Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Christians, returning to Iraq?

18/12/2016

An important article notes that some Christians are returning to Iraq, “Christians are finally returning to the Church of the Immaculate Conception. In the courtyard, they find piles of shell casings and mannequin torsos riddled with bullet holes. The Islamic State fighters who held the building until just a few days ago used the space for target practice. The cavernous interior of the church, the largest in Iraq, is charred and black. The floors are strewn with trash. Islamic State fighters destroyed the crosses and burned any religious books they could find. Now a man is searching through the rubble, salvaging scraps of manuscripts in Aramaic, the ancient language spoken by Jesus. A small group of priests and local people gathers around the altar, and for the first time in two years, the sound of prayer fills the hall”.

It adds “Gunfire and shelling can still be heard not far away. A man goes up to the darkened altar and kisses it, shaking his head in disbelief at the level of destruction. One of the priests finds a few pieces of communion wafer and wraps them respectfully in paper. “This is Christ’s body, after all,” he says. Before the Islamic State launched its war in northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, the town of Hamdaniya (also known as Qaraqosh or Bakhdida), 20 miles southeast of Mosul, was home to 50,000 people, most of whom belonged to several ancient Christian sects. These are some of the oldest Christian communities in the world, and the Islamic State was determined to wipe them out. When the jihadis invaded, most residents fled to safety in the nearby Kurdish region or left the country entirely. Now the military campaign to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, has liberated nearby Hamdaniya, potentially enabling its people to revive their unique and imperiled culture. But that task seems horribly daunting for the first brave ones who made the journey to their ruined hometown”.

It mentions “A sense of jubilation momentarily unites the liberators — the Christian militias and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army soldiers who fought together against the Islamic State (which espouses a twisted version of Sunni Islam). Shiite mullahs and Christian priests tour Hamdaniya together. The cross on the majestic dome of another church, St. Barbara’s, was destroyed by the jihadis. It has now been replaced by a wooden cross — courtesy of the Iraqi Army. “I haven’t seen my home in two and a half years,” says Jameel, a young member of the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, a 500-strong Assyrian Christian militia.  “Now I’m back, and it’s beautiful, even though everything is bombed out.” A self-described poet, he joined the militia last year. On his iPhone, he proudly shows off a photo of a dead Islamic State fighter he says he killed. But there are mixed feelings about how to move forward. Despite the euphoria, there’s a sense that the fabric of Iraqi society is as fragile as ever. A desire for revenge against Sunnis simmers beneath the surface”.

It notes how “Iraqi Army Humvees and armoured personnel carriers, some adorned with images of revered Shiite Muslim leaders, roam the ruined streets. Many of the houses once owned by Christians are burned-out hulks, their walls spray-painted with Islamic State graffiti. In some places, a jihadi slogan — “Islamic State is here and will expand” — has been painted over with praise for Christian militias. One sign proclaims hopefully, “We are all Iraq.” But many of the returnees are focusing first on the idea of reviving their own endangered community, not on building a common nation. During his stint in parliament, Ayshon worked on legislation to prevent Christians from selling their land to any other community. He says it’s important for them to hold on to their place in Iraq. “Our roots go back 5,000 years,” he says, referring to Assyrian Iraqis. “We built this civilization, which they, the Arabs from the desert, have destroyed.” “We built this civilization, which they, the Arabs from the desert, have destroyed.” He makes little effort to hide his contempt for the majority of Iraqi society — yet another reminder of the mutual distrust that permeates the country. But he insists that he doesn’t want to pick a fight”.

Importantly he writes “Iraqi Christians want two things: assurance of their future security and acknowledgment of their past suffering. To these ends, Ayshon this year founded Shlomo, a nongovernmental organization that documents violence and intimidation against Christians in Iraq. The group’s volunteers claim to have collected 30,000 testimonies from Christians who fled the Islamic State. Ayshon says almost all of the 130,000-150,000 Christians who lived in the Nineveh plains, the area east of Mosul, have been displaced. His group has tracked cases of killings, torture, forced conversions, and the kidnapping and selling of Christian girls and women. “We want to prove that what has happened to Christians is a genocide,” Ayshon says. “I want the U.S. State Department and Congress to say that what happened here was genocide and maybe take the case to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.” Ayshon dreams of an autonomous Christian province within Iraq, which he says could be secured by a referendum. Its safety, he says, should be assured by its own protection forces. “We want to live as we want, not as they [Muslims] want us to live,” he adds. In thinking this way, he is not alone”.

It ends “Back in Hamdaniya, Ayshon gets tired of waiting for the army to provide protection for his homecoming. He persuades a fighter from the Nineveh Plain Protection Units to escort us so we can go and see what has become of his former home. The militiaman enters the burnt-out house first to check for booby traps or Islamic State fighters who have stayed behind. After he gives the all-clear, we follow him in to find shattered glass and charred walls. The furniture is gone or destroyed. Ayshon looks around stoically. Amid the rubble, he finds his college diploma in electrical engineering, the only thing that remains intact. “At least the fountain in the garden is still standing,” he says wryly. “That’s a start.” By the time we’re ready to leave, an Iraqi Army Humvee is waiting. An officer scolds Ayshon for driving around in a civilian vehicle that could easily be mistaken for an Islamic State suicide car bomb. On our way back to Erbil, where Ayshon has been living for the past two years, he sighs, thinking of the destruction. But he’s determined to remain optimistic. “When the people return, life will return,” he says. “But we need money and jobs fast to restore Iraqi Christians’ faith in their own land.”

 

Advertisements

“Increasingly trying to control public information”

18/12/2016

“The US military in Afghanistan is increasingly trying to control public information about the war, resulting in strained relations with western organisations offering different versions of events to official military accounts, the Guardian has learned. In a recent incident, the most senior US commander in Afghanistan, Gen John W Nicholson, considered banning or restricting the UN’s access to a military base in Kabul, according to informed sources in both organisations. The dispute followed a UN report in late September claiming that a US drone had killed 15 civilians. Washington insists it only killed members of Islamic State. UN and US military officials declined to speak to the Guardian, but various sources confirmed that working relations were “a nightmare”, as a UN staff member put it”.

Francis writes to Assad

16/12/2016

Pope Francis appealed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a personal letter to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected so that civilians are protected and aid can get to them, the Vatican said on Monday. In the letter, given to Assad by the Vatican ambassador in Damascus, the pope appealed to Assad and the international community for an end to violence and condemned “all forms of extremism and terrorism from whatever quarter they may come”. The letter from the pope, who has made numerous public appeals over the fate of Aleppo, was delivered as a Syrian general said the country’s army and its allies were in the final stages of recapturing the city from rebels. The statement said the pope wrote of his affection for the “sorely tried” people of Syria and appealed to Assad “to ensure that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid”. It is not common for the Vatican to release details about private letters the pope sends to world leaders”.

 

The case for Petraeus

12/12/2016

Boot writes “Trump has made a terrific choice — his best one yet — in choosing retired Gen. James Mattis as his secretary of defense. Mattis is not only a first-rate operational commander who will inspire fear in U.S. enemies and devotion among its troops, but also a serious student of military history and strategy who has thought deeply about issues of war and peace”.

Boot goes on to argue “The only cost in appointing Mattis, along with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as national security advisor, is that it could take David Petraeus out of the running for secretary of state on the theory that the administration can’t have retired generals filling all of the senior national security posts. That would be a mistake. Petraeus would be a superbly qualified secretary of state — one who already has more diplomatic experience than most of those previously selected for this position. He is not, to be sure, the only qualified candidate. Mitt Romney would also be good selection because he is a man of decency and intellect and his selection would show that Trump does not harbour a grudge against those who opposed him during the campaign. If Romney is chosen, one can imagine other qualified critics of Trump being asked to serve in lower-level, if still critical, positions. But of the leading candidates — a list that apparently now includes not just Petraeus and Romney but also Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, and former governor and ambassador Jon Huntsman, Jr. — it is the retired general who has the deepest experience in, and knowledge of, world affairs”.

It goes on to point out “Although he spent 37 years in uniform and rose to four-star rank, Petraeus is in some ways not the prototypical general. He is a man, after all, who holds a doctorate in international relations from Princeton and who stood out from his peers for his cerebral approach to his job. One of his signal achievements was producing, along with Mattis, an Army/Marine field manual on counterinsurgency that served as the intellectual blueprint for the surge that he led as the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. He went on to serve as head of Central Command, as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and as director of the CIA. In all of those positions his duties were as much, if not more so, diplomatic and strategic rather than purely military. Having known Petraeus for 13 years — I first met him when he was the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul in 2003 — I have been impressed by his sure grasp of all the levers of power, most of them non-kinetic. In Iraq in 2007-2008, he was a virtuoso at getting his message across with American journalists and lawmakers in order to buy himself more time to win the war — while at the same time turning the screws on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to get him to reach out to marginalized Sunnis. He understood that the key terrain of the conflict was in the realms of politics, diplomacy, and communications, not the use of force per se — although he also did not hesitate to use force in a targeted and effective way”.

Boot notes “Later, as head of U.S. Central Command from 2008 to 2010, he became America’s dominant voice in the Middle East, outshining the State Department because of his connections across the region and the credibility that he brought to meetings with military and political leaders. Since leaving the government, Petraeus has maintained a peripatetic global travel schedule as chairman of the KKR Global Institute and a partner at the investment firm. He has also weighed in on many issues far beyond the military realm. For example, he co-chaired a Council on Foreign Relations task force on North America that called for strengthening relations between the United States, Mexico, and Canada — a welcome alternative to the protectionist and xenophobic rhetoric that the president-elect often indulged in during the campaign”.

Boot does not mention his leaking of classified information that detracts from his achievements………

Boot goes on to note “In short, Petraeus is far more than a narrow-minded military man. Indeed, he may not have won Trump over as swiftly and completely in his job interview as Mattis did, because he does not conform to Trump’s cigar-chomping impression of what generals should be like; Petraeus is more in the Eisenhower mold than the Patton mold. That is why no one should be troubled if Petraeus becomes the third general to occupy a senior national-security post. Far from giving a pro-war tilt to the new administration, he would be an important restraint on a president who has spoken far too freely of bombing various countries and of torturing terrorists. The chief knock on Petraeus, aside from the fact that he would be another general, is the unfortunate circumstances under which he was forced out of his CIA job in 2012. He resigned after his affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, became public. He subsequently pleaded guilty to two misdemeanour counts of sharing classified information with her, agreeing to spend two years on probation and to pay a $100,000 fine. Many critics are agog that Trump would even consider hiring Petraeus after spending the campaign claiming that Hillary Clinton should be locked up for her mishandling of classified information on her private email account. In truth, both the Clinton and Petraeus cases are minor ones that have nothing in common with the criminal acts of Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, both of whom took highly classified information and made it public to the detriment of American national security. There was no public release of any classified information on Petraeus’s (or Clinton’s) part. In fact, Petraeus assigned one of his staff officers, Col. Mike Meese (now a part of the Trump transition team), to ensure that Broadwell, who also had a security clearance, did not reveal anything she wasn’t supposed to in her book”.

Boot ends “It is telling that Snowden is now claiming in an interview from Moscow, eagerly promoted by the Kremlin’s propaganda organs, that Petraeus’s transgressions were more serious than his own. That simply isn’t so — it’s like comparing jaywalking with bank robbery — but that Snowden is saying so suggests that the Kremlin does not want to see the secretary of state position go to someone who would be expected to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s aggression. No doubt Putin would be more comfortable with a candidate like Rex Tillerson who, as the Wall Street Journal notes, has “some of the closest ties among U.S. CEO’s to Mr. Putin and Russia.” Petraeus has already paid a price for his transgression that goes well beyond his guilty plea on a misdemeanor. He lost his CIA post and he was subjected to public humiliation, which is especially painful for someone who has always valued his well-earned reputation for rectitude. It would be overkill if Petraeus’s one-time error were to forever disqualify him from public service. He still has much to offer a country that he has spent most of his life serving. As secretary of state he could follow capably in the footsteps of his hero, Gen. George C. Marshall.

All the president’s generals

08/12/2016

A piece discusses the number of generals Trump is appointing, “In  the 1990s, during Bill Clinton’s second term, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (A), National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (B), and Secretary of Defense William Cohen (C) would meet weekly for what was called the “ABC lunch.” When the rest of us minions gathered in the White House Situation Room for one crisis or problem or another, we always had the sense that the agenda was kind of fixed, with the statements of the principals a choreographed ballet reflecting agreements already reached at that lunch table. If current trends from President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees continue, the new lunch crowd may all be senior generals in the U.S. military. With National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn now joined by Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis, and both Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. John Kelly being considered as a possible secretary of state, three of the five institutions most centrally involved in U.S. national security policy could be headed by former senior military officers. That would be an unprecedented event in American history, a serious challenge to the tradition of civilian control over the military, and a danger to U.S. national security”.

The piece notes that “This dominance of U.S. national security policy by retired general officers is a trend long in the making, but Trump’s appointees would seal the deal, upsetting the delicate balance of civil-military power in U.S. foreign-policy institutions. Since the start of the Cold War, and particularly in the shaping of a containment policy that emphasized the growth and use of military force (largely at the hand of Paul Nitze in National Security Council memorandum 68 in 1950), the Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, military service chiefs, and combatant commanders have become the 800-pound gorillas of U.S. foreign-policy making. Arguably, the last secretary of state to articulate U.S. national security strategy was John Foster Dulles. Since then, no secretary of state has led the development of national security policy, whereas the Defense Department has regularly trotted out a National Defense Strategy and the Joint Chiefs a National Military Strategy. The gap between the money and people available to the civilian foreign-policy institutions has grown exponentially, with defense budgets running as much as 12 times that for civilian foreign-policy engagement. The responsibility for dealing with international tensions and conflicts is still embedded in a Cold War context. U.S. security assistance support to other countries, while nominally channeled through the State Department budget, is almost entirely designed and implemented by the military services and defense contractors. The exceptional ex-general that proves the rule, Dwight Eisenhower, who happened to be president, was concerned about the rising influence of the Defense Department and the military in U.S. policy and society, leading to his coining of the term “military-industrial complex” in his 1961 Farewell Address, though very little changed, as a result”.

It mentions “In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the expansion of military responsibility for U.S. national security policy and international engagement has grown exponentially. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan turned the U.S. military into an occupying power, with a broad expansion of the role the armed services played in foreign-policy making and implementation. As governance and development became military missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, money for security assistance in those two countries — plus Jordan, Pakistan, and, eventually, dozens of countries around the world — flowed into the Pentagon. The Defense Department deliberately sought a wide expansion of its statutory authorities to provide foreign and military assistance, programs historically the responsibility of the State Department under the Foreign Assistance Act. From Iran to Iraq to the “war on terrorism,” the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been largely left in the dust, both in terms of budgets and responsibilities. Flynn, Mattis, and the other generals who may emerge at the top of Trump’s policy machine were all involved in this expansion of authority and in these wars. Why should we care? If they are competent individuals, so the argument goes, it shouldn’t matter if they were military men once upon a time, right? Aren’t generals the best people for these jobs, given the troubled world we live in? No and no. There are four reasons why the emergence of generals at the top of U.S. national security policy is a bad idea for the United States”.

It posits “First, these appointments break an important tradition of separation between civilians and the military in U.S. governance. Although some military officers have ended up in politics (Ulysses S. Grant, Eisenhower, among others), it is uncommon; as Samuel Huntington emphasized in his classic 1957 study of U.S. civil-military relations, The Soldier and the State: “The military officer must remain neutral politically.… The antithesis of objective civilian control is military participation in politics: civilian control decreases as the military become progressively involved in institutional, class, and constitutional politics.” There has been a history of struggle over this principle, but Huntington’s point is that policymakers and particularly the president are best served when generals stick to their profession and provide their best military advice to the civilians, who are in charge of making policy decisions. Putting a gaggle of military men at the apex of policy (and not just military policy) advice to the president simply sets that foundational principle aside. The second reason begins with a caveat: There is ample evidence that having military officers at the policymaking table is important and that they are frequently conservative about the use of military force. Indeed, generals are well-educated in strategy but not particularly in statecraft — the combination of the tools a competent head of state needs to have at his or her disposal when engaging the world. When generals talk strategy, they are talking deterrence and the conduct of combat, not about the “other means” in Carl von Clausewitz’s classical formulation. Sitting atop the State Department does not suddenly make a general an expert in diplomacy”.

He points out “The fundamental bias — and a necessary bias — of trained officers is to create a military and to advise civilians about the contribution of that military to national security policy. It is a military mindset, a necessary part of their professional expertise, and borne of years of training and education. But it is not a balanced view of how the United States should engage the world. As such, the military paradigm is likely to be the dominant narrative, to the detriment of broader thinking about statecraft. That paradigm focuses on solutions to tactical and strategic problems but not on the nuances of managing intractable international issues. One can readily imagine the starting point to a conversation among generals about the Syrian crisis being about the application of greater or lesser U.S. military force, rather than the tools of diplomacy or negotiation. But that’s an easy one. Is the answer to Nigerian instability and the scourge of Boko Haram further deployment of U.S. forces, training, and weaponry — or a deeper engagement in civil institutions and placing pressure on the Nigerian regime to eliminate corruption and establish effective governance? Is the key to dealing with China’s assertive presence in the South China Sea an aggressive U.S. military buildup in the Pacific or a diplomatic strategy that deals with the surrounding countries and seeks to resolve the most contentious issues? It’s not that the generals are ignorant, but simply that diplomacy is not their stock in trade nor what they’ve spent their lives thinking about and planning for. The differences may appear slight, but they send U.S. global engagement in two very different directions”.

