11
Sep

Was8864141

 

There’s an air of tragedy about President Obama. He wants to chart a new course—pivot to the Pacific, end the long decade of war, do nation-building at home—but the old world’s most derelict, dysfunctional quarters keep pulling him back in. Now, in the cruelest irony, the gusts are pulling him back to the very land where he least wants to set foot again, the warzone that he spent most of his first term leaving: Iraq.“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he insisted in his televised speech Wednesday night. Instead, this will be a war where others—mainly Iraqi soldiers—fight on the ground, while American advisers devise the battle plans and American pilots pummel the enemy with missiles and bombs.Still, one could be excused for feeling a spasm of dread as the speech spilled forth. I wouldn’t be surprised if the president himself heaved a sigh while he wrote it.That said, the policy that he outlined—his strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the terrorist group known as ISIS—is as reasonable, and has as much chance of succeeding, as any that might be conceived.There are two big new elements in this policy: First, air strikes will no longer be restricted to areas where ISIS poses a threat to U.S. personnel. Instead, they can strafe and bomb ISIS targets anywhere in Iraq, coordinating the strikes with assaults on the ground by Iraqi soldiers, militias, or Kurdish peshmerga.

Second, these air strikes will take out ISIS jihadists not only in Iraq but also across the border in Syria. A senior official stressed that this part of the policy is not as open-ended as the speech makes it seem. Obama is well aware that air strikes alone don’t produce victory. They need to be synchronized with ground assaults. And for now, there are no ground forces in Syria that can beat back ISIS.So, at least initially, U.S. air strikes in Syria will be clustered along the Iraqi border, to keep ISIS jihadists from moving back and forth between the countries or from seeking safe haven—in much the same way that drones were fired at northwest Pakistan to deny safe haven to Taliban who’d been fighting in Afghanistan.

However, these air strikes will eventually expand across Syria. Another part of Obama’s strategy (and he did outline this in his speech) is to train and equip the Free Syrian Army, the more moderate militiamen currently being squeezed both by ISIS and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (They’ll be trained by special forces on a base in Saudi Arabia.) Once they’re trained and armed, the FSA will return to Syria and—with the help of U.S. air strikes—take back their own territory from ISIS.Obama’s plan also calls for a wide coalition of European, Arab, and Muslim countries to join the fight. ISIS is an extremist Sunni movement, so it’s especially vital to get predominantly Sunni nations involved—to demonstrate that this is not an American war or a sectarian war of Sunnis versus Shiites. (For this reason, Obama is loath to bring Iran or Assad’s Syria—both Shiite regimes—into the alliance. They too deeply hate ISIS, but the Saudis and other Sunni leaders might not enter the fight if it looks like they’re supporting Iran. What arrangements are made with Iran or Syria behind the scenes is another matter.)

Obama, never prone to hype, made clear in his speech that the ISIS jihadists don’t yet pose as big a threat as al-Qaida did 13 years ago, on the eve of the World Trade Center attacks. But they are on a rampage, amassing fortunes, acquiring arsenals, led by competent commanders (many of them Saddam Hussein’s former generals), playing on anti-Shiite (and anti-Western) sentiment among Sunni radicals. If they are allowed to take over Iraq and Syria, it’s fair to ask if Jordan and Saudi Arabia might be next. They are also recruiting European jihadists, who have passports that let them travel across the continent and into the United States. Clearly, they do pose a threat. This cannot and should not be principally America’s fight; but the fact is, America is the only country that can coordinate the coalition—provide the intelligence, logistics, and accurate air strikes—needed to win.So, the cause is just, and Obama’s plan sounds reasonable, even nuanced. What could go wrong? Well, as anyone who’s studied the region (and the cavalier predictions made, time and again, by Westerners who go to war there), everything. Read more…

10
Sep

I’m in Washington today to attend the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. The timing is fortuitous, because I’m pondering a number of big questions these days and I’ll be interested to see what some of the nation’s best scholars think about them. So for what they may be worth, here are my Top 10 Foreign Policy Puzzles:

No. 1: Will there be a deal on Ukraine?

The crisis in Ukraine has been a colossal failure of analysis and of diplomacy, with plenty of blame to share on all aides. The main victims, alas, have been the unfortunate Ukrainian people. As I’ve written before, I think the United States and the West played a key role in causing the crisis, mostly by failing to anticipate that Russia was going to respond forcefully and vigorously to what its leaders regarded as a gradual attempt to incorporate Ukraine into the West. One need not approve of Russia’s response to recognize that the United States should have seen it coming and thought more carefully about our interests and objectives beforehand.

