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Ed Webb

How Biden Kept Screwing Up Iraq, Over and Over and Over Again - 0 views

  • Reviewing Biden’s record on Iraq is like rewinding footage of a car crash to identify the fateful decisions that arrayed people at the bloody intersection. He was not just another Democratic hawk navigating the trauma of 9/11 in a misguided way. He didn’t merely call his vote for a disastrous war part of “a march to peace and security.” Biden got the Iraq war wrong before and throughout invasion, occupation, and withdrawal. Convenient as it is to blame Bush—who, to be clear, bears primary and eternal responsibility for the disaster—Biden embraced the Iraq war for what he portrayed as the result of his foreign policy principles and persisted, most often in error, for the same reasons. 
  • “I think the vast majority of the foreign policy community thinks [my record has] been very good.” That will be important context should Biden become president. He’s the favorite of many in Democratic foreign policy circles who believe in resetting the American geopolitical position to what it was the day before Trump was elected, rather than considering it critical context for why Trump was elected. 
  • National Democrats embraced the war on terrorism with enthusiasm and, with few exceptions, were disinclined to challenge Bush on foreign policy even as that foreign policy became more militant and extreme
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  • Biden’s hearings highlighted the dangers of occupation, such as the basic uncertainty around what would replace Saddam Hussein, as well as the bloody, long, and expensive commitment required to midwife a democratic Iraq. “In many ways, those hearings were remarkably prescient about what was to happen,” said Tony Blinken, Biden’s longtime aide on the committee and a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. “He and [GOP Sen. Richard] Lugar talked about not the day after but the decade after. If we did go in, they talked about the lack of a plan to secure any peace that followed the intervention.”
  • But the balance of expert testimony concerned guessing at Saddam’s weapons program, the pragmatic questions of invading, and the diplomatic legwork of an action whose justice—if not necessarily its wisdom—was presumed
  • the regnant foreign policy consensus in America: Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and had sealed his fate by doing so. It was an enormous factual mistake born out of an inability to see that Saddam believed that transparent disarmament would spell his doom at the hands of Iran. This misapprehension led advocates to accept that the U.S.—preferably with others, but alone if necessary—was justified or even obligated to get rid of Saddam
  • Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, convinced the White House to attempt securing United Nations support for the war. It was a cynical maneuver: the Security Council could accept additional weapons inspections but not war; Bush could claim he tried for an internationalist solution before invading unilaterally. Its primary effect was to legitimize the war in the eyes of uncomfortable congressional Democrats who had made the tactical error of disputing the war for insufficient multilateralism rather than arguing it was wrong
  • For Biden, the critical point, “what this is about,” was America daring to “enforce” U.N. Security Council disarmament resolutions that the U.N. was saying did not justify war. When the world stood against America, in the forum Biden considered critical and Bush considered pretextual, America would simply act in the world’s name. He approvingly quoted the infamous Henry Kissinger: “As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States has a special, unilateral capacity, and indeed obligation, to lead in implementing its convictions, but it also has a special obligation to justify its actions by principles that transcend the assertions of preponderance of power.” America’s confidence in its nobility was, in the end, all the justification it required. 
  • Biden acknowledged that the “imminence and inevitability” of the threat Iraq posed was “exaggerated,” although that recognition was irrelevant to both his reasoning and his vote. He performed an end-zone dance over Bush advisers who favored what he called the doctrine of preemption—a euphemism for wars of aggression—as if his vote did not authorize exactly the preemptive war those advisers wanted. The trouble Biden saw was that elevating preemption to a foreign policy “doctrine” would grant “every nation an unfettered right of preemption.” Left unsaid was that it would be better for America to keep that unfettered right for itself.
  • Nothing that followed went the way Biden expected. Bush did not share Biden’s distinction between the U.N. weapons-inspection process and the invasion. Iraq did not passively accept its occupation. And Biden did not reap the political benefit of endorsing the war that seemed so obvious to the Democratic consultant class in the autumn of 2002. 
  • Iraq was an abstraction to Biden—as it was, ironically, to the neoconservatives Biden had criticized—a canvas on which to project theories of American power
  • Biden was unprepared to break from prevention, which is always the prerogative of hegemonic powers. Boxed in, he continued to argue that the trouble was Bush elevating preemption to centrality in foreign policy, and fretted that predatory states would cite that “doctrine” to prey on weaker ones. He neglected to see that all those states needed was the example of the Iraq war itself. Eleven years later, when Biden was vice president, Vladimir Putin cited Iraq as a reason the U.S. had no standing to criticize him for invading Ukraine. 
  • Biden praised the leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority, a shockingly corrupt and incompetent organization. Its chief, Jerry Bremer, was “first-rate,” Biden said mere months after Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army, the greatest gift America could have given the insurgency
  • Rebuilding Iraq’s police force was left to former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik, whom Biden called “a serious guy with a serious team.” Iraq’s police would soon become indistinguishable from sectarian death squads; Kerik would soon plead guilty to tax fraud and other federal corruption charges
  • By the next summer, with Iraq in flames, Biden continued his misdiagnosis. The original sin wasn’t the war itself, it was Bush’s stewardship—the same stewardship Biden praised in 2002. “Because we waged a war in Iraq virtually alone, we are responsible for the aftermath virtually alone,” he thundered at the 2004 Democratic convention. The intelligence “was hyped to justify going to war,” Biden continued, causing “America’s credibility and security [to] have suffered a terrible blow.” Yet Biden made no call for withdrawal. It was easier to pretend that Bush was waging a different war than the one he empowered Bush to wage. 
  • The U.S., unable to win the war it chose, would be better off reshaping the map of Iraq into something that better suited it. The proposal was a natural outgrowth of viewing Iraq as an abstraction. Now that Iraq had undermined American power, Iraq would be subject to a kind of dismemberment, a theoretically cleaner problem to solve than a civil war or a weak client state. In September 2007, Biden prevailed upon his fellow senators to endorse his proposal on a staggering 75-23 vote. There was no support for the idea among actual Iraqis outside Kurdistan, but they were beside the imperial point.
  • 2007 saw Biden’s most valorous act on Iraq. With the war a morass, Biden secured $23 billion, far more than the Pentagon requested, to buy Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, whose hull design proved more survivable against the insurgency’s improvised bombs. Replacing insufficiently armored Humvees with MRAPs was “a passion,” he said. While the number of lives MRAPs saved over the course of the program’s $45 billion lifespan has been disputed, the Pentagon estimated in 2012 that over 2,000 service members are alive today because of the vehicle. Biden counted securing the funding for the MRAP among his greatest congressional achievements.
  • Barack Obama had opposed the Iraq war, but was hardly afflicted with the “distrust of the use of American power” that Biden feared in 2004. Selecting Biden as his vice president laundered Biden’s reputation. No longer was Biden the man whose faith in American exceptionalism had driven the U.S. into a morass. He was the lovable uncle in aviators who washed his metaphorical Trans Am on the White House lawn. Obama gave him responsibility for a three-year project of U.S. withdrawal, one that Biden considers an accomplishment. 
  • Biden and other U.S. officials appeared at times dangerously unconcerned about Maliki’s consolidation of power that once again marginalized Sunni Iraq, which the war had already proven would give jihadis the opportunity they needed
  • Biden reflected America’s schizophrenic attitude toward ending post-9/11 wars, in which leaving a residual force amidst an unsettled conflict does not count as continuing a war.
  • “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” the Times quoted him. Instead, the following year, the Iraqi parliament did no such thing
  • Biden is the last of the pre-Obama generation of Democratic foreign policy grandees who enabled the Iraq war. John Kerry and Hillary Clinton both lost their presidential bids, saddled in both cases with the legacy of the war they supported
  • A President Biden is likely to find himself a man out of time. Writing in The Guardian, David Adler and Ben Judah recently described Biden as a “restorationist” in foreign policy, aiming at setting the American geopolitical clock back to what it was before Trump took office. Yet now an emergent China, a resurgent Russia, and the ascent of nationalism and oligarchy across Europe, India, and South America have fragmented the America-centric internationalist order that Biden represents. While Trump has accelerated these dynamics, he is far less responsible for them than is the martial post-9/11 course of U.S. foreign policy that wrecked itself, most prominently in Iraq.
Ed Webb

