Tag: Pakistan

More own goals

Donald Trump continues to score goals against his own and America’s interests. Just a few examples from the last couple of days:

  1. He announced the building of the border wall shortly before the planned visit of Mexican President Peña Nieto. This has put the visit in doubt and makes it nigh on impossible for Peña Nieto to cooperate with the effort in any way, least of all by paying a dime for the unnecessary and expensive project. Trump continues to claim the Mexicans will pay, but he doesn’t say how and admits it may be complicated. More likely done with smoke and mirrors, not a clear and verifiable transfer of resources.
  2. Trump continues to say that the US should have “taken” Iraq’s oil, has returned to claiming that torture works, and is considering an executive order reviving the “black sites” abroad in which much of it was done. Torture of course does work in the sense that it gets most people to talk, but the information they provide is mostly useless. The draft executive order on “black sites” reportedly denies access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is required by the Geneva Conventions. The Islamic State and Al Qaeda will welcome all three of these points, as they help with extremist recruitment and put Americans serving abroad (military and civilian) at heightened risk.
  3. He has revived the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil to the US. This will benefit Canada but put excessive amounts of crude into an already oversupplied US market. My bet is that it won’t be built, even if the permits are forthcoming, both because of environmental opposition in Canada and because the economics just don’t work at current oil prices in the mid-$50 range.
  4. He intends to block Syrian refugees from entering the US indefinitely as well as refugees from several other countries temporarily. Blocking carefully vetted Syrians when Europe is taking in many more will strain relations with the European Union, especially as he paired this announcement with repeat of his pledge to create a safe zone in Syria for which there are currently no clear plans. The other countries to be blocked temporarily from sending refugees (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) have produced few terrorists operating in the US, so this will be seen in those countries as arbitrary discrimination. Countries that have produced more terrorists, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia, are unaffected, presumably because their governments are friendly to the US.
  5. The Administration is preparing to cut UN funding dramatically. Press reports . say the overall cut will be 40%, which would save at most $2.8 billion, or much less than 1% of the defense budget. Such a cut will reduce US influence in the world organization and its specialized agencies, which are a relatively efficient way of dealing with issues the US does not want to handle on its own. The UN currently has over 117,000 troops in 16 peacekeeping operations, for which the US pays 22% of the total costs.
  6. Trump has pledged an investigation of fraudulent voting in the US. He is citing as evidence for his claim that millions voted illegally a story he says was told him by a non-citizen [sic] who stood in line to vote with people he doubted were citizens. He has also emphasized his concern with people who are registered to vote in two states. Both Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon and his daughter Tiffany are reported to fall in this category. Trump has failed to object to laws and practices intended to suppress voting, mostly by people unlikely to vote for him.

Anyone expecting Trump to moderate once in power should by now be admitting that this is a radical administration that intends to pursue all the bad ideas it campaigned on. There will be no maturation until he is blocked, and even then he is less likely to mature than simply retreat in order to fight another day. He is governing to please his supporters, whose adulation he craves. The rest of us are consigned to opposition. The next big anti-Trump demonstrations will be April 15. I think this time I’ll plan to be in the US.


Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jihad and the next administration

USIP’s discussion today of “Getting Ahead of the Curve: the evolving threat of violent extremism” was a study in contrasts. The first panel, of experts who contributed to The Jihadi Threat: ISIS, Al Qaeda and Beyond was devoted to hard-nosed analysis. The second, which discussed both CSIS’ Turning Point and Communities First: A Blueprint for Organizing and Sustaining a Global Movement Against Violent Extremism, was devoted to right-minded but airier policy propositions, at least until I left about 45 minutes before it ended.

The analysis panel, ably chaired by Robin Wright of USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center, offered a gloomy picture: each generation of jihadis is larger than the last, mobilizes faster, draws on more diversified sources of foreign fighters, gets more extreme, and spreads to more locations and causes.

That said, Brookings’ Will McCants noted that ISIS has lost perhaps half its territory as well as 50,000 killed, Raqqa and Mosul are under attack, and its finances are under pressure. It won’t disappear but will return, as it did during the near-defeat in Iraq in 2008/10, to terrorist tactics and prison breaks. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies concurred that the ISIS star has fallen, because of its brutal tactics and readiness to make enemies of too many people. But Al Qaeda is reviving and spreading, especially in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Mali and Somalia. It is even controlling territory, it financing has become more open, and it is embedding Al Qaeda Central cadres, like the Khorasan Group, with its franchisees.

