- Bipartisan Task Force on Reforming and Reorganizing U.S. Foreign Assistance Report Launch | Monday, July 24 | 2:00 – 3:30 pm | Center for Strategic and International Studies | Live Webcast | On May 30, 2017, CSIS announced the formation of a Bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Reforming and Reorganizing U.S. Foreign Assistance. After meeting three times and going through several rounds of discussions, this task force has identified actionable recommendations that the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress can take to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of U.S. foreign assistance programs. Senator Todd Young (R-IN) will provide opening remarks, a panel of select task force members will discuss the findings, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) will provide closing remarks.
- Media Diplomacy: Challenging the Indo-Pak Narrative | Monday, July 24 | 3:00 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The dominant national narratives in India and Pakistan fuel tensions between the two nations. Journalists and social media users play a critical role in crafting hostile public opinions and inciting further animosity. Join the Atlantic Council for a conversation to discuss the influence of media on public perception in India and Pakistan. In a discussion introduced and moderated by Dr. Bharath Gopalaswamy, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, Senator Mushahid Hussain and Minister Manish Tewari will address the role of media in shaping debates emanating from India and Pakistan.
- Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Trump Administration: Stability or Upheaval? | Tuesday, July 25 | 11:45 am – 1:30 pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | While tensions mount between members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia finds itself embroiled in controversy over the royal succession: when King Salman named his son Mohammed Bin Salman crown prince in June, he displaced his elder cousin Mohammed Bin Nayef, who is well respected at home and here in the United States. Meanwhile, conflict continues with Iran and its proxies in Syria and Yemen, and with Qatar closer to home. The Trump administration needs a stable Gulf region to sustain and advance American interests and those of its allies. What does the future hold for Saudi Arabia and the United States? What role should the Trump administration play with its regional partners in the GCC? Panelists include Mohammed Alyahya, Fatimah S. Baeshen, and Hudson Adjunct Fellow Michael Pregent. Hudson Senior Fellow Lee Smith will moderate the conversation.
- Venezuela on the Verge of Collapse: Economic, Social, and Political Challenges | Wednesday, July 26 | 11:45 am – 2:00 pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | Venezuela, a country with more oil than Saudi Arabia, is facing an economic crisis unseen outside of wartime. Chronic food and medicine shortages have plagued the country, and the crime rate has soared as people turn to black markets to secure common goods. Over the past four months, hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to contest President Nicolás Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian regime. In opposition to the vote scheduled at the end of this month to secure Maduro’s grasp on power, millions of Venezuelans around the world participated in a symbolic July 16 referendum calling for new elections and opposing further changes to the country’s constitution. On Wednesday, panelists Gustavo Coronel, Dr. Rubén Perina, Gabriela Febres-Cordero, and Dr. Boris Saavedra will discuss the political, social, and economic turmoil in Venezuela. Ambassador Jaime Daremblum, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Latin American Studies, will moderate.
- Hostilities in the Himalayas? Assessing the India-China Border Standoff | Thursday, July 27 | 10 am – 12 pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | India and China are embroiled in a tense border standoff in a highly strategic area of the Himalayas known as Doklam in India and Donglong in China. India and its close ally Bhutan view this land as Bhutanese territory, while China claims it as its own. This event will assess the current dispute and place it in the broader context of India-China border tensions and bilateral relations, while also considering what the future may hold. Additionally, the event will discuss possible implications for Washington and its interests in Asia. The panel features Former Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao; Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States; and Jeff M. Smith, director of Asian security programs at the American Foreign Policy Concil.
- The Ramifications of Rouhani’s Reelection | Friday, July 28 | 12:00 – 1:30 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | On Friday, the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative and the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland will host a panel discussion on Iranian public opinion in the aftermath of Hassan Rouhani’s re-election. The event will present new data gathered since the May presidential elections on Iranian attitudes toward domestic and international economic and political issues. In particular, the event will explore current Iranian attitudes toward Rouhani, the nuclear agreement, the Trump administration, regional crises and Iranian domestic policies. Panelists include Nadereh Chamlou, Ebrahim Mohseni, and Paul Pillar. Discussion will be moderated by Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.
The Middle East Institute Wednesday hosted a conversation on Iran-Pakistan relations featuring senior fellow Alex Vatanka, retired ambassador to Sri Lanka Teresita C. Schaffer, and MEI’s director of the Center for Pakistan Studies Marvin Weinbaum. The panel—promoting Vatanka’s book Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy, and American Influence—shed light on the tense and cautious relations between almost-allies and almost-enemies at the crossroads of West and South Asia.
