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'The Rock' Reps U.S. Army-Licensed Clothing Line

Military chic is so hot right now. It was only a matter of time before the actual military caught on.

Last week, Elle informed its readers that military inspired style was making a comeback -- in the words of the magazine, "North Korea chic." Thanks to the good people at the Authentic Apparel Group, average Joes can now stay on trend with a new U.S. Army-licensed clothing line available exclusively on Zappos.com. It's the first time the U.S. Army has extended its brand to an original line of consumer clothing and, surprisingly, it doesn't disappoint. Neither does its spokespersonmodel: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who has signed on as the public face of the clothing line.

For now, the 42-item collection is limited to menswear, and includes pants, shirts, sweaters, hoodies, jackets and coats. According to Authentic Apparel, each garment was individually approved by the U.S. Army, ensuring that the clothing line meets the rigorous standards of the largest and oldest branch of the U.S. military. In other words, these clothes are rugged enough  to withstand even The Rock's rough-and-tumble lifestyle (he does most of his own stunts, you know). 

Most of the items in the line -- bomber jackets, khakis, henleys, etc. -- originated as military uniform, but are now common to civilian wardrobes. In an ironic effort to render them more "authentic," the company added field and dress details like kevlar threading and epaulets. The occasion underscores both the public's boundless appetite for military-inspired garb, and the surprising extent to which military accoutrement has already been absorbed into popular culture.

Wristwatches, for example, were a military tool during World War I, when the U.S. Army used them to synchronize precision attacks (they were easier to consult than the more ubiquitous pocket watches). Similarly, RayBan aviators were designed for U.S. Air Force pilots in the 1930s, as a way to prevent headaches and altitude sickness caused by sun glare. They became a household a name two decades later, when Hollywood's leading men adopted them as an accessory. Trench coats were developed for the British Army in the 19th century, and took their name from the grimy trenches in which soldiers fought and died during World War I. Even the iconic Burberry trench has military roots: In 1901, Thomas Burberry submitted to the British War Office an officer's raincoat design made with his own proprietary water-resistant fabric.

And khakis, now a staple of casual menswear, were a product of colonial India. In 1846, a British district officer in charge of a troop in Peshawar realized that the soldiers' white cotton uniforms proved easy targets for snipers. So, his troops began dying their uniform with tea (or mud, depending on whom you ask), to better blend in with their surroundings. Ten years later, the Magistrate of Meerut, a city in Utter Pradesh, adapted this discovery and formed the Khaki Risala, or ''Dusty Squadron.'' Since then, khaki has trickled down to every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The U.S. Army has licensed all kinds of products, including electronics, toys, and camping gear, but this is its first notable foray in fashion (hopefully not the last). While some soldiers might turn up their noses at the notion, there is an upside for them: By federal law, licensing fees from all branded products must benefit the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Program, which provides social and educational services to soldiers, retirees, and their families. For some, that may be a pleasing alternative to lining the pockets of high fashion designers, whose military-inspired peacoats and trousers aren't even sewn with kevlar thread.

PRNewsFoto/Authentic Apparel Group

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Who Is the Shadowy Sultan that Shepherded the Nuclear Deal With Iran?

For the past several weeks, the world's attention has been fixed on a Geneva luxury hotel where Western negotiators and their Iranian counterparts have flitted in and out in search of a deal to end the stand-off over Tehran's nuclear program. But the real action, it turns out, took place 3,000 miles away in the Omani city of Muscat.

Working through the Sultan Qaboos-bin-Said, the ruler of Oman, U.S. diplomats have secretly huddled with a team of Iranian diplomats since 2011 to carry out bilateral talks aimed at securing an agreement to put the brakes on Iran's nuclear ambitions. While negotiations in Geneva appear to have generated all-important consensus among Western powers, the meat of the agreement looks to have been hammered out in Muscat, far from the prying eyes of the international media gathered in the Swiss city.

