In Defense of Smugglers, and Oman

Something about this NY Times piece on Oman’s smugglers touched a sympathetic chord in me. I’m pretty tolerant towards the idea of smugglers and the black market, in general, especially for things like refrigerators and TV sets. To begin with, smugglers fill a crucial subversive role that keeps even the most legitimate of governments honest. But in this case, the Omani smugglers aren’t just contravening Western sanctions against Iran. They’re also contravening Iranian law. So whatever harm they’re doing to efforts to isolate Iran are, to my mind, balanced by the harm they’re doing to the Iranian regime’s credibility. That […]

Iran’s Nuclear Deterrent

Monday’s meeting between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the Iranian nuclear program in the spotlight. As one of the participants in the France 24 program I was on the other day put it, for Israel, “Iran and atom can’t exist.” The heart of the debate these days is how to keep that from happening,with this Patrick Barry post at Democracy Arsenal a good example of thecompeting views between whether coercion or engagement will work best.Barry discusses everything that’s changed since 2003 to diminish theU.S. ability to coerce Iran into foregoing a nuclear capacity. But amore […]

COIN of the Realm

Time constraints this week force me to actually blog, instead of posting my usual long-form essays to the blog page. So quickly, a few thoughts on the Celeste Ward op-ed in the WaPo over the weekend, which Andrew Exum flagged. The question of the Surge narrative is central to Ward’s piece, which amounts to a critical corrective to the COIN “fad.” But I found this the more interesting thread: It still isn’t clear to me that what we faced in Iraq was aninsurgency. There were many different conflicts raging simultaneously:anti-occupation movements, struggles among and between ethno-sectariangroups, the presence of foreign […]

WPR on France 24

World Politics Review managing editor, Judah Grunstein, appeared yesterday on France 24’s French-language panel discussion program, Le D├ębat, to discuss the meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Part one can be seen here. Part two can be seen here.

Promises, Promises

I couldn’t help but think, after reading this Today’s Zaman write-up of an interview with KRG President Massoud Barzani, that we’ll be leaving behind a lot of broken promises by the time we eventually pull out of Iraq. That’s not something you want to do in a country you invaded in the hopes of changing the strategic balance in the region.

Back to the Future with Iran

The speculation I’ve seen to date on the Obama administration’s approach to Iran’s nuclear program suggested that it was phasing out the demand for a freeze on uranium enrichment as a precondition for talks, instead making more intrusive IAEA inspections to protect against weaponization — the so-called Additional Protocols — the focus of any ultimate deal. Not so, according to this WSJ piece (via Friday Lunch Club). Instead, the Obama administration is likely to insist on the Additional Protocols as part of a substantial deal in addition to a “freeze for freeze” as a precondition for talks. The WSJ article […]

When President Barack Obama finally announced the location of his much-heralded speech to the Muslim world, the news came as a surprise. As a candidate, Obama had promised to give such an address during his first 100 days in office, as part of an urgent campaign to repair relations between the United States and Muslims. Observers wondered where Obama would go for the potentially historic occasion. Many believed the U.S. president would choose a democratic, Muslim-majority country for the event. Favorites included Jakarta, where Obama lived as a child. Turkey, a U.S. ally, also seemed like a good choice. Even […]

Turkey, al-Sadr and Leaving Iraq

In his WPR opinion briefing yesterday, Michael Wahid Hanna pointed out how the refusal by Sunni Arab states — and in particular Saudi Arabia — to get off the sidelines in Iraq is compromising U.S. efforts to create a diplomatic framework to stabilize the country and balance Iranian influence in anticipation of troop drawdowns. Interestingly enough, Turkey seems to have checked in at the scorer’s table and is getting ready to get in the game. And its objectives in Iraq — i.e., a non-federal state with a strong central government to prevent an independent Kurdistan, and plenty of economic development […]

Are Iraq’s Problems Now Primarily Economic?

