Tag: Lebanon

The Kingdom needs to cool it

Atheer Ahmed Kakan of the (Turkish) Anadolu Agency asked questions last week. I replied:

1. What do you think of Trump policy in the Middle East right now?

A: Trump policy in the Middle East seems calculated to push back hard on Iran, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but it is having perverse effects. The war in Yemen is going badly, the blockade of Qatar has driven Doha closer to Tehran and Ankara, and the forced resignation of Saad Hariri has united Lebanon against the Kingdom. Ironically, Trump has done nothing to push back against Iran or its proxies in Syria.

2. What do you have to say about Saudis new developments? Adopting “moderate version of Islam”? Attacking Iran publicly? Aligning with Israel against Iran? Re-engaging with Iraq?

A: No one I know would object to the Kingdom advocating for more moderate Islam. Re-engaging with Iraq is also a good idea. Mouthing off against Iran is not. I’m not sure how far the alignment with Israel is really going to go.

3. What do you think the consequences of Trump letting Saudis hand in the MidEast? Are we witnessing Saudi-Iranian war? New civil war in Lebanon? New opened war in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon beside Yemen?

A: I trust cooler heads will prevent some of those things from happening, but there are a lot of risks. The Kingdom needs to assess its own capabilities and align its actions with those. Hotheadedness doesn’t win wars, or peace.

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Peace picks November 20 – 24

  1. Is Lebanon Saudi Arabia’s New Zone of Confrontation with Iran? | Monday, November 20 | 12:00 – 1:30 pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | Under the new leadership of 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has found itself in the middle of a storm generated by internal opponents to his rule, the country’s foreign adversaries, and partly by the young ruler himself. Earlier in November, Saudi air defenses intercepted a missile fired at Riyadh by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. On the same day, Saudi authorities arrested dozens of senior figures, including well-connected royals like Prince Walid Bin Talal, on corruption charges and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, while traveling in Riyadh, announced his resignation and denounced Iran’s long arm in Lebanon, Hezbollah. Saudi officials followed Hariri’s statement with warnings of their own, explaining that as long as Lebanon was controlled by Hezbollah, it would be treated as an enemy. Is Lebanon Saudi Arabia’s newest regional theater of conflict with Iran, after Yemen and Syria? What’s the Crown Prince’s next move? What does it mean for Lebanon if Hezbollah’s base of operations is now a potential conflict zone? And how is the Trump administration managing its regional partners and the larger strategic picture in the Middle East? On November 20, join us at Hudson Institute for an important and timely lunchtime panel discussion moderated by Lee Smith of the Hudson Institute, and featuring Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute, Mohammed Alyahya of the Atlantic Council, and Tony Badran Foundation of Defense of Democracies.
  2. Iranian and Russian Involvement in Syria: Purposes and Prospects | Monday, November 20 | 10:00 – 11:00 am | International Institute for Strategic Studies | Register Here | Syria may be the theatre where Western interests clash most directly with those of Iran. Russian and Western policies have also come into direct clash over Syria. In these clashes, Russia and Iran have been tactical allies, but their goals are not wholly congruent and their partnership shows fragility. Please join us in the next installment in the IISS Manama Dialogue 2017 Discussion Series to explore the involvement by these two powers in Syria. This series, focusing on political, economic, social, and security challenges in and around the Middle East and North Africa, will be held before and after the December IISS Manama Dialogue. This event will be a timely discussion of the current security and political challenges in Syria, the roles that Iran and Russia have played in the conflict, and what can be expected in the months to come. Speakers include Dr. Mark N Katz of George Mason University and Dr. Neda Bolourchi of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory. Mark Fitzpatrick of IISS-Americas will chair the conversation.
  3. Costing U.S. Nuclear Forces | Monday, November 20 | 1:00 – 2:30 pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here | The United States has embarked on the process of modernizing almost every component of its nuclear forces, sparking a debate about the costs of such a project. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released a report estimating that the nuclear force plans that the Trump administration inherited from its predecessor would cost $1.2 trillion between 2017 and 2046, and outlining options to reduce or delays costs. Michael Bennett from the CBO will present the report’s findings, and Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association will discuss its implications for policy. Other speakers include Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute and James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  4. Putting Sectarianism in Perspective | Tuesday, November 21 | 3:00 – 4:30 pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | The Middle East Institute is pleased to host a conversation with Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, editors of the new book Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East. Their book critiques the reliance on religious identity as the explanation for the region’s violence, and analyzes the ways in which geopolitical rivalries or domestic grievances have become, or been mobilized into, sectarian wars. How, Hashemi and Postel ask, can the region’s politics be “de-sectarianized” Register now to join this valuable conversation moderated by MEI senior vice president for policy research and programs Paul Salem.
  5. The U.S. Policy on Iran: The Way Forward | Tuesday, November 21 | 10:00 – 11:00 am | Organization of Iranian American Communities (held at the National Press Club) | Register Here | We are delighted to announce the upcoming event scheduled for November 21, 2017 at 10:00 am at the National Press Club, Holeman Lounge.  The event is the second in a series of discussions on “The U.S. Policy On Iran: The Way Forward”. As part of implementing its new Iran policy, the administration designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity (SDGT). Moderator Dr. Ivan Sascha Sheehan of the University of Baltimore will speak to Senator Joseph Lieberman, formerly of the U.S. Senate, and Gen. Chuck Wald, formerly of the U.S. air force.  
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Peace picks November 13 – 17

