Countering violent extremism

Last week’s Countering Violent Extremism White House Summit triggered many events on the subject around town. Matt Melino, a SAIS student in my post-war reconstruction and transition class, summarizes one held at CSIS last week:

Host
• Bob Schieffer: Chief Washington Correspondent, CBS News, Anchor, CBS News “Face the Nation”

Panelists
• Farah Pandith: Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, First-Ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities, US State Department
• Nancy Youssef: Senior National Security Correspondent, The Daily Beast
• Juan C. Zarate: Former Deputy National Security Adviser for Combating Terrorism, Senior Adviser, CSIS

Juan Zarate noted that the White House wanted to address the issue directly by gathering representatives from around the world. This deviated from past efforts where the US was hesitant to talk about this sensitive topic. Now it is recognized as a long-term challenge. Farah Pandith pointed out that conference is different from the approach President Obama took after his inauguration, when in his speeches in Ankara and Cairo he told the Muslim world he wanted to work directly with them. In 2015, the issue of violent extremism is a global phenomenon and Muslims need to help lead the effort to combat its spread. This includes not only governments, but also local communities and the private sector. Nancy Youssef raised the issue of using the term “Islamic.” The concern is that this will play into the hands of the extremists, who are anxious to frame the issue as a battle of Islam versus the West.

Zarate noted that the US is fearful of offending its allies or describing the threat as a war on Islam. This was evident in former President George W. Bush’s speech in October 2005 when he said

some call this evil Islamic radicalism, others militant jihadism, still others islamo-fascism. Whatever it is called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam, this form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent political vision.

President Obama is struggling with the same issue. The problem is, without publically recognizing the Islamic underpinnings, how do you defeat it?

Nancy Youseff added that the region as a whole is also struggling with the problem. The Mosul campaign conducted by ISIS is very similar to the one al-Qaeda in Iraq conducted against US troops in 2005 and 2006. We can continue to fight extremist groups with military force. But a solution will prove elusive if practices such as poor governance, and prison structures where jihadists mix and are then released to put into practice the lessons they learned in prison, continue.

The panelists acknowledged that extremist ideology is succeeding in the real world. Individuals realize they can have a strategic impact and therefore take it upon themselves to conduct acts of terrorism. Examples include the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the recent attacks in Denmark. So long as ISIS exists in Syria and Iraq, the messages it projects will continue to attract youth and the ideology will continue to spread. New hot spots are emerging. Human rights abuses include the use of child soldiers and sexual slaves, as well as the emergence of polio in Western Pakistan and the desecration of cultural heritage. The US has not figured out a way to react effectively to these developments.

The panel then discussed the appeal of the ideological message. Farah Pandith explained how there is an identity crisis among the global population under 30, many of whom have grown up with the words “Islam” and “Muslim” on the front page of news outlets. This has a profound impact on how they think about themselves. Young Muslims ask questions such as why a family dresses a certain way, or prays a certain way. The loudest and clearest answers come from extremists, who provide an identity young people understand. It is not about being rich or poor, educated or not, but how individuals feel about themselves.

We are failing to connect the dots of this phenomenon. We have become so fixated on a particular region and particular countries that we are missing the global impact. A boy in the Maldives can publicize an idea online and a girl in Denver picks it up and says “that makes sense to me.” And thus starts the spread of potentially radical ideas.

The panelists concluded by discussing what we should do moving forward. All three agreed that we should amplify credible voices in civil society to counteract the ideological narrative and the jihadist movement as a whole. The problem with efforts to this point is they haven’t been taken to scale. Perhaps the Summit can be the trigger that gathers the funds, builds the connections, and spurs the larger countermovement. A persistent effort is required at the community level. Efforts cannot come in fits. There needs to be a constant drum beat all day, every day to proactively pull kids away from extremist ideology. This will be uncomfortable, but it is what is needed.

Audio of the event is available.

