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"Tradition?? The only good traditions are food traditions. The rest are repressive."

"There are two ways to think. The first is to trust to your ancestors, your religious leaders, or your charismatic professors. The second is to question, to challenge, to explore history for meanings, and to analyze issues. This latter is called Critical Thinking, and it is this that is the mission of my web site. "

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman  

March 2017

Sweden Does Have an Immigrant Problem.


President Trump's recent comment about "Sweden, Sweden is a disaster" met with pushback when he cited a Muslim riot that actually did not happen that weekend. It happened the next week. Wrong details, right issue. This was like his comments about the Bowling Green "Massacre," a massacre that could have been, had it not been foiled by the FBI. He is sometimes on the right track, but with the wrong facts. Sweden is in trouble, despite the protestations of outrage by Swedish officials.
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Russia?s Short-term and Long-term Prognosis


If the thugs in ISIS were not so busy decapitating people, we might have been paying more attention to a longer-term hostile force, Russia. Russia has been an important target of Western attention since the 19th century, when this once backward, frozen backwater came to life and proceeded to conquer and colonize all the countries across Central Asia (the old Silk Route), ending on China?s border and the Pacific Ocean. They controlled 11 time zones and warranted watching.

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December 2016

Tradition!

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevya, the milkman, a poor Jewish villager trying to survive in Tzarist Russia, is faced by societal changes that he resists with all his might. Tradition is his shield and protection from what he sees as chaos.

Of course, there are limits to how much one can resist the present. Around the world, and even in our own country, there are people who resist the present, or, rather, resist some of the changes of the present. They cherry pick.

The more...

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Populism?s Unanticipated Consequences: Dictatorship


I learned in my college days that when somebody on campus yelled "Power to the People!" that it was time to take cover. I am allergic to mobs, which are what human beings become when they abandon thought.

The Populist movement is not new. Roman senators as early as 60 BC knew they could buy the favor of voters by putting on a great show: a circus, a great feast, and a big parade. What the senators wanted was their votes, after which they need never concern themselves with more...

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E Pluribus Unum?


This Latin slogan describes the intentions of our founding father: that out of many colonies would come one nation. We Americans are very proud of this idea, and many think that we invented it. However, considering that the slogan is Latin, the ancient Romans certainly thought of it, as did others before them.

The small, scattered tribes of Homo Sapiens peopling Africa never looked beyond their tribes, related by blood. But as our ancestors left Africa and peopled the worl more...

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September 2016

Who is Making Money From Stolen Property?

Receiving stolen property is a crime in order to deter people from aiding or rewarding thieves by buying stolen property, concealing stolen property, and to deter theft in general. Receiving stolen property may be a misdemeanor or felony.

Why, then, is nobody prosecuting the press for receiving the stolen property hacked by Wikileaks? I certainly believe in freedom of the press, but I do not believe that they should be above the law where it comes to receiving, publishing, and mak more...

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Russia's Long Romance with Lying and Deception

A spotlight has been turned on Putin's Russia lately: the probability that his government had hacked the computers of the Democratic National Committee, sitting on them until being released the eve of the Democratic Presidential Convention. Their agent, Julian Asange, the creator of WikiLeaks, a hacking underworld that only hacks the computers of the West, never Russia or China, dumped these e-mails with the seeming intent of assisting the election of Donald Trump. Russia certainly could not ope more...

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Saudi Arabia: Our Troubled and Troublesome Ally (Part 1 of 2)


Saudi Arabia is an excellent example of how complex our alliances can be. I have heard from quite a few people that we should dump them as an ally. In the past, even I have muttered that after 9-11, we invaded the wrong countries (Afghanistan and Iraq) and should have taken down Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Of course we could not do this in a world of complex issues and even more complex relationships. We have needed each other for certain things over the past 60 plus years more...

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Do You Really Want a Revolution?

Being angry is not the best reason for voting for a "revolution." One might not like aspects of the way our leaders are leading, but trashing the entire institution of governance under law will not achieve a brave new world. It never has.

Many of those with only vague historic knowledge talk boldly about having another American Revolution like the first one. Our founding, however, was not the result of a revolution, but of a revolt by people who wanted all British laws and protect more...

