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Author Topic: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR  (Read 68044 times)
Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #100 on: February 25, 2011, 04:19:46 PM »

There’s an arc of uncertainty in the Muslim world from Casablanca to Cairo and from Aden on the Red Sea through Bahrain to Baghdad and Tehran. Some but not all the uncertainty is caused by uprisings. Where will this all end?

Welcome to Agenda with George Friedman.

Colin: George, what are the potential geopolitical implications of these events on the rest of the Middle East and beyond?

George: The situation in North Africa has for the moment clarified itself. You’ve got a military junta running Egypt. It’s promised elections and we’ll see if they happen. Tunisia has settled into an unsettled state and of course we have the chaos in Libya. But Libya is simply not that important a country to have broader geopolitical implications. The most important things are happening are happening in Bahrain. And they’re happening in Bahrain right now because Bahrain is both connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia, has a large Shiite population, a Sunni ruling family, and is a port for the U.S. 5th Fleet. Everything comes together.

What we need to be looking at right now is Bahrain and beyond that Saudi Arabia to see if this wave of unrest enters Saudi Arabia, which would be an enormous event or if it bypasses it. It’s altogether possible, I don’t know, but it is possible that everything will settle down. But even if everything settled down internally, we would still be facing the Iranian question of the Iran’s status in the Persian Gulf once the United States completes the withdrawal from Iraq. And, along with that, we’d be facing the question — it’s a very difficult one — of what is the relationship between the Shiite communities of the Middle East, and particularly of the Persian Gulf, to the Iranian regime. And I think that’s really what we have to be focusing about. The most important geopolitical event is the rise of Iran, the role of the Shiites in that rise and what happens next.

Colin: You said people who start revolutions very seldom finish them. Should that happen will the region to descend into chaos?

George: Well, in the first place, let’s understand what I’m saying by that. I’m saying that just as in the Russian Revolution, the revolution was begun by liberals supporting Kerensky, what ended the revolution was the Bolsheviks. The people who finally take power are frequently those who are the most coherent and well-organized group whereas the initial demonstrators lose power because, while they are able to bring down the regime, they’re not able to create a replacement. One of the places that we saw that in was in Iran, where the demonstrators in 1979 came from a fairly wide group of people but at the same time it was Ayatollah Khomeini and his supporters that took control. So one of the reasons that I don’t think the region will descend into chaos is simply because there will emerge movements that are better organized, better controlled, that’ll stop the chaos, but they’ll probably implement regimes that are inimical to what the original demonstrators wanted. Certainly they won’t be what Western liberals were expecting to see happen. Revolution opens the door to the best organized and most ruthless.

Colin: Do you see Islamists, if not jihadists, gaining power and influence as a result of this instability?

George: You really, the only way to answer the question of “Are the Islamists or Jihadists taking power?” is to look at each country separately. I mean it’s a massive mistake to look at the region as a whole; it’s highly differentiated. For Egypt my expectation is that the jihadists will not be strengthened. The army is still very strong; it is quite hostile to the jihadists and has a tense relationship with Islamists; it is pro-American; it maintains its treaty with Israel. I see it as possible that the army is forced out of this position but they won’t go easily. So my expectation is that no, that won’t happen. In the Persian Gulf the question is not going to be whether jihadists of the Sunni variety take control, it’s the degree to which the Shiites of the Iranian persuasion, if you will, take control. And that’s a very different question. So the expectation of chaos in the region I think really misses the point. This also has to be remembered that this is a region that had tremendous political instability back in the 1960s and early 1970s. There were revolutions sponsored by Egypt’s Nasserite government, sponsored by the Soviets, in many countries and there’s been quite a bit of instability. But since 1970, these regimes have been extremely stable, so stable in fact that people have conducted revolutions and grown old in them as we can see with Gadhafi, as we saw with Mubarak, as we saw with others. So the region I think is not descending into chaos. It is not even necessarily descending into change yet. What it is doing at this point is rotating leaders and there is a big difference between that and revolutionary change.

Colin: Thanks George, George Friedman ending this week’s Agenda. Thanks for listening.