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Peace picks February 23-27

  1. Authorizing Military Action Against ISIL: Geography, Strategy and Unanswered Questions | Monday February 23 | 2:00 – 3:00 | POMED / Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | For the first time in his Administration, President Barack Obama has submitted to Congress a formal request for additional authority to use military force. Is his draft Authorization for Use of Military Force against ISIL “alarmingly broad,” as The New York Times worries, or a narrow set of handcuffs? Does it empower the Presidency or create—as Senator John McCain put it—“535 Commanders-in-Chief”? From different angles, many ask: Does the proposed AUMF reflect sound law and sound strategy? Join experts from the worlds of war, law, and Congress to discuss how legislators can shape national security strategy while guarding their constitutional authority to declare war. Speakers include Lt. General David Barno, former First Commander for Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan and currently Senior Fellow, New American Security, Hon. Jane Harman, Director, President and CEO, The Wilson Center and former U.S Representative , and Jeffrey H. Smith, former General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency. The event will be moderated by Jim Sciutto, Chief National Security Correspondent, CNN.
  2. Turkey’s Asian Agenda | Tuesday February 24 | 12:00 – 1:30 | German Marshall Fund | Since its inception, the Republic of Turkey has been an Asian country with European aspirations. In the face of global trends that have shifted geopolitics from West to East, Turkey is perfectly positioned to capitalize on its central location as the G-20 chair and host in 2015. In recent years Turkey has transformed itself into a globally ambitious player with relationships with Asian giants such as China, India, and Japan. Balancing these relatively new relationships with its historic allies in the West along with regional rivals such as Iran and Russia has become an area of increasing interest, bringing several questions into focus: Is it possible to talk about a Turkish “pivot” to Asia? To what extent does Turkey have the capabilities to turn ambitions into results? Does this shift necessarily imply or result from Ankara’s distancing itself from the European project? Join the German Marshall Fund for a timely discussion on Turkey’s Asian agenda in 2015 and beyond. The discussion features Altay Atlı, Lecturer, Boğaziçi University and Dr. Joshua Walker, Non-Resident Transatlantic Fellow, Asia Program, German Marshall Fund of the United States. Introductions by Barry Lowenkron, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, German Marshall Fund of the United States.
  3. What Works? Promoting Gender Equality and the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 in Military Operations | Wednesday February 25 | 10:00 – 12:00 | Elliot School, George Washington University | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The year 2015, marks the 15th Anniversary of the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 which established the women in peace and security agenda. One of the most challenging areas to advance implementation is where it is most needed – within military institutions. With a view to the 2015 anniversary and planned high-level review of the implementation of Resolution 1325, this event convenes experts who will discuss gaps in implementation, what works, and what should be done going forward. The panel discussion will include Commandant Jayne Lawlor, Gender, Equality and Diversity Officer, Irish Defence Forces, Charlotte Isaksson, Gender Adviser, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, NATO, Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, President, Women in International Security, Robert C. Egnell, Visiting Associate Professor and Director of Teaching, Center for Security Studies, Georgetown University and Aisling Swaine, Professor of Practice of International Affairs, GW. Continental breakfast will be served at 9:30.
  4. Unpacking the ISIS War Game: Preparing for Escalation | Thursday February 26 | 12:30 – 2:00 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The current US strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS has achieved important tactical successes, but Washington is still far from achieving its stated goals. Even more, the strategy has not yet been fully tested by ISIS. However, events on the ground over the past few months suggest that the likelihood of escalation on the part of ISIS is increasing. Conventional as well as terrorist attacks by ISIS in Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon suggest that it may be only a matter of time before the movement attacks core US strategic interests in the region. An off-the-record, high-level war game recently conducted at the Brent Scowcroft Center’s Middle East Peace and Security Initiative challenged US strategy by analyzing two hypothetical scenarios in which ISIS resorted to escalation. How can Washington and its allies and partners in the coalition better prepare for these contingencies? The Atlantic Council invites to a discussion with Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., Chairman, Atlantic Council, James E. Cartwright, Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Bilal Y. Saab, Senior Fellow for Middle East Security, Atlantic Council and Julianne Smith, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for a New American Security. The event will be moderated by Gideon Rose, Editor, Foreign Affairs.
