Meeting Basic Health Needs in a Venezuela in Crisis

Dr. Katherine Bliss

In a new report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Tower Center senior fellow Katherine Bliss examines the deteriorating health situation in Venezuela, where the administration of President Nicolás Maduro has been reluctant to seek external assistance to address the resurgence of malaria, a rise in maternal and infant mortality, and a lack of availability of essential medicines following the collapse in international oil prices and a deepening economic crisis.

With the government’s insistence that there is no humanitarian emergency in Venezuela, and with diplomatic relations between the United States and Venezuela strained, the options for direct U.S. engagement on health are limited. However, Bliss identifies opportunities for the U.S. and other countries in the region to work through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to encourage the Maduro government to fulfill its obligations to provide health services to the Venezuelan people and with Venezuelan civil society organizations, as well as Venezuelan health care providers living outside the country, to develop proposals for health sector reform, should there be a political opening to introduce them.

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Q&A | A Scholar’s Life in Buenos Aires

Kelsey Shipman in Uyuni, Bolivia on one of her weekend excursions from Buenos Aires.

The Tower Center talked with HCM Tower Scholar Kelsey Shipman about her experience studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Shipman is a sophomore studying economics, public policy and foreign language. While in Buenos Aires she is interning with CIPPEC (Centro de Implementación de Políticas Públicas para la Equidad y el Crecimiento) and attending classes.


Describe your life in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The past few months, I have been living with a host family in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. We have breakfast and dinner together each weekday, which has given me ample opportunities to practice my Spanish. Many of our meals consist of beef, as beef is the most popular meat in the country. The unofficial national drink of Argentina is a type of tea called maté. Maté is prepared in a special gourd-like cup with a straw that filters out the leaves of the tea. The leaves of the tea are poured directly into the cup and sometimes sugar is added as well, although the traditional way of consuming the tea is without any sweetener added. Many people bring a thermos and a bag of maté with them to work to drink throughout the day, and it is very common to see maté drinkers hanging out in parks or other public areas.

On the weekends, I often attend cultural shows and festivals in the city, such as tango expositions and musical performances, while many other weekends I have traveled to other areas of the country and continent, ranging from locations such as Mendoza, Argentina to the Brazilian Amazon. These experiences have given me insight into what life is like not only in other regions of Argentina but in other regions of South America as well.

What was a typical day like for you?

Each morning, I walk to school along one of the main streets of Buenos Aires, Sante Fe. My classes are taught all in Spanish by local professors. I am taking courses in Argentina’s history, poetry, and literature, as well as Spanish language courses. The classroom setting is much more casual than at SMU, with a large component of the courses consisting of discussion between the professor and students. We also have no class on Friday, which gives me additional time to travel to other areas or to explore the city.

Outside of class, I spend 8-12 hours each week working at CIPPEC, a local public policy think tank. I have been specifically working in their Economic Development department on several projects related to the Argentine economy. The goal of the department is to support economic transparency, efficiency, and equity while promoting fiscal solvency and democratization of budget decisions. On a day-to-day basis I work with a small group of Argentines conducting research and translating documents. I have also prepared presentations regarding the research we have been doing in order to share our findings with the greater community. I have had the opportunity to read primary and secondary sources regarding the economic and political system of Argentina, which have greatly increased my understanding of the current state of the nation.

What is one lesson you took away from your time there?

I have learned to better adapt to cultural differences, as well as the different pace of life here in Argentina. For instance, each day at work, my coworkers tend to arrive anywhere from 9:10-9:30, with the work day technically beginning at 9:00. In addition, I have learned a great deal about the Spanish language, particularly the ways in which it varies across regions and nations. The accent and pronunciation of Argentine Spanish was slightly difficult for me to understand at first, though now I have become much more confident in speaking and understanding a wide variety of Spanish accents.

How has this experience impacted your goals for the future?

The experience of interning at CIPPEC has reaffirmed my desire to work in international policy post-graduation. I hope to work in several different countries throughout my life, and the experience of working here in Argentina has been a wonderful opportunity to enter the workforce of another cultural and economic system. In addition, working in a bilingual environment has challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone by discussing complex ideas in a different language, something I hope to continue doing in my future career.

How has this experience enhanced your study of PPIA, or vice versa, how has PPIA enhanced your experience abroad?

I have really appreciated immersing myself in the professional world of Argentina, and I think that this hands-on experience working in public policy has enhanced my understanding of PPIA in a global sense. With my background in PPIA I came to Argentina eager to learn more about the ways in which current public policy endeavors are affecting the country’s citizens; having the chance to contribute to public policy-related research has been very fascinating for me. I have really enjoyed discussing political issues with members of the professional community, my host family, and my peers at local universities. It has been very impactful for me to have the opportunity to analyze ongoing public policy initiatives first-hand.

