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Ed Webb

Russia's Middle East Gambit - Carnegie Moscow Center - Carnegie Endowment for Internati... - 1 views

  • Russia is out to raise the stakes for U.S. military intervention, which it sees as destabilizing for the world order; to minimize the impact of Islamist radicalism and extremism born out of the Arab Spring; and to try to find political solutions to a host of issues, from the civil war in Syria to Iran’s nuclear issue to post-American Afghanistan
  • In Russian society, the long and painful experience of Soviet involvement in Afghanistan gave rise to what was called “Afghan syndrome,” i.e., shunning involvement, especially with military forces, in the Muslim world. Focused on itself and its immediate neighborhood, the Russian Federation physically quit and then neglected whole regions of former Soviet influence, including the Middle East. It continued selling arms to some of its ex-allies, including Syria, but now on a commercial rather than ideological or strategic basis.
  • Iran turned out to be a responsible neighbor and a useful partner, staying away from the Chechen conflict and even helping Russia negotiate an end to the bloody civil war in Tajikistan
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  • The Syrian civil war, however, has put Russia’s relations with the West, Turkey, the Gulf States, and Israel to a serious test
  • Unlike Europeans and Americans, Russian officials did not expect Western-style democracy to follow secular authoritarianism: What they began to brace for, early on, was a great Islamist revolution engulfing the entire region
  • In the hope of getting Western support for the Russian economic modernization agenda, Moscow decided in 2011 not to stand in the way of a humanitarian intervention in Libya. It was soon bitterly disappointed, however, when the no-fly zone in Benghazi morphed into a regime change in Tripoli. The experience of being used and then ignored by the West has informed Russia’s subsequent stance on Syria
  • From Moscow’s perspective, Assad may be problematic insofar as his methods are concerned—but his enemies constitute a real threat not just to Syria, but also to other countries, including Russia
  • Russia’s image has suffered in many parts of the Arab world, where it is portrayed as a friend of authoritarian regimes and as an ally of and arms supplier to Bashar al-Assad and therefore as a friend of Iran
  • The amount of heavy lifting required from both Washington and Moscow is stunning, and the odds are heavily against success at the new Geneva conference next month, but the alternative to a political settlement is truly frightening.

    One obstacle is that Russia has insisted in involving Iran in Syria-related discussions, to which the Gulf Arabs and the United States strongly object. Moscow is frequently referred to as Tehran’s ally and advocate. Indeed, Russia has built a nuclear power reactor in Bushehr and has supplied Iran with a range of weapons systems. Russia, for its part, sees Iran as not so much a theocracy bent on developing nuclear weapons to terrorize the region as a power that has been in the region forever and that is likely to play a more important role in the future.

  • the Iranian theocracy has more checks and balances than the old Soviet system
  • Tehran, they think, is probably aiming for an outcome in which it stops at a relatively small step before reaching a nuclear capability and trades its restraint in exchange for dropping all sanctions against it and respect for its security interests
  • According to U.S. diplomats, Moscow cooperates more with Washington on Iran than it is usually given credit for in the mainstream Western media. Unlike many in the United States, however, Russians believe that pressuring Iran has limits of usefulness: Beyond a certain point, it becomes counterproductive, undercutting the pragmatists and empowering the bad guys that one seeks to isolate
  • Russia’s attitudes toward Israel are overwhelmingly positive. Many Russians admire the social and economic accomplishments of the Jewish state and its technological and military prowess. Intense human contacts under conditions of a visa-free regime and the lack of a language barrier with a significant portion of Israel’s population help enormously
  • Putin knows that denying or withdrawing air-defense cover is the ultimate argument he needs to hold in reserve to make Assad buy into a real power-sharing deal
  • Moscow is beginning to step out of its post-Soviet self-absorption. Its main preoccupation is with security—and Islamist extremism features as a primary threat. This is a big issue. By contrast, Russia’s interests in the Middle East are relatively modest. They are centered on oil and gas exploration deals, pipeline geopolitics, and pricing arrangements; other energy opportunities beckon in the nuclear area. While Russia’s position in the regional arms bazaar has suffered in the last decade as a result of developments in Iraq and Libya (and may yet suffer more in Syria), Moscow is clearly determined to stay in the arms business. Finally, as Russia recasts itself as a defender of traditional Christian values as well as a land of moderate Islam, it is discovering a range of humanitarian causes in the birthplace of both global religions.
  • In the energy sector, Russia has accommodated to Turkey’s new role of a regional energy hub but has worked hard to protect its own share of the European Union’s natural gas market
Ed Webb

BBC News - Is Obama's drone doctrine counter-productive? - 0 views

  • "Look at Yemen on Christmas Day 2009, the day the so-called underwear bomber attempted to bring down a flight over Detroit.

    "On that day al-Qaeda numbered about 200 to 300 individuals and they controlled no territory. Now today, two-and-a-half years later, despite all the drone strikes al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has tripled in size, it's now around 1,000 members and it controls significant territory.

    "The more the US bombs, the more they grow."

  • "They are a constant presence, you hear them circling over head the whole time.

    "It's terrifying for everyone on the ground because they can hear it, like a small plane. What is so unsettling is you have no idea when this missile is going to come and kill you. There's a sense that your sovereignty is being violated.

    "… It's a serious military action. It is not this light precise pin prick that many Americans believe."

