Some colleagues asked that I talk yesterday about outside influences on the Balkans, where things have gotten shaky lately, with a risk that the peace settlements of the 1990s might unravel. Here are the notes I prepared for myself:
- Renewed attention to the Balkans, which has all but dropped off Washington’s priorities in recent years, is most welcome. The region has made a lot of progress, especially in the first ten years after the Bosnian war, but right now it is in trouble.
- I’ve been asked to talk about “outside influences”: Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
- It is important at the outset to say that none of these countries would have much influence in the Balkans except for the decline in American engagement and the weakening of the EU.
- The US has tried for a decade now to get the EU to lead, as it has the main carrots for political and economic reform as well as more compelling interests in the region.
- The Europeans have done some good things: the Brussels dialogue has led to real improvements in Belgrade/Pristina relations, even if many specific agreements remain unimplemented.
- The 2014 British-German initiative for economic reform in Bosnia—undertaken to forestall a renewed U.S. initiative to change its constitution—has made little real progress, largely due to European reluctance to stick with its own conditionality.
- The best that can be said for EU efforts in Macedonia is that they have so far avoided the worst, with US support. The EU there seems unable to overcome a monumental level of stubbornness.
- But in the past two years the refugee crisis, Brexit, surging nationalism in many EU countries, and the congenital inability of the EU to speak with one voice has undermined the credibility of EU accession, which in any event won’t happen before 2020 and more likely not before 2025.
- That’s a long time to wait in the Balkans, where we’ve spoiled people with Stabilization and Association, Schengen visas, candidacy for EU accession, pre-accession funds, and other goodies. What we haven’t done is invest: the US and EU have risked little private money in the Balkans.
- Russia and Turkey—whose influence is far greater than others I’ve been asked to discuss—are moving into relative vacuums: the Russians find ethnic Serbs easy pickings and the Turks find Islamists, especially in Bosnia but also in Kosovo, friendly to their interests.
- The Russian influence is overwhelmingly pernicious from a Western perspective. Moscow is doing its best to make NATO and EU membership as slow and as difficult as possible, especially in Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Serbia. Its influence in Albania and Kosovo is minimal.
- The attempted coup in Montenegro is just the tip of iceberg. Moscow contributes to ethnic tensions, political polarization, and regional instability in many ways: opaque financing for Republika Srpska, Russia’s so-called humanitarian center, overt military aid and investments in Serbia, support to Russophile politicians as well as media onslaughts throughout the region.
- Quite apart from these Slavic connections, Moscow has strong leverage over Belgrade because its UNSC veto is essential to blocking Kosovo’s General Assembly membership.
- Moscow’s goal is clear: to prevent Balkan countries from entering NATO and even the EU.
- Turkey is a different story.
- For more than twenty years after the Bosnian war the Turks were disciplined Western-oriented contributors to peacekeeping and development in the Balkans, trying to maintain good relations with Serbs and Croats as well as with Balkan Muslims.
- This has been described as a “gentle version” of the Ottoman Empire, one associated with the “no problems with neighbors” policy and aimed at the region’s Christians as well as its Muslims.
- Many Croats and Serbs may have been nervous about Turkish cultural inroads, as parts of the region lived for centuries under Ottoman domination, but most welcomed Turkish investment and contractors, which are evident throughout the region.
- As Erdogan turned in a more authoritarian direction and relations with the US strained, Turkey began a more Islamist push, especially with Bosnian Muslims and President Bakir Izetbegovic.
- The Muslim Brotherhood connection is a more visible and explicit one for Bakir than it was for his father, though it existed for Alija Izetbegovic as well.
- The recent Turkish-Russian rapprochement has had an undesirable impact with some Bosniak leaders in Montenegro. They are taking Erdogan’s hint, viewing Moscow in a more positive light and connecting with the Chechen leadership. That development may warrant monitoring, especially if it spills over to Bosnia.
- Turkey has also had notably good relations with President Thaci in Kosovo, but more based on commercial opportunities than religion.
- Iran and Saudi Arabia both have long histories in the Balkans.
