Tag: Lebanon

Peace picks February 27 – March 3

  1. Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum: Negotiation Day – Negotiators’ Behavior in the End Game | Monday, February 27 | 9 – 10:30am | SAIS Johns Hopkins | Register Here | No analytical work has ever addressed the subject of How Negotiations End. We know that negotiators act differently in the endgame–when they see the end is in sight, good or bad, and they work to that end. This project addresses that situation, examining way in which the endgame ends positively or negatively, and the way in which typical behavioral patterns are encountered on the way. A path breaking study of a neglected topic. The book is now in press with Cambridge University Press, the latest study of the Process of International Negotiation (PIN) Program at Clingendael, Netherlands.
  2. Potential Negotiations in the Upcoming Year | Monday, February 27 | 11 am – 12:30 pm | SAIS Johns Hopkins | Register Here | We are faced today with an international situation filled with challenges for negotiation. These represent opportunities open for pursuit; others represent situations looking for an opportunity. In this situation, what are the prospects for pursuing and developing negotiations as a means of managing conflict and of furthering US policy goals.Speakers:Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Russian Federation, India, Israel, and JordanPrinceton Lyman, former US Ambassador to Nigerial and South Africa

    Galia Golan, Professor at the School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya

    Vali Nasr, Dean of Johns Hopkins SAIS

    I WIlliam Zartman, Jacob Blaustein Professor Emeritus of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution, SAIS – Moderator

    Location Kenney Herter Auditorium, 1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW