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Darwin Awards for 2015

I issue mock Darwin Awards each year for those so stupid they should be barred from adding to the gene pool.

Education Official Resigns.
At a press conference recently, Vasile Salaru, Romanian Minister of Education, said schools should teach female students how to walk while wearing high heels; dance the tango; be a good host[ess]; and walk with "chest out, bottom out, let the boys faint!" Several student organizations protested his comments and called for his resignation. more...

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August 2015

Racism Has a Forgotten History.


We Americans in our self-centeredness think we invented racism and slavery, but we did not. We were one of the few societies in the world to outlaw it when it was a major part of our economy. Others were England, which outlawed the slave trade in 1772 and Russia in 1861 in freeing their serfs. France abolished Caribbean slavery in the French Revolution in 1794 and Napoleon shamefully reinstated it in 1802.

Slavery has been a human institution from the beginning of civiliz more...

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Let's Take a Long View of the Iran Deal.


The exhausted negotiators had been at it for 20 months, the last many hours of which were nearly non-stop, with the possibility that this important deal might collapse. The United States, Iran, five members of the UN Security Council, and the EU had labored over this negotiation to convince Iran that it was in its best interest to reduce its nuclear program's potential of developing nuclear weapons. Iran had long (and unconvincingly) claimed its nuclear interests were peaceful only, but more...

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Putin Has His Own Private Assassins

I don?t know how many of you remember the story of the "Sorcerer?s Apprentice," charmingly done in the Disney film Fantasia. Mickey Mouse played the Sorcerer?s apprentice, tasked with sweeping out the house. The lazy rascal found the master?s book and tried his hand at magic, turning the broom into an army of brooms who swept and went to the well, nearly flooding the house and coming close to drowning Mickey until the Sorcerer returned and put things to rights, punishing the foolish apprentice.< more...

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Asking the Wrong Question Can Lead to War.

The United States has gone to war twice by asking the wrong questions. Fortunately for us, even though we did not "win" either of those wars (in the conventional sense, such as the way we won World Wars I and II), we did not lose them either. No enemy came to our shores and conquered us. But in both of those wars, we made a terrible mess of two countries and suffered a terrible cost of young lives of our own, costs that we are still paying. Those two wars were the Vietnam War and the second Iraq more...

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Stalin Revival In Georgia! How About Hitler?

Putin celebrated Russia's Victory Day this year (May 9), as a holiday commemorating the defeat of Hitler.

When World War II ended, the Russian public was delirious with joy! Russians in the streets embraced Americans and Englishmen and they all got drunk together. But in the years following, Stalin stopped this celebration. He feared that the sight of all the veterans missing limbs and the heroic generals in the parades might remind the public of what this war had cost the Russ more...

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Laina with April Movies

Laina At the Movies
By Laina Farhat-Holzman
April 2015

Effie Gray

If even at the beginning of Downton Abby, during the Edwardian era, when sexuality was something done behind closed doors and, as one spicy lady said: "Do what you like, but don't do it in the street and frighten the horses," the sex in Effie Gray was not just hidden, it was smothered.

Emma Thompson is not only a marvelous actress, but also wrote a sensitive screenplay ba more...

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When is "Economic Information" Espionage?


Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian has been cooling his heels in an Iranian prison for nine months without charges until now, when we are finally told that he will stand trial for espionage for having "sold economic information" to unnamed Americans. What this information is nobody has been told. What sort of economic information about Iran could there be that could threaten Iran's security, one wonders! I can imagine quite a few things, but cannot imagine that Jason Rezaian cou more...

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The Iran Deal Puts Our Foot in the Door!


For fifty years, we did not talk to the Chinese. We mistrusted them. They mistrusted us. We hated each other and were blind to each other?s internal workings. Then, suddenly, because of some youngsters playing ping pong together (not an accident), followed by some very secret diplomatic visits, the United States and Communist China opened relations.

This opening upset a lot of people: the Soviets, hardline Republicans (members of President Nixon?s own party), and hardline more...

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While Europe Slept: Denial of the Islamist Threat


Winston Churchill wrote a book in 1938 called While Europe Slept that impressed young John F. Kennedy so much that he made it his senior thesis in school in England while his father was US Ambassador there. His thesis was published as his own book in 1940. Both books were intended to rouse both countries to the threat of Nazi Germany that pacifists were determined to resist.

