Tag: United Arab Emirates

War, not oil prices, challenge the Gulf

Last Tuesday the Middle East Policy Council held their 85th Capitol Hill Conference on “Economic Reform and Political Risk in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).” Speakers were Aasim M. Husain, IMF deputy director of the Middle East and Central Asia; Ford M. Fraker, president of the Middle East Policy Center and former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Edward Burton, CEO and president of the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council; and Karen E. Young, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute. Richard Schmierer moderated.

Husain presented data on how different countries of the GCC are adapting to cheaper oil. Prior to the dramatic decline in oil prices in mid-2014, Gulf governments had been raising their spending by expanding energy subsidies, increasing government payrolls, and raising wages. Non-oil sectors were growing at an average of 7 percent throughout the GCC. When oil prices suddenly dropped from $110/barrel to $40/barrel in mid-2014, a GCC average 10% budgetary surplus turned into a 9% deficit overnight. Spending, which had been increasing by an average of 8-10% since 2011, is expected to contract by over 10% in coming years.

Most Gulf states are cutting back their capital spending by starting fewer new projects and slowing and canceling current ones. Many are raising subsidized energy prices—ending the longstanding policy in some countries of providing essentially free energy to their citizens. Some GCC members are also considering a value added tax. Even with these reforms, in the next five years we can continue to expect deficits of 7-10% of GDP. It’s a grim picture, even before you consider how cuts in spending will impact economic growth.

Over the next five years, 2 million youth will enter the workforce across the GCC. Husain predicts that 2/3 of those will find jobs. That optimistic figure relies on the necessity of non-oil sector growth in next five years generating more jobs than in the past.

Fraker emphasized just how dramatic recent changes in Saudi policy have been. He identified the main goals of Vision 2030—diversifying the Saudi economy and eliminating government inefficiency—and added that the biggest change brought about in the months since Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s assumption of the throne has not been any particular economic policy, but rather an “unprecedented” opening of Saudi government.

Decision-making had always happened behind closed doors without transparency or outside input. The rise to prominence of the Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman changed that. He has opened government, for example by putting all government ministers on stage for unprecedented public questioning. Fraker wants the US to welcome these changes. Washington has a strategic interest in a stable Saudi Arabia and should therefore support its allies politically and economically.

Burton elaborated on business opportunities for American investors. Saudi Arabia is the third biggest spender on military equipment in the world.  Mohammed bin Salman’s goal to divert 50% of Saudi military spending to domestic contractors would create major opportunities for job-rich growth. Burton also foresees healthcare as a potential growth sector. Saudi Arabia suffers from high rates of obesity, diabetes, and other health challenges. The Kingdom is the Middle East’s largest information and communications technologies market,  particularly with its growing youth population.

Young analyzed GCC strategies and policies to make ends meet. Across the region, there has been a dramatic rise in bond issues. In the short term, there is no problem. Gulf countries are not heavily indebted and currently have access to the capital they need. Continued reliance on credit for the next five years could get dicey. This oil crisis is different from the 1970s crises. Over the course of the 2003-2014 oil boom, the Gulf invested in building lasting institutions, which enabled Kuwait and the UAE to adapt to the drop in oil price. The GCC is also much more integrated into the MENA region than it was previously. Egypt and Lebanon are dependent on Gulf foreign direct investment. Jordan and Morocco rely on foreign aid from the GCC to balance their budgets.

All the panelists managed to neglect the economic and political ramifications of GCC involvement in two regional conflicts. Husain talked about massive cuts in capital and social spending to ease the sting of deficits, but ignored the continued climb in Saudi defense spending since 2011, starting with Saudi involvement in funding and training opposition fighters in Syria.

Saudi Arabia will be running up against its biggest planned budget deficit in 2016, despite the slight uptick in oil prices and domestic fiscal reforms. GCC members are heavily involved in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, so military spending is continuing to rise at an alarming rate. In 2016, Saudi Arabia surpassed Russia as the third biggest military spender, spending $87.2 billion. Qatar and the UAE have also increased their military spending while drastically cutting other spending.