Reimagining US Engagement with a Turbulent Middle East - MERIP - 1 views

  • the debate about US foreign policy needs to be not only about redefining US interests and strategy but also focused on how to transform America’s self-identity and the domestic political and economic structures that shape US interactions abroad
  • US foreign policy toward the Middle East has always been driven as much by domestic politics and American self-identity as by different conceptions of strategic interest
  • a diverse set of policy makers, scholars and large segments of the US public, have grown deeply concerned about the high economic and human cost of US interventions in the Middle East. Trump even sought office vowing to end endless wars. America’s overly militarized approach, they argue, has not brought stability or peace to the region. Many also suggest that the longstanding US national interests at stake, such as the flow of oil and Israeli security, no longer seem to be at risk while many US goals—such as a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, the rollback of Iranian influence and the elimination of terrorism—no longer look achievable.
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  • Calls for the United States to pull back reject US intervention and hegemony in the Middle East, but they also seek to insulate the United States from the damage past policies have inflicted on the region and distance Americans from the peoples impacted.
  • The decline of US hegemony and its dominance of global economic and political systems, Schweller explains, has led Americans to “demand a more narrowly self-interested foreign policy” that seeks to insulate Americans from “the vagaries of markets and globalization.” The animating logic of America First, however, does not focus on the country’s global role as much as on the view embraced by Trump’s populist support base that US policy should counter the (perceived) threats posed by transnational flows and interdependence.
  • Much of the mainstream foreign policy debate in opposition to Trump has revolved around voices advocating for the US to return to a more modest, more multilateral version of its role as a global hegemon that seeks to rebuild the liberal international order.[4] Others are calling for an all-out mobilization against the rise of China and Russia.[5]
  • Support for restraint has accelerated with recognition of the declining strategic importance of the Middle East and the absence of major threats from the region to core US interests. With the massive expansion of US domestic energy production, Americans increasingly question the US military presence in the Persian Gulf and security commitment to allies in the region. Meanwhile, with unchallenged Israeli control over Palestinian territories, its military capacity that includes nuclear weapons and growing ties between Israel and Arab Gulf states, Israel is in a more secure strategic position than it has ever been. Advocates of restraint also understand that Iran has a limited ability to project conventional military power and even if it wielded a nuclear weapon, its use could be deterred. Lastly, restraint recognizes that the hyper-militarized approach of the global war on terror engages US forces in continuous military operations that are politically unaccountable and often exacerbate the political and socioeconomic conditions that foster armed non-state actors and political violence in the first place.
  • restraint fails to address the legacies of past US involvement in the region. The hope of insulating the United States from regional instability and future conflicts is also unlikely to be sustainable in the long run.
  • the Israeli right and their US supporters—including the evangelical right and Islamophobic populists—have been unconstrained in their efforts to shape US goals and policies based on a close identification with the Israeli right and Israeli militarism at the expense of the Palestinians
  • While advocates of restraint have long opposed excessive US backing of Israel, without the mobilization of domestic political forces that seek to dissociate the United States from Israeli militarism and support Palestinian human rights, a future US president dedicated to restraint will likely find little strategic value or political support for reversing current policies beyond trimming the price tag.
  • maintain close ties to the Saudi regime and other Arab Gulf states through flows of petrodollar recycling in the form of massive arms sales that sustain American jobs, corporate profits and campaign donations
  • today US ties to the Gulf are being shaped by invented security rationales and material interests. Networks of arms sales, private military contractors, logistics firms and Gulf-funded think tanks—often with cooperation from Israel and its backers—have defined US policies by portraying Iran as a strategic threat, supporting arms sales in the name of so-called economic security and defending the strategic importance of protecting the rule of autocratic elites. At the same time, many segments of the US military and national security state have deeply rooted interests in maintaining bases and military-to-military ties in the region
  • Americans inside and outside of government will not quickly abandon the benefits they receive from economic, military and political ties to Gulf rulers
  • In the foreseeable future, the Middle East will likely experience more instability and conflict due to, in large part, the legacy of US policies over the past two decades, which include the invasion of Iraq, interventions in Libya and Syria, the fostering of proxy wars, the promotion of neoliberal economic reforms, massive arms sales and support for aggressive actions by regional allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia
  • the increased capacities for self-organization by armed non-state actors has helped sustain the regional environment of turbulence
  • It is unlikely that the United States could reclaim the diplomatic credibility needed to rebuild norms of restraint and balancing after having embraced militarism and unilateralism for so long
  • developments in the region will likely impact other US interests relating to the global economy, rivalry with China, climate change, nuclear proliferation and refugee flows
  • while the ideological and media infrastructure that mobilized fears to build the spurious case for the Iraq war have been temporarily disrupted, similar processes could be activated in the future to convert fears, such as of an Iranian cyberwar capability, a Chinese naval base in the region, or a resurgence of ISIS, into a strategic threat requiring a US response
  • the work of forging an alternative path for the United States in the Middle East, one that embraces sustainable anti-imperialism and demilitarization, must go beyond redefining US strategic interests to transforming domestic political, economic and ideological forces that shape US ties to the Middle East
  • In Notes on a Foreign Country, Suzy Hansen tries to diagnose the current era of anxiety and confusion felt by Americans living in an era when aspects of US exceptionalism and global hegemony are waning. She writes, “It is also perhaps the first time Americans are confronting a powerlessness that the rest of the world has always felt, not only within their own borders but as pawns in a larger international game. Globalization, it turns out, has not meant the Americanization of the world; it has made Americans, in some ways, more like everyone else.”
  • The effort to envision an alternative, post-exceptionalist US role in the world requires refashioning the debate so that Americans come to view the insecurities experienced by societies abroad as counterparts to the challenges Americans face at home.
  • Within the turbulent Middle East regional system, efforts to promote security would require not only an end to US military primacy and dominance but also a limit on regional and external interventions, the demobilization of the numerous armed non-state militias and proxy forces and a reversal of processes of state erosion and territorial fragmentation.
  • Americans need to envision a new internationalism that no longer seeks to remake the world in the American image but defines a new way for living within it
Ed Webb

Freelancing abroad in a world obsessed with Trump - Columbia Journalism Review - 0 views

  • “I can’t make a living reporting from the Middle East anymore,” said Sulome in mid-December. “I just can’t justify doing this to myself.” The day we spoke, she heard that Foreign Policy, one of the most reliable destinations for freelancers writing on-the-ground, deeply reported international pieces, would be closing its foreign bureaus. (CJR independently confirmed this, though it has not been publicly announced.) “They are one of the only publications that publish these kinds of stories,” she said, letting out a defeated sigh.
  • Sulome blames a news cycle dominated by Donald Trump. Newspapers, magazines, and TV news programs simply have less space for freelance international stories than before—unless, of course, they directly involve Trump.
  • Trump was the focus of 41 percent of American news coverage in his first 100 days in office. That’s three times the amount of coverage showered on previous presidents
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  • Foreign news coverage has been taking a hit for decades. According to a 2014 Pew report, American newspapers even then had cut their international reporting staff by 24 percent in less than a decade. Network news coverage of stories with a foreign dateline averaged 500 minutes per year in 2016, compared to an average 1,500 minutes in 1988, according to a study by Tyndall. “Clearly it’s harder for international stories to end up on front pages now,” says Ben Pauker, who served as the executive editor of Foreign Policy for seven years until the end of 2017. He is now a managing editor at Vox. From his own experience, Pauker says, it’s simply an issue of editorial bandwidth. “There’s only so much content an editorial team can process.”
  • In October 2017, Sulome thought she had landed the story of her career. The US had just announced a $7 million reward for a Hezbollah operative believed to be scouting locations for terror attacks on American soil—something it had never done before. Having interviewed Hezbollah fighters for the last six years, Sulome had unique access to the upper echelons of its militants, including that specific operative’s family members. Over the course of her reporting, Hezbollah members told her they had contingency plans to strike government and military targets on US soil and that they had surface-to-air missiles, which had not been reported before. Convinced she had struck gold, she was elated when the piece was commissioned by a dream publication she’d never written for before. But days later, that publication rescinded its decision, saying that Sulome had done too much of the reporting before she was commissioned. Sulome was in shock. She went on to pitch the story to eight other publications, and no one was interested.
  • I’ll go back to the Middle East on trips if I find someone who wants a story, but I’m not going to live there and do this full-time, because it’s really taking a toll on me
  • According to Nathalie Applewhite, managing director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the lack of international coverage has become a real problem for Pulitzer grant recipients. Those grants, she says, were established to address the earlier crisis in which news organizations were closing foreign bureaus and could no longer fund big foreign reporting projects. “Now we’re seeing an even bigger challenge,” she says. “We’re providing the monetary support, but the problem is finding the space for it.” Grant applicants, Applewhite adds, are finding it harder to get commitments from editors to publish their work upon completion of their reporting. And stories that already have commitments are sitting on the shelf much longer, as they are continuously postponed for breaking Trump news.
  • As the daughter of two former Middle East-based journalists, Sulome knows what it used to be like for people like her. “I grew up surrounded by foreign correspondents, and it was a very different time. There was a healthy foreign press, and most of them were staff. The Chicago Tribune had a Beirut bureau for example. So when people say we’re in a golden age of journalism today, I’m like, Really?”
  • The divestment from foreign news coverage, she believes, has forced journalists to risk their lives to tell stories they feel are important. Now, some publications are refusing to commission stories in which the reporter already took the risk of doing the reporting on spec. Believing that this will discourage freelancers from putting their lives in danger, this policy adds to the problem more than it solves it.
  • “When people lose sight of what’s going on around the world, we allow our government to make foreign policy decisions that don’t benefit us. It makes it so much easier for them to do that when we don’t have the facts. Like if we don’t know that the crisis in Yemen is killing and starving so many people and making Yemenis more extremist, how will people know not to support a policy in which we are attacking Yemenis?”
  • “Whether it’s environmental, ethnic or religious conflict, these are issues that may seem far away, but if we ignore them they can have a very real impact on us at home. International security issues, global health scares, and environmental crises know no borders, and I think we ignore them at our own peril.”
Ed Webb

Turkish Populism Goes to the Polls | Foreign Affairs - 0 views

  • Amid the political turmoil sweeping the Middle East, there are signs that the populist and anti-Western strand in Turkey's foreign policy may have run its course
  • Building on the work of its predecessors, the AKP government replaced a foreign policy based on security with one focused on engagement, soft power, and trade, in the process diffusing tensions with neighboring countries such as Iran, Iraq, and Syria (known as the "zero problems" policy).
  • Never before in Turkey's modern history has foreign policy been so directly wedded to domestic politics: The architects of Turkey's foreign policy used to answer to the generals; these days, policymakers answer to the public. And never before has a Turkish government staked so much of its reputation on its international accomplishments, real or hypothetical.
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  • Yet the populism inherent in the AKP's foreign policy has a hidden danger: Fuelling anti-Western and anti-Israeli sentiment may win Erdogan a few nationalist or Islamist votes, but it is also costing him some valuable friends, from European politicians to the U.S. congressional representatives.
  • especially in the wake of Turkey's response to the Mavi Marmara incident, a number of U.S. congressmen withdrew their support for Ankara on important policy issues. For example, Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) argued that Turkey's membership in NATO should be "called into question," while Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), threatened to speak "actively" against Turkey's bid to join the European Union.
  • With support for joining the European Union among Turks plummeting from 71 percent in 2004 to 47 percent last year, according to a Eurobarometer poll, there are few votes to be won by campaigning in favor of EU accession.
  • Under the AKP, the Turkish government has inserted identity politics, particularly religion, into foreign policy. (It is revealing that Erdogan refers to Europeans as "partners" or "friends" but to Arabs and Iranians as "brothers.") Two years ago, Erdogan proclaimed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, innocent of genocide -- Muslims, he argued, "are incapable of such a thing." At the same time, Ankara, quick to condemn any use of force by Israelis, has been much more indulgent toward its Arab allies, Syria and Libya included. Turkey has struggled to formulate a coherent response to the uprisings shaking the Arab world. Erdogan was one of the first world leaders to call on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down, yet one of the last to ask the same of Libya's Qaddafi. In Syria, meanwhile, the Turkish government remains unable to let go of Bashar al-Assad: It has condemned the violence but not the perpetrator. This paralysis reveals an unintended consequence of both deepening ties with autocratic regimes in the Arab world and establishing credibility in the eyes of Arab populations. As Davutoğlu himself told journalists in May, "We have felt the pressure of being entrapped between the two successes."
  • With the Middle East in flames and the limits of its leverage in the region laid bare, Turkey may have no choice but to reengage with the European Union and the United States. The policy of "zero problems" has not really worked out too well with Qaddafi and Assad. It might be time to try it out with the West.
Ed Webb

