Peace picks is back, courtesy of newly arrived Middle East Institute intern Adam Friend:
- Pakistan, America, and Extremism: The Path Ahead | Tuesday, January 16 | 10:00 am – 12:00 pm | Brookings Institution | Register here | As the United States intensifies its pressure on Pakistan to take action against terrorist groups, the country is facing challenges from many sides. With elections set for the country in 2018, turbulence is likely to persist. The Global Economy and Development program and the Foreign Policy program at Brookings will convene a panel of experts to discuss extremism in Pakistan and its broader implications across the region and world. Panelists include: Madiha Afzal, nonresident fellow at Brookings and adjunct assistant professor of global policy at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, and author of the newly released “Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State” (Brookings, 2018); Bruce Riedel, senior fellow at Brookings, and author of “Deadly Embrace” (Brookings, 2012); and Brookings Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon, who will moderate and add his perspective as well.
- Iran Protests: Consequences for the Region and Opportunities for the Trump Administration | Tuesday, January 16 | 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm | Hudson Institute | Register here | Recent unrest in Iran has led to fierce confrontations between security personnel and protesters. Demonstrations have spread quickly across the country, further undermining the legitimacy of the Rouhani regime. Key upcoming policy decisions regarding U.S. sanctions and the certification of the Iran nuclear deal will set the tone for the Trump Administration’s policy towards Iran. Hudson Institute will host a discussion assessing the policy options available to contain and curtail Iran’s influence in the region and the potential consequences of inaction. The panel will consist of Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; Charles Lister, Senior Fellow and Director of Counter-Extremism & Counter-Terrorism at the Middle East Institute; Omri Ceren, Managing Director of Press and Strategy at The Israel Project; and Hudson Senior Fellow Michael Pregent. The discussion will be moderated by Joyce Karam, the Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Hayat newspaper. This event will also be live streamed onHudson’s homepage.
- Religion and Countering Violent Extremism | Wednesday, January 17 | 9:00 am – 10:30 am |United States Institute of Peace | Register here | Both research and experience make clear that the spread of violent extremism is driven not by religion but by poor governance, injustices, and the radicalization of people who see no future for themselves. But extremists use religious ideas—whether from the traditions of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or other faiths—as tools to encourage radicalization and violence. How can policymakers and practitioners working to counter violent extremism best ally with religions, their institutions and their people? This forum will offer recommendations from a recent USIP Special Reporton this question. With speakers Peter Mandaville (Professor of International Affairs at George Mason University), Robin Simcox (Margaret Thatcher Fellow at the Heritage Foundation), and Ann Wainscott (American Academy of Religion Senior Fellow at U.S. Institute of Peace), moderated by Melissa Nozell (Senior Program Specialist at U.S. Institute of Peace).
- Promoting Peace During Conflict in Ukraine and Myanmar: Women’s Roles and Strategies | Wednesday, January 17 | 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm | The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace & Security and the Embassy of Sweden (hosted at Georgetown University) | Register here | Launching new research from the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace & Security: “Women’s Peacebuilding Strategies Amidst Conflict: Lessons from Myanmar and Ukraine.” Featuring remarks by Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter, Ambassador of Sweden, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Director GIWPS, Ambassador William Taylor, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine (2006-2009), and Ambassador Derek Mitchell, U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar (2012-2016). Refreshments provided.
- Yemen: National Chaos, Local Order | Thursday, January 18 | 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm | The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington | Register here | In his latest paper, “Yemen: National Chaos, Local Order,” Peter Salisbury challenges much of the conventional wisdom regarding the Yemen civil war, including the focus of the U.N.-led mediation on two principal adversaries, namely the government of exiled President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the (now collapsed) alliance between the Houthis and deceased former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Instead, Salisbury offers a remapping of key local and regional stakeholders and examines the prospects for peace, offering a new long-term approach to ending the crisis and engaging in state building and economic reconstruction. AGSIW is pleased to host Peter Salisbury for a discussion of his paper and other issues impacting the continuing conflict in Yemen, with discussant Gerald M. Feierstein (Director of Gulf Affairs and Government Relations, Middle East Institute), moderated by Stephen A. Seche (Executive Vice President, AGSIW). A light lunch will be served.