Europe lost an entire generation of young men in a meaningless fratricidal war between 1914 and 191 more...

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Torture Is Not In America?s Best Interests.

Americans are debating several complex moral issues:
? Does torture produce essential information at a time of terror activity?
? Does torture do moral damage to the torturers themselves?
? Does imminent danger warrant violating US law?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. The 9/11 attack really frightened this country and the government went into emergency mode to find out if more attacks were on the way. This is the ticking bomb theory: do anything nece more...

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November 2014

Russia's Short-term and Long-term Prognosis

If the thugs in ISIS were not so busy decapitating people, we might have been paying more attention to a longer-term hostile force, Russia. Russia has been an important target of Western attention since the 19th century, when this once backward, frozen backwater came to life and proceeded to conquer and colonize all the countries across Central Asia (the old Silk Route), ending on China's border on the Pacific Ocean. They controlled 11 time zones and warranted watching.

Russia wa more...

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We Must Put the "Crises of the Moment" in Context.


Critics of President Obama have an easy job. They do not have to make the decisions that will impact long-term American wellbeing. That is his job, and like making sausage, it is not a pretty process. It involves heavy lifting and complex issues.

Two principles have governed American foreign policy for the past two centuries: first, make certain that no one power controls all of Europe or all of Asia. We would be standing alone if such a powerful enemy controlled all other more...

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Who?s Counting?

One issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, August 23, 2014, was representative of what is going on globally. ?Hamas kills 18 suspected spies in Gaza;? ?Shiite gunmen kill 70 in attack on Sunni mosque;? ?Nation mourns Flight 17 victims (295 of them); ?Civil War deaths top 191,000 after 3 years of conflict in Syria;? ?Ebola outbreak grows nationally with two new cases? (2,615 cases and 1,427 deaths reported). There is a horrific death toll in South Sudan, where ethnic tribal hatreds are killing a h more...

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August 2014

Proxy Wars Have Unanticipated Consequences


Getting somebody else to fight while you watch is an old idea. ?Let me hold your coat,? says an onlooker in a bar fight. Even better is watching a prizefight in which poor, unfortunate idiots beat each other to a pulp for entertainment and prize money.

World War II was actually the last time that major powers were locked in deadly combat. Since that time, almost all wars have involved proxies: conflicts in which the actual beneficiaries are not doing the fighting. The enti more...

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Are ISIS and ISIL Based on Religion or Ideology?


When we hear the word ISIS, we usually think of the great Egyptian goddess of antiquity. Today's ISIS is not a goddess, but is a resentful Islamic military cult that has no clue of what it wants, only what it doesn't want. It does not want western civilization, except for its weapons and medicines for their warriors and elderly leaders. Its only policies involve slaughter, amputating the limbs of thieves, and total enslavement of women. They love public whipping and executions, which the more...

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US Foreign Policy: Does History Repeat Itself? (Part 2 of 2)


Historians compare the onset of World War I exactly a century ago with our own time. At the turn of the 19th century, the world was undergoing extraordinary globalization. The British Empire ruled the seas and conquered and colonized territories too backward and stagnant to protect themselves. The British introduced the concepts of the nation state to India, which had never really been a continent-wide country before. They introduced railroads, uniform law and order, and a unifying langu more...

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US Foreign Policy: What Are Our Goals and Priorities? (Part 1 of 2)


The vital national interests of the United States have always included:

? Protect the sovereignty, territory, and population of the US and prevent and deter threats to our homeland, including, today, nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) attacks and terrorism.

? Prevent the emergence of a hostile regional coalition or hegemon, such as the Nazi-Japanese Axis in World War II and the fear of a Soviet-Chinese axis in the Cold War.

? Ensure fr more...

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What the Map Can Tell You.



I am of a generation that remembered geography as one of my favorite subjects in grade school, a subject no longer taught. We learned to read maps, study globes, and learn about the various cultures of the world. In art class, we drew pictures of the various peoples around the world with distinctive clothes (the Dutch with wooden shoes and pointy caps or the Chinese with silk pajamas and long pigtails). Geography was not just memorizing world capital cities.

