In examining possible approaches to Iran policy in my last several columns, I concluded that “focusing on deterrence in the short run while increasing efforts to promote regime modification — by internal means — over the long haul” might end up being the most effective one. Some of the feedback I received suggested that I was being too pessimistic about current efforts to bring about a new round of punitive sanctions on Iran, and that there were signs that even Russia and China were moving closer to the U.S. position. Those hopes received a serious setback on Thursday, when Russia […]

As much as a military effort, the war against al-Qaida has been a battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. At one time, many Muslims admired al-Qaida for its brazen opposition to Western domination, and many Westerners feared that the organization might draw Muslim communities into a civilizational war with the West. Immediately after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, it was not always clear how that battle for Muslim hearts and minds would end up. But with the passage of time, we now have a good idea. Al-Qaida has lost. And as a result, in an […]

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Well, as you can see, I’ve changed the title a bit, because I can’t seem to limit myself to links. So think of it as “links plus.” – U.S.-Syria rapprochement off to a bumpy start. This sort of strategic reassurance to established friends is inevitable in a shifting playing field, so expectations management in the short term is in order here, especially with regard to Syria’s relations with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. The potential payoff is in the mid-term timeframe, if domestic politics allows the Obama administration to hold course. – The head of Russia’s ground forces said that they […]

With the United States currently fighting two wars abroad and facing a health care crisis and an economy on life-support at home, Pentagon officials are hoping to meet a looming threat to America’s future global dominance — not to mention national security — by boosting capacity in elementary school classrooms across the nation. In January, the Pentagon approved a proposal by their risk-taking research agency, DARPA, to invest $45 million into efforts to increase enrollment in computing, science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs (CS-STEM). To do so, DARPA wants to develop extracurricular initiatives to target and engage elementary aged kids, […]

If you want to get an early read on the ultimate success or failure of the Obama administration’s policies for the Middle East, keep an eye on Syria. From the earliest days of the administration, even before it assumed power, its planned strategy for dealing with a number of conflicts in the region has included changing Syria’s behavior. After all, Damascus has not only complicated life for U.S. forces in Iraq, it has also proven over the years to be an important ally of the Iranian regime and a key partner of radical militant organizations in Lebanon and Gaza. Syria […]

On Feb. 16, following decades of disruption, Turkey and Iraq restored a rail link running from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to Gaziantep in southern Turkey, via Syria. The move is a concrete illustration of Turkey’s increased efforts to develop commercial ties with Iraq, initiatives that Ankara has in turn used to establish a platform upon which it can deepen its diplomatic role and limit destabilizing spillover effects from its volatile neighbor. The strategy has paid off, as demonstrated by the recent visits to Ankara of a host of Iraqi political players — including ‘Ammar al-Hakim, Humam Hammoudi and […]

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Director of Harvard’s Negotiation Research Project Robert Mnookin talks about the ramifications of a nuclear Iran. Mnookin says that a nuclear Iran will cause a domino effect with its neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia, wanting to become a part of the nuclear club. The realization of which, he says, would be detrimental to international security.

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WorldFocus’ Daljit Dhaliwal interviews Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment about the state of affairs in Iran. Sadjadpour describes the Basij, an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary guard, as “boy scouts” in some rural parts of Iran. However, he says there are some hard-line elements to the organization that are more like “a cross with the Hells Angels and the Taliban.” He says this particular faction of young men is responsible for violently suppressing protesters with the blessing of Tehran.

We Americans tend to have an overly inflated sense of our place in this world. If there is an enemy, we must defeat it. If a global challenge looms, we must lead the way forward. When somebody reaches for a weapon, we must strike before they can use it (against us, naturally). And should we fail to do so, we would be to blame for whatever tragedy might result. That’s not to say that our sense of global responsibility doesn’t have deep and logical roots. Armed with the world’s largest gun after World War II, we set about creating an […]

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The IAEA’s latest Iran report is available here (via Arms Control Wonk). As Laura Rozen notes, the good news is that Iran appears to be experiencing significant technical difficulties in its already existing LEU enrichment efforts. But that’s about where the good news ends. Now, part of the difficulty in fully registering the bad news is that a lot of it involves technical details that are more the province of the ACW gang than political analysts. But another complicating factor is the diplomatic language used by the IAEA report itself. For obvious reasons, a technical report cannot categorically define or […]

Pundits and politicians alike have been making a number of predictions of late about Iran’s future trajectory. To the extent that the scenarios they are outlining serve to justify the policy options they propose and endorse, it may be useful to step back and examine the logic that guides them. After all, many of the assumptions that drove our approach to Iraq policy in the run-up to our invasion of that country were based on intellectual quicksand that would not have stood up to closer scrutiny — among them, the idea that a post-Saddam Iraq would recognize Israel and become […]

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Christopher R. Hill, United States Ambassador to Iraq, briefed reporters on the lead up to the Iraqi elections scheduled for early March. Of election monitoring efforts, which will be closely watched to ensure legitimacy of the results, Hill said “We are working very closely with the UN and with the U.S. forces to help secure having 26 four-person monitoring teams.” In other developments, the Ambassador said “Iraq has made important strides in its economy in recent months.” Read the full transcript of the briefing here.

There were no bright explosions lighting up the horizon, but this week’s coordinated deployment of U.S. diplomats as well as military, intelligence and political leaders — all warning of dire consequences for a defiant Iranian regime — amounted to an Obama-style re-enactment of the Shock and Awe tactics made famous during the opening salvo of the war in Iraq. The tactically synchronized detonations of tough talk were accompanied by a loud blast from Washington, where one administration official openly considered the possibility of regime change in Iran. But it was the Middle East that saw a swarm of high-ranking members […]

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To follow up on Judah’s blog post on the Mabhou assassination, I was struck by the certainty with which he wrote that Mossad did it. I completely agree that Mossad tops the list of suspects. There is no question about that. But when a guy like Mabhou gets killed, you can bet there is more than one suspect. Hamas is despised by Fatah, and both organizations have a history of assassinations. (They also have fairly easy access to Israel, where they can steal passports.) There is also the Iran connection. Mabhou was working with Iranians to bring weapons into Gaza. […]

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If you grew up reading histories of spy agencies, books on codes and the agents that break them, and the entire Sherlock Holmes collection before the age of 10 (guilty on all three counts), the video released by the Dubai police detailing the operation that culminated in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh is a must-see. It’s probably the best silent movie spy thriller since Fritz Lang’s “Spione,” or as Andrew Exum put it, “Like watching ‘Munich.’ But for real.” Three things jumped out at me. First, for a senior Hamas military commander, one of the most wanted men in Israel, […]

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At the risk of venturing pretty far down Speculation Boulevard, here’s a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post on the sale of Russian S-300 air defense systems to Iran. I mentioned that the timing of Russia trotting out its long-time political line could be meant to drive up the price of any bargain struck over UNSC sanctions. Today, a spokesman for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev refused to rule out Iran sanctions — again, nothing more than the standard Russian line. But at the same time, a Russian defense industry official stated that Russia and Saudi Arabia are finalizing an array of […]

The term “zero problems with neighbors” has become closely associated with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s ambitious and proactive new foreign policy. The formula is used to describe an approach that has seen Ankara re-engage politically, economically and culturally with its surrounding region. But there’s another term that has frequently been attached to Ankara’s newfound diplomatic activism, one that Turkish policymakers are much less fond of: “neo-Ottomanism.” At its best, the term describes a foreign policy that derives part of its legitimacy from Turkey’s experience as a longtime imperial power in its wider neighborhood. At its worst, it suggests hegemonic […]

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