President Trump’s Twelve Day Trip to Asia

President Trump embarked on a twelve-day trip to Asia on Friday, November 5th. His itinerary outlined his first stop to be Japan, followed by South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. His main diplomatic goals for the trip were to form an alliance against North Korea’s nuclear threats and establish bilateral trade agreements to compensate for America’s departure from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

 

Trump kicked off his trip in Japan by landing at the Yokota Air Force Base outside Tokyo. There, he indirectly addressed North Korea’s belligerence by telling American soldiers, “You are the greatest hope for people who desire to live in freedom and harmony and you are the greatest threat to tyrants and dictators who seek to prey on the innocent.” He emphasized the importance of an American-Japanese alliance by signing white-and gold baseball caps that read, “Donald and Shinzo: Make Alliance Even Greater.” He then spent a leisurely time with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during which they played golf together and invited the world’s fourth best golf star, Hideki Matsuyama, to play. People on Twitter fueled a non-troversy when Trump emptied a wooden box of fish food into a koi pond, promptly after Prime Minister Abe emptied his. The media exaggerated the event as only Trump had poured all the food at once, and a sample “meme” that resulted from the coverage is shown below.

After his stop in Japan, Trump ventured on into South Korea. There, Trump held a joint news conference with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, saying that the U.S. was committed to finding a diplomatic solution with North Korea but willing to use the “full range” of military options if it became necessary. He called for China and Russia to force North Korea to end its missile programs, citing the strong strategic position the U.S. has in relation to North Korea. This contrasts from Moon Jae-in’s view, as he supports peaceful negotiations, because any violence would likely kill millions of South Koreans in Seoul. The presidents also discussed trade in their meeting. Trump had threatened to pull out of the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as KORUS, because he said that it is creating an economic disadvantage for the US. He was very vague about any negotiations during the trip, but thanked Moon for “instructing trade negotiators to work closely with us to pursue a much better deal, a deal that frankly has been quite unsuccessful and not very good for the United States.” In contrast to several presidents before him, Trump did not visit the demilitarized zone on the border given time constraints, as President Trump would only be able to visit either the DMZ or Camp Humphreys, a U.S. overseas military base, which the Trump administration saw as more important. Camp Humphreys, upon its completion in 2020, will become the largest overseas United States military base in the world.

 

Trump also ate lunch with Moon along with U.S. and South Korean troops at Camp Humphreys, which, following an expansion that will be complete in 2020, will be the largest US overseas military base in the world.

 

In China, Trump spoke at the Great Hall of the People and sought to alleviate tensions with China by blaming the US for its own annual $300 billion trade deficit. “I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its own citizens?… But in actuality I do blame past [US] administrations for allowing this out of control trade deficit to take place and to grow,” Trump said. He also encouraged President Xi Jinping to “act faster and more effectively” against North Korea, as China is one of North Korea’s most prominent economic suppliers due to their bilateral trade agreements. Trump also allowed Jinping to dictate whether the media could ask questions or not. After Trump’s depart, Jinping told Beijing reporters that he would try to relieve pressures with North Korea through “dialogue and negotiation.” He also acknowledged his communist state’s and the United States’ differences in policy and government. Jinping admitted that “our two sides may have different views or differences on some issues. This is only natural. The key is to properly handle and manage them.”

 

Trump’s presence in Vietnam both enforced his fans’ love for him and infuriated those who despised his nationalist rhetoric. His appeal to the Vietnamese was evident prior to his arrival since many of his books are translated into Vietnamese. Most importantly, they hold beliefs that Trump will assert dominance over China because Trump both vaguely and explicitly addressed China for stripping the US of jobs and factories at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Da Nang, Vietnam. These remarks were conveyed merely a day after his praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump’s toughness on China attracts Vietnamese attention because China and Vietnam have been engaging in constant disputes over certain islands in the South China Sea. However, Trump’s “America First” rhetoric made the Vietnamese uneasy ever since his decision to pull out of the TPP, which Barack Obama had enacted during his presidency to improve economic relations within America and East Asian countries by lessening Chinese economic dominance in the region. With the US out of the Asian sphere of economics, Vietnam has to rely largely on China instead of the US. Unfortunately, according to USA Today, Vietnam is losing hope in rejuvenating a trade partnership with America due to Trump’s boasts about domestic economic progress.

