While the Obama Administration is leaking profusely plans for military intervention in Libya against the Islamic State, I spent a good part of yesterday with people worrying about what to do there beyond killing extremists. It is all too obvious that an air war without a political solution that mobilizes Libyans against the extremists could leave the country even more destabilized than it already is.
It is not so clear what to do about that. A political solution is on the table, but its implementation is stalled, perhaps permanently. Even if the diplomats succeed in their current efforts to get the Government of National Accord (GNA) sworn in, its move to Tripoli poses big security problems, as the capital is in the hands of 15 or more militias loyal to one of the country’s two separate legislative bodies.
Planning for a peacekeeping/stabilization mission is ongoing with the Europeans, including the British, French and Italians. The Americans won’t contribute ground troops but rather “enablers” like ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the civilians among us) as well as whatever is needed (drones, aircraft, special forces) to attack ISIS.
There is a wide range of views on what kind of stabilization mission is desirable or possible. Some think a light footprint limited to Tripoli, or even limited to protecting the GNA and foreign embassies, will suffice and arouse little Libyan xenophobia, provided the strategic communications are adequate. Others note that experience elsewhere would require upwards of 70,000 international peacekeepers in a country the size of Libya requiring peace enforcement. A small force unable or unwilling to protect the Libyan population might arouse more resentment and resistance, not less. At the very least, major routes, cantonments of weapons, borders and oil facilities will need protection, either by internationals or Libyans.
Any stabilization force will require a GNA request, Arab League endorsement and a United Nations Security Council mandate. It will need to be able to supply and defend itself, including from Islamic State and other extremist and criminal attacks. Those are tall orders.
But Libya also has some characteristics that make peacekeeping relatively easy: it is close to Europe, has good ports and a long coastline, it is mostly flat and desert, with few places for spoilers to hide, other than urban areas. The population is mostly Arab (there are Berbers as well–remember the Barbary pirates) and overwhelmingly Sunni. The country’s immediate neighbors–Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria–are all anxious to end the instability and block the Islamic State from establishing a safe haven in Libya, though they don’t necessarily agree on how to do that.
Beyond getting the GNA up and running, what to do about the militias in Libya is the most difficult governance problem. The Finance Ministry, which still functions, has been paying many of them. Others, especially in the south and west, have already gone into private sector, running smuggling and other illicit businesses. Past efforts to build a united Libyan security force by training people outside the country failed miserably. Next time around it will have to be done in Libya. Many of the militiamen will need to be disarmed and demobilized, but there is little in the way of an economy to integrate them into. It is vital to remember that the militias are linked to local patronage networks, which need to be mobilized in favor of stabilization, not against it.
While the US and others have the tools needed to kill extremists, it is not at all clear that we have what is needed to help the Libyans sort out their differences and begin to govern in ways that will deny safe haven to the Islamic State, which already controls the central coastal town of Sirte. We suffer from PDD: paradigm deficit disorder. A hundred T.E. Lawrences prepared to deploy with the militias and help sort out their differences might suffice. But where would we get the 100 Arabic speakers with deep knowledge of the Libyan human terrain? We have all but forgotten whatever we learned about such things in Iraq and Afghanistan, erased because the administration was determined not to get involved again in statebuilding in the Middle East.
The Islamic State is the easy part of the problem. The hard part is figuring out how Libya will be stabilized and governed once it is gone.
On Wednesday, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) launched North Africa in Transition: The Struggle for Democracies and Institutions. The panel discussion included editor Ben Fishman, Haim Malka, contributing author and Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and John Desrocher, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and Maghreb Affairs. Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of IISS, moderated.
Fishman kicked off by explaining the premise of North Africa in Transition. He aimed to show the differences between the states of the Maghreb, including Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya, after the 2011 uprisings. Institution building should be the key lesson learned from the Arab Spring. The US should devote more time to North Africa. Fishman focused in particular on Libya, where he thought the US should be more assertive, interacting with the Libyan government, coordinating with the international community, and empowering local governments in Libya by implementing decentralization.
