Tag: ISIS

A bona fide boon to lawyers

That’s what the Supreme Court has decided you need: a bona fide (genuine, real, sincere, non-deceptive) relationship with an individual or entity in the US  to come here from six Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen). President Trump is claiming this vindicates his effort to block all immigration and refugees from these allegedly dangerous countries, from which no terrorist has arrived since 9/11.

Far from it. The merits of the bans he ordered will be considered in the fall. For now, all the Court has decided is that people without a bona fide relationship with the US are not entitled to the ban on the travel ban issued by lower courts.

The question then becomes: what is a bona fide relationship? The Court made clear that category includes familial relations as well as contractual ones, like documented admission to a US university. The only clearly excluded category would be relationships that are deceptive, for example one entered into for the sole purpose of getting into the US.

So the consequence of this decision, as the dissenting minority that wanted to back Trump more fully said, will be a flood of litigation to determine what is a bona fide relationship with a US individual (notable: not necessarily a citizen) or entity. Is an invitation to speak at a conference evidence of such a relationship? Do hotel reservations or airline tickets qualify? What about acceptance into a refugee resettlement program sponsored by the State Department? I’m fairly confident this is a slippery slope to admitting many people.

The problem is that the public image will lean heavily in Trump’s direction, not least because of his exaggerated claim to vindication. This will encourage immigration officials to take a draconian attitude towards enforcement. It will also offend Muslims worldwide, who don’t like the restrictions:

Opposition to restrictions on entry to US

In fact, the countries where majorities like the restrictions are mainly those where ethnic nationalism is rampant: Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Israel fit that category.

Al Qaeda and the Islamic State also relish Trump’s hostility to Muslims, which confirms their assertions about the US and the need to attack it. Trump’s crowing about this Supreme Court decision could easily boost extremist recruitment, both inside and outside the US. The restrictions will likely cause more terrorism than they prevent–it will take only one such act inside the US by someone from one of these countries to prove that point.

Trump however will try to use any terrorist attack in the opposite direction. He all too obviously sees such attacks as opportunities to make his political points. He has used each and every attack in Europe as an opportunity to generate antipathy toward Muslims in general. He’ll no doubt amplify that attitude if and when there is an attack in the US, thus generating more resentment and helping extremist recruitment.

It is true of course that he also has friends in the Muslim world: autocrats like Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Turkey’s President Erdogan and Egypt’s President Sissi have nothing to fear from this president, who has ignored their brutal and indiscriminate crackdowns on liberal democrats as well as terrorists. Citizens, residents and travelers through those three countries have been involved in terrorist acts in Europe and the US since 9/11, but Trump wouldn’t want to offend his friends by blocking their citizens from the US.

We face another round on the immigration ban at the Supreme Court in the fall, with lots of litigation in the meanwhile. This Administration is a big boon for lawyers.

 

 

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Peace picks June 26-30

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

Colonel Ryan Dillon, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman, Friday told a Pentagon briefing by teleconference from Baghdad:

if the Syrian regime — and it looks like they are making a concerted effort to move into ISIS held areas.  And if they show that they can do that, that is not a bad sign.  We are here to fight ISIS as a coalition, but if others want to fight ISIS and defeat them, then we absolutely have no problem with that.  And as they move eastward toward Abu Kamal and to Deir Ezzour, if we — as long as we can de-conflict and make sure that we can focus on what it is we’re there to do, without having any kind of strategic mishaps with the regime or with pro-regime forces or with Russians, then that is — we’re perfectly happy with that.

The Colonel also said he was unfamiliar with the Authorization to Use Military Force (the AUMF). It’s disturbing that someone in his position should not be familiar with Congress’ 2001 authorization, under which the operations in Syria and Iraq are being taken, but I confess what he said about the Coalition focus on ISIS is consistent with it.

This is as clear an answer as we’ve had to the question “what does the Trump Administration think it is doing in Syria?” Essentially, it is doing what the Obama Administration did: trying to ignore the rebellion against the Assad regime while attacking primarily ISIS (and secondarily Al Qaeda), in coalition with whoever will serve that purpose. The attack on Assad’s air base that launched chemical weapons, and the more recent attacks on drones as well as the downing of a Syrian warplane, are intended to be one-offs, not a consistent campaign against the regime or its allies.

This disappoints those who regard Assad as one of the causes of terrorist ascendancy in Syria and a political transition as vital to ending both the regime and the appeal of ISIS and Al Qaeda to Syrians. As Faysal Itani puts it, the US faces a choice

between conducting a more ambitious but riskier Syria policy, and accepting sacrifices that could lower the risk of escalation with Iran and the Assad regime but potentially threaten long-term U.S. interests.