The franchises are increasingly important, Carnegie Endowment’s Fred Wehrey concurred. Al Qaeda has been more successful than ISIS in establishing durable franchises, partly because it focuses on “Dawa” (proselytizing), is relatively “moderate” in behavior towards the local population, and integrates more effectively with local forces. Egypt is particularly fertile ground, as is Yemen.

Hassan Hassan of the Tahrir Institue for Middle East Policy underlined that jihadism is not going away any time soon. Its narrative and appeal are increasingly entrenched. Al Qaeda and ISIS share the objective of creating a caliphate, but Al Qaeda is the more dangerous as it often works quietly  and is more successful at “marbling” (interweaving) local and global strategies.

McCants views state failure as fuel for the protean diversified jihadist resurgence we are witnessing. The diversification and rapidly shifting organizational landscape are big problems, as they make prioritization difficult. Gartenstein-Ross believes the Middle East states will continue to weaken, as they face dramatic challenges like lack of water and parlous finances. Internet penetration in the region is still low, so jihadi mobilization is likely to become more effective and quicker as it expands. Social media are particularly adapted to boost secret identities across boundary lines. Hassan concurred, noting that ISIS in defeat will retreat into the desert, as it did in Iraq in 2008, leaving sleeper cells who will kill its enemies in newly liberated areas. Sunni disenfranchisement, alienation, and lack of leadership make ISIS a viable political option.

Wehrey concluded the first panel by underlining that terrorism is a political strategy and requires in part a political response. Jihadism is not really about religion but about the need for reform. Governance issues are central, vastly compounded by population displacement and Western intervention.

The second panel chaired by USIP’s Georgia Holmer focused, far less decisively, on non-military responses to jihadism.

The National Security Council’s Amy Pope underlined that countering violent extremism (CVE) is now established as an important part of the response to terrorism focused on its root causes in particular communities. She and State Department Under Secretary Sarah Sewall were confident that this community-focused approach, based on civil society and holistic investments, is the right one. We need to be able to tell this story across the security and human rights communities.

Shannon Green of CSIS cited the “measured security response” advocated in Turning Point, noting that anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment reinforces extremism. So too have some of America’s traditional partners in the Gulf, who have financed extremists. We need to be able to levy punitive sanctions in response, undertake a global educational partnership to ensure that extremism has no place in curricula, and review assistance to oppressive governments. She also thought an assistant to the president for CVE would help the cause.

The Prevention Project’s Eric Rosand emphasized community-level engagement that recognizes communities have many problems other than violent extremism and offers them incentives to engage locally in CVE. Law enforcement should have a limited, not a dominant, role.

Asked about what they would advise the incoming Trump Administration, Sewall emphasized the need to coordinate military and intelligence counter-terrorism with civilian CVE and the relative lack of resources for the latter (amounting to no more than .1% of the total). Pope also thought the balance out of whack. CVE needs to grow much bigger. There is lots of evidence that democracy and inclusion work and that alienation and exclusion don’t.

Asked to adduce some concrete examples of CVE that has worked, Pope cited a roundtable in The Hague, Sewall an ongoing project pilot project in East Africa and an AID project in Pakistan. Rosand noted that all too often autocrats readily take up the anti-messaging banner, as it enables them to crack down on dissident voices. That, he suggested, does not work.

My bottom line: Little in this discussion gave me any reason to believe that the incoming Trump Administration will take up the cause of CVE, which would require it to drop its anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, agree to support reformist and more democratic states rather than autocratic ones, invest in aid that is difficult to distinguish from conventional development assistance, accept evidence-based indications of effectiveness, and increase funding for civilian rather than military efforts. #fatchance

Tags : , , , , , , , , , ,

Peace picks, November 14 – 18

  1. For 130 Million People, A Need for Longer-Term Relief | Monday, October 14th | 9.30am – 11am | US Institute of Peace | click HERE to register

Many violent conflicts have become chronic. In order to build sustainable peace, humanitarian relief must also contribute to or complement long-term development goals.  While discussions at the World Humanitarian Summit raised meaningful questions about how humanitarian and development sectors are responding to protracted conflict, institutions are still trying to improve the response even as the needs grow more urgent.

This Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum event will look at how the short-term needs of vulnerable communities, particularly the victims of war, can be met in ways that contribute to longer-term peacebuilding, development and rebuilding.

Participants Include:

Carla Koppell – Vice President, Center for Applied Conflict Transformation, U.S. Institute of Peace

Matt McGuire – U.S. Executive Director, World Bank

Michael Talhami – Senior Water and Shelter (WATHAB) advisor, International Committee of the Red Cross (Jordan)

Colin Bruce – Director, Africa Regional Integration, World Bank

Jeff Helsing – Associate Vice President, Center for Applied Conflict Transformation, U. S. Institute of Peace

  1. Governing Uncertainty: Governance in Tunisia Following Authoritarian Breakdown| Monday, November 14th | 12.30pm – 2pm | Johns Hopkins SAIS | click HERE to register

The immediate period between the ousting of authoritarian president Ben Ali and the first post-uprising elections in Tunisia in 2011 raises many questions. Who was really calling the shots, and what was the impact of their decisions? This presentation will address some of these questions based on research carried out in Tunisia between 2013-2015.

The discussion will be given by Ms. Sabina Henneberg, PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Sabina’s doctoral dissertation is on the current political transformations in North Africa. She is the author of several articles and papers on Tunisia.

  1. Troubling the Political: Women in the Jordanian Day-Waged Labor Movement | Monday, November 14th | 12.30pm – 2pm | Georgetown University | click HERE to register

The Jordanian Day-Waged Labor Movement (DWLM) played a central role in the Jordanian Popular Movement (al-Hirak al-Sha’bi al-Urduni), commonly referred to as the Hirak, from 2011 to the end of 2012. The large number of women who were active and took on leading roles in the DWLM contrasts with the absence women’s organizations in other aspects of the Hirak. Drawing on extensive research in Jordan, Professor Sara Ababneh argues that the DWLM was able to attract so many women because it developed a discourse and flexible structure that understood women to be embedded within communities and prioritized their economic needs. By studying this discourse and structure, it is possible to learn important lessons about gender inclusive political and institutional reform.

Dr. Sara Ababneh is an Assistant Professor for the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. She is currently a visiting fellow at Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University.

  1. A Conversation With UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson | Monday, November 14th | 5pm – 6pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | click HERE to register

Join the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for a conversation with UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson on the future of the United Nations and multilateralism in a changing global landscape. As he prepares to step down from a forty year long career in diplomacy and the UN, DSG Eliasson will reflect on the challenges facing the international community and the opportunities for global cooperation. Carnegie President William J. Burns will introduce and moderate the conversation.

  1. What Does the World Expect of President-elect Donald Trump? | Tuesday, November 15th | 11am – 12.30pm | Wilson Center | click HERE to register

The next U.S. Administration faces a complicated, volatile world. Join us for spirited conversation about the foreign policy expectations and challenges confronting the next President of the United States with distinguished Wilson Center experts on Russia, China, the Middle East, Latin America and more.

 Participants include:

Jane Harman – Director, President and CEO, Wilson Center

Cynthia J. Arnson – Director, Latin American Program

Robert S. Litwak – Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations and Director, International Security Studies

Aaron David Miller – Vice President for New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholar

Matthew Rojansky – Director, Kennan Institute

Duncan Wood – Director, Mexico Institute

  1. The Battle for Pakistan: The Fight Against Terrorism and Militancy | Tuesday, November 15th | 11.30am | Atlantic Council | click HERE to register

Please join the Atlantic Council for an assessment of Pakistan’s National Action Plan by a Distinguished Fellow of the South Asia Center, Mr. Shuja Nawaz. Mr. Nawaz’s assessment is based on a nine-month study for the United States Institute of Peace. A degree of cautious optimism about Pakistan’s future is warranted, but greater efforts are needed to fundamentally change the landscape that nurtures terrorism and militancy in Pakistan today. In this discussion, Mr. Nawaz will suggest ways in which the National Action Plan can be improved and reviewed by the government and parliament of Pakistan such as setting clear benchmarks and improving coordination among the provinces. Dr. Moeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President of the Asia Center at the United States Institute of Peace; and Dr. Thomas F. Lynch III, Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute of National Strategic Studies at National Defense University, will discuss the current state of Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism and militancy. The event will be moderated by Dr. Bharath Gopalaswamy, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. The event is co-hosted with the United States Institute of Peace.

