ASHKELON, Israel — There is a hint of political schizophrenia in the Middle East peace process. Even as outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declares that Israel and the Palestinians are tantalizingly close to a peace deal, rocket fire from Gaza is reaching deeper than ever into Israel. The latest Israeli community now enduring life under regular rocket attacks is this Israeli coastal city, Ashkelon, whose targeting by militants raises the stakes in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians of Gaza. Israeli negotiators and Palestinian Authority leaders may well be making progress in their peace talks, but a major […]

Gates Stays?

The NY Times is reporting that it’s almost official: Secretary of Defense Bob Gates will stay on at the Pentagon in the Obama adminsitration, although it’s not certain for how long. I think the political optics of what signal this sends regarding Democrats ability to manage national security rightly take a back seat here to the fact that Gates has been very impressive in effecting the institutional changes necessary to support the operational needs of two ongoing wars. But the Pentagon’s final internal armistice lines (COIN vs. conventional and hard vs. soft power in Iran, for instance) have not been […]

Hamdan and the Convoluted Logic of Gitmo

The AP is reporting that Salim Hamdan, otherwise known as bin Laden’s driver, will be serving out the rest of his sentence in Yemen. Robert Glyn Williams wrote a WPR feature just last month on Hamdan’s defense, for which he served as an expert witness. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is fighting a court order to release the 17 Uighur Muslim detainees who have essentially been cleared of enemy combatant status but fear being tortured if returned to their homeland in China. I don’t write about this very often, because there’s already a force of nature named Scott Horton who covers […]

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) released Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World last week, with its avowed purpose to “stimulate strategic thinking about the future by identifying key trends, the factors that drive them, where they seem to be headed, and how they might interact.” The release of the report was more specifically timed to inform the thinking of the incoming Barack Obama administration about the broader strategic challenges and opportunities it will confront upon assuming office on Jan. 20, 2009 — and before officials of the new administration become overwhelmed by their daily inboxes. The authors of Global Trends […]

Reconstruction Progress in Iraq

As much as the improved security in Iraq, the fact that Stuart Bowen is no longer tearing out any new ones is a sign of the improvements we’ve made with regard to warzone reconstruction operations. What this all means in the medium- to longrun, I find myself wavering on. It’s still possible that the country might degress into a Sunni-Shiite-Kurd free for all once we’re gone. (News that the Kurds have been arming themselves independently of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense somehow doesn’t come as such a shock.) And if it does, the past two years will have functioned as […]

ISTANBUL, Turkey — This past July, the president of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, spoke to an assembled crowd of Shiite Turks, known as Alevis. The speech, calling for unity and acceptance of minorities, came less than a month after Gul’s Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP) was spared closure by the constitutional court for anti-secular activity. Much of the Turkish press hailed the moment as a new beginning, the start of a more inclusive and tolerant atmosphere in the country. However, three months later, with the Kurdish dominated southeast alight with riots and the Alevis holding a 50,000-strong demonstration in Ankara […]

Syria’s Influence Inflation

Lots of Syria news to digest at the moment, and not all of it terribly coherent. A good place to start, though, is this Brookings paper by Bilal Saab (via Friday Lunch Club). This, in particular, positively leaped off the page: Syria’s pragmatic statecraft during this episode did not emerge in avacuum but is part of a larger tactical reorientation in foreignpolicy. That reorientation began with the 34-day war between Hizbullahand Israel in southern Lebanon in summer 2006. The duration of thatconflict and the extent of the damage Israel’s punitive air strikesinflicted on Lebanon impressed upon Syrian leaders just how […]

Bob Gates & COIN

Discussing Barron YoungSmith’s TNR post about the potential tension between Michele Flournoy (the head of President-elect Barack Obama’s Defense Dept. transition team) and Bob Gates should Gates stay on as Sec. of Defense, Kevin Drum writes: Gates has taken the position that the Army should focus almostexclusively on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare in the future. . . Now, I’ve been keeping a wary eye on the body-snatching COIN pods ever since they touched down, primarily because of how tempting the vision of warfare that they offer is to both the humanitarian left and the hawkish right. I’m also skeptical of […]

JERUSALEM — Political posters are beginning to appear on Israeli streets, sending early signals to voters in advance of next February’s parliamentary election. In Jerusalem, discreet posters show Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu touting his pledge to “Watch over Jerusalem.” In more progressive parts of the country, the ever-serious visage of Kadima’s Tzipi Livni, the current foreign minister, highlights her pragmatic vow to do “What is good for Israel.” With three months to go, the tight contest is shaping up as a duel of personalities between Netanyahu and Livni. Livni, who failed to form a coalition after Ehud Olmert announced his […]

More U.S.-Iraq SOFA Text

As a followup to the purported SOFA document that I flagged over at Iraq Oil Report, McClatchy (via Kevin Drum) has now posted a “translation from the Arabic” version, which seems to match it. (I didn’t go through word for word, but I checked it against a few key paragraphs.) So while the Bush administration was busy trying to keep this document under close wraps, not just from the American public but from the American Congress as well, the Iraqi government was busy leaking it to as many Western news outlets that it could find. Now, I’ve seen some quotes […]

Russia Plays the Cyprus Wedge?

