Tag: Democracy and Rule of Law

Despite challenges, Iraq is on its way back

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the United States Institute of Peace on Monday to discuss the future of security and government in Iraq as well as the prospects of US-Iraqi relations during the Trump administration.

Al-Abadi praised the work of the Iraqi Security Forces in not only liberating Iraq from ISIS but also winning back the trust of the people. He highlighted the security forces’ accomplishments, including the return of over one million people to their homes, the military partnership with the Kurdish peshmerga, and the imminent recapture of Mosul. However, al-Abadi stressed that military force alone would not defeat threats like ISIS and a more comprehensive approach, incorporating a successful hearts and minds campaign, would be necessary.

Al-Abadi also addressed future challenges to security in the aftermath of Mosul and ISIS. He said religious minorities, who have suffered severely at the hands of ISIS, are part of Iraqi society and have the same rights as all Iraqis. But there is uncertainty over whether they will return to Iraq due to increasing delays in reconstruction efforts. He also said that the government intends on investigating and punishing ISIS crimes. Militia fighters would also be subject to the law and their demobilization and reintegration into society monitored. Elements of the Popular Mobilization Forces would not be involved in politics while continuing to carry arms, which is at odds with the political process.

Turning to government challenges, al-Abadi discussed the balance between federal and regional authority and how best to reform and improve the Iraqi political situation. He stressed the importance of keeping politicians accountable and placing citizens’ trust in strong political institutions. Calling it a new day for democracy, al-Abadi said that while change is difficult, it is essential for people to believe in the government’s ability to reconstruct liberated territories, eliminate the ISIS threat, and make politics inclusive and representative of all Iraqis.

However, developing good governance is not easy and Iraq must proceed with caution. Al-Abadi cited the need to maintain peace and not antagonize or polarize people early on, especially in plans to govern newly liberated territories such as Mosul. He was hopeful that the provincial elections, scheduled for late 2017, will return new politicians who want to move the country forward towards democracy, building bridges for cooperation rather than walls of provincial and sectarian division.

Coming directly from the White House and a conversation with President Trump, al-Abadi was satisfied with the level of support from the new administration and the prospects for a better relationship with the United States. Trump wants to be more engaged and face terrorism head-on, a move al-Abadi welcomes in the continued fight against ISIS.

As for regional and international partners, al-Abadi saw positive elements as well as areas for improvement in the fighting terrorism. The region could work more vigorously against ISIS and its recruiting efforts, an oversight that enabled the group to build its capacities in the first place. The international community has pledged support to stabilizing Mosul, and the recent visit of the Saudi foreign minister to Baghdad was welcome. Iraq is eager to deliver the aid and assistance desperately needed to rebuild the country and to stop regional conflicts.

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How to strengthen peacebuilding

In a panel hosted on Tuesday, March 7 at the United States Institute of Peace, peacebuilding professionals assembled to discuss how to improve their field. The panel was moderated by Melanie Greenberg from Alliance for Peacebuilding and included Leslie Wingender from Mercy Corps, Isabella Jean from Collaborative Learning, Joe Hewitt from USIP, and Adrienne Lemon from Search for Common Ground.

Greenberg opened the panel by framing the conversation around how best to measure impact, tell stories, and make the case for peacebuilding. She asked the panelists to discuss challenges around design, learning, and monitoring and evaluation from their experience.

Lemon and Wingender both discussed challenges in the field working with diverse groups of country teams across different contexts. The challenges Lemon identified included how to address varying ideas of success and impact while maintaining an understanding of each context as well as how to capture long term changes in behavior and outcome to best tell a story. Similarly, Wingender felt that while there needed to be different monitoring and evaluation systems for different contexts, it is possible to make connections across localities to subsequently make the process of handing over programs and creating continuity easier.

From the perspective of program design and accountability measures, Hewitt and Jean saw the need to document failures, develop lessons learned, and maintain a rigorous monitoring and evaluation approach. Hewitt said that having a clear and transparent theory of change from the outset will result in huge payoffs in outcomes in the end. Developing a clear and nuanced theory of change also forces peacebuilders to become comfortable with failure and develop learning cultures, which serves to grow the field further.

Jean also emphasized a learning culture in her discussion of standards for the peacebuilding sector, a lack that makes it difficult to measure effectiveness. She also pointed to institutional behaviors as determining what type of data might be privileged over others and what information is solicited and valued, which in turn can affect how decision makers treat different evaluative exercises.