A conversation with:

Mr. Shuja NawazDistinguished Fellow, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council

Dr. Moeed YusufAssociate Vice President of Asia Center, United States Institute of Peace

Dr. Thomas F. Lynch IIIDistinguished Research Fellow, Institute of National Strategic Studies, National Defense University

  1. 70th Annual Middle East Institute Conference | Wednesday, November 16th | 9am – 5pm| Middle East Institute | click HERE to register

Please join MEI as we celebrate 70 years of history at our 70th Annual Conference which will convene prominent Middle Eastern and American experts and foreign policy practitioners for four panel conversations covering the prevailing challenges facing the new U.S. administration as it sets its Middle East agenda.

  1. Morocco’s Fight With Violent Extremism | Wednesday, November 16th | 12pm – 1.20pm| Hudson Institute | click HERE to register

The Kingdom of Morocco is undertaking a comprehensive effort to tackle violent Islamism by combining traditional security measures with development initiatives, governance reform, and education. One of the leaders in this fight is Dr. Ahmed Abbadi, the president of the League of Mohammedan Scholars. The League is a body of religious scholars charged by King Mohammed VI with countering and dismantling the ideology of Islamic State and other radical movements. On November 16, Dr. Abbadi will speak at Hudson Institute about Morocco’s experiences in the fight against Islamist extremism, including the importance of ideology, youth outreach, and education.

  1. A Debate on Pakistan: What Future Role for America? | Wednesday, November 16th | 1.30pm – 3pm| United States Institute of Peace | click HERE to register

The United States’ assistance has helped Pakistan address critical domestic challenges, notably in energy, infrastructure, and counter-terrorism. Still some scholars argue this aid has been counterproductive. U.S. legislators effectively blocked a loan to help Pakistan buy F-16 fighter jets this year, saying Pakistani authorities are not doing enough to curtail Afghan insurgents from using Pakistan as a safe haven.

As relations have deteriorated, some scholars increasingly have raised questions on the utility and viability of assistance to Pakistan. The November 16 USIP debate will examine that question, as well as challenges for the next U.S. president in addressing the countries’ relationship, and Pakistan’s future as a U.S. partner. Speakers will include longtime South Asia scholar and policy analyst Lisa Curtis; former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani; former Pakistan central bank governor Ishrat Husain; and Ambassador Robin Raphel, who served as the United States’ first assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia and U.S. Coordinator for Non-Military Assistance to Pakistan.

  1. The United States, the Next President, and the Middle East: A View From Israel | Wednesday, November 16th | 4pm – 5pm| Wilson Center | click HERE to register

Please join us as former Deputy Minister of Defense Ephraim Sneh shares his perspective on a range of issues related to Israel’s national security, the civil war in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the nuclear agreement with Iran. As a long-time observer and participant in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, Mr. Sneh will also offer his analysis of the U.S. Presidential elections and the challenges that will face the new administration.