- Report Launch: “The Other Side of the World” | Monday, April 24 | 10:30-12 | CSIS | Register Here | China’s growing interests in the Middle East, and the United States’ enduring interests in the Middle East, create challenges for two of the world’s most powerful nations. Should they seek more active collaboration? Are their goals for the future of the Middle East compatible? To discuss the implications of increasingly robust China-Middle East ties for U.S. interests, CSIS invites you to the launch of its new Brzezinski Institute Report: “The Other Side of the World: China, the United States, and the Struggle for Middle East Security,” featuring Anne Gearan, Political Correspondent at the Washington Post; Jon B. Alterman, Senior Vice President and Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director of the Middle East Program at CSIS; Michael J. Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at CSIS; Matthew P. Goodman, William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy and Senior Adviser for Asian Economics at CSIS; and Christopher K. Johnson, Senior Adviser and Freeman Chair in China Studies.
- What is the Future of EU-Turkey Relations? | Monday, April 24 | 2-3:30 | Wilson Center | Register Here | This panel will address a number of questions related to the April 16 Turkish constitutional referendum: Can the European-Turkish migration deal last? How might upcoming national elections in several European countries affect European ties with Turkey? What could cause the EU to freeze or end Turkey’s accession process? Is Erdogan willing to abandon Turkey’s EU membership bid or follow through with his threat to end the migration deal? Can the EU and Turkey find a way forward? Speakers include Michelle Egan, Professor and Jean Monnet Chair ad personam at School of International Service, American University; Aykan Erdemir, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; and Constanze Stelzenmueller, Senior Transatlantic Fellow and Director of Transatlantic Trends at the German Marshall Fund, Berlin and Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
- The United Arab Emirates: Power, Politics, and Policy-Making | Tuesday, April 25 | 12-1:30 | AGSIW | Register Here | Led by Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates has become deeply embedded in the contemporary system of international power, politics, and policymaking. Only an independent state since 1971, the seven emirates that constitute the UAE represent not only the most successful Arab federal experiment but also the most durable. However, the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath underscored the continuing imbalance between Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and the five northern emirates. Meanwhile, the post-2011 security crackdown revealed the acute sensitivity of officials in Abu Dhabi to social inequalities and economic disparities across the federation. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Baker Institute Fellow for the Middle East at Rice University, charts the various processes of state formation and political and economic development that have enabled the UAE to emerge as a significant regional power and major player in the post-Arab Spring reordering of Middle East and North African politics, as well as the closest partner of the United States in military and security affairs in the region.
- New Approaches to Israel-Palestine Peace Efforts: Can Regional Powers Make a Difference? | Wednesday, April 26 | 1-3:30 | MEPC | Register Here | Panelists will discuss whether there are new opportunities to work with regional powers to realize a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Speakers include Chas W. Freeman Jr., Chairman of Projects International Inc., Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Former US Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Former President, MEPC; Hady Amr, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings, Former Deputy Special Envoy, Israeli-Palestinian Relations at the Department of State; and Former Deputy Assistant Administrator, Middle East at USAID; Ian Lustick, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Former President of Politics and History Section of the American Poltical Science Association, and Member of the Council on Foreign Relations; and Riad Khawaji, Founder and CEO of INEGMA, Middle East Bureau Chief at Defense News, and Middle East Correspondent at Jane’s Defense Weekly.
- The Syrian Crisis: What Lies Ahead on the Battlefield and in Diplomacy | Wednesday, April 26 | 1:30-5 | MEI | Register Here | The Middle East Institute (MEI) Track II Dialogues Initiative and the National Defense University Near East South Asia (NESA) Center for Strategic Studies have convened three rounds of private consultations with Russian counterparts about the Syrian conflict, most recently in February 2017. Participants from those and parallel MEI Track II encounters with Middle Eastern leaders will join with other experts on the military and diplomatic aspects of the conflict in two panel discussions to consider possible ways forward. These panelists include Jennifer Cafarella, Lead Intelligence Planner at the Institute for the Study of War, Charles Lister, Senior Fellow at MEI, Andrew J. Tabler, Martin J. Gross Fellow at WINEP, LTG (ret) Terry A Wolf, Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS at the Department of State, Wa’el Alzayat, CEO at Emerge USA, (ret) Robert S. Ford, Senior Fellow at MEI, Roger Kangas, Academic Dean and Professor, NESA Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, and Randa Slim, Director of Track II Dialogues at MEI.