Nothing has been signed yet, but Kommersant is reporting that Cyprus President Dmitris Christofias will be shopping for Russian anti-missile systems, along with some tanks and helicopters, during his upcoming visit to Moscow. I’m not sure what to make of this. Should Russia agree, it seems like a pretty provocative gesture towards Turkey, which was already a bit rattled by the Georgia War. Russia is one of Turkey’s major trading partners, and Christofias was elected on a platform of Cypriot reconciliation. So it would seem that closer integration — as long as it weren’t of the military hardware variety — […]

The Foreign Policy’s Shadow World

Don’t miss Laura Rozen’s MoJo feature on the shadow world of foreign policy: This is a story of the other world, the one whose real power playersnever show up in the CNN headline crawl. It’s the story of a man with ahabit of popping up, Zelig-like, at the nexus of foreign policy and thekinds of businesses that thrive in times of war — security contracting,infrastructure development and postwar reconstruction, influence andintelligence brokering. Besides being a great read, it shows both the extent to which “official” diplomacy is just the tip of the iceberg, but also how what goes on beneath […]

Text of U.S.-Iraq SOFA

I pass this on with the caveat that I have no idea how credible it is, but the Iraq Oil Report site is claiming to have a text of the SOFA agreement signed in Baghdad over the weekend. The text is available here as a Word document. If this is, in fact, the actual document, most of the leaks regarding the military aspects seem to have been accurate. The clause forbidding the U.S. from using Iraqi territory to launch an attack on foreign powers is there (Art. 27, sec. 3), and the Iraqis seem to have gotten what they wanted […]

Iraq Cabinet Approves SOFA

With regard to the SOFA approved by the Iraqi cabinet over the weekend (NY Times article here), I’ve got to agree with Kevin Drum’s assessment of the political optics: This is good for the Iraqis, who really do need the U.S. presence for alittle while longer; good for George Bush, who’s getting a slightlylonger timetable than Barack Obama would have negotiated; and good forObama, since this essentially makes his decision to withdraw into abipartisan agreement. After all, conservatives can hardly complainabout Obama following a timetable that was negotiated and approved byBush. In terms of operational nuts and bolts, I’m curious […]

President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Nov. 30, 2006, in Amman, Jordan. White House photo by Paul Morse.

President-elect Barack Obama will inherit an Iraq that has experienced substantial improvements in security, but remains rife with unresolved internal issues. If not handled carefully, Iraq's fragile progress could dissolve and the country could become a dangerous foreign policy minefield for yet another American president. Here are the top 10 issues the next administration must address: 1. Determination of Objectives: The Bush administration invested vast resources in the hopes of achieving maximalist aims in Iraq. Though the results in Iraq have clearly fallen short of those aims, the Obama administration needs to formulate a policy that is more comprehensive and […]

The Turkey Fan Club Grows

Regular readers of he blog will know that I’ve had my eye on Turkish foreign policy for a while. For one thing, Turkey’s emergence as a regional mediator demonstrates the power of maintaining good relations across the faultlines of conflicts (its so-called “zero problems” policy). For another, it serves as a model of what I’ve called “Middle Power Mojo,” or the use of regional middle powers to lighten America’s footprint while at the same time advancing its interests. Now a flurry of posts responding to Turkey’s offer to mediate between the U.S. and Iran — from Democracy Arsenal (Patrick Barry […]

AMMAN, Jordan — The front page of Wednesday’s Jordan Times featured a photograph of a helmeted Israeli soldier pushing a grimacing young Palestinian’s face into the ground, with one fist pressing hard against the jaw of his youthful victim and the other one twisting the Palestinian’s arm behind his back. The previous Sunday’s paper had a picture of a bloodied little boy, with a caption explaining the child was a Palestinian “beaten up by Jewish settlers.” Every day, it seems, the paper brings another shocking image of Israeli brutality, with captions that describe a black-and-white scenario of utter evil against […]

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