  1. Lebanon in Crisis? The Impact of the Hariri Resignation and the Saudi-Iranian Cold War | Monday, November 13 | 11:00 – 12:00 pm | Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (event held by phone) | Register Here | The resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri is threatening again to plunge Lebanon into political and economic crisis or worse. A number of developments, including longstanding but growing tensions between Iran and Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia may well presage a deteriorating regional situation that could draw Lebanon as well as Israel into the fray. Join us BY PHONE as three veteran observers of Lebanese and regional politics analyze these developments and others as we enter yet another period of potential turbulence in Middle Eastern politics. Jane Harman of the Wilson Center will deliver opening remarks, after which Aaron David Miller will moderate a conversation featuring Hanin Ghaddar of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Paul Salem of the Middle East Institute, and Bassel F. Salloukh of the Lebanese American University.
  2. Religion and Foreign Policy: Exploring the Legacy of “Mixed Blessings” | Monday, November 13 | 2:00 – 3:00 pm | Center for Strategic and International Studies | Register Here | Please join the Human Rights Initiative (HRI) and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs for a discussion marking the 10th anniversary of CSIS’s groundbreaking report, “Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement with Religion in Conflict-Prone Settings“. This report analyzed how religion affects international affairs, including through the faith and religious beliefs of politicians and elites; the belief structures that underlie national and international views; and the impact of religious organizations. At this event, Shaun Casey, former director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs, will interview Liora Danan, lead author of Mixed Blessings and former chief of staff for the Office of Religion and Global Affairs, to discuss the report’s goals and relevance in diplomacy today. Following their interview, Shannon N. Green, director and senior fellow of HRI, will moderate an expert panel to assess the impact of religion on foreign policy over the decade since the report’s release. Panelists include Rebecca Linder Blachly of  Episcopal Church and Eric Patterson of Georgetown University.
  3. 2017 Transatlantic Economic Forum – Day 1 | Monday, November 13 | 8:30 am – 5:30 pm | Center for Transatlantic Relations (held at SAIS Kenney Auditorium) | Register Here | The 5th annual Transatlantic Economic Forum will bring together government and business community leaders from 20 countries of the larger Mediterranean, including the Gulf and the Middle East, and is organized in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The first day will consist of four panels and three keynote addresses. The first panel, titled “Doing Business in Maghreb,” will include Mahieddine Taleb of Sonatrach (Algeria), Adel Mohsen Chaabane of AmCham (Tunisia), Mustafa Sanalla of the National Oil Corporation (Libya), Omar Mohanna of the Suez Cement Group of Companies (Egypt), and Asmaa El Mkhentar of the Ministry of Industry, Trade, Investment and Digital Economy (Morocco). Greg Lebedev of CIPE and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will moderate. The second panel, “Doing Business in The Balkans,” will consist of a conversation between Mujo Selimovic of the CTR-SAIS Mediterranean Basin Initiative Corporate Advisory Board and moderator Michael Haltzel, a CTR – SAIS Senior Fellow. The panel “Security and Military Cooperation: Safeguarding the Mediterranean part 1” will feature Mitar Klikovac of the Embassy of Montenegro to the United States, Dragan Galić of the Embassy of Serbia to the United States, and Khaled Shawky and Ayman Aldesouky Youssef of the Embassy of Egypt to the United States. Hans Binnendijk of CTR – SAIS will moderate. The final panel of the day, “Security and Military Cooperation: Safeguarding the Mediterranean part 2” will include Michael Barbero of the United States Army, Fahrudin Radoncic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ambassador of Croatia in the United States Pjer Simunovic, Michael MacQueen of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and moderator Don Jensen of CTR – SAIS.
  4. Sectarianism and Conflict in the Middle East | Tuesday, November 14 | 9:00 am – 12:15 pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here | What’s driving the spread of Sunni-Shia identity politics in today’s Middle East? How is sectarianism contributing to the region’s instability and conflicts? The authors of a new edited volume, Beyond Sunni and Shia: The Roots of Sectarianism in a Changing Middle East, will discuss how geopolitics, governance, media, and other factors are fueling sectarianism. This event will consist of two panels. The first, titled, “Regional Cases and Geopolitical Sources of Sectarianism: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Syria” will feature Cole Bunzel of Princeton University, Fanar Hadad of the National University of Singapore, Afshon Ostovar, of the Naval Postgraduate School, and Heiko Wimmen of the International Crisis Group. The second panel, moderated by Marc Lynch of Carnegie’s Middle East Program and titled “Domestic and Institutional Sources of Sectarianism: Governance, Political Economy, Clerics, and Social Media” will include Joseph Bahout of Carnegie’s Middle East Program, Justin Gengler of Qatar University, Alexander Henley of the University of Oxford, and Alexandra Siegel of New York University.