He adds “Third, despite the widespread public respect for the military, the United States has yet to confront the reality that after 15 years of using armed forces to establish order and security in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against terrorist organizations, the record is largely one of failure. Americans live with a myth that the military is the only effective “can-do” organization and that failure in missions such as Iraq and Afghanistan was only because the military was not tasked with doing more. But a decade of training, assistance, and governance support in Iraq led directly to a regime that was nearly overwhelmed by the Islamic State. Afghanistan teeters on the edge of takeover by a combination of Taliban and warlords. And the aggressive, invasive counterterrorism effort in more than 80 countries, led by a more militarized CIA and U.S. special operations forces, may have killed a lot of people but has resulted in the death of not one terrorist organization that existed before 9/11. In fact, it has arguably stimulated their growth and the expansion in the number of terrorist attacks. This history of failures has gone unremarked; the Defense Department and the services continue to whistle through the graveyard of buried policies, rearranging the next step as if it were the first, and patting themselves on the back as heroes for what they have accomplished”.

Pointedly he argues “Despite his campaign rhetoric about firing generals, President-elect Trump is on the verge of rewarding the very same men he recently derided for a “can’t-do” record. But the rest of the world knows well the failures. They are a result of local incompetence, the inability of military personnel to carry out nonmilitary tasks, institutional inflexibility, and, most basically, an abiding ignorance about the difficulty of changing another country through the use of force. Trying harder doesn’t do it better; trying harder has the tragic outcome of reinforcing a record of failure and alienating the very populations the strategy is designed to help. And finally, the continued recourse to military officers as the answer to our national security needs makes the imbalance at the heart of American statecraft a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we act as if the military is the best instrument of statecraft, the more we reinforce the notion that civilians are not competent to carry out national security policy. Moreover, the most difficult long-term national security issues we face, like climate change, are not easily susceptible to military solutions”.

He ends “Civilian control over the military is a fundamental value of our democracy. Generals — even retired ones — should advise, not make policy. A successful national security policy depends on restoring the civil-military balance that has been lost in the lopsided approach of the last 15 years, one that has clearly failed to the detriment of U.S. security. Our civilian national security institutions need reinforcement to help restore that balance; but with two generals in place and a possible third to come, it is very late in the day to restore this important equity”.

 

Trump backs Abadi?

08/12/2016

The prime minister said he expects the incoming Trump administration to grant Iraq a greater degree of logistical support in its war on terror, and dismissed suggestions by Donald Trump in the election campaign that he would seize some of Iraq’s oil production as a kind of “reimbursement” for U.S. efforts in Iraq. Trump said in September that he would “take the oil” from Iraq, claiming that the Iranians would step in otherwise. “I am not going to judge the man by his election statements,” al-Abadi said with a smile. “I am going to judge him by what he does later.” He called Trump, who he spoke with by phone soon after his election victory, a “pragmatic man” who would reassess the situation once in office. But Iraqi oil, he said, belongs to Iraqis. “The Iraqi people will not allow any country to take possession of their own resources,” he said in the interview held at one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces inside the heavily-fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital.

Expanded powers for JSOC

06/12/2016

The Obama administration is giving the elite Joint Special Operations Command — the organization that helped kill Osama bin Laden in a 2011 raid by Navy SEALs — expanded power to track, plan and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe, a move driven by concerns of a dispersed terrorist threat as Islamic State militants are driven from strongholds in Iraq and Syria, U.S. officials said. The missions could occur well beyond the battlefields of places like Iraq, Syria and Libya where Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has carried out clandestine operations in the past. When finalized, it will elevate JSOC from being a highly-valued strike tool used by regional military commands to leading a new multiagency intelligence and action force. Known as the “Counter-External Operations Task Force,” the group will be designed to take JSOC’s targeting model — honed over the last 15 years of conflict — and export it globally to go after terrorist networks plotting attacks against the West. The creation of a new JSOC entity this late in the Obama’s tenure is the “codification” of best practices in targeting terrorists outside of conventional conflict zones, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss administration deliberations. It is unclear, however, if the administration of President-elect Donald Trump will keep this and other structures set up by Obama. They include guidelines for counterterrorism operations such as approval by several agencies before a drone strike and “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed. This series of presidential orders is known as the “playbook.”

“Mattis may break with Trump’s practice”

04/12/2016

A report notes that Trump has picked Mattis for DoD, “Trump said Thursday he has chosen retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, who has said that responding to “political Islam” is the major security issue facing the United States, to be secretary of defense. “We are going to appoint Mad Dog Mattis as our secretary of defense,” Trump told a rally in Cincinnati, the first stop on a post-election “thank-you tour.” Trump joked that the media and audience should keep the news to themselves. “We are going to be announcing him Monday of next week,” Trump said. “Keep it inside the room.” Mattis, who retired as chief of U.S. Central Command in 2013, has often said that Washington lacks an overall strategy in the Middle East, opting to instead handle issues in an ineffective one-by-one manner”.

It goes on to mention ““Is political Islam in the best interest of the United States?” Mattis said at the Heritage Foundation in 2015, speaking about the separate challenges of the Islamic State and Iranian-backed terrorism. “I suggest the answer is no, but we need to have the discussion. If we won’t even ask the question, how do we even recognize which is our side in a fight?” To take the job, Mattis will need Congress to pass legislation to bypass a federal law stating that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years. Congress has granted a similar exemption just once, when Gen. George C. Marshall was appointed to the job in 1950″.

It adds that “Miller, a spokesman with the Trump transition team, tweeted that no decision had been made, but Trump’s son Donald Jr. retweeted a report saying that Mattis got the job. Mattis, 66, served more than four decades in the Marine Corps and is known as one of the most influential military leaders of his generation, a strategic thinker who occasionally drew rebukes for his aggressive talk. Since retiring, he has served as a consultant and as a visiting fellow with the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University. Like Trump, Mattis favours a tougher stance against U.S. adversaries abroad, especially Iran. The general, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in April, said that while security discussions often focus on terrorist groups such as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, the Iranian regime is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.” Mattis said the next president “is going to inherit a mess” and argued that the nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration last year may slow Iran’s ambitions to get a nuclear weapon but will not stop them. But he added that “absent a clear and present violation,” he did not see a way that Washington could go back on it, because any unilateral sanctions issued by the United States would not be as valuable if allies were not on board. “In terms of strengthening America’s global standing among European and Middle Eastern nations alike, the sense is that America has become somewhat irrelevant in the Middle East, and we certainly have the least influence in 40 years,” Mattis said”.

It goes on to argue “Mattis may break with Trump’s practice of calling out allies for not doing enough to build stability. Mattis served from November 2007 to August 2010 as the supreme allied commander of transformation for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, focused on improving the military effectiveness of allies. Trump called NATO “obsolete” earlier this year before saying later that he was “all for NATO” but wanted all members to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defence, a NATO goal. “The president-elect is smart to think about putting someone as respected as Jim Mattis in this role,” said a former senior Pentagon official. “He’s a warrior, scholar and straight shooter — literally and figuratively. He speaks truth to everyone and would certainly speak truth to this new commander in chief.” But the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Trump’s personnel choices, said: “If there’s any concern at all, it’s the principle of civilian control over the military. This role was never intended to be a kind of Joint Chiefs of Staff on steroids, and that’s the biggest single risk tied to Mattis. For Mattis, the biggest risk for him personally is that he will have a national security adviser in the form of Mike Flynn whose management style and extreme views may arch Mattis’s eyebrows and cause conflict over time. It’s no fun to be secretary of defense if you have to constantly feud with the White House.” Mattis, whose nicknames include “Mad Dog” and the “Warrior Monk,” has had a leading hand in some of the U.S. military’s most significant operations in the past 20 years. As a one-star general, he led an amphibious task force of Marines that carried out a November 2001 raid in helicopters on Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, giving the Pentagon a new foothold against the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Using the call sign “Chaos,” he commanded a division of Marines during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and returned there the following year to lead Marines in bloody street fighting in the city of Fallujah”.

It ends “He was considered a leading contender to become commandant of the Marine Corps in 2010 but was bypassed in favor of Gen. James F. Amos. Instead, Mattis replaced Petraeus as the chief of Central Command, overseeing U.S. military operations across the Middle East”.

Trump’s dangerous Syria policy

02/12/2016

Charles Lister argues that Trump’s Syria policy would be a disaster, “Trump explained for the first time since his election victory his position on the crisis in Syria. In his remarks, he laid out his determination to ramp up the fight against the Islamic State and to cease support to those fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime: I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria.… My attitude was you’re fighting Syria; Syria is fighting ISIS; and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria.… Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are. Though this is an extraordinary simplification of a highly complex crisis, the president-elect’s views on Syria do evince some consistency — just not the consistency he apparently intends. Trump says he wants to focus on destroying the Islamic State. But the main effect of the policies he describes would be to eliminate the moderate opposition to the Assad regime and to empower extremism”.

He adds “Before considering all the disastrous effects of Trump’s policy, we should examine why even his stated justification for it doesn’t hold water. A brief history lesson should suffice to demonstrate the Assad regime’s lack of counterterrorism qualifications. This is the government whose intelligence apparatus methodically built al Qaeda in Iraq, and then the Islamic State in Iraq, into a formidable terrorist force to fight U.S. troops in that country from 2003 to 2010. Hundreds of American soldiers would probably still be alive today if it had not been for Assad’s state-backed support to the Islamic State’s direct predecessors. Meanwhile, Trump’s suggestion to partner with Russia in “smashing” the Islamic State is little more than a non sequitur, given Russia’s near-consistent focus on everything but the jihadi group. According to recent data monitoring airstrikes across Syria, only 8 percent of areas targeted by Russian airstrikes between Oct. 12 and Nov. 8 belonged to the Islamic State. With only one brief exception — the capture of Palmyra from the jihadi group during an internationally imposed cessation of hostilities — the Kremlin’s focus has unequivocally and consistently been on fighting Syria’s mainstream opposition, not the Islamic State. Much of its targeting has been against U.S.-linked members of Syria’s opposition”.

Lister argues “contrary to Trump’s statement, the United States knows precisely who “these people” receiving U.S. support are. The CIA has been running an intricate web of relationships with dozens of moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups since late 2012. Today, this program, code-named Timber Sycamore, continues to provide support to 80 such “vetted” groups across Syria in coordination with international and regional allies. The U.S. role in this multilateral effort has ensured a modicum of control over the breadth of international support for the Syrian opposition, and over the risk that extremists will gain control over opposition weapons or fighters. In fact, contrary to an increasingly popular narrative, fighters in these vetted groups are not, with very few exceptions, handing over U.S. weapons to jihadis, nor are they wandering off to join the extremists themselves. The cornerstone of the CIA effort has been to supply rebel groups with U.S.-manufactured BGM-71 TOW anti-tank guided missiles, which have ensured that the moderate opposition has remained a relevant actor in the conflict. Thus far, according to publicly available information, at least 1,073 TOW missiles have been sent to Syria and used in combat, only 12 of which have changed hands and been used by nonvetted groups — amounting to an impressively low proliferation rate of 1.1 percent. Of all the groups that have enjoyed “vetted” status, only two have been defeated by groups linked to al Qaeda and one was withdrawn from the program for questionable activities”.

He goes on to point out “Trump appears to be indicating a preference for combating the symptoms of a crisis — that is, terrorism — while strengthening their principal cause: Assad’s dictatorship and his refusal to negotiate. Although Syria’s moderate opposition is far from perfect, withdrawing U.S. support and thus the basis of its international legitimacy will only undermine U.S. interests in Syria. But the dangers of Trump’s policy are far greater than that. If Trump follows through on it, he risks exacerbating six major threats to U.S. domestic and international security; Al Qaeda’s de facto affiliate in Syria has positioned itself perfectly to reap the benefits of a decrease in U.S. support to the moderate opposition. Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, has spent more than four years embedding itself in the Syrian revolution and presenting itself to opposition groups and civilians as a partner and protector of their national movement. These efforts have guaranteed that its power will increase markedly should more moderate groups suffer a reduction in support. In other words, erroneously labeling the mainstream opposition as universally “extremist” today will produce a self-fulfilling prophecy and create a threat of far greater magnitude than what was posed by the Islamic State in 2014″.

Lister notes “The widespread perception that Washington is indifferent to the suffering of Syrian civilians has led ever more members of the Syrian opposition to consider al Qaeda a more willing and more effective protector of their lives and interests than the United States, the supposed “leader of the free world.” Trump’s proposed abandonment of the Syrian opposition would permanently cement that perception and make Syria a pre-9/11 Afghanistan on steroids. This should be deeply troubling to anyone concerned about international security, given Syria’s proximity to Europe”.

Lister argues that Trump would encourages allies to go it alone “A U.S. decision to disown the Syrian opposition would undermine its European allies and enrage its regional partners. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar in particular have been determined supporters of Syria’s armed opposition since its earliest days, often with a cooperative U.S. ally in hand. Which is not to suggest that these states have always been effective: It is no secret that the chaotic and disorganized support provided by these states to armed groups in Syria in 2011 and 2012 played a role in the FSA’s failure to coalesce into a single unified organization.  It was U.S. support that managed to help organize the armed opposition. From late 2012 onward, the U.S. role in the multinational “operations rooms” in Turkey (the MOM) and Jordan (the MOC) imposed some control over the influx of military equipment and finance. Removing that U.S. role risks re-creating the chaos and infighting that ruled the early days of the Syrian crisis, but this time in a context where extremists are poised to swiftly take advantage. Al Qaeda’s well-publicized “rebranding” of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham also makes it an increasingly likely recipient of support from exasperated regional states. Given that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham now outwardly claims to have done away with its “external” ties to al Qaeda, it would not be altogether surprising to see Qatar or Turkey — for example — switching the bulk of their support to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and similar groups were the United States to cease supporting the opposition. Although regional states have yet to explicitly propose throwing their full weight behind Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the group’s growing military capabilities and levels of lethal and nonlethal equipment, especially since its rebrand, already suggest some level of direct or indirect state support”.

Lister writes that Trump could be giving ISIS another chance “Although a U.S.-Russian alliance would likely increase the threat to the Islamic State’s territorial holdings in Syria, at least in the short term, such a partnership would be an invaluable long-term boon to the group’s propaganda. Were Russia to employ the same carpet-bombing tactics it has used in its attempt to crush the Syrian opposition, the consequences of such “victories” would ensure that the Islamic State has a ready-made narrative to attempt a determined resurgence with some level of popular acceptance or even support. While the Islamic State’s recovery in Iraq between 2010 and 2014 was driven by Sunni resentment at a perceived sectarian leadership in Baghdad and a raging civil war next door in Syria, its future recovery could feasibly be empowered by widespread Sunni fury at the brutal and indiscriminate U.S.-Russian assault launched on Islamic State-held populations in 2017. Trump has spoken frequently about the dangers posed by domestic terrorism. But a potential U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria could also further energize the Islamic State’s calls for attacks against targets in the West, particularly in the United States. The Islamic State has maintained a potent capacity to “inspire” foreign attacks during its times of success, but one should not underestimate the possibility that it could spark an even greater homeland terrorism threat while in retreat. Paired with the possibility that Trump may introduce newly oppressive domestic policies on immigration and other issues relating to race and religion, this scenario portends greater threats, not a safer America”.

Lister suggests that he could empower Iran “As a staunch opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, it is surprising that Trump appears to be proposing Syria policies that would save Iran from a geopolitically crippling defeat and strengthen its regional influence. For years prior to the Arab Spring, Syria represented the existentially important “glue” holding together Iran’s spheres of influence — from Tehran to Baghdad to Damascus to Beirut. Assad was Iran’s most important Arab ally, and his proximity to Lebanon ensured that Hezbollah remained a truly formidable terrorist organization. Since the Syrian crisis erupted, Iran’s role in protecting the Assad regime has been of paramount importance, consistently outweighing the role played by Russia on the ground. This is for one simple reason: An Assad defeat in Syria would dismantle Iran’s regional empire, leaving a gaping hole at its heart. It would also pose a serious threat to Hezbollah, the world’s only terrorist organization whose armed forces are a recognized paramilitary actor in a nation-state. Despite having lost some of its popular appeal in the Arab world, Hezbollah in particular appears to have emerged stronger from the Syrian crisis. It has received highly significant arms shipments from Iran and Assad: Only this past Sunday, Hezbollah held an impressive military parade in western Syria”.

He contends that Trump’s policy would strengthen Russia “Trump has indicated that he thinks Vladimir Putin is a “great” man and has described how he is “doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia.” This ignores the fact that Putin seeks to secure a Russian rise at the expense of American power and influence, not in equal partnership with them. Putin is a deft strategist and tactician who has consistently outplayed an Obama administration known to favour drawn-out deliberations when faced with troubling issues abroad. When faced with Trump who says he wants to “bomb the hell out of” terrorists and withdraw from costly situations overseas, Putin is well-placed to offer a relationship of cooperation that he knows will benefit Moscow a great deal more than Washington. An inevitable consequence of a U.S.-Russia partnership in Syria would be their eventual attempt to negotiate an enforced settlement for the civil war. Paired with Trump’s erroneous suggestion that confronting Assad would damage counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State, Syria’s opposition would conclude that their presumptive negotiating partners would be expecting them to surrender and accept an Assad “victory.” The pursuit of such an objective would fail before it started. It would also give Assad, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and their militia allies the excuse — with quiet U.S. complicity — to treat the entire Syrian opposition as if it were no different to the Islamic State. Doing so would encourage further war crimes; make any negotiations in Syria practically impossible; and further embolden an aggressive Russia, giving it the confidence to act with impunity elsewhere, in direct opposition to U.S. interests”. 

