The Syrian Border

Daniel Levy at Prospects for Peace parses all the possible interpretations of the cross-border strike into Syria so I don’t have to. What’s most striking, though, is that even someone as seriously plugged in as Levy ends up reading tea leaves. But it makes for some interesting speculation. Since he wrote that post, I’ve seen reports that Syria had withdrawn troops from the Iraqi border, basically curtailing whatever security cooperation they had been extending. But according to Voice of America, not only have the Syrians denied that, they also seem to be taking a pretty measured and even conciliatory stance […]

LONDON — The business of war-fighting just got more difficult. These days, British troops — over-stretched, under-funded and ill-equipped — must contend not only with implacable enemies abroad, but also with a seemingly disinterested Defense Ministry and a sometimes hostile public at home. No surprise, then, that morale has plummeted. The low level of morale was highlighted in a survey — the first ever — that was conducted among more than 24,000 service personnel across the armed forces. It revealed that almost half are ready to quit. The reasons are not hard to find. During October alone, the British government […]

Ten years after al-Qaida declared war against the United States, andseven years after the U.S. followed suit, much of what we know aboutthe group is filtered through the lens of the Global War on Terror, aconcept that hides and distorts as much as it reveals. In reducingal-Qaida to a terrorist organization, we have ignored the broadersocio-cultural movement it represents. The result has been to overlookthe range of its activities on the one hand, while exaggerating itsprospects for success on the other. To formulate a soundstrategic response to al-Qaida, we must first have a clearunderstanding of just what kind of enemy […]

Cyber Crackdowns in Malaysia and Turkey

It appears to be a bad week for free speech online, as both the governments of Malaysia and Turkey are taking steps to crack down on bloggers. In Malaysia, widely read blogger and government critic Raja Petra Kamaruddin has been ordered to serve two years in prision “without charge or trial under a draconian law known as the internal security act,” according to Agence France-Presse. Watch the AFP video report on the situation. For background on Malaysian bloggers’ ongoing fight for freedom of speech, see this May 2007 piece by WPR contributor Fabio Scarpello. Meanwhile, a Turkish court has banned […]

AMMAN, Jordan — Ever since Barack Obama proved to be a viable presidential candidate, news that America might elect a man with an African father, a Muslim stepfather, and a widely multicultural background to the White House has electrified the world. After eight years of the Bush administration, analysts suggested that simply electing Obama, regardless of any subsequent policy changes, would begin solving America’s severe image problems around the globe. Nowhere was this phenomenon supposed to manifest itself more powerfully than in the Middle East. If America elects Obama, the argument went, Muslims will give Washington the benefit of the […]

The Syrian Strike and the Iraq SOFA

I mentioned how the cross-border attack into Syria was certain to unnerve the Iraqis, and sure enough, a government spokesman condemned it today. I did some digging to see whether this sort of attack would even be allowed by U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, and the best I could come up with was this dated draft version of the broader strategic framework agreement (.pdf) via the Guardian: . . .[T]he U.S. does not seek to use Iraq (sic) territory as a platform for offensive operations against other states. (p. 2) That clause is sufficiently vague to be meaningless. The attack […]

Europe’s ATM

It’s ironic that just a week after Nicolas Sarkozy proposes a coordinated European economic governance that emphasizes European sovereign wealth funds designed to protect European companies in strategic industries from “cash-flush foreign investors,” Gordon Brown heads off to the Middle East to try to convince some of those cash-flush foreign investors to sink some of their cash into the IMF’s bailout fund, dangerously undercapitalized at $250 billion. (Question: Will the IMF impose the same kind of Draconian restrictions it applied to Third World economies when it comes time to bail out industrialized Western nations?) Meanwhile, Robert Manning at the New […]

In early October, news and rumors spread through the city of Mosul in northern Iraq that insurgents were targeting the area’s Christian population. The attacks were apparently aimed at driving the Christians out of town — a sort of “religious cleansing.” The anti-Christian campaign reportedly began in September, with “death threats through letters, SMS and e-mails,” according to Mustafa Gundogdu, a researcher from the U.K.-based Kurdish Human Rights Project. (Iraq’s minority Kurdish population, concentrated in self-governing Kurdistan, includes many Christians, although not all Iraqi Christians are Kurds.) Gundogdu told World Politics Review that the threats were signed by a group […]

