Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

19
Jun

By Hooman Majd

19iht-edmadj19-articleLarge

Iranians went to the polls on Friday in what turned out to be — against all expectations — a peaceful, if not entirely fair, presidential election.

The international media, analysts and even Western government officials had dismissed the election in advance as a farce, with the outcome to be determined by only one man — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — or saw it as a tightly controlled contest among a half-dozen handpicked, indistinguishable candidates servile to the supreme leader’s wishes.

Many Iranians, too, initially saw their elections in much the same way.

But people have a funny way of defying expectations, sometimes even their own. The contest was not without meaning for a population suffering from runaway inflation, double-digit unemployment and a stifling political and social atmosphere, to say nothing of international isolation and the burdensome economic sanctions that have been imposed on them.

Despite the narrow field of candidates, voters ultimately knew that they did have a choice between the status quo and change, however modest that change might appear to foreign observers. In unexpectedly huge numbers, voters from across the social spectrum chose change in the person of Hassan Rowhani, a mild-mannered cleric and former chief negotiator for Iran’s nuclear program under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami.

Although Ayatollah Khamenei has final say on the issues that most concern the West, Rowhani’s victory is cause for optimism among Iranians, and should be seen as a source of hope for the world at large, as the Obama administration rightly, albeit mutedly, has noted. The White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, hinted at this on Sunday, saying that if Rowhani is interested in “mending relations with the rest of the world, as he has said in his campaign events, there is an opportunity to do that.” But he added that this would require Iran “to come clean on this illicit nuclear program.”

Rowhani’s triumph — he received more votes than all five rivals combined — inspired celebrations on the streets of Tehran of a kind not seen since 2009, before the Green Movement was crushed in the uprising that followed the disputed election. Moreover, the ready acceptance of the latest election results by the supreme leader himself is indication of potential flexibility in a hard-line regime. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on June 18, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on June 19, 2013, in The International Herald Tribune).

18
Jun

America is the world’s No. 1 and Germany is Europe’s, yet both seem content to punch below their weights.

By Josef Joffe

OB-XW427_joffee_G_20130617161908

When U.S. President Barack Obama pays his respects to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin this week, he will encounter a Germany that no sitting American president has encountered in many decades. No, not the “Fourth Reich” of punditry’s fevered imagination. For the first time since Harry Truman arrived in Potsdam in 1945 to dismember the Third Reich, Germany is Europe’s No. 1 again.

The irony couldn’t be thicker. Twice in the 20th century, Germany tried to grab hegemony by bayonet and blitzkrieg, almost destroying itself and Europe in the process. Now, primacy has dropped into Mrs. Merkel’s lap like an overripe plum. It’s dominion by default, and power sits uneasily on the chancellor’s head. It is literally an embarrassment of riches. Germany is so strong because Britain, France, Italy and Spain are so weak, their economies the victims of failed modernization and failing competitiveness.

Barack Obama will spend 22 hours in a country that is all dressed up but doesn’t know where to go. The U.S. and Germany are the last heavies standing in the West, but they would rather compete in the middleweight league. To invert Maggie Thatcher: They are punching below their weight. America is No. 1 in the world, and Germany is No. 1 in Europe, yet both are practicing what great powers have never done. Call it “self-containment,” or to use the language of the 19th century: They are balancing not against others, but against themselves. This is a first in great-power history.

Mr. Obama’s America is disarming and retracting, both from Europe, where there are only 30,000 U.S. soldiers left, and from the Greater Middle East, where the U.S. has vacated Iraq while pulling out from Afghanistan. In Syria, it has taken Mr. Obama two long years to figure out that he can’t play Ferdinand the Bull while Russia and Iran are playing power politics. Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, has mobilized thousands to defend the Assad regime, and the Russians have deployed naval units to the Eastern Mediterranean and dispatched sophisticated anti-air and anti-ship missiles—classic 19th century stuff. Read more…

Mr. Joffe is editor of Die Zeit and fellow of the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Hoover Institution, both at Stanford.

As published by The Wall Street Journal on June 17, 2013.

17
Jun

Iran just opened itself to a nuclear deal — but America has to make the first move.

By Vali Nasr

170601259

Just when the world had given up hope for meaningful change in Iran, the country’s presidential election produced a surprise. Rather than a repeat of the 2009 conservative victory, the token reformist candidate, Hasan Rowhani, whose campaign called for moderation at home and constructive relations with the world, defied the odds to win a clear majority in the first round of voting. This is a welcome repudiation of the Ahmadinejad years and a clear popular challenge to the conservative chokehold on Iranian politics. The world can take heart in the fact that majority of Iranians voted for a break with the Ahmadinejad legacy and that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Revolutionary Guards chose not to reverse the election’s outcome in a repeat of the debacle of 2009.

This is all good news for Iranian politics, but what matters most to the West these days is the fate of the country’s nuclear program. There is cautious optimism that popular support for moderation at the polls will translate into concessions at the negotiating table. Rowhani sent clear signals during the presidential campaign that if elected he would seek to end Iran’s international isolation. Favoring engagement over resistance, he said, “We have no other option than moderation.” That may well be the case, but a nuclear deal is still far from certain, and in fact this June surprise could confound U.S. strategy in dealing with Iran.

