Vanda Felbab-Brown on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show

Vanda Felbab-Brown, Tower Center Associate, was a guest on the Diane Rehm Show today. The program focused on the Obama administration’s new strategy to fight illegal drug use.

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Dr. Felbab-Brown is a Foreign Policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, adjunct professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Tower Center Associate, and frequent guest speaker in Dallas. Her work focuses on the national security implications of illicit economies and strategies for managing them. Her recent book is Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs.

Read Vanda Felbab-Brown’s recent research and commentary:

Stop Buying Off the Afghans

Vanda Felbab-Brown discusses the transactional relationship between the US and Afghanistan. She argues that structure of this relationship is ultimately unproductive.

The Design and Resourcing of Supply-Side Counternarcotics Policies

In testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Vanda Felbab-Brown assesses the Obama administration’s counternarcotics strategy, focusing on the role and design of supply-side programs within the strategy. Felbab-Brown’s statement highlights country-specific challenges and opportunities in Afghanistan, Colombia and Mexico.

Mexican Drug War

In an interview with China Radio International, Vanda Felbab-Brown offers her insights on the current status of Mexico’s powerful drug trafficking organizations and the scope of narcotics traffic in the region.

How to Win Mexico’s War on Drugs

In a Daily Beast OpEd, Vanda Felbab-Brown discusses the new policy of Mexico’s government toward the drug trafficking organizations, Beyond Merida, and the challenges and opportunities of this new approach.

The Political Economy of Illegal Domains in India and China

Vanda Felbab-Brown’s article explores: How illicit economies arise and how are organized? What are the regulatory requirements for their functioning? And what threats do illicit economies pose to countries? The articles examines these dynamics primarily with respect to India and China both contemporarily and historically, but also draws on other countries for comparisons, such as Hong Kong Triads, piracy in South China Sea, insurgencies in India’s Northeast and drug smuggling and illegal trade in wildlife there, poppy cultivation in India, and Chiang Kai-Shek’s, Mao’s, and the Green Gang’s counternarcotics policies and participation in the drug trade.

Bheko Dube–USAME Seminar

The following reports were written by Bheko Dube, a student in International Studies, Political Science, and Anthropology. The Tower Center funded his conference trip to “The United States Meets Europe: A Forum for Young Leaders (USAME)” in New York and Washington, DC.

Monday, April 19, 2010
The conference began with a mini tutorial and a speech by Klaus Linsenmeier of Heinrich Boll Stiftung followed by a Q&A session. Mr Linsenmeier spoke about the need for transatlantic cooperation in the development of green technologies. Mr Linsenmeier and his European counterparts have advocated for a new strategy, ”The Green New Deal” to combat the myriad of contemporary global problems that have slowly nipped away at our world as we know it. What’s the issue – It is a combination of a credit-fuelled financial crisis, accelerating climate change and the looming peak in oil production. These three overlapping events threaten to develop into a perfect storm, the like of which has not been seen since the Great Depression. To help prevent this from happening and to lay the foundations of future economic systems a new solution has been coined — it is called The Green New Deal. History- The original New Deal was a series of economic programs passed by congress during FDR’s first presidency. These programs were implemented as a response to The Great Depression. The Green New Deal much like the original New Deal, each solution is viewed by some as fit for current issues. What I gathered from the presentations is that green technology can be used to simultaneously fix the environment and the economy. That is a very commendable suggestion by Mr Linsenmeier and his counterparts but it is overly simplistic and idealistic; case in point South Africa received a loan for USD$4B from the World Bank to build a new coal station — coal is hardly green. Assuming that green technology is just as good if not better than coal why wouldn’t the World Bank channel those resources into green technology? If green technology cannot be used on a micro level in a relatively small country like South Africa an argument can be made that green technology is not viable enough to sustain a thousandth of the world???s population and therefore the green revolution is still a pipe dream.