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JDN
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« Reply #101 on: February 26, 2011, 05:37:34 PM »

Too bad we didn't listen to MacArthur.   sad


Defense secretary warns against fighting more ground wars
By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
February 26, 2011 6:37 a.m. EST

Defense Secretary Robert Gates waves to West Point graduates on Friday.

Washington (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in what he said is his final address to the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, warned Friday against the United States getting involved in another major land battle.  He told the cadets that wars like Afghanistan are not likely, and in fact he would advise against it.
"In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as Gen. MacArthur so delicately put it," Gates said.

Gates remarks contrasted with some in America who are pushing for the U.S. military to take a more active role in other places like Libya, where huge groups of protesters are trying to overthrow the government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
The defense secretary told cadets they'll be leading a force that has drastically changed how it fights.
Gates, who has previously announced he intends to retire this year, said it's impossible to know what the next war, that these cadets will be part of, will look like.

"When it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect," he said. "We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq and more -- we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged."
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G M
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« Reply #102 on: February 26, 2011, 05:46:51 PM »

Why not just say that we'll never deploy a big army again and be done with it?
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JDN
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« Reply #103 on: February 27, 2011, 10:52:33 AM »

Two leading U.S. senators were both critical Sunday of President Barack Obama's delay in speaking out over the uprising in Libya.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Obama should "stand up for democracy"

Yet Obama was criticized for "standing up for democracy" in Egypt.  If we follow this new Republican suggestion, maybe we should "stand up for democracy" and oust
the dictatorships in in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Tunisia, Bahrain, Kuwait, et al and return their government to the "people". 

I'm sure that will make Israel happy and bring peace and quiet to the area.      evil
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ccp
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« Reply #104 on: February 27, 2011, 05:12:18 PM »

"Yet Obama was criticized for "standing up for democracy" in Egypt.  If we follow this new Republican suggestion, maybe we should "stand up for democracy" and oust
the dictatorships in in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Tunisia, Bahrain, Kuwait, et al and return their government to the "people". "

JDN, I agree with your point 100%  grin  grin  grin

Both parties Dems and Cans are schizophrenic with regards to which way to go - support "Democracy" or not depending on the political advantage at the time.

I hear some Republicans criticizing Bamster no matter what he does and I don't hear many if any Dems giving W high grades for promoting "freedom" around the Middle East.   The make love not war anit American 60's libs who control the Democratic party today should be holding W up as some sort of Saint if you listen to them.  But then, how could they blame him for everything, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

The whole political aspect to this thing is a big joke.  And the joke is on the US.


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G M
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« Reply #105 on: February 28, 2011, 07:06:37 AM »

You'll have to stretch the definition of freedom/democracy pretty far to describe what will happen with the MB/other jihadists in charge.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #106 on: February 28, 2011, 08:48:16 AM »

Mubarak and his military were not gunning down his people; Mubarak did not have a long list of terrorism (Lockerbie and more); Mubarak had not tried developing nukes; Mubark HAD kept a peace treaty with Israel, etc etc.

Libya appears to offer a clear cut opportunity for the US to stand for people fighting oppression, yet BO could not even name Kaddafy and has failed to prepare meaningful options.
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G M
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« Reply #107 on: February 28, 2011, 08:50:59 AM »

We have abundant casus belli to reach out and put an end to Ka-daffy. We should have long ago.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #108 on: February 28, 2011, 09:04:24 AM »

But were those claims not put to rest with the deals under Bush 2 accepting the surrender of his nuke program?
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G M
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« Reply #109 on: February 28, 2011, 09:35:39 AM »

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=84759

Not by my reading of the EO above. You're the one with the JD, you tell me.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #110 on: February 28, 2011, 12:12:53 PM »

GM:

Your google fu continues to amaze.

That said, a quick read says to me that claims were put to rest.

Anyway, changing subjects, some of us may recognize the name of the author of the following piece from today's WSJ:
=============
By AHMAD CHALABI
Baghdad

As we watch Libyan despot Moammar Gadhafi lash out at his subjects with all the murderous force at his disposal, those of us in Iraq are reminded of another uprising and another dictator who butchered thousands to preserve his reign of terror.