 

Trump’s final stop on his trip was to the Philippines. Prior to the trip, each country that he would visit was polled for confidence in Trump, and Philippines gave the highest confidence, with 69%. In the Philippines, he met with president Rodrigo Duterte, who has been extensively criticized throughout his presidency because of his harsh anti-drug policies that practically eliminate due process for those accused of drug crimes. Nevertheless, Trump said he has a “great relationship” with Duterte, and according to the White House, only sparingly discussed human rights in their meeting. Instead, the two focused on fighting the Islamic State, drug trafficking, and trade issues. With Duterte, Trump attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, where he said that a new trade policy would soon be unveiled, which would benefit America far more than the prior ones.

 

Overall, Trump’s primary focuses in his trip were free trade and North Korea. For now, it remains relatively unclear whether either of these issues resolved in a way favorable to Trump and America. Trump was criticized throughout the trip for allowing himself to be influenced by boosts to his ego, especially in the case of Duterte, who is accused of many human rights violations. Trump also seemed to be escalating tensions with North Korea when he began a Twitter dispute with dictator Kim Jong Un. As the results of Trump’s negotiations trickle out, it will become known whether his trip was, in fact, a victory for America. The general lack of conflict during the trip seems to be a positive for President Trump, given his unprecedentedly low approval rating for this point in his presidency.

 

By Aditya Achara and Will Henson, Staff Writers

House and Senate Republicans Try Differing Paths to Tax Reform

Over the past week, House and Senate Republicans have acted on their promises to create legislation reforming the current tax code. On November 2nd, the House released its original tax plan, which passed in the House Ways and Means Committee through a vote along party lines. The committee currently has 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats. Also on Thursday, the Senate released their tax plan. While both have similar goals in the reduction of the corporate tax and repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is a tax required for individuals whose circumstances allow them to pay a lower standard income tax, there are also key differences between the proposed codes. Should the bills pass through their respective chambers, a joint committee between the House and Senate would have to reconcile the differences.

 

The House bill is different from the current tax code in the way that it divides income tax brackets. The current tax code has seven brackets for joint-filing married couples, with those earning between $0 to $19,050 per year paying 10% of their income, and those earning above $480,050 per year paying 39.6% of their income. The proposed code merges the bottom two brackets into one bracket, with those earning between $0 – $90,000 per year paying 12% of their income. For those in the original first bracket, this is a 2% increase in income tax. There are three higher brackets, the last of which consists of those who earn over $1 million per year paying 39.6% of their income. As a result, there is a significant tax cut for those earning between $480,050 to $1 million per year. The full breakdown is shown in the chart below, courtesy of the New York Times.

 

           The Senate bill diverges from the House bill, and is similar to the current code, in that it retains the system of seven brackets. However, some of the rates are lowered. The rate is lowered from 15% to 12% in the second bracket, 25% to 22.5% in the third bracket, 28% to 25% in the fourth bracket, and 33% to 32.5% in the fifth bracket. In the seventh bracket, the rate is lowered to 38.5%, aligning with the House bill by giving millionaires a significant tax cut.

 

           Further differences between the House and Senate bill include state tax deductions. In certain states, including California, New York and New Jersey, there is also a state income tax, as well as higher property taxes, which are taxes on the value of a family’s real estate. These taxes are then deducted from federal taxes so that families are only taxed once. In the House bill, this deduction is capped at $10,000 for property taxes, while in the Senate bill, the deduction is eradicated entirely. Another difference between the two bills is in the estate tax, which currently taxes inheritances worth more than $5.48 million. The House bill phases out this tax by 2024, while the Senate bill keeps the tax. This is due to the wishes of key voters including Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who believe that the estate tax should stay in place. However, the Senate bill does include the provision that the estate tax would not exist for the first $11 million in inheritances. Furthermore, the Senate bill preserves tax deductions on mortgage interest and medical expenses that were removed in the House bill. Another key difference between the two bills is that, while both cut the corporate income tax from 35% to 20% as promised, the Senate bill delays this break until 2019. This goes against a key campaign promise made by President Trump, who promised a corporate tax reduction by 2018 at the latest.

 

A difference between the two bills that was amended in the House Ways and Means Committee was the status of the adoption tax credit. The credit allows those who adopt children, with the exception of stepchildren, within the US or internationally to take a tax credit up to $13,750 to cover necessary expenses. Originally, the House bill did away with this credit. However, outcry from conservative groups in support of the credit led House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) to restore the credit in an amendment. The Senate bill keeps the credit in its current state.