He adds that it would worsen that refugee crisis with all its knock on consequences in Europe.

 

 

 

Obama, attempting to secure his legacy

29/11/2016

A report discusses the legacy building attempts of President Obama, “With less than three months left in office, President Barack Obama will soon relinquish his foreign-policy legacy to the gimlet-eyed gaze of historians and presidential scholars. But before that happens, the White House is hellbent on completing an ambitious to-do list that will face a considerable head wind in Congress.  Eight years ago, the energetic senator from Illinois came to power on a promise to end the bloody wars and counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush, a Republican. But the 8,400 troops currently in Afghanistan and 5,000 in Iraq — not to mention regular airstrikes on Islamist fighters in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia — demonstrate the intractability of America’s post-9/11 conflicts. And though Obama closed the book on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program, the lasting presence of the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is a stinging reminder of unfulfilled campaign promises to do away with the excesses of the Bush era”.

It goes on to mention how “Other widely touted achievements, such as the Iran nuclear deal or the rapprochement with Cuba, could be rolled back by Obama’s successor or Congress. Just last week, days before Secretary of State John Kerry received a peace award in Ireland for securing the Iran deal, House Republicans announced plans to pass a 10-year reauthorization of sanctions on Tehran that could undermine the landmark accord. For the president’s critics, that deal is the most vulnerable part of his foreign-policy legacy. “The Iran deal will be in trouble no matter who is elected,” said James Carafano, a conservative foreign-policy expert at the Heritage Foundation. Obama’s supporters say an underappreciated aspect of his legacy — the successful restoration of America’s standing in the world after Bush’s presidency — may be the most in danger”.

The author adds that “Another major part of Obama’s legacy relies on galvanizing Congress in the dying days of his presidency. On trade, Congress has yet to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive pact involving 11 Pacific Rim countries and the United States that the White House views as essential to boosting U.S. exports and checking China’s influence in the region. And on Syria, U.S. efforts to broker a cease-fire have failed in a conflict that has killed at least 400,000 people and displaced millions more”.

The article notes the list of items Obama will try to protect “In his final months in office, Obama will be keen to prevent any attempt by Congress to undermine the Iran nuclear agreement reached in July 2015 between Tehran and world powers. The president maintains that he already has all the authority he needs to reimpose economic penalties if Tehran violates the deal and is seeking to stave off growing bipartisan support for renewing the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires in December. However, hawkish Democrats want to send a clear message to Iran that the United States stands ready to resume economic sanctions if needed. And some Republicans want to introduce additional measures that could broaden possible sanctions. Some of those new sanctions could amount to poison pills that effectively sabotage the Iran deal, possibly prompting Tehran to renounce the agreement”.

He adds that “Congressional Republicans could also forgo tinkering with sanctions in exchange for promises to pursue another bill that imposes economic penalties against Iran for its ballistic missile testing. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization, adamantly wants both bills approved, which could prevent Republicans from using either legislation as a political messaging tool”.

The piece notes that he will also try to cement counterterrorism policies, “In July, Obama released policy guidance outlining in unprecedented detail his extensive rules on drone strikes, “kill or capture” missions, and detention. But because little of Obama’s so-called counterterrorism playbook is enshrined in law, a future commander in chief could reverse key parts of it. Brookings Institution legal scholar Benjamin Wittes said laws regarding the use of force and armed conflict are “frankly pretty permissive” and the next president will have “wiggle room” to change the way U.S. counterterrorism missions operate. “If we’re going to kill people — and, by the way, we’re going to kill people — you have to have a process for it,” Wittes told FP. “Otherwise, it becomes sort of Putin-esque. If you don’t know the rules, then you’re in a very scary world.” Obama has steadily loosened the rules of engagement for American troops and aircraft in places like Afghanistan and Somalia, where U.S. special operations forces are accompanying local forces on the ground. In Afghanistan, U.S. special ops commandos have been given the green light to fight the Islamic State and the Taliban — in loosely defined self-defense missions — as American troops accompany Afghan army units in the field. In June, Obama allowed U.S. aircraft to target both extremist groups in Afghanistan”.

Rightly the piece admits that “Obama has already all but lost the fight on another early campaign promise — to shutter the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Though the Obama administration has steadily whittled down the inmate population since 2009, 60 men remain detained there”.

Revising the 9/11 terrorism bill

It ends that he hopes to revise a terrorism bill, “The first and only veto override of Obama’s presidency came in September when Congress voted overwhelmingly to allow 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the terrorist attack. But less than 24 hours later, Congress’s top Republican leaders announced they might rewrite the legislation “so that our service members do not have legal problems overseas,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan said after the 348-77 vote. That was the same argument cited by Obama when he vetoed the legislation. But the president might be blocked from reversing the law from within his own Democratic Party. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is expected to become the next Senate Democratic leader, remains opposed to any changes. And no lawmaker — either in the House or Senate — has yet offered to rally support for revising the law, a congressional aide told FP on condition of anonymity”.

Obama speaks to Putin

27/11/2016

President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin spoke for about four minutes on Sunday at the APEC summit about Syria and Ukraine, a White House official said. “The president urged President Putin to uphold Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements, underscoring the U.S. and our partners’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty,” the official said. The summit is taking place in Peru’s capital, Lima. Obama also emphasized the need for their two countries’ foreign ministers “to continue pursuing initiatives, together with the broader international community, to diminish the violence and alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people,” the official said.

GOP, constraining Trump?

21/11/2016

A piece discusses how the GOP will constrain Trump, “Some of the most powerful foreign-policy makers in the U.S. government are outside of President-elect Donald Trump’s control and are already signaling an early end to the honeymoon period over their fellow Republican’s security and diplomatic stances. No matter whom Trump picks for his cabinet — and who might actually accept top posts implementing his “America First” foreign policy — he’ll have to contend with GOP congressional committee chairmen at the top of defense, intelligence, and diplomatic panels in both the House and Senate, many of whom are wary, at best, of his approach to issues ranging from Russia to the Syrian civil war to immigration. Most of the sitting chairs on these panels will remain where they are next year — and just emerged from an election season of defending, dancing around, or distancing themselves from the controversial GOP presidential candidate. On Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the incoming president’s proposed thaw of U.S.-Moscow relations was “unacceptable.” An spokesman said he has no intention of leaving his powerful committee perch next year. McCain was responding to Trump’s comments a day earlier in which he said he’s “very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia,” followed by Moscow’s announcement on Tuesday of a renewed air assault on rebel-held areas of Syria and reports of resumed bombings on Aleppo. “With the U.S. presidential transition underway, Vladimir Putin has said in recent days that he wants to improve relations with the United States,” McCain said in a statement, referring to the Russian president”.

Reassuringly the report mention McCain’s role, “McCain and Trump have long been at odds. Still, McCain’s statement served as an early-warning shot that Trump may find himself with a less pliant Congress than he expects on cabinet confirmations and the contentious foreign-policy issues that buttressed his campaign. Former GOP presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), speaking for himself and McCain, told reporters Tuesday that whether on the Syrian conflict or lethal aid to Ukraine, “on all things Russia” they are going to be “hard-ass.” “He is president of the U.S. and the leading diplomat for our country,” Graham said of Trump, whom he has opposed from the outset. “But Congress has a role in all of this.” Trump’s relations with Congress will be defined both by the campaign scars and the staffing of his administration. Trump is reportedly considering several senators for top cabinet jobs: Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee for secretary of state, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for secretary of defense or attorney general, or even GOP primary rival Sen. Ted Cruz for the Justice Department. He’s also reportedly looking at Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) for the job of Pentagon chief, although a person close to the Trump transition team told Foreign Policy that Hunter, at least, is an unlikely pick. Earlier this week, Sessions appeared to be the front-runner for secretary of defense, and “once he decides how he wants to spend the next four years, he can do whatever he wants to do” in the administration, said the person familiar with the Trump transition, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Reports Wednesday morning suggested he is leaning toward attorney general”.

Interestingly it adds how “McCain has made clear that he will challenge Trump on any number of fronts stemming from sharp — and often philosophical — disagreements over congressional oversight and America’s role in the world. Beyond the warming relations with Putin, McCain also is at odds with Trump’s stand to keep open the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, for example, as well as the president-elect’s vow to bring back “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” when interrogating terror suspects. McCain was tortured as a former prisoner of war in Vietnam and sponsored legislation to ban the practice. On Syria, Trump has suggested that Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad largely be left alone to battle Sunni rebels in the name of fighting terrorists. That’s anathema to McCain and other Republican hawks. “At the very least, the price of another ‘reset’ would be complicity in Putin and Assad’s butchery of the Syrian people,” McCain said Tuesday. Trump’s positions on Syria — as well as Russia — have also troubled Corker, though he advised the president-elect throughout the campaign. Corker has called for the United States to be tougher on Assad and provide Ukrainians with lethal defensive aid. He recently described Putin as “very brutal” in enacting policy. On Trump’s coziness toward Moscow, Corker said, “I don’t share those views, and I think one needs to be careful about responding to flattery, let’s just be honest.” Additionally, Corker has backed bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform and rejects banning Muslims from entering the United States as “completely counter to the values and principles of our great nation.” Trump has reversed himself several times on the ban he first called for in the wake of the attack last December in San Bernardino, California”.

It points out how “Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, (R-N.C.), has stopped far short of criticizing Trump’s relationship with Putin. He was reluctant to the point of dismissive about siding with U.S. intelligence indicating Russian hackers sought to meddle in the presidential election to the Republican nominee’s advantage. But the closer Trump’s relationship with Putin, the more difficult it may be for Burr to go along — especially if primacy over U.S. foreign policy turns into a battle between the White House and a staunchly GOP Congress. “Donald Trump is not an ideologue,” Burr said Tuesday in trying to assuage concerns about the Trump administration. “He’s barely a Republican.” Key House chairmen also appear unsettled by Trump’s security policies — especially as they pertain to Russia. They include:

  • House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who told FP this week that Trump should tread carefully with Putin. Nunes has emerged as one of the Trump transition team’s key national security advisors after ousters in recent days.
  • House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas), who last month said he told Trump that Russia was behind the political campaign hacks, but that the nominee didn’t believe there was enough evidence. McCaul, who advised Trump on national security, saidit’s “not [Trump’s] strength.”
  • House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) did not endorse Trump during the campaign and has refused to say whether he voted for the GOP standard-bearer. Thornberry has voiced “concerns” about Trump’s foreign policy, although hewelcomed Trump’s pledge to end sequestration, the budget caps that limit defense spending.
  • House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called for better vetting of refugees, but said Trump’s Muslim ban was unconstitutional.

However, congressional Republicans may still find themselves rallying around the new president on domestic issues that excite their constituents. Unanimously re-elected to his post Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan has signaled support of Trump’s plans to overhaul Obamacare and enact strict immigration policies. So, too, has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was also unanimously re-elected in pro-forma elections Wednesday.Both are eager to demonstrate unity after a divisive campaign in which Trump declared war on the party”.

The piece ends “Trump may see some lawmakers, such as Corker, as more effective allies on Capitol Hill than in his cabinet. In a statement Monday, Corker told FP that he’s “excited” about the opportunity for Trump and the Congress, given that the GOP will control the White House and both chambers. But he made clear that he also wants to restore Congress’s role in shaping U.S. foreign policy, and touted his committee’s “progress in restoring Congress’s constitutional role in advancing U.S. interests internationally.”That could well serve as a strong check on Trump’s vision of America’s place in a new world order: back at home”.

Flynn as NSA, a Putin apologist

19/11/2016

A report in the Washington Post notes how Trumps choice of Michael Flynn for NSA brings experience and controversy, “The most influential national security job in the still-forming Trump administration will go to a retired three-star general who helped dismantle insurgent networks in Afghanistan and Iraq but then surprised — and sometimes dismayed — colleagues by joining the political insurgency led by Donald Trump. As national security adviser to Trump, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn would be responsible for helping a president with no national security experience navigate complicated global issues including the unfinished campaign against the Islamic State, the expansionist agenda of China and rising aggression from Russia. Flynn’s selection for the post was confirmed Thursday night by a person close to the Trump transition team who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations. As a decorated military intelligence officer and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn has deep experience to draw upon as he serves as Trump’s principal point of contact with the State Department, the Pentagon and a collection of U.S. intelligence agencies that have surged in power and influence since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks”.

The report notes that “Flynn has also shown an erratic streak since leaving government that is likely to make his elevation disconcerting even to the flag officers and senior intelligence officials who once considered him a peer. Flynn stunned former colleagues when he traveled to Moscow last year to appear alongside Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at a lavish gala for the Kremlin-run propaganda channel RT, a trip Flynn admitted he was paid to make and defended by saying he saw no distinction between RT and U.S. news channels such as CNN. Flynn said he used the trip to press Putin’s government to behave more responsibly in international affairs. Former U.S. officials said Flynn, seen dining next to Putin in photos published by Russian propaganda outlets, was used as a prop by the autocratic leader. Flynn was forced out of his job as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 over concerns about his leadership style. After the ouster, he frequently lashed out in public against President Obama and blamed his removal on the administration’s discomfort with his hard-line views on radical Islam. Spurning the decorum traditionally expected of retired U.S. flag officers, Flynn became a fervent campaigner for Trump and was given a high-profile role speaking before the GOP convention, an appearance in which he led the crowd in “lock her up” chants against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton”.

It mentions how “McChrystal and retired Adm. Michael Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, contacted Flynn and urged him to show more restraint, with Mullen warning that Flynn’s behaviour could jeopardize White House trust in the military. Flynn dismissed those concerns in an interview with The Washington Post earlier this year, saying efforts to quiet him impinged on his free speech rights. “When someone says, ‘You’re a general, so you have to shut up,’ ” he said, “I say, ‘Do I have to stop being an American?’ ” Flynn continued to campaign for Trump and has said he has admired the mogul since their initial meeting. “I was very impressed,” Flynn said in the interview with The Post. “Very serious guy. Good listener. Asked really good questions . . . I found him to be very attuned to what was going on around the world.” Civil rights groups denounced the Flynn selection, saying he has refused to reject Trump’s repeated statements supporting the use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation measures on terrorism suspects. Trump has also advocated killing or capturing innocent relatives of terrorism suspects. Asked about such proposals, Flynn said in an interview with Al Jazeera this year that he is a “believer in leaving as many options on the table right up until the last possible minute.” “Michael Flynn has exhibited basic contempt for international law, including the Geneva Conventions and laws prohibiting torture,” said John Sifton, deputy Washington director of Human Rights Watch. “By offering the post to Flynn, President-elect Trump will be cementing a dark return to the illegalities of the Bush administration and further undermining the foundation of the international human rights system.” A longtime Democrat and native of Rhode Island who grew up in a military family, Flynn has articulated an increasingly dark vision of the direction of the United States, saying that it has fallen into a struggle between “centrist nationalists” and “socialists.” He has also warned that the United States is failing to adequately address the threat posed by what he calls a “diseased component” of Islam”.

The report ends “That view, and his willingness to voice it publicly, put him in close alignment with Trump, who has called for Muslims in the United States to be registered, subjected to loyalty tests and in some cases deported. In February, Flynn tweeted a link to a YouTube video with the message: “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: Please forward a link to this video so that people may learn the BASICS of Islam.” As national security adviser, Flynn would be a White House insider in a unique position to influence Trump on almost all aspects of foreign policy. Trump has shown scant respect for the intelligence and institutions that shaped Flynn, dismissing an intelligence community assessment that Russia was interfering in the presidential election as “public relations.” Trump has also said he probably knows more than American generals about how to succeed in conflict zones such as Syria”.

 

 

“Hoping against hope that he will grow in the White House”

11/11/2016

Max Boot writes that Trump may not be so bad after all, “Nov. 9, 2016, is a dark, depressing day for me and for the slim popular majority of Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton. It is easy on a day like this to fall prey to one’s worst fears. Is this the dark night of fascism descending on America? Maybe. Is this the triumph of white supremacists? Could be. Is this the end of NATO and the triumph of Vladimir Putin? Quite possibly. I admit that I am deeply worried that these cataclysmic scenarios could actually come to pass. This really could be Apocalypse Now. But I have to admit it’s also possible that the worst won’t happen and that Trump will exceed the low-low expectations that greet his ascension. In truth, although I have been warning — along with many others — of the catastrophic consequences of a Trump presidency, I have no idea what he will actually do. Nobody does, probably including Trump himself. If there is any optimism to be gleaned on this day after, it lies in the very fact that Trump has been so utterly incoherent on just about every policy issue”.

He argues that “On immigration, for example, he began by promising to build a wall that Mexico would pay for and to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. He ended the campaign by saying that U.S. taxpayers would build the wall with Mexico eventually paying us back and that deportations would proceed “in a very humane way” targeting “gang members” and “drug peddlers.” What about mass deportations? “We’re going to make a decision at a later date.” He even suggested that he would not rule out a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. On homeland security, at first he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” By the end of the campaign, this radical idea had been dropped. It had “morphed,” he said, “into an extreme vetting from certain areas of the world,” whatever that means. In the battle against terrorism, he began by calling for taking Iraq’s oil, for bombing the “shit” out of the areas under Islamic State occupation, for torturing terrorists and killing their relatives — all of which would constitute war crimes. At a March 3 debate, he insisted that the military would carry out his orders even if those orders were illegal under international law; the very next day, however, he reversed himself and said he wouldn’t order the armed forces to do anything illegal. By the end of the campaign, he was saying that “after taking office, I will ask my generals to present to me a plan within 30 days to defeat and destroy ISIS. This will require military warfare but also cyberwarfare, financial warfare, and ideological warfare.” In other words, the anti-ISIS plan is TBD”.

