Month: June 2015

Grexit is no exit

Here is Greek Prime Minister Tsipras announcing Sunday his intention to default on the country’s International Monetary Fund obligations:

What? You didn’t hear the announcement? Welcome to the Greek hall of mirrors, where calling a referendum triggers default but is announced to the public as a necessary exercise in democracy, unjustifiably opposed by Eurocrats.

Timing isn’t everything in international affairs, but it does count. Had Tsipras wanted to go to a referendum, he needed to call it earlier than he did and schedule it in advance of the default deadline, which is today.

He is right, however, about fear. And Greeks have a lot to be afraid of. Their banks are closed and may never reopen in a euro-denominated economy. People are withdrawing as much as they can at ATMs. A “no” vote in the referendum will end Greece’s access to euros and force it to print drachmas again, which will plummet in value and impoverish the whole country. A “yes” vote may lead to fall of the government, an interim administration, and the austerity Tsipras was trying to avoid, with serious consequences for pensions and jobs.

I suppose Russia may come to the rescue with a big loan, but that is a fate I’m not sure I would wish on my worst enemy. Putin’s money comes freighted with conditions and cronyism. It also has to be paid back.

However this plays out, Greeks don’t get a way out of the predicament into which they have driven themselves. At best it will be years before a semblance of normality returns. Ordinary people who have worked hard and saved will pay the price. The politicians who created the problem and others who then failed to solve it will try to reap support from the resentment Greeks will justifiably feel. Greece may be leaving the euro (or not), but it has no way to leave its problems behind.

Grexit is no exit.


Tags : ,


Shpend Limoni at Pristina daily Gazeta Express asked some questions this morning about the defeat in the Kosovo parliament of the much-discussed proposal for a special court to prosecute some war crimes cases. Here in English are his questions and my replies:

Q: Kosovo rejected the creation of Special Court on yesterday’s vote in Parliament. US Ambassador Samantha Power a couple of days ago said that this issue would be a test for Kosovo leader’s credibility. Is there any consequence that Kosovo will face in the future?

A: Yes. At the very least, Kosovo will be seen as unwilling to administer justice to those who sullied the reputation of the Kosovo Liberation Army by committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and murder. For a country seeking international recognition and acceptance, that is not good.

There is nothing patriotic about such crimes—a Kosovo patriot should want to see the perpetrators brought to justice.

I hasten to add that it is not easy to do that. It is still too difficult for the Kosovo judicial system, which in any event has no jurisdiction over crimes committed in Albania. There is no realistic possibility of a serious prosecution in Kosovo.

Q: Prime Minister Mustafa and his Deputy Hashim Thaçi said that issue of Special Court would be on Kosovo Assembly agenda soon rejecting the creation of Tribunal by UN. Is it to late for Mustafa and Thaçi?

A: My understanding is that the constitutional amendment required failed to get a two-thirds majority by just five votes. That could change tomorrow if the political will can be found.

Q: US ambassador in Prishtina Tracey Ann Jacobson on here first reaction said that US won’t put veto against initiatives to establish a Tribunal under UN mandate. Do you think such Tribunal will be imposed?

A: Foreign Minister Thaçi said it well in Parliament: “We have two options: to create this court ourselves, together with the EU and U.S., and to end this issue once and for all in three to five years; or we fail and it will go to the U.N. Security Council where the court will be created by the opponents of Kosovo independence and will last 15 to 20 years.”

The sad fact is that Kosovo in the future will find it difficult to get many kinds of help from the US and EU if this decision stands.

Tags : ,

What’s the alternative to a deal?

Not long ago, President Obama’s legacy was said to be up for grabs. He faced three big outcomes with more or less a June 30 deadline: the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, Congressional approval of “fast track” (trade promotion authority, which allows only an up or down vote on trade agreements without any amendments), and the Iran nuclear deal.

He has now won the first two bets (in addition to housing discrimination and gay marriage). The third however is a biggy, even if the real deadline may be July 9.

So many people have written so many intelligent things about what a nuclear deal with Iran should contain that it is difficult to contribute. But my own personal criterion for whether the deal is acceptable or not is just this: is it better than no deal?

To assess that, we need to understand what no deal would mean. There is more than one possible scenario:

  1. Best case: the Joint Plan of Action is maintained, which would continue IAEA inspections and limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment and stockpiles as well as its plutonium production.
  2. Worst case: the Joint Plan of Action and multilateral sanctions go down the drain, along with IAEA inspections and pursuit of questions about the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran’s past activities.

The worst case is really very bad. It would not be hard for an imperfect agreement to be better than that.