 

           For the bills to be able to pass along a party line vote in the Senate, certain provisions need to be made. Not taking into account hypothetical economic growth, which Republicans say the House bill will encourage, a report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the US deficit would increase an additional $1.7 trillion dollars under the new tax code over the next ten years. This is due to the amount of revenue that would be lost by the government through tax breaks. As a result, House Republicans will have to find a monetary solution to replace the tax revenue in order to satisfy skeptics. While the report on the Senate bill has not yet been released, it is probable that the Senate bill will also increase the deficit due to a decrease in the amount of revenue sources available to the government through cuts on income and corporate taxes. However, companies may invest in the United States due to the lowered corporate tax rates, which would spur economic growth. Since this is not taken into account by the CBO in their reports, the Byrd rule will likely be invoked, which prevents legislation from passing by a 60-40 majority if it increases the deficit beyond the budget window. One example of this is that the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush timed out after ten years. Republican senators have already expressed their interest in making their tax cuts permanent, which would force them to find bipartisan support for their bill.

 

It is unlikely that Senate Republicans will find any Democratic support for this tax reform given the cuts given to the wealthy and corporations, making the path to reform given the small majority of Republicans in Congress, one of which, Senator Ron Wilson (R-WI), has already expressed opposition. Additionally, the House bill and the Senate bill are drastically different, which may indicate a need to reconcile differences before passing the bill onto President Trump for signing. Ultimately, it appears these tax cuts won’t make it in time for Christmas.

By Sophia Podolsky, Staff Writer

Catalonian independence would be a victory for themselves, the world, and democracy | OPINION

The history of Catalonia, a culturally autonomous region in the northeast of Spain, is thick with war and insurrection, pride and oppression. While bouncing back and forth across the decades between being politically autonomous and suffering under dictatorships, Catalonia has developed a sense of self-identity that can only merit the label of “nationalism;” and justly so, for by all means, Catalonia is a nation.

The Spanish government has mercilessly berated Catalonia for centuries, beginning, arguably, with efforts in the early 1700s to outlaw the Catalan language. For the next few hundred years there were only brief moments of full autonomy, leaving Catalonia’s people starved for independence.

In 2008, the global recession left Spain with record unemployment and massive public debt. Since then, most of Spain has barely recovered, but Catalonia today is one of the most financially stable regions in the country. In fact, Catalonia sustains 20 percent of Spain’s economy through taxes, but only receives a 14 percent return for public expenses. Efforts to institute laws to for the region to collect its own taxes have been vehemently rejected. Because of this, Catalonia feels economically exploited by Spain, and the movement for separation has never been more popular and impassioned. There have been informal referendums, protests, marches, and rallies attracting millions of people.

On Oct. 27, the Catalan parliament officially declared independence, despite remaining under Spanish rule. These people are tired of being financially taken advantage of. They are tired of barely clinging on to their culture. They deserve a revolution.

But the government has not been so open-minded to these needs. In fact, they have been violent in their efforts to suppress separatist movements. All attempts to host a formal referendum were silenced by police blocking polling stations, confiscating ballots, and physically dragging voters away from polls and beating them, injuring nearly 900 people in the process. The government has called separation “evil,” “undemocratic,” and “the nuclear option.”

Pressure from the federal level has been such that the President of Catalonia had to turn himself into the United Nations just last week. This is not simply a political conflict; it is a crisis of personal liberty, of autonomy, and of natural rights.

Such a chaotic political and ideological landscape should feel familiar to Americans, especially those who are familiar with our own history. When Britain began imposing a rule that American citizens deemed unfair and tyrannical, an independence movement was formed, and it took a revolution for us to sever ties with the mother nation. Similarly, Catalonia never agreed to be part of the Spanish government, and now wishes to sever ties. Britain’s laws did not allow for separation; Spain’s constitution does not allow it, and, ironically, our own living Constitution does not allow it either.

Was it not John Locke who argued that citizens under a government had the full right to instigate a revolution against the government when it acted against their interests? An entire movement of enlightenment philosophers who championed individualism, political autonomy, and action against tyranny influenced every word of our Declaration of Independence, and those same ideas were filtered into our Constitution.

We are a nation which has put those ideas into practice when we were able to physically, politically, and culturally distinguish ourselves from Britain.

We are a nation that was birthed directly from these ideas, and yet, our founding document suppresses them. If the Catalan crisis has revealed anything, it is how dangerously divided a nation can become if they don’t allow themselves to peacefully divide.

