Third place counts

Milan Marinković weighs in from Niš on the upcoming elections in Serbia:

Both presidential and parliamentary elections in Serbia are scheduled for May 6 and the campaign is well under way.  An abundance of unrealistic promises and the absence of concrete ideas dominate most actors’ pre-electoral rhetoric.

The campaign is basically negative. The point is not to convince voters of the candidate’s quality or ability, but to portray a rival as an even bigger evil. This tactic is most notably being used by President Boris Tadić and his Democratic Party (DS) against their major opponents – Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its leader Tomislav Nikolić.

A key difference from the previous campaigns is that neither Kosovo nor the EU is a focal point. This time the emphasis is on economic issues, with much demagoguery about job creation and the need for more social justice. Tomislav Nikolić and his SNS are looking to take advantage of massive dissapointment in the current government’s poor results in economic policy. President Tadić, for his part, still can rely on favoritism from the influential mainstream media, controlled by his closest aides.

Opinion polls show that Tadić is more popular than his party. A primary reason he decided to hold presidential elections concurrently with those for Parliament is to improve the party’s prospects in the race.

While DS and SNS, as two biggest parties, will compete for the single highest percentage of votes, the actual winner of the elections will be the smaller one that finishes third. The logic is simple:  unless Tadić and Nikolić decide to ally with each other, no government can be formed without support from the third.

This postelection prospect puts the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) of Interior Minister Ivica Dačić in an ideal position. As an experienced politician and the indispensable coalition partner in the current government to Boris Tadić, Dačić has prudently utilized four years in office to significantly increase his and his party’s popularity.

Many analysts estimate that Dačić is going to demand the premiership in exchange for participation of his party in the next government. The composition of the future ruling coalition largely depends on which of the two big parties’ leaderships will be more willing to acquiesce to Dačić’s growing political ambitions.

A potential problem for Boris Tadić is that SPS alone might no longer remain a sufficient coalition partner should SNS defeat his party in the parliamentary elections by too large a margin. Such an outcome would force Tadić to find an additional ally. The Liberal-democratic party (LDP) seems most likely to fill the void. A government that includes LDP would be expected to be more dedicated to the Eurointegration process and the accomplishment of necessary systemic reforms, given the party’s indisputably pro-Western orientation.

For SNS, the party of Tadić’s main rival Tomislav Nikolić, victory in the parliamentary elections is almost assured. But a victory does not guarantee that the party will be able to form the government. More important for SNS is how convincing that victory is going to be. The more seats in Parliament SNS manages to secure, the fewer small parties’ appetites it will need to satisfy during possible postelection negotiations. As in the case of a government led by DS, Dačić’s SPS would presumably remain an inevitable coalition member.

The least probable outcome, albeit possible, is that Nikolić’s SNS and Tadić’s DS create the so-called “big coalition.” This might happen if smaller parties demand too much in the bargaining over coalition formation.

The big coalition would be at the same time a big unknown. While optimists believe that an overwhelming parliamentary majority such a government would enjoy could facilitate the resolution of many pressing issues, pessimists fear that concentration of so much power in the hands of two strongest parties will only further undermine the already fragile democracy in Serbia.  Both may well prove right.

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Syria can get worse

NATO preparations for military intervention in Syria are again in the news.  The Obama Administration is looking for Plan B.  Even my former colleagues at US Institute of Peace are calling for suppression of Syrian air defenses.  That’s spelled W-A-R.

I am feeling the need to repeat what I’ve said before:  half measures won’t work and could make things worse. If removal of Bashar al Assad from power is your objective, and you propose to achieve it by military means, don’t trick yourself into thinking it will necessarily be easy or quick. Certainly a humanitarian corridor is not an obvious or direct means of getting rid of Bashar.  It is a target-rich environment that is only safe if military force makes it so.

It would be folly for NATO to waste its resources on such a half-baked non-solution.  That is certainly one of the lessons of the Libya experience, when a humanitarian intervention had to refocus on Qaddafi in order to bring about the desired, but not stated, result.