  3. Crude Strategy: Rethinking the U.S. Military Commitment to Defend Persian Gulf Oil | Monday, February 27 | 11 – 12:30pm | Cato Institute | Register Here | Should the United States continue to use its military to guarantee the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf? For more than 30 years, U.S. foreign policy has been shaped by a commitment to safeguard the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. Yet profound changes in international oil markets, growth in domestic U.S. energy production, and dramatic shifts in the Middle Eastern balance of power suggest that it may be time to reconsider whether this commitment is still warranted. In Crude Strategy, a multidisciplinary team of political scientists, economists, and historians set out to explore the links between Persian Gulf oil and U.S. national security. Their essays explore key questions such as the potential economic cost of disruption in oil supply, whether disruptions can be blunted with nonmilitary tools, the potential for instability in Saudi Arabia, and the most effective U.S. military posture for the region. By clarifying the assumptions underlying the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, the authors conclude that the case for revising America’s grand strategy towards the region is far stronger than is commonly assumed.
  4. The Trump Administration and the Future of the Kurds | Monday February 27 | 2 – 3:30pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | The Kurdish issue in the Middle East is at an important juncture. The Iraqi Kurds, faced with an unsettled Iraq, are itching to declare their independence. The Syrian Kurds have managed to affiliate themselves with the United States against ISIS but face a hostile reaction from Turkey, their northern neighbor, intent on rolling back their successes. The Turkish Kurds have to contend with the effects of government attempts at suppressing their legal political representatives and the war between the Turkish state and the PKK, which are challenging the country’s stability. Our panel will discuss these and other issues pertaining to the future Kurdish political landscape.
  5. U.S. – Turkey Cooperation in Syria and the Role of the U.S. in the Middle East | Monday February 27 | 3 – 4:30pm | Turkish Heritage Organization | Register Here | The Trump administration has inherited numerous, complex challenges in the Middle East. Regional instability caused by the Syrian civil war continues to have a profound impact on one of the U.S.’s most strategic NATO allies – Turkey – and on the bilateral relationship between Washington and Ankara. As the Trump administration prepares to tackle these issues and re-shape America’s role in the region, experts will discuss the choices and challenges facing the U.S. and Turkey.
  6. The Impact of Shifting Geopolitics on MENA Energy | Tuesday February 28 | 12 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | Changes in the energy market, new entrants, and conflicting economic and national security interests at the regional and global level have altered the market power of Middle Eastern oil and gas producers. Industry developments and new policies under the Trump administration are likely to lead to the expansion of U.S. shale oil and gas production and increased exports. Russia vies daily with Saudi Arabia to be the world’s largest producer, while prices remain far below levels of a few years ago. How are Middle Eastern states coping politically and economically with the challenges of a global energy market in an historic transition?
  7. Obama’s Legacy, Trump’s Inheritance in the Middle East (Annual Kuwait Chair Lecture) | Tuesday February 28 | 6:30 – 7:45pm | Elliott School of International Affairs | Register Here | Join us as Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm examines the environment in the Middle East that President Trump inherits from his predecessor and explores the parameters for action by the new administration.
  8. Food for Humanity | Wednesday March 1 | 12:15 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | The Middle East Institute’s Arts & Culture Program is pleased to host a conversation about the political, emotional and symbolic significance of food for displaced and diaspora communities. The panel will explore the unifying role of food, its ability to generate empathy, and its power to build community among diverse peoples through the ritual sharing of a meal. The panel will also discuss how food can serve as a source of income, a form of cultural resistance, and as a means of preserving identity and heritage for refugee communities in the face of loss.
  9. How People Become Terrorists | Wednesday March 1 | 12:15 – 1:45pm | New America | Register Here | In the years since 9/11 the scope and nature of the global neo-jihadi threat to the West has changed radically, prompting reassessments from those following the threat. In his latest book Misunderstanding Terrorism, Marc Sageman examines the current threat and articulates a new model of how people become terrorists, which has strong implications for the fight against terrorists that go against the conventional wisdom. New America welcomes Dr. Sageman for a discussion of what is driving the current generation of jihadists to become terrorists and how the U.S. should adapt to the threat. Marc Sageman is a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the author of Misunderstanding Terrorism and two other critically acclaimed books: Understanding Terror Networks (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) and Leaderless Jihad (UPP, 2007).
  10. Women of the Caliphate: Gender Dynamics in State-Building Jihadi Organizations | Thursday March 2 | 5:30 – 7pm | American University | Register Here | A Talk with Hamoon Khelghat-Doost, from the National University of Singapore. Hamoon Khelghat-Doost looks at gender dynamics within jihadi organizations by examining their standpoint on the state-building process. His talk will explore the reasons for jihadi organizations, such as ISIS, to incorporate a relatively high number of women. Khelghat-Doost has conducted fieldwork in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and along Syrian borders in southern Turkey.
  11. Prospects for the Next Generation of Palestinian Leadership | Friday March 3 | 12 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | President Trump’s backpedaling on the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution shines a spotlight on the Palestinians’ looming leadership crisis. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, now 81, has yet to cultivate a successor, and his administration faces growing concerns about its credibility twelve years after the last national elections. How should the next generation of Palestinian leaders approach such complex issues as Israeli settlement expansion, a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, economic troubles, and engagement on the international stage?
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Assad may stay, but his abuses shouldn’t

RAND colleagues have again updated their proposal for de-escalation and decentralization in Syria. This time there is no pretense that Assad would cooperate, only an assertion that he is unlikely to do better given his weakening military forces. The proposition now is for a Russian/American/Turkish  and maybe /Iranian agreement imposed on him and the opposition, once Raqqa is taken by the Kurdish and allied Arab forces now investing it.

Raqqa would be put under international (UN or US/Russian) administration, the opposition would remain in control of a slice of the south, Idlib would likely fall to the regime, the “Manbij pocket” would remain in Turkish or surrogate Turkoman hands, and Kurds would rule the rest of the north. Assad would control “useful Syria” in the populous western “spine” and might eventually get his hands on Deir Azzour and its oil resources in the east, where regime forces have held on through more than six years of revolution and war.

The premise behind this proposal is that we are near if not at a mutually hurting stalemate, in which the warring parties conclude that they have no prospect of gaining much from continued fighting. What Jim Dobbins, Phil Gordon, and Jeffrey Martini are proposing is what is known in the negotiating trade as a “way out.” They don’t claim that what they propose is fair or just, only that ending the fighting and refocusing the military effort against the extremists of Jabhat Fateh al Sham and the Islamic State is what serves US interests best. While they don’t say it, I suppose Donald Trump could claim that an internationally administered Raqqa province is the “safe zone” that he has repeatedly promised. This is a faute de mieux proposal based on the emerging situation, not an optimal one.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the proposal is the Kurdish-led attack on Raqqa, followed by a withdrawal in favor of an international administration. Some would like to see Turkish-backed Arab forces engaged there, perhaps in parallel if not jointly with the Kurdish-led Arabs. The rest amounts mainly to acceptance of the status quo, or the presumed status to be.

