Tag: Democracy and Rule of Law

Peace picks July 17-21

  1. Mosul after ISIS: Whither U.S. Policy in Iraq | Monday, July 17 | 2:00 – 3:00 pm | Wilson Center Register Here | The liberation of Mosul from ISIS control is a major win for the Iraqi government, the United States, and the campaign to defeat the terrorist group – but a critically important question now looms: How can the U.S. ensure that military victory against ISIS doesn’t turn into political defeat in Iraq? Join the Wilson Center as former U.S. policy advisers Anthony J. BlinkenAmbassador James F. JeffreyColin Kahl, and Robert Malley address these and related questions in a teleconference.
  2. Cyber Risk Monday: The Darkening Web | Monday, July 17 | 3:30 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | No single invention of the last few decades has disrupted the nature of political conflict like the Internet, which is increasingly used as a weapon by actors eager to exploit or curtail global connectivity in order to further their interests. This Atlantic Council discussion celebrating the launch of Alexander Klimberg’s new book The Darkening Web: The War for Cyberspace brings together intelligence specialist Laura Galante, former Deputy Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Jane Holl Lute, Atlantic Council president and CEO Fred Kempe, and author Alexander Klimberg himself to discuss the chilling consequences the emergence of cyberspace as a new field of conflict has had on the global order. The discussion will be moderated by Tal Kopan.
  3. Seventh Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference | Tuesday, July 18 | 9:00 am | Center for Strategic and International Studies | Register Here | This full-day conference will provide opportunities for in-depth discussion and analysis of the future of the South China Sea disputes, and potential responses, amid policy shifts in Beijing, Manila, and Washington. Panels include “Renewing American Leadership in the Asia-Pacific” (9:00 am) featuring Sen. Cory Gardner“State of Play in the South China Sea Over the Past Year” (9:45 am), “Militarization, Counter-coercion, and Capacity Building” (1:45 pm), and “U.S. South China Sea Policy under the New Administration” (3:15 pm).
  4. Anticipating and Mitigating Future Iranian Military Capabilities | Tuesday, July 18 | 10:00 am | International Institute for Strategic Studies | Register Here | In accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, Iran will soon be allowed to procure advanced military equipment from international suppliers. How Tehran decides to recapitalize its military could have a profound impact on the security and stability of the Gulf and wider Middle East. VADM (Retd) John ‘Fozzie’ Miller, Michael Eisenstadt, and Michael Elleman will discuss the weaponry Iran is likely to seek, how the acquisition of new capabilities will alter the security environment in the Gulf, and the steps the US and its allies in the region must take now to maximize regional security.
  5. Latin America Terror Trials | Tuesday, July 18 | 3:00 pm | Center for a Secure Free Society Register Here | In April 2017, Brazil successfully prosecuted the first case of Islamist terrorism in Latin America’s history when it sentenced eight ISIS sympathizers for terror-related charges. In Peru, the prosecution had less success in prosecuting an alleged Hezbollah operative accused of manipulating explosives in 2014. Meanwhile, Argentina is advancing several cases tied to the 1994 Iranian-backed bombing in Buenos Aires of the AMIA cultural center. Join Hon. Marcos Josegrei da Silva, Moisés Vega de la Cruz, and Ricardo Neeb for a policy discussion on how the U.S. Government and civil society could collaborate with Latin American nations to enact or strengthen laws before the next major Islamist terror attack strikes the region. (Part of the discussion will be in Spanish with continuous interpretation.)
  6. Recovery in Somalia: How Do We Sustain Gains Against al-Shabab? | Tuesday, July 18 | 10:30 – 11:00 am | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | Somalia’s tenuous progress toward stability will only be sustained if the newly elected government steps up delivery of desperately-needed services to its citizens, offering a viable alternative to al-Shabab extremists. Yet six million Somalis are at risk of famine due to drought, and the looming drawdown of the regional peacekeeping force, AMISOM, threatens to derail the country’s fragile transition if the training of Somali forces is not expedited. Former Somali Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Abdirahman Yusuf Ali Aynte (Abdi Aynte) and U.S. Institute of Peace President Nancy Lindborg will discuss the challenges and potential solutions in a webcast conversation.
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Settlements threaten Zionism

Threats to Israeli democracy were front and center at Friday’s conversation “Settlements at 50 Years – An Obstacle to Peace and Democracy” at the Middle East Institute. Moderated by Haaretz journalist Amir Tibon and featuring Talia Sasson – president of the New Israel Fund (NIF) and former special legal advisor to then-prime minister of Israel Ariel Sharon – the talk highlighted the dangers of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s self-interested politicking, infringement upon the Palestinian right of self-determination, and the pernicious delegitimization of the Israeli left.

