News reports today suggest that Iraqi forces are making progress in re-taking the Mosul Dam from Islamic State (IS) forces while Ukrainian forces are moving into the rebel-held town of Luhansk. Both are significant developments, if confirmed. The Gaza ceasefire ends at midnight, in just a few hours.

In Iraq, the press has put the emphasis on the risk of flooding should the Mosul Dam be breached.  IS was unlikely to indulge that fantasy while its forces held Mosul, which would suffer the most. The interesting thing about the operation to retake the Mosul Dam is the American involvement, justified on the basis of protecting critical infrastructure (and the US embassy in Baghdad).

That could cover a good deal more American engagement, which is likely to be successful so long as it has effective fighting forces on the ground to take and hold territory. So far I am detecting little domestic American opposition to attacking the IS, which represents a serious threat to US in interests both in the Middle East and at home. Another important development would be Sunni tribes rising against IS, which is being reported (but not yet in the US press).

In Ukraine, Kiev’s army appears to be making headway in the east, where rebels are reportedly in sometimes drunken disarray. That could bring more blatant Russian intervention, which has been surreptitiously growing over the last week. But Russian President Putin’s intentions remain foggy. He won’t want to see the insurgents routed, but he may be willing to cut a deal for more autonomy for the Donbas region. Crimea, which Russia has annexed, is already costing him a bundle, and pro-Russian sentiment in Donbas has proven much less vigorous than in Crimea. Some think Putin’s Novorossiya day dream is coming apart at the seams. The latest round of sanctions appears to have given Moscow pause.

The effort to negotiate a more permanent ceasefire in Gaza appears stalled, with Israel insisting on demilitarization of Hamas and Hamas insisting on ending the Israeli blockade. There is a deal to be had there: one that opens Gaza to trade but verifiably blocks weapons and materiel headed for weapons maufacture as well as tunnels and the like. European and Egyptian cooperation will be vital to making it feasible. The Palestinian Authority will need to be given a serious role in monitoring cross-border transfers. Other issues, like release of Palestinian prisoners re-arrested after the killing of three Israeli teens, apparently also remain unresolved.

Even in the absence of a deal by tonight’s midnight deadline, the Gaza war is unlikely to return to its previous intensity, as neither side at this point seems to think it can gain much from risking its main forces. Mutual counteroffensives–rocket barrages from Gaza and Israeli bombardment from sea and air–could however start up again. That will be most unwelcome to Gaza civilians, who face an astounding reconstruction challenge. Hamas is going to have a hard time maintaining its popularity once the fighting ends definitively. Something similar seems likely in Israel. Netanyahu, who gained politically during the war, will have a hard time explaining what was gained.

I can’t say peace is breaking out all over. But there are prospects in Iraq and Ukraine for setbacks to recent offensives. In Gaza, a decent outcome is possible, but only if Israel and Hamas eventually reach an agreement that goes far beyond their past ceasefires.


Peace picks August 18-22

A quiet mid-summer week in DC:

