Tag: United States

Peace picks October 23 – 27

  1. Countering Violent Extremism: Qatar, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood | Monday, October 23 | 11:30 am – 5:15 pm | Hudson Institute (held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center) | Register Here | This full-day event includes two keynote addresses, the first by Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and the second by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, as well as two panels titled “Sinews of Terrorism – Communications, Funding, and Ideological Support” and “New Dynamism in Congress.” General David H. Petraeus, formerly of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Ambassador Hussain Haqqani will also speak at the event.
  2. The Future of Orthodox Christianity in Syria and America | Tuesday, October 24 | 12:00 – 1:30 pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | Over the last two thousand years, the Church of Antioch has played a major role in the formation and development of Christian theology and philosophy. Today the Church is facing tremendous challenges in its native homeland, Syria. Six years after the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the country is in ruins and millions of its citizens have become refugees or are internally displaced within Syria. The ongoing war has flamed sectarian tensions that threaten the existence of Christianity in one of its earliest locations. Though suffering at home, the Church of Antioch is flourishing abroad with a growing congregation in the United States. What place do Christians and the Antiochian Church have in the future of Syria? What role has the Church played in humanitarian assistance to the millions in need? Why is Orthodoxy finding renewed appeal in Western countries? For answers to these and many other questions regarding the future of Orthodox Christianity in Syria and America, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom will host a conversation with His Beatitude, John X, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, and His Eminence, Metropolitan Joseph, Metropolitan of All North America and Archbishop of New York. Hudson Senior Fellow Samuel Tadros will moderate the conversation.
  3. Tunisia’s Corruption Contagion | Wednesday, October 25 | 12:00 – 2:30 pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here | Corruption in Tunisia is perceived to be even more pervasive today than under former president Zine el Abidine ben Ali, despite numerous legal measures and civil society initiatives working to fight it. In their upcoming Carnegie paper, “Tunisia’s Corruption Contagion: A Transition at Risk,” Sarah Yerkes and Marwan Muasher argue that corruption has become endemic, as more and more people engage in and benefit from corrupt practices. For the democratic transition to survive, Tunisia must simultaneously address the kleptocracy of the previous regime and the emergence of widespread petty corruption. Can Tunisia’s government and civil society win this fight? Yassine Brahim will provide keynote remarks, and Chaima Bouhlel and Safwan Masri will join Carnegie’s Sarah Yerkes in a discussion of the paper’s findings moderated by Marwan Muasher. Tunisian Ambassador to the United States Fayçal Gouia will provide closing remarks. A light lunch will be served at 12:00 p.m. The discussion will begin at 12:30 p.m.
  4. Trump and the Arab World: First Year Assessment and Policy Recommendations | Thursday, October 26 | 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | Arab Center DC (held at JW Marriott Washington DC) | Register Here | The Arab Center’s second annual conference will begin with an opening keynote titled “US Policy in the Arab World: An Arab Perspective given by Tarek Mitri of the American University of Beirut and will consist of four panels. The first panel, “What Arabs Want: Arab Public Opinion and US Policy,” will feature panelists Tamara Kharroub of the Arab Center DC, Dalia Mogahed of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland- College Park. The second, “US Policy and Political and Economic Challenges in the Arab World” will include Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, Perry Cammack of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hani Findakly of Potomac Capital, and Najib Ghadbian of the University of Arkansas and Special Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the US. The panel will be moderated by Dina Khoury of George Washington University. The third panel is titled “US-Gulf Relations and US Policy in the Arabian Gulf,” and moderator Khalid Al-Jaber of Qatar University will be joined by Abdullah Baabood of Qatar University, Sheila Carapico of the University of Richmond, David Des Roches of the National Defense University, and Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council. The final panel, “US Policy Recommendations in the Arab World” will feature Marwan Kabalan of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Rami Khouri of the American University of Beirut, Ibrahim Fraihat of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Ellen Laipson of George Mason University, and will be moderated by Laurie King of Georgetown University.
  5. Public Perspectives Toward Democracy | Thursday, October 26 | 12:30 pm | Council on Foreign Relations | Register Here | Panelists discuss global public opinion towards democracy amid the rise of populists and autocrats, and the implications for the future of democracy and U.S. foreign policy. Speakers include Stewart M. Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations, Ken Wollack of the National Democratic Institute, and Katie Simmons of the Pew Research Center.
  6. The Path Forward on Iran: Contain, Enforce, Engage | Thursday, October 26 | 11:00 am – 12:00 pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register Here |  What comes next after President Donald Trump’s decision not to recertify the Iran nuclear deal? Experts from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for a New American Security offer a suggested way ahead in a new joint report: Contain, Enforce, and Engage: An Integrated U.S. Strategy to Address Iran’s Nuclear and Regional Challenges. Carnegie President William J. Burns will introduce the report, and Carnegie’s Jen Psaki will moderate a discussion with some of the report’s authors. Speakers include Ariel E. Levite and Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as well as Ilan Goldenberg and Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Center for a New American Security.
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Imperatives of elected leadership