In 1991, at the end of the first Gulf War, the Iraqi people heeded President George H.W. Bush's call to rid themselves of the regime of Saddam Hussein. The regular Iraqi army had either disappeared or was in open mutiny, and Saddam's loyalist forces were in disarray. Within days, 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces were out of the regime's control, and more than half of Iraq's population had their first taste of freedom in a generation.

The noose was closing around Saddam's neck when a fateful decision was made in Washington. Prompted by foreign policy "realists" in his administration—such as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and National Security Council Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs Richard Haass—Mr. Bush allowed Saddam to fly military aircraft to put down the uprising.

What followed was a massacre. Up to 330,000 Iraqi civilians were killed by Saddam's brutal tactics, which included using helicopter gunships to strafe neighborhoods and tanks to blast schools, hospitals and places of worship. While thousands of U.S. troops were still on Iraqi soil and in some cases were close enough to watch, the tyrant unleashed the power of modern weaponry against men, women and children.

The news from Libya is an all-too-chilling reminder of those dark days in Iraq. It is no coincidence that Gadhafi often mentions Iraq in his tirades. He knows how Saddam clung to power by sheer brute force while playing on the West's fear of instability.

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Associated Press
 .The Libyan regime has already used aircraft against unarmed protesters, among other atrocities. That's why it is imperative for the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over the most populous areas of Libya. Its resolution this weekend imposing sanctions on the regime was necessary but not sufficient to help the Libyans who have voted with their lives against dictatorship.

The international community that sold Gadhafi his arsenal now has a responsibility to help the Libyans liberate themselves. Direct assistance to the forces of change and democracy is the best way to ensure a transition to democracy. The Security Council should open a dialogue with the Libyan opposition immediately with the aim of providing humanitarian, and possibly military, assistance.

It was only after Saddam's mass killings provoked a tidal wave of refugees from Iraq into neighboring countries in March and April 1991 that the international community sprung into action. The Security Council passed Resolution 688, which established a legal separation between the Iraqi people and the regime, and called on Saddam to cease the repression of the people. The coalition used Resolution 688 as the legal basis for imposing a no-fly zone first in northern and later in southern Iraq. These actions may have come too late for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in 1991, but they serve as a good precedent for preventing a similar bloodbath in Libya.

In all the debate about the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, it is hardly ever mentioned that after Saddam was removed we found 313 mass graves in Iraq. I will never forget the day in May 2003 when we visited a newly uncovered site south of Baghdad near the town of Hilla. Saddam's forces had dumped 12,000 bodies from the 1991 uprising there. The victims were civilians, killed for daring to stand up to a dictator and yearn for freedom.

A surviving Gadhafi regime, murderous and wounded, would be a nightmare for the Libyan people and a threat to international peace. The international community owes it to the Libyans to help them remove the tyrant and prevent history from repeating itself.

No foreign troops are necessary, just assistance. Twenty years ago in these pages I called on the West to drop its policy of supporting Arab dictatorship in order to maintain stability. The best way to consign that short-sighted and immoral policy to the ash heap of history is to help Arabs liberate themselves.

Mr. Chalabi is an Iraqi legislator.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #111 on: March 01, 2011, 08:37:37 AM »

The rebellion in Libya is moving quickly, with antiregime forces consolidating their hold over the east, setting up a provisional government and restarting oil exports. From his bunker in Tripoli, Moammar Gadhafi vows to fight to the end while his elite units and African mercenaries kill the Libyan people to protect him and his sons.

Not moving rapidly has been the world's sole superpower, which remains behind the curve, struggling to respond and reluctant to lead. President Obama waited until last Wednesday to make his first public statement. He didn't mention Gadhafi by name and deferred to the Europeans to push for U.N. sanctions. White House officials are now explaining his reticence by saying the U.S. couldn't act forcefully until all Americans were evacuated from Libya.

In a front page article in Sunday's Washington Post, Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, was in full self-justification mode: "When you're sitting in government and you're told that ignoring that advice"—to temper U.S. rhetoric and action in Libya—"could endanger American citizens, that's a line you don't feel very comfortable crossing."