That subplot -- secret negotiations carried out in a little-known Middle Eastern capital known for the production of exceptionally aromatic frankincense -- has added a level of subterfuge to what is already one of the biggest diplomatic developments in recent memory. That a landmark nuclear deal could be worked out in secret is perhaps not surprising but it does cast the spotlight on the man who shepherded the agreement. Just who is Sultan Qaboos?

Writing for Foreign Policy, Robert Kaplan described the sultan as arguably "the most worldly and best-informed leader of the Arab world." The rare world leader who plays the organ and the lute, Qaboos is a quiet, highly competent steward of his small Middle Eastern nation. An Anglophile, Qaboos was educated in Britain -- the elite Sandhurst officer's school, after which he served in the British Army.

Qaboos, an 8th generation descendant of the founder of the royal line of Oman, overthrew his reactionary father in a bloodless coup in 1970, and since then he has cemented Oman's role as a key bit-player on the world stage. Following the example of his ancestors dating back several centuries, he has maintained good relations with the United States. A diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks revealed that in 2009 Qaboos offered his services as "as both an organizer and a venue for any meeting the U.S. would want with Iran -- if kept quiet." American diplomats clearly took the sultan up on his offer -- or a similar one shortly thereafter -- and the announcement in Geneva serves to highlight the ways that a little-known politician can be instrumental in a major diplomatic breakthrough.

And there's good precedent for Qaboos's orchestrations. By helping secure the release in 2011 of three American hikers captured in Iran, the sultan proved that he was a man that could deliver results. And, as early as this summer, rumors of Oman's role in the nuclear negotiations with Iran began to surface. Those talks began with mid-level diplomats and, beginning in March of this year, shifted to include a group of high-ranking officials hand-picked by President Barack Obama.

Qaboos, an understated and somewhat frail man with a neatly-trimmed silver beard, is known for his careful, calculating style of foreign policy. In a world where the United States and Iran are in opposite corners of the ring, Oman has remained neutral, and its leader poses for photo-ops with the same broad smile -- be it with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani or former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In 1979, Oman was the only Arab state to recognize Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, and by the following year, Qaboos inked an agreement with the United States that provided American ships and planes access to Omani military facilities. But despite cozying up to the United States, Qaboos has managed to remain an effective intermediary with Iran. 

"The vulgarity of Dubai and the brutality of Iran are simply not his style," writes Brian Whitaker, a former Middle East editor for the Guardian. Instead, the sultan has managed to navigate the treacherous waters of Middle East politics with a quiet grace. According to Kaplan, both Israelis and Palestinians see Qaboos as a man fully aware of their perspectives and grievances. This elegant balancing of the bloody conflicts that plague the region have allowed Qaboos to position himself as a key diplomatic go-between for Western powers. The fact that he also has a highly respected symphony orchestra and composes his own music only adds to the mystique of Qaboos as a kind of Middle Eastern Renaissance man.

But even if he has an air of cultivation, there is no getting around the fact that Qaboos is a despot, if an enlightened one. During his 43 year-rule, he has modernized the country's infrastructure, improved the education system, worked towards expanding women's rights, and implemented regulations protecting the environment. But the sultanate has very limited freedom of press and virtually no freedom of association. Political freedoms are minimal, and the sultan retains absolute authority. Though the country saw a few sporadic protests, Oman largely avoided the turmoil of the Arab Spring. Protesters claimed they were not standing up against the widely-admired sultan, but other "corrupt officials." The demonstrations resulted in a wave of arrests of human rights' activists, however, which were part of a broader crackdown on dissenters against the ruling class. 

Since then, the protests have died down, but now the country faces a more immediate problem. Though briefly married to his cousin, Qaboos is single, 73, and without an heir. The lack of a successor raises questions about the long-term viability of the current regime. Oman's neighbors are asking the same question. When Oman unmasked a spy ring run by United Arab Emirates, among the issues the spies were gathering information on was the question of Qaboos' heir. Unhappy with Oman's neutral stance toward Iran, it's a question of deep importance to the UAE.

If the Emirates ever needed a confirmation of Qaboos' influence, they got it this week in Geneva.  

MOHAMMED MAHJOUB/AFP/Getty Images