Tag: Democracy and Rule of Law

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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Middle East policy begins to clarify

The President’s speech on terrorism in Riyadh yesterday to assembled Sunni Muslims broke no new ground in appealing to Muslims to fight terrorism. His two predecessors spent 16 years pushing that line. I know a lot of Muslims tired of hearing that appeal, but it passes for statesmanlike in the more respectable conservative corner of the American press.

In my view, the speech was important in two other ways:

  1. It abandoned US advocacy of democracy, rule of law and human rights;
  2. It rallied Sunnis to an anti-Iran alliance intended to include Israel.

These are not completely new ideas. Washington until 2011 did little to advocate for democracy, rule of law and human rights among its friends in the Middle East. The invasion of Iraq was the exception that proved the rule: Saddam Hussein was (no longer) a friend of the United States. The Bush Administration, in particular Vice President Cheney, actively sought a Sunni alliance against Iran, though the Israel connection was then less obvious.

These ideas do break with Obama Administration philosophy, which wasn’t always so clear in practice. Even while selling Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates vast quantities of weapons, Obama wanted Iran and the Gulf states to “share” the region and expressed a preference for open societies, while reverting quickly, especially in Egypt, to support for autocracy. While Obama did not do much to challenge the Gulf state monarchies openly, the Saudis and others felt heat from him that they are glad to see dissipated.

Trump’s inconsistency, one might even say hypocrisy, is entirely welcome in the Gulf. While he denounced the Saudis during his campaign for failing to pay for US protection and for human rights abuses against gays and lesbians, those complaints were completely forgotten in his visit to Riyadh, as was his criticism of Obama for “bowing” to the Saudi king in accepting a decoration (something Trump did as well). Demands for payment for US military protection have been conveniently converted to Saudi purchases of US military equipment, something Obama also pushed, to even higher levels than Trump has managed so far.

The anti-Iran alliance is likely to be the most immediately relevant of Trump’s ambitions. The trouble is the Iranians are well-prepared for it. They have assembled an impressive array of unconventional military means to counter the Sunni Arabs and Israel economically and effectively. The American invasion of Iraq was particularly helpful to Tehran, since democracy there puts the Shia majority in charge, but Iran’s capabilities extend also to Syria and Lebanon, mainly through the use of well-trained militia surrogates, most importantly Hizbollah. Iran has also managed to float and fly a lot of unconventional capabilities in the Gulf, where harassment of US warships is common. The US Navy has a hard time dealing with small boats and drones.

Binding the Sunni Arabs and Israel together will depend on some sort of rapprochement on Palestinian issues. Prime Minister Netanyahu talked openly today about wanting to be able to fly to Riyadh, and rumors of civil aviation and communication cooperation with Sunni states have been circulating for more than a week. The problem is on the Israeli side: the Arabs will want concessions on Israeli settlements in the West Bank or other issues that Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners will not want to make. Trump is still touting his desire to make the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians, but there is no real sign of an impending breakthrough.

As with most presidential speeches, we should note what was left out. Most notable was the absence of any idea of how the territory retaken from the Islamic State in Syria will be governed. In Iraq, Trump is continuing the Obama policy of support for Baghdad’s reassertion of authority over Sunni areas from which ISIS has been evicted. In Syria, the policy is far less clear and the need for one imminent, as Raqqa will likely fall within months (if not weeks) and Deir Azzour not long after. Will the US allow these eastern Syrian cities to be taken over by Iran-allied Bashar al Assad? Or will there be a real effort to support the Syrian opposition in governing there?

The logic of the speech favors the latter, as does last week’s US attack on Iranian-backed forces allegedly threatening US troops and allies in southern Syria. But let’s not forget Trump’s affection for the Russians, who have cooperated actively with the Iranians and backed Bashar to the hilt. There is still a lot of uncertainty about what Trump will do in the Middle East and how effective his choices will be.

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Blingplomacy

All presidential visits are shows. Host governments do their best to demonstrate to their visitor the best they have to offer, which may or may not correspond to what the president appreciates. The Italians thought the perfect show for Bush 41 would be a performance of Rigoletto, but he declined. That left lots of seats for Embassy Rome, which occupied them happily.