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The road to Tripoli goes through Cairo

There is multi-dimensional irony in Libya’s recent progress. The militias that have plagued security for years are delivering success against the Islamic State forces in Sirte, at high cost. A country that notoriously resists international intervention has begun to accept a UN-imposed Presidential Council as its highest governing authority. A state notorious for lacking substantial institutions has somehow preserved through years of chaos a precious few vital to delivering future services to its population: the national bank, oil company and investment authority. Some of their divided bureaucracies still need reunification, but they have not been obliterated.

The biggest roadblock in Libya today is General Khalifa Haftar, who has refused to pledge loyalty to the Presidential Council, blocked such a move by the expiring Tobruk-based House of Representatives, and still gets support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and perhaps Western governments. Even that has its ironic side: Haftar has been less effective against the Islamic State than his archenemies the Misrata militia. His resistance won’t last long if his sponsors can be convinced to turn him in the right direction. Western support for Haftar, if it exists, is aimed at defeating the Islamic State and likely won’t outlast that objective.

Egypt’s support for Haftar aims to defeat Islamists in its western neighbor, much as President Sisi has sought to do inside Egypt as well. The Egyptians do not make much distinction among Islamists. It views all of them as threats to the President’s hold on power and therefore terrorists. Russia, which has been flirting with Haftar, has a similar attitude. Haftar reflects this absolutism: he wants to obliterate the Islamists physically, not just marginalize or defeat them politically.

This objective is unachievable. A large portion of the opposition to Qaddafi was Islamist. Islamists won a significant minority of seats in Libya’s first free and relatively well-run elections in July 2012. They continue to have the support of many Libyans as well as armed groups. Even the kind of restored autocracy that Sisi has achieved in Egypt would not eliminate the Islamists in Libya. It would only drive them underground and create the conditions for the kind of terrorist insurgency that Egypt already faces.

The UAE’s position is less absolute than Egypt’s. The Emirates face little or no Islamist threat at home. They want Libya to separate mosque and state in the fashion of secular societies. Western influence is likely strong on the UAE, which would not continue to support Haftar if Egypt stops.

So the Libyan quandary increasingly depends on ending Egyptian support for Haftar and preventing Russia from stepping in to replace it. The Western powers will also need to convince the Misrata and other militias to accept some role for Haftar in a more unified Libyan security force. These are diplomatic and political issues, not military ones. The Americans, who have lost clout in Egypt with the autocratic restoration, have been shy of asking for more than the essentials: military access through and over Egyptian territory as well as maintenance of the peace with Israel. Washington has largely abandoned pressure on human rights issues.

But if Libya is to continue progress in the right direction, the Americans need to do more to block or coopt Haftar and solidify the authority and legitimacy of the Presidential Council and the Government of National Accord it appoints. The road to Tripoli goes through Cairo.

