Remembrance without resolve

How much time is required to decide if the UN observers in Syria are failing?  If you are the New York Times, two weekend days after authorization by the UN Security Council will do.  You wouldn’t want to wait until a significant number of them have actually deployed.  Even today, only eleven are active.  And you would cite Syrian army attacks occurring while they are not present as evidence of their ineffectiveness, whereas the opposite would seem more likely the case:  reduced attacks while the observers are present suggest they are having an impact.

The observers admittedly have a thankless task.  There is as yet no peace to keep in Syria, where the regime continues to attack its opponents, refuses to withdraw the military from population centers or to allow peaceful demonstrations, blocks journalistic and humanitarian access and is not prepared to discuss a transition away from the Assad regime.  The opposition also occasionally resorts to violence against the security forces.  If they are going to have an impact, the observers will need to acquire it after full deployment over a period of weeks, working diligently with both protesters and the regime to ensure disengagement and to gain respect for Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan.

This they can do, but only by being forthright in their assessments of what is going on, determined in their efforts to go where they want when they want and honest in communicating their observations to both the Syrian and the international press.

The regime will do everything it can to intimidate the observers and shield their eyes from the worst of what is going on.  It will retaliate against protesters who communicate with the observers.  And it will play “cat and mouse,” encouraging the observers to go where nothing is happening and discouraging them from going where something interesting might be observed.

Kofi Annan will not be easily fooled.  His long experience with UN peacekeeping and with the Security Council will ensure that Bashar al Assad faces a savvy and determined international civil servant, provided Washington continues to back the UN effort.

The initial deployment is for 90 days.  It should have been shorter, so that the Security Council would be forced to review and decide whether to renew the mission earlier than July.  Still, reports every 15 days to the Council will keep the issue on its agenda.  The number of observers is limited to 300, still too few to monitor a country the size and population of Syria.  At the very best, they will be able to make a difference in a relatively few communities, unless their numbers are much increased.

Some of the observers are likely to resign in frustration, as some of the Arab League observers did over the past winter.  Others will take the regime’s side, criticizing the protesters for violence against the security forces.  There will be confusion, even consternation, as they try to get a grip on a very slippery situation, one that threatens every day to descend into sectarian bloodletting of the worst sort.

Ultimately, Kofi Annan will need to decide whether the observers are serving a useful purpose.  The history of such missions suggests that they are greeted initially with a surge of violence, which subsides if the observers gain respect as truly neutral.  The difficulty is that “neutrality” is in the eye of the beholder.  One of the beholders in Syria, Bashar al Assad, has labelled all the demonstrators terrorists and will try to settle for nothing less from the UN.

As chance would have it, President Obama on Monday announced the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board, saying

…remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture.

The first test of those words will be in Syria, Bahrain and the border between what is now Sudan and South Sudan.  In all three places, there is a need to stiffen international community and in particular U.S. resolve to prevent atrocities, protect civilians and make oppressors accountable.  This does not necessarily mean the military action others are calling for. In fact, none of these situations lends itself to military means.  But the full political, diplomatic and economic weight of the United States should be brought to bear.  The President needs make sure his words and gestures are not hollow as he weighs U.S. options in these on-going conflicts.


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Long war, long peace

The United States and Afghanistan today initialed a strategic partnership agreement that reportedly commits Washington to support Kabul for ten years after the U.S. turnover of security responsibility by the end of 2014. The New York Times says the text was not released, and it hasn’t yet crossed my computer screen, but it apparently includes a substantial financial commitment to the Afghan security forces of at least several billion dollars per year.

This is the good news out of Afghanistan, where things have not been going well on many fronts.  But I attended a relatively upbeat meeting last week.  The ground rules prevent me from quoting or identifying anyone.  Here is what I heard some well-informed people say.

The counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan is relatively recent, dating officially only from 2009 though it had started in some places earlier.  Before that, Afghanistan was shorted in order to fund and staff Iraq.  And military action focused on persistent, targeted attacks rather than protecting the people.  Only in 2011 did we get maximum pressure exerted on insurgents with use of the American surge forces and the Afghan army and police, who responded well to recent coordinated attacks in Kabul and other places.  Finally we are now able not only to clear but also to hold. We need to keep the remaining surge troops in place through 2013 for maximum effect, but this should be considered only after the 2012 “fighting year” has ended in the fall (when of course there is also an American election).  It won’t cost much, only a pencil-dust few billion.  Build wasn’t mentioned.

The political part of the strategy seems to consist of not much more than the 2014 national election (possibly to be moved up to 2013).  There is no plan for provincial elections, despite the Afghan constitution and the importance of local governance.  A peaceful transfer of power at the national level would be a first for Afghanistan and an important precedent.  State Department has little capacity to do more than help ensure that.  Expectations for governance should be minimal.  The best we can do is leave behind Afghan security forces capable of maintaining a relatively stable environment in which governance can gradually improve.

Tony Cordesman has detailed the uncertainties of a sad economy, another vital ingredient to overall success in Afghanistan.

The strategy now is basically one of Afghanization of security responsibilities over the remaining two years and six months or so.  Even for this narrow objective to succeed, much more responsibility will have to be shifted to the Afghan security forces more rapidly than is currently the practice.  Embedding a handful with American troops is far from sufficient to develop the kind of independent operational capability that they will need soon, but American troops have been reluctant to sacrifice operational effectiveness for a longer-term training objective.  Also critical, but still rudimentary, are Afghan logistical capabilities.

What is the cost of failure in Afghanistan?  Extremists will return there and may provide Al Qaeda with safe haven.  The international community will lose confidence in American leadership.  It could become far more difficult to organize coalitions needed in the future in other parts of the world.

The war has been a long one.  If there is to be peace, it will take time to consolidate and continue to cost the American tax payer for at least another decade.


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Peace picks next week

Too much this week, and too many things at the same time on the same days, but here are my best bets:

1. The Arab Spring, a Year On: How’s America Faring? WWC, 9:30-11 am April 23

Nathan Brown
Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University and Former Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center

Ellen Laipson
President and CEO, Stimson Center

Michael Singh
Managing Director, Washington Institute for Near East Policy


Aaron David Miller
Distinguished Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center

Political changes in the Arab world have created a new landscape for the United States. Join us as four experts on the region and its politics examine the impact of these changes on hopes for democratization and Arab-Israeli peace, as well as the future of American influence and interests.

6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
2.  Pakistan-India Trade: What Needs to be Done? What Does it Matter? WWC, 9:45 am-4:15 pm April 23

Last fall, the Pakistan government announced its intention to grant Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India, replicating a decision made earlier in New Delhi and potentially laying the groundwork for greatly expanded trade between the two South Asian neighbors. While fundamental disagreements in the relationship remain unresolved, Islamabad’s MFN decision suggests that it is prepared to deepen trade ties even while progress on core political and security issues continues to lag. Optimists assert that increased trade can build constituencies in both countries for more cooperative bilateral relations between the two long-time rivals.

Recognizing the potential significance of trade in the Pakistan-India relationship, the Woodrow Wilson Center will host a one-day conference on April 23, 2012, that focuses on MFN as an important step toward expanding Pakistan-India commercial linkages. What further steps on both sides need to be taken to establish a fully operational MFN regime?   What are the economic and businesses cases for and against expanding bilateral trade?  What are the primary domestic obstacles in each country to increased Pakistan-India trade?  What are the socio-economic arguments for enhanced bilateral trade ties, and who will most benefit?