The dynamic playing out between far-right pro-settlement Israelis, the Israeli government, and the Trump administration is complex. After the initial euphoria in the wake of Trump’s election, the American president’s reluctance to endorse construction in the West Bank has tempered the elation of the Israeli right. Fearing a return to Obama-era restrictions and American intransigence, the right puts pressure on Netanyahu’s coalition. Netanyahu makes a show of forbidding the construction of further outposts—illegal under Israeli law—but concedes the right to continue construction around existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Finally, Netanyahu turns to Trump: look what the people want! My hands are tied.

The settlements are built.

“The whole thing is internal political theater,” Sasson said wryly. She argued that this kind of politicking poses a grave threat to Israeli democracy.

Not only does the construction of settlements push the limits of Israeli law – it compromises the very principles of national sovereignty upon which the Israeli state claims to be based. “To be a patriot of the State of Israel,” insisted Sasson, “you can’t put into that definition depriving the Palestinians of the right to have their own state.” The fundamental principle underlying the 1948 partition – a principle Sasson affirmed despite occupation and the current post-1967 boundaries – is that no party to the conflict claims all the land. Perhaps in the spirit of recognizing Palestinian nationality, Sasson called Israeli Arabs – Israeli citizens of Arab ethnicity and descent – “Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

In addition to ongoing controversies surrounding Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the principle of legal and social equality for Israeli Arabs lies on a fault line between the Israeli right and the left. The right, Sasson warned, is doing its best to convince the Israeli public that there is a necessary conflict between Israel’s status as a democracy and its status as a Jewish state. Equality for all Israeli citizens—Jewish and Arab—allegedly violates Jewish primacy. For this reason, contended Sasson, those leftists and activists who demand equal rights for Jews and Arabs are painted as enemies of the state.

“I think in Israel, we have a delegitimization of the left for many years,” she explained. While figures on the right such as Prime Minister Netanyahu discredit human rights organizations with claims that they are unpatriotic, opposition leaders such as Isaac Herzog claim that radical democrats are ruining the left. To compound the issue, the end of Obama’s tenure as president signals the end of an era of American temperance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nowadays, lamented Sasson, a minority of the Israeli citizenry holds her views publicly. Most identify with the right or with the center – but Sasson believes that “many feel that something is wrong.”

For this reason, Sasson’s New Israel Fund continues to oppose the construction of settlements in the West Bank alongside its more popular, less controversial projects such as defending women’s rights and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. According to Sasson’s emphatic brand of Israeli patriotism, the solution may lie in a return to Zionism.

“I believe in the old way of Zionism, not the settlements,” she said. The old way, she clarified, is her interpretation of the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence. It is democracy and a home for all Jews.

“Settlements,” warned Sasson, “are the death of Zionism.”