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Peace picks November 9-13

  1. War or Peace? the Gulf States and Russia’s Intervention in Syria | Monday, November 9th | 12:00-1:30 | Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington | REGISTER TO ATTEND  | The war in Syria, now in its fourth year, has killed more than a quarter of a million people, contributed to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, and become a breeding ground for ISIL and other extremist groups that threaten not only the region but much of the rest of the world. In September, Russia began carrying out airstrikes in Syria as part of a coordinated counterattack with Iran and Hezbollah against rebel groups supported by Gulf Arab states, Turkey, and in some cases the U.S.What does Russia hope to accomplish by its intervention in Syria? How have the Arab Gulf states responded, and how is this affecting recently improved GCC-Russian relations? What role are Iran and Hezbollah playing on the ground and likely to play at the negotiating table? Is the Obama administration seriously considering a substantive expansion of American military involvement in Syria, or will it focus primarily on diplomacy? Are the Vienna talks laying the groundwork for serious negotiations and a political settlement? And how does ISIL factor into the Syrian conflict, the trajectory of its development, and its impact on the region?This AGSIW panel will look at all these questions and more arising from Russia’s intervention in Syria and the response of the Gulf Arab states. Speakers include Fahad Nazer, non-resident fellow at AGSIW; Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at George Washington University; and Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. The discussion will be moderated by Hussein Ibish, senior resident fellow at AGSIW.
  2. Demonizing Dissidents: How INTERPOL is being abused by Dictatorships | Monday, November 9th | 4:00-7:00 | Fair Trials & Georgetown Law’s Human Rights Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In recent years, the use of INTERPOL’s “wanted person” alerts has expanded vastly with over 120,000 now circulating across the globe. Unfortunately, as it has become easier for countries to obtain INTERPOL Red Notices, some have been used as an instrument for silencing dissent and exporting repression with devastating consequences. Join us to discuss how INTERPOL is starting to address this problem which has been undermining its reputation as the global “good guys” in the fight against crime, and hear from people whose lives have been turned upside down by Red Notices, including: Sherif Mansour, an Egyptian-American democracy and human rights activist working for the Committee to Protect Journalists; Benny Wenda, a West Papuan tribal leader who leads an international campaign for the people of West Papua; Lutfullo Shamsutdinov, a human rights activist and witness of the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan; and Patricia Poleo, an award-winning anti-corruption journalist and vocal critic of Hugo Chavez, subject to a Red Notice from Venezuela.
  3. Our Walls Bear Witness: Iraqi Minorities in Peril | Monday, November 9th | 6:30-8:00 | US Holocaust Memorial Museum | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Join the Museum for a discussion with experts on the plight of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq who have been targeted by the self-proclaimed Islamic State and are now displaced, not knowing when—or if—they will be able to return home. The discussion will take place on the opening night of FotoWeek DC (November 9–12), for which the Museum will project onto its exterior walls photographs from a recent trip to Iraq.Speakers include Naomi Kikoler, deputy director of the Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, who recently returned from northern Iraq; Dakhil Shammo, a Yezidi human rights activist from the region; and Knox Thames, special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South and Central Asia at the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.You can submit questions for the panelists on Twitter using the hashtags #IraqCrisis and #WallsBearWitness.
  4. Turkey with the brakes off: What does Erdoğan’s victory mean? | Wednesday, November 11th | 5:00-7:00 | Central Asia-Caucasus Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Turkey’s ruling AKP restored its majority in parliament on Nov 1. But the election was held after President Erdogan refused to accept the June 7 election’s results, sabotaged efforts to form a coalition government, relaunched war in the country’s southeast -– and after a massive suicide bombing in Ankara.Will this election stabilize Turkey? What does this election mean for Turkey’s regional posture, and what kind of partner will it be for the U.S.?Speakers at this forum will draw from Turkey Transformed, a recently published study in which CACI scholars partnered with the Bipartisan Policy Center to investigate Turkey’s transformation under Erdogan. Speakers include: Eric S. Edelman, Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy; Svante E. Cornell, Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute; Blaise Misztal, Director of Foreign Policy, Bipartisan Policy Center; Alan Makovsky, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; and John Hannah, Senior Advisor, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The discussion will be moderated by Mamuka Tsereteli, Research Director, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute.
