240 years ago

Hard to do better than this, 240 years after its signature:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.



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Why war

My review of Michael C. Horowitz, Allan C. Stam and Cali M. Ellis, Why Leaders Fight (Cambridge University Press, 2015) went up on War on the Rocks under the title He Who Lets Slip the Dogs of War today. Here is are the teaser first two paragraphs:

This is a book that should have been unnecessary. Its main argument is that leaders, particularly chiefs of state and government, are important to the decision to go to war. As the authors argue repeatedly, we all know this. Hitler made a difference to history that some other leader of Germany might not have. People matter. Human agency should not be ignored. Why do we have to prove it?

The problem is an academic one. American political science, in particular its international relations theory, pays little attention to the differences leaders make. Academia attributes war to institutional, structural, and internal factors, leaving little intellectual headroom for the voluminous biographies that sell so well in the mass market and fascinate war and peace practitioners like me.

The solution the authors propose to this disconnect is…[click here for the rest]

No end in sight

How can Daesh (that’s the Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL to the uninitiated) be defeated and what will happen thereafter? If you want the more upbeat official story, read Brett McGurk’s testimony. Here are some thoughts that have crossed my screen lately.

Everyone should expect a generational fight. Though Daesh is losing territory rapidly in Iraq (47% of its maximum) and Syria (20%), it is good at what it does, resilient and adaptable. It has recruited at least 40,000 foreign fighters from 120 other countries. It has overt affiliates in more than half a dozen countries as well as a covert worldwide network devoted to smuggling, finance and terror, as illustrated all too clearly in this week’s Istanbul airport bombing. Even after it has lost all its territory, Daesh will go to ground and continue terrorist attacks of that sort.

The Coalition arrayed against Daesh is large (nominally 66 countries) and organized but still clumsy and far from fully integrated. It will hold a July 20 “summit” in Washington focused on its five “lines of effort”: political/military coordination, blocking foreign fighters, Daesh finance, stabilization of areas retaken from Daesh and counter-messaging. This is in addition to the nine US “lines of effort.”

There are contrasting narratives that avowed opponents of Daesh espouse, leading them to opposing conclusions.

The Russians view Daesh as the product of destabilization of Syrian government institutions, whose maintenance is vital to stem the extremist tide. In order to ensure the survival of state institutions, they support Assad and want reconciliation between him and at least some portion of the opposition. They also think their military intervention has gone pretty well, delivering some Western respect and easing Western pressure on Ukraine. But they are concerned, based on the Chechen precedent, about the enormous cost and difficulties of an Assad victory in Syria. They have flatly refused to pay for any reconstruction when approached by a government-linked expert.

The Saudis have an almost diametrically opposed narrative. They believe Daesh is the product of Iranian-sponsored sectarianism in both Iraq and Syria. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki helped the Islamic State to revive in Iraq after the American withdrawal by governing in a blatantly sectarian way dictated by Iran. ISIS’s ability to gain ground in Syria is attributable to the regime, which released extremist prisoners, has bought oil from Daesh, and focused its military attacks against moderates, all with backing by Iran. The Saudis take the threat of Daesh seriously and believe the fate of Iran’s effort to establish itself as the Middle East hegemon will be determined in Syria. The Kingdom recognizes that its own Wahhabi ideology has contributed to Daesh‘s appeal and is committed to reforms that will change that in the decades to come.

Iraqis are fighting and dying to take turf from Daesh, but the aftermath of victory is a big and unsolved problem. Inclusive governance is what the country needs but seldom gets, in particular in Baghdad. Shia militias were too active in Tikrit in the wake of victory there over Daesh, rendering the town unsafe for Sunni returnees initially. Only once local leaders and reconciliation mechanisms were put in place was the stabilization effort more successful. At Ramadi, the governor has been doing well but there is much more damage and a lot of demining to be done. At Fallujah, there is less destruction but a serious humanitarian crisis, with 85,000 civilians fleeing from the city and living in unacceptable conditions in the desert. UNDP resources are grossly inadequate to the stabilization effort it has been tasked with.

Little planning has been done for stabilization in Syria. What is needed there is a political settlement. Sunni alienation and grievance are the the problem, enormously aggravated by the presence of Hezbollah. Ignoring it gives the impression that the West will support “ABS”: anyone but Sunnis. Post-Daesh, governance needs to be far more inclusive.

