Archive for the ‘International Conflict, Terrorism & Security’ Category

16
Jun

Who lost Iraq?

Written on June 16, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in International Conflict, Terrorism & Security, Middle East, News, Op Ed

It is becoming increasingly likely that Iraq has reached a turning point. The forces hostile to the government have grown stronger, better equipped and more organized. And having now secured arms, ammunition and hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from their takeover of Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city — they will build on these strengths. Inevitably, in Washington, the question has surfaced: Who lost Iraq?

Whenever the United States has asked this question — as it did with China in the 1950s or Vietnam in the 1970s — the most important point to remember is: The local rulers did. The Chinese nationalists and the South Vietnamese government were corrupt, inefficient and weak, unable to be inclusive and unwilling to fight with the dedication of their opponents. The same story is true of Iraq, only much more so. The first answer to the question is: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lost Iraq.

The prime minister and his ruling party have behaved like thugs, excluding the Sunnis from power, using the army, police forces and militias to terrorize their opponents. The insurgency the Maliki government faces today was utterly predictable because, in fact, it happened before. From 2003 onward, Iraq faced a Sunni insurgency that was finally tamped down by Gen. David Petraeus, who said explicitly at the time that the core element of his strategy was political, bringing Sunni tribes and militias into the fold. The surge’s success, he often noted, bought time for a real power-sharing deal in Iraq that would bring the Sunnis into the structure of the government.

A senior official closely involved with Iraq in the Bush administration told me, “Not only did Maliki not try to do broad power-sharing, he reneged on all the deals that had been made, stopped paying the Sunni tribes and militias, and started persecuting key Sunni officials.” Among those targeted were the vice president of Iraq and its finance minister.

The turmoil in the Middle East is often called a sectarian war. But really it is better described as “the Sunni revolt.” Across the region, from Iraq to Syria, one sees armed Sunni gangs that have decided to take on the non-Sunni forces that, in their view, oppress them. The Bush administration often justified its actions by pointing out that the Shiites are the majority in Iraq and so they had to rule. But the truth is that the borders of these lands are porous, and while the Shiites are numerous in Iraq — Maliki’s party actually won a plurality, not a majority — they are a tiny minority in the Middle East as a whole. It is outside support — from places as varied as Saudi Arabia and Turkey — that sustains the Sunni revolt.

If the Bush administration deserves a fair share of blame for “losing Iraq,” what about the Obama administration and its decision to withdraw American forces from the country by the end of 2011? I would have preferred to see a small American force in Iraq to try to prevent the country’s collapse. But let’s remember why this force is not there. Maliki refused to provide the guarantees that every other country in the world that hosts U.S. forces offers. Some commentators have blamed the Obama administration for negotiating badly or halfheartedly and perhaps this is true. But here’s what a senior Iraqi politician told me in the days when the U.S. withdrawal was being discussed: “It will not happen. Maliki cannot allow American troops to stay on. Iran has made very clear to Maliki that its No. 1 demand is that there be no American troops remaining in Iraq. And Maliki owes them.” He reminded me that Maliki spent 24 years in exile, most of them in Tehran and Damascus, and his party was funded by Iran for most of its existence. And in fact, Maliki’s government has followed policies that have been pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian.

Washington is debating whether airstrikes or training forces would be more effective, but its real problem is much larger and is a decade in the making. In Iraq, it is defending the indefensible.

June 12, The Washington Post

Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and editor at large of Time magazine.

12
Jun

WASHINGTON — The capture Tuesday of Mosul, the hub of northern Iraq, by al-Qaeda-linked militants is an alarm bell that violent extremists are on the rise again in the Middle East. And it’s a good time for President Obama to explain more about how he plans to fight this menace without making the mistakes of the past.

Obama needs to alert the country to the renewed extremist threat partly to clarify the record. Just 19 months ago, he won re-election arguing that his policies had vanquished the most dangerous core elements of al-Qaeda. But the organization has morphed, and deadly new battles are ahead.

Romney tried to shake Obama’s optimistic narrative about al-Qaeda. “It’s really not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding. This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 20 countries, and it presents an enormous threat to our friends, to the world, to America long term, and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of terrorism.”