The Saudis have read President Trump far better than the Italians read 41. His face was plastered on the facade of his hotel, King Salman gave him a gold medal right off, and he even appears to have half-enjoyed the all male dancing:

The Kingdom’s unelected rulers are delighted to welcome a president who won’t bug them about democracy or human rights, governs with a tight coterie of family members, and will sell mountains of arms without asking a lot of questions about how they will be used in Yemen. It’s not the America I know and love, but it is definitely one an absolute monarchy can understand and appreciate.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Trump’s administration is enmired in House, Senate and FBI investigations of what is proving to be an extensive network of connections to Russia. He himself confirmed to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that he fired FBI Director Comey in order to relieve pressure from those investigations. That is as close to the dictionary definition of obstruction of justice as anyone would want to get.

Now it is believed his son-in-law Jared Kushner is a person of interest in the FBI investigation. I really am old enough to remember when Libya loaned money to Billy Carter, President Carter’s brother. The President then said:

I am deeply concerned that Billy has received funds from Libya and that he may be under obligation to Libya. These facts will govern my relationship with Billy as long as I am president. Billy has had no influence on U.S. policy or actions concerning Libya in the past, and he will have no influence in the future.

That’s a standard we might expect all future presidents to meet when it comes to the activities of their family members. But there is no sign whatsoever that Trump will even go a millimeter in that direction. Kushner’s sister has been cashing in on her White House connection in selling real estate to Chinese who get green cards in return. Will Jared Kushner himself turn up as heavily engaged with Russian real estate purchasers and financiers? How many of those will have used investments in the US to launder ill-gotten gains? And how much will Trump’s own company gain from his friendliness to the Kingdom?

Of course he wasn’t always so buddy-buddy with the Saudis, whom he criticized mercilessly during his campaign because they don’t pay for American military protection and, he claimed, they push gays off buildings. All that is forgotten now that he is in office. He settled instead for a smaller than Obama arms deal, with no burdensharing or human rights concessions. Blingplomacy is just that: shiny and worth less than it appears.

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Preventing new Balkan conflicts

Here are my speaking notes for the testimony I delivered today at the hearing on “The Balkans: Threats to Peace and Stability” of the Subcommittee on Europe, Asia and Emerging Threats of the House International Relations Committee.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. With permission, I would like to submit a written statement for the record and use the few minutes I have for just three key points.

First, the countries of the region made remarkable progress in the 10 years or so after the NATO intervention in Bosnia in 1995. But in the last 10 years, the U.S. effort to pass the baton of leadership to the European Union has allowed slippage. In Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Macedonia there are now risks of instability that could trigger a regionwide convulsion. That would reflect badly on America’s global leadership role, unravel three peace agreements, and cost us far more than conflict prevention.

Second, those who say ethnic partition through rearrangement of borders would be viable are playing with matches near a powder keg. Moves in that direction would lead to violence, including ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and even genocide. It happened in the 1990s and could again. Monoethnic states cannot be achieved without a massive and expensive peacekeeping deployment.

Ethnic partition would not only be violent, it would also generate a new flood of refugees and creation of Islamic mini-states in parts of Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo. This was a main reason we refused to move borders in the 1990s. Americans should be even more concerned about it today. The Islamic State and Al Qaeda have had more success recruiting in the Balkans than many once thought possible given the pro-Western and pro-American attitudes of most Muslims there. Reducing Balkan Muslims to rump monoethnic states would radicalize many more.

Damage would not be limited to the Balkans. Russia would welcome ethnic partition, because it would validate Moscow’s destructive irredentist behavior in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria, Crimea, and Donbas as well as give Moscow a stronger foothold in the region. It would also leave a geographic gap in NATO and the EU that we have long hoped would be filled with friends and allies.

My third point is this: I see no serious alternative in the Balkans to the political and economic reforms required for each of the countries of the region to be eligible for NATO and EU membership. All want to join the EU, which unfortunately will not be able to begin admitting them until 2020 at the earliest. That leaves NATO membership as the vital “carrot” for reform, except in Serbia. We need to do more to enable Balkan countries that want to do so to join the Alliance, as Montenegro is doing.

In Macedonia, this means Europe and the U.S. need to tell Greece “The FYROM” will be invited to join NATO once it reestablishes transparent and accountable democratic governance. In Kosovo, it means ensuring Pristina develops an army designed for international peacekeeping that poses no threat to Serbs. For that, Serbia will need to accept Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, by allowing UN membership. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, NATO members should tell Republika Srpska secession will gain no Western recognition or aid for it or any country it joins, including from the IMF or World Bank.

These and other suggestions in my written testimony would put the region back on track and prevent the peace agreements of the 1990s and 2001 from unraveling. So too would ensuring that all Balkan countries have access to energy supplies from countries other than Russia: natural gas from Azerbaijan, LNG from the U.S., or eventually Mediterranean gas from Cyprus or Israel.