The Kurds in both Iraq and Syria are getting a lot of Western support because they are willing to fight Daesh. The support should be more conditional. The US should insist that Iraqi Kurdistan reach a pact with Baghdad and that the Syrian Kurds help with peace talks between Turkey and the PKK, which is closely tied to the Syrian Kurds.

Looking ahead, there is a real risk that with Russian and Iranian support the Syrian regime will manage to capture Aleppo as well as Raqqa, form some sort of “national unity” government with elements of the loyal opposition and rewrite parts of the constitution. The US might then declare victory and abandon the field entirely, leaving reconstruction inadequately resourced. This would not really solve anything and would allow grievances to worsen, ungoverned spaces to grow and the conflict to spread, possibly to Lebanon and Jordan. 

There is a glimmer of hope for Iraq, but even that is limited. Splits in both the Sunni and Shia communities are opening the possibility of cross-sectarian mobilization in Baghdad. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are often viewed as under Tehran’s control, but some of them are not and might join with Sunnis who have also fought against Daesh. The Kurdish issue would still be unresolved, however, which will create problems for the liberation of Mosul. Kurdistan Regional Government President Barzani is entirely dedicated to consolidating his own power, both vis-a-vis other Kurdish political forces and vis-a-vis Baghdad. Without clearer definition of the political end-state, defeat of Daesh could lead to a follow-on civil war pitting Kurds against Arabs.


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Good ideas

State-building, the function American presidents love to hate, is the unavoidable foreign policy burden of our times. Without it, the war against the Islamic State and other extremists will last forever. Only when Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt are better governed will they be immune to the extremist infection that has roiled the Middle East.

Fortunately, I’ve got colleagues around DC who not only agree with this proposition but also are thinking hard what to do about it. I prefer not to spend my time and whatever intellectual energies I’ve got left thinking about reforming the US government, which has resisted most such efforts for well over 200 years. But I’m glad others are willing to engage.

Max Boot and Mike Mikclaucic want to reconfigure the US Agency for International Development into a state building agency, giving up most of its programs to international governmental and nongovernmental organizations better suited to the tasks and often better funded. They would toss out “poverty alleviation, global health, biodiversity, women’s empowerment, education, sanitation, and economic and agriculture development.” They want the US agency to focus on ungoverned or inadequately governed spaces, seeking to provide them with security forces, courts, professional civil services, and accountable financial mechanisms. In other words: the essential functions of sovereignty.

They also want AID–or maybe it would be called the US Agency for State Building–to focus on fewer countries, mainly but not exclusively in what some of us think of as the Greater Middle East (Morocco to Pakistan, more or less), plus countries at risk from Russian and Chinese expansionism, with a few Latin American countries thrown in for counternarcotics purposes. The point is to choose them based on their strategic importance to US national security.

John Norris, arguing that our current practices favor rewarding failed states with lots of money and attention, takes what he terms a”better” approach to fragile states. He proposes that willing and able fragile states–not the utterly failed ones–be invited to enter into repeatable 5-year, USAID-administered Inclusion, Growth and Peace compacts, with the aim of developing effective and legitimate institutions over a decade and more. While not proposing a definitive list, he suggests:

Niger, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Lebanon, Uganda, Myanmar, Cameroon, Egypt, Mali, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Nepal, and Rwanda all stand out as countries where a mixture of host country commitment, effective diplomacy, positive leverage, and sound assistance strategies could help move them more permanently out of the fragility category.

Adding Tunisia and Mali for good measure, Norris says the pay-off from focusing more attention on these not-yet-basket cases could be particularly high.

This approach is analogous to one the Millennium Challenge Corporation uses, usually for more consolidated states. Greater flexibility would be required for fragile states, and the money would be focused on improving legitimacy, which is something the host country naturally wants. But it would have to make specific, transparent and accountable commitments in exchange.

Implicitly, the array of current AID objectives that Miclaucic and Boot cite would be at least partly dropped in Norris’ approach as well, though of course improvement in state effectiveness would likely result in some of those objectives being met. Norris proposes specific indicators for his compacts, geared toward the problems of fragile states like return of refugees and internally displaced people, reduction of grievances and increased government effectiveness, among others. He also proposes getting rid of the parallel budgets funded as Overseas Contingency Operations, but only if equivalent amounts are re-inserted into regular appropriations of State, AID and Defense.