  5. The ISIS Scorecard: Assessing the State of U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy | Thursday, November 12th | 9:30-12:30 | American Foreign Policy Council | RSVP: events@afpc.org | The Honorable Newt Gingrich will give a keynote address. Speakers at this Capitol Hill conference include: Amb. Alberto Fernandez, Vice President of Middle East Media Research Institute and Former State Department Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications; Sebastian Gorka, Major General Matthew C. Horner Distinguished Chair of Military Theory, Marine Corps University; Celina Realuyo, Professor of Practice, William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, National Defense University; and James S. Robbins, Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs, American Foreign Policy Council.
  6. The Transatlantic Forum on Russia | Thursday, November 12th | 8:30-2:30 | Center for Strategic and International Studies | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Please join us for the fourth joint conference of CSIS and the Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding (CPRDU). Since 2012 CSIS and CPRDU have partnered to examine the impact of Polish-Russian reconciliation and its wider regional and transatlantic implications. Significant structural cracks in Europe’s security architecture – crafted at the end of the Second World War and refined by the Helsinki Final Act – have appeared since Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea and its incursions into eastern Ukraine. As a result, the principal challenge to the transatlantic community is to formulate a new foreign policy approach towards Russia. Our expert panelists will discuss the nature and scope of this new policy while considering historical relations between Russia and the West. See here for the full agenda and the featured experts.
  7. Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence | Thursday, November 12th | 2:00-3:30 | Brookings Institution | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In his new book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks examines the recent phenomenon of violent extremism by exploring the origins of violence and its relationship to religion. Rabbi Sacks challenges the assertion that religion is an intrinsic source of violence and describes how theology can be central to combating religious violence and extremism. Through analysis of biblical texts tied to the three Abrahamic faiths, Rabbi Sacks illustrates how religiously-inspired violence stems from a critical misreading of these texts.  Governance Studies at Brookings will host a discussion addressing Rabbi Sacks’ book and other important issues related to the roots of religious violence. This event is part of the long-running Governing Ideas book series, which is hosted by William A. Galston. E.J. Dionne, Jr. will also join the discussion.After the discussion, panelists will take audience questions. Books will be available for sale before and after the event.
  8. Migration, Asylum, and the Role of the State: Defining Borders, Redefining Boundaries | Thursday, November 12th | 4:00-5:30 | The Kluge Center at the Library of Congress | No registration necessary | Issues around immigration, migration, and asylum are pressing political, social and cultural concerns in the United States and Europe today. Three Fellows at the Kluge Center will discuss the role of the state in establishing geographic, technological and bureaucratic controls over the flow of peoples, cultures and beliefs across borders, and examine how the notions of national borders and state boundaries have evolved over the 20th and 21st century and how migrants and immigrants continue to challenge state-defined categories. Speakers include: Iván Chaar-López, researching databases, computers, and drones as instruments of border and migration control along the southern border (Digital Studies Fellow, University of Michigan); Katherine Luongo, researching witchcraft and spiritual beliefs among African asylum-seekers in Europe, Canada and Australia (Kluge Fellow, Northeastern University); and Julia Young, researching early 20th century Mexican immigration to the U.S. (Kluge Fellow, Catholic University).
  9. The Syrian Refugee Crisis & the U.S.: What is our responsibility? | Thursday, November 12th | 7:00-9:00 | Institute for Policy Studies | No registration necessary | Three experts on the Syrian crisis will address the issues faced by refugees, the need for ending the war to end the refugee crisis, the role of the U.S. in creating and its obligations for solving this crisis, and what the U.S. should do to assist and welcome Syrian refugees—and prevent similar crises in the future.Speakers include Pam Bailey, human rights activist and journalist; Phyllis Bennis, IPS fellow and author of numerous books and articles on U.S. policy in the Middle East; and Rafif Jouejati, Syrian activist and director of FREE-Syria. The forum will be moderated by Andy Shallal, activist and owner of Busboys and Poets. The event will be held at Busboys and Poets.
  10. The Search for Stability and Opportunity: The Middle East in 2016 | Friday, November 13th | 9:00-5:00 | The Middle East Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Middle East Institute will host its 69th Annual Conference at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. The event will bring together prominent Middle Eastern and American experts and foreign policy practitioners to delve into the many questions and challenges that face the region during this period of unprecedented change. Experts from across the region and the U.S. will examine Middle Eastern states’ pursuit of security out of the current disorder, the policy imperatives that will confront the next U.S. president, strategies for empowerment, inclusion, and equity in Arab societies, and the trends and channels in which youth are challenging the societal and political order. See here for the full agenda and featured experts.
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A nervous region wary of the nuclear deal