The decision then boils down to whether we can somehow keep the Joint Plan of Action, multilateral sanctions, and IAEA inspections as well as work on PMDs intact if the talks break down.

This issue is path dependent. Maintaining sanctions in particular depends on who causes the breakdown in negotiations. If the US is perceived to reject an agreement that the Russians, for example, think adequate, why would they agree to continue to do their part on sanctions? They might even be inclined to block IAEA inspections as well as its work on PMDs. Even Germany might abandon our cause, which would end European Union sanctions.

So to those who think the diplomacy useless, I say this: without it, you have no chance of avoiding the worst-case scenario, which is patently worse than even a bad deal with Iran. Ditching the talks leaves the US with no other option than war.

That of course is what some people want. Let us suppose that the United States can destroy all of Iran’s key nuclear infrastructure (centrifuges and centrifuge production facilities as well as plutonium production reactor), without suffering any significant military losses or precipitating Iranian retaliation against Israel or American interests in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (or elsewhere). That’s a giant and highly unlikely assumption, but so be it.

No one I know thinks that would delay the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons for as many as ten years, which is the minimum the nuclear deal claims to do. The best advocates of war can do is to suggest Iranians might overthrow the regime in the wake of war or that we’ll repeat the exercise as needed. But there is no guarantee a successor regime would be any less committed to nuclear weapons than the current one, or that the Iranians will oblige us by rebuilding their nuclear program in ways we will find possible to destroy the next time around.

There are definitely deals that will not fly however. Last week Supreme Leader Khamenei chimed in suggesting that Iran wants sanctions lifted before implementation and verification of its obligations and no IAEA visits to Iranian military sites. Those are deal breakers for the Americans, who should expect an agreement with such provisions not to be disapproved in Congress, perhaps even with a veto-proof majority.

Ray Takeyh in this morning’s Washington Post opposes the deal on the basis that it will give Iran ample resources for its regional troublemaking. But he doesn’t consider the alternatives. Iran isn’t going to make less trouble in the region as a nuclear power, or as one that has suffered an American military attack.

Negotiating leverage comes from your best alternative to a negotiated solution. Those who don’t consider what that is are fated to make big mistakes.





Tags : , ,

Peace picks June 29-July 3

1. Yemen in Crisis: What Next?| Monday, June 29th | 9:00-11:00 | Rayburn House Office BuildingREGISTER TO ATTEND | On June 29, 2015, the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee are hosting a public affairs briefing on “Yemen in Crisis: What Next?” Speakers include: Dr. Noel Brehony, Chair, Menas Associates; former Chair, British Yemeni Society; Author, Yemen Divided: The Story of a Failed State in South Arabia, Ms. Sama’a Al-Hamdani, Analyst and Writer, Yemeniaty; former Assistant Political Officer, Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, DC, and Mr. Peter Salisbury, Journalist and Analyst, the Financial Times, The Economist, Vice News, and other publications; former Consultant, Chatham House Yemen Forum. Serving as moderator and facilitator will be Dr. John Duke Anthony, Founding President and CEO, National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations; and Member, U.S. Department of State Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy and Subcommittee on Sanctions.

2. Degrade and Defeat: Examining the Anti-ISIS Strategy | Tuesday, June 30th | 9:00-10:30 | Center for Strategic and International Studies | REGISTER TO ATTEND | June 9th, 2015 marked one year since Iraq’s second largest city fell to ISIS. Since the fall of Mosul, ISIS has suffered losses at the hands of coalition air power, Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga, and Shia militias. Despite this, ISIS has made worrisome gains in both Syria and Iraq, most recently by seizing Ramadi and expanding in Syria. Additionally, the group has attracted the bulk of the more than 22,000 foreign fighters arriving on the battlefield from more than 100 nations. U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to increase U.S. troop deployments to Iraq signals more is needed to degrade and defeat ISIS. Speakers include: Stephen Kappes, Former Deputy Director of the CIA, David Ignatius, Associate Editor and Columnist, Washington Post, Tom Sanderson, Director and Senior Fellow, Transnational Threats Project, CSIS.

3. Zero Hour-Examining the Iranian Nuclear Threat with Dr. Matthew Kroenig | Monday, June 29th | 12:00-1:00 | Phone Seminar hosted by Middle East Truth |Email: for Call-in Information and to RSVP| As the final round of negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program draw to a close, the public is left with more questions than answers. The results of these negotiations have the potential to set a new, and dangerous, precedent for the future of nuclear proliferation, as well as profound effects for the security of the U.S., our allies, and the global community. What was supposed to be a negotiation that would mitigate the threat posed by Iran has the potential to create more problems than solutions. Iran has become more aggressive in the midst of the P5+1 talks; with significant incursions being seen in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. The released framework resulted in inconsistent points between the various actors, and no substantive understandings to build from. In response to the amorphous nature of the discussions, skeptical U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia are exploring the nuclear option, creating the potential for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Speakers include: Matthew Kroenig, Associate Professor and International Relations Field Chair, Department of Government and School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University; Senior Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center, International Security, The Atlantic Council.