- A Story to Tell: Changing the Narrative of American Muslims with Hena Khan | Wednesday, April 26 | 6-8pm | The Elliott School | Register Here | Join us for a conversation with Elliott School alumna and children’s author Hena Khan about her experiences writing books that represent American Muslims, promote understanding, and build tolerance and compassion. She will share her newest novel, Amina’s Voice, the first publication of Simon & Schuster’s groundbreaking new imprint Salaam Reads, which focuses on books about Muslims. Amina’s Voice recounts the story of a Pakistani-American Muslim girl who struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community.
- Tunisia in Transition: Challenges and Prospects | Thursday, April 27 | 2-3:30 | POMED and the Arab Center Washington | Register Here | Tunisia, the birthplace of the “Arab Spring” uprisings of 2011, stands today as the only country undertaking a democratic transition. But despite the historic progress, daunting challenges remain, including confronting corruption, bolstering the economy, and reforming the justice sector. What are the most important steps in confronting these challenges? And what role can international actors, including the United States, play in supporting Tunisia’s fragile democracy? Speakers include Amine Ghali, Program Director at Al Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center in Tunis, Leila Hilal, Senior Fellow, International Security Program at New America, Chawki Tabib, President of Tunisia’s National Authority for the Fight Against Corruption, and Sarah Yerkes, Fellow, Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment.
Military colleagues (same ones who produced this fine piece) recently asked some good questions. I replied:
- How could DoD and DoS be better postured to address regional and world conflicts to ensure a whole of government approach to identify and synchronize lines of effort in both planning and execution?
While intellectually DoD and DoS are more in agreement on a whole of government approach than any other time I can remember in the past 20 years, there is a gigantic imbalance in the capacities and cultures of the two institutions. State persists with a “sink or swim” culture fundamentally opposed to planning, which is still honored more in the breach than the observance. It also lacks appropriate personnel and resources. That is about to get worse, not better, due to budget cuts.
Ideally, State Department officers should train with military units with which they might deploy in the future. That would vastly increase mutual esteem and communication. But it is mostly impossible today. The best that can be hoped for is some commonality in the training materials for both, though State is likely to be doing precious little training for stabilization operations in the next few years. I fear we are back to where we were 20 years ago: our military instrument is far more potent than our civilian instruments, and there is a yawning gap between them.
2. What does a successfully concluded campaign against ISIS look like? Considering costs, reputation, and balance of influence, how should the U.S./Coalition define success? Is the defeat of ISIS a success if it causes the balance of power in the region to shift towards Iran, Assad, or Russia?
Success in Syria should be defined in terms of sustainable peace and security. That won’t be possible under Assad or with the Russians and Iranians playing the roles they play today in propping up a minority dictator and repressing the majority Sunni population. So long as Assad is there, Syrians will be fighting him. The longer it lasts, the more those Syrians will be extremist.
After a successful campaign against ISIS, Syrians in different parts of the country should be able to govern themselves, repress terrorist activity with forces that do not oppress or attack the rest of the population, begin to return economic activity to prewar levels, and return to their homes or resettle freely without fear of persecution. We are a very long way from that, even in the most stable parts of the country (some Kurdish-controlled areas and parts of the south).
3. Does U.S. foreign policy strike the right balance in supporting U.S. interests and its role as a global power? Or, should the U.S. consider a more isolationist approach to foreign policy? What impact could an isolationist policy have on Middle East security and stability, balance of influence by regional and world actors, and U.S. national interests?
It is a mistake to ask foreign policy experts about isolationism, which they will all condemn, but I’ll go this far: U.S. interests in the Middle East are not as salient as they once were and we should be thinking and planning about reducing our commitments and burdens there.
The main U.S. interests in the region apart from counter-terrorism are generally defined as these: non-proliferation, oil, maintenance of alliances, and human rights/democracy. The only significant proliferation risk in the region (Iran) is on hold for 10-15 years or so, the U.S. is far less dependent on Middle East oil than once it was, our allies are mostly interested in military assistance, and we appear to have mostly given up on human rights and democracy in the region.
I think it is arguable that a) deterring Iran could be (maybe better be) accomplished with a much reduced U.S. presence in the Gulf, b) we should not be spending as much American treasure as in the past or risking American lives for oil flowing out of the Gulf to China and Japan (which should share that burden more than in the past), c) our allies should be taking on more of the burden of defending themselves with the enormous amount of kit we’ve sold them, and d) human rights and democracy will gain traction in the region better with less U.S. military presence.
