World Cup Ratings a Sign of Patriotism, Not Soccer’s Rising Star

Team USA Fans Show Their Spirit

American fans before the US-Algeria match in the 2010 World Cup. June 23rd, 2010 (U.S. Department of State/Wikimedia Commons)

Every four years during the World Cup, the US press fixates collectively on the “will it/won’t it” question of soccer’s future. Each World Cup seems to bring higher TV ratings and more water cooler conversations than the last. Soccer optimists, imbued with fresh hope by scenes of fervent US supporters with painted faces and patriotic apparel, proclaim that soccer is here to stay in America.

Now that the US out of the 2014 World Cup after a 2-1 loss to Belgium, will this year be any different? Have the past few weeks been a sign that soccer will someday find a home as a mainstay of US sports, or are they just part of the same ebb-and-flow pattern that we see every four years?

First, a by-the-numbers look at this year’s World Cup viewership in the US.  According to Variety, the US-Portugal game drew 18.20 million viewers on ESPN; the US-Belgium game drew 16.49 million. Those two games were the two most watched US World Cup telecasts in American history. Through the Round of 16, ESPN and ABC averaged 4.08 million viewers – a record audience for the World Cup, up 44% from 2010 and 122% from 2006. According to the New York Post, WatchESPN (ESPN’s online viewing service) attracted an average audience of 1.1 million viewers per minute during this World Cup.

These numbers are to be expected. Aside from reasons related to the sport itself, this year’s record numbers likely have several major contributing factors.  According to the World Bank, the number of internet users in the US grew by 10.1 million from 2012 to 2013. According to comScore, the number of smartphone users in the US grew 7% from October 2013 to January 2014. Twitter’s userbase alone grew from 183 million at the end of 2013 to an estimated 227 million at the end of 2014 (estimated by CNET). The World Bank pegs the annual growth rate of the US population at 0.74% per year.

These greater numbers of internet users, smartphone users, and social media users mean that more people will hear about the World Cup and share news with their friends by roughly an order of magnitude more than they did during the previous World Cup. I am not making any statistical conclusions here, but I do think it’s fair to say that articles and opinions proclaiming soccer’s inevitable destiny as a major US sport need to be taken with a grain of salt if they tout World Cup viewing statistics as conclusive evidence.

Furthermore, the World Cup takes place during a dry period for other US sports. The NFL is at its least interesting (long past the conclusion of the postseason and about a month past the draft), the NBA has also put its postseason and draft in the rearview mirror, the drama of the NHL Stanley Cup has ended, and the Olympics is long over. The only major competing sport is MLB baseball, which is in the midst of its regular season. Additionally, summer brings a dearth of active TV shows, meaning that Americans have even less to watch.

What about factors related to soccer itself? Are Americans growing more accepting of a sport fundamentally different from the ones it already treasures? This question is tough to answer. Other than a few minor rule changes, soccer is the same as it was four years ago. All of the reasons provided by soccer critics as to why the sport will not catch on in the US (infrequent scoring, too many fake injuries, overly subjective officiating, and lack of sudden death overtime) are just as valid or invalid as they were four years ago. Shifting American sentiment toward soccer would be a result of externalities, and that discussion is best left for another time.

Perhaps one reason is a lack of initiative by the MLS. Recent years have seen the league take an aggressive approach to bolstering soccer’s popularity. According to The Economist, although average MLS attendance per game is down from 2013, it surpassed both the NBA and NHL with 18,600 spectators per match (although both of those leagues play considerably more games per season, making each game less appealing as an excursion). According to Forbes, the average MLS franchise is now worth $103 million, up more than 175% over the past five years. The league had 13 clubs in 2007 and will have 21 by next year. This year’s US World Cup team had ten players from the MLS compared to just four in 2010. Finally, the MLS signed a new eight-year deal worth an estimated $90 million per season that will result in more of its games being broadcast on more TV channels.