From Drop Box

In the picture From the left Bheko Dube (SMU), Klaus Linsenmeier (CEO Heinrich Boll Stiftung), Mamadou Diallo (SMU)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The morning session featured a lecture on Transatlantic relations during the cold war by former ambassador to Hungary Mark Palmer. His main thrust was emphasizing how Russia and the United States became paranoid and fearful of each other based on unfounded assumptions. The ambassador also went on to articulate how the Central and Eastern Europe had changed since the end of the cold war. The question that remains to be answered is whether another cold war could emerge as the US, Russia and China are displaying the same paranoid tendencies that gave rise to the original cold war.
The afternoon session featured an interactive seminar at the Congressional Research Service with speakers Kennon Nakamura and Matthew Weed. They discussed the evolution of US public and foreign policy since the end of the cold war and up to current policies. It was a very informative session as both speakers were able to give insight as to how why the US takes certain foreign policy stances. Of particular interest was the current state of affairs regarding the treatment of rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran. What kind of threat do they pose to the US and their allies?
At the end of the seminar Mr Weed was kind enough to explain how we can work as Interns with various governmental and non governmental public policy institutions.

Continue reading Bheko Dube–USAME Seminar

Interview with John Tower

On Sunday, the McCuistion Program on KERA aired a retrospective episode on Federal Government Debt, Credit Issues and Foreign Policy featuring the late Senator John Tower (from its first television program 20 years ago). An interview with Jim Hollifield is also featured.

Program overview:

Over the last 20 years the McCuistion Program has looked at various public policy issues that impact the United States. This 20 year retrospective focuses on three key areas that are presently at the core of American society. Looking back in history and going forward in time, key experts take us to the present credit crisis, and government boondoggle.

Berlin Wall

Dennis McCuistion begins with August 13, 1961 and the rise of the Berlin Wall. It was in the aftermath of the Berlin Wall coming down in November of 1989 that we taped our first television program featuring the late Senator John Tower. The Senator compares negotiating with the Soviets during the Cold War to playing chess, which he didn’t and poker- which he did. Ambassador Hank Cooper adds the behind the scenes story with President Reagan and the SDI program… President Reagan wouldn’t capitulate and Cooper says, ”Gorbachev went off and wrote Perestroika.”

Dr. James F. Hollifield, Director of the Tower Center of Political Studies at Southern Methodist University, gives us a very thorough history of Soviet collapse under its own weight of communism, and takes us to the Putin age of ”managed democracy”. We hear from Herb E. Meyer, author of a best selling and controversial video, the Siege of Western Civilization, who talks about Putin as a thug and predicts the coming Russian population diminishing to smaller than the population of Yemen.

China & the Federal Debt

Leaving the topic of Russia, Angelina Kwan, from Asia Pacific Cantor -Fitzgerald, takes us to China, ”China is a country of the future and views the US as a past and present trading partner.” Still our debt affects their position. The exact position of United States debt is dramatically chronicled by Dennis with a chart- held by audience members, extending across the studio. The chart shows that in less than 30 years our debt has gone from $1 trillion to $12 trillion and has quadrupled in less than 12 years from $4 trillion to present day.

In 1991 Dr. James Buchanan, Nobel Prize winner, joined us with a look at the impact of budget deficits. Congressman Ron Paul, R. Texas, expressed his concern about ”honest money”. And in 1995, Kay Bailey Hutchison joined us as well, addressing the issue from her perspective.

We meet David M. Walker, Former Comptroller General, who expresses his concerns with Social Security and Medicare promises that over the next 75 years will not keep up with payroll taxes and premiums. ”$40 trillion is what is needed and we have $0!” Steve Moore, Senior Economics writer for the Wall Street Journal tells us, ”70 to 77 million baby boomers will be retiring in the next 15 to 20 years”, a recipe for disaster if we continue on our present course. And Peter G. Peterson, Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations, and founder of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, talks about how this group can organize given the AARP and other venues, and the significance of this, as 1/3 of this retiring group have no savings, and depend almost entirely on social security and Medicare for their health benefits.