These could be snapshots from an Iranian bazaar, but they were all taken at Shuk Levinsky, a largely Persian market in Tel Aviv.  PC: Eddie Grove
These Iranian bazaar snapshots were actually taken at Tel Aviv’s mainly Persian Shuk Levinsky. PC: Eddie Grove

On Wednesday, the Conflict Management Program at SAIS and MEI hosted a talk entitled After the Deal: A Veteran Journalist’s View from Tehran.  Speakers included Roy Gutman, McClatchy Middle East bureau chief, and Joyce Karam, Washington bureau chief for Al-Hayat. Daniel Serwer of both SAIS and MEI moderated.  Both speakers emphasized the dynamics that caused regional players to be wary of Iran.


Early last Spring, Gutman traveled to Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey.


Mount Hermon, on the border of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, Lebanon and Syria.  A couple of weeks after the author skied there, the ski resort was evacuated after a nearby IDF vehicle was struck by an anti-tank missile fired by Hezbollah. PC: Eddie Grove
Mount Hermon, on the border of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, Lebanon and Syria. A couple of weeks after the author skied there, the ski resort was evacuated after a nearby IDF vehicle was struck by an anti-tank missile fired by Hezbollah. PC: Eddie Grove

In Israel, he observed that the major national security concern wasn’t the Iranian nuclear program, but rather Iran’s conventional threat through the buildup of Hezbollah forces.  Israelis were disappointed that the US was leaving a security vacuum in Syria for Iran to fill.  The Israeli position on the Iran deal is difficult to understand; Israeli politicians oppose it, but Israel’s foreign policy elite considers Iranian conventional forces a larger threat.

Jordanian officials also worried about regional chaos and Iranian influence.  They were baffled by the half-hearted US response to Assad, as well as its airstrike-only response to ISIS.

Jordanian flag flying at the always windy Ajloun Castle.  PC: Eddie Grove
Jordanian flag flying at the always windy Ajloun Castle. PC: Eddie Grove

Egypt is preoccupied by terrorism and the upheaval in Libya, but Egyptian officials are also concerned about Iran’s growing influence and US inaction.

A view of Taba, Egypt from Mount Tzefahot, Eilat, Israel. PC: Eddie Grove
A view of Taba, Egypt from Mount Tzefahot, Eilat, Israel. PC: Eddie Grove

Officials in every government (aside from Turkey’s) spoke of collusion between Turkey and extremists. The Turks think the Iranians know that the US is not a determined counterpart.  They believe the US is appeasing Iran.

Gutman then traveled to Tehran to gauge the mood there.  Iran has come in from the cold after 36 years, but Tehran resents the last 36 years of US policy.  Change in Iran won’t happen fast.  Khamenei has said that Iran’s policy towards the “arrogant” US government won’t change and that Iran will keep supporting its regional allies.

Rosh HaNikra, Israel on the border with Lebanon.  PC: Eddie Grove
Rosh HaNikra, Israel on the border with Lebanon. PC: Eddie Grove

Israel views Hezbollah’s buildup as a direct threat, but Iranian officials told Gutman that the Tehran holds the trigger on Hezbollah’s weapons and won’t pull it unless Israel threatens Lebanon or Iran.  However, a former Iranian diplomat admitted that Iran has no vital interest in Lebanon or the Palestinians.  Iran also appears to have no vital interest in Yemen, but likes seeing Saudi Arabia embroiled in an unwinnable war.  Iran is unalterably opposed to the breakup of Iraq into three states.

The Maronite village of Al-Jish in Israel near the Lebanese border could be seen as a pocket of Lebanese culture inside Israel.  It contains a Maronite church (top right), and a Lebanese restaurant (top left) with delicious Lebanese food (bottom).  PC: Eddie Grove
The Maronite village of Al-Jish, Israel near the Lebanese border could be seen as a pocket of Lebanese culture inside Israel. It contains a Maronite church (top right) and a Lebanese restaurant (top left) with delicious Lebanese food (bottom). PC: Eddie Grove

Iranian officials don’t think the deal is perfect, but still see it as a win-win for both sides.  They view themselves as MENA’s most powerful and stable state.  They are glad that US has accepted them as a regional player and negotiating partner.