  1. Symbolic Nation-Building in Croatia from the Homeland War to EU Membership Tuesday, August 19 | 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm Woodrow Wilson Center, Fifth Floor; 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND Drawing on a recently published Strategies of Symbolic Nation-Building in Southeast EuropeVjeran Pavlakovic will analyze the nation and state building strategies of the Croatian elite since the country attained independence, following the Homeland War, 1991-1995. In his presentation, Pavlakovic will focus on the role of contested narratives and commemorative practices related to the wars of the 20th century in the political arena.
  2. History Impedes Future Progress in Northeast Asia Tuesday, August 19 | 2:00 pm – 5:30 pm Heritage Foundation; 214 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND The US and its allies face growing security threats in Asia from North Korea and China. Given these challenges, it is critical that trilateral US-Japan-South Korea relations remain strong. Yet Tokyo-Seoul relations are strained due to a difficult legacy of historical problems. What are the challenges to reconciliation and what steps can Japan and South Korea take? What role should Washington play to redirect attention toward common allied objectives?
  3. Africa Development Forum Event: A Discussion with YALI Fellows Tuesday, August 19 | 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm Barbaricum; 819 7th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND Through the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellowship Program, 500 of the continent’s most promising young leaders followed a six week academic program at some 20 US colleges and universities. Selected YALI fellows are remaining in the US after their program to participate in internships in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Please join the Africa and the Youth in Development Work Groups for a lively discussion with several of the YALI fellows on their Fellowship experience to date, their thoughts on its impact on US-Africa Relations, and their expectations when they return to their home country.
  4. The Ukraine Crisis and Russia’s Place in the International Order Wednesday, August 20th | 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; 1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND For over two decades, the US and Europe have been trying to integrate Russia into the international order. This post-Cold War strategy yielded some success, but has now come crashing down over following Russia’s aggressive turn and the ensuing crisis over Ukraine. Brookings will host a discussion on what Russia’s foreign policy turn means for the international order and for U.S. foreign policy. Thomas Wright, fellow with the Project on International Order and Strategy (IOS), will moderate a conversation with Brookings President Strobe Talbott, Senior Fellow Clifford Gaddy of Brookings’ Center on the US and Europe (CUSE) and Susan Glasser, editor at Politico Magazine.
  5. The Border Crisis and the New Politics of Immigration Thursday, August 21 | 11:00 am – 12:30 pm Heritage Foundation; 214 Massachusetts Ave., NE, Washington, D.C. REGISTER TO ATTEND The crisis at our southern border is intensifying. President Obama’s failure to faithfully administer our immigration laws has handcuffed our border agents, jeopardizing the lives of those we entrust to maintain security and stability in the area. Just as troubling is the unprecedented wave of unaccompanied minors crossing the border from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Unfortunately administrative amnesty and talk of comprehensive immigration reform have only escalated the situation. So, what steps should we take to alleviate this crisis?

Keeping it nonviolent

The events in Ferguson, Missouri have reminded me of events in Cambridge, Maryland forty years ago. I stumbled recently on this piece my Freshman year roommate (Tom Howe) and I published in the Haverford Twopenny Press (an alternative student mimeographed broadsheet) on May 15, 1964.  At the time, Cambridge, Maryland was on what was called the Delmarva Peninsula (I didn’t hear “Eastern Shore” until many years later, when it was desegregated and gentrified). George Wallace was the segregationist Governor of Alabama, serving the first of four terms. Delmarva, despite its geographic location, was very much part of the deep South and thoroughly segregated.  

Cambridge, Maryland

Monday, May 22, the civil rights demonstration season opened in Cambridge, Maryland. The newspapers have covered the event with their usual modicum of accuracy. We fear, though, that newspaper accounts of radical demonstrations are being mass-produced in gingerbread-tin minds. In an effort to preserve the uniqueness of this demonstration and to remind students that each protest is a new chapter in the revolution, we present this eyewitness account of the proceedings in Cambridge Monday.

On the way to Pine Street, the main street of the Negro section, the Swarthmore veterans of last summer’s work in Cambridge pointed out the landmarks. On this side of Race Street is the white section. On that side, the Negro section. The division was accented by the groups of National Guardsmenat each corner along Race Street. On Pine Street, we stopped at Elks Hall, the scene of the mass meeting to be held at the same time as Governor Wallace’s rally.

After listening to some of the speeches at the mass meeting, about forty students walked in small groups toward the volunteer fire department hall, where Governor Wallace was to speak at 8:00. Group after group of students was turned back by four men tending the door. The rally, which had been publicized for days as a public gathering, had suddenly become closed to those without invitations. Repeated appeals for admission were met with increasingly surly replies. We were told there was no room, that we had to have invitations, and that we were not wanted. Students from Haverford, Swarthmore, Penn State, the University of Delaware and the University of Georgia stood about thwarted and angry. Demonstrations are forbidden in Cambridge under the modified martial law instituted over nine months ago.