Secretary Pompeo's Speech in Cairo: POMED Experts Respond - POMED - 0 views

  • Pompeo delivered a speech that lacked any overarching policy message. Pompeo did spell out what this administration sees as the main problems in the region: the Islamic Republic of Iran, radical Islamist terrorism, and even the policies of the Obama administration. But he failed to outline a coherent vision, strategy, or policy approach for addressing these problems
  • To many, Pompeo confirmed widespread fears that the Trump administration simply lacks seriousness of purpose in the Middle East. The speech strongly resembled the rhetoric of many of the region’s own authoritarian regimes—full of bluster, hyperbolic language, attacks on political rivals, and boasts of the administration’s tremendous policy successes that felt divorced from reality
  • The Trump administration played up Pompeo’s remarks as a big deal, but a clear policy roadmap and announcements of any new initiatives were missing. The language on Syria, the most newsworthy topic, did little to end confusion over U.S. policy. The speech’s vacuity likely is because President Trump is simply not interested in the Middle East, and is known to make sudden foreign policy declarations on Twitter. Pompeo seemingly had little policy substance to work with and probably didn’t want to get out ahead of his boss
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  • Pompeo’s speech was not a statement of foreign policy strategy, but rather a rambling screed dominated by distortions, falsehoods, and outright lies. His claims fall into three categories: (1) gratuitous potshots at former President Barack Obama; (2) dubious defenses of the Trump administration’s reckless foreign policy decisions, such as withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran; and (3) misrepresentations of the administration’s policies. Let’s be clear: this was a political stump speech, not a statesman’s address
  • aside from several authoritarian regimes who profess unbridled support for Trump but do little to advance U.S. interests, the United States has never before been more alone
  • Pompeo’s small and homogenous audience of elites reflects the very limited and narrow relationship the United States has chosen to have with the societies in the region
  • rather than speak sternly and honestly to the Egyptian regime, for all of the Egyptian people to hear, he praised al-Sisi for his tolerance and progress despite the totalitarian direction the Egyptian president has taken the country since he led the coup in 2013
Ed Webb

The Deportation of Omar Shakir: The Israeli Supreme Court and the BDS Movement - Lawfare - 0 views

  • Two judgments handed down just days apart—one by the Israeli Supreme Court and the other by the European Court of Justice—highlight a growing jurisprudential divide between Israeli and international courts on the status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank
  • On Nov. 12, the European Court of Justice ruled that Israeli food products from the West Bank and Golan Heights must be explicitly labeled as coming from “Israeli settlements,” rather than from Israel itself. The ruling, which cited European Union regulations designed to allow consumers to make informed choices about their food purchases, held that since international humanitarian law limits Israeli jurisdiction in these territories to that of an “occupying power,” it would be misleading to represent such products as being “from Israel.”
  • stakes of the long-anticipated Israeli Supreme Court judgment in Human Rights Watch v. Interior Minister, handed down just a week earlier. In its judgment, the court upheld a government decision to expel Human Rights Watch’s (HRW’s) Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, from the country, based on a law barring entry by foreigners who promote boycotts of Israel or its West Bank settlements. The case marked the first time the court was called upon to rule on the law’s application to boycott-related activities directed primarily at the settlements, rather than at Israel itself.
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  • In 2015, in Avneri v. The Knesset, a divided court upheld most of the 2011 law, striking down a provision providing for punitive damages in civil tort cases and construing the law narrowly in order to limit liability to instances where there is a proven causal link to concrete damage. (For more on Avneri, see here and here.) Most significantly for our purposes, a majority of justices in Avneri upheld the law’s contentious provision (which applies equally to the 2017 amendment), equating settlement boycotts to boycotts against Israel as a whole.
  • A boycott directed at an individual company due to its specific behavior, by contrast (for example, because it engaged in discrimination or in some other problematic activity), would not risk running afoul of the law.
  • If actively promoting HRW’s stance on settlements is enough to demonstrate ongoing promotion of boycotts, any new employee could face similar consequences. Israeli employees of HRW, too, could face civil or administrative ramifications simply for implementing HRW’s stated policy of calling on businesses “to stop operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as part of their duty to avoid complicity in human rights abuses.”
  • Back in 2016, when HRW first requested a foreign expert visa for Shakir, an American citizen, the Foreign Ministry objected on the grounds that HRW itself was biased against Israel, “falsely waving the flag of human rights” in the service of “Palestinian propaganda.” Shortly thereafter, the ministry withdrew its objection, citing political and diplomatic considerations, and the Interior Ministry granted Shakir his visa. An administrative petition by the right-leaning organization Shurat HaDin, among others, led to an additional reversal, and the visa was revoked. The new decision was based on a memorandum issued by the Strategic Affairs Ministry (charged in Israel with heading up the fight against BDS), which argued that the problem was Shakir himself—who had called in the past for boycotts of Israel and the settlements—rather than HRW
  • The appellants, for their part, challenged the constitutionality of the 2017 amendment, arguing that even though foreigners don’t have a right to enter the country, they should not be denied a visa or fear deportation for expressing unpopular views. Mainly, they claimed, the law violates the free speech and equality rights of Israelis (and Palestinians), whose ability to engage freely with foreigners the government doesn’t agree with is limited by the law. They also argued that Shakir’s activities—particularly those undertaken on behalf of HRW—shouldn’t be considered boycott activities, since they were motivated by a desire to combat specific human rights violations and to encourage private corporations to respect their human rights obligations under international law
  • While once again acknowledging that the law doesn’t apply to boycotts targeting specific behaviors, the court stated: An individual who negates the very legitimacy of the State of Israel or its control of the Area, and seeks to undermine it through a boycott, is [included in the law], even if he disguises his position with the rhetoric of human rights or international law. The test is a substantive one, and the words the de-legitimization campaign wraps itself in do not grant it immunity.
  • Several amici from both sides of the political spectrum, including NGO Monitor, Shurat HaDin and Amnesty International, submitted briefs to the court. A group of former foreign service officials also joined the proceedings as amici, arguing that removing Shakir would cause substantial and lasting damage to Israel’s image as an open and democratic society.
  • In Human Rights Watch, the court clarified that what is at stake is also, potentially, the “delegitimization of Israel and of its policy” (emphasis added).
  • the boycott laws, coupled with the court’s continued acquiescence to the law’s conflation of Israel with Israeli settlements, threaten to impair the ability of citizens and noncitizens alike to engage in free discourse on one of the most difficult issues facing the country. They risk undermining the ability of human rights groups to defend human rights and promote respect for international law when their positions and interpretations of the law do not align with those of the Israeli government. They also threaten to further erode the all-important distinction in a democracy between delegitimization of the country itself and criticism of government policy
  • a growing disconnect between the discourse on settlements in Israel (and now, perhaps, the United States) and abroad
Ed Webb

The F-35 Triangle: America, Israel, the United Arab Emirates - War on the Rocks - 0 views