4. Diplomacy Beyond the Nation-State: An Ambassadors’ Roundtable | Monday, June 29th | 2:00-4:00 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In an era of diffuse power, the 2015 QDDR makes a strong case for much greater diplomatic engagement with non-state actors. Similarly, the Atlantic Council has long made the case that more systematized engagement with non-state actors ought to become a core component of the US government’s strategic outlook. The Council’s first Strategy Paper, titled Dynamic Stability: US Strategy for a World in Transition, asserts that in a ‘Westphalian-Plus’ world, states must be able to harness the power and capabilities of non-state actors in order to succeed diplomatically. Speakers include: ; Thomas Perriello, Special Representative of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review; Paula Dobriansky, Senior Fellow, Belfare Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Ambassador of Singapore; Rachad Boulal, Ambassador of Morocco; Juan Gabriel Valdes, Ambassador of Chile.

5. Policy Recommendations for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit | Monday, June 29th | 2:30-4:00 | Center for Strategic and International Studies | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The CSIS Proliferation Prevention Program, a member of the Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG), will host a breifing on the FMWG’s new report The Results We Need in 2016: Policy Recommendations for the Nuclear Security Summit, which offers innovative solutions to nuclear security challenges. The 2016 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) must result in bold, concrete commitments that will keep the world safe from acts of nuclear terrorism. To help achieve this goal, a group of respected international experts developed new recommendations that can help prevent such a tragedy. Speakers include: Andrew Bieniawski, Nuclear Threat Initiative, James Doyle, independent analyst, Sharon Squassoni, CSIS Proliferation Prevention Program.

6. Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future | Tuesday, June 30th | 10:00-11:00 | Heritage Foundation| REGISTER TO ATTEND |With the world focused on the nuclear crisis in Iran, it is tempting to think that addressing this case, North Korea, and the problem of nuclear terrorism is all that matters and is what matters most. Perhaps, but if states become more willing to use their nuclear weapons to achieve military advantage, the problem of proliferation will become much more unwieldy. In this case, our security will be hostage not just to North Korea, Iran, or terrorists, but also to nuclear proliferation more generally, diplomatic miscalculations, and wars between a much larger number of possible players. This, in a nutshell, is the premise of Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future, which explores what we may be up against over the next few decades and how we currently think about this future. Speakers include: Brian Finlay, 
Vice President, The Stimson Center, Matthew Kroenig, 
Associate Professor, Georgetown University, Henry Sokolski
, Executive Director, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. Hosted by Michaela Dodge, Senior Policy Analyst, Defense and Strategic Policy, Heritage Foundation.

7. Finding Its Way to the West? Ukraine and Its Challenges| Tuesday, June 30th | 11:00-12:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Maidan revolution was launched to ensure that Ukraine could make its European choice. Political rhetoric aside, what are Ukraine’s true prospects for success and how much assistance is the West really prepared to offer? In discussing these issues, the panelists will offer their impressions from recent visits to Ukraine and on-going discussions with leading European policymakers. Speakers include: Ambassador (ret.) John A. Cloud, Professor of National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval War College; U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Lithuania, 2006-2009, Nikolas K. Gvosdev, Professor of National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval War College, Matthew Rojansky, former Deputy Director of Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endowment.

8.  Assessing State Fragility in Africa | Wednesday, July 1st | 10:00-11:30 | Center for Strategic and International Studies | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Please join us for a discussion on state fragility in Africa as we examine its underlying causes and seek to identify strategies for building resilience in fragile states. The session will serve as the launch of a new IMF paper, ‘Building Resilience in Fragile States in Sub-Saharan Africa.’ CSIS will also unveil the main findings of its year-long study into fragile states, informed by case studies from Africa and Southeast Asia. Panelists will explore how best to mitigate drivers of fragility, including achieving a balance between national and sub-national engagement, altering dysfunctional political economy dynamics, and improving development outcomes. Speakers include: David Robinson, 

Deputy Director, Africa Department, International Monetary Fund, Enrique Gelbard 

Advisor, International Monetary Fund, Corinne Delechat, 

Deputy Division Chief, International Monetary Fund, Robert Lamb 

Visiting Research Professor, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. Moderated by Jennifer Cooke, 

Director, CSIS Africa Program.