Those longer-term threats include a continuing role for Iran and Hizbollah in both Syria and Iraq, with implications for Israel’s security, as well as continuation of the Sunni insurgency in both countries.

The more ambitious Syria policy would, however, require that someone in the Colonel’s position be prepared to say something like this:

The US and its allies will not turn territory over to the Syrian regime or its Iranian-sponsored surrogates. We will follow up victory with a concerted effort to build inclusive governing authorities committed to continuing the fight against terrorism, and to achieve an eventual political transition in Damascus.

That is precisely what the Trump Administration, like Obama’s, does not want to do. The most it has allowed so far is a minimalist civilian deployment, one clearly unable to do much more than the rudiments of “stabilization,” which the powers that be want to distinguish from state-building.

President Obama was remarkably disciplined in this respect: he avoided any commitment even to minimal stabilization in Syria, though he provided sporadic support to the Syrian opposition in the fight against Assad. We’ll see soon whether President Trump matches that performance, or even goes further in collaboration with the regime, or instead decides to expand the mission to blocking Iran from achieving its regional goals.

I wouldn’t bet on continuing discipline. But I doubt a disciplined effort to counter Iran as well. The Colonel has been eminently clear, but this Administration seems determined to send confusing signals about key issues. We might even get a contradictory tweet from @realDonaldTrump tomorrow. Just ask the Qataris.

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Jihadism in Libya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Or else what?

Hassan Hassan ( ) offers this Twitter-published translation of what purports to be the Saudi, Emirati, Bahraini and Egyptian demands of Qatar (I’ve made a few minor editorial adjustments to ease readability):

1. Qatar must reduce diplomatic representation with Iran, shut down attaches, expel IRGC elements, limit commercial ties to UNSC-compliant.

2. Qatar must immoderately [quickly?] shut down the Turkish military base that is being established, and halt any military cooperation with Turkey in Qatar.

3. Qatar must announce severance of ties with terrorist, ideological & sectarian orgs: MB, ISIS, AQ, HTS, Hizbollah; designate as terrorists

4. Qatar must cease any funding activities to extremist and terrorist individuals, entities & orgs, including US/international designation lists.

5. Qatar must hand over all designated terrorists, wanted by the four countries; freeze their assets; stop hosting others in the future.

6. Qatar must shut down Al Jazeera and all affiliated channels

7. Qatar must stop interference in these countries’ domestic+foreign affairs; stop naturalization of their citizens; extradite such citizens

8. Qatar must provide reparations to these countries for any opportunity costs incurred over the past few years because of Qatari policies.

9. Qatar must become in sync with its Gulf & Arab neighborhood on all levels, and to activate Riyadh Agreement 2013 + 2014

10. Qatar must provide all databases related to oppositionists that it provided support to & clarify what help was provided.

11. Qatar must [close?] all media outlets backed by it directly or indirectly, like Arabi21, Rasd, New Arab, Middle East Eye, Mkamlin, Sharq etc

12. These demands must be agreed within 10 days, otherwise they would be invalidated.

13. Agreement will involve clear goals and mechanism, monthly reports in the first year, every three months the next & annually for 10 years

Here is the Arabic, for those who want to check the translation:

While I suppose this is subject to negotiation, both its tone and contents suggest that the gang of four is not looking for an agreement.

So what is this about?

First it is about asserting preeminence. The Saudis in particular want to make it clear that they lead the Gulf (and more: the Sunni Arab countries). Qatar’s relationship with Turkey, in particular the recently reinforced Turkish base in Qatar, challenges the Kingdom’s preeminence and limits what Riyadh can do, hence its position as number 2 demand.

Second, it is about Iran, which the Emirates and the Kingdom view as a mortal enemy. Qatar has to maintain good relations with Iran, with which it shares a natural gas field. But the diplomatic and security relationship is something its Gulf partners want reduced.

Third, it is about reducing internal threats, especially from the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist groups as well as non-compliant media and other “oppositionists,” a term that could cover a lot of ground. The demands to stop naturalization and to extradite non-citizens should be read in this context.

Fourth, but only fourth, it is about cutting off support to terrorists, defined to include the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hayat Tahrir al Sham, and Hizbollah. The Saudis don’t come to this last demand with clean hands, as their Wahhabi clerics have certainly inspired some of the terrorists, and many think private funds have flowed from Saudis to terrorist groups.