Today more...

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Putin’s Ideological Fantasy of Russian “Spirituality.”

David Brooks had a brilliant column recently on Putin’s historic mission to restore Russia to the world stage, recover what it can of control over what was once the Soviet Union (and before that the Russian Empire), and assert Russia’s moral superiority over the “corrupt secular west.”

I choked over that last one because their moral superiority is a fantasy indeed. Russia’s “moral superiority” rests on three ideas, as written by Putin’s favorite Russian philosopher more...

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The Russian Bear Still Has Teeth Laina Farhat-Holzman


Many of us miss the Cold War, not because it was without violence (there was, but nothing like that of the two World Wars), but because the antagonist was so interesting. As Churchill once said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” But perhaps it is not as mysterious as we thought then. We only need look at its geography and history to see inevitable continuity---an eternal Russia.

Another reason for preferring the Cold War’s Russia to today more...

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Is Militant Islam Facing an Endgame?

Many intellectuals believe that the political right-wing is “demonizing” Islam. This is a conundrum, because it appears that Islam is demonizing itself. How peaceful is a religion when it is obviously going through a fever fueled by resentment, fear of modernity, and a phase of religiosity that is as much at war with its own people as it is against the rest of the world?

Religions are like rivers: there is upstream, downstream, rapids, still waters, and a delta where the relig more...

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December 2013

Countries Can Be Judged By Their Internments

During the 20th century, a number of nations engaged in expelling populations or interning those deemed “dangerous.” Turkey was the first with the expulsion and internment of their Christian Armenian population, an action that resulted in the first of the century’s genocides. Their World War I ally, Germany, was horrified and told the Turks that this was awful.

Then, Germany did the same in the late 1930s and in the 1940s, where the supposed “resettlement” of Jews deemed more...

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The Politically Correct Only Recognize “Selective Slavery.”


Many years ago, I submitted a paper for a conference on Slavery (World History Association), which was rejected. The problem was that I offered a history of slavery going back to its ancient roots, but the association was only interested in the evils of Black Slavery in the West. This was my first exposure to “selective Slavery.” Then later, serving as the director of the United Nations Association in San Francisco, I questioned the organization’s authorities about enlarging the UN more...

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We Have Always Had Turncoats.


Why would a citizen of a country that serves them well opt for betrayal? Why would a US army psychiatrist value Militant Islam more than fellow soldiers he felt justified to murder? Why would Somali-American teenagers train to become suicide bombers, first abroad, but hoping to do so in their homeland?

The recent spate of terrorists who want to damage this country and as many of its residents as possible is not new; we need to remember this issue in the past, and how we de more...

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Whistle Blowing: One Size Doesn’t Fit All.


Snooping and its variations (government, industrial, commercial) is now a major issue fracturing the already fractured American psyche. This is the new great divide, one that is not clearly black or white, but is complicated by many shades of gray.

• Terrorism. The first divide is over the majority of us who believe that we are in a global war with the latest of totalitarian enemies, Islamism. A minority believe that this is not a war, but rather criminals best handled b more...

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July 2013

Snowden No Hero

For anybody still naive enough to think that Edward Snowden is a classic whistle-blower, please note his choice of refuge: Russia.

He now seeks asylum in a country where scores of journalists have been murdered or jailed for practicing their trade. That country's leader, Vladimir Putin, has told Snowden that he will be weldome if he agrees to keep his mouth shut.

Rather than demonstrate his principles by facing prosecution for not only stealing but leaking his count more...

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Russia is an Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery

Russia never fails to fascinate us. The very scary Cold War has been over for several decades, after a fifty-year period in which the Soviet Union and the United States engaged in a conflict that could have ended in nuclear holocaust. But real friendship has not replaced the hostility either. We have a cold peace.

Nations have long histories. Russia has been shaped by its geography It occupies a huge expanse of the Eurasian plains, from Eastern Europe all the way to the Pacific. I more...

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“I'll Eat His Liver---But Not With Chianti.”

Who doesn't remember the movie in which Hannibal Lector, the criminally insane psychiatrist, tells his interviewer about the delights of eating someone's liver with “a nice little Chianti.” In our society, his cannibalism is considered a mark of his insanity.