9. Pakistan’s Path to Economic Freedom | Wednesday, July 1st | 11:00-12:30 | Heritage Foundation | REGISTER TO ATTEND |Pakistan has sometimes been referred to as a “failing state,” given its economic, sectarian, and terrorism challenges. However, a close look at Pakistan’s economy over the last couple of years shows some signs of recovery and modest improvements with regard to economic freedom. Still, the country continues to suffer from the lack of structural economic reform. Large sections of the population live in poverty and survive on subsistence agriculture, while inefficient but omnipresent regulatory agencies inhibit business formation throughout the economy. Lack of access to bank credit undermines entrepreneurship, and the financial sector’s isolation from the outside world has slowed down innovation and growth. What steps are necessary to place Pakistan on the path to greater economic growth that will pave the way for a stable and prosperous future? Speakers include: Huma Sattar, Visiting Pakistani Scholar, The Heritage Foundation; and Co-Author of the Special Report: “Pakistan’s Economic Disarray and How to Fix It,” Marc Schleifer, Director of Eurasia and South Asia, Center for International Private Enterprise, Michael Kugelman, Senior Program Associate for South and Southeast Asia, Woodrow Wilson Center.

10. A Conversation with Alexei Venediktov| Wednesday, July 1st | 1:30-3:00 | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Please join the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for a discussion with one of Russia’s preeminent and most insightful journalists, Alexei Venediktov. Venediktov is editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), the much-admired independent radio station. He will discuss the dramatic changes facing the Russian political system and the state of media freedom in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. Speakers include: Alexey Venediktov, Editor-in-Chief, Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow).

11. Team of Teams : Lessons from JSOC for a Complex World | Thursday, July 2nd | 3:00-4:30 | New America Foundation | REGISTER TO ATTEND | When General Stanley McChrystal took command of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in 2003, he quickly realized that conventional tactics were failing. Al Qaeda in Iraq was a decentralized network that could move quickly, strike ruthlessly, then seemingly vanish into the local population. The Allied forces had a huge advantage in numbers, equipment, and training—but none of that seemed to matter. General McChrystal and his colleagues remade the task force, in the midst of a grueling war, into something new: a network that combined extremely transparent communication with decentralized decision-making authority. In Team of Teams General McChrystal and his coauthors, David Silverman and Chris Fussell, show how the challenges they faced in Iraq, Afghanistan, and over a decade of special operations missions around the globe can be relevant to businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations here at home. Speakers include: General McChrystal, former commander of US and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) Afghanistan; former commander of the nation’s premier military counter-terrorism force, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Chris Fussell, a co-author of Team of Teams; Senior Fellow, New America; former U.S. Navy SEAL. 

Tags : , , , , , , , ,

Rouhani has his chips on a deal

On Thursday, the Wilson Center hosted a panel discussion entitled Rouhani at Two Years: An Assessment on the Cusp of a Nuclear Deal. Panelists included Robin Wright, USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Scholar, Suzanne Maloney, Interim Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings and Karim Sadjadpour, Senior Associate at the Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Haleh Esfandiari, the outgoing Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson 11652131_10153430106188011_1093791685_nCenter, moderated. The panelists related how the Iranian people are largely motivated by economic concerns today. President Rouhani has staked his political future on improving the economy. A nuclear deal is the linchpin of his plan.

Wright has visited Iran three times in the past 18 months and has witnessed tremendous change. The political climate has become more stable because people are tired of years of oscillation between reformists and hardliners. Supreme Leader Khamenei has pushed back attempts by hardliners to scuttle a nuclear deal. No one in parliament wants to say that they are against a deal outright. However, the current climate of stability is unlikely to last; political divisions run deep.

Wright said that Rouhani has implemented bold economic reforms, including subsidy reductions that led to a 40% increase in gas prices. He has also fought corruption. His administration has carefully studied the potential aftermath of a nuclear deal and has been in talks with numerous international companies.

Rouhani has not tackled human rights abuses. Public expectations that he would do so have ebbed. Arrests of journalists continue. The judiciary is a hardline check on change. The public is no longer heavily motivated by the causes of the Islamic Revolution and cares more about material concerns like the economy and pollution. There are 14 million Tehranis, but only 100,000 go to Friday prayers and chant “death to America.” The public is looking ahead to the upcoming elections for both parliament and the Assembly of Experts. Ayatollah Khamenei is ailing, so the next Assembly of Experts will likely pick his successor.

