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Since the news broke that Alvin Greene won the South Carolina Democratic Party Primary Election for US Senate, countless media and political elites, have filled several rounds of the news cycle looking down their noses at the unlikely winner. But more important than questioning where he got the $10,400 filing fee and feigning outrage in response to the obscenity charge, those who claim to love democracy should be asking this: 'why are freedom-loving political insiders asking Greene to step aside?' The same folks leading the charge against Greene, in part suggesting that he's not smart enough to have really won, are the same public servants unable to protect us from banks smart enough to rip us off, but too dumb to fail, and oversized multinational corporations smart enough to drill, but clueless about how to stop the greatest oil spill in American history. So until said elected officials have figured out a solution to these pressing issues, alongside the unemployment crisis, the budget crises, and recurring voting irregularities in national elections that nurture a climate for more of the same, I'm rooting for Alvin Greene. Here are five reasons why: First, if Alvin Greene is the legitimate winner, and I think politicians should find that out with a fair investigation before asking him to step aside (as Congressman James Clyburn and Democratic Party State leader Carol Fowler have done), his win reinforces the notion that grassroots everyday people can still win elections in America--that the country, imagine this, still actually belongs to the people. Political elites reveal how far removed they are from this idea when central to their criticism of Greene is the notion that Senate primary wins are impossible without big bucks and establishment support. I'm also rooting for Alvin Greene because he's an underdog, the quintessential outsider, so much so, his own party claims they never heard of him. That plus the fact that any non-millionaire deserves our support when he proves he can ruffle the feathers of the mainstream political establishment--those same politicians who get sent to Washington to represent the interest of the people back at home, but fail to support the majority will on pressing issues of the day. Third, Green deserves our support because he is a candidate who went for broke and did the unthinkable: he put his money where his mouth is. If indeed his filing fee was his own money--which is as plausible to me as his win--then it's a compelling story about the will of everyday people in search of democracy. This is the type of inspirational narrative all Americans should be embracing--not imaginary populous movements that run politically connected candidates (Rand Paul are u listening?) and pass them off as a revolution. Greene wants to do something to save the country sans name-calling, racial slurs or spitting on politicians he disagrees with. Instead, the 32-year-old college grad truly believes in public service--if his military record is any indication. Which leads me to my final two points: Greene's a military veteran and a post baby-boomer, two groups underrepresented in the Senate. Sure, Washington insiders spend a lot of time giving lip service to the troops when it's politically expedient. However, when a 13-year military veteran runs for office, these 'support the troops' cheerleaders are focused on discrediting him. According to the Department of Defense, over 75 percent of the armed forces is comprised of Americans under 30 years old. Likewise, young voters 18-29 years old in the last three national elections have been steadily increasing their engagement. It's time their numbers are more significantly represented in Washington. It may be revealed in the days ahead that Alvin Greene's win was no win at all. If so, the culprit will likely be something far more plausible than a 'Republican plant.' Although an electronic voting machine glitch, diabolical voting machine tampering, or massive crossover voting lead my list, I'm hoping that won't be the case. But whether Alvin Greene is manufactured, an accident or for real, those crying foul should see his entry on the political scene as an opportunity to re-evaluate their commitment to the nation's ideals--rather than to continue to dismantle them.

June 14, 2010 - in Democracy


I recently watched a television show about standards of beauty around the world. I sat in awe as little Chinese girls went ga-ga for White Barbie, and their mothers and sisters stood in a drive-thru line to have a surgeon slice away the fat from their eyelids to make them more Euro-chic. On one level, it felt good to know that African-American women are not alone in the emotional struggle to love ourselves enough to call ourselves pretty. But that feeling quickly vanished as the show then focused on Nigerian women who loathed their natural locks, opting for lye to straighten them out and a needle and thread to weave in wigs of women

March 24, 2010 - Posted by Charisse Carney-Nunes in Democracy


The recent education reforms to No Child Left Behind proposed by the Obama Administration sadly perpetuate a flawed testing policy that will continue to leave our children behind. I have no problem with tests. Testing, when employed effectively, can be an appropriate way of gauging knowledge, reinforcing lessons and diagnosing learning deficiencies. Unfortunately, these admirable goals have been sacrificed over the past decade for a more superficial