Credit Crisis

Banking comes in for its fair share with the late Charlie Pistor and other bankers taking a fun hit from Dennis on the credit crisis in the 80’s and now. Brian Beaulieu of the Economic Institute for Trend Research brings the economic situation to present day, calling California, ”the poster child for lunacy.” With 65% of the mortgages held there, interest only variable rate mortgages, and homeowners with no equity.

Fred Foldvary, Professor of Economics at Santa Clara University in California, who had predicted the current real estate ”depression”, leaves us with a future prediction- another credit crisis and recession coming up.

Yet, while some of the comments and conclusions made by a stellar cast of experts, this episode thoroughly examines the past, brings us solidly to the present and helps us more clearly understand the future. Thanks as always for joining us as we talk about things that matter with people who care.

Tower Center Happenings

  • 2010 Owens Conference 2.0: If you missed our conference on Mexico last week, (or were there) you still have an opportunity to participate! Pamela Starr, one of the conference participants, has launched a website with summaries of the panels, copies of the papers, and a space for discussion to continue. Click here to visit the site and continue the conversation. Here’s an opportunity to ask that brilliant question you had when Carole insisted that time was up.
  • Civil Rights Pilgrimage 2010: Each year, the Tower Center provides support for students to attend an eight-day bus trip through the American South’s civil rights landmarks. Tower Center Faculty Member, Dennis Simon, was one of the group leaders. Click here to read the students’ blog about the trip and see photos.
  • The Asian Studies Lecture Series presents Popular Accountability and Regime Resilience in Contemporary China, a lecture by Martin Dimitrov, Department of Government, Dartmouth College. Tuesday, April 6, 4:00-5:30p, in Room 158 of the Fondren Science Building. The event is open to the public.
  • Photos from last month’s events! (click on a slide show to see all photos)
    • Asian Studies Symposium (February 4-5, 2010)

    • Presidents Day Open House (February 17, 2010)

    • Doug Holtz-Eakin Luncheon (February 19, 2010)

    • Horn of Africa Symposium (February 22, 2010)

2010 Owens Conference

Join us for the upcoming Owens Conference “Challenges and Opportunities in Mexico”. The conference brochure can be found here.

You can now RSVP online using our new system /towercenter/files/register.html or you can RSVP directly to or by calling Spencer at 214-768-3954 or me at 214-768-1900.

We look forward to seeing you there.

From Drop Box

Welcome Oscar Morales Guevara

The Tower Center welcomes a new friend in our halls, Oscar Morales Guevara. Mr. Morales is the first Fellow in Human Freedom at the George W. Bush Institute. Since the Institute is not yet built, Oscar is in residence at the Tower Center.

Below are just a few of Mr. Morales’ accomplishments:

  • Organized and lead the Worldwide Mobilization Against FARC, February 4th, 2008, with 12 million marchers in over 200 cities in 40 different countries, with the help of 400,000 volunteers
  • Founder of Facebook group One Million Voices against FARC, the genesis of the Mobilization
  • Delegate Counselor at the One Young World Conference in London
  • Co-convener of the initial summit of Alliance of Youth Movements gathering over 20 youth movements and organizations from around the world that use technology and social networks to protest terrorism, violence, oppression and extremism, organized by, Facebook, Google, YouTube, MTV, AT&T, and the U.S. State Department
  • Speaker at social media/tech events such as the first Google Zeitgeist 2009/London
  • Advisor to Facebook and other media companies and organizations on the use of social networks to promote causes and principles
  • Executive President and Editor in Chief, One Million Voices Foundation, Colombia
  • Technology Advisor, SENA (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje), a Colombian educational institution training over 1.5 million young Colombians in technology at no cost
  • A professional civil engineer and educator in engineering, with a degree in Civil Engineering from Universidad del Norte de Barranquilla

We are looking forward to spending time with Oscar and working with him while he is here. When you see him around at Tower Center events, please be sure to give him a warm welcome.