  5. War in Syria and Iraq: Effect on the Kurdish Issue in Turkey | Thursday February 26 | 2:00 – 4:00 | Emerging Democracies Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Conflict in Syria and Iraq has entered a new phase after the latest escalation of violence by the Assad regime and ISIS. More than 200.000 have been killed in Syria and hundreds die in Iraq every month since the emergence of ISIS last year. Turkey remains a critical actor for the future of the Kurdish political entities in Iraq and Syria as both countries have sizeable Kurdish populations on parts of territory bordering Turkey.  The successful defense of the town of Kobane in Northern Syria by joint Kurdish forces against the invading ISIS has once again underlined the importance of Kurds as credible actors in the new Middle East. Turkey on the other hand has acted quiet reluctantly in delivery of military and humanitarian support to the fighting Kurdish forces.  Public protests against Ankara’s passivity shook the towns in Eastern Turkey and forced the Davutoglu Government to allow for the Peshmerga to cross over to Kobane. The on-going secret negotiations between the PKK and Ankara are at a critical junction as they are about to go official. Possible peace deal between Ankara and the PKK could be a big step forward in consolidating democracy in Turkey. This panel discussion features Doga Ulas Eralp, Professorial Lecturer, American University, Mehmet Yuksel, Washington D.C. Representative, Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), Mutlu Civiroglu, Journalist and Kurdish affairs analysts and Nora Fisher Onar, Fellow, Transatlantic Academy of the German Marshall Fund. The panel will be moderated by Reuf Bajrovic, President, Emerging Democracies Institute. The participants will discuss the impact of the wars in Syria and Iraq on the Kurdish peace talks in Turkey along with Turkey’s changing calculations in the Middle East.
  6. Inside the Iran Nuclear Negotiations | Thursday February 26 | 6:00 – 8:00 | Washington Institute for Near East Policy | RSVP to link@washingtoninstitute.org by February 23 | On September 27, 2013, Iran and the United States engaged in direct conversation for the first time since 1979. President Obama and President Rouhani agreed there was a basis for a nuclear deal. But, nearly a year and a half later, a final agreement still seems elusive. The deadline for talks has already been extended twice, with the new deadline set for March. Each side has something to lose if a deal is not made — Iran faces further crippling sanctions and the United States risks a nuclear Iran. Can Iran and the P5+1 overcome their differences to arrive at an agreement with one month to spare? Join LINK as Congressman Ted Deutch and Lane-Swig Fellow Michael Singh provide their insights into the Iran nuclear negotiations. Congressman Deutch is a member of the Democratic party, while Mr. Singh served in a Republican administration.
  7. The Arab Spring@4: What Next? | Thursday February 26 | 6:30 – 8:00 | Project for the Study of the 21st Century | REGISTER TO ATTEND | To celebrate the launch of its PS21 MIDEAST blog, the Project for Study of the 21st Century and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy bring you a discussion on a region in flux. Four years after the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the Middle East appears as stable as at any point in recent history. What went wrong, what might happen next and what, if anything, can the United States do to influence events? The discussion will feature Sidney Olinyk, former chief of staff, Mideast policy, Department of Defence and current member of the PS21 International Advisory Group, Ari Ratner, Senior Fellow at New America Foundation and Nancy Okail, Executive director, The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
  8. An Effective P5+1 Nuclear Deal with Iran and the Role of Congress | Friday February 27 | 1:00 – 2:30 | Arms Control Association | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Negotiators from the P5+1 and Iran are racing to try to conclude a political framework agreement for a comprehensive, long-term nuclear deal to block Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons by the end of March, with technical details on a final deal to be ironed out by the end of June. Over the past year, Iran and the P5+1 have made significant progress on long-term solutions on several challenging issues. At the same time, key members of Congress are threatening to advance new Iran sanctions legislation and set unrealistic requirements for a nuclear deal. The Arms Control Association will host a special press briefing featuring a former member of the U.S. negotiating team, a former professional staff member of the House intelligence committee, and Arms Control Association experts on the status of the negotiations, the likely outlines of a comprehensive agreement, and the the appropriate role for Congress. Speakers include Richard Nephew, Program Director, Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and former Principal Deputy Coordinator for Sanctions Policy at the Department of State, Kelsey Davenport, Director of Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association, and Larry Hanauer, Senior International Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation. The discussion will be moderated by Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association.
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Libya: the difference between east and west