I understand why Americans focus on who takes Raqqa–it is the “capital” and last real stronghold of the Islamic State in Syria. Its conquest will affect the geopolitics of the region for a long time to come. But I also think it is what Alfred North Whitehead called a “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” For me, the main issue is how the two-thirds of Syrians under Assad control in the western spine of the country will live, what will happen with the 6.6 million displaced people, and whether the 4.8 million Syrian refugees will be welcomed back to the country. It is a mistake to focus on Raqqa without considering these issues.

While the Trump administration may have different ideas, it was hard to imagine until January 20 that the United States would help the Assad regime with anything but the massive humanitarian aid it has provided throughout the fighting, much of which has gone to regime-controlled areas.

Reconstruction assistance is another matter. The Russians and Iranians have already told Assad they have given during the war and cannot be relied upon once it is over. Iran has recently cut its subsidized oil shipments. If the fighting ends with a negotiated agreement along the lines RAND proposes, the Americans and Europeans will be expected to ante up, if not directly at least by allowing IMF and World Bank assistance.

What conditions should govern American and European support for reconstruction?

Here is where the West has a chance to win the peace, even if the opposition has lost the war. It will need to use prospective assistance as leverage to get Assad to drop his authoritarian brutality, illustrated recently by Amnesty International’s graphic report on the executions at Saydnaya prison. The US should lay out clearly and in advance the conditions under which it would consider more than humanitarian assistance to Syria’s civilians under regime control. Something like these might be considered:

  • Release of all political prisoners and an accounting for all those executed or still held.
  • Amnesty for non-violent demonstrators.
  • Reform of the security and judicial services, with accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • Withdrawal of all foreign forces, including Lebanese Hizbollah as well as Iraqi and Afghan Shia militias, as well as demobilization and dissolution of all sectarian forces.
  • An inclusive process for revising the Syrian constitution and deciding when free and fair elections will be held.
  • Creation of an independent electoral commission.
  • Elimination of excessive constraints on media and political activity.
  • Freedom to return without reprisals for all refugees and displaced people.
  • An end to the crony capitalism that was a driving force of the revolution.

A vigorous and capable UN mission or something of the sort would be required to get fulfillment of such conditions and monitor implementation.

Assad is nowhere near accepting such conditions today. He continues with bold-faced denials, not only of the executions at Saydnaya but even the well-documented use of barrel bombs against civilians and attacks on hospitals and schools. If he persists in that vein, America and Europe should keep their wallets in their pockets and let come what may. Worrying about how Raqqa will be governed is far less important than making sure the abuses come to an end in the areas Assad controls.

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The company he keeps

Donald Trump yesterday overhauled for the umpteenth time his campaign apparatus, bringing in Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon, promoting pollster Kellyanne Conway, adding former Fox News chief Roger Ailes as an advisor, and sidelining campaign chair Paul Manafort. He already had on board Walid Phares, who appeared last night on the PBS Newshour paired with top Clinton surrogate Wendy Sherman.

There is no better way to understand a candidate than from the company he keeps.

Breitbart News Network is an unabashed Trump supporter with a record of misleading, inaccurate and mistaken coverage aimed at embarrassing its political enemies on the left. Fox News is the leading right-wing news outlet, with no concern for anything resembling balance in its own coverage. Ailes has resigned as its chief, accused of sexual harassment that he denies. Manafort is listed as a recipient of millions in cash in the black book of Ukraine’s erstwhile pro-Russian rulers. Walid Phares is a former spokesman and leader of a Christian militia in Lebanon thought to have committed war crimes. 

Conway is the only one in this lineup I would consider even remotely respectable. She is a Republican pollster who claims to have predicted correctly the outcomes of the major 2012 races. All have ridden the Trump wave and will likely be well paid for their services, but they are not folks I would want to sit down to dinner with.

