Tag: Gulf states
- A Conversation With UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein | Monday, September 18 | 10:00 – 11:00 am | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here | Join the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for the launch of the Morton and Sheppie Abramowitz Lecture featuring UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Carnegie President William J. Burns will join the high commissioner for a conversation on the global state of human rights.
- Weighing Bad Options: Past Diplomacy With North Korea and Alliance Options Today | Monday, September 18 | 2:00 – 3:30 pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here | The Trump administration and its allies are trying to apply maximum pressure on North Korea so that it will accept diplomatic talks predicated on its eventual denuclearization. It has been over a decade since such active hard and soft diplomatic measures have been applied to this policy challenge, even as regional circumstances have changed dramatically. Two veteran diplomats deeply involved with the last set of intense negotiations with North Korea will discuss their experiences and consider options in light of today’s dynamics and will be joined by both U.S. and Japanese experts. Carnegie’s Jim Schoff will moderate. Panelists include Christopher Hill of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at The University of Denver, Mitoji Yabunaka of Ritsumeikan University and Osaka University, Keiji Nakatsuji of Ritsumeikan University, and Douglas H. Paal and James L. Schoff of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This event is co-sponsored by the U.S.-Japan Research Institute.
- The Roller Coaster of Turkey-Russia Relations | Tuesday, September 19 | 3:00 – 4:30 pm | Brookings Institution | Register Here | The history of Turkish-Russian relations is replete with sudden outbursts of anger and unexpected rapprochements. Even in just the past couple of years, Moscow and Ankara swung from conflict to reconciliation with startling speed. Fewer than six months after Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet near Syria in November 2015, the two countries concluded deals on a gas pipeline and a nuclear plant. Following the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara in December 2016, they collaborated on a framework to stop the fighting in Syria. Moving forward, fluctuations will likely continue to characterize this ever-uncertain relationship. In the latest Turkey Project Policy Paper, “An ambiguous partnership: The serpentine trajectory of Turkish-Russian relations in the era of Erdoğan and Putin,” Pavel K. Baev and Kemal Kirişci explore the main areas of interaction between Ankara and Moscow. They discuss the implications of these shifting dynamics on Turkey’s relations with its trans-Atlantic allies, particularly the United States and the European Union. On September 19, 2017, the Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) will host a panel discussion on the conclusions from this latest Turkey Project Policy Paper. The authors Baev and Kirişci will be joined by Evren Balta, Fulbright visiting scholar at New York University, and Naz Durakoğlu, senior policy advisor to Senator Jeanne Shaheen at the U.S. Senate. The discussion will be moderated by Torrey Taussig, post-doctoral research fellow at Brookings.
- Saudi Arabia Looks Forward: Vision 2030 and Mohammed Bin Salman | Wednesday, September 20 | 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm | Brookings Institution | Register Here | In a new paper titled “Saudi Arabia in Transition,” Karen Elliott House, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who has visited Saudi Arabia for nearly 40 years and a current senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, analyzes the progress the Saudis have made and the challenges they face in implementing Vision 2030 amidst the recent changes in leadership. On September 20, the Brookings Intelligence project will host Elliott House for a discussion on her findings, the Trump administration’s Saudi Arabia policy, and Iran’s activities in the region. Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project and a senior fellow, will moderate the discussion. Following their remarks, Elliott House and Riedel will take questions from the audience.
- Restoring Stability in a Turbulent Middle East: A Perspective from the League of Arab States | Friday, September 22 | 3:30 pm | Center on Foreign Relations | Register Here | Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit discusses the state of affairs in the Middle East, including the conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, countering the threat of terrorism in the region, the impact of the recent intra-gulf crisis, and how the Arab League operates within this complex climate.
The United States is objectively no less powerful than it was seven months ago. Its military forces, its economy, even its political system are virtually unchanged in that short period. Only the presidency has changed hands, with all that entails in terms of personnel and policy.
