Relatively slim pickings this week, at least in numbers. Not sure why.
1. In the Eye of the Storm: Turkish Foreign Policy in an Age of Domestic Realignment, Brookings, October 25, 2:30-3:30 pm
President, The Brookings Institution
Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD)
Kadir Has University, Istanbul
2. A Roadmap for Effective Economic Reconstruction in Conflict-Affected Areas, USIP, October 26, 9 am-1 pm
The event will include two panels which will address structural as well as programmatic aspects of economic reconstruction, including: risk-aversion in donor institutions, inter-agency and international collaboration and cooperation, monitoring and evaluation, and the role of entrepreneurship and public/private partnerships.
Panelists will glean lessons from relevant case-studies and begin to chart the roadmap to peace and prosperity that World Bank President Robert Zoellick called for with the launch of the 2011 World Development Report.
- Fred Tipson, Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow
U.S. Institute of Peace
- Basel Saleh, Assistant Professor of Economics
- Jomana Amara, Assistant Professor of Economics
Naval Postgraduate School
- Sharon Morris, Director of the Conflict Management Group
- Robert Aten, Senior International Economics
Ret. U. S. Agency for International Development
- Gary Milante, World Development Report Core Team Member
- Graciana del Castillo, Co-founding Partner
Macroeconomic Advisory Group
- John Simon, Founding Partner
Total Impact Advisors
- Del Fitchett
Independent Economics Consultant
- Raymond Gilpin, Director of the Center for Sustainable Economies
U.S. Institute of Peace
The Carnegie Endowment and the North-South Institute will host a discussion on the complexities of electoral support in conflict contexts and examine two compelling case studies—the recent elections in Afghanistan and Kenya. The event will also mark the launch of a new book by the North-South Institute, Elections in Dangerous Places.
Radwan Ziadeh, director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, and Ammar Abdulhamid, founder of the Tharwa Foundation and a human rights activist, will discuss this topic. For more information and to RSVP, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good stuff, especially early in the week. Heavy on Johns Hopkins events, but what do you expect?
1. Strengthening the Armenianj-Azerbaijani Track II Dialogue, Carnegie Endowment, October 17, 10-11:45 am
With Philip Gamaghelyan, Tabib Huseynov, and Thomas de Waal
With the main diplomatic track negotiating the conflict over Nagorny Karabakh apparently deadlocked, more attention is being focused on how tension can be reduced and bridges built through Track II initiatives and dialogue between ordinary Armenians and Azerbaijanis.
Mohamed Salah Tekaya, Tunisian ambassador to the United States; Tamara Wittes, deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs and deputy special coordinator for Middle East Transitions at the U.S. Department of State; Mohamed Ali Malouche, president of the Tunisian American Young Professionals; and Kurt Volker (moderator), managing director of CTR, will discuss this topic. For more information and to RSVP, visit http://www.eventbrite.com/event/2279443878/mcivte
4. Mexico and the War on Drugs: Time to Legalize, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, held at Mount Vernon Place, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Cato Institute, to be held at the Undercroft Auditorium, 900 Massachusetts Ave., N.W. October 18, noon
Mexico is paying a high price for fighting a war on drugs that are consumed in the United States. More than 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence since the end of 2006 when Mexico began an aggressive campaign against narco-trafficking. The drug war has led to a rise in corruption and gruesome criminality that is weakening democratic institutions, the press, law enforcement, and other elements of a free society. Former Mexican president Vicente Fox will explain that prohibition is not working and that the legalization of the sale, use, and production of drugs in Mexico and beyond offers a superior way of dealing with the problem of drug abuse.
To register for this event, email email@example.com, fax (202) 371-0841, or call (202) 789-5229 by noon, Monday, October 17, 2011.
Monday, October 17, 2011
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
Lindner Family Commons, Room 602
1957 E Street, NW
5. Revolutionary vs. Reformist Islam: The Iran-Turkey Rivalry in the Middle East, Lindner Family Commons, room 602, 1957 E St NW, October 18, 7:30-9 pm
Ömer Tapinar, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
Hadi Semati, Iranian Political Scientist
Mohammad Tabaar, Adjunct Lecturer, GW
The Arab Spring has brought Iran and Turkey into a regional rivalry to sell their different brands of Islam. While Tehran is hoping to inspire an “Islamic awakening”, Ankara is calling for a “secular state that respects all religions.” The panelists will discuss this trend and its influences on domestic politics in Iran and Turkey.
The Middle East Policy Forum is presented with the generous support of ExxonMobil.
This program will be off the record out of respect for its presenters.
