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A Growing Threat?

In today’s volatile political climate, ascertaining the truly important aspects of (frequently dramatized) news stories is a consequential challenge. Within reason, especially in print mediums, American news outlets successfully inform the public on current events. However, as dramatic stories attract more viewers, television news outlets, as well as newspapers and the like, frequently focus on sensational events, sometimes letting equally important, if less exciting issues, fall through the cracks. One of these less sensational issues is the United States’ growing competition with China.

Dr. Robert Sutter, a professor at George Washington University, came to OU early in April to discuss the United States’ growing competition and “whole-of-government pushback” against China. China is rapidly becoming one of the most powerful economies in the world, currently standing (with respect to GDP) second only to the United States. Many politicians in Washington on both sides of the aisle are concerned about the growth of the Chinese economy and the impact that it could have on America. In particular, China’s influence in technology is enormous, and, according to Dr. Sutter, their goal seems to be becoming the dominant force in technological development in the world.

This desire for dominance is significant on a number of counts. First, the U.S. military is highly reliant on the United States being at the forefront of technological innovation. A Chinese takeover of this arena could, without exaggeration, pose an “existential threat” to the national security of the United States. Second, if the U.S. loses its status as the dominant world economic power, the dynamics of world politics will dramatically shift.

Dr. Sutter concluded by saying that he believed that China poses a greater threat to the United States than virtually any other nation or challenge today. He argued that something needs to be done on this front – but only time will tell if our strategies are effective.

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The Arab World Today

I cannot, and will not, claim to be any sort of an expert on the Middle East. I had only a cursory knowledge of current challenges prior to attending an event, hosted by OU’s college of International Studies, in March of this year. Although I can’t say I know much, I do feel like I, at least, have some concept of how much I don’t know about the challenges currently facing the Arab world. Since 2010, their has been significant unrest across many nations in the Middle East as the populace rises up, demanding improvements from their leaders.

Unfortunately, change never comes easily. The rulers in the Middle East, by and large dictators, regardless of whether they claim that title, are unwilling to relinquish their power. This is not unique to them; unfortunately, their desire to retain as much power for as long as possible implies that the unrest shall continue for a significant period of time, with rulers using virtually any means necessary to retain their authority. On the topic of authority, power comes, first and foremost, from money. And virtually all of the money in the Middle East is somehow tied to oil. The most economically powerful countries are tightly connected to the oil, often attracting the best workers from across the Middle East. A significant portion of the high incomes that can be earned in these countries is sent back, helping to keep the poorer countries running smoothly. Somewhat surprisingly, foreign governments are often responsible for keeping dictators in power, providing them with desperately needed funds. All this is to say, for the leaders currently in power in the Arab world, money is the essential ingredient to power retention.

Although there are still many significant problems facing the Arab world today, there are signs that things may be improving. And according to the speaker, the less involved foreign governments are in the affairs of the Middle East, the more rapidly change will occur. He does not believe that the Arab spring is spring – rather, he argues that it will be carried through until things improve in the Middle East.

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Canadian Strife

I would argue that, as in many other situations, many people think that governments in other countries are immune to many of the challenges are government and political system face. Corrupt officials are exposed, we frequently disagree with where our nation’s leaders are taking the country, and we seem to be constantly facing some new scandal. Although we imagine that “the grass is greener” in other countries, that’s just not really the case, as the scandal that has been rocking Canadian politics shows.

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, came into office with a message of change – promising that he would “change politics.” [1] Now, a powerful Montreal-based oil company, SNC-Lavalin, is accused of using bribery to obtain government contracts and is currently facing a criminal case. In spite of the seriousness of these charges, it appears that Trudeau and/or senior officials in his government pushed for a comparatively minor punishment of fining SNC-Lavalin rather than pursuing a criminal case against them. If convicted of criminal charges, SNC-Lavalin would be barred, by law, from receiving government contracts for 10 years. As has come to light, Trudeau and other high-ranking officials feared that this result would cause the loss of many Canadian jobs. The government’s interference in this case has resulted in the resignation of multiple members of Trudeau’s cabinet and continues to hound the Prime Minister as he heads into the next election cycle.

This story seems to highlight the universal nature of the problems experienced by governments across the world. The specifics may vary from place to place, but the overarching problems and challenges remain. Will these ever change? I can’t say – all I can do is hope that a better understanding of all nations and their challenges, and not merely our own, will strengthen my convictions and help us all contribute to a stronger society in the future.

[1] NBC News article

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Cultural Immersion (Even in Norman)

After my first experience studying abroad, the importance of being immersed in different cultures has been pushed to the foreground of my thinking. In particular, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to fully appreciate a language without also having at least some concept of the culture associated with it. The OU German Club provides many excellent opportunities for students who study German to learn more about the culture itself. Just this semester, I was exposed to one of Franz Kafka’s most famous works, “The Trial” for the first time in a dramatic reading, in part sponsored by the German Club. I also had the opportunity to attend “Die Zauber Flöte” (“The Magic Flute”), an opera by Motzart that was promoted by the German club. In addition, the German Club organizes weekly meetings at a local restaurant (Stammtische), where any student can go, eat, and (of course) speak German.

I believe that these events, and others like them, have significantly increased my appreciation for and desire to learn the German language. It’s not merely a matter of comprehension, I wish to be able to read, understand, and fully appreciate German art and literature (as I can already appreciate German food without the language). Although I probably won’t be able to take more German in the near future, I hope to use the opportunities that are available to continue to immerse myself, to such a degree as I can, in the culture and develop my language fluency.

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