On the Edge: Toward public policy and personal action that is visionary, effective, courageous, and compassionate.
Welcome to a place for exploring insights and solutions to the public problems that test our times. This space is where I hope there will be discussion, co-learning, collaboration and—I hope—organizing actions. Your comments are welcome after each piece. Some of my own views come from fifteen years in the US Foreign Service, most of them spent way off the beaten track. Some come from my career since then as an activist, coach and mentor to activists, and President of Giraffe Heroes International, moving people to stick their necks out for the common good. — John Graham
Donald Trump has just sent a carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf, warning that a fight with the United States would "be the official end of Iran." Do you trust that Trump and the inexperienced sycophants around him can make the sophisticated judgments needed to stay on the knife edges he creates without falling off? As a former Foreign Service Officer, I know I don't. Have you read enough history to know that a single assassination in...more
Keep your eye on the ball. President Trump's performances with Kim Jong Un are not the biggest game in town. The foreign policy pot most likely to explode in the near future is not North Korea. It’s Iran.
As a former US Foreign Service Officer who has traveled in that country—and who was once even jailed there as a spy a half-century ago—I'm mindful that Iran aka Persia has always been, continues to be, and has every right to be a...more
The memorials for George H.W. Bush remind us that this country has produced leaders of unfailing courage and integrity who tried hard to do the right thing no matter what the personal consequences. The reaction of Donald Trump and his acolytes to the brutal murder of American-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi—and the Saudi cover up—is the latest example of how far we’ve fallen from that standard.
Secretary of Defense Mattis and...more
I’m a white guy who went to a private Jesuit-run prep school and then to an Ivy League college. At the prep school, an “in” crowd, mostly the sons of the city’s business and social elite, controlled the social pecking order, played on the sports teams, hosted exclusive parties, and bragged about their sexual conquests. And there were the nerds, like me, who had no part in any of that.
The “ins” knew that when they went too far, their...more
Take a step behind the discussions on guns, misogyny, and the anger and loneliness that are driving men’s addictions and suicides. Time after time, in that dark place, I see men struggling to communicate or even acknowledge their emotions, men wanting but failing to form positive relationships with other men, men whose fathers were emotionally AWOL, men who grew up without good role models for what it means to be a brave, caring and...more
Why is the AR-15 the weapon of choice—not just for mass murderers but for law-abiding gun owners as well?
As most people know by now, an AR-15 is a semi-automatic variant of the M-16 rifle used by American combat soldiers in Vietnam. “Semi-automatic” means you have to pull the trigger once for each shot, limiting a shooter of average skill to about four shots a second. Adding a cheap, widely available “bump stock” doubles this rate...more
If Sandy Hook didn’t lead to change, why should Parkland? Blogger Umair Haque makes a strong case that teen discontent, welling up from much more than school shootings, may spark the changes that nothing else has.. I don’t see things as bleak as Haque does. But his essay pushed me to think in a way that nothing else post-Parkland has. Reprinted from Medium Daily Digest:
I like Jeff Flake a lot. He’s the Republican senator from Arizona who just published Conscience of a Conservative, a slashing, no-holds-barred critique, not just of Donald Trump and his administration, but also of the Republican Party for selling out its principles to support Trump.
I share very few of Flake's arch-conservative principles.
I like Jeff Flake because of something that happened 11 years ago. George Bush had...more
As an Eagle Scout and lifetime supporter of Scouting, I’m appalled by the unhinged speech Donald Trump gave to the National Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on July 24.
Scout jamborees often invite distinguished citizens to speak and the best of them deliver stirring calls for Scouts to live out the personal and civic values of their organization, calls laced with enough inspiring personal stories to keep the boys looking up...more
Some Trump voters now justify their votes by saying they just don't "trust" Hillary.
Yup, I get that. I didn't and don't trust her much either. I also think that she was asleep at the switch in Benghazi (but not a criminal). She was way too beholden to Wall Street and way too oblivious to Main Street.. She ran an incompetent campaign and let the DNC deliberately undermine the campaign of her primary opponent. She totally misread the...more
The report from heads of American intelligence agencies has confirmed the obvious: Russia deliberately tried to influence the outcome of the American election in favor of Donald Trump. The agencies’ report found no evidence that the Russians tried to electronically change vote totals; they were content to mess with our heads, and in that, they did quite well.