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Immigration and Refugee Policy in Donald Trump’s America

Tower Center Director James Hollifield wrote an essay on immigration and President Trump in a roundtable edited by Tower Chair Joshua Rovner. The roundtable explores the question of national security in regards to Trump’s proposals.

“This question is particularly important given that the president has explicitly framed his executive orders as necessary to preserve national security,” Rovner wrote in the introduction. “None of the participants agree.”

Hollifield’s essay, Back to the Future:  Trump’s Executive Orders on Migration and Refugees, looks at the pattern of waves of nativist politics in American history and compares them to Trump’s rhetoric today.

Read the roundtable here.

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Black and Hispanic students are less likely to graduate college, study finds

Tower Center Research Associate Dominique Baker published a paper, “The Racial College Completion Gap: Evidence From Texas” with Stella Flores and Toby Park in the Journal of Higher Education.

Baker found in her research that the college completion gap has more to do with precollege characteristics such as high school and other individual context factors, than post-secondary characteristics such as how colleges attribute funding.

The key factors driving the gap more specifically were poverty and attending high-minority high schools. The gap persists even while college enrollment is on the rise and even though the majority of students in public schools are non-white.

Follow the discussion of Baker’s study at SMU Research or read a review of the paper in the Houston Chronicle.

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WATCH: Josh Rovner on “mother of all bombs” dropped in Afghanistan

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Josh Rovner | “In Syria, where will U.S. intervention stop?”

President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on the Shayrat Airbase in Syria allegedly in response to the use of chemical weapons in an attack carried out by the Assad regime in the Idlib Province April 4.

Tower Chair and security studies expert Joshua Rovner wrote an opinion piece for the Dallas Morning News looking at the likelihood of and potential consequences of escalated U.S. involvement in the civil war.

“The United States is now in the odd position of launching air strikes against opposite sides in someone else’s civil war,” Rovner wrote.

He argues that in the past the U.S. has not been satisfied with a limited victory, such as deterring unfriendly regimes from the use of chemical weapons. Instead, as seen in Iraq, regime change becomes the goal — or total victory.

Read his full commentary here.

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Recap | There is no “After ISIS”

The Wilson Center’s Henri Barkey answers questions at the Tower Center event “After ISIS” April 6.

UCLA’s James Gelvin and the Wilson Center’s Henri Barkey came to the Tower Center April 6 to discuss what the Middle East might look like after the demise of ISIS. Sabri Ates, associate professor at SMU, opened the seminar with a look at ISIS’ demise since its peak in 2014. The group has lost almost a quarter of their territory in the last year, according to BBC.

Syria and the New Middle East

Gelvin, professor of modern Middle Eastern history, opened the seminar with a look at what is referred to as the “New Middle East,” a term invented by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The New Middle East refers to what arose out of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Arab uprisings in 2010-2011.

Syria came late to the uprisings and had a different experience for three reasons according to Gelvin. First, the Syrian uprising was highly militarized, and its was militarized early. Second, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made the fight sectarian by naming Sunnis the enemy of the ruling minority, the Alawites. He went as far as releasing jihadists from prison who had fought U.S. forces in Iraq. Third, it turned into a proxy war making it extremely difficult to resolve. When it seems one side is losing invested allies ramp up support in order to turn the tables. For example, in the spring of 2015 the U.S. and Saudi Arabia amped up opposition support, which then led Assad to turn to Russia for increased support as well.

In a post-ISIS world Gelvin predicts the “Somalization of Syria,” meaning Syria would become like Somalia. There would be a formal government and UN membership, but the regime wouldn’t rule over the entire land and would face a long-term fight against the opposition backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The future of ISIS

ISIS is different from other jihadist groups for two reasons according to Gelvin: One, instead of fighting an insurgency they claimed territory and established a caliphate; and two, they practice takfir. Takfir is when one Muslim declares another Muslim an apostate, for which the penalty is death. ISIS not only fights against non-Muslims, but also Shia Muslims and others they perceive as non-believers. This is why the fight has been so bloody.

Gelvin concluded his talk with five possibilities for a post-caliphate ISIS. They could go underground and re-emerge, relocate, wage an insurgency on Iraq or Syria, give up and move on, or, what Gelvin identifies as the most likely scenario, freelancers or “flaming bananas” will continue to attack globally like the couple in San Bernardino, California.

There is no ‘After ISIS’

Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, opened his portion of the lecture with a dim outlook.