My theory is that Americans simply enjoy coming together to celebrate our national pride. Other than the Olympics, no major sporting events have the ability to unite entire countries in support of the same team. Take the support of the Iranian national team this year as an example. Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian government banned women from entering most sporting events because they deemed the enjoyment of sports by mixed crowds un-Islamic. This year, according to CNN, Tehran’s billboards advertising the World Cup featured only men, and state TV stations used a delay of several seconds to censor images of racy female fans so that viewers at home wouldn’t learn to accept mixed crowds. Nonetheless, some restaurants in Iran defied a national ban on broadcasting the World Cup this year, and men and women enjoyed the games together in public. Does this increased support from the female population indicate that soccer is growing in popularity in Iran? No – it shows that the Iranian people, this year more than ever, are eager to show their nationalism and support gender equality as a reaction to recent actions by the government.

Along the same lines, an ineffective Congress, an inconsistent Supreme Court, and an unpopular president have given US fans an increased longing to show their nationalism in 2014. Most notably, a volatile balance of power on the world stage has left Americans in uncertain territory. Both Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and ISIS’s first steps toward forging an Islamic state in the Middle East this year have spurred a growing national desire to display a uniquely American style of patriotism. Especially in the context of the World Cup, with competition unfolding at an international scale, patriotism is linked more to foreign policy than it is to domestic issues.

Perhaps the recent changes rolled out by the MLS are making a greater immediate impact on soccer than I’m giving them credit for, but I believe that the outpouring of US support for the Men’s National Team this year was more a result of our desire to be patriotic than it was a precursor to soccer’s rise to American prominence. Now more than ever, Americans are eager to come together and celebrate their national pride.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff, editors, or governors.

A New Grand Strategy for a Changing World

American political thinkers en masse have not engaged in meaningful debates on American grand strategy since George H. W. Bush’s proclamation of the ‘New World Order’ in the early 1990s. There have been sincere yet misinformed attempts to change America’s role, including the globalization prophets of the Clinton years, the Terror Warriors of the Bush years, and the liberal re-setters of the Obama years. However, no major faction of thinkers has articulated a practical and influential foreign policy capable of protecting America and the liberal international order in our changing world.

Dollarnote siegel hq

The reverse side of The Great Seal of the United States. ‘Novus Ordo Seclorum’ is Latin for ‘New World Order,’ the main theme of George H. W. Bush’s successful foreign policy. This order has been called into question in recent years. September 20, 2009 (U.S. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

Remodeling America’s grand strategy will be difficult. In the near future the necessary lights will return to the foreground and shape the debate towards the best possible ends. At the moment, though, it would be beneficial to examine what coming paradigm shifts may look like to prepare us for the shock.

First, the supposedly transcendent norms of democratization and liberalization that swept the globe and led to a new world order over the last two decades are, in fact, not false illusions, but rather social and political constructions whose dissemination has been made possible only by the geopolitical situation of the Post-Cold War world. American hegemony, an interconnected international economic order focused on the United States, Europe, and China, the political bankruptcy of Communism, and the lack of dominant powers in any of the non-North American regions of the world created an environment wherein general interstate peace, the deepening of trade flows between the world’s major economic hubs, the spread of Western-encouraged democratization and liberalization, and multilateralism as standard diplomacy seemed to be basic forces of history rather than historically-contingent phenomena. The success of internationalism and American ideals blinded American political players to some of the unfortunate realities of international political life.

The global geopolitical situation has certainly changed over the last two decades, particularly with the assertiveness of China and the adventurism of Russia over the last six years. The resurgence of other political and economic centers of power, particularly in Russia, China, and Iran, and to a lesser extent India and Japan, has threatened American hegemony. Economic troubles in the US, Europe, and Japan, coupled with resurgent economic nationalism, have stalled the progress of the global commercial and financial order, proving globalization to be a double-edged sword. The ugly offspring of ‘democracy’ in Egypt, Libya, Myanmar, Pakistan, and other developing nations, as well as the local mutation of American-style liberalism in East Asia, Latin America, and even Western Europe of all places, have threatened formerly ‘universalist’ liberal values. Russia’s forays into Georgia and Crimea, China’s posturing with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan, and Iran’s manipulation of the situations in Syria and Iraq have brought the phantasmal ideals of perpetual peace, the triumph of multilateralism, and the end of interstate war to an ironic stalemate.