- Iranian Protests and US Policy on Iran | Thursday, January 18 | 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm | SETA Foundation at Washington DC | Register here | What kind of an impact can the US have on the unfolding events in Iran? How will the US-Iran relationship be defined in the Trump era given the president’s advocacy for more economic sanctions against Iran? How might regional dynamics be affected and how will regional actors adjust to the new Iran policy under President Trump? Please join the SETA Foundation at Washington DC for a discussion with a panel of distinguished experts on the regional implications of the Iranian protests, and the future of the Trump administration’s Iran policy. Featuring speakers Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, Barbara Slavin, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative, Alex Vatanka, Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute, and Kadir Ustun, Executive Director at the SETA Foundation at Washington DC, along with moderator Kilic B. Kanat, Research Director at the SETA Foundation at Washington DC.
- Iran Looks East | Friday, January 19 | 9:00 am – 1:30 pm | Atlantic Council | Register here | The Future of Iran Initiativeand The Iran Project invite you to “Iran Looks East,” a major conference on Iran’s evolving economic and strategic relationships. As implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) marks its second anniversary, Iran is increasingly, if reluctantly, looking to Asia for trade and investment. At the same time, Iran also appears to be cementing a strategic partnership with Russia to stabilize Syria and to improve its leverage against threatened actions by Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States. Participants in the conference include William Luers of the Iran Project, Barbara Slavin of the Future of Iran Initiative, Sumitha Narayanan Kutty of Nanyang Technological University, Wu Bingbing of Peking University, Sachi Sakanashi of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, Theodore Karasik of the Gulf State Analytics and the Lexington Institute, Eugene Rumer of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, and Maxim Suchkov of Al-Monitor, with panels moderated by Bharath Gopalaswamy of the Atlantic Council and Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to Russia and former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. The Hon. Stuart Eizenstat will deliver opening remarks.
- The Syrian Opposition in 2018 | Friday, January 19 | 12:15 pm – 1:45 pm | New America | Register here | Ever since the Arab Spring protests broke out in Syria in 2011, the ensuing conflict between the government of Bashar al-Assad and Syrian opposition groups has gone through numerous shifts. With the fall of ISIS’ territorial holdings in the east of the country, advances by Syrian forces, and a new administration in the United States transforming the Syrian conflict, where does the Syrian opposition stand in 2018? New America is pleased to welcome Osama Abu Zayd, a spokesman and representative of the Free Syrian Army to discuss these issues, with the conversation moderated by Peter Bergen, Vice President of New America and Director of its International Security Program. Zayd has been a member of the Track 1 delegations at negotiations in Geneva and Astana, representing the Syrian opposition bilaterally and with transnational bodies such as the EU and UN.
Is America stronger after 11 months of Donald Trump or not?
It is demonstrably weaker, mainly because of his diplomatic moves and non-moves, but also because Trump has done nothing to reduce American military commitments and a good deal to expand them. Let me enumerate:
The diplomatic front:
- Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) early in the game. The remaining negotiating partners have X-ed out the provisions the US wanted on labor and environmental protection and are preparing to proceed, without American participation. TPP was America’s ace in the Asia Pacific.
- He is withdrawing as well from the Paris Climate Change accord. That is also proceeding without the US, which will be unable to affect international deliberations on climate change unless and until it rejoins.
- He has withdrawn from UNESCO, which excludes the US from participation in a lot of cultural, scientific and educational endeavors.
- He hasn’t announced withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but the negotiations on revising it are thought to be going very badly, mainly because of excessive US demands.
- He has refused to certify that the Iran nuclear deal is in the US interest, which is so patently obvious that the Republican-controlled Congress is making no moves to withdraw from it.
- His ill-framed appeal to the Saudis to halt financing of terrorists has precipitated a dramatic split among US allies within the Gulf Cooperation Council.
- Through his son-in-law he encouraged the Saudis to try to try to depose Lebanon’s prime minister and embargo Qatar, making the prime minister more popular than ever and shifting Doha’s allegiance to Iran.
- He has continued American support for the Saudi/Emirati war effort in Yemen, while at the same time the State Department has called for an end to the Saudi/Emirati blockade due to the humanitarian crisis there.
- His decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, undermined his own peace initiative, and obstructed the rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia he hoped for.
- He has done nothing to counter Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and Syria, or Russia’s position in Syria and Ukraine.
- He initially embraced Turkey’s now President Erdogan but has watched helplessly while Turkey tarnishes its democratic credentials and drifts into the Russian orbit.