Boot writes that “On abortion, he used to describe himself as “very pro-choice.” During the campaign, he became so anti-abortion that he called for women who get the procedure to be punished, before walking back that position. Now he says he’s in favour of overturning Roe v. Wade and letting the states decide, which would effectively mean that abortion would remain legal in almost every state. On U.S. troops overseas, he has called NATO “obsolete” but also said he wants it to play a bigger role in the war on terrorism. He has said that if U.S. allies don’t “pay up” for the protection provided by American troops, he would withdraw them, but he has also said this is only a bargaining position and implied that he doesn’t really mean it. He has said he didn’t care if South Korea and Japan acquired nuclear capabilities after the withdrawal of U.S. forces but subsequently denied saying that. What are we to make of all this?  My conclusion is that Trump has few fixed principles beyond self-promotion. He wants to make America “great” but has little idea how. He has expressed certain sentiments — in favour of being strong and surprising our enemies, against political correctness, immigration, and disadvantageous trade treaties — without knowing exactly how they would translate into policy”.

The piece adds “During the campaign, I thought this was a tremendous weakness, because Clinton had policy knowledge and specifics that he lacked, but in office it could be a saving grace. If Trump were to staff his administration with competent professionals with prior government experience, and if he were to listen to their advice, he could actually wind up implementing a fairly conventional conservative agenda in many respects. He could be especially positive in economic policy, where he has promised to cut taxes and regulations — a promise that, if not offset by job-killing tariffs, could turbocharge growth. Granted, the Trump we saw on the campaign trail was so erratic that it’s hard to believe he will be disciplined and prudent in office. But I’m hoping against hope that he will grow in the White House — that the office will make the man. Because if that doesn’t occur, the consequences are too ghastly to contemplate”.

Iran’s 25,000 in Syria

09/11/2016

Iran now commands a force of around 25,000 Shi’ite Muslim militants in Syria, mostly made up of recruits from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the former head of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency has told a visiting Swiss delegation. Avi Dichter, chair of Israel’s foreign affairs and defense committee, told members of the Swiss parliament the Iranian-backed force was focused on fighting Sunni rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, not Islamic State. “This is a foreign legion of some 25,000 militants, most of whom have come from Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Dichter told the delegation during the briefing on Wednesday, according to details provided by his office. “They are fighting in Syria only against the rebels and not against ISIS.” It was not clear what the source of Dichter’s information was, but he receives intelligence briefings in his role”.

Baghdadi breaks his silence

07/11/2016

After a nearly yearlong silence, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph of the Islamic State, released a blistering audio recording imploring his forces to remain firm in the face of the American-backed Iraqi offensive in Mosul and excoriating those who might consider fleeing. “Know that the value of staying on your land with honor is a thousand times better than the price of retreating with shame,” he said, adding: “This war is yours. Turn the dark night of the infidels into day, destroy their homes and make rivers of their blood.” The last time Mr. Baghdadi addressed his followers was in a recording released Dec. 26. His silence since then has led to persistent rumors that he had been wounded or killed. He was not heard from even after one of his closest associates — the extremist organization’s spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who headed the group’s efforts to export terror abroad, including overseeing attacks in Paris and Brussels — was killed in an airstrike in August. The terrorist leader’s tone in the new recording at times suggested an air of panic, as if he was trying to shore up his fighters and enjoin them to continue battle, promising them heavenly rewards: “Oh soldiers of the caliphate, if you stand in the line of fire from America’s jets and its allies, then stand firm.” He added: “Know that if the sky collapses onto the earth, God will make room for the believers to breathe.” The new 31-minute recording, which was uploaded Wednesday on one of the Islamic State’s channels on the encrypted app Telegram, eulogized both Mr. Adnani and Abu Muhammad al-Furqan, the head of the Islamic State’s media operations, whose death was made public in October”.

Trump, doing permanent damage

07/11/2016

Stephen Walt writes the damage done during the election could be permanent, “assuming, Hillary Clinton is elected president, the collective sigh of relief heard ’round the world could well be deafening. Way back in June (i.e., before the revelations about Trump’s fondness for groping women surfaced), a Pew Research Center survey found that more 80 percent of Swedes, Germans, French, British, Japanese and Australians, had “no confidence” in Trump’s ability to handle foreign affairs. Their scepticism wasn’t surprising, insofar as the Republican nominee had already revealed himself to be the living embodiment of the “Ugly American” stereotype: a bumptious blowhard who knows little about foreign policy and isn’t troubled by his own ignorance. There are undoubtedly some U.S. rivals who will be disappointed by his defeat: the Islamic State will be deprived an ideal recruiting poster, Putin won’t have an admirer in the White House, and Xi Jinping won’t get to go up against rank amateur with a short attention span and long record of failure. For the rest of the world, however, it will be a moment to exhale and to be grateful for a bullet dodged”.

Walt writes that “That sense of relief may be short-lived, however, because Trump’s candidacy and the broader condition of American politics have already done considerable damage to America’s image overseas. If you talk to foreigners a lot (it’s part of my job), you mostly hear repeated expressions of bewilderment: they find the Trump phenomenon as hard to understand as America’s fondness for guns. The French newspaper Liberation called him the “American Nightmare,” and a diverse array of foreign media outlets offer similar appraisals. Or as the New York Daily News headlined in March: “As [Trump] sinks lower, he does lasting harm to America’s image in the world.” But it’s not just Trump. In fact, the entire 2016 election has been a pretty poor advertisement for American democracy”.

Not supurisingly he notes “To make matters worse, the Trump campaign has revealed that a fair number of Americans seem to like the Donald’s disdainful and bigoted views of Muslims, Mexicans, and most U.S. allies. It can’t be encouraging for the citizens of other countries to discover that a non-trivial chunk of the American body politic is xenophobic, racist, protectionist, and ill-informed. That may always have been true, but it took the Trump campaign to put it up in bright lights. 2016 also reveals that the two-party system (or at least the two parties that currently dominate that system) is badly broken. More than 150 million Americans are technically eligible to be president, yet somehow this long and costly process produced two major-party candidates with historically strong negatives and repeated episodes of bad judgment. And it’s not like the alternatives were any better. The Republican primary was a clown show — I mean, seriously: Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz? Chris Christie? Ben Carson? — and the reason why a boorish cad like Trump could steamroll them all. On the Democratic side, all those earnest Sanders supporters never seemed to realise he was both a one-note candidate and one of the least popular or effective members of the Senate. If this collection of contenders was the best the American system could offer up, no wonder foreign observers are beginning to think something is broken. Alas, the problem isn’t just the campaign. The recurring dysfunctions at both federal and state levels reinforce the growing sense that something has gone badly awry with America’s other political institutions. Congress can’t pass budgets or ratify trade agreements, won’t even bother to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominees, won’t vote either to authorise the use of force or to withhold authorization, won’t conduct genuine oversight of the intelligence community, and won’t perform any of the other key functions the Founding Fathers designated for them. Instead, representatives and senators spend more time “dialing for (campaign) dollars” than they do legislating, while the rascals most responsible for all this obstructionism keep getting reelected. Several U.S. states are flirting with bankruptcy; gerrymandering is endemic; media outlets spew fact-free bile on a daily basis; and the country’s existing institutions seem incapable of undertaking clear, obvious, and farsighted initiatives and then bringing them to fruition”.

Pointedly he notes “Perhaps the only consolation in all this is that politics in the U.K., the Philippines, Turkey, Italy, and many other places have been equally unsettling. And there is a silver lining, at least potentially. If global impressions of American democracy could decline so sharply from 2008 to 2016, then in theory they could swing back just as quickly now. Engineering that shift will be Hillary Clinton’s greatest challenge. The success of her presidency — including the success of her foreign policy — will depend not on whether she ends the Syrian civil war; resolves the disputes over the South China Sea; caps North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs; conjures up a stable government in Yemen, Libya, or South Sudan; liberates Crimea; gets major carbon emitters to abide by the Paris climate accord; or successfully manages any of the other foreign-policy problems that her advisors will be eager to address. Rather, the success of her presidency will depend on whether she can figure out a way to get America’s democratic system working again. Not perfectly or brilliantly, perhaps, but at least competently. The surest way for her to fail at that task would be to take on a bunch of ambitious new burdens abroad. She may be tempted to do so, because then she wouldn’t have to deal with a pesky or obstructionist Congress and she’ll get some grudging support from interventionists, hawks, and the numerous special interest groups which are always trying to get Washington to do something, somewhere, on behalf of someone”.

 

 

Return of the Blob?

05/11/2016

A report addresses the return of the “Blob” as Obama prepares to leave office, “Obama’s presidency sent Washington’s foreign-policy hawks, or “the Blob,” as White House aide Ben Rhodes once disparagingly called them, into the wilderness. But the Blob is back, facing its best opportunity in eight years to push for a greater U.S. military role in the Middle East, this time in Syria. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, hold vastly divergent positions on how to bring the five-and-a-half-year war in Syria to an end. As secretary of state, Clinton favoured arming Sunni rebels against President Bashar al-Assad and has proposed installing a no-fly zone or safe zone to protect civilians from Russian and Syrian government bombers. She has also called for providing additional arms and training to Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State. It’s less clear, however, how far she would go in arming opposition groups devoted to toppling Assad”.

The piece adds “Neither Clinton nor most of the others who are calling for a tougher military response in Syria are advocating the kind of full-fledged intervention, with U.S. ground forces, that the United States has undertaken over the past 15 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. Still, her proposals have emboldened those who believe that only American firepower is capable of forcing Assad to pursue a peace deal in good faith. Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat who now advises the Syrian opposition, says he believes both Clinton and Trump would pursue a “more aggressive” Syria policy than the Obama administration — though he has no expectations of U.S. forces entering the war to fight Assad”.

He notes “plenty of voices still believe that Obama got it right by withstanding pressure from Washington’s foreign-policy establishment to bomb Assad and increase arms deliveries to a hodgepodge of rebel groups, many of whom have become entangled in alliances with extremists. Some experts say there is even scepticism within Clinton’s tight-knit group of foreign-policy advisors by some who doubt the wisdom of deepening America’s military involvement in Syria. As for a Trump presidency, the GOP nominee has expressed little interest in taking down the Syrian leader, saying in the Oct. 19 presidential debate that “you may very well end up with worse than Assad” if others vie to fill a leadership vacuum his departure would create. Instead, Trump would prefer to work with NATO allies and Russia to defeat the Islamic State: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got together with Russia and knocked the hell out of ISIS?” he asked at a rally in July. As Obama leaves office next January, foreign-policy wonks will have their best opportunity yet to recalibrate and redirect U.S. policy for Syria. Here’s a mix of hawkish and dovish proposals, as outlined to Foreign Policy, the next president could consider”.

The first involves “no-bomb zones”, “Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, believes Russia’s deployment of advanced missile defense systems would prove more complicated for a Clinton presidency than when she first began pushing the idea of a no-fly zone from inside the Obama administration. But Lister said the United States and Turkey have already effectively created no-bomb zones for Russian and Syrian aircraft in northeastern Syria and northern Aleppo. He suggested deploying international commandos to other areas in Syria to deter airstrikes. Lister also estimated that some 70 armed opposition groups, which he deemed “sufficiently moderate,” have been vetted by the CIA and Defense Department to receive military assistance from the United States”.

It continues with another option which suggests cutting off the rebels with the hope that the war will then end “Some critics of a military solution in Syria see the crisis from an entirely different perspective: They believe the Obama administration did not move fast enough to cut off allied support for the rebels who are linked to extremists — including the Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — a dynamic that prolonged the war in Syria. “Escalation has failed to win this proxy war. It has only prolonged it and increased the death toll,” said Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. While no fan of Assad, Landis said the regime’s atrocities do not justify providing military and logistical support to rebels in the dim hope of a political transition that might bring a better outcome. Even so, Landis said there’s still time for the next U.S. president to get the policy right. “The U.S. should help bring the Syrian civil war to a quick end in order to reduce the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said. “The U.S. can assist in this by refusing to send more arms and money to the rebels and to encourage our allies, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, to reduce arms shipments and money flows to insurgents.”

A more aggressive strategy is outlined with decisive military force, “A new U.S. president will need to impose and maintain a credible cease-fire in Syria, said Andrew Tabler, a Syria scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. By most accounts, a U.S.- and Russian-brokered initiative to stop the fighting in eastern Aleppo unraveled in September after Damascus and Moscow restarted a massive bombing campaign. Tabler said Syria paid no price — nor has it ever — for violating the fighting pause. But he said Washington could enforce future cease-fires by launching cruise missile strikes from U.S. warships, or from a neighbouring country, to destroy Syrian airfields and other targets. To avoid escalating tensions with Moscow, the United States would need to limit its targeting to military facilities where the Russians are not present”. In August, Tabler co-wrote a New York Times op-ed with Dennis Ross, a former Middle East envoy who initially supported, but later regretted, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq”.

Importantly it adds “punishing Assad’s regime is easier said than done. Russia has signaled it will use its influence at the U.N. to block attempts by the United States and its allies to further sanction Syria for dropping chlorine-filled toxic bombs on opposition-controlled towns. The new president will have to find a way to overcome Russian opposition”.

The other option is to simply increase the arms to the rebels “The Syrian civil war will either end in defeat for one party or it will come to peace as the result of a negotiated settlement that most likely will be based on the 2012 Geneva communiqué, brokered by the United Nations. Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said he prefers the diplomatic outcome. But getting there will require a military buildup of Syria’s beleaguered rebel forces”.

The last option, and perhaps by far the weakest as it would give Russia and Iran the status and influence they crave is to do a deal “A grand bargain would require buy-in from key regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and especially Iran and Russia, Bowen said. The deal should also entail “security service reform including demilitarization of militias and the withdrawal of foreign forces,” he said.

“Weighing plans to rush more firepower to CIA-backed units”

03/11/2016

As rebel-held sections of Aleppo crumbled under Russian bombing this month, the Obama administration was secretly weighing plans to rush more firepower to CIA-backed units in ­Syria. The proposal, which involved weapons that might help those forces defend themselves against Russian aircraft and artillery, made its way onto the agenda of a recent meeting President Obama held with his national security team. And that’s as far as it got. Neither approved nor rejected, the plan was left in a state of ambiguity that U.S. officials said reflects growing administration skepticism about escalating a covert CIA program that has trained and armed thousands of Syrian fighters over the past three years. The operation has served as the centerpiece of the U.S. strategy to press Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside. But U.S. officials said there are growing doubts that even an expanded version could achieve that outcome because of Moscow’s intervention. Obama, officials said, now seems inclined to leave the fate of the CIA program up to the next occupant of the White House. If so, Obama’s successor will inherit an array of unattractive options. Critics of the proposal to increase arms shipments warn that it would only worsen the violence in Syria without fundamentally changing the outcome. But inaction has its own risks — increasing the likelihood that Aleppo will fall, that tens of thousands of CIA-backed fighters will search for more-reliable allies, and that the United States will lose leverage over regional partners that until now have refrained from delivering more-dangerous arms to Assad’s opponents.

“Expects Islamic State to use crude chemical weapons”

30/10/2016

The United States expects Islamic State to use crude chemical weapons as it tries to repel an Iraqi-led offensive on the city of Mosul, U.S. officials say, although adding that the group’s technical ability to develop such weapons is highly limited. U.S. forces have begun to regularly collect shell fragments to test for possible chemical agents, given Islamic State’s use of mustard agent in the months before Monday’s launch of the Mosul offensive, one official said. In a previously undisclosed incident, U.S. forces confirmed the presence of a sulfur mustard agent on Islamic State munition fragments on Oct. 5, a second official said. The Islamic State had targeted local forces, not U.S. or coalition troops”.

“Extremist fighters are losing access to the sources of revenue”

30/10/2016

As the Islamic State group sees its territory shrink to half its original size and its dreams of a caliphate evaporate, the extremist fighters are losing access to the sources of revenue that once gave them their power, prompting them to turn to extortion, kidnapping or foreign donations like their predecessors, the militant group al-Qaida. The Islamic State group had a unique ability to capitalise on the natural resources of its territory in Iraq and Syria and swiftly implement a system of taxation and governance that allowed it to rule an area that once was the size of Switzerland. As the battle gets underway to retake Mosul, the group’s largest stronghold in Iraq, the Islamic State group is being denied access to revenue sources such as oil and gas and cash reserves that once amounted to more than $1 billion in 2014, said Daniel Glaser, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing.

 

“Iran could be part of the solution to the Syrian conflict”

22/10/2016

An interesting article argues that the US should be arguing with Iran over how to end the war in Syria, not Russia, “Wherever there has been a glimmer of light in the Syrian war, it has always been quickly extinguished. Take the cease-fire agreement reached in September by Washington and Moscow. After Red Crescent trucks delivering aid to the besieged city of Aleppo were bombed by suspected Russian aircraft, the deal quickly fell apart. The many skeptics of the cease-fire were not surprised by its fate. But its dissolution had less to do with Russia’s duplicitousness than with the fact that Russia never should have been the main interlocutor to begin with. Of the outside backers of the Bashar al-Assad regime, Iran — which has sent hundreds of its troops to Syria and facilitated the involvement of several thousand non-Syrian Shiite militants to prop up Assad — has the most influence in Syria”.