When we returned to Pine Street, the mass meeting had left Elks Hall. Led by Gloria Richardson and Stanley Branche, the crowd of about a thousand changed and sang as it turned toward the hall where Wallace was still speaking. The unified rhythm of such a crowd is irresistible. Your voice joins other voices until there is one voice. Your hands clap until they are not your hands, and you have a thousand hands. We marched, our feelings were in step.

At Race Street, the National Guard drew the line. We were in the middle of the crowd, so we could not see what had happened, but everyone understood. They had stopped the walking, but not the march. The feelings were there, and growing stronger. We sang.

Then the Guard made its first attempt to disband the crowd. A tear gas bomb popped over the heads in front. Everyone took a few frantic steps, and the shout went up, “Everyone down.”

I looked up. For the first time, I saw the Guardsmen. Their bayonets fixed, gas masks on and rifles half-lowered. In those seconds of first seeing the soldiers I learned what newspaper articles and pictures could never say. Only direct experience imparts the flesh and blood, technicolor reality of those men and their bayonets.

We were not granted time to contemplate what we saw. A truck loaded with Guardsmen drove up quickly behind the demonstrators in a second attempt to scatter them. The crowd had been powerful when it was a walking, singing wave. Sitting down, it was a solid wall. The truck met that wall and stopped. Moments later, the perplexed driver backed up as demonstrators banged on the front of the truck.

Brigadier-General George M. Gelston made the next dramatic attempt to disperse the demonstrators. He stood in a jeep and talked into a PA system. He might as well have been in a silent movie. He moved his lips meaninglessly as we sang.

A minute later, the singing stopped. Gloria Richardson, Chairman of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee, stood where the Brigadier-General had stood before. Talking into the same PA system, she told the demonstrators that they would have to return to Elks Hall because there were too many children in the crowd. The leadership was not going to dey the Nation Guard with civil disobedience if children were going to be hurt.

We returned without the same rhythm of the forward march. Yet this was not a defeat. Our own leader, not the National Guards, had turned us back. Many of the hands that had clapped before were now clasped together. They were still strong hands.

The students left during the meeting in Elks Hall. We heard John Lewis, head of SNCC, and Stanley Branche, head of the Chester Committee for Freedom Now, instruct the demonstrators to leave their children at home and bring their dignity. When we left, it was clear that there would be another demonstration in Cambridge. One prepared for civil disobedience. Four hours later we picked up the Inquirer in Philadelphia. 250 had marched and been tear gassed.

We learned in Cambridge what we could not have learned in the Haverford Library. Outside of the hall where Wallace spoke, we saw the ugliness and the fear of the racist. Marching, we felt what meant by “we shall overcome.” Sitting, we could not be moved. Knowing these realities, we no longer doubt why people march, why people sing, and why people sit in a street to be tear gassed. The direct action protest is an assertion of the dignity and rights of man. Anyone who knows the dignity and rights of man will participate in direct action protest.

Where international help likely won’t arrive

France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States Wednesday denounced the growing violence in Libya, where armed groups are going at it with increasing intensity.  The Western powers rightly say the violence threatens Libya’s transition and suggest it may breach international humanitarian law, as it targets civilians.

The question is:  are they going to do something about it? The newly seated Libyan parliament asked this week for international peacekeepers. That is not going to happen.  None of the countries denouncing the violence is ready to intervene. Nor will the UN, which will want a political settlement first.  It deploys once there is a peace to keep, not before.

Egypt and Algeria, Libya’s most powerful neighbors, might like to see a dictator back in charge in Tripoli and the Islamists crushed, but neither will be willing to take the risks associated with making it happen. The UAE is believed to be paying for some of the anti-Islamist “dignity” campaign of Khalifa Hiftar in Benghazi, but he has been less than fully successful.

That’s the problem in Libya: despite two relatively good elections since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, its Islamists and non-Islamists are still struggling for predominance.  The government has little capacity to establish law and order. The city-based revolutionary brigades, most notably Zintan allied with the non-Islamists and Misrata with the Islamists, are fighting for control over the vast patronage that Libya’s oil revenue enables. Everyone fears being excluded and even destroyed. People with existential fears fight hard for survival. The government continues to cut checks for 260,000 “revolutionaries” on all sides of the chaos, no more than 20% of whom actually engaged against Qaddafi during the revolution.  It is too frightened of the people it is paying to cut them off.