Malka urged more investment in the Maghreb, which requires greater understanding of regional politics, economics, and society. Malka predicts 2016 will be a turbulent year for the region. He explained four factors that brought him to this conclusion:
- The continued appeal of radical groups. Radical ideology entices youth as it presents solutions to them that they have never been offered before. The counterterrorism response has contributed to increased radicalization. With intelligence communities remaining uncoordinated and erratic arrests, radicalization has spread even more throughout the region.
- Failure to address economic and social grievances. Reforms of privatization, banking laws, etc., are too slow and prolonging the challenges countries face.
- The four main states are shaky. They lack strong institutions.
- The 2011 uprisings did not satisfactorily change the status quo for most people. For instance, in Morocco the monarch contributed to stabilizing the country by instituting constitutional reforms, but failed to grapple with socio-economic issues. Injustice, favoritism, and corruption endure.
Desrocher believes the US has to examine each country’s case separately and carefully. Morocco has a high rate of youth unemployment, relies mainly on Europe for trade, and worries about extremism. Tunisia has its internal economic challenges and unmet expectations of the Arab Spring. Washington wants to build partnerships with the Maghreb by assisting with security issues and boosting economies.
As its instability makes it difficult for the other regional countries to accomplish their goals, Desrocher identified the Libya as key to stability in the Maghreb, . He nevertheless has a positive outlook and believes much has been accomplished in the past four months. He thinks that there are fewer divisions among the international and regional partners on how to address the problems in Libya.
Malka also expressed an overall positive sentiment. Popular pressure on governments now carries significant weight. People in the Maghreb are willing to express their grievances in a public manner and to the governing body. Malka’s advice regarding US policy in the Maghreb is to take the long-term approach and not to overact to any small sign of instability. Change in the region will ultimately take time and much effort.
- Assessing the outcomes and implications of Taiwan’s January 2016 elections | Tuesday, January 19th | 10:30-12:00 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | With Tsai Ing-wen, leader and presidential candidate for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), ahead in the polls against the Kuomintang (KMT) party candidate Eric Chu and People First Party (PFP) candidate James Soong, it appears Taiwan voters will elect a new ruling party on January 16. The Legislative Yuan elections are still up for grabs, and will dictate the degree of initiative a Tsai administration will have. Across the Taiwan Strait, Beijing has expressed its concerns, most notably through the November 2015 meeting between Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou, on how it feels a DPP-led government should approach cross-Strait relations. The four-month transition period leading up to the May 20 inauguration will be a critical time for the new government to lay out its policy agenda and work to establish a platform for cross-Strait relations. On January 19, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies (CEAP) at Brookings and the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) will host Joseph Wu, Secretary General of the Democratic Progressive Party, for a keynote address on Taiwan’s election outcomes and implications going forward. Richard Bush, Chen-Fu and Cecilia Yen Koo Chair in Taiwan Studies and director of CEAP at Brookings, will provide an introduction, and Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser and director of the China Power Project at CSIS, will moderate a discussion after the address. Following the discussion, Wu will take audience questions. To register for this event, please email ChinaPower@csis.org.
- Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025: Capabilities, Presence and Partnerships | Wednesday, January 20th | 9:00-11:00 | Center for Strategic & International Studies | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Center for Strategic and International Studies was tasked by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 with conducting an independent assessment of the Asia-Pacific rebalance first announced by President Obama in 2011. Four years into the rebalance the Department of Defense should receive high marks for sustained attention to the Asia-Pacific, but challenges in the region are increasing. The United States will need to continue and in some cases accelerate investments in regional relationships, posture, operational concepts, and capabilities if it is to achieve the strategic goals of the rebalance. Please join us as we present the findings of this important report and host a discussion of the importance of this vital region to U.S. national security in particular and global peace and prosperity more broadly. This panel discussion features Mark F. Cancian, Senior Adviser of the International Security Program at CSIS, Michael J. Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at CSIS, Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks, Director of the CSIS International Security Program, and Andrew Shearer, former Australian National Security Adviser. Dr. John J. Hamre, CSIS CEO, will make the introductory remarks. Zack Cooper, Fellow and Japan Chair at CSIS, and John Schaus, CSIS Fellow, will present their report findings.
