The Indian caste system is so foreign to the liberal West that we cannot fully comprehend why one’s caste matters so much that it determines how well someone is treated by others and the community. In other words, our focus on individual rights and merit has changed our society to one where mistreating someone based on their birth is considered immoral. Certainly, racism exists in our society while people discriminate based on factors like gender and poverty, yet openly acting on such bigotry is completely unacceptable. Conversely, treating someone of a lower caste as an equal can be terribly controversial in India.
Looking at the rape and murder of two teens in Katra, Uttar Pradesh, the fact that the victims came from the Dalit community, which is the lowest caste in India, the police actually threatened to arrest the father of the victims. Ultimately, these officers were fired, but this prevalent attitude in India sets up a massive culture. Using the fact that these girls were part of the so-called “untouchables” community to justify their abuse is thoroughly unacceptable in most of the world. Meanwhile, the Arab Spring revolutions and a general trend toward the democratization of the world means even the disenfranchised lower castes of India will be more and more likely to demand their interests be served. In fact, this is likely why this father even had the courage to ask the police to do their job.
For newly elected-President Modi, who has pledged to rule India based consensus with a focus on issues like the corruption and the economy, incidents like this one represent both a real challenge as well an opportunity for change. Looking at the fact Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif actually attended Modi’s inauguration means the new leader could represent India’s best chance at overcoming serious issues that are propagated by their culture, which the ongoing Pakistani-Indian conflict is an example of. That said, American officials were able to befriend Russian officials during the Cold War. Unfortunately, leaders are individuals and it is far easier for individuals to make choices than it is for people to change.
Regrettably, Security of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has resigned in response to the Phoenix VA healthcare system scandal, which involved the intentional falsification of documents to meet wait-time goals of no longer than fourteen days. Instead of improving wait-times, it appears financial incentives for reducing wait-times actually pushed doctors and officials to hide their failures. That said, the departure of Shinseki is a political response. While Shinseki was not directly involved in this scandal, our politicians decided it would be about him. Absent from the calls for Shinseki to resign is a simple question: who is the better man for the job.
Not only was Shinseki facing an exponential increase in wounded veterans thanks to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, i.e. we needed more resources in the VA, he was also trying to modernize the system in order to address the longstanding issue of lengthy wait-times. With the Shinseki leaving, we lose his experience and inside knowledge, which we need for immediate, effective reforms. Once we found ourselves beyond Shinseki’s capacity to change the VA culture, the system and veterans would have been better served had we found an outsider from a successfully civilian healthcare system with the ability to reform the culture before Shinseki was pressured to move on.
Finally, it is important to recognize this latest government scandal is part of a broader issue our Country has where we simply react to controversy. When our political instinct is to demand the resignation of the most senior official after a group of individuals within an agency do something wrong, instead of focusing on ways to understand and fix the problem, our Country has a culturally problem. It has become a common practice in the military for the top brass to resign when they feel they cannot complete a mission. Just as America needed General Shinseki’s criticism and honest recognition of issues with the Iraq war, we need the same in the VA now, so our veterans can finally be served in a timely manner.
Finding compromise between those who want to end the Afghanistan War as a definite success and the more populous camp, which tired of the costs long ago, President Obama’s announcement that he will leave just under 10,000 US troops until 2016 to train Afghan troops and guide missions is an attempt at a “responsible” withdrawal. Although this approach will likely win the Obama Administration few points when it comes to its foreign policy record, it could help the next President of Afghanistan solidify his ability to govern with the backing of a more confident, supported Afghan military. Success will, however, depend upon the ability of the Afghan military and government to function as they continue their long-term insurgent mission along with their efforts to build a functional civil society.