Where are the Republicans who would make respectable dinner companions? Not supporting Trump is the short answer. Some say they will vote for Clinton. Others won’t go that far. But Trump has definitely made enemies of my Republican colleagues and friends.

Last night’s performance in West Bend, Wisconsin says something more about the company Trump keeps. Advertised as a “law and order” speech, Trump addressed the nearly all-white group in a 95% white community repeatedly as if he were in Milwaukee, which is two-thirds black. I have no idea why he thinks this subterfuge will get him any black votes. It is well known that he has avoided predominantly black audiences. He made an important point last night: black people are principal victims of street violence of all sorts. They know that well, but they also know that West Bend is not Milwaukee.

This kind of smoke and mirrors offends, but it was not the only offensive part of last night’s performance. Trump apparently has no more to say about law and order than he said about national security: he wants to use “extreme vetting” to make immigration more difficult and renegotiate trade deals. He had a few positive words for the police and promised more of them, but there was little more “law and order” substance than that, along with his usual promise to create lots of jobs. His recitation of statistics showing increases in crime was cherry-picked. While recently ticking up in some places, overall violent crime in the US is dramatically and pretty steadily down for more than 20 years:

US violent crime


Clearly Trump and his friends don’t keep company with the facts any more than they do with black people or objectivity in the media.