The relationship between Iran and Pakistan is a tale of two regional superpowers. Pakistan boasts a population of 189 million; Iran counts 79 million. Pakistan, noted Vatanka, is nuclear armed; Iran aspires to be. Pakistan is majority Sunni Muslim; Iran is majority Shia. The two countries are embroiled in a proxy war in Yemen. There even exist certain pervasive stereotypes, reported Ambassador Schaffer: Pakistanis view Iranians as weak and Iranians see the Pakistanis as provincial.
Yet the countries do not erupt in open conflict.
One factor that does not contribute to enmity is the Sunni-Shia sectarian divide. Ambassador Schaffer stressed in her remarks that Pakistan has always had an aversion to Sunni-Shia squabbles, for good reasons. Pakistan has a significant Shia minority, including prominent families in politics and business. They comprise approximately 10-15% of the country’s population. Pakistani nationalism draws heavily on Islam as a unifying factor—to the point that proposals to replace the country’s secular laws with Sharia have always faltered at the question of which school of Islam would define legal doctrine.
This preoccupation with national interests over sectarian ones is a defining feature of the relationship between Iran and Pakistan. There is an understanding, notes Vatanka, that all-out conflict must be scrupulously avoided. Pakistan’s number one foreign policy priority is its relationship with India, followed by its relationship with Afghanistan. Iran is preoccupied with its Arab neighbors. Neither country stands to benefit from violence along the Iran-Pakistan border.
This distinctive disregard of religious tensions holds true despite Pakistan’s recent decision to join the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance, a coalition of Muslim countries committed to fighting terrorism that has been criticized for its predominantly Sunni membership and an alleged sectarian bent. In fact, noted Schaffer, sparsely populated Saudi Arabia has a long history of drawing upon Pakistani military support. Pakistan’s decision to join the IMA is nothing really new.
Yet the Iranian-Pakistani relationship is strained. Vatanka traces tensions between the two countries back to 1971—before the Iranian Revolution—when the Shah decided to remain neutral in the war between Pakistan and India. This policy of neutrality outlasted the Shah, who was deposed in 1979. The relationship between Iran and Pakistan worsened post-revolution, as Iran’s cozy relationship with the United States abruptly ended. The ideological gulf between the two countries widened: Iran’s zeal for revolution did not match Pakistan’s self-interested nationalism. In addition, the revolution cut off Pakistan’s supply of subsidized Iranian oil. From the Pakistani perspective, Iran’s diplomatic value plummeted.
Despite these historical rifts, Vatanka predicts a cool and reserved future for Iran-Pakistan relations, marked by military caution and mutual indifference. Iran, a natural gas goldmine starved for markets, trades more with Armenia than with its energy-poor neighbor to the east. For the time being, Iran and Pakistan appear locked in a tense and perpetual peace.
1. Journalism In Hostile Environments: Perspectives From The Field | Monday, May 1st |9:30-11:00 AM | New America Foundation | Register Here |
The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) and the International Reporting Project (IRP) are pleased to present a panel discussion with the honorees of the 2017 James Foley Freedom Awards, hosted by New America.
Emma Beals, Arwa Damon and Delphine Halgand were chosen by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation as this year’s awardees for their exemplary reporting on important stories from conflict zones, commitment to protection and security for journalists, advocating for Americans held hostage abroad, and dedication to covering human rights. These awards honor the legacy of James Foley, the journalist and humanitarian who was killed in Syria in 2012
2. Key Elements For A Stable Pakistan | Monday, May 1st | 2:30- 4:00 PM| USIP | Register Here |
Terrorism, stagnant economic growth and a population in which two-thirds of citizens are under 30 contribute to an array of complex issues facing Pakistan. Despite some political and economic progress, these factors hinder the ability of leaders to focus on long-term regional questions such as broader security and shrinking natural resources. Join the U.S. Institute of Peace on May 1 for a discussion on economic, demographic, climate and security challenges in Pakistan featuring experts Tricia Bacon, Assistant Professor, School of Public Affairs, American University; Shahid Javed Burki, Chairman, Advisory Council, Institute of Public Policy and former Finance Minister of Pakistan; Shirin Tahir-Kheli, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), The Johns Hopkins University; Adil Najam, Dean at Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University; Moeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President, Asia Center, U.S. Institute of Peace.
3. Change and Consequences: Is Saudi Arabia at the Dawn of a New Era? | Monday, May 1st | 3:30-5:30 PM| Wilson Center | Register Here |
Saudi Arabia finds itself facing a series of new challenges: declining oil prices, the rise of ISIS, and the nearby conflict in Yemen, among others. The kingdom’s leadership has taken some short-term steps to address these issues while also putting together a long-term plan—Saudi Vision 2030. This panel featuring Fatimah Baeshen, Visiting Scholar, Arabia Foundation; Kristin Smith Diwan, Senior Resident Scholar, The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington; David Ottaway, Middle East Specialist and Former Washington Post Correspondent; Abdulaziz Sager, Chairman of the Gulf Research Center in Jeddah, will explore these changes, their impact, and the policy proposals.