Syrian Cross-Border Strike

Laura Rozen’s got the background over at the MoJo blog on what the U.S. was after in the crossborder strike into Syria: an AQI operative named Abu Ghadiya. Apparently the American government had been trying to get the Syrians to hand him over for a while, and finally got tired of waiting. There will always be operational justifications for this sort of strike in a counterinsurgency, and it’s not like we’ve been making a habit of violating the territorial integrity of Iraq’s neighbors. In fact, if even half of what we’ve been hearing about Iran and Syria is true, we’ve […]

Getting Syria Away From the Table

Without indulging in any speculation about whether or not it representsa message of some sort, and if so to and from whom, the Americanspecial ops strike on Syrian territory is likely to have severalconsequences. The first and probably most significant is to make aSyrian-Israel peace deal less likely. Syria might be powerless toretaliate for the humiliation of repeated violations of itssovereignty, but it still has some leverage in the neighborhood, andthis sort of thing won’t make Damascus very enthusiastic about givingit up, especially with the prospect of a Netanyahu government poised to take power in Israel. That in turn clouds […]

Editor’s Note: This article is one of three WPR features on the theme “The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know.” WASHINGTON — At 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 11, 2007, a suicide bomber blew the Moorish-style facade off the building that housed Algeria’s Constitutional Council, which oversees the country’s elections. Ten minutes later, elsewhere in Algiers, a truck containing 1,800 pounds of explosives and another suicide attacker leveled part of a United Nations building. The blasts killed 42 people — including 17 U.N. employees — and injured 158 others. They were also the surest sign to date that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb […]

Editor’s Note: This article is one of three WPR features on the theme “The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know.” Two months ago, on the seventh anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, dozens of American scholars published articles trying to determine whether al-Qaida is stronger or weaker today than it was seven years ago. Nearly all of the analysis, though, viewed al-Qaida exclusively through the theoretical lens of counterterrorism, an approach that essentially defines the organization by its choice of tactics. But ignoring the many social, cultural and historical factors that effect al-Qaida’s relation to its principal constituency, the “Arab street,” skews […]

Editor’s Note: This article is one of three WPR features on the theme “The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know.” Salim Hamdan was not a typical al-Qaida prisoner. For seven years prior to his capture in Afghanistan in November 2001, Hamdan had been Osama bin Laden’s personal driver and bodyguard. He had been caught red handed on an al-Qaida film carrying an AK 47 while protecting the al-Qaida chief, and as if that weren’t enough, pictures of Hamdan’s car at the time of his arrest showed two SAM 7 heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles there on the backseat. Hardly the normal accoutrement for an […]

Checkbook Diplomacy

I got an email alerting me to MDC’s analysis over at Foreign Policy Watch of the export guarantees proposal for Iranian enriched uranium that I mentioned earlier, reminding me that this was in fact where I first learned of the idea. So a belated citation is in order. He raises a good point about how exactly to determine what constitutes “excess” uranium, considering Iran has no functioning reactors, and the nuclear fuel for the one that’s soon to go online at Bushehr was delivered by Russia. This is, of course, one factor that raised so many red flags about Iran’s […]

The Foreign Policy of Obama and McCain

I just got finished reading David Sanger’s NY Times article comparing the foreign policy positions of the two presidential candidates. Like David Shorr at Democracy Arsenal, I agree that it’s “probably the best stand-in we’ll get for the foreign policy debate that might’ve been,” and an illustration of how the much-derided written press can often confront candidates’ position more effectively than the presidential debate format, which veers towards the theatrical for obvious reasons. Like Shorr, too, I agree that John McCain’s late reversal on the acceptability of an NPT-compliant uranium enrichment program in Iran is probably closer to my own […]

A high-profile trial of a shadowy Turkish ultra-nationalist organization dubbed Ergenekon, after the mythic birth place of the Turkic race, got under way in the Silvri Prison Complex near Istanbul on Monday amid fervent demonstrations. The Turkish press has long anticipated the commencement of the trial, which is the culmination of a 16-month investigation and 2455-page indictment that has divided opinion in the country. The Islamist ruling AK Party has long championed the case as the first crackdown in Turkey on “the deep state,” an alleged covert, nationalist cabal of military officers, intelligence agents and policemen acting outside the judicial […]

The Narrative of COIN

It comes just before the end, but eventually Warren Strobel’s latest McClatchy gem on the largely successful American COIN operation in the Philippines makes the point that leaped out to me after the first couple of paragraphs: While this mission could provide lessons for other global arenas, it’s also unique in many ways. The Philippines is a majority Catholic country with a functioning central government; a long, if checkered, relationship with the U.S.; and leaders willing to fight terrorism. Of all those criteria, I’d say the functioning central government is the most significant. When you start out with a policy […]

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