Another theme the panelists discussed was bright spots in their work and the collective impact. Lemon focused on prioritizing transparency and open discussion around monitoring and evaluation and data capture. Jean also discussed reflective exercises used to develop effectiveness criteria in the absence of standards. Wingender and Hewitt looked at integration efforts within the field designed to unify tools and knowledge across contexts. Wingender advocated for cross-sectional analysis to compare situations, better articulate a theory of change, and think through different programs and their goals. Hewitt praised the field’s consensus on the drivers of violence and armed conflict, pointing to broken or frayed social contracts as the main cause. He saw the opportunity for individual peacebuilding programs that operate at different parts of the state/society relationship to aggregate and address the broader structural conditions that add up to fragility.

The panelists also addressed the difficulties of creating vertical (state/society) and horizontal (within society) cohesion and bringing different identity groups together for peace. Hewitt noted that bringing people together who have historically been in conflict can and does work, but vertical and horizontal cohesion does not happen independent of state institutions. Jean said that single-identity work is also effective and saw the difficulty of vertical and horizontal cohesion when state structures restrict civil society space.

Another difficulty the field continues to face is in data gathering and sharing. Wingender highlighted the issue of putting technology ahead of ethics, saying it is difficult to share data while also providing protection. Lemon also pointed to caution in sharing data.

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Where youth has few prospects

The Middle East Institute hosted a conversation Friday, March 3 on the future of Palestinian leadership and the challenges Palestine faces in developing its next generation of leaders. Moderated by Barbara Plett Usher, BBC correspondent, the panel included Omar Shaban, Director at PalThink for Strategic Studies, Yousef Munayyer, MEI Scholar, Gabriel Mitchell, US Representative at The Mitvim Institute, and Sarah Yerkes, nonresident fellow at Brookings.

The panelists discussed the future of Palestine post-Abbas. Shaban saw several challenges to future governance, most notably the age gap between the Palestinian leadership and the population—an average age of 85 as compared to 25. There is no clear way for youth to establish a political party, but the only way to bridge this gap is through elections. The disconnect between the government and the people is not confined to age either. Shaban noted that much of the current Palestinian leadership resides outside the territories and lacks the professionalism to meet the political ambitions of Palestinians.

Palestinian youth frustration largely stems from feeling overlooked in the political dialogue concerning their country and their future. Munayyer asserted that calling the issue the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” gives the illusion of false symmetry, when in reality Palestinians are not represented by a government. Nor do they have institutions to develop political representation for themselves. Without functioning institutions, it is difficult for leadership to gain legitimacy or reach out to the broadest spectrum of stakeholders. This becomes a greater issue hindering peace as public opinion does not capture the full array of Palestinian voices and ignores perspectives from a broad section of Palestinian society. According to Munayyer, part of the problem comes from the international community’s willingness to meet Israel where they are as a nation while shaping a Palestinian partner that suits international purposes and Israeli demands.

Outside actors, especially the United States and Israel, play a big role not only in the regional political context but also in internal Palestinian affairs and the future of government and elections within the territories. Presenting the Israeli viewpoint, Mitchell discussed Palestine’s future from three perspectives—the current government, the security establishment, and the Israeli opposition. The current government endorses a smooth transfer of power after Abbas and wants to influence the process while not appearing to manipulate it. They hope to get the international community involved as intermediaries. The Israeli security establishment hopes to develop a clear path to succession and continue its security cooperation with whoever replaces Abbas. The Israeli opposition does not have a clear idea of who should succeed Abbas and feels frustrated and/or indifferent over the idea of a two-state solution.

Speaking from the perspective of American foreign policy, Yerkes said that while the US is planning for succession because of Abbas’ age, America will pay little attention to Palestinian internal affairs due to its lack of influence or interest in the outcome. What the United States will want in Palestine is a partner for peace that helps combat and condemn incitement, supports economic development, and takes steps towards political reform and democracy. But the Trump administration may well opt for absentee-ism and allow Netanyahu to operate however he chooses.

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The Moscow connection

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.

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Who killed these people?