That’s about as much budgetese as I am capable and willing to speak. The main point for all three authors is just this: our current foreign assistance is not producing the best results because it is focused on the wrong objectives and countries and because it is spent on the wrong efforts. The stove pipes that rule the foreign assistance world are separating things that belong together, especially where fragile states are concerned. We could do much better if we re-thought the whole package strategically, from ultimate objectives to programs.

As I explained in the book advertised to your upper right, I doubt that can be done with existing institutions, which have proven irremediable. But Norris, Boot and Miclaucic have put forward good ideas worthy of attention.

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Peace Picks June 27-30

  1. Restoring NATO’s Power And Purpose| Monday, June 27th | 1:30  | Atlantic Council | 1030 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA| Register HERE | After Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union, the NATO Alliance has become more important than ever as a platform for European cooperation and security. What the Alliance achieves at its upcoming Warsaw Summit will be integral in defining NATO’s role in the new Euro-Atlantic security environment and strengthening international peace and stability in a turbulent world. Framing a critical conversation about the Alliance’s strategic priorities, this event will present the final conclusions of an Atlantic Council-chartered study on the future of NATO co-chaired by Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns and General James L. Jones. The study is premised on the belief that the Alliance is facing its greatest set of internal and external challenges since the Cold War. The report calls for renewed leadership by the United States and key European allies to restore NATO’s power and purpose in the face of an entirely different security landscape.  Featuring a panel discussion with Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Former US Ambassador to NATO; and General James L. Jones, Chairman and Board Director, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council; the event will convene key transatlantic officials and leaders to discuss what the US, UK, and crucial European Allies must do to bolster NATO’s strength and solidarity in a post-Brexit Europe.
  2.  Challenges And Opportunities For The U.S. Government To Improve The Protection Of Civilians In Armed Conflict| Monday, June 27th | 3:30-5:00  | Stimson Center | 8th floor, 1211 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036 | Register HERE | To mark the Washington, D.C. launch of Protection of Civilians, a comprehensive volume published by Oxford University Press, the Stimson Center will host a discussion examining how the U.S. government can advance the protection of civilians agenda. Panelists from inside and outside the U.S. government will explore how the government has engaged through bilateral diplomatic channels and multilateral institutions to prevent and respond to violence against civilians in conflict zones. The panel discussion will be followed by a reception with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. This event will be held under the Chatham House Rule. Speakers include: Victoria K. Holt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State; Bruno Stagno Ugarte, Deputy Executive Director at Human Rights Watch, Lise Grande, Deputy Representative of the Secretary-General to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, Tamara Guttman, Director General, Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START).
  3. Is China’s Door Closing? | Tuesday, June 28th | 2:30-4:00  | Woodrow Wilson Center | 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20004 | Register HERE | Ever since Deng Xiaoping launched his reforms in 1978, “openness” (对外开放) has been a central tenet of Chinese policy. While the actual degree of China’s openness has varied from time to time and sector to sector over the past 38 years, the trend toward greater liberalization of society, institutions, and the economy has been clear. Until recently. The passage of China’s foreign NGO law raises doubts about Xi Jinping’s commitment to further opening and reform. The law, which places foreign NGO’s under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Security, is the latest in a series of regulations meant to control “hostile foreign forces.” Surveys indicate that foreign companies are concerned about tightening business regulations in China and wonder whether they are as welcome as they were in recent decades. International journalists and publishers, too, are finding it difficult to obtain visas and to reach Chinese audiences. Is China’s door closing to foreigners? Why are conditions changing for international actors in China? How should the United States respond? Please join us for a discussion of the future of American NGO’s, corporations, and media in Xi’s China. Speakers: Erin Ennis, Senior Vice President, US-China Business Council Isaac Stone Fish, Asia Editor, Foreign Policy Shawn Shieh, Deputy Director, China Labour Bulletin.
  4. Changing Tides: The Road To Reconciliation And The Future Of Turkish – Israeli Relations | Tuesday, June 28th | 4:00-6:00  | Turkish Heritage Organization | Carnegie Endowment Conference Center | 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW | In light of these recent developments and the possibility that a deal between Turkey and Israel is imminent, the Turkish Heritage Organization is hosting a roundtable discussion on Tuesday, June 28th from 4-6pm at the Carnegie Endowment Conference Center to explore and discuss the prospects for reconciliation between Turkey and Israel, the final stages of a deal and what the future might look like for both countries. Spakers include: Dr. Brenda Shaffer, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council; Dan Arbell,  Nonresident senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings and Former Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Israel in Washington, DC; and Moran Stern,  Georgetown University, Center for Jewish Civilization. The moderator will be Dr. Mark Meirowitz, Assistant Professor at SUNY Maritime College.
  5. Media Activism Amid Civil War: The Role of Syrian Women Journalists | Wednesday, June 29th | 12:30-1:45  | Middle East Institute | 1761 N Street NW Washington, DC 20036 | Register HERE | Syrian citizen-journalists, bloggers, and media activists have played a critical role covering one of the world’s most dangerous conflicts. They do so in the face of significant challenges – from fear for their safety, to overcoming international indifference to the story of an unending conflict. Women journalists face even greater challenges and yet many continue to work in the field. Non-profit initiatives like the Syrian Female Journalists’ Network are providing training and support while promoting a better understanding of the important role of women in the Syrian uprising. The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host the founders of the Syrian Female Journalists Network, Rula Asad and Milia Eidmouni, and radio journalist Caroline Ayoub for a discussion of their work in promoting the roles of Syrian women in journalism and civil society. Kate Seelye will moderate the discussion with the activists, who are visiting Washington as part of an Asfari Foundation-backed program to highlight the ongoing role of Syrian civil society.
  6. Kurdistan Rising? Considerations For Kurds, Their Neighbors, And The Region | Wednesday, June 29th | 3:00-4:30  | American Enterprise Institute |1150 Seventeenth Street, NW Washington, DC 20036| Register HERE | Two decades ago, many US officials would have been hard-pressed to place Kurdistan on a map, let alone consider the Kurds as allies. Today, Kurds loom large on the Middle Eastern stage, highlighting their renewed push for independence amid the chaos in Iraq. In his new monograph, “Kurdistan Rising? Considerations for Kurds, Their Neighbors, and the Region,” AEI’s Michael Rubin examines the effects of Kurdish independence and unresolved questions that would follow an independent Kurdistan, including citizenship, political structures, defense, economic systems, and renegotiation of treaties to include the Kurds. Lukman Faily, Iraqi ambassador to the United States; James F. Jeffrey, former US ambassador to Iraq and Turkey; and Michael Rubin, resident scholar at AEI, will speak.
  7. Congo Crisis: Getting to Good Elections in a Bad Neighborhood | Wednesday, June 29th | 4:00pm | Institute of World Politics | 1521 16th Street NW Washington, DC | Register  HERE |  Charles Snyder, Former Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Professor of African Affairs, IWP, will speak about prospects for Congo.


