Raymond Weyandt: Decolonizing Poverty Research Through Accurate Representations of Life in Africa

Raymond Weyandt: Decolonizing Poverty Research Through Accurate Representations of Life in Africa

“Striving for accuracy and cognizant of our collective tendency toward bias, today’s generation of emerging researchers stands poised to deliver a service that an information-saturated generation is aching to receive: the truth.”

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Joseph in Kampala

Joseph in Kampala (Raymond Weyandt)

Who Won the Iraq War?

by Ali Rawaf

Last month, President Obama announced the end of the Iraq war, saying the last few thousand troops would withdraw by Dec. 2. While polls show a majority of Americans support the president’s decision, Iraqis have become significantly concerned over increased meddling from Iran. The State Department has warned Iran against interfering in Iraqi internal affairs after the troops leave and also told the Iraqis that Iran will not be a problem in the future. The truth is that U.S. officials underestimate Iranian influence and control in Iraq and the region.

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, who didn’t win the last elections, was able to form a government only because Iran, a Shiite state, pressured the Shiite groups in the country to rally around him and give him the vote of confidence. Al-Maliki, a divisive figure even amongst the Shiites, has been returning the favor to Iran ever since. He has sent the Iraqi army to crack down on Mujahidee Khalk, an Iranian opposition group that has been based in Iraq for a couple of decades. Despite calls from international human rights groups to halt the attacks on the group’s camp, Al-Maliki still periodically sends Iraqi troops to intimidate them. He has vowed to remove the group from the country at the end of the year.

Iranian influence goes well beyond Iraq. In Syria, Iran has been transferring weapons to the Assad regime and abetting Assad’s crackdown on protestors opposing the regime. Last month, California-based BlueCoat said that internet surveillance devices which were sold to the Iraqi government were later found to be used by the Syrian regime to crack down on protestors. How did that happen? The Iranian regime bought those devices for Syria under the name of the Iraqi Communications Ministry.

Al-Maliki is also returning a favor to Iran by keeping quiet about the developments in Syria. As the Syrian regime employed the army to crack down on its people, Al-Maliki hosted a group of Syrian officials and entrepreneurs to strengthen economic ties with the Syrian regime. And recently, Al-Maliki’s foreign minister said Baghdad is committed to preventing any action against Iran.

In the Palestinian territories, Iran funds Hamas, the militant group blocking Palestinian-Israeli peace, and Hezbolla, the anti-western, militant Shiite group in Lebanon. In Yemen, Iran funds extremist, militant Shiite groups.

If Iran is this influential without nuclear weapons, I can only imagine what happens when Tehran acquires such weapons.

If the U.S. follows through with a complete troop withdrawal, Iran would be the sole winner of the Iraq war. The war would have only cleared the way for Iran to exert more influence in the region. After the president’s announcement of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, an Iranian delegation visited Iraq and signed economic and political agreements with the Iraqi government, whereas there have been mere talks about such agreements between the United States and Iraq.

Iraq’s strategic location in the Middle East would have served as a good check on the encroaching Iranian regime. Now, Iraq  can’t even protect its airspace and its borders. While a prosperous and democratic Iraq would set a good example for the band of countries where people are demanding democracy, a failed one would serve as poster child for how democracy can fail in the Middle East. There is still a chance for negotiations to resume and possibly leave a couple of thousand troops in Iraq. If these negotiations fail, Iraq will be in the hands of Iran and the lost lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of American soldiers would have been in vain.

Ali Rawaf is a government junior and political blogger from Baghdad, Iraq. In 2004, Ali began blogging with Friends of Democracy, an Iraqi group that promoted democracy and women’s rights in Iraq. You can read his blog about politics, religion and life after the fall of Saddam Hussein at http://theiraqifuture.blogspot.com/

Maintaining GOP Dominance in Texas

by Justin May

More than 40 years ago, Bob Dylan penned a timeless observation: “the times they are a-changin’.” These words were perhaps never truer for the Lone Star State than they are today. With its large cities, boom- ing industry and soaring population, 21st century Texas stands as a foil to the rural range of the past. But those aren’t the only noticeable changes. These cowboys turned suburbanites are also something else: Democrats turned Republicans.

In this new era, there seems to be no end in sight for the growing number of Republican victories in the arena of Texas politics. Every time you turn around it seems Republicans are making some sort of historic gain among Texas’s political offices. From holding every statewide office to controlling two-thirds of the Legislature to composing almost three-fourths of the congressional delegation, it seems absurd that, not long ago, party members used to joke about holding the state convention in a phone booth. In light of this tremendous success, could the political tides ever revert to their previous course? Will Republicans ever lose power in Texas?

The obvious answer is, of course, yes. But giving the issue serious consideration an observer must admit that while it is possible, it is highly improbable.

For nearly a decade now, Republican elected officials have provided both the leadership and the policy to build one of the most prosper- ous states in the country. With low taxes, cheap property and a business friendly climate, it’s no wonder that CNBC named Texas the best state to do business and the fifth-fastest grow- ing state according to the 2010 census.

The burning question for the Republican Party is whether its success has, ironically, planted the seeds of the party’s demise in the Lone Star State.

With a growing number of Americans moving into the state and a burgeoning Hispanic population, electoral demographics are changing. This change in voting age population means that to both survive and thrive in the Texas of the future, Republicans must increase their emphasis on reaching out to and educating their fellow Texans. The case must be made that the GOP’s core policies are at the root of what has made Texas such an attractive state to live in. Thus, while Republicans certainly have the potential to continue winning elections thanks to their proven record, the party’s success depends upon Republicans’ ability to remind and inform voters that the success of the state and the party are essentially intertwined.