March 24, 2010 - Posted by Stephanie Robinson in Democracy


[A follow-up to this post] In counterinsurgencies, military effort can create the conditions for ending the war, but it (usually) can't end the war by itself. That depends on the political accommodation of enough of the constituencies supporting the insurgents to undercut their military effort. Without that, the insurgency is likely to start again. In the Philippines in 1899-1902, the US was careful to recruit insurgents and their supporters to the American side through a variety of methods. A number of local warlords 'surrendered' to American forces and then were immediately appointed governors of their areas. At a lower level, insurgent soldiers who surrendered were given amnesty and sent back to their homes. The result was that the Filipino insurgency was defeated not only militarily, but had the oxygen of support sucked away from them. In Iraq, the political tensions have largely been between the Shi'ite majority, which dominates the Iraqi government, and the Sunni minority, which had held power in Hussein's government. The Anbar Awakening was a reconciliation between American forces and the Sunni militias which had been fighting against them. The U.S. recruited the militias over to our side, with generous payments to leaders and militia members alike. The Sunnis, for their part, saw this as an opportunity to have influence in the larger polity. The Awakening, and the effectiveness of renewed counterinsurgency efforts in Baghdad essentially brought the insurgency down to a manageable level in 2007-2008. But the thorn on the rose was always how the Shi'ite government would handle incorporating the Sunni militias and the people they represent into the larger government. Without an effective and good faith effort on the part of Maliki's government to integrate the militias into the Iraqi military and give the Sunnis some form of reasonable political voice, there was no reason that the violence in Iraq could not spiral again. That's why this is not a good sign:

But the Shiite-dominated Baghdad government never really liked the idea. Indeed, the first deals were cut by U.S. officials behind the back of the Iraqi government. So Maliki's guys are:
  • Arresting some leaders of the 'Sons of Iraq' (the American term for Awakening forces)
  • Attacking others
  • Bringing only 5,000 of the ex-insurgents into the Iraqi security forces
  • And stiffing others on pay, with some complaining they haven't been paid in weeks or even months
I think Maliki's gambit is to crack down on the Sunnis while American forces are still available in sufficient numbers to back him up. This is a turning into a test of strength, Sunni vs. Shiite.
Counterinsurgency operations succeed when they can co-opt the nationalism of the country in which the insurgency is being fought. But they have to co-opt the entirety (or as as near as makes no difference) of that nationalism, not just the attractive parts. In Iraq, that means Sunni as well as Shi'ite nationalism needs to be brought in out of the cold. Having said this, it's not clear that the Americans can do anything useful any more. Long-term, the Sunnis and Shi'ites have to figure out a way to live with each other. Any kind of realistic solution has to come from them. Unfortunately, a 'realistic' solution might include an all-out civil war which ends with one side or the other emerging on top. Winning the counterinsurgency doesn't stop Iraq's ethnic, cultural, or political divisions, it only creates the opportunity to resolve them.

March 31, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Democracy


At the end of a reasonable analysis of the situation in Afghanistan, Robert Kaplan asks the wrong question. It's not a big surprise, as the question he does ask fits nicely into the post-Vietnam perception of American military action. It is, nonetheless, wrong:

To that end, significant numbers of American officers and civilian contractors will be embedded in Afghan government ministries for years to come, helping to run things. But does the home front have the stomach for it?
Ignoring the prejudicial phrasing used ('stomach for it'), the question that Kaplan should have asked was not 'does the home front' but 'should the home front.' Deciding that a multi-year military effort in a failed state far from home is not worth the cost in blood and lives is not an unreasonable one.

March 30, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Democracy


When you have to call in third party air strikes on your own territory, that's a leading indicator:

All predator drone strikes have to be approved by the Pakistanis--and Zardari has approved four times as many in the past nine months as his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, approved in the year before that.
From here.

March 27, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Democracy


The GOP made a big show of not cooperating with President Obama's passage of the stimulus bill last week. No Republican member of the House voted for the bill and only three GOP Senators did so. There are three major political implications of the way the bill was passed:

  • Legislative power in the government rests largely in the hands of three of the remaining Northeastern GOP Senators: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Once Al Franken is seated as Senator from Minnesota (and it seems more than likely that he will be), any one of those GOP Senators can be the decisive vote to invoke cloture and prevent a Republican filibuster of Democratic legislation. The Democratic majority in the House is so large as to make it functionally irrelevant, unless there is a major Blue Dog revolt. Thus any critical legislative action from the White House is likely to be tailored to those Senators.

  • The calculations of the Republican leadership are those of politicians in a tight spot. After getting soundly thumped in two straight elections and still saddled with the horrendous legacy of the Bush-Cheney Administration (much to Democratic delight, Vice-President Cheney has refused to go quietly into the night). Voting for the bill, they likely figured, gained them nothing. Any success would be credited to President Obama and the Democrats. Voting against the bill set them up as the voice of opposition in case of failure, and offered them a (however hypocritical) way of reasserting their status as the fiscally conservative party. That much of this required the most stringent short and long-term political amnesia--amnesia bad enough actually to provoke the normally-compliant media into noticing--was simply a burden to bear. The criticism that they thus put party interests above national ones is misplaced, as the GOP leadership knew that there was no way they could prevent the bill's passage in the House and none of the three GOP Senators who voted for it in the Senate have been punished by their caucus. Essentially, the Republicans were playing political theater and they knew it.