RSVP at: http://tinyurl.com/3ntfx9o
Sponsored by the Institute for Middle Eastern Stuides
PS: I really should not have missed this Middle East Institute event:
Troubled Triangle: The US, Turkey, and Israel in the New Middle East, Stimson Center, 1111 19th St NW, 11th floor, October 18, 4:30-6 pm
The trilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States has deteriorated in recent years as Israel’s and Turkey’s foreign policy goals in the Middle East continue to diverge. Despite repeated attempts, the United States has failed to reconcile these two important regional allies since the divisive Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010. Please join us for a discussion of this critical yet troubled trilateral relationship in a time of unprecedented change in the Middle East. The discussion will feature Prof. William B. Quandt, Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., Professor of Politics at University of Virginia, Lara Friedman, Director of Policy and Government Relations and Gönül Tol, Executive Director of MEI Center for Turkish Studies, and will be held on October 18 at the Henry L. Stimson Center.
It is past time to take a look at the possibility that the protests in Syria will not bring down Bashar al Assad any time soon. While some of the opposition appears in frustration to be calling for violence on the part of the demonstrators, my inner voice tells me that would be a big mistake. Bashar has the advantage in use of force, and he has demonstrated willingness to use it.
There is no real possibility of external military action in support of a violent Syrian rebellion, which is what made the difference in Libya. The Arab League is far from advocating a UN Security Council resolution authorizing force. The Russians, who enjoy the use of the Syrian port at Latakia, would block it anyway–they haven’t even allowed a resolution condemning regime violence.
If the protesters take up arms, they will elicit a response in kind and drive the violence in Syria in the ethno-sectarian direction, which is precisely what Europe and the United States fear the most. Even Iran will agree: a Sunni-defined uprising against the Allawi regime would be particularly unwelcome in Tehran.
So the question becomes this: how can the protesters sustain their nonviolent efforts over the longer term, defined as months or even a year or two? Only if they are clearly able and willing to do so will Bashar yield. If he thinks he can outlast the demonstrators, why would he give in?
First, the international community needs to warn the protesters that there is no real alternative. There will be no external military action. Not even a “no fly zone,” which has become code for the kind of aggressive air campaign NATO conducted in Libya. Syria is not Libya. Damascus has strong backing from Tehran and Moscow. Ankara has talked tough but has not backed it up with action. Ditto the Arab countries, several of which have withdrawn their ambassadors but done little else.
Second, the international community needs to reward and encourage those among the protesters prepared to keep to nonviolence and maintain unity of purpose. Monday’s formation of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an analogue to the Transitional National Council that has become the post-Qaddafi governing structure in Libya, is a good development. It will need wholehearted moral and financial support from Europe and the United States, though at this stage formal recognition would be premature.
The SNC, led by a diaspora professor, will necessarily be an outside Syria affair for the most part, unless the protesters can somehow carve out some liberated space inside the country. They have tried to liberate particular cities several times, only to see the regime security forces eventually surround and retake them.
An alternative approach is to use cyberspace, as the Libyans also did, to publish their intentions and plans for post-Bashar Syria. This could include a constitutional charter or framework that projects the kind of Syria they would institute, including a roadmap for preparation of a new constitution as well as local and national elections. This would give the international community something to respond to and provide a blue print for future preparations and eventual implementation.
Third, the SNC will need to encourage defections from the military and business communities. This can be done by making it clear, as the Libyans have done, that contracts will be maintained, revenge avoided and continuity valued once Bashar is gone. There is time enough in the aftermath of a revolution to vet and re-vet government officials, military officers and crony businessmen. It need not be done immediately, or used as a threat against the regime. The trick is to get regime elements, especially the security forces, to turn on Bashar, which they will do if they believe it will help protect them after the regime falls.
Fourth, while the SNC figures out how to convey the impression of knowing what to do if Bashar steps down, the international community needs to give him a stronger shove in the right direction. Europe has still not blocked imports of oil and oil products from Syria. Over time, that would deprive the regime of at least some revenue (assuming Damascus sells the oil at a discount elsewhere) and signal to businesspeople that the European Union is serious about getting him to step aside. Secretary of State Clinton needs to spend some quality time beating up the Europeans on this subject when she sees them Thursday at the Libya contact group meeting in Paris.
Getting the Russians on board for a Security Council resolution, even a relatively weak one, would also be useful. At some point, Russia needs to begin worrying about making sure that any new regime is not going to throw its fleet out of Latakia. The SNC might start raising questions about the Russian presence there and suggesting that it could be sustained, but only if Moscow goes along with a resolution taking the regime to task for its treatment of the protesters.