A U.S. President must take care to protect Americans. But even if this was the White House calculation, you don't want to talk about it publicly. In trying to blunt criticism of his boss at home, Mr. Rhodes has told the next rogue regime in Gadhafi-like straits how easy it is to paralyze U.S. policy. You don't even need to hold Americans hostage. All you need to do is keep them around with an implicit threat that you might do so. This will not make it easier to get Americans out of harm's way in the next crisis.

Throughout the Libyan uprising, European leaders—especially Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy—haven't been tongue- or action-tied by the plight of their nationals. This weekend, German and British special forces rescued a couple hundred of their nationals in covert missions without Libyan assent. The U.S. sent a catamaran and ferry to Tripoli, after Libya denied permission for a plane to land. The ships were stuck in port for two days due to bad weather and finally brought the 167 Americans out by Friday night.

European leaders continue to show more energy than President Obama. Mr. Cameron said he is working with allies on a plan to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gadhafi from using his air force against rebel forces. General Andul Fatteh Younes, who resigned as interior minister and defected to the opposition, told al Jazeera yesterday that his forces want a no-fly zone as long as no foreign plane lands on Libyan soil. "We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets," Mr. Cameron said.

If only Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could be as direct. Speaking before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, which voted to "suspend" Libya's membership yesterday, she said that "we will continue to explore all possible options for actions. . . . Nothing is off the table." But she didn't put much on the table.

While the French sent two planes with humanitarian relief supplies to Libya, the U.S. set aside $10 million and pledged to study Libya's needs. The Pentagon yesterday announced plans to move armed forces into the region—a process that should have started more than a week ago. The U.S. made no promises to support a no-fly zone. Mrs. Clinton spent her time lobbying the Russians for their continued support in the U.N. Security Council, while the battles in Libya raged on.

The U.S. could begin to exceed a Belgian level of global leadership by reaching out to the opposition and extending formal recognition to their provisional government. Though this might make Mr. Obama uncomfortable, America remains a global power with exceptional standing to provide a new Libyan government with legitimacy. We should also be prepared to sell arms to the opposition if they request it. The U.N.'s new arms embargo isn't likely to deter anyone who is still willing to sell Gadhafi arms at this point, but it might cause some countries not to arm the opposition. The world made that blunder in Bosnia.

The moral and strategic case for U.S. leadership in Libya is obvious. A terrorist regime is slaughtering people who will appreciate America's support and protection. A bloody civil war could create chaos that turns Libya into a northern African failed state, an ideal home for terrorist groups. The U.S. should support a provisional government that can take over when the regime collapses to restore order with as little bloodshed as possible. What is Mr. Obama waiting for?


===========
By JULIAN E. BARNES
The Pentagon is repositioning warships and planes in the waters off Libya to be ready to enforce a no-fly zone or deliver humanitarian aid, military officials said Monday.

By shifting Naval and air forces in the Mediterranean, the U.S. is preparing the groundwork for possible intervention in the civil war that has engulfed Libya. In recent days, U.S. military leaders have been planning for a range of options, in the event the White House steps up the U.S. response.

"I think it's safe to say as part of that we're repositioning forces to be able to provide for that flexibility once decisions are made...to be able to provide options and flexibility," Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Monday.

Pentagon officials have been loathe to spell out specific contingency plans they are considering for Libya, but officials have acknowledged that they are preparing for humanitarian missions as well as a campaign to forcibly ground Libyan military aircraft.

International support appears to be growing for a coordinated effort to prevent Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from using helicopters or fighter planes to fire on protesters or the rebel army.

In Geneva Monday, foreign ministers from the U.S., Italy, France, the U.K. and Germany discussed the no-fly option, as well as the possibility of creating a humanitarian area in Libya under United Nations control.

The ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, also demanded that Mr. Gadhafi step down.

Military officials said Navy ships and Air Force planes were being repositioned closer to Libya. But, for security reasons, the officials would not provide additional details.

Ms. Clinton said the U.S. was exploring "all possible options for action."

The U.S. does not currently have any aircraft carriers or big-deck amphibious ships in the Mediterranean.

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise went through the Suez Canal and entered the Red Sea on Feb 15. Although there are no plans to send the ship back to the Mediterranean, the fighter jets based on the carrier could be used to assist in a Libyan no-fly zone, as long as Egypt granted permission for the planes to pass through its air space, a military official said.