But American capacity to effect the changes Washington wants to see in the world are diminished: it is unable to rally support from China and Russia for strict sanctions on North Korea, it has made no progress in countering Russian aggression in Ukraine (not to mention Moldova and Georgia), the squabble among Gulf countries has limited its ability to push back against expanded Iranian presence and influence in the region, and neither Palestinians nor Israelis are inclined to pay the Americans much mind. Adversaries are defiant, allies are nervous, and those in between are hedging.
This weakness is largely the result of incoherence. It is a rare day that President Trump, Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson, National Security Adviser McMaster, and UN Ambassador Haley are even close to being tuned to the same wave length. Far more often they each go their own way, pushing or denying military options, pursuing or dropping diplomatic initiatives, befriending or criticizing dictators.
Why they say what they do is rarely clear, and when clear often illogical. Why refuse to certify that Iran is complying with a nuclear deal that everyone else in the world (including the professionals who staff the State and Defense Departments as well as the US intelligence agencies) says it is complying with? Is that because there is some unwritten “spirit” of the agreement? Or is it just to have an excuse to go to war? Or maybe it’s just a way of fulfilling an election campaign pledge but shedding responsibility for real action to the Congress, as with the elimination of DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals)? No one knows.
Worse: it has become unknowable. The President disdains logic as much as he does facts. What is the logic of threatening the free trade agreement with South Korea when he needs Seoul on board for whatever he wants to do about North Korea? He reacts, based on instinct, and often in different ways on different days, or even different hours. There is really nothing wrong with instinct, or to put it more accurately with heuristics, rules of thumb based on experience. We all use them, including the wisest among us, despite their well-documented distortions. The trouble is the President has no relevant experience. Nor has he read or studied enough to substitute for his inexperience.
This matters as much in politics as it does in foreign policy. Senator McConnell and Speaker Ryan have now been sandbagged (in governmentese that means being surprised by an unexpected and often gratuitous move) more than once by this President. Yesterday, he cut a deal with the Democrats on the budget and hurricane relief that the Republican leadership had publicly stated they would not accept. McConnell and Ryan have thus far not responded in kind. I wouldn’t expect that to last. What goes around comes around.
The one subject on which Washington has reached some limited degree of coherence is, ironically, Russia. Congress reacted to the President’s illogical and seemingly unmotivated affection for Vladimir Putin with sanctions that are coherent and difficult to remove. But that limited coherence of course amplifies the greater incoherence. We still have a president hankering for improved relations with Russia even as the State Department closes down its consulate in San Francisco and orders its diplomats out of the US, in retaliation for a draconian cut Putin ordered in staffing of the US embassy in Moscow.
We’ve also got a President who tells DACA kids how much he loves them and will do something ill-defined for them if Congress doesn’t, while he lets an Attorney General who openly advocates limiting immigration on racial and religious grounds announce that DACA is kaput. Not to mention the presidential pardon for a sheriff who physically abused immigrants, often without regard to whether they were documented or not.
America will be weaker still if Jeff Sessions gets his way and begins to deport those 800,000 productive non-citizens who have spent most of their lives, and careers, in the US. Incoherence is not just dissonance. It will sap America’s strength and render a country founded on admirable principles, but unable to implement them effectively, great only in retrospect. Incoherence is poison. We need to get it out of our system.
As tensions heighten between Qatar and the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, the future of American relationships in the Gulf hangs in the balance. On Tuesday, the Hudson Institute hosted a panel entitled, “Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Trump Administration: Stability or Upheaval?” Speakers Mohammed Khalid Alyahya of the Atlantic Council, Fatimah S. Baeshen of the Arabia Foundation, and Michael Pregent of the Hudson Institute warned against Qatar’s behavior but suggested America steer a middle course: court Qatari support in the fight against ISIS, but validate GCC concerns. The panel was moderated by Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Lee Smith.
Since the former Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani was succeeded by his son Tamim bin Hamad al Thani in 2013, the new Qatari leader has gone to great lengths to put the small Arab country of approximately 300,000 citizens on the map. Part of this effort has involved reckless political adventurism by which the Qatari government simultaneously aids Iran and Al Qaeda-affiliated militant groups in Syria, or hosts firebrand religious clerics on state-run news network Al Jazeera.