The Libyans need what neighboring Tunisia now has:  a political pact that eliminates the existential threats its many factions now think they face and moves their disputes from a violent arena to a political one.

No one but the Libyans can reach such a pact. But the internationals can and should help. The UN mission in Libya is the right organization to reach out to the Islamists, who think they have the most to fear from disbanding militias and consolidating the state’s monopoly on the legitimate means of violence. Some of the Islamists are extremists associated with terrorist organizations of one sort another, but there can be no political settlement without them, because they’ll spoil it if one is attempted. The Western powers will need to stand aside and allow the UN to do the difficult work of trying to entice the Islamists into a political discussion and eventually a pact that will allow transfer of the conflict into nonviolent means.  Neighboring Tunisia did this successfully on its own, but Libya lacks the union and civil society organizations that brought the Islamists and non-Islamists to an agreement in Tunis.

Getting there may take time. The brigades seem far from exhausted. Only when they are convinced they will be no better off by continuing the fighting than by reaching an agreement will they be amenable to stopping. This “ripeness” is difficult to predict. It might be accelerated by Egyptian and Algerian pressure or UAE funding, but it is easy to picture the current situation persisting for another year or more, with catastrophic consequences for many Libyan civilians. But they are not a minority crowded onto a mountaintop surrounded by nut-job extremists and threatened with genocide.  They will have to fend for themselves.

After Maliki

Iraq’s prime minister for eight years, Nouri al Maliki, has done as the United States and Iran wanted and stepped aside, in favor of his sidekick Haider al Abadi. What now?

Abadi’s problem is the same as Maliki’s. He needs an agreement with the Kurds and Sunnis that will bring him their help as well as international assistance in fighting off the Islamic State, which has occupied something like one-third of Iraq. It is not hard to imagine what they want:

  • the Kurds want to get assurances that the money they are entitled to get from Baghdad and the oil they want to export will flow unimpeded;
  • the Sunnis want more autonomy for the provinces in which they are a majority, along with increased clout in Baghdad;

These things have to be provided while satisfying Abadi’s own constituency:

  • the Shia want a central government in Baghdad that can protect them from the Islamic State.

The Americans, who have been parsimonious in providing assistance to Baghdad while Maliki was in place, will likely now loosen the purse strings, provided Abadi can convince them that he can reconstitute at least part of the Iraqi security forces and get some units out front ready and willing to fight. Abadi will be tempted to rely on Shia militias, as Maliki did. Washington needs to try to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The Kurds are already getting American weapons and training. It is an interesting question, one I was asked on an Al Rudaw (Kurdish) talk show this week, whether the US has made its assistance conditional on Kurdistan not moving towards independence. I really don’t know, but the fact that the US is not allowing a tanker carrying Kurdish oil to off-load in Texas suggests the answer is yes. Certainly Washington is trying to send two messages:  yes, Kurds, we love you and want you to fight the Islamic State; no, Kurds, we don’t think you should be sovereign and want you to stay in Iraq. But the latter may be whispered, or even implied, rather than stated.

Sunnis in Iraq have put themselves in a bind. They have supported an Islamic State takeover that will impose conditions many of them won’t like. But if they wait to rebel, it may well be too late. Many Afghans welcomed the Taliban initially, failing to understand how extreme and cruel they could be. They found themselves turning to warlords who were almost as bad as the Taliban. Something similar might happen in Iraq, where the Saddamists may be the only viable alternative to the Islamic State. But they, too, are almost as bad (some might think worse). Abadi really needs support of the type the Americans managed to cajole and buy in 2006/7 from the Sunni tribes in Anbar in order to fight the Islamic State and block Ba’athists from trying to recapture power.

