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?
- The Middle East Through Gulf Eyes: Trip Report from Riyadh, Muscat, and Abu Dhabi | Monday, December 18 | 10:00 – 11:30 am | Washington Institute for Near East Policy (event is available to the public through livestream) | Watch Here | During an eventful week for U.S. Middle East policy—highlighted by President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—a fifty-person delegation from The Washington Institute traveled to the capitals of Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates to meet with senior leaders, engage with a broad range of local society, and learn about important changes under way in each country. To share their findings and impressions from the trip, the Institute is pleased to host a special midmorning Policy Forum discussion with four of its experts: executive director Robert Satloff, managing director Michael Singh, and fellows Katherine Bauer and Lori Plotkin Boghardt.
- The Jerusalem Decision: The View from Washington, Tel Aviv, and Ankara (THO Teleconference) | Tuesday, December 19 | 10:00 – 11:00 am | Turkish Heritage Organization (event will take place over the phone) | Register Here | Please tune in to THO’s latest teleconference to hear from Prof. Dr. Cagri Erhan (Rector of Altinbas University), Dr. Raphael Danziger (Senior Research Advisor, Policy & Government Affairs and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, Near East Report American Israel Public Affairs Committee), and Moran Stern of the Center for Jewish Civilization, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, as they discuss the ramifications of this decision. Prof. Dr. Mark Meirowitz (Assistant Professor of Humanities at SUNY Maritime College and Chair of THO’s Advisory Board Chair) will moderate the teleconference.
- Making Peace in Donbas? The Role of a Peacekeeping Mission | Tuesday, December 19 | 9:00 am | Atlantic Council | Register Here | For years, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proposed a peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine as an important instrument to achieving a peace settlement. This fall, Russian President Vladimir Putin also suggested a limited peacekeeping mission as one element towards a settlement. Are international peacekeepers or peace enforcers instrumental or even necessary for ending the war in Donbas? The Atlantic Council and the Razumkov Centre are assembling a panel of experts to discuss Russia’s war in Donbas and the prospect of a peacekeeping operation. Speakers will include Ambassador Kurt Volker of the US Department of State, Dr. Sarah Mendelson of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, Dr. Evelyn Farkas of the Atlantic Council, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow of the Atlantic Council, and Mr. Oleksiy Melnyk of the Razumkov Centre. The Council’s Ambassador John Herbst will moderate the event and deliver welcoming remarks.
He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times….Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that…And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.
The charges unsealed today against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort fulfill many expectations. He was a key adviser to Russian President Putin’s favored president of Ukraine, he was known to have moved a lot of money around the world, and he had failed to register as an agent of a foreign government. His financial sidekick Rick Gates has also been charged. The charges relate in particular to undeclared, laundered income of more than $18 million from the Putin-friendly government of Ukraine
How all this relates to collusion with Russia during the campaign is however not yet clear. At the least, it suggests that Donald Trump was incautious to a fault in making Manafort his campaign chair, just as he was foolhardy in naming Michael Flynn as his national security adviser. But stupidity is not the same as perfidy. Special Counsel Mueller’s job is to nail the highest levels of illegal behavior, not to prove how dumb people are.
The charges against Manafort and Gates will help. Both will presumably be willing to exchange information for lesser charges or at least lesser sentences. But it is not clear how much information they have on perfidy by Kushner or the Trumps, both of whom are involved in what appear to be shady real estate deals in the US and abroad. Were they also laundering money or failing to declare it as income? Have the Russians blackmailed key administration officials by threatening to withdraw their investments or stop their real estate purchases? Trump is always keen to deny having any projects in Russia, but he has not denied having Russian financing in his projects in the US and elsewhere.
Mueller still has a long way to go to get to anyone important still in the Administration. He has however been savvy in these first indictments: Trump isn’t likely to risk pardoning Manafort and Gates, to whom he presumably owes nothing at this point. The only conceivable reason to do so would be to prevent them from talking, which would pretty much confirm Trump’s own malfeasance. Nor can Manafort be described as small fry, or his alleged crimes pooh-poohed by an administration that claims to be serious about law enforcement.