Mr. Chairman, I’ve just outlined a substantial list of diplomatic tasks. If the Administration commits to them, implementation might require an American special envoy. But a policy should come first: one based on maintaining current borders, preventing ethnic partition, and pushing harder for NATO and EU membership. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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Beginning of the end

President Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey is confirmation of what I said yesterday: Flynn was not the only one compromised. It is really hard to imagine after yesterday’s testimony by former Deputy Attorney General Yates that this hasty move isn’t aimed to block a serious investigation of criminal activity in the White House. Trump simply cannot afford an FBI that acts independently, as it is supposed to do in pursuing criminal activity.

The obvious precedent is the Saturday Night Massacre, when in 1973 President Nixon fired a special prosecutor and both the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General quit in response. Of course there is no possibility Jeff Sessions or his Deputy Attorney General, both cited as recommending the firing, will quit. They are reliable Trump loyalists. The analogy lies in the president’s attempt to stymie an investigation bound to produce results. After Saturday Night, Nixon was compelled to appoint a new special prosecutor and was gone within a year, once impeachment became a certainty.

The Deputy Attorney General is asserting that the firing is due to Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation last summer, which heavily favored Trump’s election campaign. That is bozotic. Comey bent over backwards to help Trump by hiding the fact that the FBI was also investigating his campaign. Trump last summer praised Comey to the skies for his handling of the Clinton emails. No one he appoints as  director after this firing could be relied on to conduct a serious investigation.

The Democrats are calling for an independent special prosecutor.* But it won’t happen until the Republicans realize that this president is going down and will take them with him unless they cut him loose. There is no predicting when they will reach that conclusion, but for the country’s sake I hope it is a matter of weeks or months rather than years. The sooner Mike Pence becomes president the better prepared for the 2018 election the Republicans will be. This should be the beginning of the end for a president clearly determined to prevent anyone from finding out the truth about his and his campaign’s relations with Moscow.

*PS: It turns out this is not possible, as the enabling legislation has been allowed to expire. The correct term of art these days is apparently “special counsel.” Apologies.