Although President Obama has outlined a new foreign policy paradigm, which embraces judicious restraint, i.e. limited, well-considered action, the use of soft power, and international cooperation over unilateral military intervention, the ratcheting down of the Afghanistan War represents an inability of the Obama Administration to fully shift its focus from the George W. Bush foreign policy approach to its own approach. Even though this writer has long preached a great deal of what the Obama Administration has now found a way to verbalize, (http://voices.yahoo.com/retooling-grand-strategy-8027890.html?cat=9, http://voices.yahoo.com/how-us-engage-political-revolt-middle-7896222.html?cat=9, http://voices.yahoo.com/recalibrating-our-foreign-policy-vision-new-7896212.html?cat=9), it is not likely to garner much public enthusiasm. After all, it is a mission of moderation and responsible restraint on the subject of foreign policy, i.e. the American People will have little action to support or protest when it comes to issues that we are traditionally disengaged from.
“They say he will return to his farm,” responded American painter Benjamin West when King George III asked what he thought George Washington would do after the American Revolution ended.
“If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world,” King George retorted.
Where George Washington’s willingness to give up power as America’s most powerful General and greatest President ensured the United States of America could become the world’s first and most powerful modern democracy. Having virtually secured his anticipated victory with weak voter turnout, former Army Chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will soon be Egypt’s second President since its Arab Spring revolution. Given that Egypt’s military removed President Morsi from office due to his Muslim Brotherhood agenda, voter turnout was so low that officials decided to extend the voting in order to legitimize the results, and few candidates participated in the election due to the clear slant that favored Sisi, this vote was far from purely democratic.
That said, what will determine if Egypt can become a democracy under President Sisi will not be his ability to stabilize Egypt in terms of economics and national security. Democracy will not even be dependent upon when, or if, Sisi decides to give up his position of power. It will depend on Sisi starting to build the democratic institutions needed for Egypt to hold truly fair and free elections, long before he leaves office. Where the Muslim Brotherhood gained power due to a lack of organization on behalf of alternative parties and an election that was held before the democratic process could produce more representative results, Sis was made the “democratic choice.” If Egypt is to become a true democracy, Sisi must allow opposition parties to freely form and function within Egypt’s political system, without interference from the military.
Rushing into an election after an abrupt political shift, such as in Egypt following the Arab Spring uprisings, can lead to elected leaders incapable of serving the broad interest of a country in turmoil. Unfortunately, outside pressure seeking to delegitimize the interim Ukrainian government demanded the immediate election of a new leader.
Fortunately, Ukraine has a well-developed democratic process already in place while the strong showing in favor of now President-elect Petro Poroshenko affords the election process credibility. Although pro-Russian separatists forced 80% of the polling stations in Donetsk and Luhansk to close, the fact Mr. Poroshenko received over fifty percent of the vote, thus eliminating the need for a runoff election, should help undermine any questions of the President-to-be’s legitimacy, even in the East.
The fact that these disruptions in the election process were perpetrated by separatists against the national Ukrainian government might even further help add credibility to the President-elect’s rule while it gives the People of Donetsk and Luhansk reason to reject the dominance of the separatists. In other words, the separatists probably hurt their cause by denying voters the opportunity to reject the chosen leader and find dissatisfaction with the election process versus their brutal hand.
Furthermore, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged to respect the results of the election. This would be encouraging, except no one can be sure what Putin has done to exasperate the Ukrainian Crisis and what he might do next. Skewing the facts, Putin has been trying to reframe the Ukrainian Crisis as Western provoked. While his actions regarding Crimea cannot be excused and highlight the untruth of his version of reality, he does raise valid criticism when it comes to treating Russia as a second class citizen.
The truth is that Russia was never thoroughly assimilated into the Western dominated International Community, thus Russia has been treated like an outsider trying to earn its place as an insider since the Cold War. For this reason, Russian was experiencing a strengthening of its soft power thanks to its defiance of American dominance. That is, before it hypocritically treated Ukraine in an even worse fashion than the US has ever treated most countries. Consequently, the International Community needs to do better when it comes to addressing Russian interests as the world tries to recover from the Ukrainian Crisis. In exchange, Russia must do the same for Ukraine and its other neighbors.
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