  5. Afghanistan 2017: A Survey of Public Perceptions | Tuesday, November 14 | 10:00 – 11:30 am | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | The recent escalation of attacks in Kabul underscores the crucial questions of security, economic stability and reconciliation that still confront President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah, despite the significant progress Afghanistan has made. Those questions and other pressing issues facing the country are the subject of the Asia Foundation’s 2017 Survey of the Afghan People. Join the U.S. Institute of Peace on Tuesday, November 14, for the foundation’s presentation of the findings and a discussion of the trends in citizens’ views over time. Speakers will include Dr. Tabasum Akseer of the Asia Foundation, Ambassador Daniel F. Feldman of Akin Gump, Dr. Zach Warren of The Asia Foundation, and Mr. Scott Worden of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
  6. 2017 Transatlantic Economic Forum – Day 2 | Tuesday, November 14 | 8:30 am – 6:45 pm | Center for Transatlantic Relations (held at SAIS Kenney Auditorium) | Register Here | The second day of the Transatlantic Economic Forum will consist of five panels. The first, “Working Through Reforms: What’s Next?” will feature Marinko Cavara, President of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bruce Berton, OSCE Ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Dejan Vanjek, Foreign Policy advisor to Dragan Covic, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Daniel Serwer of CTR – SAIS will moderate. “Diversifying Economies: The Private Sector As The Key To Building Prosperity” will include panelists Dalibor Milos of Aluminij d.d. (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Ali Haddad of ETRHB Haddad Group (Algeria), Hisham Fahmy of AmCham Egypt, Inc., and moderator Andras Simonyi of CTR – SAIS. Participating in the panel “Macedonia: Turning New Page” will be Kocho Angjushev, Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, Lilica Kitanovska of Voice of America, and Edward Joseph of CTR – SAIS. The fourth panel, titled “The Gulf Countries: Strengthening Transatlantic Cooperation,” will include participants Omar A. Bahlaiwa of the Committee for International Trade (Saudi Arabia), Bilal Sabouni of the American Business Council in Dubai (UAE), and moderator Khush Choksy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Mehdi Bendimerad of the Algerian Business Association, Jasmin Mahmuzic of the Banking Agency of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and moderator Steve Lutes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will participate in the final panel, “Regional and Transatlantic Cooperation: A Key To Growth and Prosperity.”
  7. 71st Annual Conference: Conflicts, Costs, and Policy Pathways | Wednesday, November 15 | 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | Middle East Institute (held at The Capital Hilton) | Register Here | The Middle East Institute’s (MEI) 71st Annual Conference will convene innovative leaders, foreign policy practitioners, and analysts from the Middle East and the United States to explain the challenges and opportunities facing the region and assess current policies. The conference will feature four expert discussions that will delve into U.S. Middle East priorities, paths for resolving the region’s civil wars, the humanitarian outlook in countries plagued by conflict, and the growing impact of women’s activism. Amb. (ret.) Wendy J. Chamberlin of MEI will deliver opening remarks. Participants will include Gen. (ret.) John Allen of The Brookings Institution, Fawziah Bakr al-Bakr of Al Jazeera, Wafa Ben Hassine of Access Now, Amb. (ret.) Gerald Feierstein of MEI, Amb. (ret.) Robert Ford of the Middle East Institute, Philip Gordon of the Council on Foreign Relations, Simon Henshaw of the U.S. Department of State, Mary Louise Kelly of NPR, Hind Aboud Kabawat of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, Michael Klosson of Save the Children, Nancy Lindborg of USIP, Clare Lockhart of the Institute for State Effectiveness, Rania A. Al‐Mashat of the International Monetary Fund, Hideki Matsunaga of the World Bank, Paul Salem of the Middle East Institute, Randa Slim of MEI and Johns Hopkins SAIS, Nafeesa Syeed of Bloomberg News, Jonathan Winer of the Middle East Institute, and Juan Zarate of the Financial Integrity Network.