If you want Bashar al Assad out, the thing to do is take him out.  A massive attack on Syria’s command and control facilities would force him underground–as a lesser effort eventually did to Qaddafi–and all but guarantee that the regime changes, though in which direction is unpredictable.  To control that, you’ve got to put boots on the ground.  But you will also need to write off any prospect of Russian or Chinese support for action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, which are certainly a greater threat to U.S. national security than Bashar al Assad.

Arming the opposition is another option.  There is lots of mumbling from Senators McCain and Lieberman about how the Free Syria Army (FSA) hasn’t gotten any help from anyone and are running out of ammo.  The French call that de la blague.  The Turkish and Iraqi borders have seen lots of arms flowing.  Others want to manage the process despite the chaotic conditions. The FSA is not a threat to the Syrian regime in the short-term.  It is an insurgency that will be difficult to defeat entirely but offers little immediate prospect of displacing Bashar al Assad, whose army is stronger than the Libyan one and notably more loyal.

A long, violent, drawn-out and increasingly sectarian conflict in Syria is not a good outcome for the United States.  I am second to none in wishing Bashar al Assad gone from a country in which I studied Arabic and enjoyed remarkable hospitality from people who have suffered a half century of privation, economic and political.  Yes, we should certainly support the on-the-ground opposition and do everything possible to protect their right to protest and determine their own political future.

But the best bet for now is to play out Annan plan and the UN observer scenario for what it is worth:  either it will lead to a serious reduction in violence, and I hope a corresponding increase in peaceful protest, or the observers will give up like the Arab League observers before them and abandon the field.  If the former, we’ll all be able to celebrate, as nonviolent protest will provide by far the best foundation for a successful transition to something like democracy.  If the latter, we should not be surprised to find that things get worse, much worse, as they did after the Arab League observers withdrew.

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What good are UN observers?

That was my title for a piece The Guardian published this morning as UN observers in Syria must show courage in their actions and words:

By insisting on moving freely, and reporting what they see, the observers can deter violence and help to restore stability in Syria

As Kofi Annan rushes to deploy the first 30 UN observers to Syria, it is important to ask what good they might do. How can a few dozen unarmed soldiers monitor a ceasefire in a country of more than 22 million? Even at their anticipated full strength of 250, what can they really accomplish? Won’t government minders lead them around by the nose, showing them only what President Bashar al-Assad wants them to see? How can they possibly understand what is going on in a situation that is chaotic at best, homicidal at worst?

These doubts are well-founded, especially in today’s Syria. Observers are most useful where there is a peace to keep. If both sides in a conflict conclude that they cannot make further gains by fighting, then observers can increase mutual confidence in a ceasefire and reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings or miscommunications leading to violence.

Those conditions do not exist today in much of Syria, where the government is still purposefully attacking its own population. Violence has declined in some places, but fighting continues in others. The government has already made it clear it wants the observers to go where and when it is safe, as determined by Damascus. On Sunday, Assad’s spokeswoman said: “Syria cannot be responsible for the security of these observers unless it co-ordinates and participates in all steps on the ground.” This is as much threat as warning. The government security forces have always tried to focus on one major community at a time. Damascus will try to take the observers to those communities where relative peace prevails.

To be effective in this situation, the observers will need to take a proactive stance, reaching out to the Syrian opposition, insisting on going where they want when they want, and reporting amply on what they find. This takes courage. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is providing the top cover. “It is the Syrian government’s responsibility to guarantee freedom of access, freedom of movement within the country,” he said. The observers will need to focus their attention on the violence, report on its origins and course, and demand that it stop.

Liaison with the opposition, while desirable, is also problematic. Anyone the UN observers contact may be tracked and monitored by the Syrian security forces. Arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial killings are common in Assad’s Syria. Some courageous individuals will speak up no matter what. Others, who are prepared to talk with the observers, will need to move quickly to protect themselves thereafter, changing residences, cell phones and even identities. This will make it difficult for the observers to maintain continuity.