  • The regionalization of the Republicans continues. Voting against the auto bailout bill in the last days of the Bush Administration should effectively destroy the GOP brand even further in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. The effective conversion of northeastern GOP Senators into conservative Democrats means that the GOP presence in the northeast is even more reduced, and it is likely that some if not all Senators will lose their next election. Certainly, Arlen Specter is probably doomed in his 2010 campaign in Pennsylvania, if he's not picked off by a primary challenge. The GOP has become a party of the South and the Great Plains, able to contest states in the West and Midwest, but losing more than they win. The Democrats have now won the popular vote in 4 out of the last 5 Presidential elections, and the GOP's regionalization means that it will be unlikely to produce a nationally-viable candidate in 2012. Certainly neither Sarah Palin nor Bobby Jindal seem to have country-wide credibility.
What emerges from these three implications are a set of questions. How well will the Specter, Snowe, and Collins work with the Obama administration going forward? Will the GOP's gamble on being the Party of 'No' work? Can the GOP avoid becoming a regional party without the ability effectively to contest national elections?

February 21, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Democracy


The United States has focused so closely on conventional warfare in all its forms--land, sea, and air--that it has trouble when forms of warfare that are resolutely unconventional crop up. American weapons, doctrine, and training are unprepared to react quickly to situations that do not fit into the preconceived mindset. Even worse, the American government as whole often uses the military in areas for which it is not prepared and in ways that would be better served by non-military solutions. This past month has seen two particular examples of this. First, groups of pirates sailing in small craft from the Somali coastline have begun hijacking ships from the busy sea lane that runs along the Indian Ocean side of the African continent. Armed with little more than assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, the pirates have proven successful at taking enormously large ships like oil tankers hostage and extracting millions of dollars of ransom from the companies that own them or their cargos. This is insurgent war at sea, aimed not at other warships but at more vulnerable civilian vessels. The pirates' craft are stealthy by virtue of their smallness, they can dash out from the coastline quickly, and can out run and outmaneuver the civilian ships they are chasing. The required naval response is--as it always has with pirates--to patrol the sea lanes in which the pirates operate and escort the intended targets through the danger area. But this requires the kind of forces that the United States Navy has avoided building over the last two decades: a plentiful number of small craft armed with the most basic of weaponry. The AEGIS air defense weapon system of the billion dollar Arleigh Burke destroyer class is less effective against a speedboat loaded with pirates than a .50 caliber machine gun on a tiny patrol boat. But, while the Navy has a large number of the former, it has few of the latter. The result has been a largely ineffective response off Somalia. The second form of warfare is even more unconventional and perhaps should not be considered as warfare at all, but somewhere across the divide into politics on the Clausewitzian-scale that puts war and politics at opposite ends of the same scale. In this case, the US was surprised to hear that the government of Kyrgyzstan was planning on ejecting American forces from their use of the air base at Manas. Manas is the critical link in the American supply line to its forces in Afghanistan. Through here are carried enormous amounts of food, ammunition, and the other logistical requirements that keep the effort in Afghanistan going. There is another supply-line, but it goes through Pakistan and the Khyber Pass and has proven vulnerable to Taliban attacks in recent months. Manas is thus doubly critical. What was behind the sudden action? Fingers are being pointed at the Russians, who have recently made large loans to Kyrgyzstan. The quid pro quo seems to have been eviction of the Americans. Why would the Russians want to force the Americans out? The answer has less to do with the recent state of relations between the two countries, which has been reasonably good, than it has to do with the continuing effort by the Russians to reestablish themselves as the preeminent power in the countries on their border. The Georgian War was one such effort and it effectively showed not only the Georgians but the Ukrainians and others that the west could not protect those countries if the Russians decided to invade. Evicting the Americans from Manas would start the same process in Central Asia. Even if the Americans manage to hold onto the base by paying the Kyrgyzstanis off, the Russians have made an unmistakeable point about who carries weight in that area of the world. This is not simply a problem of the military. The neglect of anything other than military (and conventional military at that) solutions to problems is a long-standing problem for the United States. Alternative methods--law enforcement, diplomacy, or aid--have for the most part been mocked and underfunded. The result is often that the only available option is the hammer of the military, and so every problem becomes a nail. This process only accelerated during the Bush Administration, when the marginalization of the State Department under Colin Powell and the increased militarization of law enforcement pushed even more responsibilities onto the back of the Pentagon, some of which it has been capable of dealing with, and some not. One of the most important responsibilities of the Obama administration will be to revitalize American ability to respond across the spectrum of problems, from smallest to largest, from diplomatic to military, from economic to social. If the U.S. uses its military power to the exclusion of all else, it virtually guarantees a continuing imperial overstretch and a strong tendency by the world to respond in the same way.

February 18, 2009 - Posted by David Silbey in Democracy


Try as I might, and trust me I have tried, I am simply not capable of watching Governor Milorad Blagojevich on television without conjuring up the thought of a game show host. With all due apologies to Wink Martindale, Blagojevich puts me in the mind not so much of the Wink of Tic Tac Dough vintage but, instead, Wink of the short lived show High Rollers. (Something about those oversized dice will always stick with me.) Maybe it is the hair

January 01, 2009 - Posted by Mark Jefferson in Democracy


Not too long ago, okay actually almost three weeks ago, I received an email from an old friend, Fanon Che Wilkins

January 01, 2009 - Posted by Mark Jefferson in Democracy

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