Trump can still try to fire Mueller, but that too would be a de facto admission of guilt. Trump will squirm, but I doubt he can escape. The noose is tightening.
PS: The guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, also made public today, relates much more directly to collusion with the Russians than the charges against Manafort and Gates. The noose is tightening more.
The United States is objectively no less powerful than it was seven months ago. Its military forces, its economy, even its political system are virtually unchanged in that short period. Only the presidency has changed hands, with all that entails in terms of personnel and policy.
But American capacity to effect the changes Washington wants to see in the world are diminished: it is unable to rally support from China and Russia for strict sanctions on North Korea, it has made no progress in countering Russian aggression in Ukraine (not to mention Moldova and Georgia), the squabble among Gulf countries has limited its ability to push back against expanded Iranian presence and influence in the region, and neither Palestinians nor Israelis are inclined to pay the Americans much mind. Adversaries are defiant, allies are nervous, and those in between are hedging.
This weakness is largely the result of incoherence. It is a rare day that President Trump, Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson, National Security Adviser McMaster, and UN Ambassador Haley are even close to being tuned to the same wave length. Far more often they each go their own way, pushing or denying military options, pursuing or dropping diplomatic initiatives, befriending or criticizing dictators.
Why they say what they do is rarely clear, and when clear often illogical. Why refuse to certify that Iran is complying with a nuclear deal that everyone else in the world (including the professionals who staff the State and Defense Departments as well as the US intelligence agencies) says it is complying with? Is that because there is some unwritten “spirit” of the agreement? Or is it just to have an excuse to go to war? Or maybe it’s just a way of fulfilling an election campaign pledge but shedding responsibility for real action to the Congress, as with the elimination of DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals)? No one knows.
Worse: it has become unknowable. The President disdains logic as much as he does facts. What is the logic of threatening the free trade agreement with South Korea when he needs Seoul on board for whatever he wants to do about North Korea? He reacts, based on instinct, and often in different ways on different days, or even different hours. There is really nothing wrong with instinct, or to put it more accurately with heuristics, rules of thumb based on experience. We all use them, including the wisest among us, despite their well-documented distortions. The trouble is the President has no relevant experience. Nor has he read or studied enough to substitute for his inexperience.
This matters as much in politics as it does in foreign policy. Senator McConnell and Speaker Ryan have now been sandbagged (in governmentese that means being surprised by an unexpected and often gratuitous move) more than once by this President. Yesterday, he cut a deal with the Democrats on the budget and hurricane relief that the Republican leadership had publicly stated they would not accept. McConnell and Ryan have thus far not responded in kind. I wouldn’t expect that to last. What goes around comes around.
The one subject on which Washington has reached some limited degree of coherence is, ironically, Russia. Congress reacted to the President’s illogical and seemingly unmotivated affection for Vladimir Putin with sanctions that are coherent and difficult to remove. But that limited coherence of course amplifies the greater incoherence. We still have a president hankering for improved relations with Russia even as the State Department closes down its consulate in San Francisco and orders its diplomats out of the US, in retaliation for a draconian cut Putin ordered in staffing of the US embassy in Moscow.
We’ve also got a President who tells DACA kids how much he loves them and will do something ill-defined for them if Congress doesn’t, while he lets an Attorney General who openly advocates limiting immigration on racial and religious grounds announce that DACA is kaput. Not to mention the presidential pardon for a sheriff who physically abused immigrants, often without regard to whether they were documented or not.
America will be weaker still if Jeff Sessions gets his way and begins to deport those 800,000 productive non-citizens who have spent most of their lives, and careers, in the US. Incoherence is not just dissonance. It will sap America’s strength and render a country founded on admirable principles, but unable to implement them effectively, great only in retrospect. Incoherence is poison. We need to get it out of our system.