaeda. Bush who?

3. Jobs left, followed by mortgage crisis, but we are fine and dandy now, even though unemployment still hovers at 10%.

4. Obama defended the bailout of auto industry (FYI: many of GM's cars are produced in Mexico, Chrysler is owned by FIAT and Ford didn't get a bailout).

5. Manufacturing should be back, and unionized factories work great! Notwithstanding Steve Jobs' arguments or this interesting analysis in the Economist.

6. He wants to fix the tax code, and give tax breaks if companies bring jobs home.

7. Blame China for job losses, create CSI: Trade Enforcement Unit. (great article in the Slate bashing this approach).

8. More education: more money, nothing about prodding colleges to provide the right skills to students in a fast-changing and extremely competitive world economy.

9. Immigration reform please -- something that people had pushed him for but never taken.

10. Fair wages for women (which is admirable, though there are studies doubting whether the gap does exist).

11. Energy policies: America's oil production is at its height. No mention at all about the Keystone pipeline, the Solyndra scandal, or the fact that the economic slowdown causes Americans to use less oil.

12. More infrastructure-building -- I will let Walter Russell Mead respond.

13. The notoriously unfunny "spilled milk joke." (Obama stated: "We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill – because milk was somehow classified as an oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.")

14. Creation of CSI: Special Mortgage Unit.

15. Yeah, WE ARE THE 99% BABY, TAX THE RICH. (Oh, before Obama builds a shrine to the almighty Warren Buffet, he should try reading this and this.

16. Hey Republicans, you should work with Obama, and by that, Obama means the usual game: Obama doesn't listen to you and he uses either procedural maneuvers or has a lackey justify his breaking of various precedents.

17. No, Obama doesn't lead from behind. Of course, he's always up front, especially when he knows that we are winning.

18. Obama to Iran: don't cause trouble in this election year. I warned you!

19. America is respected from the north to the south pole.

20. And remember, I killed Osama bin Laden.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012: A Preview

We have already looked back at 2011, now it's time to take a peek at the year ahead. Below are 10 issues that I will be following as the year unfolds. Please note that the list is ordered alphabetically, not in terms of priority or importance.

1. China and its neighbors: Over the past year, China's neighbors have begun to express and demonstrate alarm over the prospect of a dominant China bullying them into unwanted actions. In some cases, Asian countries, like Myanmar, have started to stand up to Chinese pressure and influence. In other cases, we have seen countries, such as Japan and South Korea and Australia, step up their balancing against China. And at the same time, the Obama administration has steadily increased its political, diplomatic, military, and economic ties to non-Chinese countries in Asia. How will these moves impact China? Will all of this moderate China's foreign policies toward its neighbors? Or will China emerge more steadfast and assertive in attempting to carve out a sphere of influence in the region?

2. Egypt: The revolutionaries did a good job of breaking the Mubarak government and dismantling the entire political system, but they have struggled immensely during the political transition to (I hope) full-fledged civilian rule. The military still holds considerable power and is unwilling to see it upstaged by other political actors; it also doesn't want its commercial and business interests infringed upon by a democratic government. Sparking concern in Egypt and abroad, the military has dealt harshly with continued protests and criticisms of its heavy-handed rule. Meantime, the parliamentary elections have allowed for the rise of the Islamists, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood and the more extreme Salafis. For now, the revolutionaries have been squeezed out of the political picture. Can the revolutionaries get their act together, becoming a more potent political force in Egypt? Will they become more organized? Will they find a credible political leader capable of galvanizing supporters and forcefully articulating the ideas and arguments of more progressive forces?

3. Elections/transitions in power: There are lots of interesting and important elections scheduled for 2012. Here is just a small sample of them: Russian presidential elections in March, Egyptian presidential elections in March, parliamentary elections in Myanmar this April, presidential and parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories this April, French presidential elections in April, and U.S. Congressional and presidential elections in November. Additionally, in China is about to embark on major political changes in 2012. According to Fareed Zakaria: "About 70% of the country’s senior leadership— the top 200 or so members of the Central Committee—will be replaced by autumn. The new leaders—Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang—are the first generation that was not personally blessed and selected by Deng Xiaoping, the architect of modern China."

4. Iran: On various issues, Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Amadinejad battled for power throughout 2011. It is clear that Khamenei did a decent job of clipping the wings of Amadinejad and his allies, and he and the hardline clerics are now ascendant, just as we would expect based on the structure of Iran's political system. How will this political drama play out in the year ahead? And how will this impact Iranian foreign policy?