I received this note this morning from the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade:

Approximately 1,400 civilians were killed in the area of responsibility of the 37th Brigade of the Yugoslav Army in Kosovo in 1999. The mortal remains of a number of victims were discovered in mass graves in Serbia. The present Chief of General Staff of the Serbian Army, Ljubiša Diković, was the Commander of the Brigade at this time. Neither he nor any members of his unit have been held accountable for these crimes.

The evidence showing the presence and the role of the Yugoslav Army in the mass killings of civilians in Izbica, Čirez, Savarine, Rezala and other villages in the Drenica region is presented in the film titled “Ljubiša Diković and the 37th Brigade in Kosovo”, made by the Humanitarian Law Center. This evidence has already been presented in the “Ljubiša Diković” and “Rudnica” Dossiers.

A number of TV services in Serbia, including the public broadcasters Radio and Television of Serbia and Radio and Television of Vojvodina, have refused or have not responded to the request that they screen the film.

So here is the film, which apart from the spooky music seems to me worthy of the attention of anyone concerned with justice in the Balkans:

I hasten to add that there are of course Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others about whom the same question could be asked. It is to the credit of the Humanitarian Law Center that it has been concerned about all the individuals killed in the 1990s Balkan wars.

Injustice does not justify injustice. The failure to assign responsibility in one case does not excuse the failure to assign responsibility in others. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had limited capacities and is now closed to new cases. The governments of the region owe it to each other and to themselves to assign responsibility, even to their highest officials if that is where the evidence points.

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Trump is losing, but still making chaos

@MaxBoot tweeted last night:

Xi forces affirmation of “One China.” Mexico won’t pay for wall. 9th Circuit stops EO. Flynn/Conway scandals. Is Trump tired of winning yet?

140 characters permitting, he might have added that

  • Trump is delaying the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
  • The administration is forgetting Secretary of State Tillerson’s pledge to prevent Chinese access to the islands it has fortified in the South China Sea.
  • The wall is now projected to cost more than twice candidate Trump’s projection.
  • The President has expressed displeasure that Kellyanne Conway has been “counseled” for violating ethnics regulations.
  • Congressional Republicans are questioning whether National Security Adviser Flynn can remain in place, and the 9th Circuit decision makes it unlikely that the Administration will win an appeal.
  • Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has suggested that criticism of judges, which the President has indulged in repeatedly, is demoralizing and disheartening to the judiciary.

From my Schadenfreude perspective, these are all positive developments. To stimie Trump, or at least try to hold him and his minions accountable, is to make the world better place.

But let’s not kid ourselves. the Trumpistas have already had a devastating impact on American prestige and influence abroad. Trump’s doubts about the NATO Alliance have shaken European confidence. He won’t even be able to visit the UK, where giant crowds would protest his appearance. His immigration ban has demoralized allies in the Arab world, especially Iraq, and boosted extremist recruiting. His bromance with Putin has encouraged the Russians to continue their interventions in Syria and eastern Ukraine. His hostility towards Iran has encouraged its worst impulses, including additional missile tests after being put “on notice.”

While I have good friends who think Barack Obama was a frighteningly weak foreign policy president, his retrenching America is looking coherent and even visionary by comparison. In a few short weeks, Trump has weakened America, not strengthened it.

The ramifications are many. I had a note this morning from the Balkans that read in part:

I have to say that Trumpizm effects the rest of the world in which provinces like Balkans can not understand who is who and what is real American politics and interest towards them!

The same thing might be said in eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Asia Pacific and even in Latin America. At the current rate, it will be true in the Arctic and Antarctica before long. All American presidential transitions are unsettling, but this one is an order of magnitude more chaos-producing than most. It has brought people to power in the White House who simply do not adhere to the well-established lines of American foreign policy, which have served pretty well since 1945. When you need to be reading an obsure Italian Fascist writer to understand the intellectual antecedents of the chief strategist to the President, you know something is wrong.

I’m not immune to radicalism. I indulged in it during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. There are things today that merit hard opposition in my estimation, including Trump’s appointment of cabinet members who oppose the missions of the agencies they are supposed to lead and his appointment of a documented and committed racist as Attorney General. But Trump’s radicalism appears to have little more than his own impulsive and erratic whims as its basis, combined with a few repugnant right-wing shibboleths about race, public education, the environment, and energy production.

The bully is already backing down on some of his worst impulses, but that does nothing to give the world an America that it can understand and rely on. Trump likes unpredictability. Friends and adversaries alike do not.

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