RSVPs are required. Please RSVP by sending an email to


9:45 Registration and coffee

10:00 Welcoming Remarks

Robert M. Hathaway, director, Asia Program, Woodrow Wilson Center

Munawar Z. Noorani, chairman, Fellowship Fund for Pakistan

10:15 Panel I: Moving forward on MFN

Ijaz Nabi, visiting professor, Lahore University of Management Sciences, and Pakistan country director, International Growth Center

A view from Pakistan

Arvind Virmani, executive director, International Monetary Fund, and affiliate professor and distinguished senior fellow, George Mason University

Perspectives from India

Ishrat Hussain, dean and director, Institute of Business Administration (Karachi)

Dissenting views

Chair: Robert M. Hathaway, director, Asia Program, Woodrow Wilson Center

12:30 Luncheon

1:00 Luncheon keynote address

Zafar Mahmood, commerce secretary, government of Pakistan

Chair: William B. Milam, senior scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center

2:00 Panel II: Broadening the debate

Amin Hashwani, founder, Pakistan-India CEOs Business Forum

Social issues, civil society, and security

Nisha Taneja, professor, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER)

Non-tariff barriers, infrastructure deficiencies, and high transaction costs

Kalpana Kochhar, chief economist for South Asia, World Bank

Regional implications

Chair: Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate, Woodrow Wilson Center

4:15 Adjournment

RSVPs are required. Please RSVP by sending an email to

This conference has been organized by the Wilson Center’s Asia Program and Program on America and the Global Economy, along with the Fellowship Fund for Pakistan.

This conference has been made possible through the generosity of the Fellowship Fund for Pakistan.

5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
3.  Afghanistan: Regional Economic Cooperation and Unleashing the Private Sector: Keys to Successful Transfer, Rome Auditorium Johns Hopkins/SAIS, 12:30-2 pm April 23

Summary: Sham Bathija, senior adviser minister for Economic Affairs to the Afghan president, and Noorullah Delawari, governor of the Central Bank of Afghanistan, will discuss this topic. Note: A reception will precede the forum at noon. For more information and to RSVP, contact the SAIS Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at or 202.663.7721.
4.  The Implications of Democracy and Dynasty: The Foreign Policy Futures of the Two Koreas, Kenney Auditorium SAIS, 2-4 pm April 24
The US-Korea Institute at SAIS and
the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution
The Implications of Democracy and Dynasty:
The Foreign Policy Futures of the Two Koreas

April 24, 2012
2pm – 3:30pm
Kenney Auditorium
1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036


Dr. Sang Yoon Ma
History and Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center
Associate Professor, School of International Studies at the Catholic University of Korea

Dr. Alexandre Mansourov
Visiting Scholar, US-Korea Institute at SAIS

With Introduction by:

Dr. Richard C. Bush
Director and Senior Fellow
Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, The Brookings Institution

Moderated by:

Dr. Jae H. Ku
Director, US-Korea Institute at SAIS

On April 11, 2012, South Korea’s ruling conservative party scored an  unexpected victory in the 2012 National Assembly elections while a series of political events in North Korea worked to solidify the succession of Kim Jong Un. Please join Dr. Sang Yoon Ma and Dr. Alexandre Mansourov in discussing the results of these events and their policy implications for US-ROK relations, and North Korea’s foreign policy strategies.

5.  A Conversation with Turkey’s Kurdish Leadership, Brookings, 3-4:30 pm April 24

Turkey’s approach to lingering problems in dealing with the Kurdish minority at home and in the region is once again at a critical juncture. From the prospects for a new constitution to Ankara’s Syria dilemma, virtually all the pressing issues facing Turkey have a Kurdish dimension. Most recently, Prime Minister Erdogan declared that his government is ready to engage in a political dialogue with the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in the Turkish Parliament. Given past failures at dialogue and at finding a mutually-acceptable, peaceful, and democratic solution to the problem, will this time prove different? What do the Kurds of Turkey and those of neighboring nations want and is the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ready to meet Kurdish demands?