Since the collapse of the Yanukovych government, the United States and its allies have followed the usual playbook: ramping up sanctions and waiting for Moscow to cave and give us everything we want. Unfortunately, this view fails to recognize that Russia does have valid reasons to care about its border areas and still has cards to play. Sanctions are clearly hurting, but Putin probably anticipated them and has been willing to pay the price. In the meantime, sanctions aren’t helping the sputtering European economy (see below), and Ukraine itself is going from bad to worse.

So my question is: Will someone get serious about real diplomacy, and make Putin an offer he’s unlikely to refuse? Instead of building more bases in Eastern Europe, the United States and its allies should be working to craft a deal that guarantees Ukraine’s status as an independent and neutral buffer state. And that would mean making an iron-clad declaration that Ukraine will not be part of NATO. (Just because many Ukrainians want to join doesn’t mean NATO has to let them.) Recent proposals for a deal lack that essential ingredient and aren’t going to solve the crisis.

A “Finlandized” Ukraine might not be an ideal outcome, but it is better than watching the country get destroyed. Putin may reject such a solution, of course, but surely it deserves a serious attempt before things get even worse.

 No. 2: When will anyone in Israel or Palestine try something different?

The latest Gaza war was déjà vu all over again: more people were killed, vastly more damage was done to the imprisoned civilian population of Gaza, the IDF lost more than 60 soldiers (a total more than twice the number of civilian victims from Gazan rockets and mortars over the past five years), and the eventual cease-fire agreement changed nothing of significance. On the West Bank, the occupation grinds on, while Israeli politics drift rightward. Yet despite all these worrisome trends, nobody in a position of authority seems capable of rethinking their hardened positions: not Israel, not Hamas, and not the Palestinian Authority. And certainly not the United States, either. Until one of those actors adopts a different mind-set and/or a different approach, we can count on another reprise in a few months or years.

No. 3: Will Europe ever get its act together?

There was a brief flurry of optimism a year or so ago, as the eurozone achieved some modest economic growth and interest rate spreads eased, but the French economy is now in serious trouble and even Germany’s economy contracted during the last quarter. (As noted above, this may not have been the smartest moment to impose stiffer sanctions on Russia.) Scotland’s status in the U.K. is up for grabs, and so is England’s membership in the EU. Some European Jews are heading for Israel to escape fears of rising anti-Semitism, even as some Israelis are heading the other way. Remember when Euro-optimists used to crow about it becoming a different sort of world power, based on democracy, rule of law, and “civilian power”? Today, a better question is whether Europe can retain any sense of unity, regain its economic health, and avoid geopolitical irrelevance.

No. 4: Where will the borders be drawn in the greater Middle East?

There are good reasons why existing borders tend to endure, even when they don’t conform well to ethnic, cultural, or religious boundaries. One reason is simple prudence: Once you start redrawing the map, it is hard to know where the process will end, and so existing elites will have every incentive to preserve the present arrangements, however flawed they might be. Even so, it is hard to look at what is now happening in the Middle East and believe that the current borders aren’t going to look different some years from now. Libya might break up completely. The borders drawn by Sykes and Picot may end up on the ash heap of history, and be replaced by a rump Alawite state, a radical Sunni community in eastern Syria/western Iraq, and a genuinely independent Kurdistan. The Green Line separating pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank is increasingly meaningless too, but a future “Greater Israel” would catalyze a Palestinian struggle for civil rights. I don’t know if any of these things will happen or what the final end states will be, but trying to keep the pre-2009 Humpty Dumpty together is looking like a bad bet these days.

No. 5: Will a stable equilibrium emerge in East Asia?

China’s rise has shifted the balance of power in East Asia, and Beijing continues to press various territorial claims in the East China and South China seas. There have been desultory efforts to resolve these disputes but no serious progress. In the absence of multilateral agreement, these disputes are just trouble waiting to happen, especially given U.S. treaty commitments to various regional allies and to freedom of navigation more broadly. America’s “rebalance” to Asia was supposed to help address these issues, but Washington keeps getting distracted by more dramatic but ultimately less significant events elsewhere. My guess: East Asia will be even more contentious in 2016 than it is today, and these issues are going to loom large in the next president’s agenda.