Qatar will be tempted to reject this list of demands in its entirety. That I think would not be so wise. There is a whiff of regime change surrounding this document, especially the 10-day ultimatum. It seems to be saying “do these things or else.” What? The cut-off of transport and trade is already painful, but things could get worse. The bloodless coups of 1972 and 1995 in Qatar are certainly not forgotten.

Better would be to sit with the antagonists and review each point, agreeing where possible and making clear why Doha cannot agree to other points. The more Qatar can indicate cooperation on terrorism, the more backing it can expect from the United States (or at least from Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis–the President is erratic and seems to be conducting a distinctly different foreign policy). The US is unlikely to care much about Turkey’s small military presence in Qatar or to want media shut down without good cause. But the Americans will want Qatar to make all commerce compliant with UN Security Council requirements as well as renounce ties with, and end funding of, designated terrorists.

There seems to be a growing Trumpization infecting negotiating styles worldwide. Making your position clear is desirable. Ignoring the fact that your adversary has alternatives to a negotiated agreement is not. Iran stepped in quickly to help Doha, as did Turkey. The net result of these overblown demands could be to drive Qatar further in their direction. That would be counter-productive. A coup is likewise a risky idea. Better to reach some sort of negotiated outcome.

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Escalation

Military escalation is happening in several places these days:

  1. Syria:  in addition to the March cruise missile strike on a Syrian base in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons, we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks US attacks on Iranian-backed forces approaching US-backed forces, downing of at least two Iranian-built drones, and downing of a Syrian warplane. Tehran and Damascus are pressing hard in eastern Syria, in an effort to deny the US and its allies post-war dominance there.
  2. Yemen: the Saudis and Emirates are continuing their campaign against the Houthis while the Americans amp up their campaign against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Today’s promotion of Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of the Saudi intervention in Yemen, to Crown Prince of the Kingdom presages more rather than less war there.
  3. Somalia: the Administration has expanded AFRICOM’s latitude in attacking al Shabaab militants, who are proving more resilient than many anticipated.
  4. Afghanistan: the White House has delegated authority to increase US forces to the military, which intends to deploy several thousand more Americans to help the Afghans counter the Taliban.
  5. Russia: Moscow’s warplanes have been conducting provocative maneuvers against NATO for some time, and yesterday a NATO F-16 allegedly approached a Russian plane carrying the Defense Minister.

Meanwhile Iraq’s disparate security forces are closing in on Mosul, civil wars continue in Libya and Mali, and North Korea continues to test its increasingly long-range missiles.

This military escalation is occurring in a vacuum of diplomatic and civilian efforts. Syria talks sponsored by Turkey, Iran and Russia are slated to reconvene soon in Astana, but prospects for serious progress there on military de-escalation are poor. The UN-sponsored political talks in Geneva are stalled. Planning for governance of Raqqa after the defeat of the Islamic State there is unclear.

The UN has announced a new Yemen Special Representative of the Secretary General, but it will be some time before he can relaunch its efforts. The UN-backed government in Libya is still unable to exert authority, especially over the eastern part of the country. The UN’s Mali mission has been suffering casualties, inhibiting any civilian efforts there. President Trump has tweeted the failure of Chinese diplomacy (more accurately, his diplomacy with China) to produce results with North Korea.

None of this should surprise. Apart from North Korea, the Americans are committed to not relying on diplomacy (in particular through the UN) and to avoiding anything resembling state-building. While they may sometimes think about financing removal of rubble or mines in newly liberated areas of Syria, they are determined to avoid any responsibility for governance or law and order. The Trump Administration wants to follow the formula Bush 43 tried in Afghanistan: kill the Islamic State and Al Qaeda enemies and get out. The failure of that approach has apparently been forgotten.

The only substantial diplomatic effort the Trump Administration has been pursuing is with Israel and Palestine, where there is an almost 70-year record of failures, with only occasional, if important, moments of partial success (I am thinking of the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, not the Oslo accords). No one is taking bets that Jason Greenblatt’s efforts will succeed, though they may restrain the Israelis a bit and produce some modest improvements in the conditions under which Palestinians live. The two-state solution is, however, as far off as it has ever been.

The worst may be yet to come. The Trump Administration has aligned itself firmly with Israel, the Saudis, and the UAE against Iran. The Iranians seem increasingly determined to carve out their Shia crescent from Iraq through Syria and Lebanon all the way to the Mediterranean. We are on a collision course with Tehran, even if the nuclear deal hold for now

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