External Links about Oscar Morales Guevara:

Recent Happenings

  • The Tower Center’s recent event The Somalia Crisis: Implications for the Horn of Africa and the World (2/22/2010) featured a panel of experts discussing critical issues in the region. Professor Theodore “Ted” Vestal, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Oklahoma State University provided a copy of his remarks:

    ”In 2010, the Horn of Africa is in turmoil. Every nation in the region is accused of violating human rights and deficits of democracy are widespread–as documented in the annual reports of the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch (among others). Hunger, disease, poverty, continuous internal strife, and international warfare have been the hallmarks of the Horn in recent times. All of the worst characteristics of the inhabitants of the Horn dominated interactions of governors and subjects: greed, avarice, distrust, ethnic and religious hatreds were rampant. With few exceptions the Horn is a worst-case scenario…. ”Click here for the full text

  • Healthcare Lecture Students in Dr. Kathleen Cooper’s Politics of Economic Policy class had a special treat on 2/18/2010. Douglas Holtz-Eakin visited the class and discussed healthcare policy. Holtz-Eakin served as Chief Economist of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors (2001-2002), director of the Congressional Budget Office (2003-2005), Director of Domestic and Economic Policy for the McCain presidential campaign, appointee to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, and is currently a health policy fellow at the Manhattan Institute and President of DHE Consulting, LLC. Read the SMU Daily Campus newspaper coverage of the visit.
  • Robert Jordan and Darab Ganji published “Revolution in Iran needs U.S. support” in the Dallas Morning News (2/12/2010). Both sit on the Tower Center Board of Directors. Jordan was U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2001 to 2003 and is now Diplomat-in-Residence and an adjunct professor at the Tower Center. Ganji is a political economist and guest lecturer at the Tower Center.
  • Jim Hollifield, Tower Center Director, gave the inaugural lecture at the new UNT Immigrant Research and Policy Center (2/10/2010).

Annette Strauss Internationalizing Dallas Event: Horn of Africa Panel

The Tower Center in collaboration with The Horn of Africa Peace and Development Center presents the 2010 Annette Strauss Internationalizing Dallas Event: THE SOMALIA CRISIS: Implications for the Horn of Africa and the World

The event will feature a panel of experts discussing critical Issues in the region such as Piracy, Failed States, A Haven for Al-Qaeda, and U.S. Responses.

Featured Panelists are:

  • Professor Hussein Adam, Associate Professor of Political Science, College of the Holy Cross
  • Mr. Saleh Gadi, founder and publisher of
  • Dean Ahmed Samatar, James Wallace Professor and Dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship, Macalester College
  • Ambassador Lange Schermerhorn, US Ambassador to Djibouti (1997-2000)
  • Professor Theodore Vestal, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Oklahoma State University

Join us Monday, February 22nd for a Reception at 6:30pm followed by the Panel Discussion at 7pm in McCord Auditorium, Dallas Hall, Southern Methodist University

Parking is available in E-Lot, D-Lot, and the Airline Garage (click HERE for a map)

This event is open to the public

For additional information, contact Carole Wilson at or 214-768-1900

Commentary: BRAZIL’S PRIDE AND EMBARRASSMENTS, Some impressions from a six-week visit

The following commentary was written by Seyom Brown, John Goodwin Tower Distinguished Chair in International Politics and National Security in the Political Science Department at SMU and Director of Studies in the Tower Center, following his recent visit to Brazil with his wife, Brookings Institute and Tower Center Fellow, Vanda Felbab-Brown

Brazilians, like Texans, love superlatives. And the country deserves them. The standard boasts: The Amazon moves the largest volume of water of any river in the world into the ocean and it is second in length only to the Nile. Brazil’s 3.3million square miles make it the 5th largest country. It has the most vibrant economy in Latin America; has paid off its debt to the IMF; is proud to be among the four BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), that Goldman Sachs identified as coming great economic powers; was one of the first countries to emerge from the global recession; and, according to the Economist, is on its way toward being the world’s fifth largest economy. A good part of this optimism comes from the country’s increasing role in the energy sector — driven by rising demand for its sugar-cane-based ethanol and major new oil discoveries off its Atlantic coast.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, himself a national icon with his rags-to-ruler story, is bragged about (he sustains an 80% approval rating) even by many who confess to have voted against him for fear that he was a Chavez-type hard-left populist. The former union organizer’s pragmatic fusion of the social service state with healthy market incentives for private entrepreneurship has earned him the respect of capitalists and socialists alike and made him the world’s most popular developing country leader.