- He has also embraced other autocrats: Philippine President Duterte, China’s President Xi, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to name only three.
- He has failed to carry the banner of American values and preferred instead transactional relationships that have so far produced nothing substantial for the US.
The military front:
- Use of drones is way up.
- So is deployment of US troops in Europe, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, not to mention ships and planes in the Asia Pacific.
- The Islamic State, while retreating in Syria and Iraq, is advancing in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda are also holding their own.
- Allies are hesitating to pitch in, because the president is erratic. Japan, South Korea, and the Europeans are hedging because the US can no longer be relied on.
- The US continues to back the Saudi and Emirati campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, precipitating a massive humanitarian crisis.
- Cyberthreats to the US, including its elections, have increased, without any counter from the administration.
- Promises that North Korea would not be allowed to develop a missile that could strike the US have gone unfulfilled, and Trump did nothing effective once it accomplished that goal.
- Military options against North Korea, which are all that Trump seems to be interested in, will bring catastrophic results not only for Koreans but also for US forces stationed there and in the region.
- Russia continues to occupy part of Ukraine, with no effective military or diplomatic response by the US, and Moscow continues its aggressive stance near the Baltics, in the North Sea, in the Arctic, and in the Pacific.
The diplomatic record is one of almost unmitigated failure and ineffectiveness, apart from new UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea. The military record is more mixed: ISIS is defeated on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, but that is a victory well foreshadowed in the previous administration. It is also far from reassuring, since ISIS will now go underground and re-initiate its terrorist efforts. None of the other military pushes has done more than hold the line. Anyone who expected Trump to withdraw from excessive military commitments should be very disappointed. Anyone who expects him to be successful diplomatically without a fully staffed and empowered State Department is deluded.
The US is more absent diplomatically than present, and more present militarily than effective. We are punching well below our weight. This should be no surprise: the State Department is eviscerated and the Pentagon is exhausted. Allies are puzzled. Adversaries are taking advantage.
Where will we be after another three years of this?
- Trump’s Jerusalem Decision: Implications and Consequences | Monday, December 11 | 11:00 am – 12:00 pm | Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars (event will be held by phone) | Register Here | President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel carries profound consequences for U.S. policy, relations with the Arab world, the international community, and the pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Join us as three veteran observers and analysts of the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli arena analyze and interpret the change in U.S. policy and its consequences for the region. (Toll Free #: 888-942-8140; Conference #: 1-517-308-9203; Conference Passcode: 13304). Speakers will include H.E. Dr. Husam Zomlot, Chief Representative of the PLO General Delegation to the United States, Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Horovitz of the Times of Israel, and moderator Aaron David Miller. The Wilson Center’s Jane Harman will introduce the event.
- Beyond Stock-Taking: The Path Ahead to a Global Compact for Migration | Monday, December 11 | 11:00 am – 12:00 pm | Migration Policy Institute (event will be a webinar) | Register Here | Representatives of national governments, UN agencies, and key civil-society organizations convened in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico this week to take stock of the progress that has been made towards conceptualizing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM). Formal negotiations will begin in January to fulfill the commitment made at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2016 by Member States to negotiate a Global Compact for Migration by the end of 2018—a task that was complicated with the decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from the further consultations. To reflect on the latest developments and the outcomes of the stocktaking meeting, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) will host a discussion with Eva Åkerman Börje, Senior Policy Advisor in the office of the UN Special Representative for International Migration, and Ilse Hahn, Head of Division on Policy Issues of Displacement and Migration, from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The discussion, moderated by MPI Senior Fellow Kathleen Newland, will also draw on the conclusions of a recently published MPI policy brief, The Global Compact for Migration: How Does Development Fit In?
- Jerusalem: The Fatal Blow to Trump’s “Ultimate Deal”? | Tuesday, December 12 | 9:30 – 11:00 am | Arab Center Washington DC (held at the National Press Club) | Register Here | Arab Center Washington DC will convene a panel of Middle East scholars to discuss the recent announcement by President Trump declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Speakers will include Perry Cammack of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Zaha Hassan of New America, Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, and moderator Khalil Jahshan of the Arab Center Washington DC.
