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Think COVID has stunted growth? Try 30 years of conflict.

Readers are stunned at what 12 months of COVID have done to US children. Imagine how a generation of Iraqis have fared under our wars.

Analysis | Middle East

The New York Times reported this morning that the pandemic reversed 20 years of progress in reading and math among elementary school students in the United States. Commentators emphasized the dire effect this would have on life prospects for these children and, by implication, the American economy at an especially challenging moment in its history. 

These are easy to imagine. The structure of the labor market increasingly demands greater computational and literacy skills; upward financial and social mobility hinges on successful navigation of this market. And administrative states, such as the U.S., require these skills in the labor force for effective governance, let alone national defense. So, the impact of the pandemic on education and therefore on the nation’s future will be profound.

This awful news should help Americans better understand the effects of violent conflict and economic sanctions on countries around the world. Their populations have been battered by the equivalent of terrible pandemics every year. When we observe political instability, a shattered middle class, high poverty rates, and poor economic performance in say, Iraq, it is easy to blame these conditions on intrinsic social defects. 

While cultural factors might play a role, they are difficult to define and nearly impossible to measure.  Other, secular factors, especially the destruction of educational systems and psychological and nutritional effects on children who grow up to participate and shape their countries’ lives can be observed and quantified. 

The Iraqi educational and public health systems have been under severe stress since the first Gulf War.  Following that short sharp conflict, the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq that compounded and prolonged the effects of the war itself. Scarcity, inflation, diminished administrative capacity, bouts of renewed fighting severely damaged schooling and children’s health.

The second Gulf War and the civil war it triggered finished what the first war and twelve years of sanctions started.  The proverbial lost generation is now responsible for their country’s well being. But traumatized by war and poorly educated, they are not especially well-equipped for this momentous task.  Scholars have documented similar correlations between educational shortfalls due to conflict and sanctions and adverse political and economic outcomes further down the road. The Quincy Institute has documented the demolition of Syria’s educational and public health delivery systems by war and sanctions. 

As we in the United States cope with the longer-term effects of a single pandemic on American children, we should think about the consequences for war torn and sanctioned societies of educational deprivation for, among other things, political stability. The costs of conflict and message sending via damage to the minds and bodies of children can be extremely high. 

Children who fled the escalating violence in the southern part of Iraq share a small house with relatives in Turaq. 04/07/2011. Erbil, Iraq. UN Photo/Bikem/Flickr
Analysis | Middle East
The Ukraine War at two years: By the numbers


KYIV, UKRAINE - July 12, 2023: Destroyed and burned Russian military tanks and parts of equipment are exhibited at the Mykhailivska square in Kyiv city centre. (Oleksandr Popenko/Shutterstock)

The Ukraine War at two years: By the numbers

Europe

Two years ago on Feb. 24, 2022, the world watched as Russian tanks rolled into the outskirts of Kyiv and missiles struck the capital city.

Contrary to initial predictions, Kyiv never fell, but the country today remains embroiled in conflict. The front line holds in the southeastern region of the country, with contested areas largely focused on the Russian-speaking Donbas and port cities around the Black Sea.

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Navalny's death shouldn't close off talks with Putin

A woman lays flowers at the monument to the victims of political repressions following the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, Russia February 16, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

Navalny's death shouldn't close off talks with Putin

Analysis

President Biden was entirely correct in the first part of his judgment on the death of Alexei Navalny: “Putin is responsible, whether he ordered it, or he is responsible for the circumstances he put that man in.” Even if Navalny eventually died of “natural causes,” his previous poisoning, and the circumstances of his imprisonment, must obviously be considered as critical factors in his death.

For his tremendous courage in returning to Russia after his medical treatment in the West — knowing well the dangers that he faced — the memory of Navalny should be held in great honor. He joins the immense list of Russians who have died for their beliefs at the hands of the state. Public expressions of anger and disgust at the manner of his death are justified and correct.

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Big US investors prop up the nuclear weapons industry

ProStockStudio via shutterstock.com

Big US investors prop up the nuclear weapons industry

Military Industrial Complex

Nuclear weapons aren’t just a threat to human survival, they’re a multi-billion-dollar business supported by some of the biggest institutional investors in the U.S. according to new data released today by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and PAX, the largest peace organization in the Netherlands.

For the third year in a row, globally, the number of investors in nuclear weapons producers has fallen but the overall amount invested in these companies has increased, largely thanks to some of the biggest investment banks and funds in the U.S.

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Israel-Gaza Crisis

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