  8. Water Security in the Middle East – Source of Tension or Avenue for Peace? | Wednesday, November 15 | 9:00 – 11:00 am | Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars | Register Here | In the Middle East, water scarcity is a source of tension. But some innovative leaders in the region have approached better water management as a shared priority that transcends borders and politics—and that could even serve as a potential platform for peace. For more than 20 years, EcoPeace Middle East has worked across the Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli borders to promote practical solutions to transboundary water scarcity and pollution. Join us for a unique conversation with EcoPeace’s three co-directors—representing Jordan, Palestine, and Israel—who will share their experiences using water diplomacy to improve livelihoods, create healthy interdependencies, and enhance regional stability. The discussion will also identify opportunities for progress on water issues within the peace process and the important role of the United States in fostering regional water security and stability. Speakers include Sherri Goodman, Former U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Roger-Mark De Souza of the Wilson Center, Aaron Salzberg of the U.S. Department of State, and Gidon Bromberg, Nada Majdalani, and Yana Abu Taleb of EcoPeace Middle East.
  9. Deconflicting in Syria: Turkey’s Idlib Operation | Wednesday, November 15 | 2:30 – 4:00 pm | Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research (SETA) | Register Here | In early October, Turkey deployed its forces to establish a presence in Syria’s Idlib province. The deployment aims to establish a de-conflict zone in Idlib as part of a deal reached at negotiations in Astana between Turkey, Russia, and Iran. In addition to limiting conflict between the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army in Idlib and the Assad regime, Turkey has also characterized the operation as an effort to prevent further expansion by the PYD in northern Syria. The US has remained skeptical about the Astana process, particularly over Iran’s involvement as a guarantor. While the US said that it would not provide tangible support for Turkey’s operation in Idlib, the Department of Defense said that the US supports Turkey’s efforts to secure its borders against terror groups such as Al Qaeda. At the same time, the US continues to partner with the PYD in northern Syria, a long-standing point of contention in the US-Turkey relationship. Please join the SETA Foundation at Washington DC for a timely discussion on this crucial issue in the Syrian conflict and what Turkey’s operation in Idlib means for US-Turkey relations. Panelists include Luke Coffey of The Heritage Foundation, Kadir Ustun of The SETA Foundation, and Nidal Betare of People Demand Change. Kilic Kanat of the SETA Foundation will moderate.
  10. 2017 Transatlantic Economic Forum – Day 3 | Wednesday, November 15 |  10:00 am – 6:45 pm | Center for Transatlantic Relations (held at SAIS Kenney Auditorium) | Register Here | The final day of the Transatlantic Economic Forum will consist of three panels and will end with the CTR SAIS 2017 Mediterranean Basin Award Ceremony. The first panel, “Turkey and Transatlantic Relations Book launch,” will include panelists Donald Jensen of CTR – SAIS, Kilic Bugra Kanat of the SETA Foundation, Jennifer Miel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Serdar Altay of ISPAT. Aylin Unver Noi of CTR – SAIS will moderate. The second panel, titled “Bosnia and Herzegovina: Towards It’s European Future,” will feature Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, Head of the EU Delegation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Goran Mirascic of The World Bank Group, Valentin Inzko of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mak Kamenica of USAID, and Michael Haltzel of CTR – SAIS. Panelists participating in the final event, “Algeria and Transatlantic Relations Book Launch,” include Ismael Chikhoune of the US – Algeria Business Council, Jeremy Berndt of the Department of State, Mehdi Bendimerad of System Panneaux Sandwichs, and moderator Samy Boukaila of CTR – SAIS.
  11. Education for Displaced Syrians: Innovative Solutions to a Complex Challenge | Thursday, November 16 | 12:00 – 2:00 pm | Marvin Center, George Washington University | Register Here | Join George Washington University’s No Lost Generation chapter for an engaging discussion on innovative approaches to education for displaced Syrian communities, from after school programs in Turkey to international networks that connect Syrian students with higher education opportunities.This event has been made possible with support from Turkish Heritage Organization. Speakers include Lina Sergie Attar of the Karam Foundation, Katherine Miller of the Institute for International Education, George Batah of Syrian Youth Empowerment, and Dr. Jessica Anderson of George Washington and Georgetown Universities.
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The Saudi auto-coup