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Peace picks June 26-30

  1. Women Guiding Peace After War: Lessons from Rwanda | Monday, June 26 | 3 – 4:30 pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | Rwandan women played a key role in facilitating reconciliation and rehabilitating the country’s economy in the wake of the Rwandan genocide. Their contribution holds lessons for other countries in conflict such as South Sudan, and for aid donors, such as the United States. Panelists will include Ambassador Swanee Hunt, author of Rwandan Women Rising; Ambassador George MooseCarla Kopell, and Susan Stigant of the U.S. Institute of Peace; and Consolee Nishimwe, genocide survivor.
  2. Jerusalem: Is There a Solution? And Are Israelis and Palestinians Ready for One? | Monday, June 26 | 4 – 5 pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | The fate of Jerusalem is a complicated one involving the city’s dimensions as a municipality, as a political issue, and as a religious symbol all at once. Is there a solution to the problem of sovereignty over Jerusalem? Panelists Arthur Hughes, former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassy in Israel; Ghaith al-Omairi, former advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team; and Danny Seideman, an Israeli attorney, discuss. The conversation will be moderated by Aaron David Miller, former advisor to Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State on Arab-Israeli negotiations.
  3. After the ISIS Flag Falls: The Future of Mosul and Iraq | Tuesday, June 27 | 1 – 2:30 pm | The Heritage Foundation | Register Here | After eight months of fighting, Iraqi troops are close to securing victory against ISIS’s last remaining forces in the city of Mosul. This recovery of the main ISIS stronghold in Iraq will open a new phase in the country’s struggle for stability, demanding the resolution of old domestic conflicts and anticipation of new ones arising from ISIS’s brutal three-year reign in Iraq’s northwest. A panel discussion with James PhillipsSarhang Hamasaeed, and Col. Michael Kershaw hosted by Dr. James Jay Carafano will be followed by comments from Stephen Hadley and Nancy Lindborg.
  4. The Syrian Conflict and Regional Security | Tuesday, June 27 | 3 – 5 pm | Turkish Heritage Organization | Register Here | Join panelists Dr. Michael Doran, General Mark Kimmitt, and Dr. Denise Natal for a discussion of the regional implications of the Syrian Civil War’s military, diplomatic, and humanitarian facets six years in. The panel will place special emphasis on recent developments such as the ongoing Raqqa Offensive, and on understanding the complex web of actors currently on the ground.
  5. Mexico: A Leading Nation Battles Drug Cartels, Crime, and Corruption | Wednesday, June 28 | 11:45 am – 1:45 pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | The expansion of lawlessness in certain regions of Mexico threatens the country’s impressive advancements in manufacturing, education, and health care, and jeopardizes the country’s economic stability and vital tourism industry. The Hudson Institute will host a panel discussion on the state of Mexico’s struggle against drugs and crime featuring former Mexican diplomat Ambassador Jorge Guajardo, journalist Armando González, and the institute’s own Ambassador Jaime Daremblum and David Murray.
  6. The Power of the President to Shape U.S. Relations in the Middle East and North Africa | Thursday, June 29 | 10 – 11 am | Brookings Institution | Register Here | Despite President Donald Trump’s “America First” campaign rallying cry, recent months have seen the president soften his stances towards several MENA countries. After President Trump’s visit to the Middle East, lingering questions about his commitment to the Iran deal and his approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian peace process remain. Join panelists Adel Abdel GhafarJohn Hudak, and Shibley Telhami – and moderator Yeganeh Torbati of Reuters – for a discussion of President Trump’s likely moves over the next four years.
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Jihadism in Libya

On Tuesday, the Atlantic Council hosted a forum featuring experts Jason Pack, Rhiannon Smith, and Karim Mezran to mark the release of their collaborative report, “The Origins and Evolution of ISIS in Libya.” Christopher Chivvis, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and Associate Director at the International Security and Defense Policy Center, joined the three authors. The report—which seeks to understand the trajectory of jihadist organizations in Libya through a study of the Islamic State—emphasized the crisis of a weak and divided central authority, the allure of Islamist opposition, and the adaptability of jihadist groups in Libya.

In the wake of longtime Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi’s deposition and demise in 2011, the state collapsed into a series of territorial struggles. Libyan jihadism emerged out of this turbulent climate. Pack, Smith, and Mezran report produces three key findings:

  1.  A divided political climate and weak state control enabled the growth of ISIS in Libya.
  2.  The majority of Libyans oppose ISIS, expressing distaste for the organization’s brutal policies and techniques.
  3. Libyan jihadism is driven by Libyan concerns, despite the dressing of Salafist religious rhetoric.

The crisis of governance in Libya “opened the door for local jihadist groups,” noted Chivvis. In particular, ISIS strategy targeted “under-governed” cities with historical links to global jihadist networks, such as Derna in the east. As jihadist militias proliferated and tensions between Islamists and anti-Islamist General Khalifa Haftar’s forces escalated, increasing numbers of jihadist commanders pledged allegiance to ISIS. Ultimately, ISIS seized Derna in October 2014.

Rival jihadist group Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC) expelled ISIS from Derna in May 2016 . However, notes the report, “jihadist organizations have been able to survive and thrive in Libya because they offer governance functions to a population that is starved for them.” Jihadist groups will continue to take advantage of weak governmental authority and local instability.

For this reason, a purely counterterror approach is insufficient. Smith and Pack noted that any successful foreign effort to combat ISIS in Libya must involve targeted capacity building to fill vacuums in Libyan industry and government. The upcoming 2018 national elections could help fill this void, provided that sufficient centralized authority exists at that time to carry them out.

“ISIS is the symptom,” reiterated Pack, “not the cause. The underlying disease is statelessness.”