He goes on to point out “Russian and Iranian objectives in Syria are not the same, and there’s no reason to think Iran’s interests are well represented by Russian negotiators. If the United States hopes to achieve any measure of peace in Syria, it can’t avoid directly negotiating with Iran — which is not to suggest that peace will be the immediate result. Washington first needs to understand why Iran’s stake in Syria runs so deep. Syria under Hafez al-Assad was the only country in the Middle East to back Iran in its devastating war with Iraq during the 1980s. Iran’s military leaders are all veterans of that conflict. They still bear the scars, emotional and physical, of fighting in a war fueled by Iran’s Sunni neighbors that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of their countrymen. Tehran has a very small cadre of allies, and it will sacrifice plenty to avoid losing its oldest friend”.

The piece mentions that “Losing access to Syrian territory, in other words, would undermine Iranian deterrence and make it more vulnerable to Israeli and U.S. coercion. As one former official with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) put it, Syria is so strategically important that Iran considers it to be its “35th province.” It would be better for Iran to lose its oil-rich southwest province to adversarial forces (as had happened in the Iran-Iraq war) than to lose Syria, he reasoned. “Because if we hold Syria, we would be able to retake Khuzestan [province]; yet if Syria were lost, we would not be able to keep even Tehran.” From its perspective, the Islamic Republic has little reason to support any variation of regime change on offer in Syria. The country’s Sunni rebels have displayed a strong bias against Shiites. Jihadi groups like the Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, and the Islamic State advocate a virulently anti-Shiite worldview. The Islamic State has put that ethos into practice through massacres of Shiite Alawites in Syria and mainstream Shiites in Iraq. Iran assumes other rebel groups would act similarly if given power in Syria and that such Sunni extremism would quickly spill over into Lebanon and Iraq, threatening Shiites in those countries. Iran also has its own problem with Sunni sectarian militants, particularly within its western and southeastern provinces”.

The report argues “The reason Iran has made itself such a central actor in the Syrian conflict is to influence its postwar future. That’s why it never bode well that Tehran was excluded from the September cease-fire negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Moscow and Washington may have formally represented the two main sides of the war, but neither was in a position to dictate terms to the numerous actors fighting on the ground. Unlike Iran, neither power has ever committed to having a formidable presence on the ground, where it matters most. Given its deep involvement in Syria, and outside of a military victory by the rebels, Iran will have to be part of any political solution. The United States and Iran already have common cause against jihadis and support the same side of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq. U.S.-Iranian engagement on Syria could help both states advance their objectives. That alone should be enough to warrant bilateral negotiations”.

He goes on to point out that “It’s also worth noting that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has rejected the expansion of U.S.-Iranian talks beyond the nuclear deal. Last year, he made this policy clear: “We agreed to talks with the United States only for the nuclear issue. … In other areas, we did not allow talks with the U.S., and we will not negotiate with them.” In August, he reiterated that stance, saying, “They [the United States] want us to negotiate with them on the regional issues, but the nuclear deal experience tells us that [negotiating with the United States] is a lethal poison and we cannot trust the Americans’ words in any issue.” Khamenei has been backed by Iran’s military, which has similarly rejected compromise with the United States. Iran’s chief of staff, IRGC Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, said in September that the “IRGC doesn’t accept talks with the enemy. The enemy, especially the U.S., thinks that talks mean the other side’s making concessions and the imposition of [American] demands, but this type of negotiations is not even worth [a] thought and the IRGC doesn’t accept it. The IRGC is vigilant and cannot be fooled.” The outright rejection of compromise with Washington on regional issues is not a bargaining ploy for the Iranians. It is policy. “Assad or we burn the country” — a slogan used by pro-government troops — could just as easily serve as Iran’s motto. America is not trusted by the IRGC, and nothing short of fully acceding to the Islamic Republic’s demands will change that”.

He ends “Iran will back down from its maximalist, all-or-nothing Syria strategy only if it feels obliged to do so. Right now it has little such incentive. Russia has buoyed the Iranian position and provided a counterbalance to U.S. pressure. Iran’s leaders also seem unconcerned with the reputational and moral cost of pursing victory. They are willing to sacrifice more for their side than their Sunni neighbors are for theirs. The question for the United States and its allies may be whether they are willing to explore the limits of Iran’s commitment. Iran has already lost more than 400 of its troops in the conflict, including some of its top IRGC commanders — more casualties lost than in any conflict since the Iran-Iraq war. The war is expensive and burdensome. Iran might be open to compromise, but only if it sees it as the best way to ensure Iranian gains. If both sides maintain maximalist positions, the war will end only when one side loses. Absent that, war and the destruction of Syria will perpetuate indefinitely. Iran could be part of the solution to the Syrian conflict and help end the suffering of millions of innocent civilians. It has earned a seat at the table. But it would also be foolish not to recognize that for now it remains unlikely to use that position to pursue a compromise”.

Trump, the outlier

20/10/2016

An excellent article by Kori Schake notes that Trump is an outlier in his views, “You may have missed it, what with all the campaign tawdriness of late, but the Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently released its biennial survey of American public opinion on U.S. foreign policy, which not surprisingly this year focuses on Republican attitudes. Much coincides with surveys conducted by Pew and other reputable pollsters, but I learned three things reviewing the Chicago Council data that I hadn’t understood before: Republican positions on globalization and trade shifted in 2008; Democrats are more supportive of trade than their presidential nominee; and the great divergence in stances on immigration now evident between Republicans and Democrats is the result of dramatic changes in viewpoints among Democrats, not Republicans”.

She writes that “First, though, it merits saying how much consensus remains across the political spectrum about America’s role in the world. The overwhelming majority of Americans continue to want a strong military, participation in our existing alliances, and additional alliance relationships. And most Americans favour our country acting through international institutions and support international agreements as a means of protecting and advancing our national interests. In fact, 89 percent of Americans support strong alliances, and we like NATO best of all. Sixty-eight percent of Americans even approve of a stronger United Nations, that bête noir of the right. There is also considerable agreement over the threats we face, with strong majorities of respondents most worried about terrorism and nuclear proliferation (especially that of North Korea). Seventy-five percent of Republicans put terrorism at the top of their list of concerns, a higher proportion than did after 9/11. Democrats are more concerned about financial crisis and climate change than Islamic fundamentalism — but 49 percent of Democrats see the latter as a critical threat, too”.

She notes “The journalist Peter Beinart wittily observed that Democrats are the new Republicans: advocates of engagement with the world, proponents of trade and globalization, optimists about the future. The Chicago Council’s data bear that out. You would never know it from listening to Hillary Clinton equivocate on trade, but 74 percent of Democrats favour the Trans-Pacific Partnership; even 56 percent of people who voted for Bernie Sanders support TPP. Because the Chicago Council provides time-series data, it’s possible to see that the Republicans’ disaffection with globalization started in 2008 — before the Lehman Brothers collapse that started the financial crisis. Still, six in 10 Republicans continue to support globalization”.

Pointedly she writes “And Donald Trump supporters are not the outliers many consider them to be: 40 percent view trade as positive for the U.S. economy; 45 percent believe globalization has helped U.S. companies; 52 percent say globalization has been good “for consumers like you”; 49 percent agree that globalization has been beneficial for their standard of living. Where Trump supporters differ from other Americans is in their concern that despite those advantages, globalization has been damaging to jobs and job security. Moreover, Trump supporters are not outliers from traditional Republican positions on military strength, alliances, or international institutions. More Trump supporters than other Americans favour keeping U.S. military bases in Japan and Korea, though their candidate has made statements to the effect that continuing these relationships would be contingent upon cash. Even 50 percent of Trump backers want America to have a shared leadership role in the world and think the NATO alliance is essential — again, an area where the GOP standard-bearer’s views have been less than supportive”.

She ends “Interestingly enough, Trump voters are also those least affected by the diversity immigration brings. Such data reinforce the findings of sociologist Robert Putnam’s work on religious tolerance in America: The more exposure people have to difference, the more tolerant they become. Overall, the Chicago Council data are incredibly reassuring. There remains a broad, deep consensus among Americans about an engaged role in the world being positive for our security and our economy, that the allies and institutions we built from the devastation of World War II continue to deserve our support, and that trade is an essential component of our prosperity. Where differences have emerged — on immigration, for example — they result in increasing tolerance by liberals rather than growing intolerance by conservatives. It is alarming the extent to which one would come to very different conclusions listening to the Democratic nominee on trade or the Republican nominee on, well, everything.

Trump, autocrat-in-chief

12/10/2016

Max Boot writes that Trump is not running as a democrat, “It was both fitting and chilling that the centerpiece of the second presidential debate was Donald Trump’s threat to imprison his opponent. That is the kind of act normally associated with autocrats like Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych (who jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in 2011), Myanmar’s military junta (which put opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest even before her party won the 1990 election), Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (who overthrew and imprisoned President Mohamed Morsi in 2013), and Russia’s Vladimir Putin (who in 2003 arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a wealthy political adversary)”.

Boot correctly argues that “Trump’s apologists tried to claim that he wasn’t threatening to jail former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for being his political opponent but, rather, for supposed “felonies committed in office.” But this is exactly the kind of thing that dictators always say; no one ever admits to jailing the opposition for political reasons. The essence of democracy is not to criminalize political differences. That’s something that Trump does not seem to understand. It seems appropriate, then, that during the rest of the debate — while desperately trying to deflect attention from the “pussygate” scandal that has crippled his campaign — Trump alternatively expressed his admiration for dictators and emulated their “Big Lie” techniques for winning and keeping power. If we needed any more evidence, the debate showed just what an unprincipled power-seeker Trump is — how he is willing to say or do anything, to cross any line, to violate any norm of civilized behavior, in order to feed his insatiable ego. He came across as the kind of unscrupulous demagogue that has imperiled other democracies and that the United States has not seen since the heyday of Huey Long and George Wallace”.

Boot adds that “His sympathy for tyrants was most clearly evident when moderator Martha Raddatz asked him what he would do about the siege of the Syrian city of Aleppo. The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Putin are pummeling this city so relentlessly, killing countless civilians, that Secretary of State John Kerryhas called for a war crimes investigation. While admitting that Aleppo is a “disaster, humanitarian-wise,” Trump failed to offer a plan to stop the killing. Worse, he failed to offer a single word of condemnation for Assad and Putin’s brutal actions. Actually, he seemed to approve of what the two are doing: “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS,” referring to the Islamic State. He went on to say, “We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved,” and, “Right now, Syria is fighting ISIS.” Not quite. There is no Islamic State presence in Aleppo. Yet this is the area where the Russian and Syrian governments are concentrating their firepower. This is part of a general pattern whereby the vast majority of their attacks are focused on more moderate rebel forces, not on the Islamic State. Trump has been entirely taken in by the disinformation line put out by Assad and Putin that they are fighting “terrorists,” a name that they apply to all opponents of Assad’s brutal regime. And Trump appears to fully approveof the war crimes they are committing — perhaps not so surprising from a candidate who has threatened to commit war crimes of his own, such as torturing terrorists, killing their relatives, bombing indiscriminately, and stealing Iraq’s oil”.

Interestingly, the article notes that “Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has a better appreciation of the horrors being perpetrated in Syria. In the vice presidential debate, hedenounced the “barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo” and said that the “provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength.” He called for the establishment of “safe zones” to protect “vulnerable families” and said the United States “should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime.” On Sunday night, however, Trump disassociated himself from Pence’s view: “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree.” (Perhaps the next debate should feature Trump vs. Pence?) Thus Trump continues his pattern of not saying a single negative thing about Vladimir Putin, an anti-American dictator he has praised for being a better leader than President Barack Obama. While freely insulting political opponents, reporters, and entire ethnic groups, Trump has never had one bad word to say about Putin, and that didn’t change Sunday when Trump was asked about the cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and other American targets. Last Friday, the U.S. intelligence communityformally charged Russia with responsibility for the hacking, stating, “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” In other words, Putin is responsible”.

Centrally, Boot argues that “The only true part of that statement was Trump’s admission that he knows nothing about Russia. He went on to claim: “I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.” But given Trump’s unwillingness to reveal his taxes or his business records, there is no reason to believe his protestations — especially when there actually is evidence, even based on the scant public record, that Trump does do business with the Russians. As a general proposition, whether talking about his business dealings or anything else, the Republican nominee does not exactly inspire confidence as a truth-teller. Politico already determined, based on analyzing all of Trump’s statements for a week in late September, that he averages “one falsehood every three minutes and 15 seconds.” He did better — or worse — than average on Sunday night by uttering, according to Daniel Dale of theToronto Star, a total of 33 false claims during his 40 minutes of speaking time”.

The piece goes on to mention how “Just as egregious are Trump’s continuing claims to have opposed the Iraq War. In fact, there are numerous statements from him favouring regime change in Iraq before the war and not a single statement on the public record opposing the war until August 2004 — i.e., 17 months after the start of the conflict, by which time it was clear that it was not going to be a “cakewalk.” A year ago, the fact-checkers at the Washington Post awarded Trump “four Pinocchios” for his unfounded claims about opposing the war. Yet here he was again on Sunday night, when challenged by Clinton on his Iraq War lie, indignantly saying: “That’s not been debunked.” To make his falsehood even more offensive, he suggested that if he had been president in 2004, Capt. Humayun Khan, the Muslim American war hero whose family he defamed, “would be alive today, because unlike her, who voted for the war without knowing what she was doing, I would not have had our people in Iraq.” Trump has the temerity to blame Clinton not just for favouring the war in Iraq but also for favouring a pullout”.

Correctly he writes that “There is a word for someone who lies as repeatedly as Trump does and continues doubling down on his lies no matter how many times he is called out on his behaviour: pathological. Trump can’t distinguish right from wrong, truth from fiction. He has shown that he will say anything that pops into his head regardless of its veracity — and he refuses to be corrected by any fact-checking. There has never been anyone remotely like him who has been a serious presidential candidate before; the only analogues are in the ranks of dictators abroad. And although it now appears that he will not win the election — “pussygate” seems to have been the coup de grâce for his disgraceful campaign — it is nevertheless terrifying that so many millions of Americans are thrilled by his irresponsible rhetoric and extremist positions”.

Boot concludes “It is particularly appalling that even now, after all his lies and gropes, his racism and sexism, his general craziness has been exposed, a substantial section of the Republican electorate continues to stand by their man. Many of the Trump die-hards are furious at the few Republican politicians who have had a sudden outbreak of conscience in recent days and have decided to unendorse him. The grass-roots fervor for Trump suggests that the Republican Party may be beyond salvation — and that the republic itself could be in peril if in the future we see some demagogue who is smoother than Trump and devoid of his debilitating personal flaws. It could happen here — and almost did”.

Russia, bankrolling Ukrainian rebels

12/10/2016

A former senior official from breakaway eastern Ukraine said Russia directly finances pensions and public sector salaries in the two pro-Russian regions there. The assertion by former separatist minister Alexander Khodakovsky contradicts Moscow, which says it does not bankroll the separatist administration and, as a consequence, cannot influence the rebels to make peace with Kiev. Khodakovsky was State Security Minister and then Security Council Secretary in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic before he was fired this year following a dispute with the separatist leader. Asked in an interview with Reuters if Russia was funding pensions and state wages in the Donbass, made up of Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk, Khodakovsky said: “Yes. These are the main areas. The budget sector and pensions, which need to be covered as a priority.” “Without outside help, it’s impossible to sustain the territory even if you have the most effective tax-raising system. The level of help from Russia exceeds the amounts that we collect within the territory,” he said in a Moscow hotel”.

Taliban retake Kunduz

10/10/2016

The Taliban overran central neighbourhoods in the critical Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz on Monday, planting their flag in the city’s main roundabout and shaking the Afghan government in a repeat of the insurgents’ assault on the city a year ago. Fighting in the city continued into the night, and American officials said that aircraft were there to help and that other “assets” were moving in. But on social media, the Taliban taunted the struggling Afghan forces and their American allies, providing a blow-by-blow account of their assault even as senior Afghan leaders traveled to Brussels for an international conference where they were to present a status report and ask for sustained international funding”.

US calls Russia’s actions barbaric

08/10/2016

“The United States on Sunday called Russia’s action in Syria “barbarism,” not counter-terrorism, while Moscow’s U.N. envoy said ending the war “is almost an impossible task now” as Syrian government forces, backed by Moscow, bombed the city of Aleppo. The United Nations Security Council met on Sunday at the request of the United States, Britain and France to discuss the escalation of fighting in Aleppo following the announcement on Thursday of an offensive by the Syrian army to retake the city. “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the 15-member council. “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive,” Power said. A Sept. 9 ceasefire deal between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov aimed at putting Syria’s peace process back on track effectively collapsed on Monday when an aid convoy was bombed.

Obama’s insane foreign policy

04/10/2016

An excellent article argues that Obama’s Syria policy is the definition of insanity, “The latest diplomatic attempt to bring calm to Syria and pave a pathway toward peace appears to have failed. After a week of blocked aid deliveries and cease-fire violations, Russian aircraft on Mondayreportedly bombed a joint U.N.-Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) aid convoy and warehouse outside Aleppo, killing nearly half of its staff, including a SARC regional aid director. The attack came just minutes after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime declared the cease-fire dead. Several dozen more people were then killed and wounded in heavy air and artillery strikes on the besieged rebel-held districts of Aleppo city. The remains of a Russian air-dropped OFAB-type fragmentation bomb have been discovered in the wreckage of the SARC warehouse, and U.S. investigations have concluded that Russian Sukhoi Su-24 jets were responsible. Speaking after the incident, U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said the bombing — which lasted nearly two hours — could be a “war crime.” None of this should come as a surprise, even as the consequences are potentially devastating. The Russian government, much less the Assad regime, has never been a reliable partner for peace in Syria. But even after Russia’s alleged bombing of the aid convoy, U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration is still plowing its energies into a deal that aims to work with the Russian government”.