Obama countered Romney’s statement with his basic campaign mantra: “We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11. And as a consequence, al-Qaeda’s core leadership has been decimated.”

Obama scored points later in that debate when he dismissed Romney’s concerns about Iraq. “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.” The transcript records Romney sputtering back: “I’m sorry, you actually — there was a — .”

Obama had the better of that exchange, certainly for a war-weary America that a few weeks later gave him a new mandate. But looking back, which picture was closer to the truth? Probably Romney’s.

The return of al-Qaeda isn’t Obama’s fault; there are too many complicated factors at work here. But it helps explain the seething rage of many Republicans about Benghazi. They argue that the attack there on Sept. 11, 2012, which killed four Americans, was an early warning sign of rising chaos and extremism in the Middle East — and that Obama made it through Election Day partly by minimizing this problem.

Much of the GOP fury on Benghazi is misplaced, imagining conspiracies that don’t exist and smearing the reputations of respected public servants. But there’s a piece of the Benghazi critique that’s real: Extremism is back and Benghazi was a precursor.

Obama made a solid start in framing a new counterterror strategy in his graduation address at West Point last month. “Today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al-Qaeda leadership. Instead it comes from decentralized al-Qaeda affiliates and extremists,” he said. He proposed a new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion, “which will allow us to train, build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.” Good idea, but progress has been too slow.

The administration is finally developing a serious strategy for Syria, which will include a CIA-trained guerrilla army to fight both President Bashar al-Assad and al-Qaeda extremists. In addition, (if skittish Arab allies agree), U.S. Special Operations forces will train Free Syrian Army units to create a stabilization force for liberated areas. If the ambitious plan moves forward, the hope is to train 9,600 fighters by the end of this year.

The extremist fire is burning hottest with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which spans both countries. This group is so toxic that it’s disowned by al-Qaeda and is feuding with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Senior U.S. intelligence officials tell me that ISIS is now recruiting fighters from some other affiliates, including the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Somali-based al-Shabab.

Zawahiri, cautious and uncharismatic, “is not coping very well,” the intelligence official explains. The true heir to Osama bin Laden may be ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is “more violent, more virulent, more anti-American” than Zawahiri, the official says.

The extremists are resurgent. After assuring America in 2012 that they were on the run, Obama now must frame a strong response that, as he rightly says, avoids the mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan. That may be his real legacy issue. 

davidignatius@washpost.com

Published on June 11 in The Washington Post.

Read more: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2014/06/11/the_return_of_al-qaeda_122932.html#ixzz34Pdw3cSg
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13
May

IT is well that we contemplate the abyss, if only to avoid it. This year we particularly remember the ghastly disaster of 100 years ago, when an almost unfathomable complacency shared by the European elite threw a generation into the fire of the First World War, almost as an afterthought. A century on from the fields of Waterloo, statesmen then assumed a general peace to be the rule, rather than a miraculous exception.

This overly sanguine state of mind seems to be every bit as present today as it was in the fateful year of 1914. Everyone knows that tensions are brewing in the seas around China, as Beijing claims the rights to territorial waters at the expense of most of its worried neighbours. But, says conventional wisdom, “So what? A little muscle flexing is to be expected, given the meteoric rise of Beijing, and its understandable determination to safeguard the sea-based trade routes around its shores. A little sabre rattling is all this amounts to.”

For many analysts, last week’s most recent dust-up – this time between Beijing and Vietnam in the South China Sea – is simply more of the same. A flotilla of Chinese ships have been ramming into and firing water cannon at Vietnamese government vessels trying to stop Beijing from constructing an oil rig 140 miles off the Vietnamese coast. Yes, the Chinese are playing hardball and it’s not very nice, say the gormless analytical descendants of 1914. But after all, Beijing wouldn’t jeopardise the present world order, particularly as they are doing so well by it.

Much the same was said after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, that a rising Germany surely wouldn’t risk its improving global standing over an unpleasant – but seemingly peripheral – incident. But if history teaches us anything, it is that states and especially statesmen do not always act in their best interests. 1914 reminds us that sometimes mini-crises ignite powder kegs beneath them.