5. North Korea: Undoubtedly, the country's immediate trajectory will be shaped by the political transition to the young and inexperienced Kim Jong Un, the son of the recently deceased Kim Jong Il. Given that Kim the younger is so green and likely lacks well-established and durable ties to North Korea's political and military elite, there's no guarantee that this transition will go as planned or very smoothly. For example, will Kim Jong Un be able to consolidate power effectively? How much power will he hold? Will he share power, as been suggested, with another institution or person(s)? Will the military encroach on his turf? If so, how will China, a major supporter of Kim, respond? Furthermore, will North Korea lash out militarily at other countries like South Korea? Or will the change in leadership lead the country to cultivate better relations with its neighbors? Or perhaps it's just more of the same? More uncertainty, more unpredictability, and more erratic behavior from a repressive

6. The Nuclear issue: There has been little progress in resolving the outstanding issues related to the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea. The West, China, and Russia, among others, have a long way to go. Will North Korea head back to the negotiating table this year? Or does its political transition table that issue for quite a while? Iran is negotiating a return to talks, with speculation that they will be held in Turkey sometime soon. Will these be sincere talks? Or just something to buy the political-clerical regime more time to make advancements in its nuclear capabilities? Will talks soothe the drumbeats of war from American and Israeli hawks? If not, how will Obama react? Will he get sucked along with the crowd and ramp up military activities against Iran? Or will he resist the lure of war? But that only begs more questions: What's Obama's redline here? If Iran does go nuclear, what does the U.S. do in response? Is he willing to support Israeli military action against Iran? 

7. Pakistan: Pakistan is facing a rocky period right now, facing trouble from a host of different directions. It is dealing coping with an insurgency from the Pakistani Taliban, a poor economy, frosty relations with the U.S., and an internal power struggle. The government is feuding with the military and the courts, the Supreme Court in particular. Clearly, the Pakistani government is weak and fragile, which limits its ability to deal effectively with consequential issues like international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, and India-Pakistan relations. What if the Pakistani government can't withstand all of the pressures it faces? What kind of government will rise to power? And how does this impact Pakistan?

8. Syria: Taking their cues from Arab Spring countries in the Middle East, anti-government and pro-democracy protesters have tried to break Bashar al-Assad's brutal grip on power. Unfortunately, Assad isn't going anywhere, at least for the foreseeable future. He has faced down the protesters with military force, resulting in over four thousand deaths so far. But the state-sponsored violence has done a couple of things. First, it's caused the opposition to unite and organize. In fact, the opposition now has an armed wing filled with military defectors, and they have carried out violent acts against government and military installations. Of course, this only raises the specter of civil war, which could destabilize the entire region. And second, the international community, including the Arab League, is concerned about the endless human rights violations. It will be interesting to see how countries and international institutions respond to Syria if the violence continued unabated and the death and casualty toll skyrockets. There are already murmurs of support for various types of international intervention. While this scenario isn't probable, it's one that's possible.

9. The Theme for 2012: 2011 was the year of democracy protests and the protester in particular. What does 2012 have in store? At this point, I could make a million different guesses, but there's no point in doing that. Right now, it's sufficient to say that I have my eye open for the next big thing in world politics. I hope it's something that enhances the mission of world peace and cooperation.

10. World Economy: There are many trouble spots in the world economy. The American economy is still sluggish. The Europeans still haven't come close to remedying its economic troubles. And most ominously, China's economy is slowing down. Remember, just as China can't afford to have struggling economies in the EU and the U.S., the EU and the U.S. can't have the Chinese economy go significantly downhill. With that in mind, how will China's economy perform in 2012? And how will that impact the economies in the West? And if the big three struggle, where will economic growth come from? Moreover, if the world economy continues to flag, with income inequalities rising and middle and lower class anger mounting, will 2012 be another year of mass protests, anti-government activities, and unrest?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why Islamists are Winning: A Rebuttal to John Owen

Last Friday, University of Virginia Professor John Owen, one of my academic and intellectual mentors, penned a New York Times opinion piece on the success of Islamic candidates and parties in recent Middle East elections. Throughout his career, the bulk of Owen's work has focused on the role of ideology in conflict and peace relations in international and transnational politics. (Among other examples, this is his latest book and here is his first book, which I proofread, edited, and contributed comments.) In his opinion piece, Owen now looks at the role of ideology in domestic political environments.

