Monday, September 19, 2016
Military and Diplomatic Efforts are Necessary to Combat Terrorism
In the fifteen years that have passed since the U.S. initiated its Global War on Terror, we have participated in two wars--Afghanistan and Iraq, we have initiated special operations in a host of other nations, and we are currently engaged in supporting those who are attempting to defeat ISIS...
We have learned through these efforts that a war designed to defeat an idea is a challenging task that is terribly expensive both in human treasure and in resources expended. The face of American involvement in this venture has primarily been through military action in which we have positioned combat assets and special operations forces into theatres of operation far afield where we hope to achieve our mission of eradicating terror. Associated with these operations are the diplomatic ventures—often occurring behind the scenes—to encourage allies to support U.S. efforts and to promote regional peace and security in areas scourged by conflict.
Much of the current discussion of how best to defeat ISIS centers upon the proper role of U.S. military assets—that is, whether to use air power alone or to commit “boots on the ground” to the operation—but fails to incorporate the central role that international diplomacy must play in finding a just solution. Much of what we are witnessing in the Middle East in 2016 stems from the diplomatic decisions that were made nearly a century ago at the conclusion of the First World War. International boundaries drawn by colonial powers, indifference to regional sectarian interests, and the potent politics of petroleum reserves all contributed to the scenario that has played itself out over the past century. Poor diplomacy helped to create this crisis, but more effective diplomacy can lead to a potential solution.
The effective engagement of regional players is key to finding a solution—whether military or diplomatic in nature—since national self-interest of those whose global neighborhood is disturbed stand to lose the most through the continuation of hostilities and the humanitarian crisis that follows. We must recognize that nations like Egypt and Iran, because of the sheer size of their populations and their regional influence, can have hegemonic power that could be used as a force for good or for ill in the efforts to defeat ISIS. The U.S. has attempted to draw support—largely financial--from Arab neighbors in the Gulf States like Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, but this support has been more symbolic than substantive. Turkey has seemed to be most willing to be engaged in the struggle, but since it is fearful of Kurdish autonomy it has much to lose in this venture and has thus displayed global passive-aggressive tendencies in its level of support. In addition, the U.S. commitment to Turkey as a NATO ally also makes this situation all the more complicated.
Force alone cannot destroy the ideology of the terrorist. Nations that live within the region must reject this methodology and work to resist its adherents with all possible vigor, and religious leaders too—from all faith traditions—must reject outright any perversions of dogma that seek to justify the killing of innocents in the name of political justice because this is utter madness. Associated with these ongoing efforts, the global community of nations must be willing to find an effective diplomatic solution for the affected region that includes border adjustments, investments in aid and economic development, and cultural exchange. Those who live within a world that knows hope and opportunity are less likely to be radicalized and attracted by a false ideology that promises success from the misdeeds of the violent.
The U.S. can play a key role in this diplomatic venture by reasserting its role as a moral force for good in the world. We have a proud history of liberating peoples from oppression and providing real opportunity for change and transformation, but we often let others control this narrative. Still, an emphasis upon diplomacy does not preclude the right of the U.S. to defend its self-interest and to support its allies whenever they are threatened by the forces of discord. America is capable of employing both the carrot and the stick in this endeavor. No enemy should ever question the resolve of this nation to act when American citizens or their property is threatened by those who wish to do us harm for that would be a tragic error in judgment.
Monday, August 22, 2016
Criminal Justice Reform Must Move Beyond Era of Mass-Incarceration According to Rodriguez
Having slightly less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but with approximately 22 percent of the world’s incarcerated, the United States has an urgent need to reform its criminal justice system. The cumulative effects of retributive justice practices, mandatory sentencing guidelines, and sundry practices like “three strikes” provisions over the past generation have overwhelmed our criminal court system and placed an untenable burden on our prison system...
With the average cost of incarceration per inmate per year hovering just above $30,000, and in some states double that figure, the cost to taxpayers at the local, state, and federal levels has become staggering. Yes, we must do all that we can to ensure public safety, but we must develop a system that is cost-effective and outcomes-based—our current practices fail on both of these points.
As a result of the “War on Drugs” that the nation launched in the 1970s, we have witnessed burgeoning numbers among the nation’s incarcerated, many of whom are imprisoned for non-violent drug-related offenses. This movement toward mass incarceration has had a tremendously heavy toll upon African American and Hispanic youth, and the societal impact upon broken families and broken communities has been particularly devastating. Although we might pay lip-service to the notion that the primary purpose of incarceration is rehabilitation, our behavior as a society belies this point when ex-felons find themselves shunned on the job market and void of any real opportunities to start fresh when they are released. It should surprise no one that the rate of recidivism among the ex-felon population in the U.S. is staggeringly high.
Along with the rising population of the incarcerated, we have witnessed an expansion in the construction of new prisons across the U.S. during the past generation. In many states this has been one of the largest industrial growth sectors in recent years. Some states, along with the federal government, have sought to outsource this work to for-profit facilities that detractors have termed “the prison-industrial complex,” and many decry what such a system effectively says about our societal values. When we place a priority upon the economic impact that a prison will have while ignoring the societal cost that it entails, we have lost sight of the key issue at stake.
As a society we must strive to support the use of corrective measures short of incarceration in those situations when they are applicable and most appropriate. We must increase support to probation and parole officers and social workers who can be an effective force in monitoring and mentoring those who need guidance and direction in their lives. Key in this effort must also be a renewed commitment to supporting efforts in working with youth offenders. An effective juvenile justice initiative can be key to transforming lives of a future generation that might otherwise find themselves pawns in a culture of incarceration that is utterly destructive and crushes any real hope of opportunity. We must also work to erase the stigma that is associated with having been an ex-felon so that we can become a society that truly believes in second chances.
Criminal justice reform that is aimed at reducing mass incarceration should not be viewed as an effort to get “soft on crime.” Those who choose to commit violent offenses in our society must always know that the full force and effect of the U.S. legal and criminal justice systems will be used to bring them to justice. We remain a nation of laws. The reforms that are presented here are intended to make sure that the punishment fits the crime in those cases where the courts can show a degree of discretion. We have sufficient evidence to know that our current system is ineffective and that it is burdensome on society at large. Rooting criminal justice reform upon an outcomes-based approach presents us with a real opportunity to address a societal need. If done effectively, future generations might be spared from the debilitating effects that a failed mass incarceration policy has produced.