Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

17
May

Syria Begins to Break Apart Under Pressure From War

By Ben Hubbard

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The black flag of jihad flies over much of northern Syria. In the center of the country, pro-government militias and Hezbollah fighters battle those who threaten their communities. In the northeast, the Kurds have effectively carved out an autonomous zone.

After more than two years of conflict, Syria is breaking up. A constellation of armed groups battling to advance their own agendas are effectively creating the outlines of separate armed fiefs. As the war expands in scope and brutality, its biggest casualty appears to be the integrity of the Syrian state.

On Thursday, President Obama met in Washington with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and once again pressed the idea of a top-down diplomatic solution. That approach depends on the rebels and the government agreeing to meet at a peace conference that was announced last week by the United States and Russia.

“We’re going to keep increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and working with the Syrian opposition,” Mr. Obama said. “We are going to keep working for a Syria that is free of Assad’s tyranny.”

But as evidence of massacres and chemical weapons mounts, experts and Syrians themselves say the American focus on change at the top ignores the deep fractures the war has caused in Syrian society. Increasingly, it appears Syria is so badly shattered that no single authority is likely to be able to pull it back together any time soon.

Instead, three Syrias are emerging: one loyal to the government, to Iran and to Hezbollah; one dominated by Kurds with links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey and Iraq; and one with a Sunni majority that is heavily influenced by Islamists and jihadis. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on May 16, 2013 (a version of this article appeared in print on May 17, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: War’s Pressure is Causing Syria to Break Apart).

14
May

By Stephen M. Walt

I learned this morning that Kenneth N. Waltz, who was arguably the preeminent theorist of international relations of the postwar period, had passed away at the age of 88. Ken was the author of several enduring classics of the field, including Man, the State, and War(1959), Foreign Policy and Democratic Politics (1967),  and Theory of International Politics (1979).   His 1980 Adelphi Paper on nuclear proliferation (“The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better”), was also a classic, albeit a controversial one. One of his lesser achievements was chairing my dissertation committee, and he was a source of inspiration throughout my career.

I’ve written a tribute to Waltz’s scholarship before, in the preface to a festschrift for Ken edited by Andrew Hanami.   But today I want to celebrate his role as a teacher, based on some remarks I made at the 2010 meeting of the International Studies Association, where Waltz received an award for lifetime achievement. With a few edits, here’s what I said back then:

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Ken Waltz is widely recognized as one of the preeminent IR scholars of the postwar period, but he was also responsible for training an impressive number of graduate students, including Barry Posen, Stephen Van Evera, Bob Powell, Avery Goldstein, Christopher Layne, Benny Miller, Karen Adams, Shibley Telhami, Jim Fearon, William Rose, Robert Gallucci, Andrew Hanami, and many others. I want to say a few words about what it was like to have him as a teacher and advisor, and why I think he was so effective at it. 

First, Ken was trained in political theory and renowned as a theorist of international relations, but he was deeply interested in real-world issues and his example showed us how theory could be used to illuminate crucial policy issues. In addition to his own theoretical work, Ken wrote about Vietnam, nuclear strategy, economic interdependence and globalization, nuclear proliferation, the U.S. defense budget, and even the Rapid Deployment Force. For those of us who were interested in international security affairs, his model was wonderfully liberating. Ken showed that you could be a theorist and a social scientist without joining the “cult of irrelevance” that afflicts so much of academia.  

Indeed, Ken’s work on these topics underscored why theory is so important. Having lots of facts at one’s disposal didn’t help if you were thinking about those facts in the wrong way. In a world where most people think theory and practice have little in common, Ken was teaching us that they were inextricably intertwined. That’s why he got a lot of things right that others got wrong. He was right about Vietnam, right about which side was winning the Cold War, right about the basic principles of nuclear deterrence, and right about the continued relevance of politics, even in the era of economic “globalization.” A little theory can go a long way, and his case, it led in the right direction. Read more…

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on May 13, 2013.

10
May

By Charles Krauthammer

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You know you’re in trouble when you can’t even get your walk-back story straight. Stung by the worldwide derision that met President Obama’s fudging and fumbling of his chemical-weapons red line in Syria, the White House leaked to the New York Times that Obama’s initial statement had been unprepared, unscripted and therefore unserious.

The next day Jay Carney said precisely the opposite: “Red line” was intended and deliberate.

Which is it? Who knows? Perhaps Obama used the term last August to look tough, sound like a real world leader, never expecting that Syria would do something so crazy. He would have it both ways: sound decisive but never have to deliver.