The lack of a strong national government and consequent decentralization of authority in Libya also means that loyalties—whether to militia leaders or ISIS commanders—are predominantly local. For this reason, Pack explained, it is vitally important that concerned foreign actors focus their efforts on empowering local councils and institutions. Yet since 2011, both the Obama and Trump administrations have limited themselves to assassinations and air strikes in the region. While reluctance to deploy troops is understandable, deferring the problem could lead to perpetual instability, Chivvis cautioned.

Feelings of abandonment are another force driving jihadism in the country. Sirte is a prime example. One of the last Qaddafi holdouts, the city fell to National Transitional Council (NTC) rebel forces in 2011. After NTC control waned, ISIS seized control of the city only to be expelled by Misratan forces allied with the new national authority (the Government of National Accord). Disaffected citizens embraced Islamist opposition in the form of al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar ash-Sharia. Now that Ansar ash-Sharia has also been expelled, Tuesday’s panelists fear the power vacuum left in its wake. Pack cautioned that the cycle of government control followed by superseding jihadist or Islamist opposition may persist.

The great danger and advantage of jihadist groups is adaptability. Although ISIS has lost territory, warned Smith, it now possesses the freedom to mutate—especially if conflict breaks out once again in Sirte.

Networks between Libyan cities and the Levant remain active. In Pack’s estimation, the country functions as a kind of “postgrad for jihadists”: prospective agents are trained in Syria, but learn how to survive and innovate in outposts like Libya. According to Chivvis, ISIS actively sought to build a new front in the country.

Despite the dire situation in Libya, there remains staunch resistance to jihadism. Smith suggests that the Libyan people possess a deep-seated mistrust of foreign interference that ultimately places them in opposition to foreign-based groups like ISIS. This may extend to regional jihadist groups as well.

“The lesser evil of 2011 was, ‘Let’s work with Islamists.’ The lesser evil of 2016 is, ‘Let’s work with French and British and American forces to rid our country of jihadists,’” observed Pack.

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Memorial Day for America and the Alliance

Donald Trump has done more damage to the NATO Alliance than the Soviet Union managed in more than 40 years. Even after its implosion, the Alliance endured for another 27 years, fighting its first wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan. It has taken only a bit more than four months for Trump to cast a pall over Europe’s most important link to the United States and to render the Alliance irrelevant.

German Chancellor Merkel has concluded that Europe, “to some extent,” has to go it alone. This was her reaction to Trump’s miserable performance at the NATO Summit meeting last week, when he failed to mention the Article 5 commitment to come to the defense of our allies and harshly criticized their failure to meet NATO’s exhortation that they spend 2% of GDP on defense. That guideline was intended for 2024, but Trump treats it as a treaty commitment and pretends that the allies owe arrears for their many years of not meeting it.

This purposeful mendacity has consequences. It has convinced the allies that they cannot rely on the United States. An important corollary is that they need not follow the US on other issues. Trump will soon discover that our allies have no interest in ratcheting up sanctions on Iran, for example, but instead prefer to continue doing good business with Tehran. Nor are the allies likely to line up and salute on the wars in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Libya. “All for one and one for all” has for decades meant Washington could “to some extent” depend on European backing for American initiatives worldwide. That presumption is now null and void.

Who benefits from this Alliance decay? Russia of course. The vodka flowed in the Kremlin last week. Trump’s own ineptitude and the consequent investigations have stymied his efforts to reach out to Moscow. He is nonetheless proving a useful pawn. Russian President Putin’s fondest hope is to throw NATO into disarray. Trump has done it for him, without any apparent quid pro quo.

The notion that the US or NATO would contest Russian action in Ukraine or Syria has evaporated. The consequences will be felt not only in those two countries but also in increased Russian audacity in the Baltics, the Balkans, Georgia, Moldova and elsewhere. I was just informed of a Montenegrin detained and expelled  from Moscow. Apparently he was on an unpublished non grata list. We’ll be seeing a lot more of that kind of harassment. Putin will push until there is a push back, which he will have concluded isn’t coming any time soon.

He is correct. Trump is pushing back against his democratic allies far more than against any autocracy. His only real enemies at this point are what he likes to call radical Islamic terrorism and Iran, the two of which he has somehow managed to conflate despite their mutual sectarian enmity. Trump simply ignores the fact that Russia is increasingly aligned if not allied with Iran, not only in Syria. Nor does he pay any attention to the fact that Russia and Iran have never focused their attacks there on the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, but instead collaborated in launching the latest chemical weapons attack on more moderate anti-Assad forces.