For starters, Rowhani may have won the popular mandate, but it is Khamenei who will make the final decision on the nuclear program. Iran’s counterparts in the P5+1 — the diplomatic bloc composed of the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, France, and Germany — would welcome seeing the back of the hardline negotiator Saeed Jalili. But even if Rowhani managed to persuade the supreme leader to sack his protégé and favorite in the recent elections, Iran’s position on its right to have a nuclear program is unlikely to change.

In fact, President Rowhani will be particularly aware of the risks inherent in negotiating with the P5+1. Rowhani was widely excoriated in Iran for ostensibly betraying the national interest in 2003, when, as the country’s nuclear negotiator, he signed on to a voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment. That concession was meant as a confidence-building measure to build momentum for a broader nuclear deal, but the reformist hope turned into defeat when talks failed amid allegations that Iran had violated protocols laid out by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The supreme leader and his conservative coterie concluded that the suspension had been construed as Iranian weakness and only invited greater international pressure. They blamed Rowhani for having put Iran on its heels. The defeatist image became a stain on the reformists’ reputation and contributed to the conservative juggernaut that swept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power in 2005. Read more…

Vali Nasr is the dean of the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on June 16, 2013.

13
Jun

By Haizam Amirah-Fernández, Associate Professor of IE School of International Relations

haizamamirahfernandez

Does a power like the US know what it is doing in a region as important and complex as the Middle East? The question may sound like a provocation, but from its answer stem enormous implications for the international system. This is not an issue raised only by critics or enemies of the US. Increasingly more allies, partners and friends alike, wonder if Washington has a clear strategy towards the Middle East, if it foresees the possible consequences of its actions or rather if, as some believe, it is gradually dissociating itself from the region as part of its announced strategic shift towards Asia and the Pacific.

The experience of successive US administrations in the Middle East during the last decade cannot be described as very successful. Large projects of regional transformation, risky military adventures, costly reconstruction programmes and questionable methods in fighting against fanaticism have not given the US the security, new alliances or sympathies of hearts and minds that had been promised. All too often, US policies have given rise to results contrary to those desired and whose long-term consequences go against American national interests.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was presented as an investment to transform the country into a faithful US ally. The new Iraq was to be an example for the democratisation of other neighbouring countries as well as a base to act, if necessary, against the Iranian regime. The reality, a decade later, is nothing like the foreseen plan: Iraq is a fractured country, plagued by violence and whose government is in the hands of close allies of Iran.

The regional rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its hegemonic aspirations cannot be understood without the involuntary help of the US. On the one hand, in 2001 it put an end to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (enemies of the Iranian ayatollahs), thus placing in power in Kabul groups allied to Tehran. On the other hand, in 2003 the George W. Bush Administration toppled Saddam Hussein, who had acted as a barrier against Iranian ambitions in the Arab neighbourhood. Unwittingly, neoconservatives in the US handed over the Bagdad government to Shia leaders over which Iran exerts great influence.

Syria has become a new source of bewilderment regarding the objectives and leadership capabilities of the US in the Middle East. What started in March 2011 as a pacifist uprising against the totalitarian regime of Bashar al-Assad has become a proxy war whose price is being paid by the Syrian population. In this war, the regime and its foreign supporters (Iran, Russia and Hizballah) fight against the rebels and their allies (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the US and Jordan, among others). Read more…

(Originally published in El Mundo on 10 June 2013)

10
Jun

How Dangerous Is a Terrorist with a Twitter Handle? There’s an effort afoot in Congress to kick terrorists off Twitter. But the government’s spies aren’t so sure.

BY JONATHAN SCHANZER

birdtweet110014362

Sensational reports in the Guardian and Washington Post recently blew the lid off of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) electronic surveillance efforts, which have harvested everything from phone calls to Facebook posts for intelligence purposes.

Curiously, Twitter still appears outside the grasp of the NSA’s PRISM program, which gathers information from major U.S. Internet companies. But a group of lawmakers are concerned that the popular microblogging service has become too hospitable an environment for terrorist groups. The platform hosts a number of official feeds for terrorist groups, including Somalia’s al-Shabab, the North African al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra, the Taliban, and Hamas.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), who currently serves as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, is looking to curtail terrorist activity on Twitter. Poe is mindful of free speech concerns, but believes terrorist organizations are not entitled to the same free speech protections. As he argued last year, after watching Hamas use the platform for propaganda purposes during its November war with Israel, Twitter must recognize sooner rather than later that social media is a tool for the terrorists.”

First Amendment activists will almost certainly cry foul. But they will not be alone: This would be one of their rare moments of harmony with the U.S. intelligence community, which has used Twitter feeds of extremists to monitor their messaging for strategies, tactics, and policies. America’s spies also monitor the feeds of extremist personalities and groups to see who follows them and who sympathizes with them, with the goal of identifying potential security threats at home or abroad. In fact, Twitter has made it possible for official bodies to interact with a banned group — even if those interactions haven’t been pleasant.

So while there is no evidence as of yet Twitter has been mined by PRISM — other classified programs may exist, of course — the intelligence community exploits it in other important ways. One former official at the National Security Agency notes, “Twitter is an incredible source to learn what these groups are doing. The FBI, CIA, and NSA not only get a lot of intelligence from Twitter, but there is also a lot of manipulation going on.” Read more…

Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism intelligence analyst at the U.S. Treasury, is vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on June 8, 2013.

1 17 18 19 20 21 66

We use both our own and third-party cookies to enhance our services and to offer you the content that most suits your preferences by analysing your browsing habits. Your continued use of the site means that you accept these cookies. You may change your settings and obtain more information here. Accept