If a society is distinct enough, it should separate itself. Catalan’s motives are a brewing mixture of Locke’s views on political oppression and the view that cultures must be preserved. No further justification is needed to declare independence. Any region that is able to maintain a separate language, political system, economy, and philosophy must not remain subject to the laws or customs of a larger organization or else it runs the risk of having its culture erased entirely by means of integration.

Catalonia deserves to leave Spain. Texas and California deserve to leave America, if they so wish. America deserved to leave Britain. It all goes back to the basic principles that are, sadly, misrepresented in our Constitution. Although I am a firm supporter of the Constitution in all other respects, the inability to secede – even unilaterally – is one disheartening snag that is almost an insult to our nation’s founding.

Perhaps, after Catalonia’s separation, other regions in countries around the world may be compelled to do the same. All the beautiful and diverse cultures that exist would be able to defend themselves by their means. Even with a small start, such a victory could influence the long-term dismantling of globalist power structures that are already subduing countless cultures.

History has proven it: Catalan independence is not only a right, but a necessity.

By Melanie Lust, Staff Writer

2018 Midterm Elections One Year Away | ANALYSIS

The 115th Congress, dominated by the Republican Party, has failed to repeal Obama Care, pass tax reform or pass infrastructure legislation and will soon have to face their voters back home. Potentially leaving Washington with few campaign promises fulfilled, many expect the Republican Congress to sustain heavy losses across the country. Combining the lackluster pace of congress with unprecedented disapproval ratings, Democrats are aiming to take back the House and Senate in 2018. And typically, it is the party in the White House which loses seats in Congress. Following the first two years of a President’s term, their popularity drops significantly. The result of the President’s decrease in support leads to “Wave Elections” where the party of the President loses seats in Congress. Though, it is important to note that with all things ‘Trump’, this election will be anything but typical.

Map of senatorships during the 2018 midterms

To retake control of the Senate, the Democratic Party must retain control of all twenty-three of their seats up for re-election and simultaneously flip three senate seats represented by Republicans, assuming Senator Angus King (I-ME) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) continue to caucus with the Democrats. The two Republican held seats in the Senate Democrats are most likely to win are Dean Heller’s seat in Nevada and Jeff Flake’s seat in Arizona. Nevada has endured a strong liberal tide recently, with Nevada going to Democratic presidential candidates for the past three elections in a row and Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto defeating Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) in a 2016 Senate Race. With a potential primary fight on the Republican side, it is not inconceivable that Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), the Democratic challenger, could win. In Arizona, Senator Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) announcement that he will be stepping down at the end of his term clears the Republican primary for State Senator Kelli Ward to be the Republican nominee. However, should Dr. Ward be the Republican candidate, there is concern that her past controversial statements could pave the way for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

However, President Trump has already started building a large impediment to potential Democratic gains in next year’s midterm elections. While visiting states like Indiana, Missouri and Joe North Dakota, the President has already begun trying to turn the voters who delivered Trump electoral wins in 2016 against their popular Democratic incumbent: Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). Should any of these incumbent Democratic Senators from red states be defeated in 2018, Democrat’s path to retaking the Senate becomes very improbable.

Map of governorships during the 2018 midterms

While the Senate map offers a structural advantage to the Republican Party with nearly two-thirds of the seats up for re-election being democrats, the Gubernatorial elections present the inverse. Several Republican Governors are term limited which offers Democrats several opportunities to win back control of the states. In blue states like New Mexico and Maine, Republican Governors Susana Martinez and Paul LePage are all term limited, respectively. Over the past few months, the Cook Political Report has rated these races as moving from favoring the Republican nominee to a toss up in Maine and “Lean Democrat” in the cases of New Mexico. Retaking the Governor’s mansion is a crucial part of controlling the redistricting process in 2022 for the U.S. House of Representatives which is used to gerrymander districts in favor of a given party.

In terms of taking back the House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting several Republicans whose districts were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. While there was many instances of ticket splitting, there are not enough of such cases to make Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Democratic Leader in the House, Speaker again. The most promising news as of late for Democratic prospects of regaining a majority coalition would be that so many Republicans are retiring providing open races in battleground districts.

Overall, the Democratic prospects of retaking control of Congress seem dim. While there is a lot of time to cover ground and catch up, Republicans are structurally favored to retain control of both the House, Senate and a majority of the governorships.

Stay tuned for more election updates with the Northeast State Election Updates.

