Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

3
Oct

By Vali Nasr

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The international agreement to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons has put diplomacy back at center stage of American foreign policy. But enforcing America’s “red line” in Syria is only a prelude to dealing with the thicker, redder line around Iran’s nuclear program. Last week’s charm offensive by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and his seeming show of flexibility augurs well for a diplomatic resolution.

But America would be naïve to assume that Iran is negotiating from a position of weakness. To the contrary, Iran has come out of the Arab Spring better positioned than any of its regional rivals, and the turmoil in Syria, its ally, has paradoxically strengthened it further. Witness Mr. Rouhani’s statements that distinguished Iran from its Arab neighbors and asserted that it was uniquely positioned to broker a resolution.

Over the past five years America has thought that only an Iran weakened by economic sanctions would agree to a nuclear deal. Iran’s economy is indeed in dire straits, which helps explain the decision by its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to put forward Mr. Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, as his interlocutor with the West.

It’s also true that Iran has been isolated as the sectarian tenor of the civil war in Syria incensed the country’s largely Sunni population against Shiite Iran and its clients: the governments in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Iran’s diplomatic flexibility is serious, but should not be mistaken for willingness to surrender.

Iran does not see itself as vanquished. Its political system is still the most steadfast and resilient in the region. It is reveling in a newfound stability on the back of a surprisingly smooth presidential election. There were no street protests in Tehran this year, like those that paralyzed Tehran in 2009, Cairo in 2011 and Istanbul earlier this year. Indeed, Mr. Rouhani’s government, by freeing political prisoners and potentially relaxing controls on the press and social media, is showing its confidence. Read more….

Vali R. Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, is a contributing opinion writer.

As published in www.nytimes.com on October 2, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appears in print on October 3, 2013, on page A31 of the New York edition with the headline: America Mustn’t Be Naïve About Iran).

1
Oct

The Shutdown Won’t Break the U.S. Foreign Policy Machine (Right Away)

By Ty McCormick, Yochi Dreazen

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Four hundred thousand Defense Department employees, sent home. Internal watchdogs, defanged. Congressional investigations, stymied. A billion dollars a day in government contracts, stopped up.

If there’s a government shutdown on Tuesday, the United States will continue to be able to conduct its key foreign policy, national security, and intelligence missions — at least for a little while. But beyond that, well, it’s not going to be pretty.

The effects of political dysfunction in Washington are already reverberating across the globe. Markets in Europe and Asia took a hit on Monday and both the NASDAQ and Dow Jones Industrial Average fell sharply this morning when trading got underway in New York. But rattling global markets is only the first of many potential effects of the shutdown.

While government employees engaged in essential national security and intelligence-gathering activities would report to work as usual — at least in the short term — many could face considerable personal hardship because of delayed paychecks. Active-duty servicemembers might be compensated; civilians, not so much.

A government shutdown would also affect U.S. foreign policy more subtly by delaying critical foreign-policy related hearings in Congress, paring back nuclear and other critical energy programs to the bare minimum, and interfering with the State Department’s ability to police itself.

“Spies will still spy. The machinery will go on,” said a retired senior CIA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The problem is if something extra falls into the system. If guys are worried about their paychecks, they’re not concentrating on their job.”

The Department of Defense will likewise “continue to support all key military operations such as the war in Afghanistan and various other missions around the world,” Pentagon spokesman Cdr. Bill Urban told Foreign Policy. But a shutdown would “place significant hardships on a workforce already strained by recent administrative furloughs.

For the hundreds of thousands of non-essential civilian personnel employed in the U.S. foreign policy machine, it will most likely mean being furloughed. This includes roughly 400,000 employees at the Defense Department alone. Read more…

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on September 30, 2013.

30
Sep

By Robin Wright

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How 5 Countries Could Become 14

The map of the modern Middle East, a political and economic pivot in the international order, is in tatters. Syria’s ruinous war is the turning point. But the centrifugal forces of rival beliefs, tribes and ethnicities — empowered by unintended consequences of the Arab Spring — are also pulling apart a region defined by European colonial powers a century ago and defended by Arab autocrats ever since.

A different map would be a strategic game changer for just about everybody, potentially reconfiguring alliances, security challenges, trade and energy flows for much of the world, too.

