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100 U.S. troops deploying to take on LRA

The late breaking story this afternoon is that around 100 U.S. troops will be deploying to four countries in Central Africa to assist local military forces in tracking down Joseph Kony, leader of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army.  President Obama explained the decision in a letter to House Speak John Boehner:

For more than two decades, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa. The LRA continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security. Since 2008, the United States has supported regional military efforts to pursue the LRA and protect local communities. Even with some limited U.S. assistance, however, regional military efforts have thus far been unsuccessful in removing LRA leader Joseph Kony or his top commanders from the battlefield. In the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, Public Law 111-172, enacted May 24, 2010, the Congress also expressed support for increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.

In furtherance of the Congress's stated policy, I have authorized a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield. I believe that deploying these U.S. Armed Forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa.

According to the letter, the first of the troops arrived in Uganda on Wednesday. It also specifies that "although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense."

The announcement is actually a bit less than meets the eye. As the Nation's Jeremy Scahill notes, there's been pretty close cooperation between the U.S. and Ugandan miltiaries -- particularly in Somalia -- for some time now. Obama signed the "Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act" back in 2010. And even before that, there were reports of the U.S. providing assistance to anti-LRA operations by the Ugandan military. 

It's interesting that Obama chose to inform Boehner "as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution". This seems like a far less significant military operation than this year's airstrikes in Libya, which the administration continued after 60 days despite never receiving Congressional authorization under that resolution. Does this mean that the White House will eventually have to ask for authorization for the mission, or does the LRA Disarmament Act preemptively cover that?

In any case, a coalition of human rights groups including the Enough Project and Invisible Children have already praised the move:

"The deployment of these advisers demonstrates that President Obama is on the right track, and that he's taking seriously the calls from hundreds of thousands of young Americans that want to see an end to the senseless LRA violence once and for all,"  said Ben Keesey, Executive Director of Invisible Children.

Also worth a read today is Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth's piece from our "Plan B for Obama" package last November, which argued that "would reaffirm that mass murder cannot be committed with impunity. And it would show that, despite the difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the humanitarian use of force remains a live option at the Obama White House."

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

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Decline Watch: Ivy League universities are now India's safety schools

In its seamless blending of globalization, "rise of the rest,"  and the gnawing anxieties of upper middle-class American parents, the New York Times piece which arrives just in time for college admissions season comes pretty close to hitting the NYT trend story sweet spot. (All it needs is an animal and a health trend to achieve ultimate most-emailed status.):

NEW DELHI — Moulshri Mohan was an excellent student at one of the top private high schools in New Delhi. When she applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any ambitious teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia. 

But because of her 93.5 percent cumulative score on her final high school examinations, which are the sole criteria for admission to most colleges here, Ms. Mohan was rejected by the top colleges at Delhi University, better known as D.U., her family’s first choice and one of India’s top schools.

“Daughter now enrolled at Dartmouth!” her mother, Madhavi Chandra, wrote, updating her Facebook page. “Strange swings this admission season has shown us. Can’t get into DU, can make it to the Ivies.”

Ms. Mohan, 18, is now one of a surging number of Indian students attending American colleges and universities, as competition in India has grown formidable, even for the best students. With about half of India’s 1.2 billion people under the age of 25, and with the ranks of the middle class swelling, the country’s handful of highly selective universities are overwhelmed.

This summer, Delhi University issued cutoff scores at its top colleges that reached a near-impossible 100 percent in some cases. The Indian Institutes of Technology, which are spread across the country, have an acceptance rate of less than 2 percent — and that is only from a pool of roughly 500,000 who qualify to take the entrance exam, a feat that requires two years of specialized coaching after school.

Decline watch: Like I said, this one's going viral because, like Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, it feeds into the fears of American parents that they're not doing enough to prepare their kids to compete with a massive influx of smart kids of India and China. But the real story here is that India doesn't have enough elite educational institutions to meet the demand of its qualified students. The fact that students like Moulshri are willing to pay$41,736 per year for Dartmouth instead of $500 for an Indian school says a lot. 

See Ben Wildavsky's Think Again: Education for more on this topic.