« Last Edit: March 01, 2011, 08:43:37 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #112 on: March 01, 2011, 08:45:35 AM »

Second post

President Obama has trumpeted Saturday's U.N. Security Council decision to refer Moammar Gadhafi to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution. Although Gadhafi deserves punishment, the ICC will not accomplish it. Invoking this marginal organization as an instrument of justice is simply an abdication of responsibility. It pretends to an address an international crisis while actually doing the opposite.

The ICC is one of the world's most illegitimate multilateral institutions. The court's vast prosecutorial authority is unaccountable to any democratic polity. Americans rejected this approach at our founding, separating the prosecutorial and judicial powers and placing the prosecutors under elected executive branch officials to ensure accountability and legitimacy. The Bush administration wisely reversed the Clinton administration's endorsement of the ICC by "unsigning" its foundational treaty in 2002. It then secured more than 100 bilateral agreements to prevent U.S. citizens from being transferred into ICC custody.

To date, the ICC has been weak and ineffective, essentially acting as a European court for African miscreants. Nonetheless, its prosecutor is an international version of our own post-Watergate "independent counsel" model. Based on the execrable record of these prosecutors, the U.S. Congress, with broad bipartisan support, allowed the law authorizing the appointment of these counsels to sunset in 1999, although there has been sporadic resort to such procedures since.

Under whatever guise, the independent-counsel approach has led to gross miscarriages of justice, such as Patrick Fitzgerald's 2003-07 investigation of how Valerie Plame's CIA employment became public. In that case, one target, Scooter Libby, was pursued into the ground while others more culpable were allowed to emerge unscathed.

Champions of the ICC theorize it will deter future crimes. Reality proves otherwise. The court has been operational since 2002, so the most persuasive evidence is that almost 10 years after the court's inception, Gadhafi was sufficiently unimpressed that he is doing what comes naturally for terrorists and dictators. History is full of cases where even military force or the threat of retaliation failed to deter aggression or gross criminality. If the West is not prepared to use cold steel against Gadhafi, why should he or any future barbarian worry about the ICC?

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AFP/Getty Images
 
A general view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
.The plain if deeply unpleasant fact is that history's hard men are not deterrable by the flimsy threat of eventual prosecution. This underlines why the court itself is so otherworldly. It does not operate in a civil society of shared values and history, but in the chaotic, often brutal realm of international politics. Resorting to the ICC cannot change matters of international politics and power into matters of law.

A new Libyan government should be responsible for dealing with Gadhafi's atrocities. Every crime he is responsible for, from the terrorist bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, to his current street massacres, has been done in the name of the Libyan people. They are the ones who should judge Gadhafi, as Iraqis did with Saddam Hussein.

Gadhafi's fate will raise hard questions for any successor Libyan government. But it is entirely appropriate that it be Libyans who confront and decide such issues and bear the consequences, good and bad, of determining how to dispense justice to him. Political maturation for Libya's citizens, as for those of any country, will not come from outsiders making judgments for them, but from them making their own decisions and living with the results.

Obviously, Libya is in no condition today to deal with Gadhafi and his cohorts. But if he and his key aides survive the current violence, they can be incarcerated and tried later, with international assistance to new Libyan authorities if appropriate. Immediate logistical difficulties do not justify shifting the moral and political responsibility of dealing with Gadhafi away from his countrymen to remote international bureaucrats.

Mr. Obama's ready embrace of the International Criminal Court exemplifies his infatuation with handling threats to international peace and security as though they were simply local street crimes. It also reflects his overall approach to international affairs: a passive, legalistic America, deferring to international bodies, content to be one of 15 Security Council members rather than leading from the front.

Mr. Bolton served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006 and is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).

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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #113 on: March 01, 2011, 04:07:28 PM »

Second post of day:

While the world’s attention is still on Libya because of the fighting over there, the slow-simmering situation in the Persian Gulf is far more important. We’ve already seen Bahrain and Yemen erupt, but now we have Oman in play, and this is forcing other states like Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar and, most significantly Saudi Arabia, to engage in pre-emptive measures.