- The Geneva Process: Toward a Political Solution in Syria | Tuesday, December 12 | 12:30 – 2:00 pm | Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research (SETA Foundation) | Register Here | The establishment of four deconfliction zones through the Astana process, backed by Russia, Iran, and Turkey, has led to the restarting of the UN-backed Geneva process. In the latest round of peace talks in Geneva, there are few signs that a constructive engagement is taking place. The Assad regime’s delegation walked out of the meetings on Friday as the opposition has maintained its position that Assad play no role in any future post-conflict government. Both the US and Turkey support the Geneva process to end the conflict, but competing interests between the regime and the opposition as well as external actors with varied goals promise further uncertainty about the fate of the talks. While the fall of ISIS’ last stronghold in Raqqa signifies a turning point, many experts have pointed out the continued threat posed by the terror group not only to a peace settlement in Syria but to regional stability as well. As the anti-ISIS campaign winds down, it is not clear what will happen to the US-supported “local partners,” such as the PYD, given Turkey’s strong opposition to their inclusion in the Geneva talks. While all main actors agree that the only resolution to the civil war is a political one, it remains unclear whether the Geneva process will provide the necessary platform to reconcile differences between the regime and the opposition as well as among the external actors. Please join us for a discussion with a panel of distinguished experts on the future of the Geneva peace process and how a political resolution in Syria might be reached. Speakers will include Mona Yacoubian of the U.S. Institute of Peace, Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hassan Hassan of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, and Kadir Ustun of the SETA Foundation. Kilic Kanat of the SETA Foundation will moderate.
- Yemen: A Country in Crisis | Tuesday, December 12 | 12:30 pm | Council on Foreign Relations | Register Here | The “What to Do About…” series highlights a specific issue and features experts who will put forward competing analyses and policy prescriptions in a mock high-level U.S. government meeting. This event will feature Gerald M. Feierstein of the Middle East Institute, Mary Beth Long of Global Alliance Advisors, LLC, and Stephen Seche of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
- The Implications of Trump’s Jerusalem Decision | Thursday, December 14 | 12:00 – 1:30 pm | Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research (SETA Foundation) | Register Here | On December 6, President Trump announced that “it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” He added that the State Department would now prepare to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The announcement provoked near universal opposition and condemnation around the world and triggered protests and clashes in the region. East Jerusalem has been under Israeli occupation since 1967 and the Trump administration’s move is a departure from the decades-old US position to leave the status of Jerusalem to the final negotiations in the now defunct peace process. While President Trump made a reference to the two-state solution in his speech and the administration is expected to put forward its own peace plan, the Jerusalem announcement appears to complicate the prospects of peace. Where does this decision leave the prospects of a two-state solution? Can the US still play a constructive role in achieving lasting peace? What are the implications for US interests in the region? Please join us for a discussion with a panel of distinguished experts on the future of the peace process as well as the regional and global implications of President Trump’s Jerusalem decision. Speakers will include Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Ilan Goldenberg of the Center for a New American Security, Joyce Karam of Al-Hayat and The National, independent author and news analyst Mark Perry, and moderator Kilic Kanat of the SETA Foundation.
- Private Sector Engagement in Afghanistan | Monday, November 27 | 1:00 – 3:00 pm | Center for Strategic and International Studies | Register Here | Private sector development in Afghanistan is a crucial topic for U.S engagement in the region. Between 2002 and 2010, about 57 billion US dollars of official development assistance (ODA) was disbursed to Afghanistan for purposes of reconstruction and development. More recently, the Trump administration committed to extending the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan into the foreseeable future. Military resources alone cannot achieve U.S. foreign policy goals in Afghanistan: it is important to look at the role that the private sector plays in consolidating Afghanistan’s future prosperity and growth. Afghanistan is doing well in fiscal policy, inflation, access to credit, and some aspects of human capital investment (i.e., health expenditures and primary education expenditures). However, to promote private sector growth, Afghanistan needs to tackle political rights, fight corruption, uphold the rule of law, build effective governance, and reform business regulations, to name a few. Fostering a solid private sector in Afghanistan is important for long-term sustainable growth and improving the quality of life for its citizens. Leveraging the private sector to build a robust economic foundation in Afghanistan is a necessary and timely discussion. Panelists will include Gregory Huger of USAID, Mozhgan Wafiq of the Afghanistan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Jeffrey Grieco of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce, and Hussein Ali Mahrammi of Federation of Afghanistan’s Craftsmen and Traders. They will be joined by CSIS’s Romina Bandura, Earl Anthony Wayne, and Daniel F. Runde.