Perhaps most hauntingly, the outline of the present order in Asia that surrounds these events resembles nothing so much as the supposedly “unsinkable” pre-1914 world. Barack Obama’s America is Edwardian Britain incarnate. For their time, both were easily the most powerful country in the world, while both being in relative decline. Alone among the great powers, Britain and America were omnipresent – both economically and in terms of their first-class navies – while not being omnipotent. Nothing could be done without them, but they alone did not possess enough power to guarantee the global international order on their own.

China fits the bill as the Kaiser’s Germany, a rising economic and military power bristling with nationalist indignation at perceived slights – both real and imagined – and increasingly believing its rise cannot be accommodated by the present order.

If Beijing makes for a worryingly effective Germany, Prime Minister Abe’s Japan is Third Republic France to a tee. As declining regional powers – beset by economic torpor and falling relatively further behind strategically – they were both directly threatened by aggressive neighbours. Both placed their hopes in alliances with the declining hegemon, respectively the UK and the US.

Even the milieu in which the 1914 analogy operates is strikingly similar. Currently, China is exploiting incidents in the seas around it to test the willingness of the US to stand behind its treaty commitments to allies like Japan and the Philippines, just as in the decade before the Great War the Kaiser provoked a series of international crises to see if Britain would really come to the defence of France under the gun. Ironically in both cases, the rising power miscalculated, making a general war far more likely as arms races broke out, wherein Japan/East Asia and France quickly armed themselves to the teeth in response to their menacing foes.

Given the almost exact correlation between the structural worlds of 1914 and 2014, alarm bells really ought to be ringing. It is far too early to give up on the notion of accommodating China’s peaceful rise. However, at the same time as Washington tries to bind China into the present order, it must hedge against Beijing following the Kaiser’s disastrous path. Instead, America must link India, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the other East Asian states into a more cohesive system, through free trade or military ties, making the price for China bucking the present order ever higher.

By pursuing this dual strategy, the US can improve the chances that the apocalyptic 1914 analogy fails to come to pass.

Dr John C Hulsman is senior columnist at City A.M., and president and co-founder of John C Hulsman Enterprises (www.john-hulsman.com), a global political risk consultancy. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Ethical Realism, The Godfather Doctrine, and most recently Lawrence of Arabia, To Begin the World Over Again.

Published on 12 May in http://www.cityam.com

12
May

Everyone wants to do something about Boko Haram.

That’s fine. Nevertheless, as I argued on Wednesday, Twitter hashtags won’t recover these girls. Even apart from that, what has happened is only the symptom of the larger Boko Haram disease. Absent a strategy that exerts significant military pressure on the group, it will simply keep doing what it’s doing.

After all, these are extremists made from three toxic ingredients: fanatical Islamist medievalism and the ramblings of two psychopaths: Mohammed Yusuf andMohammed Marwa. In practical terms, this means that Boko Haram has little interest in compromise or peace.

Unfortunately, as we’re seeing, the Nigerian government is little better. Beset by corruption and weak leadership, it has allowed Boko Haram to wreak its chaos. Additionally, the Nigerian military is variable in professionalism and limited in capability. It also lacks the popular trust of many Nigerians. So what should America do?

Well, first, we need to admit what we’re unwilling to do. A major U.S. ground deployment is clearly out of the question. American public support would disappear in the face of more than a few American casualties. After Afghanistan and Iraq, the country is sick of war. Moreover, in an election year, the already hyperpolitical Obama White House will be paranoid about the appearance of another Somalia.

How about the much-vaunted Special Operations Forces (SOF) option?

Again, easier on Twitter than in reality. Not only does Boko Haram operate over a vast area, its stronghold in northeastern Nigeria shares borders with three other nations. Correspondingly, any SOF task force would need three things. First, it would require significant troop strength. The U.S. could send elements from the Special Forces Groups (“Green Berets”), but with the direct-action, hostage-rescue capabilities needed here, Special Mission Units (SMUs) would also be needed. More specifically, I believe the U.S. would have to send at least two squadrons (about two hundred men) from either Delta Force or the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU, better known — at least since 2011 — as SEAL Team Six. To enable their effectiveness, those forces would have to be accompanied by aviation, intelligence, logistics, and command-support personnel. The White House would also have to procure military operating authorization from Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon (perhaps also Chad and the Central African Republic). AFRICOM is a smaller combatant command of the U.S. military, and even with credible SOF support from other nations (the UK seems interested), it would take major resources to make this work..