What is the Iran Deal?

President Donald J. Trump has, ever since the early phases of the 2016 election, lamented what is known as the “Iran Deal”, a colloquial name for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program. This was less of a deal, but was rather a nuclear framework between Iran and the six major world powers: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, China, France, and Germany, otherwise known as the P5+1.

Concern over Iran’s nuclear program have been proliferating since the 1990s, during which Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, initiated a nuclear program to develop a bomb in the face of similar programs in Israel and Iraq, both of which are Iran’s geopolitical adversaries. A decade later, President George W. Bush’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan spurred anti-American factions in Iran, which led to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rise to the Iranian presidency. Over the course of his tenure, President Ahmadinejad began to escalate Iran’s nuclear program at a much faster rate, leading to sanctions being placed on the energy and financial sectors of the iranian economy, hampering any economic growth.

It was in 2013 that Iran, under centrist President Hassan Rouhani, began to freeze its nuclear program, and the United States and Iran began to engage in negotiations about the future of the program. Finally, in 2015, the preliminary nuclear framework was agreed upon, and has been the subject of much contentious debate within American, and international, politics. Overall, the deal is aimed at abrogating Iran’s nuclear program through obstructing all pathways to the construction of a nuclear weapon.

The first step to halting Iran’s nuclear program is through undermining its uranium possession. Uranium is an essential ingredient in the production of nuclear weapons, and Iran possesses several mines which are used to extract the element from the ground. The uranium was then fed into centrifuges in Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities, of which are located in Natanz and Fordo. Centrifuges are the machinery used to enrich uranium, which allows for it to be used in the production of nuclear weapons.

Under the framework, Iran must reduce its number of centrifuges from 20,000 to 5,060, with only the oldest and least efficient able to be installed at Natanz until 2025. Furthermore, the amount stockpiled uranium, enriched or otherwise, must be reduced by 98%, leaving a mere 660 pounds remaining, a point at which it must remain until 2030. This uranium also must be kept at an enrichment level at or below 3.67%, a fraction of the 90% enrichment uranium must be at fitor nuclear weaponry to be produced. The other nuclear enrichment facility, which is located in Fordo, will be converted into a center for research in medicine, agriculture, industry, and science, and will remain in this stage until 2030.

Plutonium, like uranium, is also an ingredient that can used in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. Under the Iran Deal, the Iranian government agreed to redesign its heavy-water reactor, a type of nuclear reactor, so it does not produce weapons-grade plutonium, as it initially would have. Under the deal, twenty tons the spent fuel from the reactor would then be shipped to the United States, with another six exported to other countries, and Iran is able to keep up to six tons until 2030.

Should Iran continue to comply with the terms of the deal, which it has, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations will begin to lift sanctions that had been placed on the country since the 1990s. One sanction that is being lifted is the embargo against oil exports, which were implemented by the Obama Administration, as well as the European union. This sanction had been crippling the Iranian economy, as 80% of Iran’s exports were oil.

Further sanctions, such as prohibiting international trade, implemented by the Clinton Administration after Iran began developing nuclear weapons for the first time, and foreign investment in Iran, implemented by the Obama Administration, were also lifted. Finally, the overseas assets of the Iranian government were released after being frozen back in 2012 after Iran began to enrich its uranium and began to approach a redline set out by Israel. These sanctions all played a role in crippling the Iranian economy, leading to a 6.6% contraction in 2012, which sent the country spiraling into a recession.

However, through alleviating the sanctions, Iran may undergo an economic rebound as they are once again allowed to resume the selling of all their oil, accept foreign investment, and begin trading internationally. Such an economic recovery would also produce favorable political conditions for the Rouhani government, which campaigned vigorously on the promise of repealing sanctions that were hampering economic growth, a promise that Rouhani delivered on, which has been ushering in economic expansion. Rouhani is a member of the Moderation and Development Party, a centrist political party that is less hostile to the West. And while Rouhani is termed out in the next election, which will take place in 2021, the Iran Deal may be good news for the MDP. But Iran must accept random checks by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who will be assessing whether Iran has been in compliance with the deal, and should it be found Iran is attempting to create a nuclear weapon, all sanctions will return for up to another fifteen years.

However, many have objected to the Iran Deal, particularly President Trump and his administration, along with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and United States allies Israel and Saudi Arabia. Much objection over the Iran Deal is founded in

Iran’s malign activities outside nuclear activities, which can be funded by the unfreezing of Iranian assets, which total in the tens of billions.