Thirty-two year-old Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has taken on a lot:

  • Domestic political and economic reforms, including partial privatization of Aramco, allowing women to drive, and shifting the economy away from oil and gas;
  • The war in Yemen against the Houthi takeover of part of the country, in cooperation with the United Arab Emirates and with sometimes reluctant support from the US;
  • A major diplomatic spat with Qatar over its alleged support of terrorists;
  • Removal of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hariri to protest Iran’s influence there;
  • Arrest of rival princes for corruption.

What could go wrong?

Each of these moves may have virtues. Certainly Saudi Arabia needs reforms to get it into the 20th century, never mind the 21st. The Houthis overreached and merit comeuppance. Qatar’s financial empathy with the Muslim Brotherhood has caused problems for Bahrain, Egypt and Syria. Iran-sponsored Hizbollah is an armed non-state actor within a state that merits opposition. Corruption is endemic in the Kingdom and needs countering.

But each also poses problems. The “Saudi Vision 2030” reforms that MbS has proposed are far-reaching, but implementation is likely to be problematic and lag. The war in Yemen is causing massive civilian suffering and political division. It will be difficult if not impossible to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The blockade against Qatar has drive Doha in the direction of Ankara and Tehran, rather than bringing it back into the Gulf orbit. Hariri was a weak reed, but now there is none. Lebanese are united in wanting his return, which the State Department also supports. Countering corruption only among your political opponents is not a good way to clean up a system.

One other, less visible but important, initiative is the Saudi rapprochement with Israel, which shares the Kingdom’s hostility towards Iran. How far can this go? What are its implications for the geopolitics of the region?

But most of all: doing all these things at once, without ample consultation even within the royal family, is far from the Kingdom’s cautious tradition. A 32-year-old Crown Prince undertaking it amounts to an auto-coup: a takeover by someone already in power.

Some will argue that is the only way to get things done. The parallel to President Trump’s efforts to upset the apple cart in the US is obvious. It is no surprise that the White House (in the person of Jared Kushner) apparently encouraged the arrest of the royal opponents, and maybe even the resignation of Hariri, making the State Department statement against it moot. But how is Trump’s radical program working out in the US? The repudiation Trump suffered Tuesday in America’s equivalent of by elections was massive, even if concentrated in blue states (one-purple Virginia, New Jersey, and New York).

Of course there will be no voting in Saudi Arabia to test MbS’s initiatives. The consequences are likely to be less visible, at least initially, and possibly less peaceful, eventually. MbS has taken big risks for big gains. Pay day, if it happens, is still a long way off.

 

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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 April 10-14

