Archive for the ‘Topics’ 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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9
Jun

The perils of leaning forward

Written on June 9, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Americas, Foreign Policy, Op Ed

The controversy over Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has largely obscured what should have been an important initiative by the Obama administration. The president’s trip to Polandwas one more step in what is going to be the central task of U.S. foreign policy over the next decade: deterring a great power challenge. The world today — for most countries, one that is stable, peaceful and open — rests on an order built by the United States that, since 1989, has not been challenged by any other major player. How to ensure that these conditions continue, even as new powers — such as China — rise and old ones — such as Russia — flex their muscles?Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a serious challenge, and President Obama has responded seriously, enacting sanctions, rallying support in Western Europe and reassuring Eastern Europe. The president’s critics in Washington feel that this isn’t enough, that he is showing a dangerous weakness.In a spirited essay in the New Republic, conservative writer Robert Kagan (who writes a monthly column for The Post) argues that Obama is forgetting the chief lesson of modern U.S. foreign policy. Instead of “leaning back,” he says, Washington needs a “pervasive forward involvement in the affairs of the world.”

One might think that a country with almost 60 treaty allies, hundreds of thousands of troops stationed around the world on dozens of bases and ongoing military operations against a variety of terrorist groups would fit this description. But it is not enough. Kagan’s model of a successful U.S. strategy is the Roosevelt-Truman administration as World War II ended. Even when new threats were unformed, it maintained massive military power and talked and acted tough. But he then notes what followed within a year or two — the Soviet Union challenged the United States around the globe, China turned communist and deeply anti-American, and North Korea invaded South Korea. All of the things that “leaning forward” was meant to deter happened anyway. Kagan’s main example undermines his central logic.

In the late 1940s, the United States was stronger than any country in modern history, with total economic supremacy, hundreds of thousands of troops still in Europe and Asia and credibility earned by waging two world wars. Yet, in a sense, it was unable to deter the Soviet Union or China or even North Korea. This is not to say that the Truman administration’s foreign policy is to be blamed — I admire Harry Truman greatly. Rather, I mean that in a complicated world, even if you have tremendous strength and act forcefully, stuff happens.

Today’s task is far more complicated. In World War II and the Cold War, the United States was trying to defeat entirely the great powers it was arrayed against. In the Cold War, the object of containment — as George Kennan argued from the start — was to constrain the Soviet Union such that communism would collapse under its own contradictions.

The goal today is to deter China from expanding while also attempting to integrate it into the global order. Even with Russia, the goal is not to force the collapse of the regime (which would not be replaced by a pro-Western liberal democracy) but rather to deter Moscow’s aggressive instincts and hope that it will evolve along a more cooperative line.

Imagine if the United States were to decide to combat China fully and frontally, building up its naval presence in the Pacific, creating new bases and adopting a more aggressive and forceful attitude. China would respond in a variety of ways — military, political and economic. This would alarm almost all the countries in the region — even those worried about Beijing’s assertiveness — because China is their largest trading partner and the key to their economic well-being. What they want from Washington is an emergency insurance policy, not a new Cold War.

Even with Russia: Although European countries have understood that Moscow needs to pay for its behavior in Ukraine, all want Russia as an economic partner. Their aim is to set a price for bad behavior but maintain economic and political bonds and hope that these grow over time. The challenge for Washington, then, is not simply deterrence but deterrence and integration — a sophisticated, complicated task but the right one.

Leaning forward sounds great, echoing Sheryl Sandberg’s mantra to “lean in.” But although that’s a powerful idea for women in the workplace, it is a simplistic guide for a superpower in a complex world.

5
Jun

elections

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been re-elected in a landslide, officials said on Wednesday, capturing another seven-year term in the middle of a bloody three-year-old uprising against his rule that has devastated the country.

Syria‘s parliament speaker, Jihad Lahan, announced the final results from Tuesday’s election, saying Assad garnered 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7%. Laham said Assad’s two challengers, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3% and 3.2% respectively. The supreme constitutional court put turnout at 73.42%.

After the results were released, Damascus erupted into a thunderous, rolling clap of celebratory gunfire that appeared to include heavy weaponry. On the streets of the capital, men cheered and whistled. Some broke into the familiar pro-Assad chant: “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Bashar!”

Assad’s victory was always a foregone conclusion, despite the presence of other candidates on the ballot for the first time in decades. Voting was held only in government-controlled areas, excluding huge tracks of northern and eastern Syria that are in rebel hands. The opposition and its western allies, including the United States, have denounced the election as a farce.

The win boosts Assad’s support base, and provides further evidence that he has no intention of relinquishing power.

For the first time in decades, there were multiple candidates on the ballot. In previous presidential elections, Assad and before him his father, Hafez Assad, were elected in single candidate referendums in which voters cast yes-no ballots.

The government has sought to present this vote as a democratic solution to Syria’s three-year conflict, although a win for Assad is certain to prolong the war. Much of northern and eastern Syria is in rebel hands, and those in the armed opposition show no signs of relenting in their fight to oust Assad.

The war, which activists say has killed more than 160,000 people, has left the international community deeply divided, with the US and its allies backing the revolt against Assad, who enjoys the support of Russia and Iran.

That division persisted in perceptions of Tuesday’s vote.