Moreover, innumerable trends in areas beyond the economy and politics are demanding a fundamental rethinking of how we manage foreign policy. Exponential technological advancement in fields as diverse as information technology, biotechnology, communications, energy, transportation, and manufacturing are restructuring societies, militaries, and economies. The ‘New Medievalism’ – a localization of many political units and the transition of duties formerly embraced by the state to various non-state actors such as corporations, non-governmental organizations, stateless nations, cartels, and insurgent groups – has resulted in a new anarchic political dynamic that cannot be managed by traditional statecraft alone. Environmental change, demographic shifts, and other unpredictable historical forces will continue to shape international and domestic politics in the coming decades.

How can the principles of liberal world order, American pre-eminence, and the balance of power be maintained in a world where increasingly assertive regional powers bolster their presence along their frontiers while developing societies crumble in the face of insurmountable domestic odds?

To start, the United States should determine whether or not maintaining the balance of power in every critical region of the world is feasible. Preventing the Russians from dominating Eastern Europe, the Iranians from intervening in the Greater Middle East, and the Chinese from bullying East Asia has certainly kept America the predominant power in those regions. At the same time, it has cost America blood and treasure, alienated three potential partners, and prevented those states from crafting local political orders that might be far more effective at stymying anarchy than the internationalist pretensions of the Western elite, who are proving to be far too incompetent at handling their own problems to be trusted with the affairs of others.

Balancing the Indians and Pakistanis, the Iranians and Israelis, the Japanese and the Chinese, and the Russians and the Europeans has perpetuated regional rivalries and conflicts and prevented the emergence of other hegemons. These rivalries serve America’s strategic interests in preventing the rise of challengers, but in light of present shifts in the balance of power, it is not clear whether the United States has the resources or will to perpetuate such situations and serve as the global lever. While allowing the emergence of regional hegemons is nowhere near ideal, it may be worthwhile to have go-to strongmen in the world’s critical regions who would be, if not dependable, at least predictable. Such a global concert system, populated by regional leaders as Germany, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, Japan, and Brazil, and maintained by the United States, would certainly provide a more orderly international system than the vaguely law-based equality of all states existing on paper today.

Geopolitics South Russia

This geopolitical map of the South Russian frontier depicts some of strategic movements the Russians have been making in recent years. March 6, 2014 (Spiridon Ion Cepleanu/Wikimedia Commons)

Now, it may be worthwhile to stymie potential challengers. But if current political, economic, and demographic trends are to be trusted, it appears that this will ultimately be a futile endeavor, as developing nations transition into middle-class economies, their subsequent power may be too much for us to keep in check, and our attempts at policing will certainly invite contempt.

America would benefit from maintaining a liberal world order through control of the seas and dominance in military and economic might wherein fellow developed nations would come to the table, manage their own affairs, solve mutual problems, and generally strive to keep order around the world. American values could be promoted, but it would not be wise to export them and seek to impose them on our fellow states. And if the world trended towards war, it would be far easier to manage such a crisis in a world of developed states with mutual understandings, rather than a polarized world of the decadent West and the resurgent rest.

The international system is presently enmeshed in a period of great stress and tension, and a new method of thinking about politics will have to conquer the decadent contemporary orthodoxy. The statesmen of the future must engage in these discussions and seek dynamic and creative solutions – the fate of our nation demands nothing less.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Checklist: Has President Rouhani Lived Up to his Promises?

Hassan Rouhani

Elected in June, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani formally assumed office in August. He has since made remarkable advances, including a push to ease nuclear tensions with the West in order to rid the economy of encumbering sanctions. (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In early June, newly-elected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, a moderate in comparison to his hard-line predecessor Mouhmad Ahmadinejad,emerged as a symbol of hope for a citizenry burdened by a catastrophic financial crisis brought on by Western sanctions. Prior to beginning his term, Rouhani vowed to direct governmental efforts towards mending Iran’s shattered relations with the West, reviving the Iranian economy, and articulating a desire to restore basic human rights within the country.