  1. A Panel Discussion on Debating the Merits of the Trump Administration’s New Travel, Immigration, and Refugee Ban | Monday, April 10 | 11-12:30pm | SAIS | Register Here | “Debating the Merits of the Trump Administration’s New Travel, Immigration and Refugee Ban,” will be hosted at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The panel discussion is a part of the Human Security Forum by the Foreign Policy Institute (FPI) at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Panelists include T. Alex Aleinikoff, Director of The Zolberg Institute of Migration and Mobility at The New School, George Biddle, Chairman of World Connect and former Executive Vice President of the International Peace Committee, James Jay Carafano, Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, and Danielle Pletka, Senior Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Eterprise Institute
  2. Where Will Turkey’s Referendum Lead? | Tuesday, April 11 | 1-2:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | Turkish voters on April 16, 2017 face a referendum to shift to a presidential system and further empower Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Whether Erdogan succeeds in his long-sought consolidation of authority or suffers a reversal, Turkish policies on the economy, domestic issues, the Kurdish question, regional security, and engagement with the U.S. and NATO are all apt to be affected by the referendum’s outcome. The Middle East Institute (MEI) Center for Turkish Studies is pleased to host Kemal Kirisci (Brookings), Omer Taspinar (Brookings), and Amberin Zaman (Wilson Center) for an analysis of the plebiscite, its political context, and potential consequences of the impending vote. Gonul Tol (MEI) will moderate the discussion.
  3. Militancy and Conflict in the Sahel and Maghreb | Tuesday, April 12 | 8:30-3pm | Carnegie Endowment | Register Here | Crises and upheaval in the Maghreb and the Sahel have altered the regional security terrain. Security challenges are increasingly becoming entwined, and many are becoming more pronounced amongst at-risk border communities in marginalized peripheries and rural communities. This day-long conference brings together leading scholars from around the world to address the key security and governance challenges in the Maghreb and Sahel. Panelists will examine the interaction of the expanding horizon of insecurity with conflicts, political vacuums, and Western response policy. They will also discuss the broader ramifications of the trends for peace and development in both regions. Panelists include Rasmus Boserup, Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, and Claire Spencer to discuss the security complexes in the Maghreb and Sahel; Bruce Whitehouse, Jimam Lar, Joel Nwokeoma, and Amy Niang to discuss violent extremism in West Africa and Sahel; and Frederic Wehrey, Faraj Najem, and Manal Taha to discuss the potential spillover from Libya into the Sahel.
  4. Russia’s Gambit: Moscow’s Plans and the Trump Administration | Tuesday, April 11 | 4-5:30pm | The Institute of World Politics | Register Here | You are cordially invited to a lecture on the topic of Russia’s Gambit: Assessing Moscow’s Plans in the First Months of the Trump Administrationwith Nikolas K. Gvosdev, Professor of National Security Affairs, Captain Jerome E. Levy Chair in Economic Geography and National Security at the U.S. Naval War College and Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