Read more…

By Stephen Walt; Published on Aug. 28 in http://www.foreignpolicy.com

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

 

9
Sep

showdown in scotland

Written on September 9, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Op Ed

 

GLASGOW, Scotland — All of a sudden, Scotland has gotten very interesting. That Scots would reject independence from the United Kingdom in a referendum on Sept. 18 has been conventional wisdom from Washington to Westminster for practically every day of a two-year-long campaign on the matter. But not anymore.

On the evening of Sept. 1, the Scottish Twittersphere, febrile at the best of times, went into meltdown. A fresh poll had just been released showing the “No” camp just six points ahead of the “Yes” side. The same pollsters had put the No camp’s lead at 14 points in mid-August, and a whopping 22 points earlier the same month, excluding undecided voters. Yet the Sept. 1 poll was no outlier, as Peter Kellner, the doyen of British polling,explains. As if on cue, a Sept. 6 poll now has the Yes camp holding a 51-49 percent lead. 

The latest polls give a scientific sheen to what anyone who has spent time in Scotland in recent weeks has noticed: Support for independence is building. Looking out the window of my apartment in Glasgow, I can count half a dozen blue Yes stickers and a Scottish Saltire flag (a nationalist symbol) with the same motto across the street. Most have appeared within the last month. Across Scotland, particularly in poorer urban areas, the political landscape is shifting in the nationalists’ favor. Rumors are rife that Rupert Murdoch’s widely circulated tabloid, the Sun, will declare its support for independence in the coming week.

To be sure, a Yes outcome is still an outside bet with the bookmakers. But the odds are shortening — and fast.

***

What makes this surge all the more remarkable is that the charismatic leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond, was widely seen as having lost a much-vaunted first debate with Alistair Darling, head of the No campaign, on Aug. 5. Salmond was hotly tipped — one of his own MPs predicted a “slaughter” – but in front of a TV audience of almost 2 million (in a country of just over 5 million), Salmond struggled to answer questions about what currency an independent Scotland would use and how it would transition from the United Kingdom to separate statehood.

Despite Salmond’s televised travails, however, opinion polls rose slightly in favor of the nationalists after the debate. Then, in late August, he SNP leader wiped the floor with a lackluster Darling in the second and final live clash. Unsurprisingly, pro-United Kingdom spin doctors in the pressroom looked visibly worried.

Unionist solicitudes may have come too late. The “Better Together” campaign, as the No side is called, has maintained a relentlessly negative tone, which has earned it the nickname “Project Fear.” Just days before the latest opinion poll, a Better Together video featuring a housewifeunable to think about independence amid the clatter of family life was roundly criticized for being sexist and condescending — which is particularly damaging, as the female vote could prove decisive in just under two weeks’ time. The video went viral; even BuzzFeed picked up on the “Patronising BT Lady.”

Moreover, a parade of (mainly London-based) celebrities calling on Scotland to stay in the union was more cringe-inducing than voter-swaying. Warnings against independence from international leaders — whether Barack Obama or Tony Abbott — have also had little effect on the Scottish electorate. Read more…

Published on Sept. 8th in http://www.foreignpolicy.com/ by Peter Geoghegan

4
Sep

NATO’s Urgent Challenges

Written on September 4, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, Op Ed, Security

More than anyone, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has set the agenda for NATO’s 65th summit meeting this week, which could well be the most consequential since the Cold War ended.

Early this year, the alliance was deep into one of its periodic assessments about the future as its role in Afghanistan was winding down. Now Mr. Putin, who has long been eager to see NATO weakened, has forced on it a new and urgent purpose by effectively invading Ukraine and demonstrating his utter disregard for the international system. He seems to delight in taunting the West, including supposedly telling a European official that he could “take Kiev in two weeks,” according to a report in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

The question is whether NATO is up to the challenge of pushing back against Mr. Putin’s expansionist tendencies, starting with the need to reassure Eastern European countries that feel most threatened by Russia’s push into Ukraine. While leaders of NATO’s 28 member states are expected to reaffirm the alliance’s core principle of common defense — an attack on one is an attack on all — when they meet in Wales, they have serious differences that could undermine the initiatives intended to deal with Russia and other threats.

The summit meeting’s centerpiece is a formal agreement on a new rapid-reaction force of 4,000 troops, capable of deploying on 48 hours’ notice to protect any NATO member from external aggression, which under the current circumstances means Europe’s periphery — the Baltic States and Poland. Wisely, alliance members have decided to abide by the NATO-Russia Founding Act, a 1997 agreement under which NATO pledged not to base substantial forces in Eastern Europe permanently, which could harden the growing divide and make a diplomatic solution to Ukraine, if one is still possible, more difficult.