4. What are the competing national interests of the U.S. and Iran in the Middle East and what are the options for alleviating U.S. / Iranian tensions to mutual satisfaction and improved regional stability?
Iran is a revolutionary power looking to extend its security perimeter into neighboring states and to burnish its Islamist credentials by resistance to Israel. It will be impossible to overcome these problems exclusively in a bilateral U.S./Iran context, though increased communication between Tehran and Washington (including diplomatic representatives at some level in each of their capitals) is highly desirable.
Regional stability would also benefit from some sort of regional security architecture—think OSCE in Europe or ASEAN in Asia. This would aim at de-escalating Sunni/Shia, Saudi/Iranian, Turkish/Iranian, and other regional conflicts and tensions. There are few places on earth today with less regional cooperation and connectivity than the Middle East and North Africa.
5. What are the respective national interests of the U.S. and Russia in the Middle East and what are the options for alleviating U.S./Russian tensions to mutual satisfaction and improved regional stability?
1. Addressing the North Korean Threat: A Discussion with Congressman Joe Wilson | Monday, March 20th | 11:30-1:00PM | The Hudson Institute | Register Here |
Hudson Institute will host a timely conversation on the growing threat of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs to the Unites States and our East Asian allies. U.S. Representative Joe Wilson, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Readiness Subcommittee, will join Hudson missile defense and East Asia security experts Rebeccah Heinrichs and Arthur Herman for an in-depth discussion on the status of Pyongyang’s weapons development activities and how the U.S. and our regional allies should respond to bolster their security.
2. From Scarcity to Security: Water as a Resource for Middle East Peacebuilding | Monday, March 20th | 12:00-2:00 PM | The Elliot School | Register Here |
In the Middle East, water has often constituted a source of tension between Israel, the Palestinians and neighboring states. In recent years, however, regional leaders have increasingly identified water security as a shared interest that transcends borders – and even a potential avenue for peacebuilding. Join Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director, EcoPeace Middle East and Marina Djernaes, Director, EcoPeace Center for Water Security for a discussion on this resource.
For two decades, the EcoPeace Middle East organization has engaged Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians in the joint promotion of practical solutions to transboundary problems of scarcity and pollution. In the process, they have fostered regional alliances, built environmental infrastructure, altered allocation policies, and shined spotlights on the environmental crises facing sacred sites such as the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. This panel will draw on decades of civil society and intergovernmental experience to highlight the potential of water security as a catalyst for peace building in the Middle East and beyond.
3. Rebuilding Syria: Reconstruction and Legitimacy | Tuesday, March 21st | 12:30 | The Atlantic Council | Register Here |
The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East is launching a new initiative, Rebuilding Syria: Reconstruction and Legitimacy. Over the next two years, the Hariri Center will pool expertise from multiple specialists to cover the many challenges of rebuilding Syria including in: economics, finance, development, infrastructure, political economy, civil society, food security, energy, law, and employment. More than just a cursory overview, the initiative will produce a strategic roadmap to reconstruction with the participation of Syrians and the support of the international community.
The Hariri Center invites you to a discussion on the technical and political challenges ahead for rebuilding Syria with country and development experts on March 21, 2017 from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. at the Atlantic Council headquarters in Washington, D.C. Our panelists will include Dr. Osama Kadi, president of the Syrian Economic Task Force, Mr. Todd Diamond, Middle East director for Chemonics International, Mona Yacoubian, former deputy assistant administrator for the Middle East at the US Agency for International Development, and Bassam Barabandi, former Syrian diplomat and co-founder of People Demand Change. The conversation will be moderated by Hariri Center Senior Fellow Faysal Itani. Mr. Omar Shawaf, chairman and founder of BINAA, will give introductory remarks.