My first DCM and still friend, H. Allen Holmes (Foreign Service types will recognize the significance of a first deputy chief of mission in a diplomat’s life) writes:

Charlottesville on August 12 was not the first occasion when senior elected officials were expected to assert moral, political and constitutional authority in the face of illegal behavior by white supremacists openly carrying firearms. In thinking about the leadership challenge at Charlottesville, I recalled what my grandfather faced in Kansas when serving as Governor in 1918-1922.

In mid-1921 the Ku Klux Klan penetrated Kansas, organizing local klaverns and spreading their special animus toward Catholics. Given their skill at recruitment—which led to as many as 200,000 Kansas Kluxers by the mid-1920s—Kansas Governor Henry J. Allen described the Klan as “un-American and perniciously founded upon racial and religious prejudices,” and warned that the state would punish any Klan interference with legal processes.

Governor Allen’s first serious clash with the “Invisible Empire” happened when it announced an initiation ceremony of several hundred members in Arkansas City, where mounted horsemen in KKK regalia would lead the new members to erect a fiery cross on a hill just outside town. Allen objected to the Klan demonstration on grounds that it would menace the peace of the town, and notified local officials that he would send troops to stop the parade if necessary. He added that there would be serious consequences if they ignored his orders. The Klan backed down and canceled. Three days later Allen proclaimed wearing masks on Kansas streets illegal on the grounds that such displays created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

According to Patrick O’Brien writing in the Kansas History Quarterly, Allen’s fight with the Klan escalated into a “declaration of war” on October 16, 1922, when the Catholic mayor of Liberty staggered into town with his body a mass of cuts and welts administered by 13 masked Klansmen warning him to keep quiet about the Klan or risk being tarred and feathered.

Allen said “Kansas never has tolerated the idea that any group may take the law in its own hands and she is not going to tolerate it now”. Later, Allen lamented in a campaign speech that the KKK had “introduced into Kansas the greatest curse that can come to any civilized people—the curse that arises out of unrestrained passions of men governed by religious intolerance and racial hatred”.

Finally, on October 30, 1922, Kansas Attorney General Richard Hopkins, executing Governor Allen’s promise of legal prosecution, drafted an injunction to stop Klan recruiting. Three weeks later, Hopkins filed a petition with the Kansas Supreme Court charging the Klan with being a foreign corporation operating in the state without a charter and engaging in civil disruption. When the court rendered its opinion in January 1925, Kansas became the first state to legally oust the Invisible Empire. Even more significant, the Kansas legislature defeated a bill the next month that would have compelled granting a charter to the Klan. On February 28, 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court conclusively settled the controversy when it refused to hear the Klan’s appeal.

In view of today’s crisis, the Kansas story provides good examples of what can be averted when a strong executive acts early and with sustained conviction to protect decency and constitutional principles. My grandfather Allen’s actions were not always supported by the Kansas electorate since there were Protestant groups in many towns across Kansas which were strongly anti-Catholic. Nonetheless, by continuously asserting his fundamental views in public and supporting them in his newspaper, the Wichita Beacon, Allen defeated the Klan’s ambitions in Kansas. In addition, this story demonstrates what can be accomplished when the other two branches of government, the legislature and the courts, carry out their constitutional responsibilities.