After the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Iran filled the vacuum. The Iraqi Army collapsed on Iran’s watch.  Iran does not acknowledge its responsibility for this and ascribes the rise of ISIS to others.  They also believe that foreign forces fought in Deraa and refused to acknowledge Assad’s role in fomenting terrorism by releasing terrorists from prison.  Iranian officials also stated that all sectors of Lebanese society back Hezbollah’s deployment in Syria.  Iran needs a reality check.

Joyce Karam (left), Dr. Daniel Serwer (center), and roy Gutman (right). PC: Eddie Grove
Joyce Karam (left), Dr. Daniel Serwer (center), and roy Gutman (right). PC: Eddie Grove

Iran opposes the creation of a safe zone/no-fly zone in Iraq and has threatened to send basijis into Syria if this happens. Iranians don’t understand the scope of Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe or Iran’s role in it.  There are too many disagreements between the US and Iran to form a regional security agreement now.  The US needs a policy for Syria; if we don’t have a policy, others will fill the vacuum.  The US also needs an official version of what happened in Syria to counter the Iranian invented view of history.

The souq in Muscat, Oman.  Oman helped mediate between Iran and the P5+1 and has good trade relations with Iran.  It welcomed the deal.
The souq in Muscat, Oman. Oman helped mediate between Iran and the P5+1 and has good trade relations with Iran. It welcomed the deal.

Karam noted that the Arab response to the deal is less monolithic than Israel’s, but the GCC and Israel view Iran’s regional behavior similarly.  The UAE, Oman, and Turkey quickly welcomed the deal because they have good trade relations with Iran.  Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar were more cautious.  The Saudis don’t view the deal as US abandonment, but they fear increased Iranian regional meddling.  Arab public opinion has shifted drastically since 2008, when 80% of Arabs viewed Iran positively.  Now only 12% do.  The Arab street is suspicious of the deal.  The US explained the deal to Arab governments, but not to their people.  The Arab street wonders whether the money Iran will gain from sanctions relief will go to funding Iranian students, or to Qassem Suleimani and more chlorine gas, barrel bombs, and Hezbollah fighters for Assad.  Assad is a costly budget item for Iran.  When will Iran realize that Assad can’t win? Nevertheless, Hezbollah keeps getting more involved in Syria.

Karam stated that the Gulf countries obtain commitments from the US at talks like Camp David, but then nothing gets done.  The US is four years behind on Syria and needs an official policy.

Serwer noted in conclusion that the regional issues would be far worse if Iran had, or were about to get, nuclear weapons.

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Nuance in regional reactions to the Iran deal

On Wednesday, the Wilson Center hosted a panel on  “The Iran Nuclear Deal: The View from the Region.” Speakers included Muath Al Wari, Senior Policy Analyst at Center for American Progress, Deborah Amos, International Correspondent for NPR, Shlomo Brom, Visiting Fellow at Center for American Progress and Fahad Nazer, Political Analyst at JTG Inc. The event was moderated by Henri J. Barkey, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center.

Al Wari analyzed the UAE response to the nuclear deal. He claimed the UAE concern is less about the nuclear aspect and more about the fact that Iran ran a clandestine program under the authority of a state that is willing to undermine other governments in the region. However, Emiratis have decided to look towards the future, believing President Obama secured the best deal possible. The UAE is now looking at what the deal means for future Iranian encroachment in the region and what the US and other P5 countries will do to constrain Iran. The UAE hopes that Iran will normalize its regional behavior. In the coming days, the Emiratis will study the outcomes of King Salman’s visit to the US.

Al Wari criticized the sectarian portrayal of the nuclear deal. Regional concerns about the deal are linked to the geopolitical security competition. Sectarianism is exacerbated by the competition and contributes to it. His belief is that the deal is an American tool to prevent escalation in the Middle East—the agreement is a formal check on Iranian hegemony and encroachment.