Owen puts forth the argument that "frustrated people" have rallied around a long-established single ideology: Islam. He writes: "Today, rural and urban Arabs with widely varying cultures and histories are showing that they share more than a deep frustration with despots and a demand for dignity. Most, whether moderate or radical, or living in a monarchy or a republic, share a common inherited language of dissent: Islamism."

He correctly points out that political Islam isn't a new phenomenon. It dates back well before the Arab Spring and the 9/11 period more generally. "Invented in the 1920s by the Muslim Brotherhood, kept alive by their many affiliates and offshoots, boosted by the failures of Nasserism and Baathism, allegedly bankrolled by Saudi and Qatari money, and inspired by the defiant example of revolutionary Iran, Islamism has for years provided a coherent narrative about what ails Muslim societies and where the cure lies."

As such, political Islam has functioned to provide opponents of repressive governments a sense of identity and a shared way of looking at the world. It has also served as a political narrative for opponents. And it's done all of things for a long time. Indeed, political Islam has become entrenched within opposition circles. This is precisely why Owen argues that Islamism is like a channel "dug by one generation of activists and kept open, sometimes quietly, by future ones. When the storms of revolution arrive, whether in Europe or the Middle East, the waters will find those channels. Islamism is winning out because it is the deepest and widest channel into which today’s Arab discontent can flow."

There are two problems with his piece, however.

(1) Owen has outlined why political opponents--the people and groups who are now winning elections--are Islamists. They're simply traversing a well-worn political path that's been put down years ago. They've simply adopted the language of political dissent from their ancestors. Which makes sense. As people and groups have found meaning in political Islam, it's taken hold in communities and then was eventually passed down to subsequent generations.

But what Owen doesn't broach, despite the title of his piece, is why the Islamists are winning. To answer this question, he needed to look at the variation in the groups and candidates competing for public office in places like Egypt and Tunisia. After all, the issue at the heart of his piece is: why are the Islamists winning elections and the secularists and liberals aren't? What's the difference between the former and the latter? Is it simply that one side is Islamist and the other isn't? That's the story that Owen paints, and it's, at best, incomplete.

(2) The reason Islamists are doing so well is because of their institutional structures and organization and their capabilities. Take Egypt as an example. Simply put, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis have been successful in the parliamentary elections because both were better organized and possessed a larger base of resources relative to their political rivals. They accrued these advantages over years, often laboring underground, out of sight of the government. Once the political system opened up this past spring and the Islamists were able to campaign freely and publicly for public office, they had a considerable head start over other factions. They didn't have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. They had a well-oiled political machine up and ready to go. The revolutionaries and other liberals, by contrast, had to create their own political apparatus from scratch. It's no accident that the Islamists were much better at getting people to work on various electoral campaigns, crafting political messages, transmitting and selling these messages to the public, canvassing for votes, and garnering support from the masses. It's these organizational advantages that translated directly into success at the ballot box.

More to the point, think about this counterfactual: let's assume for the sake of argument that political Islam has been the dominant opposition discourse, just as Owen suggests, but change which side was best organized and prepared for the parliamentary elections. In particular, let's say that the liberals and secularists, not the Islamists, had the superior institutional infrastructure. Would we see any difference in electoral outcomes? Without a doubt. The liberals and secularists might not have won elections, but they certainly would have narrowed the gap in support, putting them on a much more equal footing with their Islamist political rivals.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Al-Maliki's Power Play

Nuri Al Maliki

Nouri al-Maliki/Photograph:AFP

With the departure of American forces from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has proceeded to consolidate and expand his political power. His moves have largely come at the expense of Iraqi Sunnis. Just look at what he's done lately: al-Maliki has branded the country's highest-ranking Sunni official, Sunni vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi, with running death squads, ordered an arrest warrant for al-Hashimi, maneuvered to remove the deputy prime minister Saleh al-Mutlak, another Sunni, threatened to exclude the Iraqiya bloc (a Sunni faction led by al-Hashimi) from his government, and "warned that 'rivers of blood' would flow if Sunnis seek an autonomous region.