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Apologize and resign

John Kelly’s lied about Congresswoman Wilson’s remarks at an FBI building dedication. He claimed she bragged about calling President Obama to get funding for the building and that she ignored the FBI agents whose deaths led to their names being inscribed on the building. Both points were demonstrably untrue.

The White House thinks we shouldn’t quarrel with Kelly because he is a four-star general. The non-Trump world has begged to differ: he is a civilian now, but even as a general there would be no reason not to question his veracity. There is only reason to expect Kelly to measure himself by military standards of honor. He has dishonored himself and needs to fix it.

He should either apologize, publicly and unequivocally, or resign. An apology won’t do much good for Congresswoman Wilson or the family of the slain soldier whose reaction to President Trump’s phone call she accurately described: he seemed insensitive to them, which should have been enough to keep Kelly’s mouth shut on the subject. But an apology would at least demonstrate Kelly’s ability to evaluate himself against an objective standard of truth.

The other possibility is that he resign. Many people will hesitate to call for that, since they see Kelly as a bulwark against Trump’s worst instincts. I doubt that. He has let his own reactionary views be known: he is anti-feminist, anti-abortion, and anti-immigrant. His behavior towards a black Congresswoman, without ever mentioning her name, also suggests that he is a racist (call it white supremacist or white nationalist if you prefer). Kelly is more likely an enabler of Trump’s worst instincts than a bulwark against them.

I’d prefer he resign, thus restoring a modicum of personal honor and stripping Trump of a prime advocate. Only when this Administration starts collapsing will we be able to forge a way out of the cul-de-sac it has taken America into. The departures so far have helped to strip a veneer of legitimacy from this president. But far more is needed to show it rotten to the core.

The fish rots from the head. Trump is an autocrat wannabe under the control of extremist donors: the radical tax plan intended to make the rich richer, the insistence on dismantling healthcare insurance for millions of people, the withdrawal from international agreements that benefit the United States, the threats of war and regime change against Iran and North Korea. These are not mainstream propositions. The speeches by President Obama and George W. Bush this week made clear that Trump is in no way heir to a genuine American tradition.

If Kelly continues to serve without apologizing, he will condemn himself to eternal association with Trump’s mendacity and radicalism. He should do himself, his reputation, and the nation a favor: apologize and resign.

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Dignity, but not in a good cause

I concede to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on all issues related to the procedures regarding American service people killed in action and how to handle condolence calls, presidential or other. If he thinks it is appropriate to mention that a dead soldier knew what he was getting into, so be it. He definitely knows better than I do.

But at about 7 minutes 20 seconds of this video, the dignified Kelly leaves his own area of expertise and goes political, criticizing a member of Congress and giving us a strong whiff of his own radical and reactionary views on American politics. I see no need to concede anything to him on that.

Kelly’s first excursion from things he knows about was a broadside against Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Florida) for listening in on the phone call. He simply ignored the factual circumstances: she happened to be in the family’s car when President Trump’s call was received. She was also a mentor to La David Johnson, the soldier killed, since his childhood. These were well-known facts when Kelly made his statement, so he chose to ignore them.

Then he waxes nostalgic: he bemoans the fact that women, the dignity of life, religion, and Gold Star families are no longer sacred. Women have appropriately asked when was that? When we weren’t allowed to become lawyers and doctors? When we were expected, no matter what our individual talents, to marry and stay home with children? The “dignity of life” is code for Kelly’s anti-abortion views, to which he is entitled. But they are distinctly political views that have nothing to do with the case at hand.