- North Africa in Transition: The Struggle for Democracies and Institutions | Wednesday, January 20th | 2:00-3:00 | International Institute for Strategic Studies | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The 2011 Arab uprisings began in North Africa and toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Libya, but the forces that wreaked this profound change also touched their fellow Maghreb states of Algeria and Morocco. North Africa in Transition, the latest IISS Adelphi book, examines how the politics, security and economies – which were largely stable for decades prior to 2011 – have changed in the four states. It asks why the popular revolutions in Tunisia and Libya did not spread to Algeria and Morocco; how the revolutionary states have fared since 2011; why Libya descended into a deadly civil war while the others did not; and whether the sitting governments in Algeria and Morocco have applied sustainable strategies to address the new political climate.Please join the IISS-US for a policy discussion and Q&A session about North Africa and its importance to Western interests, chaired by Executive Director Mark Fitzpatrick. This event is on the record and will be webcast live on the IISS website. Copies of the book are available for sale on our website or after the event. Speakers include the following: Ben Fishman served for four years on the US National Security Council, including as Director for North Africa and Jordan from 2012 to 2013. Haim Malka is a senior fellow and deputy director of the Middle East Program at CSIS, where he oversees the program’s work on the Maghreb. John Desrocher is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Egypt and Maghreb Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the Department of State. Mark Fitzpatrick is the Executive Director of the IISS-US and the Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme.
- Congressman Hun Many: The Future of U.S.-Cambodia Relations | Wednesday, January 20th | 2:30-4:00 | U.S.-Korea Institute and John Hopkins SAIS | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The U.S.-Korea Institute and the Southeast Asia Studies program at Johns Hopkins SAIS present a discussion with Cambodian Congressman Hun Many. The youngest parliamentarian in the National Assembly of Cambodia, and son of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Congressman Hun Many will be sharing his insights on Cambodia’s foreign policies and relations with the U.S., Korea, China and other regional players. Karl Jackson, professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS, will moderate the discussion.
- Top Priorities for Africa in 2016 | Wednesday, January 20th | 3:00-4:30 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | 2016 will be a crucial year for African countries as they seek to respond to shifting dynamics in the global economy. Mitigating the adverse effects of China’s economic slowdown, tumbling commodity prices, and the U.S. interest rate rise in 2015 on the region will demand serious policy reform and investment in African economies—so will maintaining the continent’s trade competitiveness, given the rise of mega-regional trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Domestic issues including stagnating industrialization and job creation, rapid urbanization, and governance and security threats could undermine the continent’s upward-trending development trajectory; however, if managed prudently with timely action from African policymakers in 2016, the continent could equally recover from external and internal shocks, accelerate regional growth, and further expand the benefits of growth to the more than one billion people living throughout Africa. On January 20, the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings will host a panel of leading Africa experts on the most pressing challenges facing the continent in 2016. The panel will be moderated by Mark Goldberg, editor of U.N. Dispatch, and will include Ambassador Hassana Alidou of Niger, as well as Brookings experts Joshua Meltzer, Witney Schneidman, Eyerusalem Siba, and Amadou Sy who will offer their expertise on these important issues and provide recommendations to national governments, regional organizations, multilateral institutions and civil society on how to contend with these priorities in the year ahead. The event follows the release of the new Foresight Africa report, a collection of issue briefs, viewpoints, and infographics on the major issues for Africa in 2016. Join the conversation on Twitter using #ForesightAfrica.