The piece notes “Despite the flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stood in New York on Tuesday and maintained that the “cease-fire is not dead.” The Obama administration appears to believe that the escalating fighting elsewhere in Syria — including the targeted airstrike on a medical facility in the town of Khan Touman late Tuesday, which killed 13 people — is just a figment of the world’s imagination. On Wednesday, Kerry told the U.N. Security Council that Russia’s denial of responsibility for targeting the aid convoy was evidence that it lived in a “parallel universe,” but, even so, he proceeded to call for another go at the very same deal that failed only a week prior”.

He argues later that “The Obama administration has viewed the Syrian crisis through the lens of counterterrorism. But diplomatic failures such as this one continue to embolden extremist actors like al Qaeda, which has purposely presented itself as a reliable and necessary opposition ally, seemingly dedicated only to the cause of ridding Syria of the Assad regime. By so deeply embedding within Syrian revolutionary dynamics and claiming to fill the vacuum left behind by insufficient foreign support or protection, al Qaeda’s narrative is constantly strengthened by perceptions of American inadequacy. Thus, U.S. failures do not exist in a vacuum — our adversaries quickly translate them into their own victories. It is long past time for the United States to reassess its shameful approach to the Syrian crisis. Both the Islamic State and al Qaeda are symptoms of the conflict, and the conflict itself is a symptom of fundamentally failed governance. In choosing to treat the symptoms, Washington continues to reduce its chances of resolving the larger issues at play in Syria”.

The piece mentions how “It should now be patently clear that contrary to the hopes of some, the Russian government is not the key to controlling the Assad regime’s heinous behaviours. For a week straight, the Syrian government consistently ignored Moscow’s demands and destroyed a cease-fire deal that had been largely of Russia’s making. The regime also reinforced its troop positions around Aleppo and amassed forces opposite the strategic northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, and its aircraft were blamed for bombings around Aleppo, north of the city of Homs, and in parts of southern Daraa governorate. And after the Assad government declared the cease-fire over, Russia ferociously destroyed an aid convoy intended for 78,000 civilians. The Syrian regime’s decision to scuttle the latest diplomatic effort should drive home one simple point: Bashar al-Assad does not intend to step down from power, and he will use any means at his disposal to prevent that from happening. From industrialised arrest, torture, chemical weapons, barrel bombs, and incendiary and cluster weapons to medieval-style sieges — no method is too severe if it helps him pursue his goal. Beyond feeble public appeals and a 2013 agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, which appears to have left some behind and ignored the regime’s chlorine gas attacks, the United States has never chosen to challenge such brazen brutality. And that’s why these tactics remain decidedly in use by the Assad regime”.

He notes that “The United States can no longer continue its meek attempts to contain the Syrian crisis’s effects. Five years ago, Syria was a local problem; today it is an international one. U.S. indecision, risk aversion, a total divergence between rhetoric and policy, and a failure to uphold clearly stated “red lines” have all combined into what can best be described as a cold-hearted, hypocritical approach. At worst, Washington has indirectly abetted the wholesale destruction of a nation-state, in direct contradiction to its fundamental national security interests and its most tightly held values. These failures began in the early days of the Syrian uprising. Though the Obama administration first proclaimed that Assad had lost his legitimacy in July 2011, it took more than a year after that to develop a meaningful policy to assist the opposition. Even then, U.S. support consisted only of providing food and nonlethal equipment. Later, the CIA’s vet, train, and equip program to the Free Syrian Army found some minimal success, but U.S. commitment remained negligible when compared with our often uncoordinated regional allies, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. It seems U.S. officials wanted Assad out but wanted others — whom administration officials would say in private they did not trust — to do it for them. The result? Nearly half a million people dead, more than 1 million people living under siege, and 11 million people displaced. Catastrophic refugee flows have led to an anti-immigrant backlash in Europe and the rise of far-right politics while Syria is now home to perhaps the greatest concentration of jihadi militants in any single country ever. Put aside the threat posed by the Islamic State for a second: Syria now hosts a thriving de facto al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — formerly the Nusra Front — the most capable, politically savvy, and militarily powerful al Qaeda movement in history. Al Qaeda’s central leadership has also revitalized itself inside Syria, with the international terrorist organisation’s newly named deputy leaderalmost certainly residing in the country. The correlation is simple: U.S. shortcomings equal al Qaeda’s success in Syria”.

He goes on to mention “After several years of ignoring this threat, U.S. policymakers finally turned their attention to al Qaeda this year. It was too late. Washington’s repeated failures had already given the jihadis the time and space to shape the dynamics of the war such that any attack by the United States or Russia would only further undermine U.S. influence and empower al Qaeda. Unfortunately, it is indisputably true that most Syrians living in opposition areas now view al Qaeda as a more trustworthy and capable protector of their lives than the United States. If there were ever a sign of policy failure, this would be it. Faced with this situation, the United States must consider addressing its Syria policy shortcomings, beginning with five key points. First, Assad is not and can never be the solution for Syria. There is simply no scenario in which any meaningful portion of opposition society will ever give in to his rule. The longer Assad remains in power, the more extremists will benefit. Second, there will be no purely military solution to Syria’s conflict — a negotiated settlement is the only feasible path toward stability. However, Assad will never treat a political process with any level of seriousness until placed under meaningful pressure, which the United States has thus far done everything in its power not to do”.

The third point he raises is that “A partition would not only fail to solve Syria’s conflict, but it would also likely exacerbate the existing drivers and create new ones. Opposition to partition is arguably the single issue that unites communities supportive of and opposed to Assad. Fourth, combating al Qaeda in Syria cannot be done solely with bullets and bombs. Defeating it is instead an issue of providing a more attractive and sustainable alternative to the jihadi group’s narrative. Given its successful efforts to embed within the opposition and build popular acceptance as a military (not a political) ally, al Qaeda does not represent a conventional counterterrorist problem. Adopting conventional means such as airstrikes will fail to defeat the group, and instead we must out-compete it”.

He ends “although the Islamic State may be an adversary the United States can fight largely in isolation from the broader Syrian crisis, it remains an asymmetric and opportunistic terrorist movement. By its very nature, it can be counted on to exploit the continued conflict in Syria for its own ends. If Assad remains in place indefinitely and the conflict continues or worsens, the Islamic State will undoubtedly live to fight another day. When questioned on the failure of the current U.S. policy in Syria, senior members of the Obama administration — and indeed the president himself — have repeatedly and cynically proclaimed: “What’s the alternative?” as if to say there are none. In fact, there are alternatives, and they all require a more determined use of U.S. hard and soft power. Civilian protection should remain the core focus of any broad-based strategy, but it must be backed up by real and discernible consequences for violators. Given the five-year U.S. track record, the Assad regime knows all too well Washington’s hesitancy to threaten the use of anything close to force, and Damascus has repeatedly reaped the rewards of that impotent stance. If the United States hopes to develop an effective Syria policy, that has to change quickly”.

 

“The Obama administration abandoned efforts to cooperate with Russia”

04/10/2016

An article in the Washington Post reports today that “U.S.-Russia relations fell to a new post-Cold War low Monday as the Obama administration abandoned efforts to cooperate with Russia on ending the Syrian civil war and forming a common front against terrorists there, and Moscow suspended a landmark nuclear agreement. The latter move, scuttling a deal the two countries signed in 2000 to dispose of their stocks of weapons-grade plutonium, was largely symbolic. But it provided the Kremlin with an opportunity to cite a series of what it called “unfriendly actions” toward Russia — from Ukraine-related and human rights sanctions to the deployment of NATO forces in the Baltics”.

It adds that “The United States, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, has “done all it could to destroy the atmosphere encouraging cooperation.” Of far more immediate concern, the end of the Syria deal left the administration with no apparent diplomatic options remaining to stop the carnage in Aleppo and beyond after the collapse of a short-lived cease-fire deal negotiated last month. The State Department announced that it was withdrawing U.S. personnel who have been meeting in Geneva over the past several weeks with Russian counterparts to plan coordinated airstrikes against al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists in Syria. The coordination was to start as soon as a cease-fire, begun Sept. 12, took hold and humanitarian aid began to flow to besieged communities where civilians have borne the brunt of Russian-backed President Bashar al-Assad’s response to a five-year effort to oust him. The Syria agreement was part of a year-long effort spearheaded by Secretary of State John F. Kerry to persuade Russia to help bring a negotiated political end to the war. In exchange for using its leverage with Assad to ground his air force and allow aid to flow, the United States said it would work to separate U.S.-backed opposition groups from terrorist forces with which they have become increasingly intertwined. Instead, after just a few days of a fitful truce, both Syria and Russia stepped up their bombing attacks in Aleppo and elsewhere in the country, including the destruction of an aid convoy. Russia, while denying the convoy attack, has justified its airstrikes by saying that the cease-fire — along with U.S. failure to disengage the opposition from the Front for the Conquest of Syria, the al-Qaeda group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra — allowed the terrorists to rearm and expand their territory”.

The report adds that “Russia’s version of the sequence of events mandated by the deal is “explicitly not true,” a senior administration official said. “Separation was not step one,” but was supposed to occur after seven days without major violence. The Russians, the official said, have “constantly tried to move the goal posts.” The Damascus government officially declared the truce over on Sept. 19. Since then, Syrian and Russian aircraft have carried out a massive barrage from the air over Aleppo, including what a U.S. intelligence official said were “barrel bombs, thermobaric bombs, incendiary munitions, cluster bombs and bunker busters.” Unrelenting strikes, many of them targeting hospitals and medical facilities, have “killed hundreds of children in a week’s time,” said the intelligence official, one of several who spoke on the condition of anonymity under administration-imposed rules to discuss the Syrian conflict. Kerry said last week that the United States was “on the verge” of suspending the Syria agreement. “The decision today came after a long, deliberate period of trying to give them every benefit of the doubt,” the senior administration official said. “But when they’re targeting hospitals, and using these kinds of weapons, that’s not a misunderstanding.”

Pointedly the piece adds that “the administration has found no alternative that has not already been considered, and previously discarded as unworkable or too risky in terms of broadening the Syrian conflict. President Obama is said to be no more willing to involve U.S. forces, air or ground, in the conflict than he was when it began five years ago. The prospect of flooding the opposition with more, and better, arms is still seen as hazardous. “Anything we do in the near term could lead to additional” expansion of the war, a second senior administration official said. “There are consequences” to a military approach, the official said, and we “want to make sure we are clear-eyed about them.” At the same time, this official said, the United States will continue to protect its interests against terrorist expansion. The official cited a recent U.S. airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province — an area of frequent Russian and Syrian strikes that targeted Front leader Ahmed Salama Mabrouk. The Pentagon confirmed the strike but did not confirm the Front’s announcement that Mabrouk had been killed. Officials said they considered Syria and the plutonium suspension distinct issues, although both are “part of a piece of a troubled and difficult relationship,” one senior official said”.

It goes on to note “In a decree released by the Kremlin, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin said Moscow would consider a resumption of the nuclear accord only if Washington agreed to several conditions, including canceling all sanctions and compensating Moscow for losses resulting from them. The plutonium agreement was once hailed as an example of successful U.S.-Russian cooperation. Signed in 2000 and updated in 2010, it required both countries to dispose of 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough to make approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons, according to the State Department. Russia had soured on the deal over differences with the United States on how to dispose of the plutonium. Moscow said it has opened a plant that converts the weapons-grade material into fuel know as MOX, which can be used in commercial reactors; construction of a similar U.S. plant in South Carolina has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. The U.S. side has been split between those who want to build a plant as a way to encourage the Russians, and those who think it safer and cheaper to dilute the plutonium into less harmful material and dispose of it, said George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace”

Russia bombs a humanitarian convoy

02/10/2016

Secretary of State John F. Kerry and senior officials from two dozen nations meeting here Tuesday declared that Syria’s cease-fire “is not dead ” but offered no ideas on how it can be preserved after heavy fighting broke out again, including the bombing of a humanitarian aid convoy by what Pentagon officials said was likely a Russian jet. “The mood of the meeting is that nobody wants to give this thing up. It’s the only show in town,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said after an hour-long session that others described as “tense” and “dramatic.” Pentagon officials, who earlier had said they were uncertain who was responsible for the Monday airstrike, which took place as aid was being offloaded from trucks west of Aleppo, said that their “preliminary” assessment was that a Russian Su-24 operating “overhead at the time” was responsible for the bombing”.

“Suspended all convoys in Syria on Tuesday following deadly airstrikes”

29/09/2016

The U.N. humanitarian aid agency suspended all convoys in Syria on Tuesday following deadly airstrikes on aid trucks the previous night that activists said killed at least 12 people, mostly truck drivers and Red Crescent workers. The attack plunged Syria’s U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire further into doubt. The Syrian military, just hours earlier, had declared the week-long truce had failed. The United States said it was prepared to extend the truce deal and Russia — after blaming rebels for the violations — suggested it could still be salvaged. In Geneva, spokesman Jens Laerke of OCHA said further aid delivery would hold pending a review of the security situation in Syria in the aftermath of the airstrike. Laerke called it “a very, very dark day… for humanitarians across the world.” The U.N. aid coordinator said the Syria government had granted needed authorizations in recent days to allow for aid convoys to proceed inside Syria. Humanitarian U.N. aid deliveries had stalled in recent weeks amid continued fighting, and the truce had not paved the way for expanded convoys as initially expected. It was not clear who was behind the attack late on Monday, which sent a red fireball into the sky in the dead of night over a rural area in Aleppo province. Both Syrian and Russian aircraft operate over Syria, as well as the U.S.-led coalition that is targeting the Islamic State group.

“A convoy transporting aid to the hard-hit city had been attacked”

27/09/2016

A Syrian human rights group said today that at least 32 people had been killed and dozens injured in Aleppo, Syria, and its western suburbs in the hours after Syria’s military declared the U.S.-Russian brokered cease-fire over. After the Syrian military blamed rebels for not observing the truce, which was in its seventh day, the United Nations said a convoy transporting aid to the hard-hit city had been attacked, with 18 of the convoy’s 31 trucks initially believed to have been hit. The rights group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that 12 people had been killed when the convoy was struck. Farhan Haq, a deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told ABC News that he could not confirm any information on potential casualties or the cause of the attack. He said that the United Nations’ initial understanding was that a warehouse operated by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had also been hit along with the convoy, before the trucks could distribute any aid to 78,000 people whom international groups had hoped to reach. The fighting came amid signs the cease-fire was falling apart, with Russia casting doubt on it and the Syrian military declaring its conclusion.

“Australia has said its warplanes took part in US-led airstrikes”

27/09/2016

Australia has said its warplanes took part in US-led airstrikes in eastern Syria that mistakenly killed Syrian army troops in an incident threatening to wreck an already tenuous ceasefire before it is a week old. Russia’s military said it was told by the Syrian army that at least 62 soldiers were killed in the attack on a government position near Deir ez-Zour, with more than 100 wounded. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 90 soldiers were killed. The first airstrikes on Aleppo since the ceasefire began on Monday evening were reported on Sunday. An Australian defence department statement said its jets had targeted what had been thought to be Islamic State (Isis) fighters. “Overnight, coalition aircraft were conducting airstrikes in eastern Syria against what was believed to be a Daesh [Isis] fighting position that the coalition had been tracking for some time,” the statement said”.

“Keep U.S. policy on LGBT rights out of the local media spotlight”

25/09/2016

An article discusses how the United States gay rights policy has negative consequences.

It opens “For decades, the United States has championed human rights abroad as part of its foreign policy. Yet Washington’s attempts to balance promoting human rights with realpolitik has often been messy and inconsistent, especially when dealing with rights-violating regimes that remain important geostrategic actors. During her famous 1995 “Human Rights are Women’s Rights” speech, First Lady Hillary Clinton riled a key economic partner, China, when she harshly criticized its treatment of women. By contrast, in 1974, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger rebuked the U.S. ambassador to Chile, David Popper, for raising the issue of torture with Chilean officials. Kissinger suggested that Popper “cut out the political science lectures.” Yet it remains an open question to this day as to how aggressively the State Department should promote democratic principles, an act that often infuriates foreign countries or leads to a backlash. Today, the inclusion of LGBT equality in Washington’s worldwide human rights-promotion package is highlighting precisely this dilemma”.

The author writes that “Despite its checkered past on gay rights—the State Department expelled gay employees in the 1950s—the United States under President Barack Obama has dramatically changed its policy. In February 2015, the State Department appointed Randy Berry as the first U.S. special envoy for LGBT rights. At the time, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized the importance of “defending and promoting” the rights of LGBT individuals to American diplomacy. More recently, the U.S. ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji marched in the Stockholm Pride Parade, and in India, the U.S. Embassy lit up its facade in rainbow colors after the June shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Yet in much of the Arab Middle East, where populations overwhelmingly oppose homosexuality (including 95 percent of Egyptians and 97 percent of Jordanians), LGBT-rights promotion is more complicated. There, widespread hostility to gay rights puts the United States in a difficult position. One might argue that just as Washington has aggressively advocated for women’s rights and the welfare of religious minorities across the globe, so too should it consistently and publicly back gay rights, even if that means rebuffing foreign governments. Such a forceful approach, however, contradicts the wishes of many LGBT people actually living in the Arab Middle East. In 2015, for instance, the U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Alice Wells, attended a small event in Amman organized by members of the local LGBT community. Many Jordanians were outraged, and after her public appearance a number of LGBT individuals were violently harassed, according to a Jordanian blogger who went by the pseudonym Ahmad. One popular local news program devoted an astonishing 70 minutes to bashing Wells, comparing her actions to visiting an Islamic State gathering on the grounds that both would be a violation of Jordan’s sovereignty and local laws”.