- What’s Next for Lebanon? | Wednesday, November 29 | 1:00 – 2:30 pm | Arab Center Washington DC (held at the National Press Club) | Register Here | Join us to discuss the implications of the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the increased belligerent rhetoric against Iran and Hezbollah by Saudi Arabia. This event will feature Joseph Bahout of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Joe Macaron of the Arab Center Washington DC, and Paul Salem of the Middle East Institute.
- Raqqa After the Islamic State: Governance Challenges in Post-ISIS Syria | Wednesday, November 29 | 10:00 – 11:30 am | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | With the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s hold on Syrian territory vastly diminished, the campaign to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) enters a new phase. The fall of Raqqa—the capital of ISIS’ self-proclaimed caliphate—marked a powerful strategic and symbolic loss for the extremist group. Yet the success of the counter-ISIS campaign will ultimately be determined not by battlefield wins, but instead by what follows. Please join the U.S. Institute of Peace to discuss the complex governance challenges in Raqqa and how the United States and the international community can constructively address them. In a recent USIP Special Report, Mona Yacoubian, senior advisor for Syria, the Middle East and North Africa at the Institute, examines the critical governance challenges in Raqqa after the Islamic State. Her report highlights the ethnic, tribal, and strategic complexities that will affect this new phase. To sustain security in the territories freed from ISIS, a broad approach to stabilization will be vital. That approach will have to ensure effective and inclusive governance that is responsive to the needs of the local population. This event’s speakers include Hassan Hassan of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, Nicholas A. Heras of the Center for a New American Security, Mona Yacoubian of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and moderator Sarhang Hamasaeed of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
- A Coming Storm? Shaping a Balkan Future in an Era of Uncertainty | Wednesday, November 29 | 9:00 am – 6:15 | Atlantic Council | Register Here | Although the Western Balkan region has made significant progress in its efforts to integrate into the wider transatlantic community, inspired and guided by its commitment to eventual membership in the European Union (EU), NATO, and other global institutions, that progress is now at risk. The conference will seek to generate new ideas and policy-relevant proposals to craft a way forward for the Balkan region, firmly embedded within the transatlantic community. This conference will engage the highest levels of transatlantic decision-makers, bringing together over 100 participants, ranging from regional leaders to decision-makers from both sides of the Atlantic and top experts in the field, to spotlight what is at stake and spur support for a reenergized Balkans policy in the United States in partnership with the European Union. The all-day event will include five panels and a keynote address.
- How to Help Vulnerable States Prevent Their Own Crises | Thursday, November 30 | 2:00 – 3:30 pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | The European Union recently has added a new priority to its foreign and defense policies: Help countries vulnerable to crisis build their resilience against catastrophic events, notably violent conflict, which has uprooted 65 million people worldwide. The EU’s shift is part of a growing global focus on the importance of preventing civil war and its devastation. The United Nations, World Bank and U.S. government are among the organizations taking up this agenda. On November 30, USIP gathers U.S., European and World Bank officials to discuss how governments and international organizations can better coordinate the implementation of this broad new approach to halting violent conflicts. The European Union issued its new framework for policy this year as the World Bank and United Nations are completing a broad study on ways to catalyze the international community to better prevent violent conflicts. Concurrently, the State Department and other U.S. agencies are reviewing the United States’ efforts to help states struggling for stability in the face of warfare. As governments and international organizations improve these strategies, where are the obstacles to better coordination? Christian Leffler of the European Union will open this discussion by laying out the new EU policy framework. Other speakers will include Nancy Lindborg of the US Institute of Peace, Franck Bosquet of the World Bank, Raphael Carland of the State Department, and moderator Joe Hewitt of the US Institute of Peace.
- Public Opinion in a Conflicted Middle East | Thursday, November 30 | 12:00 – 1:30 | Middle East Institute | Register Here | The Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Arab American Institute (AAI) are pleased to host James Zogby (AAI and Zogby Research Services) for the presentation of fresh polling results from across Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran, and Turkey. The report examines opinions from 7,800 respondents about the U.S. and other regional states’ roles in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. It also looks at Trump Administration policy, political Islam, prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Iran nuclear deal, and the region’s refugee crisis. Joining Dr. Zogby to discuss the poll findings will be Yousef Munayyer (MEI & U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights), Barbara Slavin (Atlantic Council; Al-Monitor), and Gönül Tol (MEI). MEI senior vice president Paul Salem will moderate the event. The poll and resulting report were commissioned by the Sir Bani Yas Forum, convened annually in the United Arab Emirates on the initiative of H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the U.A.E. Foreign Minister. The findings are being made available for use by the public.