4. National Security & the White House: An Insider’s View with Rumana Ahmed | Monday, May 1st |6:00-8:00 PM| Elliott School | Register Here |
Join the Elliott School for a conversation with alumna Rumana Ahmed about her experiences working in the Obama, and briefly, the Trump Administrations. This event is part of the “Why Ethics Matter” series, which is devoted to telling the stories of inspiring figures who in the face of opposition demonstrated extraordinary moral and ethical courage.
Rumana Ahmed joined the Obama Administration in 2011, where she served for over 5 years. Her most recent role was as the Senior Advisor to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes in the National Security Council (NSC). During her time at the NSC, her work supported advancing relations with Cuba, Laos, and Burma, promoting global entrepreneurship among women and youth, and advising the President’s engagements with American Muslims. She organized President Obama’s visit to a mosque in 2016 and engagements with Cuban Americans around his historic trip to Cuba, among other things. Prior to her position at the NSC, she was the interim liaison to American Muslim, Arab and Iranian communities in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement. She also led the White House Champions of Change initiative to work across communities on various domestic issues such as health care enrollment and gun violence prevention.
5. Screening of Tickling Giants | Monday, May 1st |7:00-9:30 PM | Elliott School | Register Here |
Please join The GWU/Corcoran New Media Photojournalism Program together with the Corcoran Association of Photojournalists, The GW Arab Student Association, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, DC Visual Collective and Women Photojournalists of Washington for a special screening of Tickling Giants.
Tickling Giants is a documentary released in 2016 about the Bassem Youssef, a cardiologist turned comedian, and The Arab Spring in Egypt. Called the Jon Stewart of Egypt, his program, “The Show” united the country and tested the limits of free press.
6. New Terrorism Threats And Counterterrorism Strategies | Wednesday, May 3rd | 9:30-11:00 AM | Center for a New American Security| Register Here |
In the post-9/11 era, the international community has made significant progress in the struggle against terrorism and terrorist financing. However, in the last several years, terrorist groups, notably ISIS, have innovated both in their operational tactics and strategic aims, as well as in their methods of fundraising.
This CNAS public conference on new terrorism threats and counterterrorism strategies, co-hosted with the Center on Law and Security, at NYU School of Law, will feature an overview on the strategic terrorism threat landscape and on the Trump administration’s counterterrorism strategies. The event will also coincide with the release of a CNAS report on emerging terrorism financing threats. The distinguished panel of experts will explore such questions as: How are terrorist groups innovating and evolving in their tactics, strategies and fundraising today? Where are some areas were U.S. policymakers are falling short on addressing terrorism threats? What should the Trump administration prioritize in the fight against terrorism?
7. Addressing Lebanon’s Refugee Crisis and Development Challenges | Thursday, May 4th |12:00-1:30 PM | MEI | Register Here |
The Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Foreign Policy Institute (SAIS-FPI) are pleased to host Philippe Lazzarini, the United Nations deputy special coordinator in Lebanon. He will discuss opportunities and challenges for shifting the international response to Lebanon’s Syrian refugee crisis beyond short-term humanitarian and stabilization efforts to a more sustainable economic growth strategy.
Lebanon is facing overwhelming socioeconomic, security, and demographic challenges as the civil war in neighboring Syria enters its seventh year. Since the start of the crisis, Lebanon has received $4.9 billion in assistance, but demands on the country’s resources, services, and civil order remain heavy. Without a political solution to the Syrian conflict, humanitarian and development aid cannot deliver and sustain sufficient results for the refugees or for the Lebanese people. How will Lebanon continue to deal with these conditions?
8. Nurturing People-to-People Ties with Iran | Friday, May 5th | 7:00- 10:00 AM | Atlantic Council | Register Here|
The Future of Iran Initiative invites you to a discussion on the history and importance of people-to-people ties between the United States and Iran. US cultural diplomacy programming and other exchanges have a long history of helping to improve US relations with adversaries and are an inexpensive and often overlooked element of US foreign policy that brings benefits to US citizens and people all over the world. Americans and Iranians have maintained mutually beneficial relations for nearly two centuries. These ties are especially important at a time of continuing tensions between the two governments. Cultural exchanges deepen mutual understanding and can result in discoveries with global significance in public health, environmental, and other important fields.
Join the Atlantic council for a conversation on these issues featuring Kamiar Alaei, Associate Dean at the State University of New York at Albany; Stan L. Albrecht, Former President of Utah State University; Bahman Baktiari, Executive Director at the International Foundation for Civil Society; Shahrzad Rezvani, Attorney and Board Member of the Iranian-American Bar Association.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Administration” with 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Donald Trump continues to score goals against his own and America’s interests. Just a few examples from the last couple of days:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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