A cold war has existed between Iran and Saudi Arabia for years, with its roots in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. During the Iranian Revolution, fundamentalist Muslims overthrew the American-backed Shah and installed Ayatollah Khomeini, which created an Islamic-based government which began trying to export similar revolutions to several other countries, including Saudi Arabia, in order to acquire control over the entire Middle East. Iran vies for control over the Middle East through funneling money and weaponry to Shia-backed groups in civil conflicts throughout the Middle East, particularly in the Yemeni, Iraqi, and Syrian Civil Wars. Such activity is not addressed in the Iran Deal, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seeks to achieve lasting peace in the region by confronting this.

by Louis Gleason, Editor-in-Chief

Iraqi Army Clashes with the Kurds in Northern Iraq

On Monday, October 16th, Iraqi military forces made a decisive action in the ongoing conflict between Iraqi national government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which governs a disputed territory known as Iraqi Kurdistan. Whilethe Iraqi federal government  claims that Iraqi Kurdistan is only an autonomous region within Iraq, the KRG supports independence for the region. The Kurds, a Middle Eastern ethnic group distinct from the Arabs and the Persians, in Iraq have long supported secession. Since World War I, when the map of the Middle East was redrawn, the Kurds have wished for their own country, with territory primarily carved out of Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. 

The Iraqi military on that Monday besieged Kirkuk, an Iraqi city that has been under the control of the KRG since it was captured in 2014. However, given that Kirkuk was never within the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Iraqi federal government has claimed that Kirkuk has always been under federal Iraqi control. So, in an attempt to recapture the city, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi military forces, with assistance from Iranian-supported Shia militant groups (Popular Mobilization Units, or PMU), to besiege Kirkuk. Given the Peshmerga, the Iraqi Kurd army force, not having equivalent training to the Iraqi military and the PMU, Iraq successfully captured the city, sending many Kurdish families, as well as  KRG official, Najmaddin Karim, back to Irbil, the capital of the territory.

Following this, the joint Iraqi-Iranian army continued north, capturing Sinjar, Bashiqa, and Makhmour, among others, all of which was territory the KRG hopes to incorporate into a formal Kurdistan state. Additionally, much of this territory had oil fields that made up the cornerstone of the Kurdish economy.

This comes only a few weeks following the independence referendum, in which Kurds voted nearly unanimously in support of independence. This referendum, however, was nonbinding, and did not require Iraq, nor other countries with significant Kurdish populations, such as Turkey and Iran, to recognize it. Fearing loss of territory, the Iraqi government has been hostile to the KRG, and has threatened military action should they proceed with secessionist talks.

This loss of Kirkuk has led to tensions between the two major parties within Iraqi Kurdistan, with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) accusing the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of selling out to Iran, due to PUK forces being the first to retreat from their posts south of Kirkuk, the path the Iraqi-Iranian army entered.

This clash has serious implications for American foreign policy in the Middle East. Rumors of Iran’s Quds Force head Qassem Suleimani, as well as political actors such as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Hadi al-Ameri, has stirred fears in the United States that Iran had masterminded the situation to bolster their power in the region. This fits into Iran’s history of vying for power in Iraq. This may add urgency to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Deal due to Iran acquiring its lost power in the region.

Additionally, Peshmerga commander Goran Iz al-Din has proclaimed that this “is the beginning of the war between the Kurds and Baghdad.” This has alarmed the United States, who fears that a divided Iraq may hinder the fight against the Islamic State, which President Trump has prioritized in American-Middle Eastern foreign policy. Should two factions within Iraq go to war, the weapons the United States has supplied to each army may be used on each other, and more energy focused on their conflict, rather than the fight against ISIS.

Ultimately, a divided Iraq would make the fight against the Islamic State more difficult, as would other countries, such as Iran and Turkey, focusing energy on combatting Kurds. These developments have cast uncertainty over the future of the Kurdish people, and may alter the course of American foreign policy.

 

By Rebecca Eneyni, Staff Writer

 

 

 

Bowe Bergdahl Pleads Guilty to Desertion

Much news has been released over the past week about Bowe Bergdahl, but who is Bowe Bergdahl?

Bowe Bergdahl was a United States Army Sergeant who enlisted in the United States Army in 2008 and was deployed to May Afghanistan in 2009, and, a month later, was captured by the Sirajuddin Haqqani, a Taliban and al-Qaeda operative. Bergdahl was used in several propaganda videos by the radical jihadist groups, and also endured years of severe torture, of which included months chained in the same place and years locked in a cage.