I spent the better part of an hour Thursday on an Al-Arabiya program discussing Libya.The main issue was US and British resistance to lifting the UN arms embargo. The anchor questioned why Washington and London are so concerned with weapons falling into the “wrong hands” and whether that problem can’t be solved by transferring them only to the Libyan army under close supervision. I said I thought the Americans want to see some progress toward unifying the government authorities first. I got this email this morning from a Libyan, which I think merits airing:

I am watching a TV program. Even if I may agree with some of your views, what concerns me is the confusion you have about the reality in Libya. You and others get their information from politicians who have been out of Libya for decades and have lost touch with reality. You do not make distinctions between what happened in the eastern part of Libya and the western part.

In the east there is an army. It is a small number but it is on the ground and fighting all kinds of terrorism (Islamic factions and ISIS) as well as those who are really just gangs of outlaws.  I and other Libyans in the east do not understand how the West has denied the Libyan army weapons because of fear that those weapons may fall in the wrong hands. There are no wrong hands. There is an army and there are gangs.

In the western part of Libya there are many factions, militias, gangs, and some of the remaining of Qaddafi army. In fact you can say there is a war among all those factions. It is really a civil war.

As for the government, it has been formed by a freely elected parliament, whether we agree with its decisions or not. Many in the West ignore or do not realize that Islamists, and their allied militias, lost the election. The forming of the Libyan army will cause those militias to vanish gradually. The Islamist faction denies the presence of ISIS in Libya and insists that the government has been formed by Qaddafi’s followers.

Forming a national unity government is a nice idea, so long as there is a power that will protect citizens and enforce the laws, enabling the government to work. That power is a state army, which already exists in eastern Libya, but there are diplomats who see only what they want to see. This is our country and we will defend it with all means.

The West started this process in 2011 but you did not finish your assignment. Your countries have a moral responsibility toward the Libyan people to assist in establishing democracy and securing for the nation growth and development again.  For this you need to recognize the very important difference between what is happening in the eastern and the western parts of Libya. If you make this distinction, your judgment will change.

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Libya and Yemen: forgotten civil wars resurface

C-SPAN2

A C-SPAN recording of the event can be accessed here.

While the conflicts in Syria and Iraq may be making most of the headlines in the Middle East recently, the conflicts in Libya and Yemen still simmer under the surface. On Wednesday, a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution, moderated by Daniel Byman, sought to revisit these conflicts. The panel was timely, in light of recent escalation of violence in both countries.

The discussion was kicked off by Carnegie’s Frederic Wehrey, who recently returned from a visit to Libya. The renewed conflict there, he argued, is an aftershock of Gaddafi’s legacy of divisive politics, which the post-2011 transitional government failed to overcome. The civil war has now turned into a conflict between two large coalitions: the anti-Islamists in Tobruk and the Islamists in Tripoli. However, the real dividing line is not between Islamists and anti-Islamists, but between elements of the old order and revolutionary forces. Both camps have engaged in demonization of their opponents, polarizing the political environment.

At the same time, the coalitions are facing fragmentation, which is both encouraging and worrisome. While fragmentation allows for identification of moderates supportive of a peaceful solution, it also opens up the possibility of spoilers that could undermine the ongoing peace process.

A particularly worrisome development is the rise of the Islamic State in the country. Jihadism has been a factor in Libya since before the revolution. A number of post-revolutionary jihadist militias have been formed – most notably the Al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Sharia. Anti-Islamist forces have now weakened Ansar al-Sharia, opening up space for ISIS recruitment, particularly among the groups younger cohorts.

If no peace deal materializes in the current round of Geneva talks, the international community needs to consider its options. One suggestion has been to cut off Libya’s state revenues – a significant portion of which is held in Europe. While this might be a powerful measure, as both sides rely on state revenues to fund their allied militias’ sophisticated weaponry, there is also the possibility of blowback in the form of further fragmentation, making European policymakers unwilling to move forward.