Kelly’s concern that “religion” is no longer sacred I find hard to fathom. Americans are a good deal more religious than their counterparts in other countries. It is true that anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim rhetoric and crime has increased, but somehow I don’t think that was what Kelly meant. He presumably was referring to the acceptance of things like same-sex marriage. As for Gold Star families, Kelly was clearly referring to Khizr Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention last year. That was for me a highlight: yes political, but appropriately so, in an appropriate circumstance. Mr. Khan is entitled to speak out for a candidate he favors and against one he opposes.

After this excursion into things once “sacred,” Kelly goes full-bore against Congresswoman Wilson, though he never names her. He calls her an “empty barrel” for allegedly bragging at the dedication of an FBI building to agents killed in service that she had been responsible for the necessary funding. This ad hominem attack is entirely inappropriate. As the Congresswoman is black, “empty barrel” will be heard by many as a gratuitous racial slur.

In the Q and A with the press, Kelly says he will take questions only from people who know a Gold Star family. That I interpret as code for wanting questions only from friendly forces, but of course there are lots of more liberal journalists who know Gold Star families as well. He then avoids answering the question why the troops killed in Niger were there. Instead he refers to an investigation into the precise circumstances of their deaths. That is not what the correspondent asked. Inability of a top administration official to explain why the troops were in Niger and what they were doing is appalling.

Kelly serves a president who avoided military service, by his own admission assaulted women, switched from pro-choice not long ago, shows not a trace of interest in religious devotion, gleefully accepts the support and counsel of white supremacists (aka racists), and has lied about what he said on the phone call in question. How does Kelly get up in the morning and put on all that dignity to serve such an unworthy master?

PS: So it turns out, Kelly was not telling the truth about what Wilson said at the FBI building dedication. The video shows she bragged about getting the building named quickly after the courageous fallen FBI agents, not about the funding. She paid ample attention to the fallen FBI agents and their courage, as well as to the courage of the law enforcement agents in the audience. Even those with dignity in this administration are unable to tell the truth.

PPS: Here now is the video of the relevant portion of Congresswoman Wilson’s remarks at the 2015 FBI dedication. No surprise. Kelly lied:

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Time to cut deals

I talked yesterday with some young, DC-based Kurds after yesterday’s Middle East Institute conference on Iraq here at SAIS. They are fried. The retaking of Kirkuk and other “disputed territories” by Baghdad has made them feel humiliated and furious. The split between President Barzani’s PDK and the PUK, whose peshmerga did not resist the Iraqi security forces, surprised and horrified them. The battle for Kirkuk may be lost, but they are expecting the war to continue.

I hope not. President Barzani miscalculated in holding the referendum. He thought it would consolidate his political hold on Kurdistan and lead to a negotiation with Baghdad, not a military push. He also miscalculated the international reaction, which has been almost universally negative. Only Israel has supported the referendum and an independent Kurdistan, which condemns the effort in most Middle Eastern eyes. Tehran and Ankara have vigorously opposed the referendum. Washington and Moscow have done likewise.

Going to war with Baghdad would be another colossal miscalculation on Barzani’s part. He wisely is indicating that he won’t do that. The reconstituted Iraqi security forces appear more than adequate to overpower the peshmerga, at least until they retreat into the mountains. But it would also be unwise for Baghdad to push its forces past the constitutional borders of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is foolishly what former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is urging. That would trigger an insurgency, throwing Iraq into even more chaos than it is suffering already in the aftermath of the successful campaign against ISIS. Iraq needs reconstruction and reconciliation, not a new rebellion.

Kurds are not going to give up the autonomy they won in Iraq’s 2005 constitution. Even in the disputed territories retaken by the Iraqi security forces governance may be extraordinarily difficult unless the KRG’s civilian authorities are allowed to return. Wisdom now lies with calming the situation, maintaining law and order as best can be done with local forces, and enabling both Baghdad and Erbil to go back to the negotiating table without losing face. Humiliation, especially on the basis of identity, is a powerful motive for violence and irredentism. A Kurdish rebellion in Iraq would be supported by Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iran. That’s the last thing Iraq needs now.

