Tag: Iran

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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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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Peace picks, May 1-5

1. Journalism In Hostile Environments: Perspectives From The Field | Monday, May 1st |9:30-11:00 AM | New America Foundation | Register Here |

The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) and the International Reporting Project (IRP) are pleased to present a panel discussion with the honorees of the 2017 James Foley Freedom Awards, hosted by New America.

Emma Beals, Arwa Damon and Delphine Halgand were chosen by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation as this year’s awardees for their exemplary reporting on important stories from conflict zones, commitment to protection and security for journalists, advocating for Americans held hostage abroad, and dedication to covering human rights. These awards honor the legacy of James Foley, the journalist and humanitarian who was killed in Syria in 2012

2. Key Elements For A Stable Pakistan | Monday, May 1st | 2:30- 4:00 PM| USIP | Register Here |

Terrorism, stagnant economic growth and a population in which two-thirds of citizens are under 30 contribute to an array of complex issues facing Pakistan. Despite some political and economic progress, these factors hinder the ability of leaders to focus on long-term regional questions such as broader security and shrinking natural resources. Join the U.S. Institute of Peace on May 1 for a discussion on economic, demographic, climate and security challenges in Pakistan featuring experts Tricia Bacon, Assistant Professor, School of Public Affairs, American University; Shahid Javed Burki, Chairman, Advisory Council, Institute of Public Policy and former Finance Minister of Pakistan; Shirin Tahir-Kheli, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), The Johns Hopkins University; Adil Najam, Dean at Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University; Moeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President, Asia Center, U.S. Institute of Peace.

3. Change and Consequences: Is Saudi Arabia at the Dawn of a New Era? | Monday, May 1st | 3:30-5:30 PM| Wilson Center | Register Here |

Saudi Arabia finds itself facing a series of new challenges: declining oil prices, the rise of ISIS, and the nearby conflict in Yemen, among others. The kingdom’s leadership has taken some short-term steps to address these issues while also putting together a long-term plan—Saudi Vision 2030. This panel featuring Fatimah Baeshen, Visiting Scholar, Arabia Foundation; Kristin Smith Diwan, Senior Resident Scholar, The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington; David Ottaway, Middle East Specialist and Former Washington Post Correspondent; Abdulaziz Sager, Chairman of the Gulf Research Center in Jeddah, will explore these changes, their impact, and the policy proposals.

4. National Security & the White House: An Insider’s View with Rumana Ahmed | Monday, May 1st |6:00-8:00 PM| Elliott School | Register Here |

Join the Elliott School for a conversation with alumna Rumana Ahmed about her experiences working in the Obama, and briefly, the Trump Administrations. This event is part of the “Why Ethics Matter” series, which is devoted to telling the stories of inspiring figures who in the face of opposition demonstrated extraordinary moral and ethical courage.

Rumana Ahmed joined the Obama Administration in 2011, where she served for over 5 years. Her most recent role was as the Senior Advisor to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes in the National Security Council (NSC). During her time at the NSC, her work supported advancing relations with Cuba, Laos, and Burma, promoting global entrepreneurship among women and youth, and advising the President’s engagements with American Muslims. She organized President Obama’s visit to a mosque in 2016 and engagements with Cuban Americans around his historic trip to Cuba, among other things. Prior to her position at the NSC, she was the interim liaison to American Muslim, Arab and Iranian communities in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement. She also led the White House Champions of Change initiative to work across communities on various domestic issues such as health care enrollment and gun violence prevention.

5. Screening of Tickling Giants | Monday, May 1st |7:00-9:30 PM | Elliott School | Register Here |

Please join The GWU/Corcoran New Media Photojournalism Program together with the Corcoran Association of Photojournalists, The GW Arab Student Association, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, DC Visual Collective and Women Photojournalists of Washington for a special screening of Tickling Giants.

Tickling Giants is a documentary released in 2016 about the Bassem Youssef, a cardiologist turned comedian, and The Arab Spring in Egypt. Called the Jon Stewart of Egypt, his program, “The Show” united the country and tested the limits of free press.

6. New Terrorism Threats And Counterterrorism Strategies | Wednesday, May 3rd | 9:30-11:00 AM | Center for a New American Security| Register Here |

In the post-9/11 era, the international community has made significant progress in the struggle against terrorism and terrorist financing. However, in the last several years, terrorist groups, notably ISIS, have innovated both in their operational tactics and strategic aims, as well as in their methods of fundraising.

This CNAS public conference on new terrorism threats and counterterrorism strategies, co-hosted with the Center on Law and Security, at NYU School of Law, will feature an overview on the strategic terrorism threat landscape and on the Trump administration’s counterterrorism strategies. The event will also coincide with the release of a CNAS report on emerging terrorism financing threats. The distinguished panel of experts will explore such questions as: How are terrorist groups innovating and evolving in their tactics, strategies and fundraising today? Where are some areas were U.S. policymakers are falling short on addressing terrorism threats? What should the Trump administration prioritize in the fight against terrorism?