In the end, however, the Texas Democratic Party is as extinct now as the dinosaurs of Glenn Rose. Whether Republicans win or lose is solely up them. They have reached a point in politics where they are completely self-defining, which means that so long as they continue governing in the same fashion of the last decade, Texas is theirs.

Justin May is a third year government senior from Fort Worth with a concentration in political philosophy. His involvement in Texas politics includes serving as a Travis County precinct chair, president of The College Republicans at Texas and Republicans on Campus, and an internship in the Texas capitol. Following graduation this spring, May will be attending Wake Forest University School of Law.

Reflections from the South Lawn

By Cassy Dorff

I write this while sitting on the sunny South Mall lawn, near the Tower, glancing around at the crowds swiftly walking to and fro. The University of Texas is big in both size and reputation and has some of the most sophisticated, fast-paced academic programs in the nation. It is easy for students to get lost, not because we lack talent, or even motivation, but because often students are as dynamic as the university. Determining a path to
take can be overwhelming. Everyone says to pursue your dreams, but finding a way to pursue them all in a parallel, productive way, can be daunting.

In the end, I seem to have survived the hustle and bustle. But my experience at UT was not crafted from some internal spark of ingenuity; it was largely shaped by the support of advisors and professors. To have people willing to sit down and parse out all your options with you, suggest more ideas, or wipe a few off the table, is like a secret weapon in the race for an education and a career.

Although I began and concluded my studies at UT as a Government major, I was increasingly interested in journalism, human rights, international conflict and academic research. Because of the resources at UT, I was able to work at The Daily Texan for a couple of years, be a communications intern at a non-profit in NYC, research for a human rights commission in Mexico, and take part in T.I.G.E.R. Lab, a research center in the Government department that focuses on political violence.

After some time, my involvement with academic research at UT took center stage, and I had the privilege to work with Professor Ami Pedahzur on several projects. I presented at two professional political science conferences and learned a wealth of information about terrorism, insurgencies, political violence, statistics, research methods, and more. I eventually began a project on political assassination for my honors thesis.

This semester, T.I.G.E.R. Lab began a course for undergraduate research. I have worked one-on-one with other undergraduates, sharing ideas for data collection methods and how to handle the challenges of researching terrorism. Our class days are spent debating how to define difficult subjects like state sponsored terrorism and suicide terrorism. It is a unique opportunity for students to get involved with research and a perfect medium for them to express their own original research ideas.

The sun is finally out after an odd winter here in Texas; it even snowed on this lawn not long ago (but was a bright 70 degrees the next day). Many times I have sprinted across this lawn to hand in a paper or eaten lunch on the welcoming green grass with a friend. I am glad to say my experiences here leave me prepared to move on.

Cassy Dorff receives her B.A. in government, with honors, in 2010. She is a 2010 College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Distinguished Graduate and is currently completing her honors thesis, “Deadly Politics: The Riddle of Political Assassins,” before beginning graduate study toward a Ph.D. in political science.

The Bunche Experience

By Kiah Lewis

Every year, 20 students from across the nation are chosen to participate in the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute (RBSI) at Duke University, directed by Dr. Paula McClain. Ralph Bunche, the 1950’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was a passionate advocate for ed- ucation and civil rights. In honor of his endeavors, this program is geared toward encouraging minority students to pursue research in political science. Participants take grad- uate-level courses in Statistics and Race & Politics, which supplement an original research project that is completed over the course of the program. Additionally, the Graduate School Fair and weekly presenters provide substantial networking opportunities. I was fortunate enough to be afforded this notable opportunity, and the experience has provided me life-long friends and will continue inspiring me to pursue research in political science.

Academically, RBSI was one of the most challenging experiences of my college career so far. One participant described the program as “one of those things that you look back on and think ‘how did I get through that?’ but are happy that you did it.” The weekly readings and discussions on race and politics were extensive yet thought provoking. After the first class discussion, fellow participants and I spent nearly the rest of the day debating issues presented in class. However, as engaging as those discussions were, the biggest challenge of RBSI was completing an original, empirical-based research project over the course of only four weeks. Using statistical analysis from various data sets, we developed and tested a hypothesis derived from our research interest. Although this was a great deal of work, I enjoyed putting forth the effort, especially since we were able to focus on a topic that was of personal interest. I wrote my paper on Black/Latino coalitions – it was called, “Commonality – Competition = Coalition? The Effect of Hispanic Perceptions of Competition with Blacks on the Potential for Coalition Building.”

As the program moved forward, the coursework became more rigorous, but we received a great deal of support from the RBSI faculty and staff. As one Bunche participant noted, “The professors and teach- ing assistants present at RBSI were … intellectual, passionate about what they were doing, and really helped [us] along the way.” In addition, the partici- pants formed a support group that allowed us to laugh at 2 a.m. in the computer lab while holding each other accountable to complete our work.

RBSI challenged me academically and I have also built social networks that I feel will last a lifetime. At first, I did not realize that my acceptance into RBSI was a welcome into a close network of political scientists known as ‘Bunches’; however one of the noteworthy aspects of this program was the relationships built with other scholars. As one scholar expressed, “fellow participants brought a wealth of experiences, goals, and perspectives … Indeed, they are the ones who have made the greatness of this experience unique and unrepeatable.” I look forward to seeing my fellow Bunches accomplish great things in the world of political science.

Kiah Lewis is a government senior. She is the first student from the University of Texas to attend the Ralph Bunche Institute of the American Political Science Association.