What else can be done? It is better in my view to maintain the U.S. ambassador in Damascus rather than withdraw him. But he needs to continue his visits to demonstrators and do what he can in other ways to provide encouragement and succor. Also on the diplomatic front: we should of course be consulting constantly with Turkey and Lebanon, encouraging these frontline states to confront the regime as best they can. Turkey in particular could wield a bit more clout than has so far been apparent with Syria’s business elite.
Jordan has already spoken up against the Syrian regime, but Iraq Prime Minister Maliki has preferred to toe the Iranian line and suggest that the Arab spring can benefit no one except Israel. Apart from the patent inaccuracy of that allegation, Maliki’s attachment to Bashar, who spent years shipping terrorists into Iraq, is passing strange. Our man in Baghdad has presumably objected appropriately, but we need to do a bit more to ensure that Maliki is not actually helping Bashar, presumably on the theory that the enemy of my enemy (Saudi Arabia detests Maliki) is my friend.
Fifth, more unanimity against Bashar in the Arab League might help a good deal. The Secretary General of that august but ineffectual organization was supposed to visit Damascus earlier this week to plead for an end to violence and more reform, but the Syrians rejected his not too vigorous plan before he even arrived. Not clear to me whether he was able to make the trip. Iraq is not the only problem–Algeria is also Qaddafi-sympathetic and welcomed members of his family yesterday.
The Syrian regime will find it difficult to resist unanimity in the international community, if it can be achieved. When even Iran and Hizbollah are distancing themselves, you know you are in trouble. One of Qaddafi’s serious mistakes was to alienate Arab governments, two of which even joined in the NATO military action against him. But it will not be easy to get everyone aligned in the right direction. The diplomats have a big job to do.
PS: For a pessimistic view of the Syrian opposition, see Kinda Kanbar’s piece at Middle East Progress.
Bashar al Assad, Syria’s beleaguered president continues his crackdown, despite growing international condemnation and pressure. What has happened to Muammar Qaddafi, who is hiding somewhere, and Hosni Mubarak, who is on trial, has likely given him renewed determination to avoid a similar situation. The only way he knows to avoid it is to use violence to repress the demonstrations, which continue even if they are not gaining headlines during this Libya week. The regime even took the trouble to injure a cartoonists hands, a bizarre but telling acknowledgement of its own impotence against the humor and spirit of the protest movement.
The opposition claims to still be moving toward forming a Syrian National Council, but this week’s meeting in Istanbul does not appear to have been a brilliant success. I’m not sure what the problem is, but in my view unity is overrated. There is no reason the opposition today should agree on much more than getting rid of Bashar. There will be time enough in the future to quarrel over politics.
Nor do I think the lack of “leadership” is really a big problem. The demonstrators have been remarkably effective at coordination and coherence without clear leaders. United is important, but regimes enjoy decapitating movements. Only when the time comes to negotiate do they really need an empowered group to undertake that thankless task.
What the Syrian opposition needs now is a program. What are they going to do if Bashar does step aside? The Libyan Transitional National Council did itself a great service when it put out its “constitutional charter,” which included a political roadmap for the next year. It gained some support inside Libya, but just as importantly it enabled the internationals to say they know what the Libyans want. Something like that is needed from the Syrians.
Next week the international community needs to move ahead with European Union sanctions targeting Syria’s energy sector. That would be a serious contribution to depriving Bashar of the resources he needs to continue his brutal repression. But it really isn’t sufficient. Turkey needs to step up its game, which once seemed headed in the direction of toughening but somehow went flaccid in the last ten days or so. There is a lot at stake for Turkey: its “no problems with neighbors” policy is teetering, and it gets 20% of its gas supplies for its booming economy from Syria’s principal supporter, Iran.
There isn’t a lot else out there, though David Schenker offers a few more “incremental” (that means small I think) ideas. I fear that we are going to end up with a long-term stalemate in Syria: the demonstrators unable to unseat Bashar, Bashar unable to repress the demonstrations. This situation will bleed the finances of both Syria and Iran, but it will also bleed the protesters and increase the likelihood of a chaotic sectarian breakdown in Syria.
The Syrian regime continues to portray the uprising as an armed rebellion of terrorists. That is clearly untrue, as the Syrian protesters have chosen a nonviolent course from the first. They are fired up about dignity. The demonstrators haven’t got a lot more than daring, cleverness, unity, and amazing good humor on their side. And me, I’m on their side too!
PS: The question on some minds today is why not have an international intervention in Syria, since it worked so well in Libya? In my way of thinking, it did not work well in Libya: it worked in the end, but only at a high cost in lives and other destruction.
Just as important: the Russians, who have a naval base at Latakia on the Syrian coast, are not going to allow a Security Council resolution to pass authorizing force (they haven’t even let one pass denouncing the regime violence), the Arab League is not on board and the topography of hilly Syria weighs against effectiveness from the air. The Syrians are likely going to have to sustain their efforts until the security forces turn on Bashar and tell him they are not prepared to continue on his behalf.