  • "What needs to happen is that the US has to do the very hard policy of diplomacy, or intelligence on the ground. The United States has a huge tool box at its disposal in Yemen and it is only using one of these tools."
Ed Webb

The Root of All Fears | Foreign Affairs - 0 views

  • Israelis know better than anyone else that the trick to developing a nuclear weapon as a small power is to drag out the process of diplomacy and inspections long enough to produce sufficient quantities of fissionable material. Israel should know: in the 1960s, it deliberately misled U.S. inspectors and repeatedly delayed site visits, providing the time to construct its Dimona reactor and reprocess enough plutonium to build a bomb. North Korea has followed a similar path, with similar results. And now, Israel suspects, Iran is doing the same, only with highly enriched uranium instead of plutonium.
  • Although many analysts question the rationality of the Iranian regime, it is in fact fairly conservative in its foreign policy. Iran has two long-range goals, achieving regional hegemony and spreading fundamentalist Islam, neither of which will be achieved if Iran initiates a nuclear exchange with Israel.
  • Israel fears that Iran’s nuclear ambitions could undermine its qualitative superiority of arms and its consistent ability to inflict disproportionate casualties on adversaries -- the cornerstones of Israel’s defense strategy.
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  • The even greater threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program is its potential to unleash a cascade of proliferation in the Middle East, beginning with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. For both of these states, the idea that Jews and Persians could have a monopoly on nuclear weapons in a region demographically and culturally dominated by Arabs is shameful. For Saudi Arabia, a security motivation will be at play as well, given its physical proximity to Iran and the strategic imperative of deterring any Iranian threat to Saudi Arabia’s oil-production facilities.
  • The possibility that Israel may no longer be capable of forcing peace upon those who deny its right to exist is beginning to dawn on many Israelis. Whether Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear infrastructure or not, the time has come for Israel’s defense community to develop a strategic doctrine for long-term coexistence that does not rely on a posture of invincibility.
Ed Webb

Iraq War - Salon.com - 1 views

  • Seasoned observers find preposterous the prospect that a crash training program could double the size of both the police and the army and turn them into effective, upright and independent security forces in the space of two years or so. (Obama wants to begin drawing back down U.S. forces in only 18 months.) Nor would mere basic training address the problems of illiteracy, drug use, corruption, desertion and ethnic grievances.
  • Obama is in danger of being misled by the inside-the-Beltway think tank consensus on what happened in Iraq, and of applying those "lessons" to Afghanistan. Even if the two actually resembled one another, the Washington story about Iraq is full of holes. But they are very different countries, societies and situations. Bush caught a break with his surge, inasmuch as it coincided with a massive shift in the local power balance. Obama will have to be very lucky indeed to catch a similar break in Afghanistan.
Ed Webb

The Afghan decision | Marc Lynch - 0 views

  • Al-Qaeda is not really active in Afghanistan anymore, and it is not equivalent with the Taliban (either the Afghan or Pakistani variants).  Al-Qaeda Central still matters, but the decentralized network and ideological narrative around the world no longer depends on it.   Nothing the U.S. does or does not do in Afghanistan will defeat al-Qaeda -- the failure of that movement will happen for its own reasons, if it happens (as it already largely has in the Arab world).

    The moment where Obama recognized this reality was both reassuring and terrifying:  when he mentioned Somalia and Yemen.  He understands that Afghanistan is not the only, or even the primary, location where those motivated by al-Qaeda's ideas can operate.  But  if the next move is to bring  governance and stability, and counter-terrorism and COIN, to every ungoverned space on Earth -- or even every Muslim-majority ungoverned space on Earth -- then we are truly facing bankruptcy.  Intellectually, financially, militarily, and politically.   We can't afford to do this in Afghanistan. We certainly can't afford to do it in Somalia and Yemen... even if we should, which I strongly doubt.
  • I haven't heard anybody yet say that they believed that Obama would really start drawing down in June 2011, no matter what he says.  And yet the strategy depends upon that commitment being credible, because that is what is supposed to generate the urgency for local actors to change.
  • the best way for skeptics such as myself to help this strategy to succeed is to keep a sharp focus on the proposed mechanisms of change, demanding evidence that they are actually happening, and to hold the administration to its pledges to maintaining a clear time horizon and to avoiding the iron logic of serial escalations of a failing enterprise.
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  • Generating domestic pressure to make his commitments on a time horizon and this not becoming an endless series of futile escalations credible will be one of the most important things which Obama's skeptical supporters can do over the next year.
Rebecca Ben-Amou

Pakistan officials wary of Obama's strategy for Afghanistan - washingtonpost.com - 0 views

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    The Pakistani government is concerned with the possibility of adverse effects that could come from Obama's plans in Afghanistan. Many Pakistani civilians have been harmed in the past few years from the war, and the government fears the continuation of this pattern.
Jim Franklin

Al Jazeera English - CENTRAL/S. ASIA - Afghans react to Obama troop plan - 1 views

  • "I was expecting Obama to announce the withdrawal of 30,000 troops within two months but unfortunately, he did the opposite which will increase killings of both Americans and Afghans."
  • Pakistan fears a US troop surge in Afghanistan would force fighters to flee to its border areas, particularly in the southwestern Baluchistan province where the government is already struggling to end a low-level insurgency by tribal fighters.
  • "We couldn't solve the Afghanistan problem in eight years, but now the US wants to solve it in eighteen months? I don't see how it could be done."
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  • "It is a bold approach and there's no guarantee of success," he said. "Wars tend to consume presidencies and this is now Obama's war."
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