“I think Qatar will go down in history as the friend and enemy of everybody at the same time,” remarked Alyahya.
According to Pregent, Qatar appeases Americans with the Al Udeid air base in order to distract from its other activities. The Qatari government had expected a Clinton administration to continue the legacy of Obama-era leniency. Instead, the world was greeted by the election of zealously anti-terrorist, anti-Iran Donald Trump.
Until now, Qatar’s political game has been largely risk-free due to the country’s small citizen population and high GDP per capita, both of which prevent the formation of any significant opposition party. Instead, observed Alyahya, the effects of Qatar meddling and finance – including a recent ransom payment of up to $1 billion to an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria and Iranian security officials and regional Shia militias in Iraq – are borne by Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. The GCC blockade is apparently an attempt to impose consequences for Qatar’s habit of playing all sides.
The United States has several means at its disposal to curb Qatar’s behavior. Together with the GCC blockade and its soft power, the United States could exert pressure on the small Arab nation to cease its support for Islamist terrorist organizations. Ideally, the US would offer incentives for Qatar to prosecute US-designated terrorists to the same degree that they currently prosecute UN-designated ones. Yet the Qatari Al Udeid air base is critical, and the United States has short-term objectives such as defeating ISIS that will require Qatari support. As Qatar opens to Iran, the United States and Qatar are headed for an impasse. This will affect American capabilities in the fight against ISIS.
Meanwhile United States-Saudi Arabia relations are warming considerably under President Trump, after frosty relations in the Obama years. Saudi Arabia is a close and valued ally against ISIS, along with Qatar, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Moreover, the Kingdom – which announced the King’s son Mohammed bin Salman as the new Crown Prince just last month – appears to be entering a period of relative liberality. In the last five years alone, explained Baeshen, there has been considerable improvement in freedom of speech. This phenomenon is manifest in political satire on social media sites such as Twitter, which is not, and has never been, blocked in the Kingdom.
As the rift between Qatar and the rest of the GCC countries widens, the United States will have to maintain a cautious balancing act between exerting pressure on Doha and courting its cooperation in the fight against ISIS. At the very least, thawing relations with Saudi Arabia present a note of hope.
The Trump Administration is failing, both domestically and internationally.
On the domestic front, last night’s collapse of Republican support for the repeal and replacement of Obama’s health care legislation ends any reasonable prospect of legislative action on this front. Republican Senate leader McConnell says he will bring simple repeal to a vote, which is what President Trump says he now wants.
Were it to pass, the US health care system would be thrown into chaos, with damaging economic consequences. More likely, it will never come to a vote. Instead, the President and his virulently anti-Obamacare Secretary of Health and Human Services will instead try to weaken Obamacare through executive action. That will also cause enormous economic uncertainty and risk stalling an aging economic recovery.
Even if somehow the healthcare debacle is resolved, the Administration needs to raise the debt ceiling by the end of September, in order to avoid a US Government default. There is no agreement yet among Republicans (the Democrats count for little as they are in the minority) on when and how to do this. Since it is a “must-pass” measure, members will try to hang lots of other things onto it, likely delaying passage until the last conceivable moment.
On the international front, it is now clear that not only the President himself but also his son, Don Jr., welcomed and encouraged Russian help during the election campaign, along with the campaign manager and the President’s son-in-law. Special Counsel Mueller will now have to determine whether their behavior violated the legal prohibition on soliciting or accepting foreign assistance.
Judicial standards of proof are much higher than journalistic ones, so we’ll just have to wait and see what Mueller concludes, but in the meanwhile the White House has been reduced to arguing that nothing they did could possibly be illegal, even if it involved active collusion with Moscow. No one should be surprised if Trump welcomes gives Moscow back its spy facilities and the personnel that Obama expelled in retaliation for interference in the US election.
On other issues, the news is no better:
- North Korea: The Administration failed to prevent Pyongyang from testing intercontinental ballistic missiles, as the President promised he would do. His efforts to convince China to get tough with Kim Jong-un have likewise failed. Instead, Seoul is breaking with the US hard line and seeking talks with the North. Trump’s bluster and bullying has gotten him no result at all on the Korean Peninsula.