Al-Maliki's power play has been primarily framed in terms of the Shia-Sunni sectarian struggle that has plagued Iraq since the ouster of Saddam Hussein. But keep in mind, though, his actions and statements shouldn't be viewed in isolation. Rather, al-Maliki's recent strong-arm tactics and his attempts to maximize his power, which by themselves are troubling enough, are just the latest in a string of moves over the last several years to strengthen his power over all parts the state. Arguably, while al-Maliki has intentionally targeted Sunnis, his power play extends beyond the sectarian struggle. It seems he's mostly bent on becoming an unquestioned autocrat, eliminating whomever (Sunni or Shia) looks to circumscribe his power in any way. And as James Fearon puts it, "now that U.S. troops are gone, this somehow makes it is easier or more possible from him to ditch the agreement and carry out his authoritarian designs," such as overturning the American-brokered power sharing deal.

Consider this. Al-Maliki now:

runs the Defense and Interior Ministries and has created a separate security force that answers to him alone. He has bypassed parliament to install Shiite allies in key positions, and he has used his control over state funds and resources to gain leverage with the judiciary and oversight agencies like the anti-graft Integrity Commission....His control over funds for assigning security details for judges, for example, or offering them safe housing out of militants' reach and inside Baghdad's heavily protected Green Zone has meant that many senior judges became beholden to al-Maliki.

And despite promises not to run again, sources indicate he'll probably run for another term in office. Al-Maliki also works behind the scenes to protect his allies, loyalists, and sycophants, usually fellow Shias, against claims of misconduct and corruption, either preventing them from being charged or getting charges against them dismissed.
What are the consequences of al-Maliki's power grab?

(1) It has fractured, and could destroy, the unity government. The Iraqiya bloc to which al-Hashimi belongs is boycotting parliament and cabinet, complaining that al-Maliki does not share power, and it is threatening to pull out of the unity government entirely. And Al-Maliki, as mentioned above, has threatened to expel them from his government. For now, al-Maliki has backed off these threats. According to news reports:

Despite ministers belonging to the Iraqiya bloc skipping Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Maliki declined to follow through on an earlier threat to sack them, instead declaring they were on “extended leave,” Maliki’s spokesman said.
“We cannot allow the government’s work to stop,” Ali Mussawi said.
“Their absence gave us two choices – either fire them or consider them on leave. The Cabinet voted that they were considered to be on extended leave.”

(2) It has reignited Sunni-Shia relations. Over the last three weeks, a wave of violence has hit Iraq, as Sunni militants, reportedly either working with or through al-Qaeda, have bombed Shia neighborhoods. The attacks of December 22 and January 5 were especially deadly, killing 69 and 72 people, respectively. 

(3) The violence has fostered fears, both in Iraq and abroad, that the death and destruction could reach 2005-2007 levels and, even worse, that Iraq could deteriorate into civil war. A major concern is that Iraqi Sunnis, once again, believe they have no viable peaceful means of recourse to protect their interests, as the political and legal games, in their view, are rigged to their disadvantage. Added to that, Sunnis see American support for the Iraqi government as providing al-Maliki with the requisite cover to do as he pleases internally. Unfortunately, these two observations, in combination, are leading a growing number of Sunnis to consider violence as a way to settle old and new scores and defend interests.

(4) But if al-Maliki overreaches, he could erode his own bases of support. Already, some of his Shia backers, most notably the political wing headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, have called for new elections as way to resolve the current political turmoil. As we know, the Shia political elite are extremely consequential to al-Maliki. Should he lose key Shia backers, then he'd lack power to continue to govern and rule. Thus, it's in his incentive to assuage their concerns, which could moderate al-Maliki's behavior. 

A few central issues, then, need to be answered. Is there any daylight between the political interests and values of key Shia political elites and al-Maliki? If so, will Shias forcefully advocate their political preferences while at the same time seek to water down if not block those of al-Malikial-Malikis continued misuses and abuses of power. The bright side is that there are at least some Iraq Shia politicians who, for various personal and political reasons, won't support dividing Iraq and running the country into the ground. But are there enough to provide a solid counterweight to al-Maliki?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Most Important Events in 2011

Check my Jakarta Globe's article for the Indonesian perspective (in English).

1. EURO Crash

Watching how European leaders work together to salvage the Euro is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. While there were many criticisms levied on Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson for wrong headed policies in dealing with the mortgage and liquidity crisis of 2008, nobody could accuse them of taking their time in dealing with the situation.