Tags : , , , , , , , ,

Peace picks, October 3-7

  1. Charting a Way Forward in Afghanistan | Monday, October 3 | 10:30am – 12:00pm | The Brookings Institution | Click HERE to register
    Fifteen years after the September 11 attacks drew the United States into Afghanistan to defeat al-Qaida and their hosts, the Taliban, cooperation with the Afghan people remains key to the generational conflict against violent extremists in the region. While multiple conflicts rage across the broader Middle East, continuing to build an enduring partnership with Afghanistan is pivotal. The situation in Afghanistan remains difficult, but the country is considerably better off today than it was at the start of this conflict, and the Afghan people are an important ally. In a new paper, former ambassadors, military commanders, special representatives, and Afghanistan scholars outline a way forward for the United States and its Afghan partners, centered on the concept of enduring partnership.On October 3, the Brookings Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligencewill host an event to examine the effort in Afghanistan and the region based on the recommendations from the paper. Former Special Representative for Afghanistan/Pakistan James Dobbins and former Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann, as well as former Ambassador James Cunningham will join retired General David Petraeus, who led the NATO military effort there from 2010 to 2011, as panelists. Brookings Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon will moderate the event.
  2. Crossroads of the Caucusus: Implications of Georgia’s Elections for the Region and Beyond | Monday, October 3 | 2:00pm – 3:15pm | The German Marshall Fund of the US | Click HERE to Register
    The instability stretching from Ukraine to Turkey to the Middle East places Georgia at the middle of regional and geopolitical developments. Though Georgia’s relationship with the Alliance is long standing, Georgia has made significant strides in greater governmental transparency and efficiency that have bolstered the country’s democracy and pulled Georgia closer to NATO and Europe. However, escalating tensions between the ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposing United National Movement, as well as controversial amendments to the country’s constitutional courts, have raised questions about the direction of internal politics. With this in mind, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) invites you to a discussion with Ambassador Tedo Japaridze, member of the Georgian Parliament and chairman of the International Relations Committee, who will discuss the upcoming elections on October 8, Georgia’s strategic context in a rapidly changing region, and Georgia’s relationship with Europe and NATO. The discussion will be moderated by Transatlantic Academy Executive Director Stephen Szabo.
  3. What Does Success in the Middle East Look Like for the Next President? | Wednesday, October 5 | 8:15am – 9:15am | The Brookings Institution | Click HERE to Register
    Syria. Iraq. Iran. It’s no secret that many of the top challenges for the security and stability of the world lie in the Middle East. On day one of their administration, the next president will be forced to make major strategy decisions in the region. Will the U.S. choose to engage militarily in Syria? How will the U.S. move forward with the Iranian nuclear agreement? After four years of the next president’s first term, what would success in the Middle East really look like?
    On October 5, come have breakfast at Brookings and hear an exciting conversation about how the next president can navigate these hot spots in foreign policy, and make both the U.S. and the world a safer place. As part of the Brookings Election 2016 project, this event is the first in a series of live podcast recordings.
    Brookings Senior Fellow and former Iranian nuclear negotiator Robert Einhorn has released a new set of recommendationsto the next president on Iran on how the U.S. can reinforce support for the Iran nuclear deal at home and abroad and promote stability in the region. Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon recently delivered a policy recommendation on the Syrian conflict, and will speak to how the next president can balance the dual goals of U.S. security and the protection of Syrian lives.
    The event will be moderated by veteran journalist Indira Lakshmanan of the Boston Globe, who will prompt each expert to deliver a recommended course of action in a concise manner, press them with alternate perspectives on the issue, and ensure a lively conversation about realistic pathways to success and the obstacles that lie in the way.
  1. Stronger with Allies: The Future of Europe after Brexit | Thursday, October 6 | 8:30am – 1:00pm | Atlantic Council | Click HERE To Register
    As British and EU policymakers map out the UK’s exit from the European Union, Europe is already confronted with a triple threat: Russia’s aggressive posture to the East, Mideast wars and instability producing waves of migrants and extremism from the South, and centrifugal, nationalist forces tearing at the continent’s internal fabric. The UK referendum, horrific terrorist attacks, and a continually sluggish economy put the future of Europe in question. Against this backdrop of uncertainty, this conference is organized in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic to flesh out a strategy for Europe and transatlantic cooperation following the Bratislava EU Summit in September.
    The event will feature: E. Miroslav Lajčák, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia, Mr. Carlos Costa, Governor, Bank of Portugal, Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, Senior Fellow, Future of Diplomacy Project, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, Senior Counsel, Covington & Burling, LLP; Former US Ambassador to the European Union, Ms. Ashlee Godwin, Committee Specialist, Foreign Affairs Committee and Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, UK House of Commons, Mr. Benjamin Haddad, Research Fellow, Hudson Institute, H.E. Ratislav Kacer, Ambassador of Slovakia to Hungary, Ms. Laure Mandeville, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Future Europe Initiative, Atlantic Council, Dr. Andrea Montanino, Director, Global Business and Economics Program, Atlantic Council, H.E. Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, EU Commission, H.E. David O’Sullivan. Ambassador of the European Union to the United States, Minister Ana Palacio, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Former Prime Minister of Denmark and Secretary General of NATO, Ms. Teri Schultz, Freelance Reporter, National Public Radio and CBS Radio, Mr. Damon Wilson, Executive Vice President, Programs and Strategy, Atlantic Council
  2. Pakistan’s Economic Turnaround: What Basis for Peace? | Thursday, October 6 | 9:30am – 11:00am | US Institute of Peace | Click HERE To Register
    Reforms under the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have boosted economic growth. Still, the world’s sixth most-populous country faces the economic and long-term security imperative of providing jobs, especially for young adults, who form 30 percent of the population—a demographic “youth bulge” that is one of the world’s largest. And security problems, including violent extremism, threaten economic development and risk derailing Pakistan’s efforts toward rapprochement with its neighbors, including India. Mohammad Ishaq Dar has served as finance ministry throughout the current government’s term, and is a longtime leader within the governing Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). He will speak at USIP in a visit to Washington that will include the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This event will feature Mohammad Ishaq Dar, Finance Minister of Pakistan and will be moderated by Moeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President, Asia Center, U.S. Institute of Peace
  3. Shifting Paradigms: The Role of Young People in Building Peace and Security | Thursday, October 6 | 2:00pm – 4:00pm | Woodrow Wilson Center | Click HERE to Register
    The Wilson Center’s Global Sustainability and Resilience Program, in coordination with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), invites you to an expert discussion on building peace and countering violent extremism with young people.
    In 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2250, which marked the emergence of a youth, peace, and security agenda. What should policymakers prioritize to support young people’s active engagement in peacebuilding processes? How can Resolution 2250 support the United States’ domestic and international efforts on peace? Panelists will explore these questions and invite questions from the audience. The event will feature Joyce Banda,Distinguished Fellow, Roger-Mark De Souza, 
    Director of Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience, Benoit Kalasa, 
    Director, Technical Division, United Nations Population Fund Natalia Kanem, Deputy Executive Director, Programme, United Nations Population Fund, Alaa Murabit, Medical Doctor; High-Level Commissioner, Health Employment and Economic Growth, United Nations and Andy Rabens, Special Advisor, Global Youth Issues, U.S. Department of State


