The Middle East, Sort Of

For an optimistic take on how recent events in the Middle East might advance American interests, there’s David Kenner in The New Republic, and Scott Peterson in the Christian Science Monitor. Kenner explains how popular resentment over Hizbollah turning its weapons against fellow Lebanese, as opposed to Israeli occupiers, might turn their battlefield success into a Pyrrhic victory. Peterson discusses how an Israeli-Syrian peace deal, admittedly a longshot, might if not drive a wedge between Syria and Iran, at least accentuate the differences in their parallel but not common regional interests. (For an even more thorough examination of where Damascus […]

Even those in America who call for a more humble American foreign policy and recognize the need to listen to foreign populations and global public opinion persist in deploying at every possible moment the most patronizing of monikers in describing their preferred allies: “moderate.” Over the past eight years, the condescending label of moderate has been applied to a variety of potential interlocutors in regional conflicts — with never a positive result. Negotiations with so-called “moderate Taliban” proved a failure; Taliban interests and unity certainly outweighed any incentives the U.S.-backed Karzai regime could muster. The much lauded effort in Iraq’s […]

The irony of great tragedies is that their smallest moments are the ones that truly touch us. Statistics and death-counts impress strategists and historians. But the image of a terrified boy crouching behind his father in the crossfire of armed fighters — and then dying in his father’s arms — has the power to melt hearts, ignite fury, and move people to action. Such was the case with Mohammed al-Dura, the Palestinian boy supposedly killed by Israeli soldiers in September 2000 during a gun battle with Palestinians. His story sparked outrage around the world and added fuel to a raging […]

Hayden: al-Qaida Near Defeat in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Elsewhere

CIA Director Michael Hayden tells the Washington Post that al-Qaida is on the run: In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership. While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza […]

Iran-Syria Defense Pact

One of the arguments advanced to justify Israel’s recent peace overtures to Syria was that a security guarantee might empower Damascus to sever its close ties to Tehran. Yesterday’s announcement of a new Syrian-Iranian defense cooperation pact, though, should put that one to rest. Some people will point to this as proof that a peace deal with Syria is unrealistic. What’s unrealistic, though, is the idea that we will somehow isolate Iran through a policy of containment that neither Iran’s allies, nor some of our own, have an interest in pursuing. At some point, it would be useful to realign […]

Iran’s Liquid Gas Politics

As an aside to Peter Kiernan’s WPR article on Iran looking towards the East for its gas pipeline projects, I just came across this brief ISNA wire report that Iran will begin exporting Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) to China and Europe in 2010. The disadvantages of LNG, from what I understand, are the processing and transportation costs. The advantage is that, once processed, it becomes a much simpler bilateral commodities transaction, as opposed to the longterm, multilateral agreements required by a pipeline. Asia’s demand for energy, as Kiernan points out, is already undermining American attempts to isolate Iran. That will […]

Driving a Bargain with Iran

The Lowy Interpreter has a must read guest post about what Iran’s nuclear negotiators have learned from the country’s hair-raising traffic maneuvers. Here’s my favorite: Principle 2: Wear them down Driving — When you drive the wrong way down a one-way street, and meet someone coming the other way, turn your engine off and start eating lunch. Eventually they will reverse. Nuclear negotiating — Take extended periods to ‘review’ new proposals. Hand out ambiguous promises of new cooperation. Your nuclear program has been the flavour of the month for a while. It won’t be forever. Clever stuff, but also revealing. […]

Getting Sensible with Iran

While on the subject of negotiating with Iran (we were on the subject, right?), via Jason Sigger of Armchair Generalist comes this Zbig Brzezinski-William Odom WaPo op-ed titled “A Sensible Path on Iran.” Their approach is just that, sensible, even if it can be accused of being optimistic about the possibilities that a Grand Bargain could offer. It’s important not to be naive about the Iranians (Ali Larijani, for example, while a bitter domestic rival of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was nonetheless far from a cream puff when it came to EU and IAEA negotiations), something I emphasized yesterday on Sirius’ Blog […]