But at the same time he needs somehow to maintain Shia confidence that he is not giving away their birthright. Maliki, if he stays in Iraq, will be sniping from the rear. He remains the caretaker prime minister until Abadi is approved in parliament (within 30 days) and presumably holds some sway within his own State of Law faction. Moqtada al Sadr and Ammar al Hakim, the leaders of the other main Shia factions, may take pot shots as well. The Iranians will be pressuring Abadi, as will the Americans. While they may pull in the same direction when it comes to fighting the Islamic State, and even in opposing independence for Kurdistan, they are likely to disagree on the relationship of the Sunnis with the Iraqi state.  Iran wants an Iraq in which Sunni power is clearly circumscribed, not one in which the Sunnis have a substantial degree of autonomy in the provinces and clout in Baghdad.

So Abadi has his work cut out for him. But Iraq now at least has a chance to start a new chapter of a long and difficult saga.


Resolve or manage?

The most recent crisis in Gaza has forced the international community to ask what alternatives can the Palestinian leadership offer to Hamas’ violence? What future does Israel want for its people and its relationship with Palestinians? Should we reconsider whether resolving this conflict is a real priority for governments in the region or if it is just an arena for proxy conflict? Last week, Brookings hosted “The Gaza Crisis: No Way Out?” to address these issues and the dynamics of the long-standing conflict. Martin Indyk, former US Special Envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, Khaled Elgindy, previous advisor to the Palestinian leadership, and Natan Sachs discussed the policy options and regional implications of the current situation.

Indyk discussed the current relationship between the US and Israel and the chronic nature of the conflict. The US has criticized Israel for its blatant disproportionality in this war. There are now apparent strains in the strategic relationship, which survives due to deeply rooted ties and support by many in the US.

However, Israel is a different country than it was thirty years ago. It is now economically and militarily strong and has relationships with other powers beyond the US. New alignments with China, India, and Sunni monarchies in the Arab world have allowed Israel to play the conflict in a different way. According to Indyk, it is not that Israel no longer needs the US, but it now feels more independent of the US than ever before.

Elgindy discussed Palestinian Authority President Abbas’ role in the most recent Gaza conflict. This crisis is the third in six years. Each has marginalized Abbas further. He has had little to no success in advocating peaceful dialogue. Palestinians have come to ignore him because of the lack of results. They choose to pay attention to Hamas.  While many did not vote for Hamas, nor do they share its ideology, Hamas’ approach—as painful as it can be—produces results in their eyes. Because of this Abbas has gradually shifted closer to Hamas’ approach rather than the other way around, while both Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have openly embraced Hamas and the resistance.

The US should therefore make peace with the Palestinians as a whole rather than dividing approaches between Gaza and the West Bank. This will allow Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to work together rather than forcing the leadership to take the most effective and violent approach. Hamas knows that there is no chance to open the border in Gaza without a role for the Palestinian Authority, while at the same time the Palestinian Authority desperately wants a role in Gaza. Abbas has been trying to reassert his relevance. This could ultimately be a win-win situation for both sides.

From the Israeli perspective, Sachs stated that Netanyahu wanted to avoid this conflict in Gaza. The original hope was simply to contain the unrest. It has now escalated into a painful and drawn-out battle.  Netanyahu believes that Hamas dragged Israel into this mess. Thus, Hamas is just as much at blame for the large loss of civilian lives and destruction over the past month.

According to Indyk, Netanyahu has rediscovered Abbas. The Palestinian Authority forces have remained loyal to him. His peaceful behavior over the last month makes him a serious player.  Israel is beginning to sense this, strengthening the idea of a two-state solution in the future. Elgindy advised the international community to empower Abbas by including Hamas under the umbrella of the PLO. This would allow them to have a stake in the political process in order to prevent regression in future talks.

Elgindy also pointed to the fact that the US has focused almost exclusively on conflict resolution to the total neglect of conflict management. This is a mistake. The US should reconsider Israel’s use of disproportionate force in warfare, which is not a legitimate way to conduct military operations.

Indyk concluded that there should not just be a focus on crisis supervision, but rather a stable balance between management and resolution. In the end, all parties must come together in working with the UN and the international community on humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Gaza.

  RSS feed