  • deepen what were heretofore covert ties across the full spectrum of civilian sectors from business to science to agriculture and even space. The Emirati-Israeli agreement builds upon years of “under the table” cooperation between security and intelligence professionals driven toward strategic alignment by a shared perception of the major regional threat — Iran.
  • the U.S. sweetener appears to be a commitment to sell it F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, as well as other advanced weaponry long sought by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed
  • When Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, it secured the second largest military aid package in the Middle East after Israel, which continues today. When Jordan made peace with Israel in 1994, the announcement came along with debt relief and the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft — and, like Egypt, Jordan remains a top recipient of American assistance
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  • Reactions to Emirati acquisition of the F-35 have largely focused on whether Israel will support such a sale and the related requirement in U.S. domestic law to ensure Israel’s military superiority against all other countries in the Middle East. The longstanding policy term, later codified in law, is “qualitative military edge.” From the Emirati point of view, if they have entered into full diplomatic relations with Israel — with a promised “warm peace,” in the words of Emirati officials — and both countries share the same threat perspective, then Israel should have confidence that these advanced weapons will not be turned against it and should therefore not object to the sale. Moreover, unlike Egypt and Jordan, the United Arab Emirates has never attacked Israel.
  • Weapons sales are a leading area of competition in the Middle East, and in the words of the former Acting Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Tina Kaidanow: Arms transfers are foreign policy. When we transfer a system or a capability to a foreign partner, we are affecting regional — or foreign internal — balances of power; we are sending a signal of support; and we are establishing or sustaining relationships that may last for generations and provide benefits for an extended period of time.
  • selling the F-35 to the United Arab Emirates would say much more about the Washington’s partnership with Abu Dhabi than it would about the evolving Emirati-Israeli relationship
  • Selling the F-35 to a country ought to be a signal that the United States has the highest measure of confidence in that country’s warfighting capabilities, decision-making on the use of force, and commitments to protecting sensitive technology. The Emirati record on each of these issues does not, however, inspire the highest confidence. The record is mixed.
  • As former government officials serving in the State and Defense Departments as well as in Congress, we are confident that the process going forward will be messy and time-consuming, specifically because the current case breaks precedent in so many ways.
  • competitors in the global arms export industry — particularly Russia and China — also leverage arms sales, but by and large with no strings attached for their use. Both governments use arms sales to challenge U.S. market dominance and to undermine American partnerships in the region
  • Reflecting a long-held U.S. policy view, during his nomination hearing Washington’s envoy to Abu Dhabi noted that the country “is a moderating and stabilizing force in one of the world’s most volatile regions.” The United Arab Emirates stands out among other militaries in the region for having contributed military forces to many U.S.-led coalitions since the first Gulf War — Kosovo (late 1990s), Somalia (1992), Afghanistan (since 2003), Libya (2011) and the anti-ISIL coalition (2014 to 2015). Indeed, Jared Kushner set a new precedent for framing the American-Emirati partnership when he effectively equated it with that of America and Israel, terming them comparably “special” during his most recent visit to the Middle East.
  • Emirati regional policies have been the subject of increasing congressional concern in recent years, largely focused on the country’s actions in Yemen and Libya. Since the beginning the Saudi-led coalition’s 2015 intervention in Yemen, most congressional action focused on the Saudi role in the conflict and not the Emirati one. But in 2018, congressional concern peaked in response to Emirati plans to launch an offensive to seize the Yemeni port of Hudaydah. The Trump administration subsequently declined to provide military support for the Emirati operation, given the risks of worsening an already severe humanitarian crisis, concerns regarding the complexities of the proposed military operation, and the likelihood of mass civilian casualties
  • In both Yemen and Libya, Abu Dhabi has not succeeded in leveraging its robust military investments toward political processes that would end the conflicts. In both contexts the divergent policies of the United States and United Arab Emirates — including use of military force, conduct in combat, and utilization of U.S. defense articles — should be considered as part of the F-35 deliberations.
  • Since the Yemen war’s inception in 2015, members of Congress have raised concerns about the conflict and U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition, in which Abu Dhabi was a partner and to which it contributed forces until withdrawing in the summer of 2019. These concerns, and the Trump administration’s refusal to address them, culminated in Congress mandating a report on steps taken by both governments to reduce civilian casualties and comply with laws and agreements governing the use of U.S.-origin weapons — indicating skepticism that either country was doing so
  • protecting Israel’s military superiority consists of both legal requirements and longstanding political and process steps that, while not mandated by law, have paved the way for decades of bipartisan congressional consent to arms sales in the Middle East, including of advanced fighter aircraft. The requirement to protect Israel’s “qualitative military edge” is enshrined in 2008 naval vessel transfer legislation, although it had been implemented as a matter of policy between Washington and Jerusalem since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
  • Presumably, the United Arab Emirates and Israel entering into formal relations affirms that the former does not pose such a military threat. The Israeli perspective at the moment, however, has been complicated by the continuing murk over whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blessed the U.S. commitment to sell the Emirati government the F-35 — without the knowledge of his own defense minister. Tensions in Netanyahu’s fragile governing coalition and a larger uproar in Israel’s defense establishment have prompted an awkward pas de deux among American, Emirati, and Israeli officials. Netanyahu — responding to concerns raised by the Israeli defense establishment — stated emphatically during an Aug. 24 joint press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he had not consented to any arms deal as part of normalization. Given Netanyahu’s close relationship with Trump, it is safe to say that no one in either country finds this claim credible. The public spat over Israeli consent to Emirati acquisition of the F-35 escalated when Netanyahu publicly vowed to go to Congress in opposition to the sale, and the United Arab Emirates in response cancelled a planned meeting between the Israeli and Emirati ambassadors to the United Nations.
  • extensive discussions should be expected between Israeli and U.S. technical and military experts to agree on the appropriate mix of offsets to ensure Israel’s military superiority. The offsets may involve discussions of quantity (how many F-35s the Emiratis will acquire versus the Israelis), technical variations in the F-35 platform, or additional sales and assistance to Israel. This challenge is not insurmountable, but it will be time-consuming and extend pass the upcoming American electoral cycle
  • The standard for this level of consultation with Israel before moving forward with arms sales packages to others in the region was set by the Obama administration — first in 2011 with the sale of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, and later in 2013 with the sale of F-16 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates along with stand-off weapons to both the Saudis and the Emiratis. Concurrent with 2013 sales, the Obama administration negotiated a package for Israel to maintain its military edge that included V-22 Osprey aircraft, advanced refueling tankers, and anti-air defense missiles.
  • Though Israel has no legal right to  block the United States from selling a weapon to another country in the Middle East, Israeli support is critical, particularly during the period of congressional notification. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will consult with the Israeli government, and will prefer to support a sale that earns a clear green light from the Israeli government. Members are likely be left unsatisfied by ambiguous and lukewarm Israel responses to the question of selling the F-35 to the Emiratis, precisely because technical talks have not yet begun. All parties risk being stuck between the divisive politics of the moment, and the deliberative, lengthy policy considerations that such arms transfer packages usually entail, opening the door to a further erosion of bipartisanship on a key issue of national security importance — the what, when, and how of a decision by the United States to provide advanced weapons systems to partner states in the Middle East.
  • Arab capitals are closely following whether the United States will follow through on its apparent commitment to sell the F-35 (and assorted other high-end systems) to Abu Dhabi, and whether American deliverables are sufficiently compelling to consider bringing their own relations with Israel into the daylight
  • The historical record from Egypt to Jordan and now the United Arab Emirates — across administrations of both political parties — is that formal relations with Israel facilitate strategic consistency from Washington
  • Will Egypt and Jordan request the F-35 in light of their existing peace treaties with Israel? Will countries in closer geographic proximity, like Saudi Arabia, request the F-35 and additional advanced U.S. weapons as part of their normalization package?
  • For Israel, Iran and Turkey represent sobering examples in that regard — previously solid security partners within seemingly stable governance structures that became hostile.
  • military edge risks eroding as Arab governments, whether blocked from purchasing certain weapons from the United States or in addition to acquiring them, turn to China, Russia, and other weapons exporters not obligated to maintain Israel’s military superiority
  • Competition in the Middle East between the United States and its adversaries is intensifying — particularly in the weapons sales arena
  • Washington may find itself in an escalating — and unsustainable — cycle of supplementing and upgrading support, technology, and other military offsets to Israel.
Ed Webb

(Re)introducing Conscription in the Gulf: From Soft Power to Nation-Building - Arab Ref... - 0 views

  • In the Middle East, the US invasion of Iraq, the Arab Spring of 2011, and the subsequent foreign interventions in Yemen, Syria, and Libya, brought military preparedness and competence to the surface again. This led to a return of compulsory military service not only in countries that are at war and/or under the threat of military intervention but also in other countries. This was the case of certain Gulf countries including Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which historically seldom resorted to conscription.
  • Qatar introduced conscription in 2013, followed by the UAE in 2014. Kuwait, on the other hand, reintroduced it in 2014, having practiced conscription between 1961 and 2001. Until recently, these countries’ militaries were formed by a national officer corps, foreign - mostly Western- expert non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and foreign contract soldiers coming from different countries (Jordan, Yemen, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Oman)
  • In 2018, not long after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar, the Qatari government amended the National Service Law, introducing national service for women and extending its duration for men. While the national service remains voluntary for women over the age of 18, men are now expected to serve a year instead of three or four months. The new law gives eligible men only 60 days after they come of age to apply to the military and stipulates harsher punishment (up to three years in jail plus a fine) for those who fail to do so.
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  • Since the beginning of the 2020s, several articles5Jean-Loup Samaan, “The Rise of the Emirati Defense Industry,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 14 May 2019 https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/79121;  Elenora Ardemagni, “The UAE’s Military Training-Focused Foreign Policy,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 22 October 2020, https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/83033; Melissa Dalton and Hijab Shah, “Evolving UAE Military and Foreign Security Cooperation: Path Toward Military Professionalism,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 12 January 2021,  https://carnegie-mec.org/2021/01/12/evolving-uae-military-and-foreign-security-cooperation-path-toward-military-professionalism-pub-83549; Elenora Ardemagni, “ Building New Gulf States Through Conscription,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 25 April 2018, https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/76178; Elenora Ardemagni, “Gulf Monarchies’ Militarized Nationalism,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 28 February 2019,https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/78472; Zoltan Barany, “Big News! Conscription in the Gulf,” Middle East Institute, 25 January 2017, https://www.mei.edu/publications/big-news-conscription-gulf; Dr. Eman Ahmed Abdel Halim, “Implementation of Military Conscription in the Gulf,” Future for Advanced Research Studies, 12 December 2016, https://futureuae.com/m/Mainpage/Item/2250/pressing-threats-implementation-of-military-conscription-in-the-gulf were written on the economic, social, and geopolitical reasons behind Gulf countries’ shift in military recruitment strategy. The security problems originating from Iran and Yemen, the willingness to exercise soft power in the region along with the volatile energy sector, and the ruptures within the rentier state model are put forward as the main justifications behind the Gulf countries’ developing defense industries and growing their armies. In this context, compulsory military service does play an important role, be it to increase the size of the army, cause deterrence in the region or create new job opportunities and a qualified workforce out of young citizens.
  • can also create intangible moral advantages, and thus have significant effects on these countries’ civil-military relations. The biggest reason for this is the symbiotic relationship that has formed over time between compulsory military service and national sentiment.  In this sense, introducing conscription shows an effort to turn these societies into nations where individuals would be bound to one another by national sentiment and not the rentier state model they have so far known.
  • To raise obedient and productive citizens who wore the same uniform, spoke the same language, and sang the same anthems, education became an important tool in the nation-building process.11Ayşe Gül Altınay and Tanıl Bora, “Ordu, Militarizm ve Milliyetçilik,” Iletişim Yayınları, (2002): 140. In Prussia, this “new form of nationalist socialization” was provided through military establishments with the hope that, after their discharge from military service, men would remain loyal to the state and transfer their sentiment and what they “learned” to the rest of the population.12
  • mandatory military service in these countries should not be seen as a way to efficiently raise strong and competent armies. First, like their Gulf neighbors, neither Qatar, Kuwait, nor the UAE is populated enough to sustain a competent standing army. Most of their populations are made of ex-pats who are not subject to conscription laws. Second, their current system of outsourcing military needs has proven to be efficient in the long run, with all three countries continuing to invest in contracting foreign soldiers to efficiently populate their armies. Therefore, the new conscription laws should be seen as a symbolic move to strengthen nationalistic bonds and ambitions.
  • paradoxically, the exact nationalistic sentiment and loyalty that the Gulf countries try to channel among their citizens can backfire if the people (including the conscripts) were to ever resent the rulers and their policies. This is rather contrary to the long-established coup-proofing strategies25After gaining their independence, most countries in the region (or rather individual leaders) have engaged in various coup-proofing measures to keep their militaries in check. There were different types of coup-measuring strategies. For example, until 2011, Hosni Mubarak, a military man himself, tried to keep the Egyptian military at bay by giving officers and the military institution economic benefits and providing an unfair competition. In Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali took a different approach and choose to ouster the military as an institution completely and empowered the police force. In Sudan and Libya, former presidents Bashar and Gaddafi took a more social approach and tried to counterbalance different groups of society, especially the tribal establishments, as a buffer against the military. In the Gulf, the ruling monarchs resorted to using foreign soldiers to keep the military away from social and political affairs as much as possible. that Arab countries followed over the years. However, given the low numbers of citizens that will be drafted each year, the risk of such revolts taking place remains low.
  • In Kuwait, UAE, and Qatar, there are legal sanctions in place against anyone who fails to enlist when they become eligible and conscientious objection is not recognized. This could cause or further the feeling of oppression and resentment and trigger protests and turmoil in these countries. However, at this stage, this risk is low but still a possibility as seen in Thailand, Israel, and Armenia
Ed Webb