Brazilians in the Amazon backwater areas as well as the cities pridefully point to the selection of Rio de Janeiro as the site of the 2016 Olympics as only a just reward for their country’s attributes and accomplishments, particularly under Lula. Similarly football (soccer) aficionados (are there any Brazilians who are not?) regard Brazil’s being selected for the 2014 football world cup competition as a natural, if belated, recognition of Brazil being the only team to win five world cups.

But there are blemishes tarnishing the country’s new-found luster that require more than a pre-Olympics polishing-up to prevent them from continuing to be major embarrassments. One is Brazil’s having risen to the top ranks of emitters of carbon into the atmosphere — right behind China (number 1) the United States (number 2), and India (number 3). Quite an accomplishment for a still industrializing country with very low population density and the world’s largest rain forest; indeed it has been the massive cutting and burning of the latter, depriving the world of the primary forests’ function of absorbing CO2, which has been Brazil’s most serious global misdemeanor. While I was slogging through the mud in some of these deforested areas, Brazilian diplomats were in Copenhagen fending off criticism and patting themselves on the back for their “progressive” forest conservation laws. Yes, there are laws regulating logging on the books, but their enforcement is problematical, due to understaffing and corruption; moreover, the laws as written still allow major deforestation to be undertaken by cattle ranchers in the name of economic development.

The most embarrassing blemish is the favelas–the neglected, violence-ridden, impoverished slum areas in the major cities, inhabited primarily by descendents of slaves the Portuguese imported from Africa, now largely under the control of drug lords. The worst of these ghettos — in terms of poverty, homicides, and drug dealing — are in Rio itself, where as many as 2 million of the city’s 8 million people are crowded into shanty-towns on the hillsides overlooking one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Paradoxically, many of the most “peaceful” favelas are those thoroughly controlled by the drug gangs, who have in some of them created quasi states of their own, providing social services and even dispute resolution processes. Visiting some of these to conduct interviews, my wife, Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown, and I (under escort of locals trusted by the kingpins) never felt personally threatened by the fact that about every tenth man on the street was carrying his own machine gun. Nor did the men in the town squares openly selling cocaine seem at all bothered by the presence a couple of gringos. The scene we became a part of was a microcosm of the macro socioeconomic situation of Rio in which the larger, relatively more affluent, community tolerates what is going on in the favelas (even the periodic gang wars), as long as the violence and open drug dealing don’t spill over into the glamorous streets and glistening beaches; and the drug lords acquiesce in the quasi “apartheid” of the city, as long as the officials of the city and state don’t try to seriously police the kingpins’ domains. This situation, conceptualized by my wife as a “perverse equilibrium,” is sustained by Brazil’s pervasive pattern of corruption operating at various levels of governance and politics, which is too complex to delineate in this brief sketch.

In short, Lula has much to be proud of about his country, as it prepares to show off “big time” during the Olympics and World Cup. And his country has much to admire about its leader, as he cuts a large, if somewhat disturbing, figure on the world stage, hosting and signing commercial deals with Shimon Peres one week and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the next, offering himself as a mediator in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, putting himself forward as the new leader of the nonaligned countries, championing special concessions for the late-industrializing countries in global efforts to control climate change, and lobbying for a permanent seat for Brazil at the UN Security Council.

But constitutionally prohibited from running for re-election, Lula has designated a successor, Dilma Rouseff. She lacks her mentor’s charisma (still “what Lula wants Lula gets”), and may not be as successful as he has been in deflecting the domestic and international spotlights away from the blemishes. Yet given Brazil’s increasing sensitivity to its reputation, wanting to be admired as an enlightened modernizing power, this exposure of what is not so good may be all to the good in the long run.