Despite these very real problems, the presence and persistence of the observers can deter violence and encourage non-violent protest. The opposition will become less bold in provoking the security forces, fearing provocations will be visible internationally. Peaceful demonstrations, which are already common, will become larger and more frequent. The security forces will gradually realise that the observers cannot be intimidated and that they will return to check and re-check what is going on, reporting their findings in ways that will embarrass anyone who is continuing the violence. The commanders may begin to behave with less abandon.

The UN observers, in addition to doing whatever they can to report on violations of the Annan plan, need to keep in mind their own broader significance. They are the living symbols of international community engagement, the only token so far of the UN security council’s commitment to restoring peace and stability in Syria. They will need to try to maintain a good working relationship with the Syrian government, but they also have to insist on their own independence. This includes the freedom to meet with the Syrian and foreign media and report fully what they have found.

The ceasefire, already fraying, cannot, however, succeed for long on its own. The UN security council resolution requires humanitarian and media access as well as the start of a political dialogue. This is where Annan’s job gets really hard. Even though the security council was silent on the future of Assad, he has to be convinced to step aside, because there can be no serious transition if he remains in place. The ceasefire can only be a bridge to a broader political solution, not an end in itself.

If the observers come to the conclusion that current conditions do not permit them to do their work effectively, or if they determine that one side or the other is primarily responsible for the violence and mayhem, then they need to say so plainly. Failure is a possibility, but even failure can sometimes have a positive impact. The Arab League observers, whose mission failed during the winter, played a useful role despite their pro-Assad Sudanese leader. They talked with the opposition, their presence encouraged peaceful demonstrations, some reported accurately on what was going on, and others resigned in protest over the restrictions the Syrian government put on them. In the end, it was the withdrawal of the Arab League mission that escalated the Syrian situation to the UN and ultimately forced the security council to act.

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Droning on

The Washington Post reports today that the CIA wants to expand drone attacks in Yemen:

Securing permission to use these “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives.

The United States has long used this less discriminating approach in Pakistan, where I am told we killed a lot of tall guys in long white robes before finding Osama bin Ladin holed up in his Abbottabad villa.

This is not an easy policy choice, but the right course is to err on the side of caution.  The Post article emphasizes the risk of drone strikes putting the U.S. on the government side in Yemen’s wars with several groups of insurgents.  I don’t see that as the main issue. After all, we recognize and support the government in Sanaa, even if we don’t intend to get involved in Yemen’s internecine battles.  None of the insurgents are going to think we are not on the government’s side.

The Post also emphasizes that the drone strikes have killed a lot of the “right” people, more than are killed in strikes based on specific intelligence about their whereabouts.  That, too, is not pertinent to the decision-making.  We’d kill a lot of the “right” people by mowing down whole villages too, but it wouldn’t be morally correct or wise.

The issue is the impact of the strikes.  Do they work, or do they not?  Do they reduce risks to the United States or American forces?  A recent quantitative analysis of the drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan suggests that they have reduced militant violence, BUT:

Finally, it is important to reiterate that any reduction in terrorist activity associated with the drone campaign appears modest in scope. Although a decline in violence in FATA in 2010 coincided with the peak of the drone campaign, FATA militants remain active and violence remains high. To the extent drone strikes ”work,” their effectiveness is more likely to lie in disrupting militant operations at the tactical level than as a silver bullet that will reverse the course of the war and singlehandedly defeat al Qaeda.

Others find more ambiguous results.

The bigger question is the impact on the population in areas where drones strike, and on the broader political context . This is where things get dicey, in particular if you hit the wrong people (no matter how many “right” ones you kill).  Joshua Foust warned about these consequences earlier in the year.  While some Pakistanis and Yemenis may celebrate the deaths of particular militants, there will always be collateral damage, the more so if the “rules of engagement” are loosened.  It is difficult to imagine that most Pakistanis and Yemenis will welcome the deaths of innocent countrymen in U.S. drone attacks intended to protect Americans.  How long will their governments put up with us?  We’ve seen in President Karzai the negative consequences of too many mistaken strikes (not only by drones) and night raids.