Wright sees Rouhani as worried about the crumbling Middle East. The Iranian government may approach Syria with increasing realism, and will ultimately walk away from Assad. Rouhani had wanted to reach out to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council but tensions have only increased.

Maloney agreed that economic concerns are central for Rouhani. Government performance, not adherence to revolutionary ideals, is now key to legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Rouhani criticized former President Ahmedinejad or the effect of his policies on the economy. Rouhani believes that Iran’s political system must help the economy and has pushed back against the economic role of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Rouhani does not face as much opposition to economic reforms as Khatami and Rafsanjani faced. When Rouhani took office, inflation was at 45%. The technocrats he appointed imposed greater fiscal discipline and cut inflation to 15%. Economic growth has gone from negative to slightly positive. However, the government has fed the people unrealistic expectations for sanctions relief, which is unlikely in 2015.

According to Maloney, a deal is unlikely to transform Iran’s relationship with the West because Khamenei views the deal as transactional, not transformative. Rouhani can improve the economy and get some sanctions relief, but we are unlikely to see a significant change in Iran’s regional posture.

Sajadpour concurred that Rouhani is putting all of his eggs in one basket: achieving a nuclear deal with the West. If improving the lives of Iranians is a priority, then sanctions must be removed. Thus Rouhani has focused on a deal and not improvement of human rights. In 2005, Iran had robust oil exports, as well as a stronger civil society and more press freedom than exist today. Ahmedinejad was responsible for the damage since then, and a nuclear deal would represent Iran digging itself out of this hole.

Rouhani will have difficulty effecting change in other areas, Sajadpour said. He will not be able to fight the IRGC because he needs it to enforce a nuclear deal. Khamenei is crafty and holds the real power. The Supreme Leader has outlasted both his former kingmaker, Rafsanjani, and the reformer Khatami. Khamenei wields power without accountability, with a president who has accountability but lacks power. Saying “death to America” is not helpful for improving the economy for average Iranians, but the smallish minority that chants this holds a monopoly on power and coercion.

Sajadpour stated that Saudis and Israelis have good reason to fear a nuclear deal, since it provide more money to support for Hezbollah. It could also open up an opportunity for US-Iranian cooperation against common enemies, but we have to ask ourselves if enlisting Shi’ite radicals to kills Sunni radicals only creates more Sunni radicals.

Tags : , ,

Who let the Black Christian out?

President Obama’s eulogy yesterday at the Clementa Pinckney funeral in Charleston was both strikingly Black in its cadences–not to mention his rendition of “Amazing Grace”–and Christian in his theology, which includes a concept of grace foreign to a Reform Jew like me:

While the occasion was a somber one, the President has good reason for his new-found confidence and connectedness. He has won in the last week a remarkable series of battles:

  • in Congress, he got “fast track” negotiating authority (aka Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA) that will enable him (and eventually his successor) to get an up or down vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), without possibility of amendment;
  • at the Supreme Court, he won make or break cases on Obamacare subsidies, gay marriage and housing discrimination.

“Fast track” required the President to support Republican maneuvers around Democratic resistance. House Minority Leader Pelosi, who nominally lost, is likely none too upset at the outcome. She got credit from labor unions for resisting TPA, but avoided undermining a Democratic President. The result also liberated Hillary Clinton from the need to take a stand she has been trying to avoid.

I imagine a good number of Republicans feel the same way about losing on Obamacare. They got credit for opposing it but avoided the mess that would have followed annulment of the law. It wasn’t going to help their cause to upset the more than 10 million or so voters who get subsidies for health insurance under Obamacare, never mind the millions  who have stayed on their parents’ health insurance because of the law or wouldn’t have insurance at all because of pre-existing conditions. Ditto gay marriage: Republicans are on the record in opposition but can now accept the decision and avoid surrendering the entire LGBT community to the Democrats.

The Supreme Court victories all depended on more conservative justices crossing the line to support more liberal views. The passage of “fast track” depended on Democrats crossing the line to support Republican views on trade.

So American democracy and justice, which not long ago were thought to be hopelessly deadlocked, have somehow bounced back to make important decisions that by my lights go in the right direction.

President Obama has good reason to feel more confident. Maybe that is what allowed him to let the Black Christian out, despite the likelihood that his audience included many who would not support him on gay marriage. I doubt he’ll have much success on gun control, which was one his memes in Charleston yesterday, but for the moment at least it looks as if the Confederate flag will be coming down in many places, another meme he emphasized.

Politics is war by other means. You win some and you lose some. But this was a winning week for President Obama, who is looking like a pretty peppy, Black and Christian, lame duck.



Tags : ,