Tuesday, April 24, 2012
3:00 PM to 4:30 PM


Saul/Zilkha Rooms
The Brookings Institution
1775 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC

Contact: Brookings Office of Communications


Phone: 202.797.6105

Register Now
On April 24, the Center on the United State and Europe at Brookings (CUSE) will host a discussion exploring these and other important questions related to Turkey’s Kurdish minority, featuring Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of BDP, and Ahmet Turk, an experienced politician currently an independent member of the Turkish Parliament. Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Ömer Taşpınar will provide introductory remarks and moderate the discussion.After the program, panelists will take audience questions.


Introduction and Moderator

Ömer Taşpınar

Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe

Featured Speakers

Selahattin Demirtaş

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)

Ahmet Türk

Member of Turkish Parliament
Co-chair of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK)

6. (Re)Building an Effective Central Government in Afghanistan and Iraq, RTI International, 12 noon April 25

 When: Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Where: RTI International, 701 13th Street, NW, Suite 750, Washington, D.C.

Please join the SID-Washington Governance, Corruption & Rule of Law Workgroup for a panel discussion examining state-building in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The sustainability of governance reforms in Afghanistan and Iraq is a key concern for both the US and its partners, and for citizens of those countries. What has been learned about what works to build, or rebuild, effective government? What challenges remain to be addressed? SID-Washington’s Governance, Corruption, and Rule of Law Workgroup will host a discussion with Larry Cooley, President, Management Systems International, to explore answers to these questions.


Larry Cooley, President, Management Systems International (MSI)

Workgroup Co-Chairs

Derick Brinkerhoff,  Distinguished Fellow, International Public Management, RTI International

Tomas Bridle, Technical Area Manager, Responsive Government Institutions, Economic and Democratic Governance, DAI

Please bring your lunch to enjoy during the event.


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Youtube peace?

I guess this is worth the try:

Of course it won’t work without other efforts.  ICG suggests that what is needed is a commitment to comprehensive reform in Khartoum:

To encourage reforms in Khartoum, a united international community, particularly the African Union (AU), Arab League and UN, should put pressure on the NCP to accept a free and unhindered national dialogue aimed at creating a national stabilisation program that includes defined principles for establishing an inclusive constitutional arrangement accepted by all. A national reform agenda should include a program that accommodates all the people of Sudan and supports inclusive governance. The NCP must make genuine efforts to end impunity in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and allow humanitarian agencies unhindered access, as well as support the efforts of the AU-UN Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and UNISFA to protect civilians.

Wishing won’t make it so, and it is unlikely to happen any time soon.

American Special Envoy Princeton Lyman claims all concerned want to avoid all out war, but in the meanwhile Khartoum is celebrating the supposed reconquest of the Heglig oil field, which South Sudan had captured but also agreed to vacate.

At this point, President Obama should be satisfied if Khartoum and Juba come to the table to resolve their differences on oil, which is the issue that has caused the recent dustup and the one both sides think most worth fighting about.  ICG’s comprehensive reform may have to wait.


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The 90 day ultimatum

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice used today’s passage of UNSC Security Council resolution 2043 authorizing deployment of 300 UN observers to Syria to issue an ultimatum:  the Syrian government needs to fully comply with the six-point Annan plan or else.

Or else what?  The explicit threat was not to renew the observer mission.  But Rice was trying to imply more than that:

…let there be no doubt: we, our allies and others in this body are planning and preparing for those actions that will be required of us all, if the Asad regime persists in the slaughter of the Syrian people.

There are not a lot of good options out there. A Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday revealed few.  Tightening sanctions is one, but the Russians resisted including that in the resolution. Maybe they will be willing to do it if Damascus continues to defy the Security Council for another 90 days.  An arms embargo is another. But arms embargoes are normally enforced against a country, not only a government. The Russians are unlikely to allow one to pass that applies to Damascus but not the Free Syria Army.  While I am not in favor of a violent uprising, it would be profoundly unjust to deny Syrians the means to defend themselves.

Then there is the option Rice was presumably trying to imply: military action, by NATO and/or a coalition of the willing.  I still see little prospect of this happening, though three more months of Syrian government defiance could change the picture.