“I’m sorry to tell you, there isn’t going to be an after ISIS,” he said.  “Jihadism is alive and well and will continue.”

He partly blames the U.S. strategy for his prediction. While he doesn’t doubt the U.S. will take Mosul and Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State, Barkey says there is no plan for the day after.

“We were surprised by Al Qaeda, we were surprised by ISIS, and we will be surprised again,” he said.

President Trump has already almost doubled the troop numbers in Syria, and his administration is working diligently to remove restrictions on the American military imposed by President Obama.

Barkey’s best case scenario is a Balkanized Syria with the regime in the west, Kurds in the north, and local forces filling in the gaps to create communities out of impossible circumstances.

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SMU Professors Awarded Colin Powell Fellowship

Three SMU professors Sabri Ates, Michael Lusztig, and Hiroki Takeuchi were awarded the Colin Powell Global Order and Foreign Policy Fellowship for 2017-2018. The award, designed to increase research and scholarship and to enhance teaching effectiveness, gives SMU faculty members up to $5,000 for their research, which contributes to what President Bush referred to as the New World Order.

Sabri Ates, associate professor of history, will use the award to finish writing his book Seyyid Abdulqadir Nehri’s Pursuit of an Independent Kurdistan. With the recent developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey the question of Kurdish statelessness is becoming more pressing. Ates explores what historical conditions account for how the Kurds became the largest ethnic group without its own nation. His book explores attempts at establishing a state going back to the 1870s, anchored in the biography of protagonist Seyyid Abdulqadir Nehri.

In particular, it focuses on the tumultuous period between 1880-1925, during which the creation of a Kurdish state emerged as a distinct possibility and then quickly unraveled. Ates studies the role the Kurds themselves play in making or unmaking a state of their own.

“My book will be part of an ongoing discussion about the Kurds in particular and the greater Middle East in general,” Ates wrote.

Michael Lusztig, professor of political science, will use the award to publish his new book titled The Culturalist Challenge to Liberal Republicanism, which was accepted for publishing by McGill-Queen University Press. In the book, Lusztig explores the risks multiculturalism poses to liberal democracy. His findings fall between Francis Fukuyama’s optimism put forth in his famous declaration of “the end of history” at the conclusion of the Cold War, and Samuel Huntington’s pessimism described in Who Are We, which explores the “identity crisis” and destabilization that comes with increased immigration.

He examines Mexican immigration to the U.S. and finds the risk to be negligible, as well as Islamic immigration to Europe, which he finds poses a greater concern. France and Germany in particular have failed to “bridge social capital” as Robert Putnam recommends, which would develop commonalities between dominant and heritage cultures. Instead, however, the cultures keep to themselves and resentment builds up followed by instability.

“My position is that cultural heterogeneity can be accommodated in different ways,” Lusztig wrote.

Hiroki Takeuchi, associate professor of political science, plans to investigate the security implications of global value chains in the Asia Pacific. It has become increasingly popular for multinational corporations to have different stages of production in different countries, thus creating global value chains. This is especially true in the auto industry.

Takeuchi will explore whether these cross-border relationships built off of trade contribute to peace and international cooperation.  According to liberal theories, economic integration should create common interests among states. He argues this research is increasingly pressing considering President Donald Trump’s America first rhetoric and free-trade bashing.

“The development of GVCs in the Asia-Pacific over the last two decades has brought a new international division of labor between developed and developing countries,” Takeuchi wrote.

The three professors will present the findings of their research at a Tower Center seminar in the fall of 2018.

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“Fiscal Starvation: The Unintended Consequences of Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Campaign”

Hiroki Takeuchi, director of the SMU Tower Center Sun & Star Program, wrote an analysis for the China Policy Institute looking at the consequences of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

“The CCP leadership has feared that corruption, if left unaddressed, could undermine the stability of one-party rule,” Takeuchi wrote. “Perhaps ironically, however, the success of Xi’s campaign has itself undermined the basis of one-party rule.”

Read the essay here.

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Policy Roundtable | “Russia and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election”

Tower Chair Joshua Rovner edited and wrote the introduction for the International Security Studies Forum’s newest roundtable, “Russia and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.”

Russian intelligence officials stole and leaked information from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta during the 2016 election. While Russia pursuing “active measures” against a U.S. election is nothing new or startling, the possible ramifications on a historically bizarre race remain to be seen.

“The idea that this one might have succeeded suggests that Russian ‘influence operations’ have become more sophisticated; or that the United States has become more vulnerable; or both,” Rovner wrote.

“The controversy is especially troubling because it follows decades of declining public faith in U.S. institutions.”

Read Rovner’s introduction and the policy roundtable here.

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