It’s long been clear that Iraq is much more than a military problem. But with the progress on the political and security fronts of the past year or so, the biggest remaining obstacle to achieving lasting peace and stability in Iraq may now be economic. Listening to a presentation by Gen. Ray Odierno this afternoon at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, I was struck by how many of Iraq’s problems have an economic dimension. For example, Odierno repeatedly stressed the need for regional engagement. As Michael Wahid Hanna points out in his WPR briefing published today, this idea has been […]

Redrawing the Strategic Map of the Middle East

This is a great rundown by Marc Lynch of a New America Foundation panel discussion yesterday on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lynch frames it as the context by which the Obama administration can use the next few weeks of high-profile visits, press conferences and speeches to set the table for a results-based regional policy. Lynch’s summary suggests that, similarly to the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategic rethink, a good deal of the work President Barack Obama has cut out for him is convincing the actors involved not just to do things that are painful or politically costly, but to redraw their strategic maps of […]

At a recent forum on U.S.-Saudi relations in Washington, D.C., current and former Saudi officials decried the previous U.S. administration’s Middle East policies. Yet in shunning the Shiite-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a regime they deem inimical to their interests, the Saudis — along with other Sunni Arab regimes — appear to have internalized the core foreign policy impulse of the Bush administration. This myopic approach has had the perverse effect of amplifying Iran’s already outsized influence in Iraq and throughout the region. It has also fueled Iraqi suspicions about the intentions of its Sunni Arab neighbors, […]

First a Palestinian State, Then Negotiations

For anyone who enters the site through the blog, I highly recommend this WPR opinion Briefing by John Kilcullen, who argues that the time has come for unilateral U.S. recognition of the Palestinian state. It’s a provocative and thought-provoking piece, and an argument that’s impossible to dismiss out of hand. Kilcullen highlights how the peace process as currently configured conceives of statehood as a “holy grail” that must be earned, rather than as a fundamental means of achieving all the behavior expected of the Palestinians in order to “win” statehood. Perhaps most importantly, he points out that even should the […]

As the founders of the United States wrote in the Declaration of Independence, an effectively governed state that keeps order and fosters the well-being of its citizens is an essential means of guaranteeing basic human rights and civil liberties. It is also something that the Palestinians have been denied for too long now. The world seems to have delegated the decision of whether and when the Palestinians will have their own state to Israel. But negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel were already unlikely to lead to a viable Palestinian state before the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime […]

He Who Rebuilds, Wins

A quote from a Le Monde article: Think of the context that arose in the region the day after . . . Everything had to be rebuilt, from roads to buildings, both public and private . . . XXXXX made its men, its building equipment, its businesses available. Thanks to its connections to corrupt political networks, it swept up the tenders and became the true partner for reconstruction. (Translated from the French.) So who could XXXXX be? Hezbollah, circa 2006, after the Lebanon War? Hamas, circa 2009, after the Gaza War? Nope. The Mafia, circa 1980, after the Naples earthquake. […]

Turkey Offers EU a Carrot

This makes sense to me, and seems like skillful diplomacy: The day after Turkey sends its foreign minister to Cyprus to maintain Turkish Cypriot commitment to reconciliation talks, Turkish President Abdullah Gul links a Turkish green light on the Nabucco pipeline project to Turkey’s EU accession negotiations, blocked by — among other things — the Cyprus standoff. Interesting how when it’s the EU or the U.S. doing this sort of thing it’s called “carrot and stick diplomacy,” but when it’s Turkey, it’s called “linking” and “conditionality.”

COIN, Colonialism and Credibility

A big part of the American exit strategy from both Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed a big part of U.S. COIN doctrine more generally, is the de-Americanization of the conflicts through the progressive replacement of U.S. forces by indigenous security forces. The same thing can essentially be said about efforts to get Pakistan to address the Taliban insurgency in FATA and the NWFP more aggressively as well. Those efforts will obviously hit snags, as this NY Times article about the lapses in Iraqi security forces’ preparedness illustrates. There’s also something predictably counterproductive about having the Pakistani military commit the same […]

Mediating Turkish Mediation

One of the elements undermining Turkish credibility in its claims to a regional role of mediator, of course, is the fact that Turkey itself is mired in longstanding disputes, one with Armenia and the other with Greece over Cyprus. Some headway was recently made on the Armenia front, even if thorny obstacles remain (Yigal Schleifer’s got more on that here). But the Cyprus standoff has far more practical and strategic consequences in terms of NATO-EU relations. So I’m not surprised to see newly named Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu show up in Cyprus yesterday, probably to both show support and […]

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