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Peace picks May 8-12

  1. Cultural Diplomacy to Tackle Today’s Challenges | Monday, May 8 | 4:30-6pm | SAIS | Register Here | Vali Nasr, Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies, and Fred Bronstein, Dean of the Peabody Institute, invite you to join world class violinist and UN Messenger of Peace Midori, and a distinguished panel, for a 360 degree reflection on how cultural diplomacy can help better address today’s most pressing global challenges. Panel includes Jeffrey Brez, Chief of NGO Relations, Advocacy, and Special Events in the Department of Public Information; Ashlee George, Executive Director of the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project; and Evan Ryan, executive vice president of Axios.
  2. Trump’s Middle East Policy: Analyzing the First Hundred Days | Tuesday, May 9 | 11:45-1:30pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | President Trump’s foreign policy has been heavily scrutinized over the course of his first hundred days in office, as his early steps are likely to shape Washington’s interactions with the international community for the next four years. To examine the broader implications of the new administration’s moves in the Middle East, Hudson Institute will host a bipartisan panel featuring Michael Pregent, former intelligence officer and adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute; Marie Harf, former senior advisor for strategic communications to Secretary of State John Kerry; and David Tafuri, the State Department’s rule of law coordinator in Iraq from 2006 to 2007. On May 9, the panel will assess key strategic issues from Trump’s handling of the JCPOA to his decision to launch cruise missile strikes against a government airbase in Syria, and evaluate the long-term outlook for American foreign policy under the Trump administration. Suzanne Kianpour of BBC News will moderate the discussion.
  3. Iran’s Voters Go to the Polls | Tuesday, May 9 | 12-1:30 | MEI | Register Here | On May 19, Iranians will cast ballots for their next president, choosing between the six candidates authorized by the Supreme Leader’s Guardian Council. Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who sought relief from international sanctions by agreeing to constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, faces challengers attacking him on the economy, foreign policy, and his commitment to Islamist revolutionary ideals. Whatever its outcome will be, the election will impact the security landscape of the Gulf and beyond as the Trump Administration develops its regional policy. Middle East Institute (MEI) scholar Alex Vatanka will be joined by author and journalist Nazila Fathi and analyst Alireza Nader (RAND) to discuss the election, its political context, and the potential consequences of the impending vote for Iran, its neighbors, and the United States. Foreign affairs reporter for The Washington Post Ishaan Tharoor will moderate the discussion.
  4. The Upcoming Aramco IPO: Strategy, Investment, Politics | Tuesday, May 9 | 1:00-2:30pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | As part of the Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia intends to offer 5 percent of the state-owned Saudi Aramco to foreign investment in what is expected to be the biggest IPO in history. Tentatively slated for 2018, the IPO is highly anticipated—and likely to be highly scrutinized. The Saudi government has estimated that the company, more than twice the size of Exxon Mobil, is worth $2 trillion, making the shares worth a potential $100 billion. However, analysts within the company have warned that Aramco may be worth at least $500 billion less. Amid these questions, Saudi Arabia has undertaken measures to increase the company’s attractiveness to international investors, including slashing Aramco’s tax rate from 85 to 50 percent, attempting to untangle the company’s finances, and exploring potential ventures and investments in natural gas. Please join the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center for a discussion on the outlook for the IPO, its potential impact on financial markets, implications for oil markets, and possible responses from producers. Panelists include Phillip Cornell, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, Ayham Kamel, Director, Middle East and North Africa at Eurasia Group, Jean-Francois Seznec, a nonresident senior fellow in the Global Energy Center, and Richard L. Morningstar, the founding director and chairman of the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council.
  5. Russian and US Roles in the Middle East: the View from Israel | Tuesday, May 9 | 3:00-4:00pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | Israel occupies a unique position in relations with the U.S. and Russia. Israel’s traditionally close ties with the U.S. were undermined by deep differences and growing mistrust during the Obama administration. At the same time, despite profound contradictions in interests and agenda, Israel has developed close relations with Russia. Therefore, Israel serves as a valuable lens through which to view the changing engagement of Russia and America in the region. George F. Kennan Expert Yuri Teper will discuss these shifts and their implications for the new U.S. administration.
  6. Progress and Challenges for Gulf Women | Wednesday, May 10 | 12:00pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | Women’s rights in the Middle East, and in the Gulf in particular, have changed greatly in the past decades alongside modernization efforts and the introduction of new technologies such as social media. Though there are still a number of challenges to fully incorporating women into society in the region, positive milestones have likewise been achieved. Please join the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East for a discussion with a panel of Gulf women leaders to explore achievements in this sphere as well as areas where more attention and change is needed. Panelists include Amal Almoallimi, Assistant to the Secretary General, King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue and Board Member, Saudi Human Rights Commission; Hamda Al-Sulaiti, Secretary General, Qatar National Commission for Education, Culture, and Science; and Dr. Lubna Al-Kadi, Founder and Director, Women’s Research and Studies Center, Kuwait.
  7. Western Policy Toward the Syrian Crisis: Looking Forward | Thursday, May 11 | 11:45-1:30pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | As American and European policymakers search for ways to end the conflict already stretching into its sixth year, a new report by Chatham House explains the need for a comprehensive solution combining political and military components: “The absence of a coherent strategic vision for Syria – or the political will to see it through – on the part of Western governments has contributed to the increasing strength and influence of ISIL and other extremist groups. These groups cannot be countered by military means alone, however. Without a political agreement to end the conflict, tactical measures for fighting extremism in Syria will fail, as they have elsewhere.” The key question is: How do you get there? On May 11, Hudson Institute will host a discussion examining both American and European perspectives on the war in Syria and Western policy. Join us as Hudson senior fellow Lee Smith moderates a conversation with European experts Lina Khatib (Chatham House) and Neil Quilliam (Chatham House) and their American counterparts Tony Badran (Foundation for the Defense of Democracies) and Andrew Tabler (The Washington Institute).
  8. The Global Counterterrorism Forum | Friday, May 12 | 9:00-5:00pm | GW Program on Extremism | Register Here | The Global Counterterrorism Forum is an international forum with an overarching mission of reducing the vulnerability of people worldwide to terrorism by preventing, combating, and prosecuting terrorist acts and countering incitement and recruitment to terrorism. This event in particular will tackle domestic terrorism in the U.S., radicalization and de-radicalization, and attempt to draw up a best practices document. About 60 State Department members of the Global Counterterrorism Forum will be present throughout the duration.
  9. Dean’s Forum- Women Who Inspire with Dr. Condoleezza Rice | Friday, May 12 | 2:00-3:30pm | SAIS | Register Here | Dean Vali Nasr, FPI and SAIS Women Lead invite you to join, in a conversation on her new book Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom, Condoleezza Rice. Moderated by Ambassador Shirin Thair-Kheli, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute.
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