The writer argues that the support of Wells was seen as evidence that “gay rights are part of a “foreign agenda.” Ahmad explained that the ambassador stigmatized the local LGBT cause by associating it with the West and spoiled its chance of being regarded as an authentic Jordanian phenomenon. Ahmad compared the dynamics between the conservative elements of his society and the LGBT community to a high school brawl—just as a student engaged in a fistfight wouldn’t want someone else to jump in on his or her behalf, neither does a local activist want the United States to interfere with a campaign”.

The piece goes on to mention that “For the LGBT community in Jordan, any association with foreigners is tricky. Yet the situation is especially difficult when it comes to the United States. Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, points to the high levels of anti-Americanism in many Arab countries and the widespread perception in the region that the United States is an imperialistic power, especially after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Hamid explains that for people “as misunderstood” as the Arab LGBT community, association with the U.S. government can be problematic”.

He goes on to make the point that “When it comes to geopolitics, the United States has critical strategic interests in Amman and it should be wary of antagonizing its ally. Jordan has played an important role throughout the war against the Islamic State, such as heavily bombarding ISIS targets inside Syria. Amman also hosts, unofficially, thousands of U.S. military personnel, according to a report from Vice. The Jordanian government is less likely to cooperate with Washington if it feels that the latter’s diplomats are insulting and undermining it by publicly raising the issue of LGBT rights. If the United States truly feels it must take part in LGBT activism in Jordan or other Arab countries that have high levels of homophobia, community members have suggested discrete steps that U.S. diplomats can take. One activist, Nadine, recommended offering emergency relocation and job training for LGBT individuals who may be physically at risk. Neela Ghosal, a senior gay-rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, emphasized that private discussions with foreign governments through, for instance, health and justice ministries, can be a productive way for Washington to reiterate its concerns on the issue”.

It ends “Ghosal urged the United States to consult with local LGBT organizations before taking any action, to ensure that whatever it intends to do actually helps civil society. Most importantly, Washington should keep U.S. policy on LGBT rights out of the local media spotlight. (In what may be a sign of progress, both U.S. LGBT Special Envoy Randy Berry and Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells repeatedly declined to be interviewed about the United States’ support for LGBT rights in the Arab world.) Promoting LGBT rights is a cornerstone of the State Department’s human rights agenda. But, in Jordan at least, this promotion has had a damaging effect—delegitimizing the local LGBT community and putting it at even greater risk. Perhaps, when it comes to LGBT rights, Washington should ensure first of all that its policies do no harm”.

4,400 US troops in Iraq and Syria

23/09/2016

Hundreds of additional U.S. troops have flowed into Iraq during the past week as American and Iraqi forces there begin final preparations to launch an invasion of Mosul this fall.  The size of the U.S. force in Iraq and Syria now tops 4,400, up from about 3,900 last week, defense officials said. President Obama authorized several troop increases for Iraq earlier this year but those troops did not deploy immediately. The latest uptick brings the current footprint closer to the legal cap of 4,647″

“Was killed in an aerial raid”

21/09/2016

The top military commander of the militant group Jabhat Fateh al Sham, the former al Qaeda offshoot in Syria, was killed in an aerial raid that targeted a meeting of the group’s leaders, both the group and rebel sources said on Thursday. The commander Abu Hajer al Homsi, whose alias is Abu Omar Saraqeb, was killed in a rural area of Aleppo province, they said, where the group has played an instrumental role in ongoing battles against the Syrian army troops and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in the gateway city of Aleppo. An announcement by the group said he was “martyred” in an air strike in the countryside of Aleppo. The nationality of the jets that hit the location was not immediately known, but a rebel source said initial information suggested it was most likely a U.S. jet that struck the hideout”.

“al Qaeda has filled the breach left by the absence of the United States”

19/09/2016

An important piece notes how al Qaeda is returning to Syria, “The struggle for Aleppo poses an awful threat for the United States. The ongoing battle for what was once Syria’s second-largest city has united two of the most prominent opposition coalitions. Their goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime. But there’s one more thing they have in common — neither has ever received significant help from Washington in their joint effort to break a nearly month-long siege of opposition-controlled areas of the city and conquer the rest of it. The groups that have been trying to protect civilians in Aleppo from the siege tactics and indiscriminate attacks of the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies may succeed nonetheless. But Washington’s inaction may inadvertently be paving the way for Syria’s next Islamic State. That’s because al Qaeda has filled the breach left by the absence of the United States. Al Qaeda is resurgent globally, exploiting American blind spots, and building a popular local vanguard to oversee the transformation of local populations in countries where the state has collapsed. Syria is its current focus. The United States now has little choice but to reorient its strategy in Syria to focus on the threat posed by al Qaeda”.

The writers add “Al Qaeda’s presence and influence in Syria was never confined to its formal affiliate, the Nusra Front. It dispatched numerous senior leaders and strategists to oversee the creation of a vanguard for al Qaeda within the Syrian revolutionary movement after the start of the civil war in 2011. These operatives, which the U.S. government calls the “Khorasan group,” not only advised the Nusra Front’s top leadership, but also leaders of other Syrian opposition groups. Al Qaeda’s intent was to cultivate a series of rebel groups sympathetic to its aims while building a formal affiliate to normalize and diffuse its ideology. Al Qaeda probably also intended to establish a buffer against the possibility that an American intervention could destroy al Qaeda’s entire network by eliminating one organization. The Syrian war now involves U.S.-vetted and armed moderate groups, but also includes a significant component belonging to either Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the successor of the Nusra Front, or its close ally, Ahrar al-Sham. Both are now vital components of the largest opposition coalitions operating in Aleppo, Jaysh al-Fatah, and Fatah Halab. Ahrar al-Sham epitomizes how al Qaeda is developing a network of sympathetic local revolutionary forces: The Syrian opposition group is a key node in the al Qaeda network that has nonetheless achieved the image of a “mainstream” Syrian opposition movement. It is the largest and most powerful recipient of al Qaeda’s tutelage after Jabhat Fateh al-Sham”.

They write worryingly that “Ahrar al-Sham’s activity demonstrates that its strategy is joined at the hip with al Qaeda, and represents a local vanguard for the transnational jihadi group in Syria. Al Qaeda’s signature is apparent in Ahrar al-Sham’s campaign to transform the religious identity of Syrians. The group governs through a series of sharia courts throughout the northern Idlib and Aleppo provinces, operating in parallel to the Nusra Front, which enforces hard-line rulings such as veil requirements for women and restricts freedom of the press. Ahrar al-Sham’s goal is to replace the Assad regime with a theocracy. This vision is a fundamental change from the initial demands of the Syrian opposition in 2011 for a democratic and pluralistic system. Syrian opposition groups nonetheless view Ahrar al-Sham as a “mainstream” actor, because of its major contributions to the war against the Assad regime. It serves as the mortar that binds opposition groups together in northern Syria and is well-positioned to merge these forces with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and solidify sharia-based governance — all without the world realizing that the result would be a major win for al Qaeda’s aims in Syria”.

They argue that “Turkey is using its intervention in northern Syria against the Islamic State and the U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces to position itself as a power broker and is empowering its strongest opposition ally, Ahrar al-Sham, to play a key role. Ahrar al-Sham participated in the Turkey-backed offensive near the Euphrates but did not publicize its role, as American air support for the initial operation incentivised Turkey to emphasise the role of Free Syrian Army-affiliated groups. Ahrar al Sham has long called for Turkey’s direct involvement in the Syrian Civil War, including publicly advocating for a Turkey-implemented safe zone in northern Aleppo in August 2015. The United States risks losing the war against extremism in Syria if it continues to allow Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to be seen by the Syrian people as the victors in Aleppo. Ahrar al-Sham is as much a part of al Qaeda’s long game in Syria as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. It shares the same goal to shape Syria’s population in a way that facilitates global jihad, and its pragmatic approach advances al Qaeda’s aim to build a durable safe haven in the Levant”.

The piece ends “Ahrar al Sham’s window to disavow al Qaeda and work against Jabhat Fateh al-Sham should be closing rapidly. The United States must take action to provide Syrian civilians and opposition groups with an acceptable alternative to the al Qaeda network. Washington must also focus on preventing the further development of sharia-based governance structures in opposition-held areas in order to combat al Qaeda’s subversive strategy. If Ahrar al-Sham does not act decisively to counteract al Qaeda in Syria, it must be treated as, and targeted as, an equal threat. For the time being, U.S. policymakers must resist the temptation to drift into an alliance with Russia and Assad to accomplish this goal. Any such partnership would ensure remaining “mainstream” opposition groups will turn away from the United States and toward hard-line elements of the Syrian opposition, effectively removing any potential Sunni partners against the Islamic State and al Qaeda from the battlefield. An alliance with Russia or Assad would only accelerate al Qaeda’s victory”.

Syria ceasefire, little about US-Russia partnership

17/09/2016

The new Syria cease-fire is rich in detail on the mechanics of ending violence in Aleppo. It says little about how the United States and Russia will establish a new military partnership that is seen as key to the long-term sustainability of the deal. Officials familiar with the document outline a highly technical series of requirements for both Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and opposition forces. These include precise calculations, in meters, on how the sides would pull back from a key artery into Aleppo and where they would have to redeploy weaponry. The agreement was reached last Friday after a marathon day of negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Underscoring the complexity of the new arrangement, even Kerry stumbled over some of the particulars while speaking shortly after the cease-fire came into effect Monday. Here are some details of the agreement, according to the U.S. officials. They weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the still-confidential agreement and demanded anonymity”.

“Philippines is proposing a 14 percent increase in defence spending”

13/09/2016

The Philippines is proposing a 14 percent increase in defence spending next year to buy new ships and aircraft to boost its fight against Islamist militants and enhance maritime security in the disputed South China Sea. According to internal documents seen by Reuters on Monday, about 130 billion pesos ($2.8 billion) or 96 percent of the proposed defense budget, would go to the armed forces. The push to beef up military spending reflects regional concern about China’s maritime assertiveness and the new government’s determination to crush the entrenched and lucrative network of the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf rebels behind a spree of kidnappings. Some 25 billion pesos would go to a modernization programme, the Department of National Defence said in the documents, including the acquisition of two surveillance planes and six close-air support planes to fight Abu Sayyaf”.

ISIS expelled from Turkish border

11/09/2016

Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels expelled the Islamic State group from the last strip of territory it controlled along the Syrian-Turkish border on Sunday, effectively sealing the extremists’ self-styled caliphate off from the outside world, Turkey’s prime minister and a Syrian opposition group reported. Also on Sunday, Syrian pro-government forces backed by airstrikes launched a wide offensive in the northern city of Aleppo, capturing areas they lost last month and besieging rebel-held neighbourhoods, state media and opposition activists said. Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army rebels have cleared the area between the northern Syrian border towns of Azaz and Jarablus, Turkey’s prime minister, Binali Yildirim, said. “From Azaz to Jarablus, 91 kilometers (57 miles) of our border has been completely secured. All the terrorist organizations are pushed back, they are gone,” Yildirim said, speaking at a dinner with non-government organizations in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir”.

“These objectives do not add up to a coherent policy”

07/09/2016

An article discusses a defence of Obama’s foreign policy given recently, “The Middle East remains the most dangerous, most complicated, and perhaps most controversial element in the Obama administration’s conduct of world affairs. In an interview with Foreign Policy contributor Aaron David Miller, Robert Malley, special assistant to the president and coordinator for the Middle East on the National Security Council staff, discussed President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies in depth. It is not only a polished, sober assessment of the actions and interests of the Obama administration, it’s a surprising one, too — it’s rare that a White House insider and counsel to the president gives us such insight into how off-base much of Obama’s approach to the region is. As ambassador to Turkey and Iraq during the Obama administration’s first term, I had a front row seat as much of that approach developed”.

The writer notes that “Malley’s rendition of Obama’s actions. His account of the Syrian chemical weapons denouement gives more credit to the administration’s decisiveness and less to pure chance — Putin compromising to thwart U.S. military action that Obama had essentially ruled out — than the public record justifies. Malley is basically right, however, in his assessment of the Iran nuclear deal, and the role of “tough multilateral diplomacy” and threat of force in achieving a breakthrough. But a list of American actions does not alone make a coherent mosaic. What gives context are the objectives that underlie activity. Malley, in the two he stresses, and the one he basically ignores, reveals why — as Miller noted — many believe “the Middle East is going to look a lot worse when Barack Obama leaves office than when he arrived.” For Malley, the core administration objectives are 1) avoiding attacks, particularly terrorist, on Americans (“the president’s priority … must be to defend America’s security”) and, 2) avoiding disastrous military adventures (“costly, open-ended conflicts”; “getting bogged down in military adventures”; and avoiding the myth “that military victory invariably translates into lasting political success”). The problem is that these objectives do not add up to a coherent policy — at best, they are things to be careful about when doing foreign policy. But Malley insists these are the standards by which to measure the administration”.

The writer argues that “He has half a point with the first. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the American people have been fixated on avoiding any terrorist attack on U.S. soil. In fact, a recent poll found that 42 percent of Americans say they are less safe from terrorism than before 9/11. But that persistent fear can lead us to ignore what was long thought vital: that if America does not deal with the broader threats to peace that so devastated Europe and Asia in the past century, it places its own security at existential risk. To emphasise the importance of avoiding unsuccessful military operations — his second “core” objective — Malley inflates the dangers. His target, as often with this administration, is the last administration”.

He argues correctly that “it didn’t actually happen as Malley describes: Obama became president not in 2003, but 2009. By then, almost all fighting had ceased in Iraq, President George W. Bush had begun withdrawing forces and had committed to pull out all troops before 2012. Likewise, Bush had opted not to confront Iran militarily over nuclear programs, begun the P5+1 negotiations with Tehran, mobilised the international community with four Security Council resolutions, and negotiated with the Iranians in Baghdad to avoid tensions over Iraq. Even more troubling is Malley’s lack of emphasis on the classic U.S. foreign policy objective since the 1940s: the maintenance of a global security order based on liberal values, international law, and trade and finance — all enabled by collective security centered on America’s readiness to defend these goals; not only against ideological rivals but also regional hegemons seeking to subjugate neighbours and carve out no-go zones against us”.

The article adds “Malley touches on this objective in describing the Obama administration’s balancing act, but does not dwell on what seemingly should be a central objective. That’s understandable, perhaps, as the administration put little emphasis on its role in maintaining global order in the Middle East. Initially Obama’s White House team did not have to prioritize these issues, as the focus was — apart from Iran’s nukes — nonstate actors and the Arab Spring. But recently we’ve witnessed serious challenges to that order: the rise of the Islamic State; the Bashar al-Assad regime’s slaughter of its population and subsequent fallout; the refugee tidal wave across the Middle East and into Europe; Iran’s infiltration of four Arab states; and Russia’s military return. None of these threats — apart from the Islamic State, and then only recently — has generated a robust American response”.

Correctly he writes that “no-risk, no-casualty American aerial campaigns against terrorists convince no one that Uncle Sam will be there when things get rough. Ducking military challenges that carry risks is what our partners see. The administration may want to dismiss those unhappy with Washington’s Iran policy as hopeless opponents of a reasonable (and here I agree with Malley) nuclear deal. But aside from Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, nobody in the region opposes that agreement explicitly”.

He ends “One explanation for Obama’s failure to respond effectively to threats to the regional order by Iran, the Islamic State, and now the Russians is the administration’s obsession with Malley’s two objectives, especially avoiding military missteps. Running a deterrence policy always risks military setbacks. But if minimizing risk is job one, deterrence necessarily gets short shrift. Even worse might come. Malley’s emphasis on “testing” the Russians, his assumptions that Putin could bog down in Syria where Assad can’t win, his hope for a better relationship with Iran, and his disparaging tone toward partners together suggest that perhaps the administration does have a Middle East grand strategy, albeit one not vetted publicly: to “share” (the president’s word, not Malley’s) the region with those anti-status quo forces now helping turn it into a nightmare. In this regard, Malley’s most worrisome words refer to the end of Obama’s time in the White House: “six months is a long time … there is still so much to be done.”

Hollande criticises Turkey

07/09/2016

French President Francois Hollande has criticized Turkey’s “contradictory” military intervention in Syria and warned Russia not to become a “protagonist” in the war. Hollande, in a diplomatic speech Tuesday, said “multiple, contradictory interventions carry the risk of a general inflammation” of the fighting that has devastated the country. He said he could understand Turkey’s concern about protecting its borders and fighting the Islamic State group, but criticised actions against Kurdish rebels allied with the U.S.-led coalition against the extremists. France is part of that coalition. Hollande called for cooperation with Russia and said he would invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to France in October, saying Russia should be “a player in negotiations, not a protagonist in the action.” Hollande said “the absolute urgency is a halt to fighting and a return to negotiations.”

“Largest youth population in human history”

05/09/2016

An interesting article discusses the demography of those under 30 in fragile nations, “As tweets and headlines skip from crisis to crisis, the largest youth population in human history is coming of age in a steady, unstoppable wave. While countries across Europe and East Asia are grappling with declining birthrates and aging populations, societies across the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia are experiencing youth booms of staggering proportions: More than half of Egypt’s labour force is younger than age 30. Half of Nigeria’s population of 167 million is between the ages of 15 and 34. In Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, East Timor, Niger, Somalia, and Uganda, more than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 25. How well these young people transition to adulthood — and how well their governments integrate them economically, politically, and socially — will influence whether their countries thrive or implode. Surging populations of young people will have the power to drive political and social norms, influence what modes of governance will be adopted and the role women will play in society, and embrace or discredit extremist ideologies. They are the fulcrum on which future social attitudes rest”.