General Petraeus, whom I know and respect, needs to repeat the question he asked himself about detention facilities when he took over in Iraq and later in Afghanistan:  are we creating more terrorists than we are taking out of circulation?  No RAND study will likely answer this question.  We’ll have to rely on good judgment, which is in short supply as Washington gears up for its quadrennial blood-letting between Democrats and Republicans.  There isn’t much mileage for an American politician in not doing the max to get the terrorists in Yemen, but restraint might in the end save more American lives.

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Fragility to possible stability

I spoke today at the World Bank on “Kosovo in 2012:  Prospects for Turning Fragility into Long-Term Stability.”  Here are the speaking notes I used.

1.  Let me start by offering my bottom line:  Kosovo, four years after independence, is still a work in progress but has decent prospects for long-term stability:

  •  The country has institutions:  its government, parliament, constitutional court and municipalities are all functional and surprisingly vigorous on occasion.
  • It has a vibrant civil society, including a press ranked by Reporters Without Borders as having “noticeable problems,” like those of all its neighbors.
  • Freedom House gives Kosovo “partly free” rankings for civil liberties and political rights, on a par with some of its neighbors and lagging others.
  • The last IMF mission in March concluded that fiscal targets were met and important progress in financial sector reform was made, while possible benefits for war veterans and political prisoners have been delayed, which I imagine is what the IMF preferred.

2.  There are nevertheless very real problems.

  •  Kosovo suffers from endemic corruption, perceived as worse (though only marginally) than its neighbors according to Transparency International.
  • Unemployment, underemployment and isolation of its very young and still rapidly growing population pose serious stability questions.
  • Kosovo lags in moving towards the EU, due to its own lack of preparation, EU hesitation and resistance of the five members of the EU that have not recognized Kosovo.
  • Belgrade has prevented Pristina from establishing its authority in the 3.5 northern municipalities, where majority Serb populations reject Kosovo’s sovereignty.
  • Serbia likewise rejects Kosovo’s sovereignty and independence, has blocked entry into the UN and hindered bilateral recognitions.  They have nevertheless reached 89, a stone’s throw from the tipping point of 100.
  • Kosovo has no means to protect itself even for a few days from a hostile Serbia, if Belgrade is prepared to use force.

3.  The immediate threats to Kosovo’s stability boil down to two:

  • The conflict in the north, which has repeatedly come close to the boiling point  in recent months, both due to Serb demonstrations to block Pristina border controls and Albanian demonstrations to block Serbian traffic into Kosovo.
  • The growing sense of isolation in Kosovo and increasing pan-Albanian political appeals, not only in Kosovo but also in Albania and Macedonia.

4.  What is to be done?

  • Accelerate Kosovo’s approach to the EU:  Kosovo should get a road map of what it needs to do to qualify for visa liberalization.  Nothing would take more steam out of pan-Albanianism than freeing up young Kosovars to visit and study in the EU.  The feasibility study for a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU should be completed by the end of the year, with negotiation of the SAA following on quickly.
  • Begin the process of establishing Pristina’s authority in the north:  Kosovo Serbs who are also Serbian citizens should have the opportunity to vote in Serbia’s May 6 presidential and parliamentary elections but not municipal elections in north Kosovo, which are a violation of UNSC resolution 1244.  The EU-sponsored Belgrade/Pristina talks should discuss reintegration of the north through the Ahtisaari plan, supplemented by implementation mechanisms, including elements of President Tadic’s four-point plan.
  • Improve Kosovo’s own ability to handle security:   With completion of Kosovo’s part in implementing the Ahtisaari plan by the end of this year, supervision of independence by the International Civilian Office is expected to end.  Kosovo will then be entitled to its own security force, which will need to be configured to meet a reasonable array of national security risks and enable an eventual NATO withdrawal, even if NATO will remain essential to guaranteeing Kosovo’s security until Belgrade fully accepts its independence and sovereignty by allowing it into the UN General Assembly.