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Brexit’s impact in the Middle East

The Middle East Institute, where I am affiliated as a Scholar, published my short assessment of Brexit’s impact in the region this morning, along with briefs by Paul Scham on Israeli reaction and Alex Vatanka on reshuffling of Syria portfolios in Tehran:

The Middle East seems far from Great Britain, but the reverberations of Brexit will still be felt there. The immediate impact on British and European stock and real estate markets, where Gulf oil sovereign wealth funds and individuals have a lot of money at risk, will be a dramatic fall. The E.U. economy, the world’s largest, was just beginning to pick up. It will likely now return to recession, due as much to uncertainty and lack of confidence as to any real economic impact of Brexit, which will take at least two years to implement.

Seasoned investors will hold on for the ride, but the impact on global economic prospects will be negative and persistent. Oil prices, which had gradually managed to climb back above $50/barrel, will slide again, due to reduced energy demand, a rising U.S. dollar as investors seek a safe haven, and the declining pound and euro. Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies will feel the renewed pinch brought on by Brexit.

The U.K. and other European states have been important partners for the United States in the Middle East, in particular when intervening militarily in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Allied help will be harder to come by in the future, as the U.K. and the rest of Europe turn inwards and seek to block Middle Eastern immigrants even more vigorously than in the past. Turkey’s European perspective will evaporate. Nativist sentiments in Europe and America will increase, potentially accelerating radicalization, especially among Muslims in the U.K. who largely voted to remain. This will further distance Americans and Europeans from the Muslim world and make the Middle East easier prey for both Russia and extremists.

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