It goes on to aruge “These young people could transform entire regions, making them more prosperous, more just, and more secure. Or they could also unleash a flood of instability and violence. Or both. And if their countries are not able to accommodate their needs and aspirations, they could generate waves of migration for decades. In the face of this deluge of young people, world leaders should be strategizing and taking steps daily that steer us all toward the former and away from the latter. But as serial acts of global terrorism, large-scale humanitarian disasters, perplexing political trends in Europe like Brexit and persistent economic fragility demand urgent attention, the question emerges: Is anyone even paying attention? Consider India. More than 300 million Indians are under the age of 15, making India home to more children than any country, at any time, in all of human history. To put the size of this generation’s numbers into perspective consider this: If these children formed a country, that country would be the fourth-largest in the world, still smaller than the United States but larger than Indonesia, Brazil, and Pakistan”.

Interestingly it notes “Every month until 2030, one million Indians will turn 18 years old, observes Somini Sengupta, the reporter and author of a compelling new book, The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young. These young people will need both education and jobs — lots of them — in a global economy that is most certainly going to feature more automation and fewer of the semi-skilled manufacturing jobs that absorbed earlier youth surges elsewhere in Asia. If India succeeds in this respect, its coming demographic bonanza holds the potential to create an unprecedented surge in the country’s economic health. If not, its youth boom could rock the world’s largest democracy and second-largest population with sustained instability. “In the coming years, India can thrive because of its young. Or it can implode. Or both. There’s little time left,” writes Sengupta”.

He notes similar trends in Africa and the Middle East, “Booming youth populations are the demographic equivalent of wild cards for those trying to predict the trajectory of large, strategically important, and politically volatile countries like Pakistan and Iran. In Pakistan, two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30. Many of these young people will only know Pakistan after its latest transition to democracy from 2008 to 2010 and after Pakistan ended its most recent war with India in 1999. They will also know political corruption, extremist violence, and dire shortages of energy and water. In Iran, two-thirds of the population is currently under the age of 35. These young people are educated, tech savvy, and full of potential. Whereas the revolution will be something they learned about in school, many will remember seeing Iranians pour into the streets during the Green Movement or to celebrate the nuclear deal with the United States”.

Crucially he writes that “Unfortunately, the countries that have most of the world’s young people are also the ones that are the most ill-equipped to grapple with their needs, ambitions, expectations, and inevitable frustrations — let alone capitalise on their potential. According to the United Nations, developing countries are home to 89 percent of the world’s 10- to 24-year-olds; by 2020, they will be home to nine out of every 10 people globally. Like too many developing countries, countries like Chad and Niger rank high on lists of the world’s most fragile states. They also have populations in which half of their citizens are under the age of 16. With this information, it is all too easy to conjure a dystopic future, the Hollywood caricature of a lawless developing country dominated by gangs of rough-talking young men brandishing firearms (Think, “I’m the captain now.”) But what if we made a different choice? What if the world invested in the potential of these young people? It is feasible to believe these countries could pull themselves out of poverty and instability within a generation — the way China did, the way India might. But if the international community fails to act now, we will all suffer the consequences”.

The author notes that “the developing world’s youth boom coincides with four interrelated global trends: an information revolution, the largest movement of refugees and displaced people in recorded history, growing urbanisation that will concentrate youth in cities, and a rise in terrorism and extremist ideologies. Together these trends will spread not just people but, more importantly, their ideas at an unprecedented rate. They will raise and dash expectations pushing and pulling young people toward and away from their hometowns and homelands, toward and away from their desired futures. They will make young people around the globe aware of how others are living, the divisions within their societies, and how those they identify with are treated by governments, security forces, and other groups. This knowledge can inspire or anger. It can commit people to elevating their families and communities — or make them lash out against them”.

Importantly he notes “Youth booms historically paid dividends in the form of economic growth. South Korea, for instance, translated its youth boom into twelvefold GDP per capita growth between 1970 and today, keeping unemployment for its large youth population around 10 percent. If this history repeats in large population centers like India and Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia, Egypt and Iran — all of which currently have unusually large youth populations — economic booms will transform whole regions. But the ability of developing countries to create enough jobs in today’s technologically advanced and ruthlessly efficient global economy is far from assured. Even wealthy and well-educated countries like Germany and the United States are struggling to employ elements of their workforces and sustain a prosperous middle class. A lack of economic opportunity concerns young people worldwide as the pace of technological advancements decreases the demand for manufacturing labor even when economies are growing. In Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, for example, youth unemployment rates already exceed 30 percent, and youth populations there are expected to grow by another 20 percent or more over the coming 15 years, according to the U.N”.

He ends “To change the trajectory of youth living in challenging circumstances around the world, young people need economic opportunities, civic engagement, and justice as well as opportunities to positively change their communities. They need to develop their identities as individuals who have something to contribute, and as citizens. They need to come together to shape more positive futures for themselves and for others. And they are not just going to wait. Tapping the potential of massive youth populations worldwide could be the opportunity of the century. Or, it will unleash even more disorder, division, and violence. Or both. To echo Sengupta again, the world is now home to a tipping-point generation that will bend the arc of history. There’s little time left”.

Peace with FARC

05/09/2016

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos sent the text of a peace accord with Marxist FARC rebels to Congress on Thursday in the first step before a plebiscite to end the longest-running war in the Western Hemisphere. The government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reached final agreement on the accord on Wednesday after an entrenched conflict that ravaged the country for more than 50 years, taking around 220,000 lives and leaving millions displaced. Legislators have 30 days to go over the 297-page text, which will be made public for all Colombians to read before voting on it in an up-or-down referendum on Oct. 2. Among many other details, the accord lays out the terms under which rebels will disarm and eventually enter civilian life again. “We are giving the final word to the people,” said Santos as he handed the accords, wrapped in a ribbon emblazoned with the colours of Colombia’s flag, to the president of Congress”.

More Taliban gains in Afghanistan

03/09/2016

Security sources report that about 10 districts in the country are under serious threat and that they are afraid these districts could fall to the Taliban. This is in addition to 10 other districts already controlled by the insurgent group. A security source told TOLO News that Sancharak district in Sar-e-Pul, Gezab in Uruzgan, Hesarak in Nangarhar, and a number of other districts are seriously threatened by insurgents. Security departments have said the National Unity Government leaders (NUG) share the same vision in terms of cracking down on terrorists, but that powerful groups interfere in appointing security officials. Meanwhile, military analysts have said that weaknesses within the security forces and the interference in appointing military officials are the main reasons for the Afghan National Army losing districts to insurgents”.

US and Russia, sharing an airbase?

01/09/2016

Could U.S. warplanes soon be sharing the runway at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base with Russian bombers? That’s up to Moscow, according to a top Turkish official, whose comments on possibly opening the strategic Turkish facility to Russian personnel comes ahead of a damage control visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday. When asked on Saturday whether Russia could use Incirlik for airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim answered in the affirmative. “If necessary, the Incirlik base can be used (by the Russians),” Yildirim told reporters. The prospect of opening Incirlik to Russia, a move that would likely infuriate NATO allies, would put the U.S. military in the awkward position of working and possibly living side by side with an adversary. In addition to being home to about 2,500 U.S. troops, Incirlik houses about 50 U.S. nuclear weapons, according to various watchdog groups”.

Turkey attacks Syria

30/08/2016

Turkey sent tanks, warplanes and special operations forces into northern Syria on Wednesday in its biggest plunge yet into the Syrian conflict, enabling Syrian rebels to take control of an important Islamic State stronghold within hours. The operation, assisted by American airstrikes, is a significant escalation of Turkey’s role in the fight against the Islamic State, the militant extremist group ensconced in parts of Syria and Iraq that has increasingly been targeting Turkey. By evening, Syrian rebels backed by the United States and Turkey declared that they had seized the town of Jarabulus and its surroundings, which had been the Islamic State’s last major redoubt near the Turkish border. Numerous fighters posted photographs and videos of themselves online with the green, black and white flag adopted by the Syrian opposition as they walked through empty streets where the black flag of Islamic State still flew; it appeared that most of the militants had fled without a fight”.

“Overly positive spin on the progress of the U.S. fight against the Islamic State”

30/08/2016

An article notes the benefits for Trump in a recently released intelliegence report, “A new congressional investigation has concluded that senior military officials presented an overly positive spin on the progress of the U.S. fight against the Islamic State, but its initial findings stopped short of explicitly charging the Obama administration with cooking the books. The White House shouldn’t break out the champagne: The findings could still be a lose-lose proposition for both the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton just as Donald Trump appeared to be on the ropes amid plunging poll numbers and sharp attacks from members of his own party”.

The piece adds “Trump’s primary attack on Clinton’s national security credentials centers around his accusations that she and the president whom she served deserve blame for the spread — if not the very birth — of the Islamic State. The mogul has stepped up his rhetorical attacks on both Clinton and President Barack Obama in recent days, deriding Obama as the “founder” of the group and labeling Clinton its “co-founder.” As with so many of Trump’s attacks, it’s a wholly inaccurate claim. The Islamic State grew out of the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq, an extremely violent Islamist group that battled U.S. forces after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, five years before Obama even took office. The president made an early series of remarks downplaying its capabilities, but has since launched an expansive military campaign that officials say has dramatically shrunk the size of its self-proclaimed caliphate. Still, the new evidence that the U.S. war against the Islamic State may not be going as well as the administration has claimed makes it easier for Trump to accuse Obama of intentionally misrepresenting the facts on the ground or to argue that the president was so incompetent that that he didn’t even realize that he was being misled by his commanders”.

The piece mentions that “Trump has already begun rolling out variants of that line of attack, part of the concerted Republican strategy to persuade voters that Obama bears responsibility both for losing Iraq by prematurely withdrawing American troops and for creating a vacuum that ISIS stepped in to fill. The president, Republicans argue, was also slow to grasp the severity of the new threat as evidenced by his tone-deaf and inaccurate description of the Islamic State as the “JV team” of international terrorism. Offered a way to back out of the clearly incorrect remarks on Thursday, Trump instead doubled down to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS,” Trump said. Hewitt pushed back, saying the president is trying to defeat the group, but the New York businessman gave no ground. “I don’t care,” Trump replied. “He was the founder.” Now Trump’s efforts to attack Obama’s — and Clinton’s — handling of the Islamic State’s spread are getting a boost from the House report, which could be used as rhetorical ammunition in the GOP push to diminish the counterterrorism gains of the entire administration. The Republican chairs of the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees, and of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, formed the task force to investigate allegations that the U.S. Central Command, in charge of the war in the Middle East, had manipulated intelligence in 2014 and 2015″.

It adds that “the House panel concluded, was yes: CENTCOM leaders approved intelligence that “typically provided a more positive depiction of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts than was warranted by facts on the ground and were consistently more positive than analysis produced by other elements of the Intelligence Community.” It also corroborated claims by CENTCOM whistleblowers that “superiors were distorting their products” or pressuring them to do so. The findings were first reported by the Daily Beast. The House report found no evidence that administration officials implicitly or explicitly pressured senior CENTCOM officials to cook the books, but Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves and one of the task force’s leaders, hinted that political motivations might ultimately explain the skewed intel analysis. The Democratic minority on the House Intelligence Committee, which conducted its own review, agreed with the majority’s conclusions about the faulty assessments but repeatedly emphasized that neither probe found administration involvement”.

It ends noting that “Trump and his allies haven’t shied away from alleging just such a connection, even though even Republican investigators couldn’t find one. Kelly Ayotte, a vulnerable Republican senator running for reelection in New Hampshire and one of the Obama administration’s loudest critics, was one of the first to weigh in on Thursday. “A successful strategy to defeat the scourge of radical Islamist terrorism must be based on facts — not rosy assessments manipulated to support a political narrative,” she said. Still, Trump’s ability to capitalize politically on the Obama administration’s track record in the war against the Islamic State may be complicated by inconvenient realities in his own record, including inaccurate claims that he initially both opposed the Iraq invasion (he supported it) and the subsequent withdrawal of U.S. forces (he backed that, too).

Trump’s isolationist supporters

28/08/2016

“Evan McAllister was 23 years old when he fought in the Iraqi city of Ramadi in 2006. He killed men and buried friends. Eight years later, he watched the same city fall to the Islamic State. To McAllister, a former Marine staff sergeant and scout sniper instructor, the war he fought was a harebrained mission planned by Republicans, rubber-stamped by Democrats and, in the end, lost to al-Qaeda’s brutal successor. The foreign policy establishment of both parties got his friends killed for no reason, he said, so come Election Day, he is voting for the man he believes answers to neither Democrats nor Republicans: Donald Trump.

The Iran deal, working

22/08/2016

An important piece in FA argues that Iran deal has worked, “A year has passed since diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany) defied conventional wisdom and struck a deal aimed at both preventing Iran from getting the bomb and preventing it from getting bombed. At the time, the deal’s detractors were apoplectic; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” that would pave the way for Iran to obtain a bomb. But the world has not come to an end. Iran is not the hegemon of the Middle East, Israel can still be found on the map, and Washington and Tehran still define each other as enemies. These days, voices such as Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, criticize the deal for having changed too little. But a closer examination shows that it has had a profound impact on the region’s geopolitical dynamics. Only four years ago, the Iranian nuclear program was consistently referred to as the United States’ number one national security threat. Senior U.S. officials put the risk of an Israeli attack on Iran at 50–50, a confrontation that the United States would quickly get dragged into. A war that was even more destabilizing than the Iraq invasion was not just a possibility; it seemed likely. Today, however, the talk of war is gone. Even the hawkish government of Netanyahu has gone silent on the matter. Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, a hawk in his own right, announced a few weeks ago that “at this point, and in the foreseeable future, there is no existential threat facing Israel. Thus it is fitting that the leadership of the country stop scaring the citizenry and stop giving them the feeling that we are standing before a second Holocaust.” Moreover, members of the U.S. Congress who have recently visited Israel have also noted that Israelis are no longer shifting every conversation to a discussion about the Iranian nuclear threat”.

The piece adds “The nuclear deal has thus halted the march toward war and Iran’s progress toward a bomb. And that certainly qualifies as significant change. To continue to argue that Israel and the region are not safer as a result of the deal would be to contend that Iran’s nuclear program was never a threat to begin with. That is a not a position that the Likud government in Israel can argue with a straight face. Other criticisms of the deal centered on predictions that Iran would not honour the agreement. Yet the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iran is abiding by its obligations under the deal. Also not borne out have been prophecies that Iran’s regional policies would radicalise, that the deal would, as The Heritage Foundation’s James Phillips wrote, “project [American] weakness that could further encourage Iranian hardliners.” To be sure, Washington continues to view many of Iran’s regional activities as unhelpful and destabilising, but those activities have not increased as a result of the nuclear deal”.

The piece goes on to mention “If anything, as the European Union’s foreign policy head, Federica Mogherini, told me last December, the deal paved the way for renewed dialogue on Syria, which offers a glimmer of hope to end the carnage there. “What we have now in Syria—talks bringing together all the different actors (and we have it now and not last year)—is because we had the [nuclear] deal,” she told me. And last month, U.S. Secretary Of State John Kerry stated that Iran has been “helpful” in Iraq, where both the United States and Iran are fighting the Islamic State (ISIS). It is undisputable that outside of the nuclear deal, the relationship between the United States and Iran has shifted significantly since the breakthrough. That became abundantly clear in January, when ten American sailors drifted into Iranian waters and were apprehended by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps—and were then promptly released. An incident that in the pre-deal era likely would have taken months, if not years, to resolve was now settled in 16 hours. Direct diplomacy between Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif combined with a mutual desire to resolve the matter quickly made all the difference”.

He points out that “for relations to improve beyond the nuclear deal, moderate elements on both sides need to be strengthened by the deal. That is one area where the skepticism of the critics may have been justified. Rather than seeing the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gain momentum after the deal, the pushback from Iranian hardliners has been fierce. Those officials couldn’t prevent Iran from signing the agreement, but they could create enough problems to halt any effort to translate the nuclear deal into a broader opening to the United States. A swift crackdown against individuals and entities seeking to build bridges between Iran and the West had its intended effect: Confidence that the nuclear deal would usher in a new era for U.S.-Iranian relations quickly plummeted. Moreover, challenges to sanctions relief has given hardline opponents of the deal in Iran a boost. Their critique of the agreement—that the United States is not trustworthy—seems to ring true since no major banks have been willing to enter the Iranian market. The banks’ hesitation, in turn, is mainly rooted in the fear that after the U.S. presidential elections, Washington’s political commitment to the deal will wane”.

Correctly the writer argues “Neither Republican candidate Donald Trump nor Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have signaled any desire to continue down the Obama administration’s path with Iran in general. Clinton has vowed to uphold the deal, but neither she nor Trump have made it crystal clear that they will protect the agreement from new congressional sanctions or other measures that would cause the deal’s collapse. Clinton’s team has signaled that its priority will be to rebuild relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia and restore those allies’ confidence that the United States will counter Iran in the region. Meanwhile, the uncertainty around a Trump presidency needs no explaining. As a result, many banks deem the risk of entering the Iranian market too high due to the political challenges on the U.S. side. That has left Iranians without much in the way of sanctions relief, which is in turn costing Rouhani politically”.

He ends, “In other words, although the deal has been remarkably successful in achieving its explicit goals—halting, and even reversing, Iran’s nuclear advances while avoiding a costly and risky war with Tehran—its true value in rebalancing U.S. relationships in the Persian Gulf and creating a broader opening with Iran may be squandered once Obama leaves office. If Obama’s successor returns to the United States’ old ways in the Middle East while hardliners in Tehran stymie outreach to the West, these unique and historic opportunities will be wasted”.