4. A Conversation with His Excellency Gebran Bassil, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, The Republic of Lebanon| Tuesday, March 21st | 3:00-4:00 PM | The Wilson Center | Register Here |
The Lebanon Ideas Forum is an assemblage of scholars, journalists, policymakers, and diplomats who will discuss issues concerning Lebanon, its wider region, and relations with the United States and Europe. This event is the inaugural event in the Lebanon Ideas Forum series. The Lebanon Ideas Forum is part of a greater strategic partnership between the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center and Safadi Foundation USA, which was established in 2017. Join the Wilson Center this Tuesday for a discussion with Lara Alameh, President of the Board and CEO, Safadi Foundation USA, and Gebran Bassil, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, The Republic of Lebanon.
5. Securing Southeastern Europe: A New Model for Progress in the Balkans? | Tuesday, March 21st | 4:00 PM | The Atlantic Council | Register Here
Please join the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative on Tuesday, March 21 at 4:00 p.m. for a conversation with the foreign ministers of Albania, Croatia, and Montenegro, as they discuss security cooperation in the Western Balkans.
At this public event, Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati, Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic, and Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier will jointly discuss their perspective on the security challenges facing Southeastern Europe, as well as their insights on addressing issues ranging from Islamic radicalization and terrorist threats to the completion of Montenegro’s NATO accession process.
6. The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein and US policy in Iraq | Wednesday, March 22nd | 10:00-11:30 | Brookings | Register Here |
On March 22, the Brookings Intelligence Project will host former CIA analyst John Nixon to outline his findings from his interrogation of Hussein, and what lessons he believes can be learned. Brookings Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project, will provide introductory remarks and moderate the discussion. Following their remarks, Riedel and Nixon will take questions from the audience.
7. U.S.- Iran Relations: Opportunities for the New Administration | Wednesday, March 22nd | 11:30-12:30 | The Wilson Center | Register Here |
Ever since the 1979 Iranian Revolution and subsequent hostage situation, Iran-US relations have been characterized by mutual misperceptions. The nuclear deal of June 2015 between Iran and the “P5+1” came to fruition against this backdrop, in large part due to the efforts of The Right Honourable Catherine Ashton, Baroness of Upholland, Former Vice President of the European Commission and former High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, Senior Counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
The July 2015 deal was an unprecedented step towards rebuilding that trust, though tensions are being fueled by military cooperation with Russia in Syria and new sanctions announced by the Trump administration. The new administration faces familiar challenges in relations with Iran, but also some key strategic and economic opportunities. Rob Litwak, Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations and Director, International Security Studies, will moderate a discussion between Baroness Ashton and Ambassador Sherman who well know these challenges and opportunities, and can speak to how the U.S. can be appealing to their strategic interests using diplomacy and negotiations.
8. The Impact of Gender Norms on Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia | Wednesday, March 22nd | 12:00-1:00 | The Elliot School | Register Here |
Dr. Hala Aldosari will lead a discussion on the impact of gender norms on the construction of women’s roles and identity in Saudi Arabia. Analysis of key limitations of personal status laws, planning of women’s health services and the concepts of legislation on violence against women will be presented. The talk will also delve into the role of state and non-state agents in shaping the discourse on gender norms and roles, in light of the recent economic and political trends.
Hala Aldosari received her PhD and postdoctoral training in health services research and the social determinants of women’s health. Her research and publications are focused on the intersection of gender, laws, health and political identity in Saudi Arabia. She works on different projects to promote women’s rights and prevention from violence against women and girls. In 2016, she won the Freedom award for her leading role to promote human rights and democracy in Saudi Arabia.
9. Reaffirming the U.S.-Taiwan Security Relationship | Friday, March 24th | 12:00-2:00 PM | The Hudson Institute | Register Here |
As President Donald Trump meets with China’s President Xi Jinping next month, one subject that is likely to be discussed is Taiwan. President Trump has inherited a clear and long-established diplomatic and security structure pledged to defend Taiwan, its democratic political institutions, and the freedoms its people enjoy. The keystones of U.S. relations with Taiwan are the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances which established guidelines for U.S. policy toward Taiwan over the last four decades. The Six Assurances addressed U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, set a fixed stance on sovereignty issues, and guaranteed that previous agreements calling for U.S. assistance to defend Taiwan would remain firmly in effect.
On March 24, Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower will host a distinguished panel of experts to examine the Trump administration’s stance on Taiwan and the outlook for existing agreements to protect Taiwan. Hudson senior fellows Seth Cropsey and William Schneider will be joined by Dennis Wilder, a professor at Georgetown University, and Ian Easton of the Project 2049 Institute. The panel will assess what is needed to fulfill and fortify the existing agreements with Taiwan and assure not only this partnership, but the U.S.’s entire network of regional and global alliances.