Why Do People Flee During War? The Answer Is More Complicated Than You Think. - 0 views

  • When armed forces uproot people, the act tends to be characterized by journalists, politicians, and policymakers as ethnic cleansing. This suggests that the primary purpose is to expel or eliminate the targeted population. Strategic displacement takes different forms and can serve multiple purposes, from interdicting enemy supply lines to facilitating territorial annexation. What my research suggests, however, is that combatants, particularly state forces, often displace civilians to sort the targeted population—not to get rid of it.
  • This strategy mimics the use of strategic hamlets, regroupment centers, and so-called protected villages during civil wars in Burundi, Indonesia, the Philippines, Peru, Rwanda, Uganda, and Vietnam, where government forces ordered people living in conflict areas to relocate to particular locations. In addition to denying rebels access to the population, these methods were used to help counterinsurgents distinguish friend from foe while fighting shadowy guerrillas who hid among civilians. Areas outside relocation sites were transformed into free-fire zones where those remaining were assumed to be rebel fighters or supporters. The sites themselves served as instruments of identification. Occupants were screened and catalogued—making the population more “legible” to the state—and their movements were used as continuous indicators of their political loyalties.
  • “The good people were in the camps” and so “anyone found out of the camp was seen as a rebel or collaborator automatically.”
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  • A similar dynamic can be seen in Syria. Throughout the conflict, the government of Bashar al-Assad and its allies have engaged in a ferocious campaign to expel civilians from cities and towns controlled by Syrian rebels. These displacement tactics have undermined rebels’ ability to govern and deprived them of civilian support. But they have also been used to weed out those considered disloyal to the Assad regime. The government has sought to lure the displaced to its territories and employed civil registration, property claims, and other administrative procedures to screen returning refugees and IDPs. As part of evacuation and reconciliation agreements in areas retaken from opposition groups, the Assad regime has given residents a choice of moving to government areas or to other rebel-held parts of Syria. Electing the latter is seen as signaling allegiance to the opposition. Many of those who moved are now being relentlessly targeted by regime forces in Idlib province, the only remaining opposition stronghold. When I spoke to a defector from the Syrian army, he conveyed the logic through a chilling metaphor: “Think of a dumpster where you gather garbage to finally burn it.”
  • Viewing displacement as a sorting mechanism is essential to understanding the drivers and consequences of wartime migrations, and for improving efforts to manage them. The United Nations and international NGOs typically set up and manage displacement camps; provide food, shelter, health care, education, and other services; advocate on behalf of the displaced; and help governments adopt domestic policies on displacement-related issues. While this assistance has done much good, it has also raised the specter of moral hazard. It is one thing for the international community to assist those who flee to another country in order to ease the strain on refugee-hosting governments. It is quite another for it to shoulder the burden of displacement within a country on behalf of a government or nonstate actor that is directly responsible for the displacement in the first place. In Syria, for instance, the Assad regime has steered massive amounts of humanitarian assistance to areas it controls, which has helped the government lure IDPs and address some of their needs.
  • If humanitarian agencies show they are willing to offset the costs of uprooting civilians, they could perversely incentivize armed groups to engage in these practices. This is not hypothetical. There are multiple instances where international aid, while providing crucial life-saving assistance to people in conflict zones, has also enabled combatants to implement, sustain, or expand policies of forced displacement.
  • The widespread use of sorting displaced people demonstrates that fleeing in wartime can be perceived as a political act. But the presumption of guilt by location is often embraced by combatants and civilians alike, and not just in cases where displacement is used as a weapon of war. As Stephanie Schwartz argued in a previous article in Foreign Policy, post-conflict societies commonly experience hostility between people who fled during a conflict and those who stayed.
  • Conflict resolution and reconciliation efforts need to treat displacement and return as a political phenomenon, not just a humanitarian one
  • if combatants purposely compelled people to flee during the conflict, then victims will need greater security assurances to return, along with accountability mechanisms that recognize these violations and provide restitution and justice. Rarely are state or nonstate actors held responsible for displacement.
  • an international refugee system that is increasingly seen as feckless and disconnected from the realities of modern migration. That’s because in civil wars, civilians are valuable assets for armed groups. If people are given the ability to escape conflict-affected countries, then they are not compelled to “pick a side” through their movements. Armed groups are deprived of vulnerable recruits and propaganda pawns. Leaving the country may still be perceived as treachery, but at least crossing the border puts civilians beyond the reach of all warring parties and makes them eligible for international protection. Limiting the possibility of exit only stands to embolden combatants while forcing people to decide between bad options.
  • strategic value in enacting more generous asylum policies as a tool of conflict management
  • hostility toward immigrants and surges of nationalist sentiment have been accompanied by political leaders recognizing the advantages of welcoming refugees from other countries. A prominent example is the Cold War. For the United States, accepting emigres from the Soviet Union and allied countries was a foreign-policy priority meant to signal the discontents of communist rule and the relative merits of American values and institutions. Today, the refugee system is in desperate need of reform, which could gain some momentum if more emphasis is placed on articulating and promoting the strategic benefits of asylum and refugee resettlement.
Ed Webb

Arab countries' foreign policy ambitions could start hurting their economies - Business... - 1 views

  • There is a certain irony in the Arab Gulf states’ rising power across the Middle East and North Africa. International prestige, the ability to intervene militarily in regional conflict, and holding the same leverage as international financial institutions in aid and investment are what these states have long coveted. But now that they have the power – both economic and military – Gulf states like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are faced with the dilemma of demonstrating their dominance without destroying the neighbourhood.
  • Gulf states’ foreign policies are increasingly at odds with their economic interests
  • The economies of the Gulf states have changed dramatically since the beginning of the second oil boom, between 2003 and 2014. Joined together in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) trade bloc, they are more integrated into the regional and wider international economy in trade and investment flows
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  • The GCC’s outward investments in equity markets, especially towards Europe and the US, means it is also more integrated globally. And it has large amounts of foreign direct investment in infrastructure, agriculture and real estate across the MENA region.
  • The strength of their economic influence in the region lies in huge flows of capital – often a mixture of remittances, foreign aid, and foreign direct investment under the auspices of state-related bodies. This has enabled the Gulf states to usurp international institutions in shaping economic reform across the MENA region, especially in Egypt and other oil importers.
  • Politically, however, the GCC is engaged in numerous interventions across the region that have caused significant disorder and pose a threat to their mutual economic prosperity. The Gulf states were successful in crushing the Arab Spring within their own countries and cementing their development agenda. By contrast, their interventions in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Egypt have stoked the chaos there, putting the stability of the region at risk.
  • In each of these interventions, there is an incumbent economic cost to the GCC states. The war in Yemen is probably the best example of a mounting military expenditure that will only be dwarfed by the cost of re-building Yemen, which surely the UAE and Saudi Arabia will have to help foot. The Gulf States would therefore be wise to start dovetailing their foreign policies with their economic interests by fostering stability instead of conflict.
Ed Webb