- The ISIS Threat to U.S. National Security: Policy Choices | Thursday, January 21st | 9:00-11:30 | Middle East Policy Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Middle East Policy Council invites you and your colleagues to our 83rd Capitol Hill Conference. Live streaming of this event will begin at approximately 9:00am Thursday, January 21st and conclude at 11:30. A questions and answers session will be held at the end of the proceedings. Speakers include William F. Wechsler, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Mark Katz, professor at George Mason University, Charles Lister, Resident Fellow at the Middle East Institute, and Audrey Kurth Cronin, Director of the International Security Program at George Mason University. Richard Schmierer, former ambassador to Oman, will moderate the discussion.
- Turkey in 2016: Domestic Politics, EU Relations and Beyond | Thursday, January 21st | 3:00-4:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Since the November 2015 elections in Turkey, questions have arisen surrounding the future of domestic politics and the country’s relationships with the West. The government has had difficulties managing burgeoning and increasingly more complex political, security and economic challenges. This panel will look at the year ahead and discuss these issues with a wider perspective on domestic politics, foreign policy and relations with the European Union. How will a new AK Party government confront its domestic and foreign policy problems – ranging from the Kurdish question to Syria and Russia – and pursue relations with the EU and the West in general? What is the current EU perspective on relations with Turkey? What other major issues are at stake? Henri Barkey, Director of the Wilson will moderate this talk. Bulent Aras, Senior Fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center, Michelle Egan, professor at American University, Fuat Keyman, Director of the Istanbul Policy Center, and Amberin Zaman, columnist at Al Monitor are the speakers for this event.
Min Kyung Yoo, a master’s student in my post-war stabilization and transition class, writes about a presentation yesterday on drivers of violence in West Africa by Alexandre Marc, Chief Technical Specialist of Fragility, Conflict, and Violence at the World Bank:
West African countries have experienced robust economic growth in the past decade. Since 1990, there has also been improvement in democratic consolidation, which seems to hold better than in other parts of Africa. Most governments in the region are elected and many people resist constitutional changes. In addition, West Africa has one of the most mobile populations in the world, hosting 7.5 million intra-regional migrants, and demonstrates strong regional cooperation through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Despite these positive signs, the Ebola crisis, the Nigerian war with Boko Haram, Mali’s fragility and the Burkina Faso revolt show the region is still fragile. Intra-state civil wars dominate in West Africa, including long-standing ethnic conflicts that disrupt national and regional economies. Politics in West Africa is ethnically oriented and political institutions are very weak. Political and election-related violence is a growing challenge. The nature of violence and conflict has shifted in the past decade, with new threats such as illegal trafficking, religious radicalization, and piracy. Piracy is more rampant along the coast of Guinea than off Somalia.
Marc discussed in depth five drivers of conflict and violence in West Africa:
1. Drug trafficking
Protracted conflicts and political instability, corruption, porous borders, and geographic location all contribute to making West Africa attractive to traffickers. While physical drug trafficking takes place in Guinea and Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Ghana are drawn into the business as they have more reliable and functioning banking system in which drug traffickers perform financial transactions. Drug trafficking has potential to compromise officials and security agents, destabilize governments and weaken states, erode the region’s social fabric and damage economic development.
2. Religious extremism
Religious extremism in West Africa is largely home-grown, and has developed in areas with strong grievances—unemployment, corruption, and perceived marginalization. Increasing traditionalization, intergenerational crisis, disillusionment with the state, as well as external factors such as civil wars in Algeria and Libya, have accelerated radicalization.
3. Challenges of youth inclusion
West Africa hosts a rapidly growing population, but lacks capacity to address the needs of youth. Challenges include poor quality education and few employment opportunities. Unemployment is rarely a main or direct cause of conflict. But youth tend to have high expectations and seek to assert themselves outside both traditional and modern institutions. Meeting the expectations of youth has been a big challenge, leading to frustration and alienation. Gender dimensions and rapidly changing gender roles should not be neglected.