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Peace picks May 16-20

  1. The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East | Monday, May 16th | 12:00-1:30 | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Less than twenty-four months after the hope-filled Arab uprising, the popular movement had morphed into a dystopia of resurgent dictators, failed states, and civil wars. Marc Lynch’s new book, The New Arab Wars, is a profound illumination of the causes of this nightmare. It details the costs of the poor choices made by regional actors, delivers a scathing analysis of Western misreading of the conflict, and questions international interference that has stoked the violence. Please join us for a discussion of the book’s main findings with Marc Lynch, moderated by Michele Dunne, director and a senior associate in Carnegie’s Middle East Program. A light lunch will provided from 12:00 to 12:30 p.m. The discussion will begin at 12:30 p.m., with an introduction by Carnegie President William J. Burns. Following the discussion, copies of the book will be available for sale with signing by the author.
  1. Preventing Another Tragedy: The Plight of Crimean Tatars | Monday, May 16th | 12:00-1:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | On May 18, 1944, the Soviet Union began the deportation of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. Decades later, Tatars returned to an independent Ukraine. Since Russia’s illegally attempted annexation of Crimea in 2014, Crimean Tatars have born the brunt of increasing human rights violations in the peninsula: they suffer searches, kidnappings, torture, and killings, and authorities shut down their cultural institutions. Recently, the Russian authorities banned the Mejlis, the Tatars’ legislature. The panel will discuss the Crimean Tatars’ plight, and how the West should respond to the human rights situation and the efforts to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity. We hope you can join us for this important and timely discussion ahead of Ukraine’s Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars. Panelists include Valeriy Chaly, Ambassador, Embassy of Ukraine, Emine Dzheppar, First Deputy Minister, Ministry of Information Policy, Ukraine, Dr. Agnia Grigas, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, and John Herbst, Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council.
  1. TPP: A Strategic Imperative—A Conversation with Admiral Michael Mullen | Monday, May 16th | 5:00-6:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Debate on the merits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) often overlook its strategic ramifications. This is true whether on the presidential campaign trail or in the soon-to-be-released International Trade Commission report on the deal’s economic impact. But trade carries both economic and security ramifications. How would TPP help to secure strategic US leadership in Asia and partnership in Latin America at a time of global uncertainty? Join us for the first public event in which Admiral Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, will speak on the national security implications of TPP. Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., Chairman, Atlantic Council, will make introductory remarks. Jason Marczak, Director, Latin America Economic Growth Initiative, Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, Atlantic Council, will moderator.
  1. Dadaab to Dollo Ado: Why East Africa’s Refugee Crisis Can No Longer Be Ignored | Tuesday, May 17th | 9:00-10:30 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | On May 6, 2016, the government of Kenya announced plans to end the hosting of refugees by closing the world’s largest refugee camp and taking other steps that would put the safety of nearly 600,000 people at risk. Kenya has played a vital leadership role in East Africa for decades by providing safety to people forced to flee war and persecution in Somalia, South Sudan,and other neighboring countries. The news may affect other countries hosting refugees from the same conflicts, including Ethiopia, where drought and insecurity make humanitarian response increasingly complex. Join the Wilson Center for a conversation with the Kenya and Ethiopia country representatives of the United Nations Refugee Agency on these emerging developments and current efforts to respond to what have tragically become “forgotten crises” at a time when global conflict and displacement are at a historical high. It is a year full of opportunities to improve the response to such crises, including this month’s World Humanitarian Summit and two September summits on refugees being convened by the United Nations General Assembly and President Obama. Panelists include Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience at the Wilson Center, John Thon Majok, Program Associate, Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center, Raouf Mazou, Representative in Kenya, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Clementine Awu Nkweta-Salami, Representative in Ethiopia, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
  1. Broken Borders, Broken States: One Hundred Years After Sykes-Picot | Tuesday, May 17th | 9:00-1:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, regularly cited as the document that sanctioned the division of the former Ottoman Empire into British and French zones of influence, creating new states and drawing new borders, was never implemented. The boundaries negotiated by Mark Sykes and Francois Picot were superseded by political reality, and the post war-map of the region bore almost no resemblance to that drawn by the two diplomats. The failure of the Sykes-Picot agreement, and the history of what eventually shaped the post-Ottoman order in the Middle East, is critical in analyzing the current turmoil in the region and the forces that might shape it in the future. Panels and panelists may be found here.
  1. Higher education in Syria: Protecting academia amid civil war | Tuesday, May 17th | 10:00-11:30 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The war in Syria has generated the 21st century’s worst humanitarian crisis, with as many as 300,000 Syrians killed and half the population displaced. This violence and insecurity has also had a devastating impact on professors, university students, and the country’s education sector, exemplifying the consequences when scholars are targeted. Before the conflict, Syria boasted one of the Middle East’s largest and most well-established higher education systems. War, however, has decimated the university system inside the country, and amongst the refugees are an estimated 2,000 university professionals and a minimum of 100,000 university-qualified students. On May 17, the Center for Universal Education at Brookings will host a panel discussion to explore the frequently overlooked impact of the Syrian crisis, and the broader political and security implications on higher education in conflict settings. The panel will also highlight the Institute for International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, which supports visiting appointments for threatened scholars worldwide, as well as perspectives from a Syrian beneficiary of the fund. After the session, panelists will take audience questions. Panelists include Mohammad Alahmad, Visiting Lecturer, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, Rochelle Davis, Associate Professor and Academic Director in Arab Studies, Georgetown University, Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of the Institute of International Education, and Jennifer L. Windsor, Chief Executive Officer, Women for Women International. Rebecca Winthrop, Director, Center for Universal Education.
  1. Human rights in a turbulent world: A conversation with United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein | Tuesday, May 17th | 12:15-1:30 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In today’s world, threats to human rights abound, challenging the fabric of so many societies: The war in Syria has shattered the lives of millions, with human rights under attack on multiple fronts; rising authoritarianism is curtailing basic liberties in many countries; and the rights of women and marginalized communities remain under constant pressure around the world. International tools for responding to and preventing human rights violations are proliferating, but political will for action is weak. On May 17, Foreign Policy at Brookings will host U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein for an Alan and Jane Batkin International Leaders Forum focusing on the international progress and challenges facing human rights and how the United Nations is meeting them. High Commissioner Zeid will offer his assessment of how the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights and other U.N. bodies are working to ensure effective global action to safeguard human rights in today’s turbulent context. High Commissioner Zeid will speak on the U.N.’s role in the field, its impact, and its contributions to the prevention of crises and early warning of unfolding human rights violations. After the program, the speaker will take questions from the audience.
  1. A Conversation with The Right Honourable Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Prime Minister of the Republic of Namibia | Tuesday, May 17th | 2:30-4:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Namibia has been lauded for its success in generating economic growth, establishing democracy, and ensuring political stability. But this success story still faces important challenges ahead. Sparsely-populated and with vast deserts, Namibia is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The need to provide more opportunities women, reduce poverty, expand educational and economic opportunities, and incorporate the next generation of women leaders, particularly given the country’s vast youth bulge, is critical. What’s next for Namibia as it tackles these and other key issues? Join as we discuss these fascinating successes and challenges ahead with the country’s Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila. Other speakers include Melvin P. Foote, President, Constituency for Africa, and Gwen Young, Director, Women in Public Service Project.
  1. India in Asia: A Conversation with Nirupama Rao | Wednesday, May 18th | 10:30-12:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Asia region boasts two-thirds of the world’s population, and will soon house more wealth than any other region. Its military reach is expanding globally, and it is home to several rising powers. Ambassador Nirupama Rao, a former Indian foreign secretary and one of her country’s most distinguished diplomats, will discuss how she envisions the role of India in its broader neighborhood, with particular attention to the Asia Pacific. What are India’s objectives? What are the opportunities and challenges? How should the past inform present policy? And what are the implications for India’s relations with the United States? This event marks the launch of the Wilson Center’s India in Asia initiative—one meant to fill a need in the Washington discussion of what may be the world’s next superpower, and that seeks to advance U.S. understanding of India. The initiative examines how one of Washington’s key partners engages in one of the world’s key regions—one to which the U.S. pledges to rebalance. Topics will encompass diplomacy, security, economics, and trade.
  1. Civilian Suffering in Arab Conflicts: A Discussion with Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch | Wednesday, May 18th | 12:00-1:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Throughout the last decade, the human cost of Arab conflicts has affected millions in the region as well as populations across the transatlantic community. Policy makers and humanitarian leaders often address these conflicts at cross purposes given divergent—and seemingly incompatible—priorities. Please join us on May 18 for a discussion with executive director of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth to explore these priorities. Are there options to protect civilians in Syria that would not only save lives but also reduce the flow of refugees to Europe that is destabilizing the continent, and diminish the recruiting capabilities of extremist organizations including the Islamic State (ISIS)? Do similar trends span across the region’s conflicts, suggesting there exists a shared interest that could lead to cooperative action by governmental and nongovernmental decision-makers?
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The confessional/ethnic temptation