However, The Guardian, a British newspaper, showed a much worse case of cannibalism that cannot be excused by need (famine) or insanity. According to The Guardian, Human Rights Watch has identified a well-known Syrian r more...

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Time for the “Democracy Project” to go!


It is very painful to retire a foreign policy initiative that has been with us since Woodrow Wilson in 1918. Americans have long believed that democracy is exactly what benighted cultures around the world want. We assume that if tyranny could be removed, long suffering people would want to vote for good people to govern them. We assume, wrongly, that everybody wants freedom.

President Wilson promoted World War I as a crusade to make the world safe for democracy. By the end more...

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The Latest Global Population Numbers Produce Surprises.

Some modern historians have added geography and demography to their historic research, and not a moment too soon. We really cannot understand the psychology and future trajectories of our allies and enemies without considering why they behave as they do and whether they have too many or too few people to thrive, be offensive, or decline.

• Geography. Robert Kaplan tells us in his new book: The Revenge of Geography, that the one given in a country’s history is its geography more...

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November 2012

The Russians Are Looking Like Their Old Selves Again.


Russia before the Communist Revolution in 1917 had conflicting cultural characteristics: a relatively small educated class and aristocracy undergoing a European-style renaissance; and the vast peasant and village population, dirt-poor, superstitious, and ignorant. Geography plays a role in shaping a culture. Russia’s vast size and wide-open plains left it vulnerable to invasions by such brutes as the Mongols and later the Nazis. Violence, characterized by the whip (the Russian knout, a more...

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The President and Challenger Tangle on Foreign Policy


We have just had a debate between President Obama and Governor Romney on Foreign Policy. Since only about 10 percent of the public understands or even cares about foreign policy, it is difficult to assess how this will affect the election. But since I am a foreign policy wonk, I do care.

When President Obama had his first security briefing when he was sworn into office, his hair began to turn to gray. Presidents learn things then that they really couldn’t know while they more...

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September 2012

The Fog of War is Nothing to the Fog of the Muslim World.

The Arab Spring came and quickly left, followed by what we call “young democracies,” the results of “elections.” Why did we think that these elections would produce the modern, western values of tolerant and participatory governance? In every political revolution, intellectuals do the first heavy lifting, only to be replaced (and killed) by something akin to totalitarianism. Every revolution “eats its children,” and this was so in Iran, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, and will be when the o more...

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Why Do We Give a Pass to Evil?

I recently wrote an editorial about Genocide, with its long trek through history—but one of my colleagues noted that I had not mentioned the USSR, one of the worst human rights offenders ever. My friend, Swedish human rights attorney Bertil Haggman, compiled the violent death statistics of the USSR from 1917 to 1982: The Communist Genocide (in Swedish), ten years before the demise of the Soviet Union. Haggman estimated about 104 million dead in his 1982 book; now the numbers are known to be cl more...

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The European Uprisings of 1848 Reverberate in Today’s Arab Spring

Americans are accustomed to thinking that our 1776 revolution was the model for all others. This may account for the wacky optimism of Western journalists cheering on the street demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. They assumed these demonstrations would truly give rise to American style democracy. They now see that this is not so.

Those of us who were less enthusiastic can justify our pessimism by noting what’s going on in Libya (revenge and lawlessness) and in Syria, more...

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Democracy Can Have a Dark Underbelly


As much as I love democracy, Western Liberal Democracy, this institution has a dark side. There are problems with our own American democracy; even more troubling are democracies such as that of Russia, and worse, democracy in the Muslim world. Why is democracy so under assault?

Liberal Democracy is a system in which people do have choices, but there are also rules that keep the “people’s will” from becoming tyranny. Voting is the last step of building a democracy, w more...

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What Happens When People Suddenly Have Choices?


The very notion that people have choices in their lives is so new that much of world is still reeling from this idea. For the millennia since the emergence of homo sapiens, choices have been limited. Survival depended upon families, tribes, and later kingdoms, where individual choice was inconceivable, except for the leader, whether father, clan chief, or king. Bad decisions could bring disaster on them all, and leaders were always challenged by others who would then make decisions. Dict more...