- Qatar crisis: While the President was encouraging Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to go after Qatar about terrorist financing, his Secretaries of State and Defense have been trying to smooth things over, fearing that Qatar might lean farther towards Iran due to the blockade Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have levied. Mediation efforts (mainly by Kuwait) have so far failed. The Gulf Cooperation Council remains split and weakened, while someone in Washington yesterday leaked intelligence saying the Emirates intentionally provoked the crisis by hacking into Qatari broadcasts with false information about statements the Qatari Emir never made. This is the umpteenth time the Trump Administration has suffered leaks, which of course it denounces but then does nothing about.
- The Islamic State: The military operations to liberate Mosul and Raqqa from ISIS are proceeding, but it is increasingly clear that there are no viable plans for stabilization, reconstruction and governance thereafter. In Mosul, ISIS resistance continues, despite the victory celebration led by Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi. In Raqqa, the Kurdish-led forces taking the city are likely to face Turkish, Syrian government and Iranian resistance once they succeed.
None of these issues is even close to being resolved. All are likely to get more challenging in the future. I confess to Schadenfreude: this Administration and Congress are proving as incoherent and incompetent as predicted. But it is not fun to watch your country paralyzed and weakened. There is no quick way out of the debacle we are in.
I spoke this afternoon at the 10th Summer School for Young Diplomats in Kolasin, Montenegro. Here are the speaking notes I prepared on “Global Security Challenges: New Developments and Future Trends.”
- It’s a pleasure to be here, especially in these beautiful mountains. While I’ve been to Montenegro a few times in the past, this is my first visit since it became a NATO ally. That betokens enormous progress. I can only wish all your countries as much success as Montenegro has had over the past twenty years or so.
- That teaches an important lesson in international affairs: if you keep going in the right direction, you will eventually get there.
- I’ve been asked to talk about geopolitical challenges. I’ve got my own ideas about what they are, but I’d like your ideas as well. So let me ask you to write one on each stickie—no more than a phrase is needed.
- My own list of current geopolitical challenges from a Washington perspective is this: the United States, the Middle East, Islamist extremism, Russia, and China as well as nuclear nonproliferation and climate change. That should keep us busy for the next hour and a half.
- First Washington. It is a geopolitical challenge for many countries, because of its global political and economic influence, its enormous capacity for power projection and because of its still ongoing political transition.
- Many of you will wonder how the new Administration will affect your country’s interests. I can’t hope to cover the entire world, but let me say a few things that may help you to work out the implications for your own country.
- President Trump was elected on an explicit promise to “make America great again,” which implies greater attention to American interests in dealing with the rest of the world.
- It also implies reduced attention to American values, especially democracy and human rights. The Administration appears to be applying a double standard: if you are America’s friend, you need not fear Washington will criticize your internal political behavior.
- Presidents Erdogan, Sisi, and Duterte can testify to that, as can Kings Salman of Saudi Arabia and Abdullah of Jordan.
- But if you are President Castro of Cuba or Supreme Leader Khamenei, you can anticipate sharp rebukes from the U.S., and possibly sanctions or other restrictive measures.
- The new Administration has also prioritized the use of military instruments over diplomacy and international aid. While its budget proposal was dead on arrival in Congress, where at least some aspects of diplomacy and aid have strong supporters, you can still expect less diplomacy and less money.
- The only exceptions to this rule so far have been North Korea, where the conventional artillery threat to Seoul and much of South Korea makes American military action unlikely, and the Middle East, where the president has committed his son-in-law and two of his personal lawyers to negotiating peace. I don’t know anyone in Washington who thinks they will be successful, but they may make some progress on confidence-building measures. I’ll return to North Korea later.
- As I am already wandering into the Middle East, let me go there. It has been clear for some time, though few will say it out loud, that American interests there are declining. We need less oil from the Middle East while other countries are taking more, the top non-proliferation issue there is under control for a decade or more, and our allies there want military assistance but not much more.