A UN force has also recently been floated, but large uncertainties remain, including the size of the required force. According to some estimates around 30,000 troops would be necessary. Meanwhile, intervention by Libya’s neighbors – most notably Egypt – would likely inflame the conflict rather than bring about a solution.

Ending on a cautiously positive note, Wehrey argued that there is a growing sense of exhaustion among segments of Libya’s population, resulting in emergence of pragmatists in both camps. Identifying and bringing these pragmatists into the national dialogue process is likely the best way to ensure that the conflict is peacefully resolved.

Yemeni blogger Sama’a al-Hamdani of Yemen-iaty provided a somber account of the recent developments in Sana’a. Yemen, which was only a few years ago compared to Tunisia as a success of the Arab Spring, is now increasingly being compared to Libya and Syria. According to al-Hamdani, the conflict is today playing out between the Houthi movement, a significant but uncoordinated Southern secessionist movement and remaining supporters of the outgoing Hadi government. Tribal actors and the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda are also playing important roles.

An important cause of the current conflict is the unjustified extension of the political transition, which cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Hadi government. Al- Hamdani also blamed Western governments for failing to engage Yemeni society beyond the government itself. As a result, they have no pan B. Going forward, al-Hamdani warned against isolating the Houthis since this would likely push them more firmly into the hands of Iran. Instead, the West should reengage with the authorities in Sana’a and push all parties to pursue a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Former ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, echoed al-Hamdani’s points, criticizing the policy failures of the West. A key failure of Western analysis is the tendency to frame Yemeni politics in a static pattern bound to misrepresent the country’s kaleidoscopic political dynamics.

Bodine also pointed out that the crisis in Yemen is not a failure of intelligence, since many of the events that have taken place since September were predictable. Rather, the crisis is a policy failure that resulted from single-minded pursuit of counter-terrorism objectives rather than broader political goals necessary to stabilize Yemen. If Washington is to play a constructive role in the country, it must go beyond its drone strategy.

Deputy director at Brookings’ Doha Center, Ibrahim Sharqieh, attempted to draw some parallels between the two conflicts. On a positive note, Sharqieh pointed out that the current levels of instability in Libya and Yemen were not entirely out of norm for transition processes at the early stage. The conflicts may still be contained before they turn into full-fledged civil wars. On the other hand, both conflicts have become self-sustaining. In Libya, the high number of displaced numbers almost a million in a country of six million inhabitants. The plethora of militias benefits from the continuing conflict.

Sharqieh also pointed out that spillover effects are giving both conflicts regional and international dimensions. In Libya, the recent involvement of Egypt is negatively affecting prospects for stability. Both conflicts also have the potential to disrupt oil markets: while Libya’s civil war has caused a drop in production to about one third of capacity, Houthi control of Bab al-Mandeb, the narrow straight linking the Red Sea with the Bay of Aden, may cause significant disruption of oil transportation from the Gulf.

In conclusion, Sharqieh argued that both countries suffer from legitimacy challenges. Uncertainty about who represents the parties to the conflict, whether it be the non-Houthi parties in Yemen or the Dawn coalition in Libya, has made negotiations more difficult. Moreover, in Yemen UN over-management of the process has weakened local ownership and thereby legitimacy of the transition process. Moving forward, the UN in Libya should take note of this lesson by leaving the parties with clear ownership of both the process and the implementation of a peaceful solution.

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Free Syria: better than local ceasefires

SAIS hosted at noon a launch event for the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) report on “Examining Syrian Perspectives on Local Ceasefires and Reconciliation.” Ellen Laipson (Stimson) moderated with Mohammed al Abdallah (SJAC), Craig Charney (Charney Research), Joseph Bahout (Carnegie Endowment) and me as panelists. These are my speaking notes for the event:

1. First let me join Ellen in lauding SJAC and Craig for their truly heroic and fascinating report. People in conflict zones have surprising perspectives. It is important they be heard.

2. I am a vigorous supporter of the Syrian opposition, but it should give us pause that regime-controlled areas report relatively good conditions and services while rebel areas are struggling to survive. Bashar al Assad is not entirely wrong when he claims to be providing a measure of security and government services, especially in Damascus and along the Mediterranean coast.