In fact, the slowness of European leaders to do anything at all, in combination with the resistance of Southern Europe to take any meaningful reform, not to mention the entrenched interests of the labor unions, etc., brings into question the entire European Union project.

Instead of having a festival of liberte, egalite, and fraternite, the marching orders were issued from Berlin and Paris. Still, regardless of the photo-op, both Berlin and Paris pursued different priorities, exacerbating the crisis. In the end, their loose unity likely stemmed from their mutual dislike of Silvio Berlusconi and George Papandreou.

2. China's High Speed Rail Crash

Speaking of a train wreck, the city of Wenzhou rose to international infamy thanks to the deadly rail accident and the Chinese government's bumbling rescue efforts, followed by a disastrous press conference that would have made the Three Stooges proud.

While the Chinese citizens were fuming, investors outside took notice, especially since the disaster came on the heels of the Muddy Waters' allegations that Chinese companies might have cooked their books.

Why is this incident so important? In short, this could be a stark symbol of China's coming economic crash. After all, there are growing questions and concerns about the long-term sustainability of China's economic growth. And it's becoming increasingly evident that the Chinese economy has been long built on a shaky foundation of Beijing's heavy-handed policies, corruption, and incompetence--the very things at the heart of the rail crash.

3. America Deadlocked

With the election coming soon in 2012, none of the politicians in Washington were willing to give others the credit of getting anything done. They also constantly pandered to their bases in order to keep them enthusiastic and mobilized, willing to vote in numbers for 2012. Result: bad policies, and a U.S. credit downgrade. 

Angry Twitter, Washington Way

Expect more partisan sniping and posturing in 2012, even though everyone will run as "a uniter, not divider."

4. Arab Spring

The popular unrest in the Middle East has managed to topple three dictators already (Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt, and Qaddafi of Libya), showed the door to two dictators (Ali Abdullah-Saleh of Yemen and Bashar al-Assad of Syria), forced reforms in two countries (Morocco and Jordan), and causing a major foreign intervention (Bahrain).

While the tally is impressive, the long-term and region-wide effects remain uncertain. All of these cases are far from settled, and keep in mind that there many obstacles that must be cleared before democracy can take root. As Walter Russell Mead noted in his great blog, with the rise of militias and other retrograde elements, Arab liberals have been pushed to the edge, leading to an Arab Winter.

At the same time, this social movement is supposedly inspired anarchist movements that spread throughout the world, from the Great Robbery of London that I skewered in my older blog post, to the anarchist Occupy movement, whose demands aside of taxing the rich remain unclear.

Lastly, the Arab Spring clearly demonstrated that al-Qaeda was on the wrong side of history. It showed the wrongheadedness of al-Qaeda's ideology as well as its lack of support throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Moreover, "AQ played no role in the uprisings. The organization was merely an observer to seismic shifts in the region." Al-Qaeda leadership was so flummoxed by the Arab Spring that it struggled immensely to respond to the shifting domestic political landscape in places like Tunisia, Egypt, and so on.

5. Myanmar halting the construction of Irrawaddy Dam

Neil Armstrong once said something about one small step for a man that made one great leap for mankind when he landed on the moon (causing some Balinese to wage a protest, as people were not supposed to blemish the face of the Moon Goddess).

Myanmar's small step in halting the construction of Irrawaddy Dam caused a major foreign policy breakthrough. Yes, it solidified Myanmar's bid to be the next Chairman of ASEAN in 2014. But more importantly, it helped to thaw its relationship with the U.S., which in turn provided momentum to its nascent reform efforts, and demonstrated that the civilian government wasn't afraid to publicly stand up to its Chinese neighbors. The latter is especially important, because it signals to members in the region that they can and should resist Chinese pressure and influence when necessary. As long as China tries to flex its muscles and spread its wings, this will be one in a long line of moves by Asian countries to thwart Beijing from encroaching on their turf.

By now, I'm sure you noticed that I didn't mention the killing of Osama bin Laden. In my view, in the larger picture, the demise of bin Laden is simply the final nail in a long downfall for al-Qaeda. For quite some time before OBL's death, al-Qaeda was no longer a powerful or significant player on the world stage. It was hemmed in politically, financially, strategically, and operationally by the U.S. and its allies in their so-called war against terrorism. It's leadership ranks had been decimated. It's ideology had been discredited and was unpopular. Really, al-Qaeda had an inflated sense of prestige, largely because of 9/11, but was in pathetic shape.