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September 2011

Let Us Put the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 In Context.


Ten years ago, Al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington (and more if they could have pulled it off). How could we not see this coming? And are we lulling ourselves into sleep again?

o Failed Awareness. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, no other credible enemy appeared on the horizon. To us, an enemy was a superpower with nuclear weapons. Not even China appeared to be a viable menace to us-at least, not for a long time.

Some of us, however, were more...

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How Goes Democracy Around the World?

Democracy Project. The United States has long had a “democracy project.” After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson tried to establish an organization that would midwife newly freed colonies into democracies. He was instrumental in establishing the first “World Government,” the League of Nations, but a key Senator prevented the US from joining. That organization without us had even less teeth than today's United Nations.

At the end of World War II, the US has once more p more...

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Can National Cultures Really Change?


One of the best geo-political analysts and forecasters around is George Friedman, head of STRATFOR (Strategic Forecasts), whose services are used by people responsible for foreign policy making. His team travels, talks to important decision makers, and watches unfolding events from the perspective of history.

Does history really repeat itself? Friedman thinks it does. “The geopolitical is about the intersection of geography and politics. It assumes that the political lif more...

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September 2010

Is There Any Hope for Afghanistan?

Imagine a country where:
• Five minutes out of the capital you need armed guards to travel.
• Without a national army or police, where only tribes and warlords control each region or fight with each other.
• The vast majority are not only illiterate, but are locked in a dreadful marriage of vengeful tribal law and an unenlightened Islam.
• That cannot defend itself from any its neighbors or from any great power that wants something there.
• T more...

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Germany Has Had a Curious Century of Islamic Relations.


Germans have been living in northern Europe for several thousand years. The Romans knew them as enemies at first, and later as applicants to be part of the Roman Empire. But Germany as a nation-state is new—1871—and as such, has scrambled to catch up with much older nation states of England and France.

Germany was late in empire building too—unlike Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands. Part of the injured pride that spurred Hitler’s World War II was the lus more...

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Laina At the Movies, August, 2010

FAREWELL. I am recommending a movie that you might only be able to get on Netflix because it has come and will go with little notice. The reason to notice it is that not only is this a true story, but an important piece of Cold War history that we all need to understand.

The film is set in April, 1981, at a time that the US and USSR came the closest to outright conflict since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ronald Reagan was president, and Francois Mitterrand had just been elected to more...

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How About a Mosque at Ground Zero?


The proposal to build a large Islamic Cultural Center that includes a mosque two blocks from the ruins of the World Trade Center (ground zero of the Islamist attack) is very divisive. Is this a test of American tolerance, as Newsweek Editor Fareed Zakaria claims? Or is this the same as if the Japanese wanted to build a theme park at Honolulu?

Ground Zero’s National Importance. Just a visit to Ground Zero (which I have done) evokes enormous sadness and anger. For the Wor more...

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Some Bedfellows are Incomprehensible

There is an Arab adage: “The Enemy of my Enemy is My Friend.” Unfortunately, this is not always so. The enemy of your enemy may be your enemy too! It makes no sense to me that the University world has demonized Israel in favor of the most repressive of Islamic “friends.”

Since the 1970s, the most radical-left factions of activists in universities have been bedfellows of the most radical-right, socially benighted groups. I recently watched a German film: The Baader-Meinh more...

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What is a Circassian and Why Should We Care?

Register Pajaronian


Ask anybody about genocides—the deliberate attempt to wipe out—in whole or in part—an entire people, and they will come up with a depressing list. In the past century alone, we had an enormous part of the Armenian population of Ottoman Turkey, six million European Jews, and former Yugoslavian Bosnian Muslims murdered at the hands of the Turks, Nazis, and Serbs, respectively. Tutsis were murdered by Hutus in Rwanda and the people of Darfur province more...

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October 2009

Is There Any Hope for Afghanistan?




Imagine a country where:
• Five minutes out of the capital you need armed guards to travel.
• Without a national army or police, where only tribes and warlords control each region or fight with each other.
• The vast majority are not only illiterate, but are locked in a dreadful marriage of vengeful tribal law and an unenlightened Islam.
• That cannot defend itself from any its neighbors or from any great power that wants somethi more...

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