Engaging the Enemy

The fact that the Israeli-Syrian discussions mediated by Turkey, which were confirmed today, are taking place less than a year after Israel’s airstrike on an alleged Syrian nuclear facility is pretty mindboggling. It shows that Israel is neither afraid to address what it considers security threats with force, nor to explore the possibility of negotiated resolutions. For now, the approach is limited to the “symptoms” (Syria, Hamas, if not yet Hizbollah), and not the “disease” (Iran). As Kevin Drum points out, though, any deal that is reached will depend on America buying in. And since Syria recently made it clear […]

Sons of Iraq

If you haven’t already, give David Ucko’s piece on the Sons of Iraq a read. I’m probably guilty of dismissing that particular aspect of the improved security situation too quickly. As Ucko makes clear, it’s risky and far from conclusively resolved. But it can’t be reduced to an effort to buy off guns to get them pointed in another direction, and doing so only ignores the significant opportunities it offers for real progress. The catch, as always when it comes to progress in Iraq, is consolidating it into something that resembles a cohesive national government. Ucko puts his hopes in […]

Iranian Nuclear Proposal

Via Andy Grotto of Arms Control Wonk, ISIS just leaked the much-talked about but never-before seen Iranian proposal (.pdf) to resolve regional and global conflict (but more importantly the standoff over its nuclear program). It’s a pretty bland document, but with a little reading between the lines, it looks like Tehran is basically offering to fold its nuclear program into an international consorium of uranium enrichment centers, and to expand IAEA oversight of the Iranian-based component of the resulting network. Those offers, though, come hand in hand with a call for nuclear disarmament and “[i]mproved supervision by the IAEA over […]

KENYA RIGHTS BODY URGES TRIAL OF OFFICIALS — Kenya’s minister of defense and other high-ranking officials should face trial on charges that thousands of civilians have been abused during a government crackdown that began in March in the Mt. Elgon region, the country’s state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said in a May 15 report. The commission’s report cited numerous cases of abuses perpetrated by Kenyan security forces, including sexual violence, severe food and sleep deprivation and beatings of around 4,000 victims that have no apparent connection to a militia group the government has been battling for the last […]

In the typically polarized debate on Iraq, the significance of the “Sons of Iraq” — the predominantly Sunni militias now allied with the U.S. military against insurgents and terrorists — can easily be lost. Depending on one’s point of view, the U.S. military’s new Sunni friends are either “concerned local citizens” or “opportunist insurgents” — with pro- and anti-war camps each using the phenomenon to support pre-existing political positions. As Iraq approaches provincial elections in October, however, and the United States nears its own presidential vote, it is high time to abandon easy slogans and to examine the fresh challenges […]

Hidden Draft Alert

Spencer Ackerman flags the Pentagon’s latest deployment announcement,noting how next spring’s Iraq rotation is made up entirely of NationalGuard units. I’ve mentioned in the past how the transformation of theReserves from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve is a majorcomponent of the hidden draft made necessary by the Iraq War. But thisis pretty flagrant.

Gaza Ceasefire

It looks like when it comes to negotiating with Hamas, the American political discourse is the proverbial “last one to know.” In the aftermath of yesterday’s revelation that France has conducted backchannel discussions with the group’s leadership comes word confirming the open secret of Egypt’s mediation of a Gaza ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The negotiations have been carefully orchestrated to conform to the applicable policies of non-engagement, down to the fact that the agreement will not even be officially announced. Instead, it will “unfold gradually,” and be evaluated “. . .on the basis of results on the ground.” None […]

Obama, McCain and Iran

The back and forth between Barack Obama and John McCain over what kind of threat Iran represents, and how to respond to it, is instructive for the ways in which it illustrates the degree to which 9/11 sidetracked our national conversation over foreign policy and national security. That’s perfectly understandable given the magnitude of the trauma. But as with all traumatic events, there comes a time when they need to be integrated back into the broader historical context, otherwise we run the risk of responding more to internal stimuli (ie. our perception) rather than to external stimuli (ie. reality). The […]

Easy Targets

Odd convergence when the news wires carry stories of President Bush and Osama bin Laden both chastising Arab leaders on the same day. Here’s Bush: After basking in a showy celebration of America’s close ties with Israel, President Bush criticized other Middle East leaders on Sunday, prodding them to expand their economies, offer equal opportunity to women and embrace democracy if they want peace to become reality. Here’s bin Laden: Osama bin Laden released a new message on Sunday denouncing Arab leaders for sacrificing the Palestinians and saying the head of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah did not really have […]