At yesterday’s conference, both Iraqi Ambassador Yasseen and Iranian Princeton professor Mousavian supported resolution of the disputed territories based on the Iraqi constitution. That is obviously easier said than done, since it has not in fact gotten done in 12 years. But it is still the best solution on offer: local referenda allowing the populations in different communities to decide whether they want to join the KRG or not. What has made that difficult is deciding who should be able to vote, because Arabization during the Saddam Hussein dictatorship and population movements since the American invasion could determine the outcome.

That is a soluble problem. Elections in territories that have been demographically engineered have become common in recent decades in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some combination of voter registration (outside the US usually done via the census) and absentee voting can be worked out. The main thing is to negotiate a compromise and proceed with it. That is true as well for other issues dividing Erbil and Baghdad, especially oil revenues and who can export oil with or without someone else’s permission. These are soluble problems that should no longer be allowed to fester. And Haider al Abadi is the most sympathetic prime minister the Kurds can hope to deal with in Baghdad. Making some deals with him before next year’s elections would be smart politics.

Iraq needs to settle its internal issues so that it can begin to play its proper role in helping the region to overcome more than a decade of war. American diplomacy should stand ready to help. It is time to cut deals.


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Kirkuk makes a big difference

Think of Kirkuk as the keystone that holds Iraq together. When the Kurds had it, they could claim possession of the oil resources as well as their cultural capital. Independence was a credible goal. Without it, independence is a pipe dream and maybe even a nightmare.

What caused the loss of Kirkuk, and now other disputed territories? There has so far been relatively little fighting. The peshmerga associated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), who held Kirkuk, apparently surrendered most of their positions. The PUK is aligned in part with Iran, which commanded at least some of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) that led the re-occupation of Kirkuk.

Iran is in fact a big winner from this latest military development, since it opposes Kurdistan independence vehemently. But so too do Turkey and the US. Sovereign states are loathe to see other sovereign states partitioned, not least because of fears for their own territorial integrity (Turkey and Iran) as well as their relations with the country in question (the US, Russia and others). Preserving the state structure in the Middle East is in fact one of the few things on which all the states there, and their foreign allies, agree.

The Kurdish independence referendum last month was a colossal miscalculation. KRG President Barzani tried to take advantage of his own momentary dominance in Kurdistan’s politics as well as the victory over ISIS to take what he saw as a giant step towards a goal he knows all Kurds share. But the PUK, Gorran and other political forces in Kurdistan were not happy to see Barzani get the credit and dissented from the process for preparing the referendum, which was shambolic to say the least. The foreign powers that count also objected. In this contest between national aspirations and geopolitics, the latter has won this round.

What now? Baghdad’s forces are apparently trying to restore their control to the situation in 2003, which means taking back most if not all of the so-called “disputed territories.” That might be a bridge too far, but in any event the main thing is to avoid bloodletting as much as possible, since that is what would make a bad situation more intractable. Baghdad already has in Kirkuk what it needs to block independence. What is needed now is to calm the situation and get Baghdad and Erbil back to the negotiating table, where they can discuss Kurdistan’s relationship with the rest of Iraq.

The retaking of Kirkuk and other disputed territories will strengthen Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi and weaken KRG President Barzani, though the latter may gain inside Iraqi Kurdistan if the PUK is blamed for the military debacle. Abadi has suffered from his predecessor Nour al Maliki’s political maneuvers and was thought to be at risk in elections that are supposed to be held next year. He will now be able to face down criticism from those who thought he was soft on the Kurds.

The KRG is appealing to the Americans to engage. Washington had apparently tried hard to prevent the referendum by doing so. The Kurds made a big mistake in not making sure that effort succeeded. The US may now engage, but with entirely different facts on the ground. While sympathetic to the Kurds and anxious to keep them fighting against the remnants of ISIS, no one in Washington can force Abadi to give up Kirkuk. To the contrary: the Americans will want to maintain as strong a relationship with Abadi as possible, to counter Iranian expanded influence in Baghdad.

Kirkuk makes a big difference.

PS: Lukman Faily, former Iraqi Ambassador in the US, seems to me to do a good job in this interview with Wolf Blitzer:

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