Amos explained that the deal so far is unsurprisingly irrelevant to daily life, but the consequences of the agreement will be tested on the ground. She reiterated Al Wari’s words—the Gulf States want to know if attention will be paid to non-nuclear developments that are heating up. That said, the deal unlocks significant trade potential regionally (especially for the UAE and Oman) and globally. The calculus of power has already shifted, with Europeans sending trade delegations and major American companies, such as Apple, preparing to tap into the Iranian consumer market.

Brom delved into the nuances of the Israeli stance on the nuclear deal. For Israel, Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility of it acquiring nuclear weapons has always been a central issue. Indeed, Iran’s nuclear program is the centerpiece of Netanyahu’s foreign policy. He believes he won the elections because of his strong security agenda and perceives Iran as an existential threat. Many Israelis think the combination of a religious and ideological regime with nuclear weapons could lead to Iran striking Israel. However, Netanyahu’s opinion isn’t representative of all Israelis. Many dissenters coming from the Israeli security and foreign policy community, including Brom, believe the agreement is not perfect, but still better than no agreement. A better agreement would have been unlikely.

Like Brom, Nazer also cautioned against making generalizations about regional players. He thinks it is too simplistic to assume that all Saudis think the nuclear deal will usher in an Iranian hegemony with American blessings. Instead, he thinks the Saudi position has shifted slightly. The Saudis are no longer committed to preventing the deal from being implemented. The Saudis support any agreement that prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and guarantees the reinstatement of sanctions if Iran doesn’t comply. After Saudi Foreign Minister Al Jubeir’s visit to Washingon, he openly commended the robust inspection of the verification regime and provision of “snapback” sanctions.

At the same time, the Saudis are maintaining a wary position on the deal. Saudi Arabia is not depending on the US and hoping for the best. High-level Saudi officials have had meetings with Russians, Europeans and other key leaders. Prince Faisal has also said Saudis will expect the same nuclear standards for themselves and should be permitted at least the same levels of uranium enrichment capability as Iran. Prince Bandar has compared the Iran agreement to the nuclear agreement President Clinton signed with North Korea. He feels President Obama is not keeping the lessons of Korea in mind.

The US and Saudi Arabia also have differing threat perceptions. President Obama thinks Saudis need to worry less about an external threat from Iran and focus on the internal implosion stemming from a generation of youths with few hopes for the future. Conversely, the prevailing sentiment in Saudi Arabia is that Iran constitutes a serious threat. Saudi Arabia and Iran have been on polar opposite ends in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon. Nazer believes there is a serious credibility gap between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which could lead the Saudis to take matters into their own hands, as they have done in Yemen.

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Why critics of the nuclear deal are wrong

Max Fisher offers Mike Doran a platform for his case against the nuclear deal with Iran. Here are ten ways in which Mike is mistaken:

1. MD: Detente is the strategic goal, and arms control is the means to achieve it.

President Obama has made it clear he would welcome a broader detente with Iran, but he has also made it clear the nuclear deal has to be judged on its own merits. I don’t see any evidence that he is prevaricating, but if that is Mike’s claim he should produce the support.

2. MD: I don’t think it [preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon] is achievable without a significant coercive component. I think this is one of the most faulty assumptions of the administration.

Trouble is, the Obama Administration does not make that faulty assumption. It has done much more than any prior administration to increase the sanctions pressure on Iran, far more than the Administration for which Mike worked.

3. MD: [The Iranians] want sanctions relief and they’re going to get it, and they see that they’re going to get it, and they will stick with this process as long as they get direct, immediate, and very desirable benefits from it.

That is precisely the point of the negotiations: to provide sanctions relief provided Tehran gives up its nuclear weapons ambitions for at least ten years and moves itself back from a “breakout” of two or three months to a “breakout” time of a year. This is not an argument against the deal. It’s an argument for it.