Unfortunately what the 90-day ultimatum does in the meanwhile is to give Bashar al Assad a three-month hunting license.  It is now in his interest to get the observers in as quickly as possible, since no military action can be taken while they are deployed in Syria.  He’ll try to use the 90 days to bag as many protesters as possible.  It would have been far better to deploy them with no fixed time limit, or with a shorter one requiring re-authorization by the Security Council. The reports the Secretary General is required to make every 15 days are a useful mechanism to keep international attention focused on implementation of the Annan plan, but they don’t provide the same leverage that a shorter authorization would have done.

That said, the key is to get the Syrian army out of artillery range of population centers.  Randa Slim wisely reminds us that local leaders in Syria have the capacity to put hundreds of thousands–maybe millions–into the streets if peace protests are permitted, as required by the Annan plan.  This she suggests would be a game changer.

I agree.  Syria needs no more than a couple of days of relative peace for the people to show unequivocally and peacefully their preference for Bashar al Assad’s departure.  If the observers can help to give them those days, their deployment will be worthwhile.  If not, withdrawal in 90 days will be the right move.  But then it will be incumbent on the Obama Administration to have a plan for what comes next.


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A deal not to make a deal?

Eric Shu, jack of all trades around, offers another write-up, this time of Monday’s Carnegie Endowment event on Negotiating with Iran: Istanbul and Its Aftermath.  Eric becomes available next month when his Middle East Institute internship expires.  Anyone out there need a fine Mandarin-speaking assistant with an excellent Brown education?

Over the weekend of April 14-15, Istanbul hosted negotiations between the P5+1 (United States, China, Russia, France, Britain, and Germany) and Iran, the first official meeting since the talks broke down in January 2011.  Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief and lead representative of the P5+1, stated afterwards that the talks were “constructive and useful.” No concrete agreements were reached other than to schedule another meeting on May 23 in Baghdad.

What does this mean for the players involved? Is this a success or another ploy by Iran to drag out the negotiations, giving itself more time to enrich uranium?

At the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Monday, April 16, Karim Sadjadpour, associate at Carnegie and author of Reading Khamenei, moderated a discussion that focused on the nuclear negotiations with Iran and the political ramifications of the meeting.

Vali Nasr, newly appointed Dean of JHU-SAIS and former senior advisor in the State Department, began the discussion with an argument for “maintaining the status quo.” He viewed negotiations with Iran as an issue that the Obama Administration should not deal with until after the November elections. Obama’s supposedly off-mic comment to Medvedev last month regarding missiles is also relevant here: “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.” Nasr then pointed out that it would be difficult to justify a war with Iran, especially during this election season. He closed his opening remarks with a question: can they make a deal about not making a deal?

Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and former State Department official, provided a similar evaluation of the recent negotiations. Takeyh argued that inconclusive diplomacy is beneficial as it provides space for diplomatic conversations to continue. In this case, the talks led to a scheduled meeting at the end of May for more serious negotiations. Takeyh also pointed to the difficulty Iran has in giving up its nuclear weapons aspirations. As a country with multiple adversaries in the region, it is in its own strategic interests to acquire these nuclear weapons capabilities.

As the director of the Nuclear Policy Program at Carnegie, George Perkovich focused his statements on Iran’s nuclear program. He opened with a description of how Iran pursued multiple pathways to developing the capacities needed for a nuclear program, rather than committing at the start for a weapons program.  Perkovich also pointed out that Ayatollah Khamenei recently stated that “the Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons” and considers it a “big sin.”  Regardless of how much truth is in the statement, it provides space for a negotiated compromise.

At the end of the discussion, the panelists were asked for historical templates that might be applicable to Iran. The speakers all mentioned North Vietnam and the Soviet Union, but agreed that historical frameworks were unlikely to work. The context, leaders, and factors of each situation are different.  Deals and negotiations are “living organisms.”

The Istanbul meeting was essentially a talk about talks. The speakers expect the status quo to hold through November, but the Baghdad meeting in May provides some possibility for positive developments.

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