I find complaints about these Russian actions by some US leaders laughable....more
At a time when it seems almost naïve to expect public figures to act with transparency, compassion and courage, I vividly remember one who did. I worked for John Glenn, then a Senator for Ohio, for a brief time in the late 70’s as an adviser on foreign policy. He became an icon to me, not so much for what he did as a politician or even as an astronaut, but for who he was as a human being, a man whose simple decency transcended just about...more
Tom Ewell, guest blogger
This droll account by my friend Tom Ewell of his love-hate relationship with computers and social media sounds so, so familiar. Read this especially if you know who Adlai Stevenson was, if you Tweet less than twice a week and if Medicare is your current or soon-to-be best friend.more
Investigations are still ongoing in Orlando but it seems that the professed allegiance to ISIS by the shooter, Omar Mateen, was more a detonator than the charge itself. What exploded inside the Pulse nightclub was a volatile mix of rage and instabilities that had been building in the man for a long time. The siren call of radical Islam, coming over the Internet, added an ideological justification, a sense of divine mission and membership into...more
Tom Ewell, guest blogger
I’ve been uneasy that the praise heaped on Muhammad Ali over the last week has been so uncritical, simplifying the story of a much more complicated man. Quaker writer/activist Tom Ewell reminds us that there were times when Ali was no saint, yet rose to become the icon of courageous truth-telling and civil disobedience we honor today. Ewell's eulogy acknowledges the full length of Ali's difficult and brave journey.—John Graham.
Defeating ISIS will not be simple and we must not think it will be. The challenge is stupefying in its complexity, involving, among other things, the split between Sunni and Shia Muslims, a bitter history of Western interventions including blowback from America’s war in Iraq, overlapping power struggles today among at least six nations, the ongoing political chaos of the Middle East, unrelenting poverty and social and political decay...more
In late March, I helped Nana Darkwa set up Giraffe Heroes Ghana (GHG), the newest affiliate of Giraffe Heroes International. GHG will find courageous Ghanaians working for peace, then tell their stories to the nation, inspiring others to follow their leads. The purpose is to help ensure that November's highly contested elections here will be free, fair and non-violent. Part of the work was a...more
ISIS attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have heightened fear around the world. If ISIS are vicious sociopaths, then why do so many people see them as saviors? Why are so many young Muslims in so many countries joining ISIS? Unless and until we understand who they are and why they join, we can't provide counter narratives that can disrupt the ISIS recruiting process. So who are these recruits?
It was an honor to represent my country at the United Nations for three years, despite the organization's blatant hypocrisy, a condition that has only gotten worse.
With votes from countries, like the US, in thrall to its oil blackmail, Saudi Arabia has just been named Chair of the UN's Human Rights Council.
Saudi Arabia!! Saudi Arabia is the base and financial support for Wahhabi Islam, an extremist sect that empowers both al...more
Amazon’s high-pressure business model should make us think, not just about the directions the retail world may be taking, but about our personal lives and how we choose to live them. A controversial New York Times article by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld is sharply critical of the high-stress culture that drives Amazon. According to the authors, Amazon is super successful--the world's largest retailer--not just because its...more
If we don’t understand what makes ISIS tick we’ll never be able to defeat it. To view ISIS as simply a determined army of vicious psychopaths is a significant mistake. ISIS is far more complicated than that, in its origins, philosophy and strategies.
ISIS is an ultra-puritanical interpretation of Islam that traces its roots back 1300 years to early decades of the religion, when the prophet Muhammad and a small band of...more
John A. Graham
[from the Blog: On the Edge] In 1972, I was US Advisor to the City of Hué, South Vietnam. Some evenings, especially if the day had been difficult and dangerous, I would drive a few miles outside the City to an ancient pagoda called Linh Mu. There I would sit at this very spot on a wall overlooking the Perfume River where I would meditate, or at least try to absorb some of the calmness of the river, the temple bells, and the monks sweeping...more
John A. Graham
President Obama has announced the resumption of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, good news that I have a particular reason to welcome. It wasn’t that the US has lacked opportunities to do this. We could have at least begun the process thirty-five years ago. I was there, and this is the story you will not read in any diplomatic archive.
The story begins in Iran...
In November 1979 the staff of the US Embassy in Teheran...more
John A. Graham
Who says that ordinary Americans can’t make a difference? Last week, a few hundred frightened, insular people in Oklahoma City got millions of Africans scratching their heads about just how stupid Americans can be.
The story may have been tucked into page 10 of your newspaper or newsfeed but I saw it all over the front pages in Nairobi:
As the opportunity of a lifetime, 24 kids from an orphanage choir in Kenya had come to the...more