3. While conditions vary, there is an area of consensus: Syrians, who (importantly) continue to identify as such, support the idea of local ceasefires. But the reasons differ. Pro-regime people think local ceasefires will strengthen the regime’s grip and expel foreigners. Anti-regime people want relief.

4. Both want freedom of movement and the universal desire of people in conflict: normal lives.

5. The devil is in the details. I know something of local ceasefires, having worked on the Bosnian Federation—where the ceasefire between Croat and Muslim forces largely held—while the Federation was fighting the Bosnian Serb Army in 1994-95.

6. But I also can’t forget Srebrenica, where UN forces stood by while Serbs massacred thousands of Muslim men and boys. Local ceasefires that amount to surrender could look more like Srebrenica than any of us would like.

7. The key to local ceasefires is security for both sides. In the Bosnian Federation, the often criticized UN peacekeepers provided that security by manning checkpoints set up between the Muslim and Croat forces. At Srebrenica, the Dutch UN forces failed to do so.

8. The problem is that there are no peacekeepers, UN or otherwise, in Syria and little prospect for deploying them. I don’t know any serious country that would consider putting its troops into the current fluid and perilous situation, even if a local ceasefire can be negotiated.

9. Nor, judging from the Charney interviews, are Syrians prepared to see coordination between the opposing forces, which of course is vital even if peacekeepers were available. But let’s suppose FSA and regime forces were willing to coordinate. Spoilers from Jabhat al Nusra or the Islamic State would likely intervene in ways that would make it impossible to continue.

10. So the usual techniques for achieving and sustaining local ceasefires are not available in Syria.

What do we do?

11. Faute de mieux, I am thrown back on a Turkish idea: protected areas that opposition Syrian opposition would govern and non-extremist Syrian forces would guard on the ground while the US-led coalition ensures protection from air and artillery bombardment.

12. I hesitate to call these “safe areas,” as they would not be safe. They would be target-rich environments that the regime would attack unless prevented from doing so.

13. Nascent areas of this sort already exist, both along the Turkish border in the north and on the Jordanian border in the south. What needs to be done is to declare them, draw clear lines around them, protect them, and begin to weave them together into a Free Syria.

14. This idea is different from local ceasefires and reconciliation across the divide between opposition and regime. I just don’t think there is much basis, even in this fairly optimistic report, for believing there is sufficient trust to achieve much in that direction, even at the local level.

15. Sulha and musalaha, the traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, require—as does reconciliation in the West—acknowledgement of harm and willingness to compensate.

16. Anyone who can see in Assad’s recent interviews willingness to acknowledge and compensate for harm is reading more between the lines than I am able to do. Nor would the Syrian government have anything like the resources required to compensate for the harm it has done.

17. Of course protected areas have their downsides. They could lay the basis for ethnic or sectarian partition. They could lead to abandonment of less protected areas, increasing displacement. They could open the door to pushing refugees back into Syria. They would require serious, coordinated efforts at protection, both on the ground and in the air.

18. But protected areas might also give refuge from violence to hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of people. If established along borders in the north and south they would enable humanitarian relief to be far more effective and prevent it from being exploited by the regime, as is common today. They would provide opportunities for the relatively moderate opposition to demonstrate that it can govern and counter extremists effectively.

19. Opposition success would also remove an important reservation in the international community, which wants to know “what comes next.” This is important for the US, which has prioritized the fight against the Islamic State. It will only support efforts that have potential to aid that fight.

20. Gradually expanded, Free Syria areas could present Assad with a serious rival, creating the necessary precondition for a national ceasefire, peace settlement and political transition.