A focused SOF mission also presents two other obstacles. First, whatever Zero Dark Thirty might suggest, special forces are not omnipotent. Many SMU operators have been wounded or killed since 9/11; their adversaries are highly dangerous, and Boko Haram is no exception. Second, a major SOF deployment to Nigeria would require some tough choices over priorities. For a start, the Special Forces Groups are stretched by their heavy commitment to the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Similarly, while emergency standby squadrons from Delta Force and DEVGRU could be deployed to Nigeria, doing so would limit U.S. contingency options. Of course, American SOF already operate out of East Africa against the groups al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (which recently released a video) and Al-Shabab (the Nairobi mall massacre). As such, a scout team was probably sent to Nigeria a couple of weeks back. Still, that would have been a small team.

big Special Forces option would be doable, but very messy. And that conclusion brings me back to the hashtag I floated on Wednesday: #HellfireBokoHaram (that is, strike them with drones).

As I see it, drones offer three unique benefits as a prospective tool against Boko Haram. Most obviously, drones are drones. They don’t put U.S. military personnel at risk. Second, the drones offer a symbiosis of intelligence collection and military lethality. In short, they would enable the U.S. to covertly monitor Boko Haram formations over long periods of time and then incinerate some of them with Hellfire missiles. Third, the drones double as a psychological weapon. The experience of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Co. in the Pakistan FATA (federally administered tribal areas) proves that the drones don’t simply wreak havoc upon the enemy’s command-and-control apparatus; they deny freedom of movement and induce paranoia. Helpfully, the U.S. already has a drone base in nearby Niger. This is the foundation from which we could slowly bring Boko Haram to its knees.

Put another way, it’s time to #HellfireBokoHaram.

— Tom Rogan is a blogger and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. He is based in Washington, D.C. Published on 8 May in http://www.nationalreview.com/article/377605/hellfirebokoharam-tom-rogan

25
Apr

It’s probably smart to view yesterday’s deal between the leading Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas—in which the two groups agreed to create a consensus government and hold elections later this year—with some skepticism. Announced with similar fanfare, accords in Cairo in 2011 and in Doha in 2012 went nowhere, with neither side believing it had more to gain than lose from agreeing to share power.

There are reasons to believe this time is different, though. It came after the first delegation of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders sent to Gaza since the brutal 2007 Fatah-Hamas civil war. The agreement was signed in Palestine—in Gaza City, to be exact—rather than a foreign capital. What’s more, reconciliation remains hugely popular amongst Palestinians. In March 2011, with anti-government protests spreading across the region, tens of thousands turned out in Gaza and the West Bank to call for an end to the division. An April 2013 poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center found that over 90 percent favored reconciliation between the two factions.

It’s important to recognize the extent to which internal Palestinian political dynamics have driven the move, with both factions under enormous pressure. Amid what its leaders proclaimed an “Islamic Awakening” in the region, Hamas had taken a bullish view of its prospects, assuming it would benefit from the coming wave of Islamist-dominated governments in the region. But it has seen its fortunes turn sharply over the last year. The July 2013 Egyptian coup removed the supportive government of Mohammed Morsi, dominated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas was founded as the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood). Egypt’s new military government has closed down the majority of the smuggling tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border, severely diminishing the blockaded strip’s access to the outside world and removing a key source of revenue for Hamas, which levies taxes on the tunnel trade

With the negotiations with Israel (which he entered against the wishes of the majority of his own party) now on life-support, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas clearly sees reconciliation as something to boost his flagging popularity and at a time when he is in a relatively stronger position vis a vis Hamas. One question is whether he sees this move as something to enhance his position in negotiations with Israel, as a substitute for those negotiations, or possibly both—the latter in case, the former completely collapses. Read more…

Matthew Duss is a foreign policy analyst and a contributing writer for the Prospect. Published on April 24 in http://prospect.org

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