Personalities in the #IranDeal

The historic agreement with Iran announced Tuesday took 20 months of talks and involved many players. Sure, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif played a central role, but there were many others who really made the deal come together.

Iran agreed to reduce its nuclear capability for the next 10 years in exchange for lifting sanctions. The deal was struck between Iran and P5+1, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani both celebrated the deal in separate statements. Direct contact between the two in September 2013 was a crucial step in getting the talks moving, but the deal came together at much lower levels.

Here are some of the players who helped make the deal happen, including the Silver Fox.

Find out who she is and read on at

Is Obama really the ‘Deporter-in-Chief’?

For Prerna Lal, how deportation data is parsed and explained is personal. She was once an undocumented immigrant herself, and for her, the deportation statistics represent people’s lives.

“There’s political motivations behind the numbers game,” says Lal. “We can cut the numbers either way, but the fact remains that the actual number of deportations is 2 million. These are people who are hard-working members of our community — mothers, brothers, members of our family.”…

During the Obama administration, there have been an estimated 2 million deportations, about 400,000 each year from 2009 to 2012. The New York Times, using a Freedom of Information Act request, obtained data that shows that about two-thirds of these cases involved people with minor or no criminal records.

Compare this to data from 1975 through 1996, when the average number of deportations per year was about 30,000, according to Department of Homeland Security data. As new laws were passed that increased the range of deportable offenses, the number of deportations increased to more than 250,000 per year from 1997 through 2012.

Read on at

US Ends Trade Privileges to Bangladesh Following Garment Factory Disasters

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the US will end trade privileges with Bangladesh over concerns for safety and working conditions in factories.

The US will suspend Bangladesh from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which will increase tariffs on certain goods. The move, in response to recent garment factory disasters, will not directly affect the garment industry because they were not eligible for duty cuts under GSP.

The collapse of a Rana Plaza garment factory outside Dhaka on April 24 left over 1,100 people dead. A factory fire in November 2012 killed over 100 people.

Read on at PRI’s The World.

Imaging a War on Terror

Two days after Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, President Barack Obama announced that he would not to release photos of the Al Qaeda leader’s body. He said the releasing gruesome images could incite anger against American troops abroad and create unnecessary risks to national security. He also said that displaying bin Laden’s dead body runs counter to American ideals:  “That’s not who we are,” Obama told 60 Minutes. “You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.”

But America’s use of images has not always been so high-minded. W. J. T. Mitchell’s Cloning Terror takes on the issue of how images have been used in the so-called “war on terror,” which he describes as a “metaphor run amuck.”  Footage of the Twin Towers falling on 9/11, the televised “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad, a statue of Saddam Hussein being destroyed, and the much-criticized 2003 photo of Bush on an aircraft carrier in front of a banner that read “Mission Accomplished”– these images resonated during the Iraq War and, for many Americans, solidified the misguided notion that terror could be an actual enemy in a war.  Launching a conventional war against a concept was a fool’s errand, Mitchell writes, “a misbegotten fantasy from the first.”

Changing the China News Narrative

“China is a breeding ground for heroes,” Foreign Policy contributing editor Christina Larson said at a roundtable discussion at the University of California, Irvine hosted by The China Beat yesterday.

Larson has done a lot of reporting on China’s environmental movement, where she has found great stories about a dynamic country. Environmentalists in China, she said, have created a legal space for their advocacy. Registered environmental nongovernmental organizations now make up the largest sector of civil society in China.

“None of these people think of themselves as dissidents,” Larson said. They are working to enforce existing laws, not make the current regime crumble.

But the China news narrative in the United States is often dominated by stories about dissidents and victims, corruption and communism, painting a narrow picture of what activism and political engagement can mean there.

Temptations of Power

Reading about Wikileaks’ release of American diplomatic cables makes me think about our vocabulary around foreign policy. How do we talk about foreign policy and who exactly should have access to information that U.S. representatives abroad collect? This summer, Peter Beinart told me that the public rarely drives foreign policy. In The Icarus Syndrome he called for Americans to engage and push back against abuse of power. He recently wrote in The Daily Beast that Wikileaks’ actions are little more than voyeuristic fodder and add little to public debate, but my conversation with him makes me wonder if the Wikileaks project could, at least, be a springboard for greater conversation about American foreign policy.

I wrote a review of The Icarus Syndrome and short Q&A with Beinart for the Abu Dhabi-based Afaq Al Mustaqbal Magazine, which translated the piece into Arabic and edited for length. It ran in Issue No. 7, Sept/Oct 2010 (PDF with Arabic text). Below is the text as I submitted it.

Temptations of Power

The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris
By Peter Beinart

By Angilee Shah

If the power of Fox News is a conundrum to Americans on the political left now, what Peter Beinart chronicles in the history of American politics shows that it is not a new dilemma. The tendency of the political elite to push ideologies to its extremes is cyclical and disastrous, or so goes the lessons of The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris.

Beinart’s last book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals–and Only Liberals–Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, chronicled the history of liberals’ foreign policies and called for liberals in 2006 to take a strong position in the war on terror while remembering that power is not always a force for good. The Icarus Syndrome takes a broader view on the same theme. Writing across political parties, Beinart retells stories of political power at the outsets of World War I, Vietnam and Iraq, and sections them into ideological cycles, to remind us that power and success should not make us disregard the limits of our ideologies.

What Obama Missed in Indonesia

President Barack Obama’s visit to Indonesia was cut short because of volcanic ash, but what he missed was an annual tradition that says a lot about a country relatively unfamiliar to most Americans. Indonesia marks Heroes’ Day every Nov. 10 to commemorate extraordinary service to the nation.

Among those considered this year for addition to a list of national heroes was the late Abdurrahman Wahid, affectionately known by Indonesians as Gus Dur. If Obama’s trip to Indonesia was an opportunity to introduce Indonesia to Americans, getting to know Wahid would have been a good place to start.

Read on and comment at the Huffington Post.