21. For me, those advantages outweigh the disadvantages, though I admit it is a close call.

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Peace picks February 17-20

  1. China’s Emerging Role in the Middle East | Tuesday February 17th | 9:00- 6:00 PM | USIP | REGISTER TO ATTEND | China’s emerging role in the Middle East is expanding in tandem with Beijing’s burgeoning economic, political, and to a lesser extent, military interests in the region. The Asia Conference on China in the Middle East will evaluate China’s nascent regional role, implications for regional security, the reactions of other regional actors and the impact on U.S. policy.
  2. Yemen and Libya: The Middle East’s Other Civil Wars | Wednesday February 18th | 9:00-10:30 AM | Brookings Institute| REGISTER TO ATTEND | The conflicts raging in Syria and Iraq consume most of Washington and the international community’s attention, but civil wars in Yemen and Libya have brought both countries near total collapse. Houthi rebels continue to gain ground in Yemen and the security situation continues to deteriorate in Libya. Thousands have died, and terrorist groups are gaining strength. The United States and its allies have not stemmed this instability even as the violence spreads.Bringing together a panel of experts on Yemen, Libya and the neighboring region, the conversation will raise questions about what can be done to stem the violence and what counterterrorism implementations can be made.
  3. The Escalating Shi’a-Sunni Conflict: Assessing Arab Public Attitudes| Wednesday February 18th | 9:30-11:00 AM | Stimson Center| REGISTER TO ATTEND | Sectarianism has been a driving force of conflict in the Middle East for many years. From Iraq to Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain, conflict and confrontations between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims are on the rise. The emergence of extremist groups such as Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State has further deepened this divide. Each of these groups claims to offer the correct interpretation of Islam. In this tense climate, how do Shi’a and Sunni Muslims in the Arab world view each other? Part of the conversation will present findings on religious tolerance, views toward the current governments, and the role religion should play in politics and international relations based on polling in Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. Speakers include: Ambassador Peter Galbraith, Michael Robbins, Project Director, Arab Barometer Neha Sahgal, Senior Researcher, Pew Research Center.
  4. Turkey’s Economic Transition and Transatlantic Relations | Wednesday February 18th | 10:30-12:oo PM | Brookings Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The panel will consider how modernizing the customs union and expanding U.S.-Turkey economic relations—through either a bilateral free trade agreement or the possible inclusion of Turkey in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—could play a key role in Turkey’s overcoming the middle income trap. Brookings TÜSİAD Senior Fellow and Turkey Project Director Kemal Kirişci will moderate the conversation.  Panelists will include Martin Raiser, the director of the World Bank Office in Turkey; Sebnem Kalemli-Ozcan, professor of economics at the University of Maryland; and Stuart Eizenstat, former U.S. ambassador to the EU, former deputy secretary of the Treasury and current partner at Covington & Burling LLP.
  5. Examining Syrian Perspectives on Local Ceasefires and Reconciliation Initiatives |Thursday February 19th |REGISTER TO ATTEND | Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Rome Auditorium | The launch of a new report detailing Syrian perspectives on locally-based conflict resolution initiatives, “Maybe We Can Reach a Solution”: Syrian Perspectives on the Conflict and Local Initiatives for Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation marks the second phase of a comprehensive research initiative launched by SJAC to investigate the opinions of a diverse group of Syrians on the transitional justice process.  An accompanying panel discussion will highlight the opinions of ordinary Syrians regarding locally-brokered ceasefire and reconciliation efforts while providing an in-depth analysis of Syrian perspectives on conflict resolution since the collapse of Geneva II. Speakers include: Daniel Serwer, Senior Research Professor of Conflict Management School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins UniversityJoseph Bahout,Visiting Scholar, Middle East Program Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Mohammad Al Abdallah Executive Director Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, and Craig Charney President, Charney Research. 
  6. The Future of Energy in the Eastern Mediterranean| Thursday February 19th | 2:00-3:30 | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Brookings Institute | Beginning in 2009, major natural gas fields have been discovered in the Levant Basin of the Eastern Mediterranean. These discoveries have the potential both to transform the energy outlook of the countries in which they were found, and foster regional energy cooperation. The first issue that will be covered is the Palestinian Gaza Marine gas field and its importance to the Palestinian economy. The second discusses the evolution of Israel’s energy policy since large discoveries were made in Israeli waters, and the effect of this process on regional cooperation. The third issue explores the hydrocarbon findings offshore Cyprus and their effects Cypriot relations with its neighbors. Speakers include: David Koranyi, Director, Eurasian Energy Futures Initiative, Harry Tzimitras, Director PRIO Cyprus Centre. 
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