PS: Ali Ferzat, the cartoonist the Syrian government felt it had to beat up, responds eloquently today with this:
PPS: The UN humanitarian mission to Syria has completed its visit and is calling for protection of civilians, who are under “constant threat.” Not bad for a group shepherded around by government minders.
I discussed current events in Syria and the Obama Administration call for Bashar al Assad to step aside, along with a bit of Libya, this morning on C Span’s Washington Journal:
Here are the notes I did for myself on Syria in preparation:
1. The contest continues:
- Military assault is undiminished, security forces still united
- Demonstrators trying to mark beginning of the end
2. The international community is speaking louder and with a more unified voice
- U.S. “step aside” echoed in Europe, Turkey had already given “final warning”
- Arab ambassadors withdrawn: Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi, Tunisia
- Europe getting ready to bar oil imports
- UN fact finding report “scathing”: torture, murder, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, supposedly going this weekend (Navi Pillay and Valerie Amos)
- IAEA found NPT violation
- Unrelated, I think, to current events: Syria disqualified from 2014 World Cup!
- Diplomatic observers possible
3. Bashar still has internal and external pillars intact
- Iran solid, Russia still protecting in UNSC
- Army and business community still backing him
- Republican Guard (10k) and 4th armored division show no signs of cracking: Deraa, Banias, Homs, Idlib
- Shabbiha still active
4. Opposition strong
- Widespread protests
- Still relatively weak in Aleppo and Damascus, but growing
- Good unity: several iterations, now Syrian National Council
- Good nonviolent discipline, though some arms
- Good planning
While my twitterfeed remains skeptical that the U.S. has any leverage to get Bashar al Assad to step aside, I think the Administration put on a pretty good diplomatic show in the last day or two, with more to come. In addition to the US moves, the UN published a fact-finding report that Colum Lynch appropriately describes as “scathing.” The Europeans and Turkey seem to be lining up to say the right things.
More important is what Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Europeans do now. The Administration is hinting that the Europeans will block their own Syrian oil imports. This they can do because it is not much oil, but it accounts for more than a quarter of Syria’s revenue. Turkey’s National Security Council today called for democratic change in Syria, but that likely won’t have much impact as the Foreign Minister has already issued several final warnings to Bashar al Assad. What is needed is some action from Turkey in blocking trade or investment, which would signal clearly to Syrian businesspeople that the end is near. The Saudis can make life hard for Bashar in many ways, not least just by indicating that it supports the protesters, as the King did late last week.
New York will be the center of the international action the next few days. The Americans are pushing a Security Council resolution. The Human Rights Council is to meet Monday to discuss the fact-finding report. That should provide an occasion for lambasting the Syrian regime. Legitimacy counts, even for autocracies. When the UN is taking you to task for murdering your own citizens with their hands tied behind their backs, legitimacy comes into question.
Today in Syria is also key. Already this week there have been demonstrations in Aleppo, Syria’s largest and most important commercial city. A big turnout there and in Damascus would confirm that the judgment that it is time for Bashar to step aside. How widespread the demonstrations are will also count. The international moves may elicit a big response among the Syrians.
What we can’t really know is how all this will affect the small circle around Bashar al Assad. It would take only a few of them to abandon his cause for Syria to turn quickly in a new direction.
The problem is what to do with Bashar. Pressure is building for the Security Council to refer him to the International Criminal Court. I am not as opposed to an indictment as many diplomats, who believe it would only strengthen his resolve to hold on to power. That it may do, but it may also make those who work for him begin to wonder whether carrying out his orders to kill civilians is a smart thing to do.
I have my doubts though that evidence can be gathered in a time frame that would make an indictment meaningful. More likely, a referral would be followed by a long delay, which would make matters worse rather than better (remember the Hariri case, and the case against President Bashir of Sudan?).
So what happens next? Bashar al Assad won’t step aside until his security forces crack more dramatically than they have so far. I don’t know anyone who can even pretend to know when that will happen, but the American/Turkish/Saudi/European/UN pressure being brought to bear this week is pushing things in the right direction.
Paul Pillar, in a piece published yesterday by The National Interest focused on Gary Locke, the new American ambassador to Beijing, notes:
The incidental influence that the United States exerts simply through people around the world observing its behavior is consistently underestimated, just as the influence the United States can exert intentionally by exercising its economic, military, or other instruments of hard power tends to be overestimated.
My twitterfeed is underestimating America’s “incidental influence” on events in Syria. I don’t know whether it will be enough, but it will make Bashar al Assad very uncomfortable for the next few days, at the very least.