Henri Barkey writes in The American Interest:

The U.S. government [should commit] itself to the creation of a confederal democratic Syria that is divided along confessional and ethnic lines. In its most elementary form, the new Syria would be divided along three main areas, Alawi/Christian, Sunni, and Kurdish, with Damascus remaining as the capital although temporarily run by a UN administration.

How simple! How neat! How symmetrical!

How homicidal.

I’d be the first to admit that something like this confessional/ethnic cantonalization is emerging from the chaos of Syria’s civil war. The Kurds have established several cantons of what they are calling “Rojava” along the Turkish border. Alawites, Shiites and Christians are retreating from central Syria to the west. The Islamic State dominates a good part of the east, though there is no single “Sunni” area but rather a patchwork of them. Ultimately some sort of equilibrium may emerge organically that resembles what us conflict management nerds call a mutually hurting stalemate, one of the key conditions for a negotiated outcome.

But that is a different proposition from US advocacy of confessional and ethnic cantonalization, which implies someone in Washington or New York drawing lines. That would lead quickly to ethnic cleansing, because each group would seek to establish unquestioned dominance over its own territory. There is no single concentration of Sunnis. Creating one can be done, but only by force. What will happen to Alawites and Christians who have managed to survive in Sunni areas through the war, but now find themselves on the wrong side of some line drawn in Washington? What will happen to the Sunnis who inhabit western areas of Syria, none of whose provinces were majority Alawite before the war? Those who don’t “belong” will be chased out, forced across the lines into what someone in Washington or New York has designated as their homeland.

If you don’t like Sykes-Picot, you are sure not to like Henri’s proposition.

The only group in Syria that would jump at it is the Islamic State. It would get recognition of its dominance in parts of eastern Syria. That alone should give any American pause. It should also have made the editors of a publication called The American Interest hesitate.

