One thing I’ve discovered from writing columns over the years is that they’re a great way to elicit invitations to sit down and talk with various players in the national security establishment. All you have to do is mention somebody’s office and you’re likely to get an e-mail from their public affairs officer eager to set your thinking straight. And so it was last week that I had the chance to converse with Ambassador John Herbst, three years in the job now as the State Department’s Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. I earned the invitation by describing the CRS job […]

IAEA Iran Report: A Courteous Brush Off

Recent reports that IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei is resisting pressure from Western governments to make public intelligence reports demonstrating past Iranian weaponization efforts as part of its nuclear program got SWJ’s Robert Haddick pretty worked up. But they strike me as a bit disingenuous. After all, as the IAEA’s just-released Iran report (.pdf, via ACW) makes clear, the agency is having some trouble getting Tehran to respond to the weaponization claims because of restrictions placed by the source countries on sharing the intelligence with the Iranians. So if ElBaradei has his hands tied on sharing the dossier with the Iranians, […]

The Middle East’s Strategic Obsolescence

Against my better instincts, I’m going to try to develop the thought that I pithily summarized yesterday by saying that I returned from a two-week vacation and media fast with the sense that the Middle East is “overrated” as a strategic focus of U.S. interests. Against my better instincts, because it goes against 40 years of U.S. strategic calculations, and involves an iconoclastic re-evaluation of the longterm impact of President George W. Bush’s ill-advised, badly intentioned and poorly conceived decision to invade Iraq. I will then try my best to publish the post before second thoughts lead me to dispatch […]

Outside the Walls

Something funny happened after two weeks without reading a newspaper, looking at a computer screen or checking e-mail. In many ways, it felt like I “checked out” of the world. But in others, it also felt like I checked back into it. Part of it was looking out over the ocean, the horizon and, at night, the stars — as opposed to online news reports — to find out what would be driving events each day. But part of it was also reconnecting with a more concrete, grassroots experience, not so much of the world, but of my world. Focusing […]

President Barack Obama came to power with a not-so-secret plan to reshape the Middle East. His team envisioned a fundamental realignment in the region, with an eye towards resolving a host of longstanding conflicts that made it a global focal point of political instability. A key element of that plan centered on one country: Syria. By reconstituting Washington’s relationship with Damascus, the reasoning went, Obama would manage to radiate improvements outward to a host of regional disputes. Seven months into the Obama administration, Washington’s efforts to pry Syria from its tight alliance with Iran and persuade it to start working […]

In one of the most quoted aphorisms in international relations, the Prussian political philosopher Carl von Clausewitz said that “war is merely a continuation of politics.” In other words, for every war that has been waged, we can point to political aims underpinning its waging. Take some recent examples. In large part, the 1991 Persian Gulf war was about exerting power: It sought to prevent an invasion of Saudi Arabia and oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait. However, in Vietnam, the end goal was political influence: The war was fought to keep the south from falling to the communists. The examples […]

The small piece of land on the eastern Mediterranean known as the Gaza strip has seen its share of violence over the decades, with a series of conflicts fought along its narrow alley ways and on its sandy beaches. The latest round of fighting, gun battles that left two dozen men dead last weekend in a mosque in southern Gaza , opened yet another chapter in Gaza ‘s troubled history. Unlike other recent clashes, the fighting this time did not pit Israelis against Palestinians. It did not involve loyalists of the rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas competing for power. […]

Mideast Peace: Obama and the Endgame

Whether it is better to continue the quest for Mideast peace with small steps, or go for a “grand bargain,” is a question that has been hotly debated for quite some time. Earlier this year, two preeminent experts on the subject, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, offered President Obama their advice about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they repeated the core of their argument in a recent New York Times op-ed piece that was published under the ominous title “The Two-State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything.” Particularly the longer of the two pieces made for rather surprising reading, because Agha and Malley […]

Gays Targeted for Violence in Iraq

The ongoing security fears every Iraqi grapples with are multiplied for members of the country’s gay community, which is being targeted for punishment by homegrown militias across the country, Human Rights Watch says in a new report. Several hundred men are believed to have lost their lives as a result of a campaign against gays that began in earnest in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City earlier this year and has spread to other cities, according to the report, “They Want Us Exterminated: Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq.” Punishments carried out by militia members range from beatings […]

