Opinion

David Rohde

Talk for now in Syria, but prepare to arm

David Rohde
Feb 24, 2012 00:52 UTC

REYHANLI, Turkey – Here on the border between Turkey and Syria, evidence abounds that Bashir Al-Assad is winning.

Despite widespread rumors, no organized effort is under way to arm rebel fighters. The opposition “Free Syrian Army” remains a poorly equipped and loosely organized militia unable to stop a Syrian army still loyal to Assad. At the same time, a sectarian conflict between Assad’s ruling Allawite minority and Syria’s Sunni majority is intensifying.

In northern Syria, Sunni and Allawite villages have divided into pro- and anti-government enclaves, according to fleeing refugees. At checkpoints, government security forces order people to pray to the country’s Allawite leader. If they refuse, they are deemed Sunni subversives. And Sunni army defectors say Allawite officers threatened them with execution if they refused to fire on demonstrators.

“I had to do it,” a remorseful 24-year-old Sunni soldier who defected this week told me. “If I don’t fire, someone will kill me.”

At Friday’s “Friends of Syria” meeting in Tunis, the United States and its allies should demand cease fires that would allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged enclaves. And they should pressure the predominantly Sunni Syrian opposition to unify, gain firmer control of rebel fighters and more aggressively court Allawites, Christians and other minorities to join them.

What job creation looks like outside Washington

David Rohde
Feb 16, 2012 22:47 UTC

RALEIGH-DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA — In two small, unassuming offices here, Bob Robinson and Eric Buckland are quietly making heroic efforts to help the American middle class. But American capitalism — and the American government — serve them both poorly.

The two men, the small businesses they painstakingly nurture and the difficulties they encounter are on-the-ground examples of the broad economic challenges the United States faces. Their stories do not present easy answers. Instead, they put the lie to Republican and Democratic orthodoxies regarding economic growth.

Start with Robinson. He is the executive director of the Raleigh Business & Technology Center, a primarily government-funded effort to help the poor and middle-class residents of southeast Raleigh start small businesses. The center — and the neighborhood it calls home — shows how a high-tech boom that has made Raleigh-Durham the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S. nonetheless misses large segments of the population.

The university as job laboratory

David Rohde
Feb 10, 2012 01:40 UTC

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA — At the age of 17, Holden Thorp placed fifth in a nationally televised Rubik’s cube competition on the ABC show That’s Incredible! At 24, he received a doctorate in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology after studying for three years instead of five. And at 43, he was named chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, becoming one of the country’s youngest university presidents.

Today, Thorp is trying to turn this 29,000-student public university into an engine of economic innovation. A business owner who has twice launched $25 million pharmaceutical startups, Thorp has streamlined the process for faculty members to turn their discoveries into private companies. He has made “entrepreneurship” a minor for all undergraduate students.

And Thorp has co-written a book, Engines of Innovation: The Entrepreneurial University in the 21st Century, with the university’s “entrepreneur in residence” — a former venture capital banker. It calls for the top 125 U.S. research universities to revitalize the American economy.

Mitt and the middle class

David Rohde
Feb 3, 2012 02:32 UTC

Mitt Romney’s declaration that he wasn’t concerned about “the very poor” was lampooned by Republicans and Democrats alike this week. But his next statement in a CNN interview is the one that could determine the fate of his candidacy.

“I’m concerned about the very heart of America,” Romney said, adding later: “My focus is on middle-income Americans.”

With astonishing speed, the 2012 presidential election is becoming a referendum on how best to help the American middle class. So far, Romney’s solutions are likely to be far more pleasing to the Republican base than the general electorate.

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