While the new leader was warmly met by the eager masses ready to move past the repressive Ahmadinejad era, there was no telling whether his words would bear fruit. Rouhani’s potential to affect such change was eclipsed by a shadow of doubt stemming from the supposition that he would serve as merely yet another slave to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his Islamic regime. So has Iran’s “angel” Rouhani upheld his rhetoric presented during his campaign since entering office? Now, more than 6 months into his presidency, the gulf between his words and actions can be qualitatively tracked.

Appeasing the Hardliners

How has Rouhani performed thus far in winning the favor of governmental hardliners while working towards his progressive reform plans? At the start of his presidency, Rouhani took initiative to begin thawing strained US-Iran relations with a visit to the United Nations. You may recall his fifteen-minute phone call with President Obama during the trip, a call that garnered both support and criticism. Regardless of the critics, this phone call was a huge first step in the right direction towards reconciling US-Iran relations considering that the two states have not shared this level of contact since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Furthermore, Khamenei approved of Rouhani’s October trip to the United States. Although unable to appease hard-liners on the issue as they derided his approach, as long as the President is able to maintain the Supreme Leader’s support, he will be able to ward off hard-liner criticisms in his advances towards a relaxed relationship with the West.

Catering to Reformists

During his reign thus far, Rouhani has been performing a careful balancing act; he has struck a careful balance between the hardline and reformist camps while avoiding alienating Khamenei and other key government players. The new President has successfully garnered and maintained support from notable predecessors, including popular former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and former President Akbar Rafsanjani, one of the pillars of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, who remarked that “Rouhani’s success in New York is the mark of the divine victory.” Although not to the degree which former president Khatami was able to mobilize the “Iranian street,” Rouhani seems to have been met with considerable success in galvanizing the reformist camp, namely the youth who have warmly accepted his overtures to reduce Internet censorship.

Ending Sanctions

Perhaps his most significant achievement thus far has been unveiled at the negotiation table with Western powers. Back in November, Rouhani was able to successfully reach a temporary deal with the United States while entering into a year-long negotiation period to construct a permanent deal to ease sanctions. The $7-billion USD received by Iran in sanctions relief created room for a rise in the Iranian Rial and a minor stabilization of the national economy. Both the initial agreement and the overtures by both parties have been called nothing short of “historic” in the media.

Economic Viability

As mentioned, some of the easing of sanctions has seen a rise in the purchasing power of the Rial thereby providing Iranian citizens with some relief. Analyst groups claim that “last year, with economic pressure at its peak, Iran suffered from severe hyperinflation, and the Rial became the least valued currency in the world. This is no longer the case, as the Rial has gained significant value in 2013’. However, further economic steps must be made; the nuclear deal with the West has yet to come into full form, and whether Obama will be able to convince Congress to further repeal sanctions will prove to be a major determinant of whether Rouhani’s reform efforts retain momentum.

Relations With Israel

Thanks to his reputation as the new face of Iran, Rouhani has garnered a considerable amount of positive press and, for the most part, positive attention from the West – which has acted as a negative force against Israel. Within a month of Rouhani’s holding office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubbed him a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” immediately dismissing him as nothing more than another mere slave to the Islamic regime. However, it seems that Israel emerged as the real loser in this love triangle between the United States, Iran and itself, failing to turn the West against its enemy as it had hoped. Within weeks after the Prime Minister’s fiery comment, Iran successfully brokered the temporary deal with the United States. Since then, public Israeli threats and comments against the country have subsided as the country now seems more preoccupied with the Palestinian question than the Iranian-nuclear issue at the moment.­­­

Human Rights

The human rights issue is arguably the weakest front of Rouhani’s presidency thus far. The leader’s promises on this subject seem to be little more than empty rhetoric, as notable action has yet to be taken to restore basic human rights and create equality among members of the citizenry. Premature optimism for Rouhani to improve civil rights issues has all but withered as the only observable change has been a steep rise in executions since he took office.