 

Beginning in February 2014, discussions were underway between the Taliban and the United States diplomats and the Department of Defense. These talks culminated in the release of Bergdahl, in exchange for the relocation of five Gitmo prisoners to Qatar, including:

  • Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa: a Taliban interior minister during their rule who is believed to have had relationships with several al-Qaeda and ISIS leaders
  • Mullah Mohammad Fazl: Chief of Army Staff under the Taliban regime in 2001 who directed the fight against the United States in Afghanistan who is accused of massacring thousands of Afghan Shiites during the Taliban’s rule
  • Mullah Norullah Noori: Former Governor of the Balkh province under the Taliban and assisted in coordinating the fight against the United States
  • Abdul Haq Wasiq: Deputy Chief of the Taliban’s regime intelligence service as well as an intelligence member for al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups
  • Mohammad Nabi Omari: A minor Taliban official in the Khost Province and chief of the Taliban’s communications that helped al Qaeda members evacuate Afghanistan and relocate in Pakistan

Upon his return to the United States, Bergdahl, after recovering from his injuries sustained from torture, was prosecuted in military court for deserting his post in Afghanistan that led to his capture, which led to the use of $1 million to find him and the loss of five soldiers: Sergeant Clayton Bowen, Sergeant Kurt Curtiss, Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, Sergeant Michael Murphrey, Private Jose Baggett and Private Matthew Martinek. Evidence has suggested that Bergdahl deserted his post due to grievances with United States foreign policy in Afghanistan.

Bergdahl, called a “traitor” by President Trump, on October 16th, 2017, pled guilty to desertion and misbehavior, and his trial is ongoing.

 

This case has revived debate over President Obama’s handling of Gitmo prisoners, and if the United States should use its resources to rescue prisoners of war who voluntarily deserted their post. Many, including former POW Senator John McCain, had lamented the exchange of Gitmo prisoners in exchange for deserters, believing that the United States shouldn’t release any of its prisoners from Guantanamo Bay due to their desire to enact harm against the United States.

 

This has also reinvigorated how the United States should treat deserters in military action, and has expressed favoring execution in the past. For now, however, the trial is ongoing, and President Trump has declined to comment any further.

by Louis Gleason, Editor-in-Chief

The Iran Deal: A Neoconservative Perspective – OP-ED

American foreign policy within the Middle East shouldn’t just be focused on peace, but rather the spread of liberal western values, both of which the Obama Administration abandoned while penning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program, or, known colloquially as the “Iran Deal”. The Iran Deal had success in reducing Iranian nuclear capabilities, as it reduced stockpiles of enriched uranium and cut the number of centrifuges, and established transparency outlines where United Nations inspectors could investigate possible breaches of the deal. In the event of violations, sanctions that were lifted due to compliance with the deal would be put back on.

 

Sounds great, given the nuclear weaponry is the most destructive artillery the world has to offer, but the framework offers the U.S. with minimal benefits, while damaging any progress that could be made in the Middle East. The Middle East is such a violent region due to two actors: Iran and Saudi Arabia, both of whom have been engaging in proxy warfare in order to achieve dominance in the region. Both have used their money to exacerbate existing domestic conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, bolstering the violence that has ingrained itself in the region for years. The sanction relief traded to Iran for its cooperation would free up $100 billion for its own use, which, even a fraction of would greatly help their allies in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and, most damaging, Lebanon.

 

This deal is good for reducing Iranian nuclear capability, but this deal runs the risk of augmenting the violence already present. I, personally, believe that the United States should play an active role in foreign affairs in promoting peace and liberty around the world, and this Iran deal would only make it harder to do that.

 

The only place in the Middle East that is a liberal, Western region is Israel, which, while not peaceful, has desired peace since its inception. Through the relief of sanctions, money can be spent on sponsoring the activities of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization resolved on the destruction of Israel and a dedicated Iranian ally. This not only clearly poses a threat to Israel, but could damage American-Israeli relations. Israel is the only country in all of the Islamic world, ranging from Iran to Morocco to uphold the values of liberalism, equality, and freedom, and damaging these relations would threaten any possible peace in the region.

