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.

6
Jun

The Decline of Europe

Written on June 6, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, Op Ed

right wing

It is undeniable that the right wing is ascendant in Europe. While leftist parties did well here and there in recent elections to the European Parliament, the story over recent years has been mainly about the right, symbolized most dramatically by the soaring popularity of Marine Le Pen’s National Front inFrance. But also in Denmark, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Serbia, the one commonality is the dynamism of nationalist-style political movements. Right-wing parties in France and Denmark got a quarter of the vote in late May’s elections, while the right in Austria got a fifth. Meanwhile, the Jobbik party in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece have garnered headlines the world over for their flamboyant neo-fascist views and popularity among significant swathes of the voting public.

While these numbers may not be enough to propel right-wing parties into executive power, they are, nevertheless, numbers that would have been unthinkable several years ago. While traditionally anti-immigrant, these parties have lately become in many cases pro-Russian. It is not that they like Russia per se; rather, it is that they see a kindred spirit in Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is a reactionary and Revanchist nationalist, embittered by the power balance of the Post Cold War, who thinks in terms of ethnic nations instead of post-national states. Like Putin’s Russia, they are especially fearful of Muslims in their midst. Thus Putin has become an avatar to right-wingers from France to Greece.

What is behind this phenomenon?

Years and decades of immigration from Muslim North African countries and other parts of the developing world have seemingly threatened previously cohesive and mono-ethnic societies in Europe. Then there is the half-decadelong economic crisis within the European Union that has led to low or negative growth and indecently high levels of unemployment. And that, in turn, has led to very unpopular austerity measures. The combination of these social and economic stresses has gone a long way to delegitimize the European establishment so that someone like Putin, who challenges that establishment and what it stands for, immediately becomes a pole of attraction.

The European establishment in Brussels also represents something else that these right-wing parties oppose, and that goes relatively little remarked upon: In a word, it represents the old historical left. I don’t mean the hard, Communist left. I mean the soft, traditional left. For the post-national European Union, organized as it has been for decades around the principle of the social welfare state — in turn supported by high taxes and meager defense budgets — is a left-wing or left-of-center historical project if ever there was one, at least in the world view of the right.

Certainly, the bureaucratic elite in the European Union capital of Brussels inculcates the attitudes of the traditional left much more than that of the traditional right. Unsurprisingly, you will find many members of the 1960s student protest movement among the older Eurocrats. Ironically, it was high American defense budgets throughout the Cold War years that allowed for Europe’s security umbrella against the Soviet Union, leaving Europe financially free to devote itself to the kinds of expensive domestic programs normally associated with the left. And because the prolonged economic crisis on the Continent is undermining the reputation of the European Union, that of the left is also being subtly undermined. It is telling that while the political right is ascendant in Europe now, the left (with striking exceptions such as Greece, of course) appears somewhat moribund as a romantic force. At a time of social and economic stress, the left just doesn’t inspire as much as the right does.

The allure of the old Western European Communist parties that had once dominated headlines in the 1960s and 1970s at the apex of the Cold War is now a thing of the remote past. The Cold War, remember, was close in time to World War II; in fact, it was a veritable tailpiece of it. That was an age when the right was delegitimized because of what Hitler and Mussolini had so recently done. But with World War II disappearing from view, and while a staid and squishy political establishment currently struggles to find a path through the economic crisis, the right looms dynamically as the left once did. In a sense, the rise of the right in Europe indicates that the effect of the Long European War, from 1914 to 1989, is finally over. There is no longer a taboo against neo-fascism. This is the great danger.

Mitigating this danger will be globalization itself in the form of new communications technologies, from air travel to smartphones, that while empowering sub-state groups — united in some cases by ethnicity — also empower new and more complex forms of identity not rooted in geography. This can mean that the ethnic right-wing nationalism currently afoot in Europe will be only a diluted version of the kind that gripped the Continent in the 1930s.

On the other hand, an aging European population with near zero birthrates coupled with a continuation of immigration from the less developed world will continue to stoke the kind of fear that empowers nationalistic parties united by ethnicity. Making it worse will be the prolongation of the economic crisis. After all, the Eurocracy in Brussels, as well as politically embattled regimes in the various capitals, will find it hard to make the dynamic adjustments necessary to return Europe to robust growth. For the European masses, the sense of security — political, social and economic — has been weakening on all fronts. And in such a circumstance, the left appears to have fewer answers than the right because the left cannot make an appeal based on atavistic emotion.

The rise of ethnic nationalism in Europe in the 1930s led to interstate war. The rise of ethnic nationalism in the early 21st century will almost certainly not. Instead, we will first see the creeping emergence of microstates such as Scotland and Catalonia. For a united Europe, however economically moribund, with power partially transferred to Brussels from national capitals, allows sub-state identities based on particular geographies to flourish. Second, we might see a form of paralysis within states themselves, as nationalist reactions to truly multicultural immigrant societies help undermine elected governments. Undermined governments with low defense outlays, emerging from decades in which national militaries have been delegitimized, do not go to war with other undermined governments.

Moreover, the Russian threat to Central and Eastern Europe will eventually be assuaged by Russia’s own economic and social problems. Nor will Russia dominate energy markets in the future as it does now. This will give Moscow less leverage over Poland, the Baltic states and so on.

In sum, the rise of the right is part of a narrative about the decline of Europe and its place in the world as more demographically and economically vibrant societies in the Greater Indian Ocean and elsewhere continue their rise. Just as the European left has had no solutions to the current crisis, neither will the nationalistic right. Places in relative decline often make headlines. That is the case with Europe now.

Robert D. Kaplan is Chief Geopolitical Analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence firm, and author of Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific. Reprinted with the permission of Stratfor.

 

Published on 5 June in http://www.realclearworld.com

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

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