Tensions surrounding migratory flows—including discriminatory notions of citizenship and foreigner, political and social marginalization, competition over land, resources, and employment—have contributed to violence and conflict in West Africa in past decades. Rapid urbanization across the region and the influx of migrants into urban center is another source of instability. Informal settlements populated by unemployed and marginalized youth intensify perceptions of inequality and increase the risk of violent crime and gang activity.
5. Fragility of political and land institutions
Competition for control over political processes that guarantee access to resources has been at the core of much conflict and violence in recent decades. The high incidence of military coups in the region reflects this trend. Almost every conflict in the sub-region features land: ambiguities around legal pluralism (customary and statutory land tenure), ineffective land management, and unequal distribution.
No doubt one of the few international issues President Obama will highlight in tonight’s State of the Union speech is the threat of international terrorists associated with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. He will cite the American military response in Iraq and Syria as vital to our national interests and claim we are making progress, at least in Iraq.
He is unlikely to acknowledge that the problem is spreading and getting worse. In Libya, there are two parliaments and two governments, one of which has ample extremist backing. In Yemen, rebels have laid siege to the government the Washington relies on for cooperation against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram is wrecking havoc. In Syria, moderates have lost territory and extremists have gained. Taliban violence is up in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Fourteen years ago when the World Trade Center was attacked in New York City Al Qaeda amounted to a few hundred militants hiding out mainly in Afghanistan, with small clandestine cells in Europe and the US. Now estimates of the number of extremists change so rapidly it is hard to know which to cite, but there are surely more than 100 times as many actively engaged in extremist Islamist campaigns or recruitment efforts in close to a dozen countries, including (in addition to the ones cited above) Somalia, Egypt, Niger, Mali, Algeria, Palestine and Tunisia. Counting the numbers of sympathizers in Europe, Russia and the United States is just impossible.
The long war against Islamist extremism is not going well. It can’t, because we are fighting what amounts to an insurgency against the existing state system principally with military means. Drones and air strikes are killing lots of militants, and I am even prepared to believe that the collateral damage to innocents is minimized, whatever that means. But extremist recruitment is more than keeping up with extremist losses. We are making more enemies than we are killing. Insurgencies thrive on that.
The Obama administration is apparently prepared to make things worse, as it now leans towards supporting UN and Russian peace initiatives in Syria that are premised on allowing Bashar al Asad to stay in power. The Islamic State will welcome that, as it will push relative moderates in their direction and weaken the prospects for a democratic transition. Bashar has shown no inclination to fight ISIS and will continue to focus his regime’s efforts against democracy advocates.
President Obama knows what it takes to shrink extremist appeal: states that protect their populations with rule of law and govern inclusively and transparently. This is the opposite of what Bashar al Asad, and his father, have done. But President Obama has no confidence the US or anyone in the international community can build such states in a matter of months or even years. So he does what comes naturally to those whose strongest available means is military power: he uses it to achieve short-term objectives, knowing that its use is counter-productive in the longer term.
But producing more enemies than you can kill is not a strategy that works forever. The Union is recovering from a devastating economic crisis and can now afford to take a fresh look at its foreign policy priorities. I’ll be with the President when he calls tonight for completion of the big new trade and investment agreement with Europe (TTIP) and its counterpart in the Pacific (TTP). These are good things that can find support on both sides of the aisle, among Democrats and Republicans.
I’ll groan when he calls for a new Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) but says little or nothing about building the kind of states in the Greater Middle East that are needed to immunize the region against extremism. Support for restoration of autocracy in Egypt and for Gulf monarchies is not a policy that will counter extremism. We are guaranteeing that things are going to get worse before they get better.