7. Addressing Lebanon’s Refugee Crisis and Development Challenges | Thursday, May 4th |12:00-1:30 PM | MEI | Register Here |

The Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Foreign Policy Institute (SAIS-FPI) are pleased to host Philippe Lazzarini, the United Nations deputy special coordinator in Lebanon. He will discuss opportunities and challenges for shifting the international response to Lebanon’s Syrian refugee crisis beyond short-term humanitarian and stabilization efforts to a more sustainable economic growth strategy.

Lebanon is facing overwhelming socioeconomic, security, and demographic challenges as the civil war in neighboring Syria enters its seventh year. Since the start of the crisis, Lebanon has received $4.9 billion in assistance, but demands on the country’s resources, services, and civil order remain heavy. Without a political solution to the Syrian conflict, humanitarian and development aid cannot deliver and sustain sufficient results for the refugees or for the Lebanese people. How will Lebanon continue to deal with these conditions?

8. Nurturing People-to-People Ties with Iran | Friday, May 5th | 7:00- 10:00 AM | Atlantic Council | Register Here|

The Future of Iran Initiative invites you to a discussion on the history and importance of people-to-people ties between the United States and Iran. US cultural diplomacy programming and other exchanges have a long history of helping to improve US relations with adversaries and are an inexpensive and often overlooked element of US foreign policy that brings benefits to US citizens and people all over the world. Americans and Iranians have maintained mutually beneficial relations for nearly two centuries. These ties are especially important at a time of continuing tensions between the two governments. Cultural exchanges deepen mutual understanding and can result in discoveries with global significance in public health, environmental, and other important fields.

Join the Atlantic council for a conversation on these issues featuring Kamiar Alaei, Associate Dean at the State University of New York at Albany; Stan L. Albrecht, Former President of Utah State University; Bahman Baktiari, Executive Director at the International Foundation for Civil Society; Shahrzad Rezvani, Attorney and Board Member of the Iranian-American Bar Association.

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Outside influences in the Balkans

Some colleagues asked that I talk yesterday about outside influences on the Balkans, where things have gotten shaky lately, with a risk that the peace settlements of the 1990s might unravel. Here are the notes I prepared for myself: 

  1. Renewed attention to the Balkans, which has all but dropped off Washington’s priorities in recent years, is most welcome. The region has made a lot of progress, especially in the first ten years after the Bosnian war, but right now it is in trouble.
  1. I’ve been asked to talk about “outside influences”: Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
  1. It is important at the outset to say that none of these countries would have much influence in the Balkans except for the decline in American engagement and the weakening of the EU.
  1. The US has tried for a decade now to get the EU to lead, as it has the main carrots for political and economic reform as well as more compelling interests in the region.
  1. The Europeans have done some good things: the Brussels dialogue has led to real improvements in Belgrade/Pristina relations, even if many specific agreements remain unimplemented.
  1. The 2014 British-German initiative for economic reform in Bosnia—undertaken to forestall a renewed U.S. initiative to change its constitution—has made little real progress, largely due to European reluctance to stick with its own conditionality.
  1. The best that can be said for EU efforts in Macedonia is that they have so far avoided the worst, with US support. The EU there seems unable to overcome a monumental level of stubbornness.
  1. But in the past two years the refugee crisis, Brexit, surging nationalism in many EU countries, and the congenital inability of the EU to speak with one voice has undermined the credibility of EU accession, which in any event won’t happen before 2020 and more likely not before 2025.
  1. That’s a long time to wait in the Balkans, where we’ve spoiled people with Stabilization and Association, Schengen visas, candidacy for EU accession, pre-accession funds, and other goodies. What we haven’t done is invest: the US and EU have risked little private money in the Balkans.
  1. Russia and Turkey—whose influence is far greater than others I’ve been asked to discuss—are moving into relative vacuums: the Russians find ethnic Serbs easy pickings and the Turks find Islamists, especially in Bosnia but also in Kosovo, friendly to their interests.
  1. The Russian influence is overwhelmingly pernicious from a Western perspective. Moscow is doing its best to make NATO and EU membership as slow and as difficult as possible, especially in Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Serbia. Its influence in Albania and Kosovo is minimal.
  1. The attempted coup in Montenegro is just the tip of iceberg. Moscow contributes to ethnic tensions, political polarization, and regional instability in many ways: opaque financing for Republika Srpska, Russia’s so-called humanitarian center, overt military aid and investments in Serbia, support to Russophile politicians as well as media onslaughts throughout the region.
  1. Quite apart from these Slavic connections, Moscow has strong leverage over Belgrade because its UNSC veto is essential to blocking Kosovo’s General Assembly membership.
  1. Moscow’s goal is clear: to prevent Balkan countries from entering NATO and even the EU.
  1. Turkey is a different story.
  1. For more than twenty years after the Bosnian war the Turks were disciplined Western-oriented contributors to peacekeeping and development in the Balkans, trying to maintain good relations with Serbs and Croats as well as with Balkan Muslims.
  1. This has been described as a “gentle version” of the Ottoman Empire, one associated with the “no problems with neighbors” policy and aimed at the region’s Christians as well as its Muslims.
  1. Many Croats and Serbs may have been nervous about Turkish cultural inroads, as parts of the region lived for centuries under Ottoman domination, but most welcomed Turkish investment and contractors, which are evident throughout the region.
  1. As Erdogan turned in a more authoritarian direction and relations with the US strained, Turkey began a more Islamist push, especially with Bosnian Muslims and President Bakir Izetbegovic.
  1. The Muslim Brotherhood connection is a more visible and explicit one for Bakir than it was for his father, though it existed for Alija Izetbegovic as well.
  1. The recent Turkish-Russian rapprochement has had an undesirable impact with some Bosniak leaders in Montenegro. They are taking Erdogan’s hint, viewing Moscow in a more positive light and connecting with the Chechen leadership. That development may warrant monitoring, especially if it spills over to Bosnia.
  1. Turkey has also had notably good relations with President Thaci in Kosovo, but more based on commercial opportunities than religion.
  1. Iran and Saudi Arabia both have long histories in the Balkans.