Another warning sign in his term stems from the detainment of prisoners within the country. The government’s minor gesture of releasing a few political prisoners in December did little to placate the mounting concerns of relatives and families of those still imprisoned, including activists of the “Iranian Street.” Additionally, despite early promises to address the house arrests of Green Revolution leaders Kharibi and Mousavi’s house arrests, not even a mention of the issue has been made. The president has remained silent even amidst mounting claims from close family and friends that their health is deteriorating significantly as a result of being confined within their households for several years now.

Whether Rouhani’s strategy to maintain popular support follows that of his predecessor Khatami’s path remains to be seen. In the middle of Khatami’s second term, his base fell apart due to youth and women disenfranchisement. Rouhani’s track record on human rights and freedoms may very well be what determines his support from his base.

Implications for U.S.-Iran Relations

Despite his shortcomings on the human rights dilemma, Rouhani’s successes have provided the Iranian regime with some degree of legitimacy it had been lacking for years, both in the eyes of the international community and the Iranian electorate. The real question for the Obama administration, however, is whether the Rouhani government’s newfound political capital and prestige is enough to placate conservative Hawks in Congress on both sides of the aisle who have been itching to introduce further sanctions. Any new congressional sanctions against Iran would not only spell the end of the current deal but would most likely set back nuclear negotiations by a number of years. Yet Rouhani, a veteran statesman and diplomat, is keenly aware that the halls of Congress are just as significant an arena for statecraft and diplomacy as the negotiating table. Rouhani’s foreign minister Javad Zarif has recently made a concerted effort to promote lobbying of their position to Congress via the small-but-growing Iranian-American lobby already present in the country.We will know soon enough how far Rouhani is willing to go to make good on his campaign promises in seeking to uplift the Iranian state.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

America and Iran to Bury the Hatchet?

Barack Obama on the telephone with Hassan Rouhani

President of the United States, Barack Obama, talks with the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, during a telephone call in the Oval Office on 27 September 2013.
(Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran has no interest in building nuclear weapons, either for national prestige or for security reasons. He went on to remark that he is willing to sit down with President Obama and discuss a rapprochement between the United States and Iran. President Obama cautiously agreed, and the agreement has led to both criticism and applause within their respective governments. Few details have emerged, but the foreign policy community has already started chiming in on this surprising development.

In a year where the Russians have agreed to mediate negotiations for a Syrian truce and disarmament, perhaps nothing should come as surprising. Yet on the Iranian question, no greater shock could have come, save perhaps a preemptive strike by the Americans and/or Israelis. The United States and Iran have been diplomatically disengaged from each other since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and for the last 10 years relations have only worsened as the two states have played a sort of game of thrones over the ashes of Iraq and influence in the Gulf region. The Iranian nuclear program, funded for decades before the fall of the Shah by the very Western governments which now so viciously condemn it has for the last decade been the most visible point of contention between Iran and the United States. Additionally, Iran’s aspirations for regional leadership and dominance ensured that there has been no shortage of American efforts to contain the Shia nation and prevent it from upsetting the regional balance of power. The seeming radicalism of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, most callously expressed in his denial of the Holocaust, did not help the diplomatic situation in any way.

When Rouhani succeeded Ahmedinejad, there was buzz among the Western media suggesting that this man might be “our man;” he seemed progressive and democratic enough and his words sounded good. Add on to that the events of the Green Revolution in 2010 and the subsequent Arab Spring and there seemed to be an inkling that liberal populism might provide Rouhani the legitimacy necessary to fundamentally change Iranian policies – both foreign and domestic. But after a brief media honeymoon, his fame died a slow and quiet death, as Iranian policy did not appear to differ significantly from that of Ahmedinejad.