- By far the most important interest the U.S. has today in the Middle East is terrorism. The current Administration wants to deal with it as a military problem: the objective is to kill Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and get out.
- This was precisely the approach intended by George W. Bush in Afghanistan: kill Al Qaeda and get out. It failed because we couldn’t find all of Al Qaeda. The President changed his mind because we were sure it would return if we left.
- In Syria, this approach faces the same difficulty, as it virtually guarantees that there will be a continuing Sunni insurgency, not to mention its metastases elsewhere in the world.
- That’s where all of you come in: with ISIS on the verge of defeat in Iraq and Syria, it is not attracting so many foreign fighters, who were the focus of much attention in recent years. Nor is the question of terrorist financing as important as once it was.
- The bigger issue is now home-grown terrorism, perhaps inspired or encouraged by fighters returning from Iraq or Syria. In the Balkans, for example, I would now regard this as a big problem, as it is in Europe and the U.S. as well.
- There are two important strategies in dealing with homegrown terrorism: making sure that people are not marginalized but rather have a stake in their own governance and society; and not overreacting to terrorist threats or attacks, as overreaction is precisely what they intend to provoke.
- Right-wing terrorism kills more Americans than Islamic extremism, even counting 9/11.
- We need to avoid the kind of overreaction that the Administration’s travel ban on 6 Muslim countries represents.
- In the Middle East, the Americans will focus next on the Iranian threat.
- That threat is real. Iran has vastly expanded its influence in the region, not so much because of the nuclear agreement but rather due to its support for proxy forces, which long predates the nuclear deal: Hizbollah in Syria as well as Lebanon, Hashd al Shaabi in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas in Palestine.
- The reaction, led by the Saudis, has also been vigorous, making much of the Middle East a battleground for sectarian conflict and even splitting the Gulf Cooperation Council. Qatar just won’t give up the good relations with Iran that enable both countries to exploit the largest natural gas field in the Middle East.
- Turkey’s Muslim Brotherhood leadership has chosen to side with Qatar and Iran, undermining the American effort to construct an anti-Iran alliance that includes the majority Sunni states of the Middle East as well as Israel.
- To sum up on Iran: it has gained a lot of ground in recent years, not least due to the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the civil wars it has exploited in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The Americans have not yet figured out what they want to do about it, though my best guess is that they will in due course want to confront Iranian ambitions.
- Russia is another geopolitical challenge, not only in the Middle East.
- Putin’s Russia is using all the instruments of national power at its disposal to challenge the Americans and re-assert its status as a superpower, except for a direct force-on-force military clash that Moscow knows it would lose.
- The Russians are sending ships and planes to provoke NATO allies and sympathetic neutrals, they have invaded Ukraine with only a thin veneer of deniability, they are bombing Syrian moderate opposition, they are selling weapons to Egypt, supporting General Haftar in Libya, and using Sputnik News and Russia Today as propaganda tools.
- They are also interfering in elections, conducting cyberattacks, and plotting and conducting assassinations.
- None of this has provoked much reaction yet from either the Americans or Europeans, apart from Ukraine-related sanctions and a few tit-for-tat aircraft incidents.
- Inexplicably to me, Putin has a lot of admirers in the US, especially among the Republicans and certainly in the Trump Administration, which has made no secret of its desire to get along better with Moscow.
- We’ll have to wait and see what comes of the first Trump/Putin meeting on the margins of the G20 Summit tomorrow and Saturday in Hamburg.
- The American receptiveness to Putin may surprise many of you. It surprises me. I can’t really explain it in conventional national interest terms.
- I think it is related to ethnic nationalism: Trump is what we are calling these days “white nationalist”; Putin is a Russian nationalist. The two admire each other.
- But Russia is a declining regional power with an economy no larger than Spain’s and based largely on energy resources whose value has declined dramatically. It’s only real international capability is to make life difficult for people who want to run serious democracies.
- We are going to need to learn to live with that, responding to it in ways that block the worst consequences and nudge Moscow in more productive directions, but at the same time not accepting the Russian claim to superpower status.
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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:
- It abandoned US advocacy of democracy, rule of law and human rights;
- 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.