Atheer Ahmed Kakan of the (Turkish) Anadolu Agency asked questions last week. I replied:
1. What do you think of Trump policy in the Middle East right now?
A: Trump policy in the Middle East seems calculated to push back hard on Iran, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but it is having perverse effects. The war in Yemen is going badly, the blockade of Qatar has driven Doha closer to Tehran and Ankara, and the forced resignation of Saad Hariri has united Lebanon against the Kingdom. Ironically, Trump has done nothing to push back against Iran or its proxies in Syria.
2. What do you have to say about Saudis new developments? Adopting “moderate version of Islam”? Attacking Iran publicly? Aligning with Israel against Iran? Re-engaging with Iraq?
A: No one I know would object to the Kingdom advocating for more moderate Islam. Re-engaging with Iraq is also a good idea. Mouthing off against Iran is not. I’m not sure how far the alignment with Israel is really going to go.
3. What do you think the consequences of Trump letting Saudis hand in the MidEast? Are we witnessing Saudi-Iranian war? New civil war in Lebanon? New opened war in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon beside Yemen?
A: I trust cooler heads will prevent some of those things from happening, but there are a lot of risks. The Kingdom needs to assess its own capabilities and align its actions with those. Hotheadedness doesn’t win wars, or peace.
A colleague yesterday told me not to worry about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) overreaching in his effort to push back against Iran. The Saudis, he said, will talk a good line but not really do anything. They are too lazy.
That is little comfort and not accurate. MbS has launched a now more than two-year war in Yemen against the Iranian-supported Houthis, a diplomatic offensive against Qatar that aims (among other things) to break its good rapport with Iran, and the purported resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri, whom the Saudis think too tolerant of Iran’s Hizbollah proxies. The United States appears to have greenlighted all these moves, the first under President Obama and the second and third under President Trump.
The net effect so far is not good. Iran, through Hizbollah, will own Lebanon, whether Hariri returns there or not. Qatar is weathering the Saudi blockade with the aid of the Turks and Iranians. Doha is arguably closer to Tehran now than it was before the Saudi initiative, though it continues to host a major US air base. The stalemated Yemen war has precipitated a massive humanitarian crisis throughout the country. MbS’s Washington-encouraged pushback against Iran is not working well.
Oddly, the one place neither the Washington nor Riyadh has pushed backed against Tehran is Syria. The US has assiduously tried to avoid conflict there with Syrian government forces, the Russians, and Iranian proxies, firing on them only when they appear to be getting ready to attack US or US-supported forces. Riyadh has organized, and is getting ready to re-organize, the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee, but the Kingdom’s military support to the opposition is fading, along with that of the Americans. Even Russian promises to keep Hizbollah far from the border with Israel appear to be evaporating.
The sad fact is that Saudi Arabia is a weak reed for the US to lean on. The Kingdom has purchased an astounding quantity of US and other weapons but has little capability to use them effectively. Financially strapped due to lowered oil prices, MbS is rushing to conduct long-overdue domestic reforms under the rubric Vision 2030, as well as an anti-corruption campaign that has the added virtue of eliminating some of his rivals. Even if thoroughly and assiduously implemented, the main positive effects of these domestic initiatives are a decade or more in the future.
Besides, reform plans in Saudi Arabia have a long history of getting stuck in the desert sand. Trying to do too many things at once will guarantee that some of them suffer that fate. And attacking Iran in peripheral places like Qatar, Lebanon, and Yemen may cause suffering to their populations but is unlikely to cause the Islamic Republic much heartburn. Tehran could suffer setbacks in all three without minding all that much. It is Syria that really matters to Iran, which is why it has sent its best there: the Quds Force and Hizbollah. Confronting them in Syria would be a lot more meaningful than the sum of all the Saudi initiatives elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the Iranians are also escalating. Despite Tehran’s denial, Bahrain claims Iran was behind a gas pipeline bombing last week, the Iranians backed Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi’s successful offensive against Kurdistan, and they are pushing their proxies to establish the much-coveted “land bridge” from the Iranian border through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. If the Trump Administration has a regional strategy to push back against Iran, it is not working. MbS has overreached, to no good effect.