Fast forward to today, when we see Rouhani apparently making baby steps in a progressive direction. He has renounced over a decade of Iranian security policy, while making overtures to integrate Iran with the international community. As many commentators have noted, this should not be seen as a sudden change of heart; the Iranian President is undoubtedly still confined by certain limits and boundaries. Nevertheless, this change in tone marks a critical shift, one which will certainly have profound effects on the region. Already the Saudis and Israelis have voiced their disapproval of impending US negotiations with Iran. I recall becoming disillusioned after years of catching the oft-used “Israeli strike on Iran closer than ever before!” headline and resigning myself to the conclusion that the United States and Iran would remain enduring enemies, periodically exchanging harsh words but never anything more. It appears that this state of affairs may soon change.

This saga illustrates an interesting principle of politics best articulated by former Secretary of State George Kennan: “No other people… is entirely our enemy. No people at all… is entirely our friend.” Shifting power paradigms tend to manifest themselves in surprising ways; to the futurist or to the contemporary observer, this development may appear seemingly irrational, yet to the historian looking back it seems perfectly sensible. And thus great shifts in the balance of power are common occurrences in world politics, with many of them marking new political eras.

In 1992 the Europeans signed the Maastricht Treaty and established the European Union. Between 1989 and 1991 the Soviet Union crumbled and the world map was redrawn. In 1973 the People’s Republic of China turned on their former Communist friends in the Soviet Union and instead began working with the United States. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the former colonies of the old European empires claimed their independence. And in each case, observers were shocked; only two or three years earlier there would have been no indication that radical change was on the horizon. This is how the present cooling of relations between the United States and Iran should be viewed: a political anomaly that does not make sense now but one day will be heralded as a major breakthrough in international relations.

Obama’s Delay on Syria and Why the Response is a Little Too Late

Last summer, President Barack Obama vowed to employ a military intervention in civil war-stricken Syria if either side resorted to use of chemical weapons.

This summer, there has been confirmation that the conflict has crossed that “red line.” It’s your move now, Mr. President, but remember – whatever you decide to do, it’s a little too late to avoid checkmate.

Instead of drawing a line and waiting around playing the “sitting duck” game, the United States should have provided the Syrian rebels fighting in the civil war with military aid from the start. By passively watching the progression of what started as a peaceful protest of President Bashar al-Assad met by harsh government crackdowns, the international realm has allowed the situation to escalate into a full-scale civil war. The incumbent Assad regime – backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran and Russia – is fighting a rebel opposition backed by al-Qaida. By remaining inactive in the civil war, the West has played a clear role in allowing the death toll in Syria to continue to skyrocket. So the way I see it, the White House will tolerate the appearance of radical Muslim organizations in the conflict, and will tolerate the countless numbers of civilians killed daily, but the moral compass for some reason only prevails when the use of chemical weapons is introduced into the situation.

So what exactly will the Obama Administration do? Well, the answer is simple: do what has always been done. The White House has decided to supply military support through arming the rebels with “light” weapons. The United States is going to arm al-Qaeda-backed rebel forces who have already faced an astronomical death toll and most probably view the US with little credibility, thanks to our delay. Does anyone else see the obvious problem here? President Obama needs to take a note from history and consider the repercussions of what he is planning to do. Remember when the United States decided to arm Bin Laden and his supporters in the 1970s to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan? Those forces were then used to build up al-Qaeda as we know it today, which turned swiftly against its creator and spawned a massive terrorism campaign met by President George W. Bush’s infamous and seemingly endless “War on Terror“.

Is it too far-fetched to suppose that the Syrian rebel fighters will undoubtedly turn on the United States with animosity for its delay in assistance? Perhaps. But I don’t think it’s throwing the ball too far out of the park to say that with nearly 100,000 civilians already dead, from a humanitarian standpoint it may have behooved the White House to act more promptly. But then again, there is that consideration that the United States doesn’t really feel any sort of humanitarian obligation to the international realm, and particularly to the Middle East. Not only that, but our intervention within the region has been sporadic and confusingly contradictory. For instance, while the Obama administration saw no problem in thrusting its military forces into Libya in 2011, and liberally continues to dowse Yemen and obliterate countless innocent citizens with drones, it holds reservations in assisting the Syrian people from what appears to be escalating into a new-age genocide. Likewise, the administration has worked effortlessly to combat al-Qaeda by locating and killing Osama bin Laden, yet it continues to bolster al-Qaeda bases by arming al-Qaeda-backed rebel fighters in Syria.