Donald Trump's Year of Living Dangerously - POLITICO Magazine - 0 views

  • One year in, Trump’s much-vaunted national security team has not managed to tame the president or bring him around to their view of America’s leadership role in the world. Instead, it’s a group plagued by insecurity and infighting, publicly undercut by the president and privately often overruled by him. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, is regularly reported by White House sources to be on his way out, with his demoralized, depleted State Department in outright rebellion. Meanwhile, the brawny military troika of White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general; Defense Secretary James Mattis, another retired four-star Marine general; and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a serving Army three-star general, has managed to stop the chaos of the administration’s early days while crafting a national security policy that gets more or less solid marks from establishment types in both parties. The problem is, no one’s sure Trump agrees with it.
  • sanctions remain in place despite, not because of, the White House, and sources tell me Trump personally is not on board with many of the more hawkish measures his team proposes to counter Putin, a fact underscored by his eyebrow-raising signing statement in December objecting to several tough-on-Russia provisions in a defense bill
  • The language of "principled realism" put forward by McMaster is so un-Trumpian that a top adviser who received a copy told a reporter it was simply “divorced from the reality” of the Trump presidency. “It’s the first time, maybe in history, key advisers have gone into the administration to stop the president, not to enable him,” says Thomas Wright, a Brookings scholar who has emerged as one of the most insightful analysts of Trump’s foreign policy
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  • One leading European official who came to town last January looking for answers told me that, at the time, the establishment types urged him to have “strategic patience”—not coincidentally the same phrase foreign policy hands used to use about North Korea’s nuclear program. By December, he was tired of waiting for Trump to improve. “When, finally, will this strategic patience pay off?” he asked.
  • Over their year of living dangerously with Trump, foreign leaders and diplomats have learned this much: The U.S. president was ignorant, at times massively so, about the rudiments of the international system and America’s place in it, and in general about other countries. He seemed to respond well to flattery and the lavish laying out of red carpets; he was averse to conflict in person but more or less immovable from strongly held preconceptions. And given the chance, he would respond well to anything that seemed to offer him the opportunity to flout or overturn the policies endorsed by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
  • Another conversation, with Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law who had been given an expansive international portfolio ranging from restarting Middle East peace talks to dealing with Mexico and China, was just as troubling. Kushner was “very dismissive” about the role of international institutions and alliances and uninterested in the European’s recounting of how closely the United States had stood together with Western Europe since World War II. “He told me, ‘I’m a businessman, and I don’t care about the past. Old allies can be enemies, or enemies can be friends.’ So, the past doesn’t count,” the official recalled. “I was taken aback. It was frightening.”
  • The president really does see the world differently than his own national security adviser
  • “At least the first several months all of us in the building, we thought, ‘We’ve seen this movie before, it’s growing pains, we get it.’ But eventually it seemed clear this was no longer about transition, and this seemed to be about intent rather than incompetence and lack of staffing,” she says. By fall, the word in the Foggy Bottom halls was unequivocal: “The secretary has absolutely lost the building.”
  • for many the rebellion is just to quit, as Bennett has done, on the brink of serving as an ambassador for the first time in her career. On the day she left this fall, she was one of four acting assistant secretaries—all women in a field in which that is still rare—to resign. “I felt like half of my life was probably enough to serve given the climate within the department,” she says, “and given what appears to be such limited respect for expertise gained over long decades of service.”
  • disruptions with the NSC team, where McMaster grew to resent what he saw as Tillerson’s disdain for the interagency process the national security adviser oversees, and by the time the strains on Tillerson’s relationship with Trump became publicly evident over the summer, the secretary of state was losing his remaining internal defenders. The two, said an outside adviser, are now fundamentally at odds. “McMaster and Tillerson are in a death struggle,” he said, “each of them trying to get rid of the other.”
  • I recently met a senior general of a U.S. ally at a conference. What was it like to deal with Trump’s government, I asked? “It’s a vacuum, a void,” he said. “There’s a complete inability to get answers out of American counterparts who don’t know what policy is.” An international diplomat who has worked extensively on hot spots such as Afghanistan and Iraq told me he has been to Washington five or six times in recent months. His normal contacts at the State Department were so out of the loop, “Frankly, they were asking me, ‘What do you think the White House thinks?’”
  • Trump’s national security team and his allies are engaged in a silent conspiracy of sorts to guide and constrain him. America’s enemies in China and Russia have taken their measure of the man and are preparing to test him more decisively than they have yet ventured. Opportunists in the Middle East and elsewhere are taking what they can get. War talk with North Korea grows ever louder. And in Washington, the America Firsters have been purged from the White House staff—but not from the Oval Office itself.
  • “Nobody speaks for Trump,” he said. “He speaks for himself. The question is, are they allowed to do things notwithstanding? And the answer is yes, until he decides to pull the rug out from under them. Well, that’s the reality. That’s how this man works.” Isn’t that, I asked, an extraordinary statement of no confidence in the presidency they are supposed to serve? “It’s amazing,” he responded. “Look, the whole thing is amazing. We’ve never been here. But that’s where it is. So, at some point you have to sort of stop saying, you know, ‘This is terrible, it shouldn’t be this way.’ It is this way.”
Ed Webb

US lobbying creates headaches for candidates back home - 0 views

  • Lobbying records first disclosed last week by Al-Monitor have played a role in today's presidential runoff in Tunisia, where candidate Nabil Karoui is under fire over a $1 million contract to help boost his chances. The revelations have prompted a Tunis court to open a criminal investigation not only into Karoui’s US activities, but those of two other political actors as well.
  • US lobbying laws, however, do not explicitly ban foreign actors from engaging in lobbying activities that would be illegal back in their home countries.
  • “FARA does not involve enforcing the laws of other countries. It is the responsibility of foreign agents to ensure that they are complying with all laws, both domestic and foreign.”
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  • In the case of Tunisia, it has fallen on the Tunis Court of First Instance to open a criminal investigation into Karoui’s contract with Canada-based Dickens and Madson following a complaint from his rivals. He is alleged to have broken two provisions of Tunisia’s electoral law: Article 80, which bans foreign gifts, including “propaganda,” and Article 81 on campaign contribution limits (the cap for the first round was around $625,000).
  • ensnared the Ennahda party, which has retained Burson-Marsteller (now BCW) for public affairs work in the United States since 2014, as well as parliamentary candidate Olfa Terras-Rambourg, who retained the Washington firm America to Africa Consulting in early September. While the FARA filing on behalf of Karoui openly aims at “attaining the presidency of the Republic of Tunisia,” those for Ennahda and Terras-Rambourg, however, are less incriminating and only aim to boost their image abroad without openly calling for electoral help
  • Two Turkish opposition parties, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), are also registered as foreign agents in the United States. Both have US liaison offices involved in grassroots political organizing and advocating for certain policies while walking on a legal tight rope: Article 69 of the country’s constitution states that “political parties that accept aid from foreign states, international institutions and persons and corporate bodies of non-Turkish nationality shall be dissolved permanently.”
  • a bevy of Iraqi and Libyan political actors, from individual politicians to the Kurdistan Regional Government, also lobby independently of their central governments
  • “In a lot of cases,” she said, “the politicians or campaigns or political parties route the payments for these foreign influence operations targeting the US through shell companies or offshore accounts or other types of opaque financial structures, since it’s either disfavored in their country or in some cases illegal.”
Ed Webb

Middle East Report Online: Turkey's Search for Regional Power by Yüksel Taşkın - 0 views

  • the AKP government’s objective, which is not to break with Turkey’s traditional cooperation with the US and EU but to increase Turkey’s relative autonomy vis-à-vis those powers. Rather than a rupture with the past, Turkey’s new approach marks a change in tactics in pursuit of the same goal.
  • Turkey’s new policy of “zero problems” with its neighbors -- a policy that envisions Turkey as an initiator and mediator of a policy of active neutrality
  • In seeking to be admitted as part of “the West,” the Kemalist elite tended to overlook and even “Orientalize” the East. The “other” of this Westernized elite was no longer the Greeks, with whom Turkey signed a treaty in 1930, but the Arabs and Kurds. In the realm of foreign policy, this Western-centric outlook involved Turkey aligning itself with Western powers and shunning involvement in the Middle East.
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  • The left Kemalists shared the civilizational preferences of their Kemalist fathers, but employed such terms as “development and modernization” rather than Westernization. Due to the legacy of Kemalist nationalism and Westernization, however, they never imagined themselves as members of the Non-Aligned Movement.
  • The AKP deliberately distanced itself from the Milli Görüş and defined its ideology as “conservative democracy” in order to situate itself within the long-established center-right tradition, but it distinguished itself from other parties of the center right by its strong opposition to Turkey’s policies on Iraq and Israel in particular. Nonetheless, the AKP elite strove to prove its loyalty to the traditional partnership with the US and issued successive reform packages to accelerate Turkey’s accession to the EU. During its first term (2002-2007), the AKP sought to establish credibility among Turkey’s powerful allies, whose support it needed to carve out a hegemonic position for itself in Turkey against the self-appointed civilian and military guardians of the republic.
  • Turkey’s repositioning of itself as an independent regional power has shifted its stance vis-à-vis the EU. Erdoğan presents an image of complementarity for the EU and Turkey: “Turkey is coming to share the burden of the EU rather than being a burden for it. In order to be a global power, there must be a global vision and relations with different regions…. Turkey will be the gate of the EU opening to Asia, the Middle East and the Islamic world…. The full security of the EU passes through the full membership of Turkey.”[6] Due to its perception of enhanced strength vis-à-vis the EU, the AKP has lost its willingness to push new reforms to speed up the EU membership process, especially since 2005 when new governments in Germany and France became outspoken against Turkey’s prospective membership.
  • under the AKP Turkey is taking a less nationalistic position toward the Turkic and Muslim peoples of Central Asia and Russia. While Russia supplies Turkey with natural gas, Turkey has been key in securing the construction of transnational pipelines to transport Russian oil and gas to the outside world.
  • ogress toward normalizing relations with Armenia
  • The fallout of the aborted “Kurdish opening” does not augur well for the AKP’s “soft” approach to foreign policy. If Turkey is unable to resolve its Kurdish problem through peaceful means, its new outlook will lose cogency in the eyes of Western allies. For instance, critics of Turkey’s increasingly vociferous objections to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians will question Turkey’s credibility by citing Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish minority.
  • Even today, there is little serious sympathy for Iran among ordinary Turks, particularly not as compared to that shown for the Palestinians, for example. A BBC poll found that the percentage of Turks who have warm feelings for Iran is only 13 percent while sympathy for Israel is at 6 percent and that for the US under the Obama administration is at 13 percent. The clear majority of Turks, however, would be opposed to stiffer sanctions against Iran or a military strike since the US and Israel are believed to be acting in concert to achieve these ends.
  • Erdoğan’s motives are quite rational and material despite claims that he is ready to abandon Turkey’s traditional foreign policy for the sake of Islamic brotherhood
  • The AKP is also wary of siding with Iran for fear of losing the good will of Gulf Arab states and access to the mountains of petrodollars at their disposal. In fact, one of the driving motives of the AKP government is to attract these petrodollars in the form of investments in Turkey. Since the AKP’s coming to power in 2002, Gulf investment in Turkey has skyrocketed, reaching $30 billion dollars in 2008.
  • Erdoğan’s frequent references to the Palestinian cause are motivated by a combination of ideology and deliberate political tactics. A paternalistic inclination to protect the Palestinians is also linked to the Islamists-turned-conservative democrats’ psychological need to prove that they are still committed to their moral obligations to the umma. The political Islamists in Turkey have undergone a serious process of ideological moderation. Except for the Palestinian issue and the right of women to wear headscarves in public places, AKP cadres and other groups that adhere to Islamism are suffering from an absence of common ideological grievances. Increasing economic, cultural and political power have moved the AKP toward the center of the political spectrum as the party moves to reclaim the center-right tradition started by the Democrat Party in the 1950s. As in the Arab world, Turkish Islamists have also drifted away from the strategy of capturing central state power as a way to Islamize the country. Rather, they are increasingly positioning themselves to capture society, particularly by means of charitable and human rights associations.
  • Turkish TV series have found a considerable audience in the region and angered conservatives who see them as deliberate efforts to induce moral laxity among Muslims. Some scholars at the al-Azhar mosque-university, for instance, blamed the melodrama Gümüş for increasing the divorce rate in Egypt by raising the “romantic expectations of women.”
  • enhance Turkey’s status as a vital and autonomous player in the region
  • Increasing signs of multi-polarity also provide ample opportunities for the Turkish government to enhance its regional influence, which can be converted into bargaining power in its dealings with the US and the EU. As Ahmet Davutoğlu lucidly described his vision: “The new global order must be more inclusive and participatory…. Turkey will be among those active and influential actors who sit around the table to solve problems rather than watching them.”[7]
Ed Webb