USE OF CHILD SOLDIERS WANING — Fewer conflicts in the world today involve the use of child soldiers, but children remain on battlefields in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, according to a report released May 20 by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The number of conflicts involving child combatants has dropped from 27 to 17 over the last four years, the Coalition’s “Child Soldier Global report 2008” found. Tens of thousands of children remain on the world’s battlefields, with tens of thousands more former child soldiers suffering from a lack of available assistance […]

Two years ago, the U.N. created the “Human Rights Council” to replace the erstwhile “Human Rights Commission.” One of the instruments that the new body was given in order to overcome the glaring failings of its predecessor is the so-called country review. In the periodic reviews, the human rights record of each of the 192 U.N. member states is examined and recommendations are made for improvement. The review sessions are supposed to be marked not by the rich Western democracies making paternalistic and condescending reproaches against the world’s most brutal governments and most notorious rogue states, but rather by a […]

Earlier this month, Royal Dutch Shell and Spain’s Repsol pulled out of a proposed Iranian natural gas development project that was estimated to be worth over $10 billion. The decision by the two European energy firms to pull out of phase 13 of the South Pars project was seen as a setback for Iran’s efforts to court foreign interest in its energy sector at a time when the Bush administration is actively trying to discourage it. Shell and Repsol executives did not publicly comment on their reasons for pulling out of South Pars. But whether it was due to concerns […]

The Iran Fallacy

In case you haven’t noticed the front page, WPR has got a pretty solid one-two punch of must read articles today. The first, by Charles Crain, discusses the ways in which the Obama-McCain dust up over negotiating with enemies like Iran is divorced from the reality that we’re already negotiating with enemies like Iran. The second, by Brian Burton, dissects the ways in which the consensus view of Iran as the source of all the Middle East’s problems is divorced from the reality that the Middle East is the source of all the Middle East’s problems. I’d been meaning to […]

The sniping between Barack Obama and the GOP over negotiating with rogue state leaders and other unsavory characters is even more removed from reality than the usual campaign rhetoric. The question of whether a President Obama would sit down with Iranian leaders grabs attention, but is largely irrelevant. Far more relevant is the fact that in Iraq — the highest-stakes arena of U.S. foreign policy — Americans already routinely negotiate with their enemies. From American soldiers and Marines meeting with Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen, to American diplomats meeting with their Iranian counterparts, negotiation has been at the heart of […]

David Ignatius’s May 15 Washington Post column, “The Squeeze on the Middle East’s Moderates,” is yet another manifestation of American elites’ fallacious and increasingly dangerous tendency to blame Iran for all of the troubling developments in the Middle East. The moderate “center” of Arab politics is portrayed as “under siege” in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories by forces variously described as “Iran’s proxies,” “Tehran’s friends,“ and “Iranian-backed extremists.” This overgeneralization of the many complex problems the United States must confront in the region is a recipe for Middle East policies that ignore important local factors driving upheaval in the […]

Lonely Planet, Iran Edition

What’s it like being a harmless tourist in Iran? Judging by this post at the Lowy Interpreter, it sounds like a weird cross between a police state and Footloose. I’ve always felt that the fatal flaw of theocracy is that, by criminalizing human nature, it subverts the legitimacy of its own authority. Most people want to follow the rules. The two sure ways of keeping them from doing that is to make the rules so cumbersome that it pays to break them (e.g. French labor laws), or else by defining infractions so broadly as to include people in the criminal […]

Who Makes Peace?

A Fistful of Euro’s P O Neill raises a good point about who is really involved in a “peace deal”: When a long running conflict is finally brought to “closure”, is the deal only an arrangement between elites on each side? The question is prompted by the Northern Ireland peace process, where great progress in reducing violence and devolving powers has not been matched by more harmonious relations at the community level. He (or she, there’s no bio) draws a comparison to the Middle East, suggesting that one internal contradiction of the Bush democracy promotion agenda (besides the fact that […]

Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds

The amount of progress that’s been made since last November on the Turkish-PKK conflict is impressive, and worthy of mention. Yesterday, the Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, Nechirvan Barzani, had this to say about stopping PKK attacks originating from Iraqi territory to Turkish reporters while in Washington: Turkey’s demand — asking our territory not to be used against Turkey — is a just and righteous one. This from the nephew of KRG President Massoud Barzani, who up until a few months back was threatening to bring the fight to Ankara. PM Barzani also said of the Kirkuk referendum: […]

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