Had the United States decided to act two years ago, in 2011, when the civil unrest began, it may have actually had a legitimate shot at quelling the war against Bashar al-Assad and his regime while at the same time preventing the rise of extremist groups such as al-Qaeda. That time has passed, so all we can hope for is that the Obama administration decides to intervene strongly enough. So let’s hope the White House is going to arm the Syrian rebels with more than just light weapons; without supplementing mere ammunition with antitank rockets and antiaircraft systems, there is little hope that the Syrian rebels will be able to finally put an end to this bloodshed and emerge victorious. With vital United States national security interests – namely containing al-Qaeda and preserving the security of Israel – being threatened by the civil war, it is now more urgent than ever for the Obama administration to take action to protect not only national interests but also human dignity and put a stop to the coldblooded carnage plaguing Syria.

President-Elect Rouhani Brings Hope to the Citizens of Iran

Will Iran’s new moderate “Superman” Rouhani be able to withstand the forces of Ayatollah Khamenei and his theocratic kryptonite?

Last month, some salvation was finally delivered to the tense and oppressed citizens of Iran with the victory of newly elected president Hassan Rouhani. Under former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians were subjected to his abusive policies, most notably demonstrated by the harsh crackdown of the 2009 Green Movement.

Although Rouhani, who will officially replace the current hotheaded president in August, has been termed a relative moderate in comparison to Gung-ho fundamentalist Ahmadinejad, the Iranian people have already received him as an angel on earth. The so perceived “savior” has verbalized his intentions to improve the country’s international reputation. And this may even be the first time since the onset of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that we may see a resurrection of limited aspects of western society within the country, as Rouhani has expressed his desire to restore basic human rights beginning with the improvement of women’s rights and the gradual deregulation of the strict national dress code.

 

But don’t tear your headscarves yet, ladies –– while I am sure that you are more than eager to sport your fashionable new hairdos, there is still something dodgy going on here. Despite Rouhani expressing his personal wishes for reform, he remains at best merely another puppet of Supreme Leader and master puppeteer Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Although the voting process within Iran may bear a democratic façade, it is simply a hollow disguise masking a deviously controlled and complex method of strategically inducting figureheads who will ultimately serve to carry out the wishes of the Ayatollah. Here’s a quick breakdown of how candidates are selected for participation in the presidential race:

The Guardian Council is fully responsible for filtering potential candidates and selecting those who they feel fit to run. The Council is composed of six clergymen, who are selected by the Ayatollah himself, and six jurists, selected by the head of the judiciary (also appointed by the Ayatollah). The entire Council is thus essentially appointed by the Supreme Leader and reflects the same fundamental ideals as him: all candidates bear complete loyalty to the Islamic Republic and all of its fundamental assets. Following a three-week campaign period after candidates are announced, voting takes place. If a single candidate does not take a simple majority, then the top two candidates will face off in a runoff election.

Doesn’t seem so egalitarian anymore, does it? With the Supreme Leader virtually controlling all aspects of the elections, up to the voter’s free choice of casting a ballot, the citizens of Iran are no more than spectators trapped in the “Ayatollah Khamenei Show,” starring Khamenei and Khamenei, and featuring Khamenei.