- Northern Ireland’s Lesson for Israeli-Palestinian Peace | Monday, March 13 | 1:00- 5:00pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | When Northern Ireland’s combatants finally made peace in the 1990s, they did so on a broad foundation of grassroots reconciliation and economic development work, built over more than a decade by the International Fund for Ireland. On March 13, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Embassy of Ireland will gather former government officials, peacebuilding practitioners and scholars to examine what worked in advancing peace in Northern Ireland—and what lessons might be applied to the difficult process of peacemaking and peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians. Former Senator George Mitchell, who served as an envoy in both peace processes, will be the keynote speaker. The first panel on the International Fund for Ireland, will include Carol Cunningham of Unheard Voices, Melanie Greenberg of Alliance for Peacebuilding, Professor Brandon Hamber of Ulster University, and Adrian Johnston of the International Fund for Ireland. The second panel, on implications for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding, will include Joel Braunold of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen of the United Institute of Peace, Father Josh Thomas of Kids4Peace, and Sarah Yerkes of Brookings.
- Regional Perspectives on US Policy in the Middle East | Monday, March 13 | 3:00- 4:30pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | As the dust begins to settle after the transition of power in Washington, the spotlight is slowly moving to the administration’s policies toward the Middle East and North Africa. With the region already troubled by one of President Trump’s early executive orders and several phone calls and meetings with regional leaders, many unanswered questions remain about the direction of the relationship with the Middle East. Our distinguished panel will discuss how the region is watching, anticipating, and reacting to shifts in policy, including Kristin Diwan on the Gulf, Haykel Ben Mahfoudh and Karim Mezran on North Africa, A. Hellyer on Egypt, and Nicola Pedde on Iran. Will the Trump administration fulfill its campaign promise to re-assert its role in the Middle East? How will the president and Congress react to ongoing challenges and opportunities in Libya, Yemen, and Egypt? Will the president’s style have a significant impact on the relationship with hardline leaders in Syria, Iran, and others across the region? Please join us for a discussion of these and other issues of concern to the United States in the Middle East.
- Report Launch: “The Other Side of the World” | Tuesday, March 14 | 2:00- 4:00pm | Center for Strategic and International Studies | Register Here | China’s growing interests in the Middle East, and the United States’ enduring interests in the Middle East, create challenges for two of the world’s most powerful nations. Should they seek more active collaboration? Are their goals for the future of the Middle East compatible? To discuss the implications of increasingly robust China-Middle East ties for U.S. interests, CSIS invites you to the launch of its new Brzezinski Institute Report: “The Other Side of the World: China, the United States, and the Struggle for Middle East Security.” The discussion will feature Carol Giacomo of The New York Times as well as CSIS experts Jon B. Alterman, Michael J. Green, Christopher K. Johnson, and Matthew P. Goodman.
- Why Tunisia Should Matter to the New U.S. Administration | Tuesday, March 14 | 3:00- 4:00pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | Tunisia’s peaceful, though difficult, transition since the Arab Spring and its centrality in U.S.-supported efforts to stem terrorism punctuate its role as a major non-NATO ally of the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump “praised Tunisia’s stability and security,” in a Feb. 17 phone call with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, according to a White House statement. Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui will discuss the U.S. partnership and Tunisia’s own development and influence in the region, in a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Tuesday, March 14.
- America’s Role in the World: Congress and US Foreign Policy | Thursday, March 16 | 9:00-10:30am | Atlantic Council | Register Here | As the Trump administration continues to form its foreign policy and national security strategy, Congress has a distinct role of its own to play in shaping how the United States addresses emerging global threats and approaches its leadership role on the international stage. At this early stage, little is defined within the administration’s approach. Congress has an opportunity to help characterize what America’s role in world should be and how it aims to deal with issues in the Middle East, especially ISIS and Iran, China, and Russia. To help think through these issues, two Representatives with military backgrounds, Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), will offer their perspectives on the United States leadership role and national security strategy in an environment of increasing global risks.