There are no plans for new permanent bases or deployments, but troops will be rotated to that region for three- to four-month stints. The force will be supported with logistics and equipment, including weapons and fuel, pre-positioned in Eastern European countries closer to Russia. This will be enhanced by more military exercises and air patrols.

All this will take money, which has been a source of friction among NATO members. The United States bears about 75 percent of the alliance budget, while the contributions from most European countries have fallen. That’s partly because of the economic recession and because the United States has always filled any gaps. They are also divided on the threats. For instance, while NATO opposes Russian moves against Ukraine, Eastern Europe feels more directly threatened and determined to act than, say, Italy, which has been more willing to appease Mr. Putin.

The Europeans obviously have to do more, including increasing defense budgets and imposing sanctions on Russia that could finally cause Mr. Putin to reverse his dangerous course in Ukraine. They should use the Wales meeting to make clear they are prepared to back up their words with action.

Even as Russia preoccupies NATO’s attention today, the alliance should not revert to its Cold War role with Russia as its chief focus. The world will also be looking to NATO for leadership on dealing with the Sunni extremists, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Because of other crises, Afghanistan appears to be getting less attention at this meeting. There are still thousands of American and allied troops on duty there, and NATO has to use its clout and aid money to press the Afghan presidential rivals to settle their election dispute so a president can take office.

NATO is strongest when its members are united in a common purpose, and it will take leadership — and not just talk — from the United States, Germany and others to produce a meaningful consensus.

The New York Times Editorial Board, Published Sept. 2nd

3
Sep

Hong Kong’s Democracy Dilemma

Written on September 3, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, Op Ed

HONG KONG — On Sunday the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress issued restrictive guidelines for the election of Hong Kong’s next chief executive in 2017. Shorn of its technical details, the proposal in effect gives Beijing the means to control who could run for the top office in Hong Kong: Voters would get to cast a ballot, but only for one of just a handful of candidates pre-selected by the Chinese government.

“By endorsing this framework,” Cheung Man-kwong, a veteran politician of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, wrote, “China has in truth and in substance reneged on her promise to give Hong Kong universal suffrage.”

Three decades ago, when Beijing and the British government, which was in charge of Hong Kong then, were negotiating the terms of the territory’s handover back to China, Mr. Cheung was among those who supported “reunification” on the understanding that Hong Kong would eventually acquire a fully democratic system.

Now some officials here are urging residents to accept Beijing’s undemocratic proposal. They say its version of the one-person-one-vote proposition, however faulty, is “a bird in hand.” But other Hong Kongers rightly suspect that accepting that plan would be like drinking from a poisoned chalice. The Standing Committee’s announcement Sunday certainly came as a shock, after weeks of regular, large-scale protests by pro-democracy groups.

Beijing has made it clear that only someone who “loves the country and loves Hong Kong” is acceptable for the top post in Hong Kong and that screening candidates for that qualification is necessary for China’s national security. There are people here, according to top officials in Beijing, who still do not accept Hong Kong’s reunification with China and are conniving with foreign forces to subvert the Chinese government, using Hong Kong as a base.

It does not much matter whether Beijing really believes what it says. What matters is that what Beijing says is an excuse for its uncompromising position. And it matters that the people of Hong Kong now face a dilemma. They can either reject the framework proposed by Beijing knowing they will be offered no other. Or they can take it, and by validating with a pseudo-popular mandate Beijing’s selection of their chief executive, allow the Chinese government to assume complete control over Hong Kong’s affairs.

Once Beijing achieves complete control, there is no reason why it would allow Hong Kong’s system to democratize. The aggressive administration of the current chief executive, C.Y. Leung, has already been bypassing long-established good practices and principles without any effective checks and balances.

It is no secret that Beijing is dissatisfied with many features of the Hong Kong people’s way of life, including a free press and an independent judiciary that includes foreign judges. (Both institutions have faced political pressure.) This is largely because the Chinese government has very different ideas about the meaning of freedom and the rule of law. The premium it places on stability and national security, and the degree of stability and security it deems necessary, are poles apart from the common values of the Hong Kong community. And to Beijing, which remains imperial in habit, it is intolerable that Hong Kong’s ordinary people should put their will above that of the government.

Read more…

By Margaret Ng, published in the New York Times on Sept. 2

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