Tags : , , , , ,

Middle East and Europe: impact and prospects

I had the privilege this morning of speaking today by Skype to the Ambassadors’ Council convened at the Macedonian Foreign Ministry in Skopje. These are the notes I used:

  1. First let me thank the organizers, in particular Ambassador Abdulkadar Memedi and Edvard Mitevski, for this opportunity. It is rare indeed that I get to talk about my two favorite parts of the world: Europe and the Middle East.
  1. My focus today will be on the latter, as I am confident that Europeans—a category that in my way of thinking includes all the citizens of Macedonia—know more than I do about the impact of the refugee crisis on your part of the world.
  1. But big as it looms for you, the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants from the Greater Middle East is a fraction of a much larger problem.
  1. There are 4.8 million refugees from Syria in neighboring countries, the largest number in Turkey but millions also in Lebanon and Jordan. Upwards of 8.7 million will be displaced within Syrian by the end of the year. 13.5 million are said to be in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria.
  1. The number of refugees leaving Syria has leveled off, but asylum applications in Europe are well above 1 million and still rising, albeit at a declining rate.
  1. The U.S. is committed to taking only 10,000 Syrians. I don’t anticipate that our politics will allow a lot more anytime soon, though eventually we will have many more arrive through family reunification and other modalities.
  1. The 1.5 million people you saw flow through Macedonia over the past year or so were the relatively fortunate Syrians, not the most unfortunate. Moreover, most who have arrived in Europe are male. If their asylum applications are successful, that will lead to large numbers of family members eventually joining them.
  1. The vital question for me is this: what are the prospects for ending the wars that are tearing Syria to shreds? And what are the prospects for other potential sources of migrants and refugees from Iraq, from Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya?
  1. More than five years after Bashar al Assad’s attempted violent repression of the nonviolent demonstrations in his country, prospects for peace still look dim.
  1. The Russians and Iranians, whose support to Assad has been vital to his survival, show no signs of letting up and have in fact doubled down on their bad bet.
  1. The Iranians have committed Lebanese Hizbollah, Iraqi Shia militias and their own Revolutionary Guard to the fight, not to mention Afghan and other Shia fighters.
  1. The Russians have not only redoubled their air attacks but also added flights from Iran, now suspended, as well as cruise missiles fired from the Black Sea. Moscow has now killed more civilians, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, than the Islamic State.
  1. The Americans continue to refuse to fight Assad, Iran, or Russia. President Obama lacks both legal authorization and popular support to attack them. Americans want him to focus exclusively on the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, which is what he is doing, apart from assistance to some Syrian opposition forces willing to join in the fight against extremists.
  1. Donald Trump would certainly follow the same policy, perhaps redoubling efforts against the Islamic State and looking for opportunities for cooperation with Russia. Hillary Clinton has pledged to look at other options like protected areas or no-fly zones, but it is not clear that she will pursue them.
  1. The space for moderates in Syria is shrinking. Violence always polarizes, as you know only too well. In addition, the Americans are restraining the forces that they have equipped and trained from attacking the Syrian army. They want moderates focused exclusively on fighting the Islamic State.
  1. This morning, Turkish forces entered Syria at Jarablus on the Euphrates, in support of Arab and Turkman forces aiming to deprive the Islamic State of its last border point and block the expansion of Kurdish forces from taking the last stretch of the Turkish/Syrian border they don’t control.
  1. When will it all end? I don’t know, but I think it likely to end at best not in a clear victory of one side or another but rather in a fragmented and semi-stable division of areas of control.
  1. The Syrian government will control most of what Assad refers to as “useful Syria”: the western coast and the central axis from Damascus through Homs and Hama, with Idlib and Aleppo still in doubt.
  1. The opposition will likely control part of the south along the Jordanian border as well as a wedge of the north, including a piece of the border with Turkey stretching from Azaz to Jarablus.
  1. The Kurds will control the rest of the border with Turkey. Raqqa and Deir Azzour are still up for grabs, with the likely outcome opposition in the former and government in the latter.
  1. That is the likely best. Will that end the refugee problem?
  1. I think not. Nothing about this fragmented outcome is likely to make it attractive for Syrians to return home. Security will remain a serious problem and little funding will be available for reconstruction. Syria will remain unstable for years to come.
  1. What about other parts of the Greater Middle East?