This is a brave new world in which the president of the United States is not what I would regard as loyal to democratic principles, at home or abroad, or to our democratic allies. Memorial Day commemorates those who have died in the nation’s service. I feel their loss even more deeply when we abandon the ideals they were seeking to defend. This is indeed a sad Memorial Day for America and its allies.

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Surge 2.0

The US troop surge in 2007 went a long way to stabilizing Iraq. Replicating that effort under Iraqi leadership could work again.

Throughout its operations in Iraq, the Global Coalition has faced issues of coordination among its member-states as the total cost of fighting ISIS mounts. The Coalition consists of 66 members but not all contribute equally, and the United States has increasingly felt pressure to cajole the international community to step up its military aid. The cost to fight ISIS is significant- as of March 2017, the Department of Defense had spent $12.5 billion over the last three years in its operations against ISIS. What’s more, the cost of resettling displaced Iraqis will be enormous- over 600,000 people have fled Mosul in the last few months alone, and many other former ISIS strongholds face considerable reconstruction efforts.

A more pressing problem, however, is the sectarian divide among the allied militias. Those fighting in Mosul include the Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni tribal forces supported by Turkey, Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), and the Iraqi army and police forces. Indeed, the population’s faith in the security forces also falls on sectarian lines. When asked whether they trusted the Iraqi army or PMUs to keep them safe, 45% of Shia respondents said PMUs and 30% said the Iraqi army; 48% of Sunni respondents answered the Iraqi army and only 4% PMUs.

Politically, reconciliation between different groups remains a challenge as the roots of sectarian conflict remain unaddressed. At the local level, corruption among police officers, judges, and local officials has allowed ISIS to creep back in. At the national level, the Sunni community struggles to enter political discourse, lacking strong leadership and divided among local communities and expatriate elites who claim to represent them. Economically, Iraq depends on oil revenue, which is down over the past several years due to declining oil prices. Corruption and the ongoing cost of fighting ISIS have cut a big slice out of revenue.

The government needs to address both the issue of security and citizen grievances simultaneously, cutting off both the physical and psychological avenues for ISIS’s return and ensuring the population feels safe. Combining military with civilian efforts was at the heart of General Petraeus’ 2007 surge in Iraq. The strategy was not only a surge of additional American troops but also a “surge of ideas,” reorienting operational strategy to emphasize the human terrain. Efforts included rebuilding infrastructure, reconciling groups at the local level, incorporating militia members and insurgents into the state security apparatus, and communicating with populations so they took ownership in rebuilding Iraq.

Applying this model to Iraq’s security today could address current mission weaknesses and neutralize the threat of sectarianism. First and foremost, it is important to put the monopoly over security back in the hands of the state—to do this, PMUs and militias must be folded into the Iraqi army and external influences from regional actors removed. This would create a military force whose size, strength, and military training serve a similar role as the 170,000 US surge troops of 2007 did. Creating a single security force drawn from local forces could improve trust in the national army as well. Iraqis are proud of the PMUs as the most effective force in the country as compared to perceived government failure. By capitalizing on the high morale these forces create, Iraq would have an expanded, ready, and willing force distributed across the country and ensuring threats such as ISIS have no space to reemerge.

The military should rely on civilian counterparts to do the work of reconciling groups at the local level and decentralizing politics. One such project, a reconciliation effort in the ethnically mixed Mahmoudiya neighborhood south of Baghdad, cost $1.5 million. The peace agreement established in 2007 has endured until today.

The Petraeus surge included passing several laws to address key issues that might facilitate political agreement at the national level, such as increasing provincial power and improving the elections law. Decentralization would also improve the local and, by extension, national economies. Rebuilding infrastructure and getting Iraqis back into their homes should be a priority and local leadership could help entice citizens to return. Additionally, supporting small businesses will allow startups to be successful and employ greater numbers of Iraqis. Foreign aid should be likewise reoriented away from humanitarian aid to economic development, partnering with local leaders to help distribute aid for maximum benefit. Investing in local economies will go a long way to creating a stable foundation on which both the local and national economy can grow and thrive.

The surge privileged coordination between military and civilians, focused on the human terrain matters, and supported local level reconciliation . Stabilization is a process rather than a product, and it will take many years—and perhaps many iterations improving upon the last, to hold.

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