Worst off would be Damascus, where Henri proposes the UN govern, temporarily. But Damascus is as mixed as all of Syria, with significant populations of Sunnis, Shia, Alawites, Kurds and Christians. Ethnic cleansing there would take particularly brutal and unforgiving forms as each of those groups tries to protect itself from others and dominate the capital. Where would UN capability to prevent that from happening come from? Who is going to deploy peacekeeping forces quickly and effectively to back up a UN administration?

Consider also the regional impact. The Kurdish PKK would get official recognition of its safe haven in Syria, from which it could continue to attack Turkey. Ankara won’t go along with that. Islamic State ambitions to control Anbar and Ninewa provinces in Iraq would get a big boost. Baghdad wouldn’t accept that. Some in Beirut would be tempted to think about a “greater” Lebanon, incorporating turf from Syria. The Jordanian border, on both sides of which there are the same tribes, would be at risk.

The United States already has a perfectly good vision for the future of Syria: an inclusive, pluralistic polity that settles its issues peacefully within well-established institutions. That’s not what is lacking. It is the political will and resources to make it happen that are missing.

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Is Saudi-Iranian de-escalation possible?

On Tuesday the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW) presented a panel discussion, ‘The Saudi-Iranian Confrontation: What Lies Ahead.’ The participants considered the implications of the Saudi Arabian execution of Nimr al-Nimr, the assault on the Saudi Embassy in Iran, and the Saudi government breaking diplomatic ties with Iran. Participants included David Ottaway, a former correspondent for The Washington Post and current senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Barbara Slavin, the acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, and Randa Slim, a non-resident senior fellow at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute. Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar of AGSIW, moderated the panel.

Ibish began the discussion asking why Saudi Arabia took the initiative to carry out the execution of a significant Shia cleric. The three panel members agreed that this was intended to be a message of strength.  Ottaway said that the Saudi government believed Nimr encouraged secession, striking a regime nerve. Slim added that the execution was a message to Iran that even someone of particular importance to Shia Islam could be killed because it was in Saudi Arabia’s best domestic interest.

The attack on the Saudi Embassy by Iranian protestors in Tehran exposed a split in President Rouhani’s regime. Slavin commented that the attack showed that the Rouhani government is not in control of all aspects of the Iranian government. Slim explained that Iran looked as if it had failed to protect Shiites in Saudi Arabia, so Iranians needed a power move to demonstrate their discontent. The Saudi response to the attack on the embassy was to break diplomatic and trade ties. Though the Saudis and Iranians escalated, the panelists agreed that direct violence against one another is not an objective of either regime. Proxy wars are certainly not out of the picture, though. Ottaway interpreted the cutting of diplomatic ties as the Saudi government taking a hard-hitting approach to anyone or any ideainternal or external, that threatens their power.

Resentment between the two nations remains strong. Ottaway, in particular, expressed concern about potential accidents that could intensify the current tension. Flying over disputed airspace, resources, and inflammatory comments could all push bilateral relations past the point of repair.

The discussion ended with the panelists pondering if there could be a potential agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, or if another Cold War scenario is possible. Ottaway believes that if a hot button issue, such as the agreement on a Lebanese president by both Saudi Arabia and Iran is possible, then perhaps they could work out other issues. He added that the Syrian negotiations, with both Saudi Arabia and Iran working together for the same peacekeeping goal, could result in parallel talks between the two regimes. Slim suggested that as long as Iran has a problem with Saudi Arabia, then it will have a problem reaching out to the rest of the Sunni Arab world. Slavin said Iran is looking forward to trading with its Arab neighbors, so the Tehran is more open to repairing the damage.

A question pertaining to collateral damage to the region as a whole. Slim talked about how sectarian tensions will prevent the issues of better governance and citizens’ demands from getting the attention they merit. The panelists agreed the most damage will be done to human rights in the region, with the focus on sectarian conflict increasing. No external force has the power or will to make human rights the main issue on the regional agenda. As the conflict between Iranian and Saudi regimes escalates, regional security will continue to suffer. That’s what likely lies ahead.

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