Or perhaps he thought that Syria might actually use chemical weapons one day, at which point he would think of something.

So far he’s thought of nothing. Instead he’s backed himself into a corner: Be forced into a war he is firmly resolved to avoid, or lose credibility, which for a superpower on whose word relies the safety of a dozen allies is not just embarrassing but dangerous.

In his recent rambling news conference, Obama said that he needed certainty about the crossing of the red line to keep the “international community” behind him. This is absurd. The “international community” is a fiction, especially in Syria. Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are calling the shots.

Nor, he averred, could he act until he could be sure of everything down to the “chain of custody” of the sarin gas. What is this? “CSI: Damascus”? It’s a savage civil war. The antagonists don’t exactly stand down for forensic sampling. Read more…

As published in www.washingtonpost.com on May 10, 2013.

8
May

By Volker Perthes

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The eruption of the Arab revolts in late 2010 and early 2011 put power relations among Middle Eastern countries in a state of flux, and both winners and losers have emerged. But, given that the strengths and weaknesses of most of the actors are highly contingent, the regional balance of power remains highly fluid.

As that balance currently stands, Egypt continues to be one of the region’s most influential actors, with the success or failure of its political and economic transition affecting how other Arab countries develop. But Egypt is weighed down by domestic concerns, including a plummeting economy and a security situation in which the military is used for police tasks.

The expansion of Egypt’s soft power will depend on the ability of its first democratically elected government, led by President Mohamed Morsi, to take difficult decisions and forge domestic consensus. Success in establishing effective governance would establish a model that many of Egypt’s neighbors would seek to emulate, at least partly.

In this respect, Turkey is a good example. Turkey’s power rests primarily on its vibrant economy. Its impressive military strength is of limited use as an instrument of power, and its political clout has been overestimated, particularly in Syria. A rapprochement with Israel and, more important, a lasting peace with its Kurdish population, would boost Turkey’s regional influence.

Israel also remains an overall winner, despite the changing strategic environment and its virtual lack of soft power in the region. The impending fall of Israel’s most reliable enemy, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, concerns Israel almost as much as the loss of its ally, Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak. With Israel’s economy and deterrent capability stronger than ever, however, no regional player poses a genuine security threat to Israel in the short term.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s diligent efforts to expand its influence over the last two decades have paid off, with the country developing considerable power of attraction. Since 2011, Qatar has scaled up its involvement in its neighbors’ affairs, backing the Libyan revolution, the Egyptian government, and the Syrian opposition. Read more…

Volker Perthes is Chairman and Director of Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin.

As published in www.project-syndicate.org on May 7, 2013.

7
May

Sorting the mistakes from the fiascos on Syria.

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There is so much wrong with the current “red-line” mess with Syria that a little sorting out is in order. It has gotten to the point that you can’t tell which fiasco you are talking about without a scorecard.

In the first instance, of course, there is the self-inflicted wound element of the problem, as reported in Sunday’s New York Times. Apparently, according to the paper, the president’s initial use of the term “red line” was an ill-considered bit of rhetorical muscle-flexing on his part. Since the president is the font from which all policy flows, it can hardly be called freelancing, but it was something close, making policy with a slip of the lip and less reflection on consequences than is truly desirable.

Of course, the word “consequences” cuts to another dimension of the problem that goes beyond the process misstep involved. Declaring a red line without figuring out the consequences you are willing to impose in advance is asking for trouble. It is the equivalent of a parent threatening an unruly child by counting to three: It works fine if the child doesn’t have the courage, curiosity, or recklessness to find out what happens after you get to three. Typically, however, the approach doesn’t work if the one you are seeking to talk back into line is a proven mass-murderer.

Another problem associated with the red line that Sen. John McCain quipped was written in “disappearing” ink has to do with the various ways United States has hemmed and hawed about the issue in the days since evidence appeared that suggested the red line might have been crossed. Admittedly, some of this was soundly cautious, a “let’s be sure” reaction that was a hard-learned lesson from Iraq. But some of it — notably the mixed signals that included Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s suggesting that the line might have been passed (a little, somehow, but not too much, but still worrisomely) while also saying the United States was considering tougher measures while also not actually taking any — was a classic illustration of a rudderless reaction. Read more…

David Rothkopf is CEO and editor at large of Foreign Policy. 

As publilshed in www.foreignpolicy.com on May 6, 2013.

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