The understanding of the Supreme Leader being the central power holder and final arbiter of Iranian governmental policies is essential to understanding Iranian politics. There has been some jubilance over the fact that Rouhani has promised to give transparency to Iran’s hotly-disputed nuclear program, which will hopefully serve to ease tensions between the country and the rest of the world as well as break Iran free of its international isolation. In February, incumbent Ahmadinejad suggested the national nuclear program may see changes as evidenced by his statement that he would be willing to discuss the program in detail with the United States so as long as the West stopped pressuring the regime. However, the acidic rain of truth pierces umbrella shields of optimism once the realization is made that these statements of hope are emptier than outer space itself. As long as Khamenei remains the final authority on major state decisions, he remains the supreme ringleader of the chaotic circus that is Iranian politics; no vital information regarding the country’s nuclear program will be spilled to the West, and that is final. In terms of Rouhani’s plans to restore basic liberties to the country, being that the current Supreme Leader was the one responsible for the 1979 Islamic Revolution, replacing an autocratic monarchy with largely western ideals with a stringent Islamic theocracy, it seems highly doubtful that the new president elect will be met with success in his quest for social and political reform.

To the Iranian citizenry, I say celebrate now, for it is still too early to tell whether the Angel Rouhani and his plans for reform will fall prisoner to the devilish iron fist of Khamenei. Only time will tell how the new Rouhani-Khamenei dynamic will play out. While the Iranian citizenry initially will almost certainly be met with a minimal degree of improved autonomy and treatment under the new president, as long as Khamenei remains, the streets will continue to be lined with revolutionary guards executing the will of their Supreme Leader. So sit tight, Iran, because things aren’t going to change while Khamenei is still around, and await instead the day the tyrannical leader is succeeded, for only this holds the dawn of a new beginning for the country plagued by an era of dark and oppressive theocratic rule.

The Emerging Threat of Cyber Espionage Against US Economic Interests

Major Issues and Recommendations for a Stronger US Cyber Defense Capability

A comprehensive report recently released by Mandiant, a private information security firm, has confirmed China’s expansive cyber espionage operations against US private industry. This report has aroused debate in the public sphere regarding US cyber vulnerabilities. However, state-sponsored cyber espionage has been well documented as early as 2006 and has resulted in at least hundreds of terabytes of data theft (Mandiant 2013, 20). The main perpetrators have been identified as China, Russia, France, Israel, and most recently, countries in the Middle East such as Iran (Booz Allen Hamilton 2012, 8). Due to the increasing number of monthly cyber attacks on US economic interests, information security professionals in the private and public sectors have criticized the US Government’s inability to effectively address this growing concern. While the threat of catastrophic cyber warfare is often overhyped, the threat of economic espionage through cyber attacks is not, and public criticism of US cyber security vulnerabilities is valid.

Cyber espionage endangers America’s global economic prowess and national security. China, Russia, and other states continuously steal many years worth of R&D from private US companies to expedite their economic development. It is estimated that these efforts to increase political and military power via cyber espionage have resulted in the loss of tens of billions of dollars from US firms (Nakashima 2013). If left unaddressed, this growing threat could result in the theft of sensitive trade secrets that would severely impact national security, especially if the companies and data involved contain sensitive military secrets such as classified aircraft designs.

One of the greatest challenges in addressing cyber espionage is the current lack of effective attribution methods. This critical absence of sufficient detection techniques allows both state and non-state actors to conceal their roles in cyber espionage and therefore avoid public reprimands from the US Government and the international community (Economist 2012). In Russia, for example, the unique nexus between government, organized crime, and business makes Russian cyber attacks very difficult to track, especially since the government purportedly employs underground youth hacking networks to achieve its cyber espionage objectives (Smith 2012, 3). The US Government needs to increase its coordination efforts with private industry to develop more sophisticated cyber attack attribution techniques in order deter state actors from committing further economic espionage.

Efforts at collaboration between US Government entities and the private sector are hampered by a secretive and inconsistent US cyber policy. The Obama Administration has apparently begun drafting internal cyber security policy and has directed certain agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to allocate more funding for cyber security initiatives (Sanger and Shanker 2013). However, many outside experts have indicated that the US Government and the private sector are not sufficiently collaborating to ameliorate the cyber threat (Wolf 2012, 11). The US Government cannot expect private businesses to defend themselves against the penetration efforts of foreign intelligence services. Therefore, policymakers and private industry leaders need to forge closer relations, develop a more coherent cyber defense policy, and share information regarding current threats and trends to provide for a stronger US cyber defense capability.