Will the White House approve even more troops for Afghanistan? As Gen. Stanley McChrystal reevaluates the war strategy, he has reportedly considered as many as 30,000 more, and he’s making a strong case. So much that an interview with the Wall Street Journal resulted in a front page headline declaring the, “Taliban Now Winning.” But the troop numbers don’t tell the whole story. Or, the story doesn’t tell all the troop numbers. Almost all counts circulated these days consist of “boots on the ground” assessments. Only, as a single measure, boots on the ground is only a part of the […]

UNESCO Vacancy a Political Battleground

In September, UNESCO, the Paris-based educational, scientific and cultural subsidiary of the United Nations, will elect a new director general for the next four years; but what started as almost a foregone conclusion has become another typical battle over a hotly contested senior U.N. post. The original front runner to succeed outgoing UNESCO head Koichiro Matsuura was Farouk Hosni, Egypt’s culture minister. According to informal U.N. rules of regional power sharing, the new director should come from the Arab world. But Hosni became a controversial figure following a statement last year that he would “burn Israeli books in Egyptian libraries” […]

World Citizen: Fatah Conference Produces Mixed Messages for Peace

Fatah, the party that dominates the Palestinian Authority, just held its first official gathering in 20 years andsome reportsclaimed the conference produced a strong commitment to peace and reconciliation within a rejuvenated organization. The reality is not quite as rosy. The Fatah that emerged from this event has a chance of strengthening its standing against Hamas, and there is a possibility, however remote, that some of the new faces in the leadership can start the scrubbing required to clean up the party’s reputation as a den of corrupt politicians living the high life on international aid — a reputation highlighted […]

In July, the Israeli navy — a force mostly confined to the eastern Mediterranean — sent three of its most powerful warships through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea. A Dolphin-class diesel-powered submarine passed through the canal on July 3. Two Sa’ar 5-class corvettes followed, 10 days later. The ships trained alongside Egyptian forces, then returned to Israel by mid-July. It was the largest long-range naval deployment in recent history for the 5,500-strong Israeli navy, and the first since 2005 for an Israeli sub. The naval deployments are part of a wide range of activities meant to reinforce Israel’s […]

Driven by food security concerns, governments around the world have begun purchasing land in developing nations for agricultural purposes. Foreign land acquisition — known by critics as “land grab” — responds to worries over global problems that include growing water scarcity, teeming populations, increasing demand for food and bio-fuels, and climate change impacting arable land and its productivity. This trend necessitates an international framework or code of conduct that can protect small local farmers as well as the economy and the ecology of the host country from potentially negative impacts. Such a code would seek to resolve the question of […]

Turkey’s Kurdish Initiative

Great article by Yigal Schleifer on a soon-to-be-unveiled Turkish initiative to address Kurdish grievances. So far, there’s not a lot of detail about the nuts and bolts, but there are a number of reasons to be encouraged. Not least of those is that Ankara has finally acknowledged that the PKK alone is not the problem, and that the military effort to dislodge them from northern Iraq is not the solution. Perhaps the most worrisome sign is this: Dogu Ergil, a professor of political science at Ankara University,says the Kurdish initiative could be hurt by what he sees a lack ofconsultation […]

An Alternative to Arms Control Every Washington wonk dreams that a new president will pick up his or her agenda. When it comes to advocates for nuclear arms control, that dream seems to be coming true. On the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal in January 2007, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn voiced a clarion call for the “road to zero,” urging other former high-level officials from countries around the world to join them in pushing for the global abolition of nuclear weapons. The following year, only months before the presidential election, George Perkovich and […]

While headlines focus increasingly on President Barack Obama’s responses to the nuclear programs of North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan, the new administration has been quietly investing a substantial amount of diplomatic time and capital in a somewhat obscure meeting that nevertheless could have significant implications for Obama’s nonproliferation agenda. The meeting, which will take place at the United Nations nearly a year from now, is the latest in a regularly scheduled series of gatherings of signatory states to review the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. To a significant degree, the Obama administration’s posture to date on a variety of nonproliferation issues has […]

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