France and Hamas Backchannel Talks

Le Figaro revealed today that a retired French diplomat, formerly head of the Middle East bureau at the Quai d’Orsay, met with high-ranking Hamas officials last month. By informing the French government of the talks after the fact, Yves Aubin de La Messuzière allowed Nicolas Sarkozy to maintain his official stance of refusing to personally engage an organization committed in principle to Israel’s destruction. At the same time, the gathering consensus within the French foreign policy community is that isolation has not achieved the desired policy modifications, so a formal engagement with Hamas is at this point inevitable. The backchannel […]

It has become impossible to credibly argue that the Bush Administration’s Middle East policies have advanced the national interests of the United States. After shifting enormous resources toward addressing the problems of the region following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and after cautioning patience through the “birth pangs of democracy,” the results have become clear. On every issue that the administration has prioritized — promoting Arab-Israeli peace, liberating Lebanon from Syrian and Iranian influence, democratizing Egypt, stabilizing Iraq, and containing Iran — America’s foes have grown stronger and its allies have grown weaker. Even more troublingly, virtually all of […]

Targeted Assassinations in Iraq

It’s worth noting that at the same time that Col. (and soon-to-be General) H.R. McMaster was telling an American Enterprise gathering that Iran has been carrying out targeted assassinations of Iraqi officials, three Iranian embassy staff and their Iraqi driver were fired on outside Iran’s Baghdad embassy. Iran blamed the attack, in which two of the employees were seriously wounded, on American security lapses. Setting aside the question of whether or not to broadly engage Iran through direct diplomatic negotiations, the need to engage Iran on the more limited question of Iraq security has already been recognized. So far, the […]

The Big Picture on the Long War

Amidst the signs of progress in Iraq, two cautionary notes: despite the Maliki government’s solidification of its hold on power by military means, very few of the major political challenges to national reconciliation have been addressed, let alone solved; and the security gains of the past year have now exerted a “push me-pull you” pressure on Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes, which have either been appropriated or walled off behind sectarian lines. In other words, having returned the security situation to what resembles a frozen civil war (or a tenuous and sporadically violated ceasefire), […]

Turkey and the Kurds

According to this Jamestown Foundation article by David Romano, Turkey’s recent diplomatic contacts with the Kurdish Regional Government represent a major shift, and is the result of a combination of factors: . . .Turkey’s late February military incursion, which lasted only eight days, did limited damage to the PKK and may have convinced Ankara of the need to pay more attention to a variety of counter-insurgency approaches. At the same time, the incursion probably succeeded in convincing KRG leaders of the need to work harder to both contain the PKK and improve relations with Turkey. To Ankara’s credit, its February […]

America on the Sidelines

In an article for Foreign Policy, Laura Rozen reveals the degree to which the Israeli national security establishment has now moved out ahead of the Bush administration’s hardline posture in the Middle East. There’s no small amount of irony there, since it was this same Israeli national security establishment that initially reinforced Bush’s policy of isolation and containment of the region’s bad guys. But now, in the case of both Hamas and Syria, Israeli insistence has led to Washington lifting its objections to backchannel talks. Rozen suggests that while a late-administration reversal can’t be ruled out, most people are already […]

The Longterm Fallout of COIN

This is a very insightful and neglected historical analogy, and the fact that it’s made by the former head of the U.S. Special Forces Command will hopefully pre-empt any attempts to dismiss it as America-bashing. It’s become something of a conventional wisdom that the democratization of Latin America has been a net victory for American regional interests. But as Maj. Gen. Lambert points out, the fallout from the methods used to suppress and/or eradicate a generation of Marxist revolutionaries is still being felt. Gen. Lambert doesn’t mention the exacerbating factor of ambient anti-American sentiment that no amount of public diplomacy […]

While the world’s diplomatic and media attention focused on the natural disaster in Burma, a major political and strategic move reshaped the Middle East, handing yet another defeat to the West and a crucial victory to Iran: In the blink of an eye, the Islamic Republic of Iran conquered Lebanon. The mop up operations have not ended, but the key outcome is clear: Hezbollah, the militia created by Tehran and loyal to Iran’s leading Ayatollah, has gained control of Lebanon. The crisis had been simmering for months, but the boiling point came on May 7, when Hezbollah militias — heavily […]

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