What Saudi Arabia's purge means for the Middle East - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Though seemingly unprecedented, the weekend’s developments follow the pattern Mohammed bin Salman has used since the beginning of his rapid ascent to power in 2015. In both domestic and foreign affairs, he has consistently undertaken sudden and wide-ranging campaigns for unclear reasons which shatter prevailing norms. At home, this audacious political strategy has proven relatively successful — at least in the short term. Abroad, foreign policy gambits such as the intervention in Yemen and the blockade of Qatar have rapidly degenerated into damaging quagmires. This combination of domestic success and foreign policy failure helps makes sense of this weekend’s blizzard of activity and may help preview what comes next.
  • Where Saudi state institutions are strong enough to mitigate the effects of provocative policies, international politics are less forgiving and have fewer safety nets. Virtually every major foreign policy initiative Mohammed bin Salman has championed has proved disastrous, often producing precisely the negative results that the move had been designed to prevent
  • The intervention in Yemen has been an unmitigated disaster
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  • The Qatar campaign has been similarly disastrous, effectively destroying the Gulf Cooperation Council in a quixotic effort to impose Saudi-UAE leadership. Despite the promise of rapid Qatari capitulation, the conflict quickly settled into an entrenched stalemate that has paralyzed the GCC and escalated the toxic polarization of regional politics. This quagmire exposed Saudi Arabia’s weakness and its inability to play the role of regional hegemon to which it aspired
  • Many regional observers therefore fear that Hariri’s resignation, announced in Riyadh with a sharply anti-Iranian speech, could trigger a political crisis intended to end with a military campaign against Hezbollah. Such a move would fit the pattern of bold foreign policy initiatives launched in the expectation of a rapid, politically popular victory. It would also very likely follow the pattern of such initiatives rapidly collapsing into a bloody, destabilizing quagmire.
Ed Webb

The Qatar Blockade Is Over, but the Gulf Crisis Lives On - 0 views

  • Officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar sought to end their rancorous three-and-a-half-year dispute over Qatar’s drift toward Iran and restore much-needed cohesion to the GCC, which also includes Kuwait and Oman. The GCC summit was a resounding success. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt lifted their blockade on Qatar and restored diplomatic relations with the country. Qatar also suspended its World Trade Organization case against the UAE’s economic isolation efforts.
  • the Gulf crisis is far from over. The reconciliation at the GCC summit was triggered by fatigue from the blockade and by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to rebrand his tarnished image with the new U.S. administration
  • focus on symbolism over substance at the GCC summit bodes poorly for the organization’s long-term cohesion
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  • Mistrust between Qatar and the blockading states, an ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar, sharp divergences in policy toward Iran and Turkey, and geostrategic contestation in Africa could reheat the Gulf crisis in the near future
  • the recent blockade’s impacts were felt at both the elite and popular level. Hardships, such as the separation of mixed-citizenship Saudi-Qatari couples, created lasting societal rifts. Saudi and Emirati state-aligned media outlets relentlessly promoted the narrative that Qatar was a state sponsor of terrorism, while Qatari media outlets equated the UAE’s religious tolerance policies with support for idolatry. In turn, Saudi, Emirati, and Qatari publics have increasingly come to view each other as adversaries rather than as neighbors or friends
  • The ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar could derail any normalization in the Gulf. Since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the UAE and Qatar have advanced competing visions for the region’s future. The UAE has condemned Islamist civil society movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and, with few exceptions, has supported the forces of counterrevolution against those of political pluralism. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain align with the UAE. Qatar enthusiastically supported the post-Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood governments in Tunisia and Egypt and continues to encourage popular unrest in the Middle East. Turkey is the principal backer of Qatar’s vision
  • The GCC remains divided especially on Iran and Turkey, which will impede intra-bloc cooperation on security issues
  • the GCC will remain bifurcated on Iran policy between a pro-engagement bloc consisting of Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait and a pro-isolation coalition comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain
  • Due to Turkey’s operation of a military base in Qatar and Doha’s standing as the second largest foreign investor in the Turkish economy, the Turkey-Qatar strategic partnership will only tighten in the post-crisis period. Qatar’s alignment with Turkey is a source of friction with the UAE.
  • the GCC could respond incoherently to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalations in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Although countries that balance positive relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, such as Pakistan and Malaysia, benefit from the GCC’s reconciliation, the UAE-Qatar rivalry in Africa remains an unresolved source of friction. The UAE wishes to counter Qatar’s influence in Tunisia, which has grown due to large-scale Qatari investment in the Tunisian economy and Qatar-Tunisia diplomatic cooperation in Libya. Qatar has similarly capitalized on UAE-Algeria frictions, which were triggered by Abu Dhabi’s concerns about strengthening Turkey-Algeria relations and Algeria’s opposition to the UAE’s normalization with Israel.
  • The UAE and Qatar also vie for influence in Somalia. The UAE has close relations with the self-declared state of Somaliland, and Qatar aligns with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government
  • The United States should not view the GCC as a united security bloc. Regional strategies that depend on Gulf unity, such as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, should be shelved. U.S. officials should also carefully vet large-scale arms transfers to GCC countries, such as former President Donald Trump’s $23 billion arms deal with the UAE. These contracts could trigger reciprocal arms buildups that revive the Gulf crisis
  • the new state of cold peace on the Arabian Peninsula can benefit U.S. interests
  • As Qatar has returned to the GCC fold, it could act as a moderating influence on Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Biden seeks to revive
Ed Webb

It's Time to Put Climate Change at the Center of U.S. Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • If the Iran nuclear deal boosted carbon emissions because the easing of sanctions brought an additional 2 million barrels per day of Iranian oil onto the market, that was a price well worth paying to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon
    • Ed Webb
       
      Do you concur with this calculation?
  • climate change obviously needs to be at the center of U.S. energy diplomacy. For example, dialogue with OPEC nations or cooperation on strategic oil stocks to address global supply shocks should include discussion of how to prepare for an uncertain and potentially volatile period of transition away from oil
  • Expanding energy access for the 840 million people who lack access to electricity, the majority of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa, is critical for global health and development, yet support for efforts to achieve this goal must avoid following the carbon-intensive paths of other emerging economies such as India
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  • issues such as securing electricity grids around the world against cyberattacks, since a decarbonized world will depend even more on electrical power as many additional sectors—such as buildings, cars, and trucks—are electrified
  • access to rare earths and other critical minerals such as lithium and cobalt will be even more important as raw materials for batteries, solar panels, and other renewable energy technologies.
  • defense leaders should work with their counterparts in other governments and within international institutions, such in the United Nations Security Council and NATO, to integrate climate change into their security agendas. Defense planning must increasingly consider the impacts of climate change, such as the threats of extreme weather to military installations, the stresses increased disaster assistance may pose to military readiness, and the risks food or water scarcity may pose to security in fragile states
  • From the standpoint of foreign policy, stronger domestic action can also lay the groundwork for cooperation instead of conflict with the European Union, which is planning to impose carbon border tariffs on imports from countries taking inadequate climate actions.
  • foreign policy must go beyond climate and energy diplomacy to make mainstream the consideration of climate change in all foreign-policy decisions. It may not always prevail when weighed against all other national security goals, but it is too important to be ignored.
Ed Webb

Syria Comment » Archives » "Bush White House Wanted to Destroy the Syrian Sta... - 0 views

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Ed Webb

Deterrence, Mass Atrocity, and Samantha Power's "The Education of an Idealist" - 0 views