Syria’s prime location and muscle make it the strategic center of the Middle East. But it is a complex country, rich in religious and ethnic variety, and therefore fragile. After independence, Syria reeled from more than a half-dozen coups between 1949 and 1970, when the Assad dynasty seized full control. Now, after 30 months of bloodletting, diversity has turned deadly, killing both people and country. Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland.

Syria’s unraveling would set precedents for the region, beginning next door. Until now, Iraq resisted falling apart because of foreign pressure, regional fear of going it alone and oil wealth that bought loyalty, at least on paper. But Syria is now sucking Iraq into its maelstrom.

“The battlefields are merging,” the United Nations envoy Martin Kobler told the Security Council in July. “Iraq is the fault line between the Shia and the Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq.”

Over time, Iraq’s Sunni minority — notably in western Anbar Province, site of anti-government protests — may feel more commonality with eastern Syria’s Sunni majority. Tribal ties and smuggling span the border. Together, they could form a de facto or formal Sunnistan. Iraq’s south would effectively become Shiitestan, although separation is not likely to be that neat. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on September 28, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appears in print on September 29, 2013, on page SR7 of the New York edition with the headline: Imagining a Remapped Middle East).

25
Sep

By Colum Lynch, Ty McCormick

68th Session Of The United Nations General Assembly BeginsU.S. President Barack Obama presented world leaders at the United Nations with an image of America as a reluctant superpower, ready to confront Iran’s nukes and kill its enemies with targeted drone strikes, but unprepared to embark on open-ended military missions in Syria and other troubled countries. That, he hinted, should give the world cause for anxiety.

“The United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries,” he said in his address before the 193-member General Assembly. “The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or public opinion.”

Obama said that “the recent debate within the United States over Syria clearly showed the danger for the world is not an America that is eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war — rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world — may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.”

Obama said that for the time being, American foreign-policy priorities in the Middle East will focus primarily on two key priorities: “Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.”

In addressing the conflict in Syria, Obama said U.S. aims were largely humanitarian.

“There’s no ‘great game’ to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the well-being of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring it does not become a safe haven for terrorists,” he said. Read more…

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on September 24, 2013.

23
Sep

By Cameron Abadi

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To state the obvious: Angela Merkel, who has just won a third term as German chancellor, isn’t very macho. Her preferred free-time pursuit is recreational nature walking. (Also, baking: she admitted during the campaign season that her husband was sometimes displeased by the paucity of crumbs atop her cakes.) She hardly ever indulges in public demonstrations of authority; she speaks softly, and mostly refrains from displays of emotion, except for occasional flashes of a nervous smile. As for body language, her signature gesture is the Merkel diamond, which seems laboratory-tested to avoid appearing confrontational.

Compare that, for a moment, with the testosterone-soaked state of U.S.-Russian diplomacy, which has devolved in recent weeks into a high-profile pissing match. Vladimir Putin raided U.S.-backed NGOs, while Barack Obama chided Putin’s posture; Putin extended asylum to America’s most-wanted fugitive, as Obama canceled a bilateral Moscow summit. For a while, it seemed as if the confrontation would have to be settled with a round of one-on-one basketball or some judo sparring. Eventually, they both managed to claim credit for averting war with Syria—Putin from the op-ed page of the one newspaper that Barack Obama professes to care about.

There was something transfixing about the display of presidential one-upsmanship; even Germans seemed more drawn to the Putin-Obama show than their own election campaign. But if Putin and Obama ever do manage to stop their reciprocal bouts of preening, they’d do well to consider cribbing from Merkel’s machismo-less political methods. There’s an argument to be made that it’s Merkel who is the Machiavelli of our day—better, and certainly shrewder, at power politics than any of her peers, including her colleagues in the White House and Kremlin.

Merkel’s quiet affect shouldn’t obscure her influence. Germany has more power today than at any time since World War II. Merkel is prima inter pares in the European Union, capable of determining the shape of the bailout packages given to the continent’s ailing economies and, thus, capable of determining the shape of their national economies for years on end. Even the ostensibly independent European Central Bank seems to take its directions from the chancellory in Berlin, afraid to get too far ahead of Merkel’s plans. Read more…

Cameron Abadi is Deputy Web Editor at Foreign Affairs.

As published in www.newrepublic.com September 22, 2103.

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