5.  That leaves corruption.

  • I am at a loss.  The opposite of corruption is not anti-corruption but good governance.
  • Small family-focused societies have particular difficulty with nepotism, conflict of interest, witness protection and central government imposition of rule of law.
  • Internationals may be able to help Kosovo by providing some independent, private-sector oversight and design of mechanisms to combat corruption.
  • But my sense is that Kosovo also needs a more courageous and independent judiciary, in particular at the lower court levels.
  • Still, there is no substitute for citizens demanding transparency and accountability.
  • That’s as true in the District of Columbia as it is in Pristina or Belgrade.

6.  I return to my bottom line.

  • Kosovo is an imperfect but functioning state.
  • Pieter Feith intends to close the International Civilian Office well before the end of this year, with all of Pristina’s obligations under the Ahtisaari plan fulfilled.
  • That will leave the remaining issues—in particular the north—to the EU and the OSCE.
  • This is a rare occasion:  an international mission that closes its doors having worked itself out of a job.  Let’s celebrate!
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Peace picks this week

1.  What’s Next? Mali in the Aftermath of the March 22 Coup d’Etat, SAIS, 12:30-2 pm April 16

Hosted By: African Studies Program:
Time: 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM
Location: Room 736, The Bernstein-Offit Building
Summary: Susanna Wing, associate professor of political science at Haverford College, will discuss this topic. For more information, contact
2.  Military Reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo, WWC, 2-3:30 pm April 16
There will be a live webcast of this event.

In collaboration with Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) and a coalition of organizations concerned with the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), The Wilson Center’s Africa Program invites you to an event entitled “Military Reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo”. This discussion will center on a report entitled Taking a Stand on Security Sector Reform, which was researched, written and signed by dozens of international groups from the US, EU and the DRC.

The report discusses the symptoms, causes and possible solutions to the lack of security and the violation of human rights in the country. “An effective security sector – organized, resourced, trained and vetted – is essential to solving problems from recruitment of child soldiers, internal displacement, to economic growth or the trade in conflict minerals” says the report. It concludes that the main reason for the failure of army reform in DRC is a lack of political will from parts of the Congolese government coupled with the lack of strong commitment and coordination from the international community.

Event Speakers List:
  • Steve McDonald//

    Director, Africa Program and Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity
  • Eastern Congo Initiative Fellow
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary, United States Department of State

To RSVP for this event kindly send an email to

3. Conflict and Stabilization Operations: A Conversation with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rick Barton, Brookings, 10-11 am April 17

For years, the U.S. government has been grappling with how to manage conflict prevention and stabilize crises and conflict-torn societies. Ongoing reforms at the U.S. Department of State include the transformation of the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization into a new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. The mission of the new bureau is to advance U.S. national security by driving integrated, civilian-led efforts to prevent, respond to, and stabilize crises in priority states, creating conditions for long-term peace.


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 17, Global Economy and Development at Brookings will host Ambassador Rick Barton, the newly confirmed assistant secretary of state for Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Assistant Secretary Barton will discuss his vision for the new bureau and the priorities on his agenda. Brookings Fellow Noam Unger will provide introductory remarks and moderate the discussion.

After the program, Assistant Secretary Barton will take audience questions.


Featured Speaker

Rick Barton

Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations
U.S. Department of State

4.  World Military Spending: Recent Trends, Stimson, 12-1:30 April 17

SIPRI North America launch of the SIPRI world military expenditure data, including comprehensive information on global, regional and national trends in military spending.

Place: SIPRI North America, 1111 19th St. NW, 12th floor, Washington DC 20036

RSVP: Please click here.

In conjunction with the latest release of the SIPRI data on world military expenditures, a presentation and roundtable discussion will explore how regional political developments are reflected in countries’ military spending and budget priorities, and the implications of these trends.