- Congressman Adam Kinzinger on America’s Role in the Middle East and the World | Friday, March 17 | 8:30am | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The United States faces a number of security challenges across the globe as well as increasing questions about what role the Trump Administration believes the United States should play on the international stage. Please join the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East for a conversation with Congressman Adam Kinzinger on America’s role in the world and in the Middle East in particular, and what we can expect from a Trump presidency in terms of foreign policy and national security. This event is part of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force initiative, co-chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and former US National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley. In November 2016, the co-chairs published their Task Force Report that proposes a pragmatic and actionable Middle East roadmap that emphasizes the efforts of the people of the Middle East themselves supported by the long-term engagement of the international community, with an eye toward harnessing the region’s enormous human potential. The Task Force brought together a broad array of regional stakeholders and international experts to collaborate in identifying ways in which people in the Middle East can build and support governing institutions that offer legitimacy, opportunity, and an alternative to violence.
The current furor over the Trump campaign’s links to Moscow is still generating more heat than light. This morning’s news that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court last fall authorized tapping of his phones suggests there is fire as well as smoke. The FISA court would issue a warrant only if the requester demonstrates
probable cause to believe that the “target of the surveillance is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power,” that “a significant purpose” of the surveillance is to obtain “foreign intelligence information,” and that appropriate “minimization procedures” are in place.
The original report of the wiretap refers explicitly to FISA authorization.
The vital question is whether there was coordination or cooperation with Russia’s concerted efforts to tilt the election in Trump’s direction. I haven’t seen an answer. Attorney General Sessions’ recusal from any investigation of the Moscow connection is no more than a procedural step in the right direction, one he should have taken even before it was revealed that he lied at his Senate confirmation hearing about contacts with the Russians.
The debate now is over a special prosecutor or an independent commission. I don’t really care which, so long as whoever investigates can collect and see all the intelligence available, without undue influence by the administration. That is no small order: it means independent people with courage, high-level clearances and a year, or more likely two, before we know the results.
That’s a long time to leave people in office who may have collaborated with a foreign power in getting elected. But at the same time it virtually ensures that President Trump will not be able to do anything really harmful with Russia. As Steve Walt tweeted this week, he would have to get a very good deal from President Putin in order to convince even the Republicans in Congress to go along. Presidents Bush and Obama tried hard and failed. Short of giving away Crimea, it is unlikely Putin would make a deal. Republican Senators have already made it clear they won’t put up with that.
Frustrated, Trump is likely to turn his venom on Iran. He won’t tear up the nuclear deal, because even the Israelis have come to believe it is better than no deal at this point, since the Europeans would not agree to reimpose sanctions unless the Iranians violate the agreement. But Trump might well push for more sanctions related to Iran’s missile program or more pushback against its forces and proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain. That however would give Iran good reason to solidify its alliance with Russia, making any attempt at rapprochement with Moscow even more unlikely to succeed.
So Trump’s bromance with Putin is not going to be consummated. Moscow knows and has already toned down its media enthusiasm for its favorite American presidential candidate. Trump is still enamored, but with H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser and James Mattis as Secretary of Defense it will be hard to move the machinery of government into support for a bad deal with Moscow. Rex Tillerson, who might feel differently, is proving a non-entity at the State Department, where he is fighting a rearguard action against giant budget cuts rather than contributing to foreign policy.
The Trump Administration has anyway done little to clarify its distinct foreign policy views other than intensifying drone strikes in Yemen, canning the Trans Pacific Partnership intended to counter increasing Chinese influence in the Asia Pacific, and claiming to have started on design of the wall with Mexico. Mostly Trump has abandoned his previous radical views. He is not moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, nor is he abandoning the NATO Alliance. Even renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement is looking dicey, because Mexico and Canada have made it clear they will come to the table with their own demands. Trump has now reaffirmed the One China policy.
The Administration has not however changed its radical view on the European Union, which Trump regards as disadvantageous to the US. He should consult his friends in Moscow on that subject: they are determined to block expansion of EU membership and influence, which Putin views as an instrument that benefits the US. Trump could learn a lot from Putin, if only he would stop liking the guy (and doing his bidding) and start understanding that an autocratic Moscow is not democratic America’s best friend. That would require Trump to identify as a democratic leader, which he doesn’t. That’s the real Moscow connection.