 

If Trump truly wants to open the door to peace in the region, he must cripple Iran, and assert a joint Israeli-American dominance over the region, leaving Saudi Arabia out of the equation. Liberalism must be promoted through the support of the Arab Spring, and authoritarian dictators like Basahr al-Assad must fall, but the only way to do this is to ensure that Iran doesn’t have the resources to support them.

 

by Louis Gleason, Editor-in-Chief

 

President Trump Reverses Birth Control Mandate

As a part of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, all new health insurance plans were required to cover female contraceptives, otherwise known as birth control. And while this law made exemptions to churches, it did not make any for other religiously affiliated entities. Following the implementation of the mandate, many conservative politicians, religious groups, and proponents of religious liberty have advocated for its reversal on the grounds that it violated religious freedom and the first amendment.

 

And this past week, in a victory for opponents to the mandate, the Trump Administration announced the rollback of this policy, allowing for any employer to claim a religious or moral objection to providing birth control coverage to their employees. This has effectively allowed for companies to choose whether they would like to provide health plans that coverage female contraceptives.

 

This received a mixed reaction, with conservatives, men and women alike, praising this as both a win for religious freedom, as well as freedom in general, as many believe that no company should be forced to provide certain coverage if they don’t wish to. Conversely, many took to Twitter under the trending hashtag #HandsOffMyBC (Birth Control) to voice their opposition to the rollback of this Obama-era policy. Women’s groups, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as well as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, have all announced their plans to file a lawsuit against the Trump Administration, on the grounds that this policy will allow businesses to deny their workers much needed care.

 

However, despite the outrage, Bruce Japsen, a contributor at Forbes Magazine, wrote that there is little fear for alarm, as nearly 90% of businesses, according to a 2011 study that polled small, medium, and large-scale businesses, provide coverage voluntarily, even prior to the mandate’s implementation, and this reversal will have little net effect on birth control access.

 

However, the fight continues to require companies to provide birth control coverage, and the liberty to provide whatever coverage a business deems necessary, continues between women’s rights advocates and the Republican dominated federal government.

 

By Louis Gleason, Editor-in-Chief

What we Know about the Last Vegas Shooting

What Happened?

Late night on Sunday, October 1st, fifty-eight people were killed and another four hundred eighty-nine were injured after Stephen Paddock opened fire on an arena of 22,000 Jason Aldean concert-goers from the thirty-second floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Just prior to the police raid of his hotel room, Paddock committed suicide.

 

What do we know about Paddock?

According to Eric Paddock, the alleged gunman’s brother, Stephen Paddock was a multimillionaire real estate investor and avid gambler who participated in heavy gambling just prior to the massacre. His father was also Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, a bank robber who was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Paddock is also believed to be in a relationship with a Marilou Danley, a woman who he sent thousands of dollars to while she resided in the Philippines.

 

What was his motive?

Not much is known about Paddock’s motive for committing this recent atrocities. Eric Paddock has asserted that his brother had no involvement in any political or religious organizations, but despite this, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, asserting that Paddock is actually Abu Abdul Bar al-Amriki, and converted to Islam six months ago. Many were quick to dismiss this claim, but Rukmini Callimachi, the New York Times correspondent covering ISIS, has cautioned people against dismissing such a claim, as ISIS has rarely claimed responsibility for attacks they hadn’t had some involvement with.

 

What weapon did Paddock use?

Paddock has a wide assortment of weapons he purchased from surrounding states of Nevada, acquiring all guns legally, passing all background checks, and used a bump stock, an accessory that allows semi-automatic weapons to function at a rate nearly equivalent to an automatic rifle. Such a product was greenlit by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) under the Obama Administration for commercial sale. In response, The National Rifle Association (NRA) has issued a statement expressing their willingness to participate in a dialogue with the Trump Administration in order to review federal laws over bump stocks. Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombardo has left open the possibility that Paddock worked with some accomplice in order to collect his amalgamation of rifles.

 

Was Paddock planning any further attacks?

It has been reported that Paddock had plans to carry out further attacks, including car bombings. Paddock also booked a room at Chicago’s Blackstone hotel, which overlooked the downtown park which holds Lollapalooza, but never showed up to his reservation. Paddock also researched Boston hotels that overlooked Fenway park, but there is no indication he travelled to the city. All of this indicates that this attack was meticulously planned.

 

Investigation continues to conducted into the possible motive of Paddock, and Congressional leaders have continued to push for ever stricter gun control laws, but have released few specifics on what these laws would entail.

 

by Louis Gleason, Editor-in-Chief