Read more

Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The trouble still brewing

Yesterday’s discussion at SAIS of Learning to Live with Cheaper Oil : Policy Adjustment in MENA and CCA Oil-Exporting Countries raised serious issues. Oil prices are now expected to remain “lower longer,” as IMF deputy managing director Min Zhu put it. While contributing to global growth, the price decline is posing serious economic and governance challenges to the rentier states of the region and their relatively poor dependent cousins.

The 2014 oil price decline resulted from three main factors: increased production of tight oil and gas, slackening demand (especially due to economic slowdown in China and Russia) and increased efficiency. While prices have risen sharply from their lows early this year, the IMF expects them to remain well below their previous peak, with only gradual increases over the next five years or so to around $75 per barrel.

Some efficiency gains have already been erased, as oil prices have risen from their lows at the sharpest rate ever, even if they are still far off their peak. The shale revolution is not going away, even if many less productive wells have been shut. But larger ones are still producing. Much of the shut-in capacity will return as prices rise again.

This puts the oil producers in a difficult and long-lasting bind. The immediate impact was on their foreign exchange rate reserves, which are down dramatically. Growth is slowing.  Budgets are being cut. The oil producers cannot continue to subsidize food and energy prices as well as avoid taxing their populations.

Sharply cutting their budgets however will not be a sufficient policy response, especially as it will have growth-reducing effects like limiting bank credit. The oil producers will need to undertake structural reforms to generate private sector growth that has heretofore been lacking. This is basically a good thing. Low oil prices will force producers to do what they’ve known for a long time they should have been doing, including cutting government jobs, reorienting it towards revenue collection rather than distribution and privatizing bloated state-owned enterprises.

But it is still difficult to picture how the oil producers will generate sufficient jobs to meet the needs of their bulging youth populations. If they somehow manage it, the social contract that has enabled the often non-democratic regimes to claim legitimacy will need revision, with citizens receiving less and asked to provide much more. Governing institutions will be under enormous strain as they try t o learn to collect taxes even as they reduce public services. Legitimacy will be in question. This is a recipe for trouble.

The fiscal squeeze will affect not only the oil producers themselves but also the states of the region to which they provide support, either in the form of aid or remittances. The eventual political consequences could be dramatic not only for the Gulf but also for Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and others. We have not seen the end of consequences “longer lower” will generate.

Tags : , , , , , ,