  • In Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Problem from Hell, American force is one of many foreign policy tools that can and should be bent toward civilian protection and atrocity prevention globally; for many of her critics from the left, American force is to be dismantled; for many of her critics from the right, American force should serve core national security interests and nothing more.
  • In A Problem from Hell, Power argues that US policymakers did not act to stop genocide because they did not want to; in her memoir, she relates how a room full of civil servants whose thinking had been shaped by her first book found themselves in a years-long limbo over complex human disasters in Syria and Libya. Together, these cases constitute a real-time test of the “toolbox” of interventions Power first proposed at the end of A Problem from Hell; together, they reveal both the problem at the heart of her theory of foreign policy, and the still all-too-slender slate of effective policy alternatives to force across the political spectrum.
  • Libya and Syria serve as parallel cases through which questions about the US’s role in the world are refracted. The standard narrative is as follows: the US intervened in Libya under the guise of preventing mass atrocities, this intervention ended first in regime change and then in a failed state, and Libyans now live in enduring danger; the US did not intervene to protect civilians during the Syrian Civil War, war snarled the full region into conflict, and today Syrian civilians continue to die in unspeakable ways and uncounted numbers. At each stage, the narrative is in fact more complicated, particularly if we begin by asking whether the US did in fact prevent mass atrocity in Libya and end by noting the U.S. did in fact intervene in Syria in multiple ways, but the broad lines are still instructive for understanding public debate. Would Libyans have been better off in the absence of an American-led intervention, or would they have been worse off? Would Syrians have been better off for U.S. intervention, or would they have been worse off for it?
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  • the implicit promise of force underlies each alternative set of policies Power proposes. Actors who are willing to abandon mass atrocity campaigns voluntarily may be easily deterred — but actors committed to a mass atrocity campaign could find themselves diplomatically isolated, operating under economic sanction, or threatened by prosecution, and still continue to wage campaigns of death. “Stop this or else” undergirds threats when a powerful actor makes them. The toolbox’s logic is ultimately escalatory as a result: force is a tool of last resort, but no other tool works without the latent presence of American military force.
  • confronting ongoing or imminent atrocities can require quickly shifting perpetrators’ incentives. In the immediate aftermath of the Libyan protests, for instance, Power argues rapid, joint Security Council and American action “was probably the best example in history of governments hastily using a vast array of “tools in the toolbox” to try to deter atrocities.” But this proved insufficient: “The pressures that the United States and other countries were imposing on Qaddafi’s regime would take months to reach their full effect, and we had run out of further nonmilitary steps to take to try to affect the Libyan leader’s near-term calculus.”
  • “While administration officials could say they had imposed consequences on Assad’s regime for crossing the red line, they could not specific the nature of these consequences in any detail,” she writes. “Since even Assad didn’t know the particulars of the cost he would be bearing, he seemed unlikely to be deterred from carrying out further attacks.”
  • American military force underwrites other dimensions of statecraft, and mobilizes when other deterrent measures have failed. But the problem, then, is not simply, as her critics allege, that Samantha Power is a hawk, or that she doesn’t understand which conflicts constitute core American interests — the problem is that all deterrent models of atrocity prevention rest on the threat of force.
  • UN peacekeepers are the largest deployed force in conflict zones today; UN peacekeeping constitutes an enormous part of the Security Council’s agenda; the UN peacekeeping budget is separate from and larger than the UN’s operational budget; and a heated debate on the use of force by UN peacekeepers has now been running over twenty years. Peacekeeping is an effective tool that works best when it is all carrots and few sticks — but peacekeepers today are usually charged with protecting civilians under threat of imminent violence, as well. They rarely use force, and while they seem to protect civilians from rebels well, they struggle more to protect civilians from government forces.
  • Historically, when deterrence fails, the UN Security Council has outsourced this work — instead of sending in the Marines, for example, the UN instead turns to the French, as they did in the Central African Republic, or British Special forces, as they did in Sierra Leone, or — yes — NATO, as they did in the former Yugoslavia and then Libya.
  • discussions about US restraint are nearly entirely divorced from these extremely active debates about the use of force in UN peacekeeping — and considering the two together is instructive
  • a military with stunningly excess capability demands we continually interrogate its purpose; people who live under imminent threat of violence are not marginal to US foreign policy interests unless we define them that way; and the US outsources most conflict management to the UN system, which then relies on the military might of its member states to wield force in the places most dangerous for civilians
  • If unwilling actors cannot be swayed save by the use of force, and we are reluctant to use force for practical or ethical reasons, then we are left with two options: we can address the root causes of conflict, and we can help those refugees and internally displaced people who manage to escape violence. The first set of options requires reimagining the fundamental structures of foreign policy; the second set of options is currently so politically unpopular that it is remaking domestic politics across refugee-receiving countries
Ed Webb

Mohammed bin Salman Isn't Wonky Enough - Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • Like Western investors, the kingdom’s elites are uncertain about what the new order means for the country’s economy. The new Saudi leadership has indeed created new opportunities, but many of the deep structural barriers to diversification remain unchanged. The bulk of the public sector remains bloated by patronage employment, the private sector is still dominated by cheap foreign labor, and private economic activity remains deeply dependent on state spending. Addressing these challenges could take a generation — and it will require patience, creativity, and a clearer sense of priorities.
  • While a band of Al Saud brothers used to rule collectively with the king as a figurehead, decision-making has now become centralized under one man
  • ruthlessness and willingness to take risks radically at odds with the cautious and consensual political culture of the Al Saud clan
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  • Saudi Arabia has tackled fiscal reforms more vigorously than most local and international observers expected, introducing unprecedented tax and energy price measures, including the introduction of a 5 percent value added tax, new levies on foreign workers, and increases in electricity and transport fuel prices. The government is now experimenting with new non-oil sectors with an increased sense of urgency, including information technology and defense manufacturing.
  • While space for political opposition arguably has narrowed, women will soon be allowed to drive and the religious police force that once harassed them has been almost entirely neutered. By relaxing religious controls over the public sphere, the crown prince is seeking to attract more foreign investment and facilitate diversification into tourism and entertainment
  • New policies and programs are announced constantly, while the delivery capacity of the sluggish Saudi bureaucracy continues to lag. Below the upper echelons, the Saudi state remains the deeply fragmented, bloated, and slow-moving machine that I described in my 2010 book. The government seems to have no clear strategy for reforming this bureaucracy
  • Local economic advisors fear that the majority of private petrochemicals firms — the most developed part of Saudi industry — would lose money if prices of natural gas, their main input, increase to American levels.
  • public sector employment remains the key means of providing income to Saudi nationals. Cheap foreign labor dominates private sector employment, thereby keeping consumer inflation at bay and business owners happy. Citizens, however, are parked in the overstaffed public sector. Out of every three jobs held by Saudis, roughly two are in government. The average ratio around the world is one in five. Public sector wages account for almost half of total government spending, among the highest shares in the world
  • As limits on government employment kick in, young Saudis will increasingly have no choice but to seek private jobs. But they will face tough competition on the private labor market where employers have become accustomed to recruiting low-wage workers from poorer Arab and Asian countries
  • Saudi wage demands will have to drop further if private job creation is to substitute for the erstwhile government employment guarantee. For the time being, private job creation has stalled as the government has pursued moderate austerity since 2015 in response to deficits and falling oil prices
  • The government has also underestimated how dependent private businesses are on state spending. The share of state spending in the non-oil economy is extremely high compared to other economies. Historically, almost all private sector growth has resulted from increases in public spending
  • As long as oil prices remain below $70 per barrel, the goal of a balanced budget will cause pain for businesses and limit private job creation. This will pose a major political challenge at a time when an estimated 200,000 Saudis are entering the labor market every year. More than 60 percent of the population is under 30, which means that the citizen labor force will grow rapidly for at least the next two decades.
  • It would be far more prudent to gently prepare citizens and businesses for a difficult and protracted adjustment period and to focus on a smaller number of priorities
  • The key structural challenge to non-oil growth is the way the Saudi government currently shares its wealth, most notably through mass public employment — an extremely expensive policy that bloats the bureaucracy, distorts labor markets, and is increasingly inequitable in an era when government jobs can no longer be guaranteed to all citizens. A stagnating economic pie that might even shrink in the coming years must be shared more equitably.
  • A basic income would not only guarantee a basic livelihood for all citizens, but also serve as a grand political gesture that could justify difficult public sector reforms. A universal wealth-sharing scheme would make it easier to freeze government hiring and send a clear signal that, from now on, Saudis need to seek and acquire the skills for private employment and entrepreneurship. The government could supplement this scheme by charging fees to firms that employ foreigners while subsidizing wages for citizens to fully close the wage gap between the two.
  • Focusing on such fundamentals might be less exciting than building new cities in the desert or launching the world’s largest-ever IPO — but they are more important for the kingdom’s economic future. No country as dependent on petroleum as Saudi Arabia has ever effectively diversified away from oil
Ed Webb

The Fight Against Terror Needs Better Data - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Using a leaked database from 2016 on Islamic State recruits, we were able to geographically locate where almost 600 recruits originated from in Tunisia—one of the highest exporters of foreign fighters to Syria. We then used socio-economic data from Tunisian delegations (the equivalent of a district or a county—the smallest geographic unit that could be measured) to try to find what was driving foreign fighters to go to Syria. Surprisingly, our research suggests that absolute indicators of well-being, which are intuitively linked to terrorism by many policymakers, are not related to a higher probability of joining a violent extremist group.
  • higher rates of radicalization seem to be linked to relative deprivation—the perception of being disadvantaged or not achieving the expectations one feels entitled to. This builds on previous research including Ted Robert Gurr’s seminal book, Why Men Rebel, and supports the conclusions of recent work such as Kartika Bhatia and Hafez Ghanem’s study on the linkage between economic development and violent extremism across the Middle East
  • districts with high levels of unemployment among university-educated men produced higher numbers of men joining violent extremist groups
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  • districts with high inflows of domestic migrants in search of better living conditions exported more foreign fighters
  • the problem is not one of poverty or unemployment per se but rather the unmet expectations of highly educated youth who feel the country’s social contract has failed them
  • even policies that advance the right agenda items—such as increasing employment for well-educated youths—may not make any impact in addressing radicalization if they are too broadly based or target districts with low numbers of foreign fighters
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