4. MD: In fact, the starting point is that the Iranians want hegemony in the region, and they’re reading American policy with respect to their regional aspirations. The goal of Iran’s nuclear weapons program is not to defend against the United States or Israel — it’s to advance its regional agenda.

That’s right, and it is also a very good reason for halting Iran before it gets nuclear weapons. Again: a very good argument for the deal.

5. MD: I’m in favor of a vigorous containment program across the board, and I’m also in favor of a policy that says we have all options on the table and we mean it. The president says all options are on the table, but he doesn’t actually mean it, and I think we should mean it.

This confidence that his opponents know better than what the president says is laughable. The debate over destroying the Iranian nuclear program has clarified the limited gains it would provide: only two or three years of setback and an enormous incentive for Iran to redouble its efforts. But the notion that showing resolution by sabre-rattling would improve the prospects for a good deal is simply wrong.

6. MD: For a time the Iranians certainly believed all options were on the table. They abandoned their weaponization program, or they put it on hold, in 2003. Well, what happened in 2003? The United States went into Iraq, and I think they were probably very concerned at that point about all options being on the table.

The Iranians were concerned then about an American invasion, which is no longer a viable threat no matter who is president. But they spent the rest of the Bush Administration building and spinning thousands of more centrifuges, a fact Mike conveniently forgets.

7. MD: The very process of the negotiation is destroying the sanctions regime we established, which is the greatest nonmilitary instrument we have for coercing them. 

This is laughable. The process of negotiation is absolutely vital to building and maintaining the multilateral sanctions regime. Without negotiations, the Europeans, Russians and Chinese would not be on board for sanctions.

8. MD: Iran’s status in the international community is going to be greatly improved, and then there’s going to be an international commercial lobby and a diplomatic-military lobby, which includes the Chinese and the Russians, in favor of the new order in which Iran is a citizen in good standing in the international community that they can do business with.

This is true, but misleading. That “international commercial lobby” already exists. If no agreement is reached, the sanctions are mincemeat. The notion that we can continue to hold on to them indefinitely is nonsense.

9. MD: The key question in that regard is, “When did he start to see Iran as a partner in Iraq?”

When the whole question of the status of forces agreement in Iraq was alive in 2010, [former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon] Panetta and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus and everybody are saying, “Keep forces on the ground in Iraq,” and the president had a different inclination. Well, if the United States is not going to be directly involved in Iraq, then who is going to protect our interests and protect stability in Iraq? And I think that, although he’s never admitted this, he assumed the Iranians would play that role for him.

I would say it was the Bush invasion of Iraq that gave Iran its big opening in Iraq. But leaving that aside: George W. Bush, not Barack Hussein Obama, negotiated the agreement for the complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. It was signed before he left office. What Mike is talking about here is an attempt to renegotiate that agreement, which the Obama Administration did pursue. But the Iraqis weren’t willing to give the US juridiction over its troops in Iraq and we weren’t willing to stay without it.

10. MD: If the Iranian regime — and I do believe they are rational — were truly put before the choice, if Ali Khamenei was put before a choice of “Your nuclear program or absolutely crippling, debilitating economic sanctions,” he would think twice. I think if he were put before a choice of “Your nuclear program or severe military strikes,” he would think twice.

So how do you get those crippling economic sanctions, whichc have to be multilateral, if you are not also negotiating with Iran? Absolutely no realistic proposal.

Here at last, the true agenda: get us into war with Iran, but note no mention of the only temporary setback to the Iranian nuclear program (and consequently the need to intervene repeatedly every couple of years), no mention of the likelihood the Iranians would redouble the efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, no consideration of the impact on the world economy, or secondary consequences (relations with China, Russia, the Europeans, Iranian responses in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, maybe also Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE).

Here is the kicker: if you really want to go to war with Iran, you’ll be much better off doing it because they violated an agreement than just doing it. So a nuclear deal is a good idea if that is your objective as well.

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