In Beirut, US secretary of state John Kerry sharply criticized the Syrian election, calling it “a great big zero.” He said it can’t be considered fair “because you can’t have an election where millions of your people don’t even have an ability to vote.”

“Nothing has changed from the day before the election and the day after. Nothing,” Kerry said during a one-day visit to the Lebanese capital. “The conflict is the same, the terror is the same, the killing is the same.”

The European Union joined the US in condemning the election, saying in a statement that “it cannot be considered as a genuinely democratic vote.”

In Damascus, meanwhile, a delegation led by the government’s chief international supporters said Syria’s first multi-candidate presidential election in over four decades was transparent and free, and would pave the way for “stability and national agreement.”

The delegation of officials from more than 30 countries, including legislators and dignitaries from Iran, Russia and Venezuela, toured polling stations on Tuesday. In a final statement read Wednesday by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s committee on national security, the delegation blamed the US and its allies for “crimes committed against the Syrian people.”

Published on 4 June in http://www.theguardian.com

29
May

With its triumph in Sunday's European election, Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National is hoping to move from the margins to the mainstream.

Marine Le Pen shed tears of joy after her triumph in European Parliament elections on Sunday. When she arrived after midnight at a Parisian night club for the victory celebration with her fellow party members, the head of the far-right Front National (FN) embraced fans and family before letting the champagne flow. Marine’s father Jean-Marie, who was re-elected to the EU body for the seventh time, was also on hand to congratulate his daughter. “It was a historic victory,” he said.

By Monday morning, the emotional evening had already been forgotten and strategists were once again busy at work at the party’s headquarters in Nanterre. Until Sunday’s election, the Front National had occupied but three seats in European Parliament — one each for Marine, her father and his political companion Bruno Gollnisch — and had led a largely unnoticed existence on the political fringes in Brussels. Now, though, the party’s caucus will grow by 21 representatives.

After pulling in a triumphant 25 percent of the vote, the Front National will now have the largest number of seats of any French political party in the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen has every intention of using the party’s presence at parliament’s headquarters in Strasbourg and Brussels for political gain. Some within the far-right in France are already considering their political futures — all the way up to the presidential palace in Paris.

The ‘Long March’

The first step in the “long march,” as Marine Le Pen has termed it, is the creation of a party group in the European Parliament comprised of skeptics of the euro common currency, EU opponents and the far-right or right-wing populists. Doing so would provide the parties with greater access to money and key posts and would also raise their profile. To create a group, at least 25 members of parliament from seven different EU member states must join together in a bloc. Given the divergent ideologies on Europe’s right wing, that won’t be an easy task.

The only true support Le Pen can count on is from the Austrian right-wing Freedom Party. Right-wing populist parties in Belgium and the Netherlands failed to deliver on Sunday, managing only disappointing results. Meanwhile, radical political forces in Denmark and Britain have said they will not join an alliance with the Front National.

Despite Le Pen’s triumph — which the front pages of France’s newspapers described as a “Big Bang,” a “repudiation” and even an “earthquake” — right-wing populists will remain a minority among the 751 members of the European Parliament. “They won’t have enough influence to determine policy direction,” FN expert Joel Gombin told French news station BFM. “On the contrary,” the sociologist said. “The relatively good showing of the euro opponents will force existing EU parties to increase their cooperation.”

That, though, is of little consequence for Le Pen and the Front National. This election cycle clearly demonstrated that the party’s anti-EU message, and its criticism of an EU that takes power away from member states, is attractive to both workers and young voters.

To be sure, the French far right’s success is also the product of French voters’ frustration with the country’s economic malaise and a growing disillusionment with established political parties. Indeed, the Socialists and the conservative UMP are increasingly perceived as being muddled, unreliable or even corrupt. To capitalize, Marine Le Pen has refashioned Front National’s ideology from the ground up, and now appears to many in France as a modern and dynamic force.

Conquering France One Step at a Time

Thus, Sunday’s success is seen as but a stage victory among Front National’s leaders. They have set their sights on more than EU institutions in Brussels; they also want power back home. “Conquer France first, then destroy Europe,” Louis Alliot, deputy head of the party as well as Marine Le Pen’s companion, said of the strategy.

With 4.5 million votes, the party didn’t fare as well on Sunday as it did during the 2012 presidential election, when it attracted 6.5 million French voters. Still, the party did manage to attract around 11 percent of all eligible voters, which has sparked hopes among FN supporters for the 2017 presidential campaign.

In order to position Marine Le Pen as a realistic alternative to the mainstream parties, the far-right is focusing on conquering the country one step at a time. Next year’s regional elections could prove decisive. Of the 21 regional administrative bodies where elections are to be held, 20 are currently led by the Socialists.If the left fares as poorly in those elections as it did on Sunday — the Socialists managed just 14 percent — the FN could profit from its continued decline. Marine Le Pen could also stand a real chance in a match-up against President François Hollande. Current polls show that, with a public approval rating of just 11 percent, Hollande is the most unpopular president of France in decades.

But is Le Pen’s shot at the presidential palace little more than wishful thinking? “In the past, the Front National has only had bastions of support in certain areas,” says political scientist Gombin. “But with this election, FN has become a national party. Next to the traditional left and right, it has now risen to become France’s third political force.”

Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey

By Stefan Simons in Paris

http://www.spiegel.de, Published on May 27th. 

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