  5. Book Launch: Al-Qaeda’s Revenge: The 2004 Madrid Train Bombings | Wednesday, April 12 | 10-11:15pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | Al-Qaeda’s Revenge: The 2004 Madrid Train Bombings tells the story of “3/11”—the March 11, 2004 bombings of commuter trains in Madrid, which killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800. It runs from the development of an al-Qaeda conspiracy in Spain in the 1990s through the formation of the 3/11 bombing network beginning in March 2002, and on through the fallout of the attacks. Fernando Reinares’s account draws on judicial, police, and intelligence documents to which he had privileged access, as well as on personal interviews with officials in Spain and elsewhere. The book’s full analysis links the Madrid bombing to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership and unveils connections between 3/11 and 9/11. Speakers will also include Bruce Hoffman, Professor at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, Jytte Klausen, Lawrence A. Wien Professor of International Cooperation at Brandeis University, and Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow and Director of the Brookings Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution.
  6. What’s Next for Afghanistan-Pakistan Relations? | Wednesday, April 12 | 10:30-12pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | The fragile Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship is in crisis. Each country has accused the other of harboring terrorists, and border closures have caused hardship for people on both sides. A recent British-led mediation has defused some of these tensions. However, the relationship remains troubled, and longstanding irritants—such as a disputed border and the treatment of Afghan refugees in Pakistan—continue to fester. What is next for Afghanistan-Pakistan relations? Will the new détente be sustained or short-lived? Additionally, what are the implications of all this for U.S. policy? Can or should Washington play a role in trying to help ease these bilateral tensions? This event, which is co-hosted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, will address these questions and others. Panelists include Daud Khattak, Senior Editor at Radio Mashaal, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Omar Samad, Former Afghan Ambassador to France, and Joshua White, Associate Professor of Practice and Fellow at SAIS.
  7. 2017 IMES Annual Conference: Restless Matters: the Socio-Political Lives of Historical Sites and Objects in the Middle East | Friday, April 14 | 9am-3pm | Elliott School | Register Here | Historical sites and objects are a focal point of socio-political contestation in the Middle East today. Whether it be the destruction and looting of the Egyptian Museum, Palmyra, or the Buddhas of Bamyan, or it be the renovation and rebuilding of Mecca, the Eyup Sultan complex, or heritage districts in Doha, Cairo or Beirut, the ways in which these historical sites and objects are intertwined with political projects and political-economic processes have drawn increasing scrutiny in recent years. While popular discourses and news media accounts often portray these matters in terms of the actions of religious zealots, crass developers, or enlightened preservationists, this glosses over a far more textured socio-political terrain this conference seeks to explore. A day-long event that brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars who focus on the Middle East and the region’s past and present connections to other parts of the world, this conference explores the myriad socio-political work historical sites and objects do. Speakers include Esra Akcan, Associate Profess in the Department of Archaeology at Cornell University, Azra Aksamija, Associate Professor in the Art, Culture, and Technology Program at MIT, Farah Al-Nakib, Director of the Center for Gulf Studies at American University of Kuwait, Amin Alsaden, PhD Candidate at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Luna Khirfan, Associate Professor at University of Waterloo School of Planning, Michele Lamprakos, Assistant Professor at University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and Amal Sachedina, Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Institute for Middle East Studies, George Washington University.
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