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Mil asks, civ responds

Military colleagues (same ones who produced this fine piece) recently asked some good questions. I replied:

  1. How could DoD and DoS be better postured to address regional and world conflicts to ensure a whole of government approach to identify and synchronize lines of effort in both planning and execution?

While intellectually DoD and DoS are more in agreement on a whole of government approach than any other time I can remember in the past 20 years, there is a gigantic imbalance in the capacities and cultures of the two institutions. State persists with a “sink or swim” culture fundamentally opposed to planning, which is still honored more in the breach than the observance. It also lacks appropriate personnel and resources. That is about to get worse, not better, due to budget cuts.

Ideally, State Department officers should train with military units with which they might deploy in the future. That would vastly increase mutual esteem and communication. But it is mostly impossible today. The best that can be hoped for is some commonality in the training materials for both, though State is likely to be doing precious little training for stabilization operations in the next few years. I fear we are back to where we were 20 years ago: our military instrument is far more potent than our civilian instruments, and there is a yawning gap between them.

2. What does a successfully concluded campaign against ISIS look like? Considering costs, reputation, and balance of influence, how should the U.S./Coalition define success?   Is the defeat of ISIS a success if it causes the balance of power in the region to shift towards Iran, Assad, or Russia?

Success in Syria should be defined in terms of sustainable peace and security. That won’t be possible under Assad or with the Russians and Iranians playing the roles they play today in propping up a minority dictator and repressing the majority Sunni population. So long as Assad is there, Syrians will be fighting him. The longer it lasts, the more those Syrians will be extremist.

After a successful campaign against ISIS, Syrians in different parts of the country should be able to govern themselves, repress terrorist activity with forces that do not oppress or attack the rest of the population, begin to return economic activity to prewar levels, and return to their homes or resettle freely without fear of persecution. We are a very long way from that, even in the most stable parts of the country (some Kurdish-controlled areas and parts of the south).

3. Does U.S. foreign policy strike the right balance in supporting U.S. interests and its role as a global power? Or, should the U.S. consider a more isolationist approach to foreign policy?   What impact could an isolationist policy have on Middle East security and stability, balance of influence by regional and world actors, and U.S. national interests?

It is a mistake to ask foreign policy experts about isolationism, which they will all condemn, but I’ll go this far: U.S. interests in the Middle East are not as salient as they once were and we should be thinking and planning about reducing our commitments and burdens there.

The main U.S. interests in the region apart from counter-terrorism are generally defined as these: non-proliferation, oil, maintenance of alliances, and human rights/democracy. The only significant proliferation risk in the region (Iran) is on hold for 10-15 years or so, the U.S. is far less dependent on Middle East oil than once it was, our allies are mostly interested in military assistance, and we appear to have mostly given up on human rights and democracy in the region.

I think it is arguable that a) deterring Iran could be (maybe better be) accomplished with a much reduced U.S. presence in the Gulf, b) we should not be spending as much American treasure as in the past or risking American lives for oil flowing out of the Gulf to China and Japan (which should share that burden more than in the past), c) our allies should be taking on more of the burden of defending themselves with the enormous amount of kit we’ve sold them, and d) human rights and democracy will gain traction in the region better with less U.S. military presence.

4. What are the competing national interests of the U.S. and Iran in the Middle East and what are the options for alleviating U.S. / Iranian tensions to mutual satisfaction and improved regional stability?

Iran is a revolutionary power looking to extend its security perimeter into neighboring states and to burnish its Islamist credentials by resistance to Israel. It will be impossible to overcome these problems exclusively in a bilateral U.S./Iran context, though increased communication between Tehran and Washington (including diplomatic representatives at some level in each of their capitals) is highly desirable.

Regional stability would also benefit from some sort of regional security architecture—think OSCE in Europe or ASEAN in Asia. This would aim at de-escalating Sunni/Shia, Saudi/Iranian, Turkish/Iranian, and other regional conflicts and tensions. There are few places on earth today with less regional cooperation and connectivity than the Middle East and North Africa.

5. What are the respective national interests of the U.S. and Russia in the Middle East and what are the options for alleviating U.S./Russian tensions to mutual satisfaction and improved regional stability?

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