The following key points and questions will be discussed by a panel of experts:

  • Presentation of the newly-released SIPRI figures for world military expenditures in 2011, outlining some of the key figures and trends
  • How is the global financial crisis impacting world military spending?
  • Do military spending trends suggest a shift in the global balance of power?
  • Can military expenditures be cut (or cut further) to redirect spending to other priorities? What are the obstacles to this in different countries and regions?
  • As the US seeks to reduce its budget deficit, how far should the military budget be cut?
  • What are the reasons for increasing military spending by some regional powers? Does this create a danger of regional arms races?


  • Dr. Sam Perlo-Freeman, Head of Military Expenditure Project, SIPRI
  • Dr. Gordon Adams, Distinguished Fellow – Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense, Stimson Center
  • Dr. Nora Bensahel, Deputy Director of Studies and Senior Fellows, Center for a New American Security

Moderator: Dr. Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, Executive Director, SIPRI North America

For more on the SIPRI Military Expenditure Program, please click here.

If you have any questions, please contact Masha Keller at

5.  The Arab Awakening:  One Year Later, SAIS, 1740 MA, 12-2:30 pm April 18

The Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, SAIS, along with the French Embassy to the United States and the Alliance française

invite you to

a French Embassy Rendez-vous


The Arab Awakening:
One Year Later

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 
12:00 pm–2:30 pm

Kenney Auditorium
1740 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036


Keynote Speaker


His Excellency François Delattre

Ambassador of France to the United States of America


His Excellency Mohamed Salah Tekaya

Ambassador of Tunisia to the United States of America

Remarks about Tunisia: progress, opportunities and challenges since the revolution

 The Arab awakening and the rapidity of the events which are irreversibly altering the face of the  Middle East have unequivocally called into question the ability of political analyses to provide the necessary tools for understanding the global scenario and its underlying  trends, especially when their basic assumptions are openly challenged. Civil society, left to itself after the revolution, has been confronted with several constitutional, institutional and socio-economic issues. One year after the beginning of the revolution, we will question the challenges raised by the democratic aspiration and faced by the new regimes.

 Welcoming RemarksAude Jehan, French Embassy Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations

ModeratorAmbassador Kurt Volker, Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations

Panelists: Suzanne Maloney, Brookings Institute, The implications of the Arab awakening for the regional balance of power

Ömer Taşpınar, SAIS and Brookings Institute,  Europe’s Approach to the Arab awakening and Turkey

Julie Taylor, RAND, The Arab Awakening: A Double-edged Sword for Moderate Islamists

Manal Omar, U.S. Institute of Peace, The role of Women in post-revolution societies

    A light reception will follow with the kind support of Paul’s Bakery

6.  The Islamists Are Coming: Who They Really Are, WWC, 12:30-2 pm April 18

To attend this event, please send an RSVP to

The Islamists Are Coming is the first book to survey the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring. Often lumped together, the more than 50 Islamist parties with millions of followers now constitute a whole new spectrum—separate from either militants or secular parties. They will shape the new order in the world’s most volatile region, more than any other political bloc, yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.

In this book, Robin Wright offers an overview and 10 experts identify Islamists in Algeria, Egypt (two chapters), Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, Syria, and Tunisia. Each chapter is designed to help both a general audience and specialists.

A book website at, to launch on the day of the event, will provide updates and an ongoing conversation among these and other experts.

The National Conversation at the Woodrow Wilson Center series provides a safe political space for deep dialogue and informed discussion of the most significant problems and challenges facing the nation and the world.

To attend this event, please send an RSVP to


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Event Speakers List:
  • Robin Wright//

    USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Scholar
    Journalist and Author of seven books, most recently “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World”
  • Nathan J Brown//

    Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University
  • Senior Associate & Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, National Democratic Institute
  • Assistant Professor of Arab Politics, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
  • Jane Harman//

    Director, President, and CEO
  • Steve Inskeep//

    Host, Morning Edition on National Public Radio
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