Proceedings kicked off at Thursday’s Middle East Institute conference with a panel on A Middle East in Flux: Risks and Opportunities. Moderating was peacefare’s Daniel Serwer, presiding over a star-studded panel consisting of Juan Cole, professor at the University of Michigan, Robert Ford, former US ambassador to Algeria and Syria, Paul Salem, vice-president for policy and research at the Middle East Institute, and Randa Slim, director for Track II initiatives at MEI.
The panel focused on long-term forces and factors in the Middle East and North Africa. Cole drew attention to the youth bulge, low investment, lack of jobs, and the effects of climate change on the region. The population is growing as resources are shrinking. Dwindling water supplies will create immense social pressures, and may lead to mass migrations and regional tensions, including over water supplies. Sea level rises will inundate the low-lying plains in southern Iraq, areas of the Nile Delta, and other inhabited areas.
This will happen as hydrocarbon production levels off and even declines, squeezing countries made rich by petrodollars. The region needs sustainable development, Cole underlined, which means a shift towards solar and wind power and a big increase in technological capacity.
Agreeing on the importance of resource and economic constraints, Salem underlined the collapse of already weak and corrupt institutions in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. With the failure of the Arab uprisings in these countries, the region has lost its sense of direction, as well as any semblance of regional governance. There is no real alternative to accountable, inclusive and ultimately democratic governance, but it is difficult to see how the region will get there from the disorder into which it has fallen. It needs high-value exports that it is unable to produce today.
The currently oil-rich region must adapt now, before it is left without options. Ford predicts that the Middle East will become a major food-importing region. To generate the revenue needed to pay for this food, the region will need to attract investment. Businesses will want to see fair and honest rule of law before sinking money into the region. Failing to develop economies producing more than commodities risks condemning the region to an impoverished and unstable future.
The panel considered the role of religion in the future of the Middle East, but it said notably little about sectarian or ethnic strife, which is more symptom than cause. Ford hopes that Islamists will be pulled towards the center of the political spectrum, as political Islam cannot provide the answers to all the socio-economic problems faced today. But this only applies to those Islamists actively engaging within the political system. There will be no single solution. With the region in such a dramatic state of flux, Salem cautions that there is a developing contest for defining the region’s cultural identity. Sheikhs, militias, and jihadists are competing to define the future of society and culture in the Middle East. The cacophony risks drowning out more moderate reformers and democrats.
Slim underlined the importance of Iran’s trajectory for the region as a whole. Whether a nuclear deal is reached and the choices Tehran makes about support for its allies in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and Palestine will affect Iran’s relations with its neighbors in the Gulf and with the West. There is great potential for improvement, but also serious risk of deterioration if those in Tehran who want a nuclear deal have to pay for it by giving others a free rein to do what they want regionally.
The West must engage better in the battle for hearts and minds. For Slim, the key battle ground is online and across smart phones. ISIS releases thousands of propagandistic tweets, videos and online messages every day. Jabhat al-Nusra has a similarly slick media operation. Media literacy in the Arab world is high. The West should not let extremists be the only voice in cyberspace. Twitter and Facebook are theatres in the war against violent doctrines just as much as Kobani.
But the ideological battle cannot be won only through convincing words and media campaigns. Robert Ford recalled the warm reception he had received at a university in Algeria, which had a link with a university in the US. The few graduating from the program had all found employment. The result was goodwill from an much wider section of the local population. Providing quality education, developing human connections , and working to build the skills that bring employment and prosperity are vital in combating ideologies that preach hatred.
The path to long-term success and stability in a region facing increasing chaos can be summed up by two 1990s political catch phases. Bill Clinton’s “it’s the economy, stupid”, and Tony Blair’s “education, education, education.” Military campaigns against threats such as ISIS may sometimes be necessary, but in the long term the region’s future will be determined by other factors: demographic and climate pressures, the search for dignity, institutional strength and economic success or failure. The US and its allies cannot determine the outcome. They can only encourage and support local actors as they seek to achieve stability and prosperity.