The countries on the Arabian Peninsula are very complex entities. First of all, there are many of them, and each of them has its own unique dynamic internally that will then shape any potential unrest. If we look at what’s happened in the Persian Gulf area so far, what we have is Bahrain and Yemen already in motion. In Bahrain, there are protests that the government is tolerating, and the same situation is in Yemen, but there is an ongoing negotiation in both states as well, which will lead to some sort of a compromise. That compromise is going to be a slippery slope in terms of the state making concessions.

While that is happening, we now see the contagion spreading to Oman, where there has been violent unrest, and there we see the government trying to deal with the situation, both using security forces as well as other incentives to ensure that any unrest can be contained. Meanwhile, in other places like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and more importantly, Saudi Arabia, we see governments trying to deal with the situation in a pre-emptive manner. Not only are they trying to sort things out internally within their own respective countries, but they’re also moving on a regional level, hoping that they can contain what is taking place in Oman, and in Bahrain, and in Yemen before it hits their countries.

Instability in this part of the world has huge implications. There is the obvious repercussion for the world’s energy supply — some 40 percent of total global energy output via sea comes through the Persian Gulf — but it’s not just about oil. Each one of those states, from Oman all the way up to Kuwait, houses major American military installations. They are very vital for U.S. military operations in this part of the world, particularly at a time when the United States is in the process of withdrawing its forces from Iraq, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

In addition to just the general nature of American military operations in the region, unrest in the Persian Gulf complicates the U.S.-Iranian dynamic. The United States is already withdrawing from Iraq, which allows Iran to flex its muscles, and if, in addition, we see unrest destabilizing the Persian Gulf states, that gives Iran further room to maneuver and project power, not just on its side of Persian Gulf but also across into the Arabian Peninsula. Thus, while the world is still focused on Libya, there is a need to shift focus to the Persian Gulf where the stakes are much higher and the situation much more complex.

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« Reply #114 on: March 04, 2011, 07:49:42 AM »

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/03/AR2011030305531.html?hpid=topnews

Obama administration prepares for possibility of new post-revolt Islamist regimes

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2011; 12:00 AM

The Obama administration is preparing for the prospect that Islamist governments will take hold in North Africa and the Middle East, acknowledging that the popular revolutions there will bring a more religious cast to the region's politics.


The administration is already taking steps to distinguish between various movements in the region that promote Islamic law in government. An internal assessment, ordered by the White House last month, identified large ideological differences between such movements as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Qaeda that will guide the U.S. approach to the region.

"We shouldn't be afraid of Islam in the politics of these countries," said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal policy deliberations. "It's the behavior of political parties and governments that we will judge them on, not their relationship with Islam."
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #115 on: March 10, 2011, 11:44:42 PM »

WASHINGTON, DC – With Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in Egypt – widely considered to have one of the region’s most stable regimes until only recently – and Colonel Muammar Qaddafi clinging to power in Libya, there is no clear end in sight to the turmoil sweeping across the Arab world. Protests have already toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt, leaving other Arab countries faced with widespread discontent.

The unrest caught most people by surprise – both inside and outside the region – and has fundamentally upended at least five conventional beliefs about the Arab world.

Arabs don’t go into the street. Before the protests began in Egypt and Tunisia, many people argued that there was no real urgency to political reform, and that those who were calling for change did not understand the public mood – things weren’t as bad as the dissidents made them out to be. This line of thinking led governments to believe that Arabs would not demonstrate in large numbers and demand change. In each country, rapid reform was seen as detrimental to national interests.

This argument clearly is no longer tenable. No one predicted what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, which means that no Arab country is immune. Governments don’t have the luxury of waiting forever, and they can no longer use the myth of popular quiescence to avoid initiating the necessary reforms that will address the public’s underlying grievances.

Economic liberalization should precede political reform. Arab governments – and many Westerners – claimed that privatization and other economic reforms should be given priority over political change. But, while it is easy to argue that citizens want bread before freedom, economic liberalization came without a system of checks and balances, and thus largely resulted in neither bread nor freedom.

Instead, the benefits of privatization and other initiatives went largely to political and business elites. As a result, Arabs have come to view liberalization and globalization negatively. It is clear by now that economic reform must be coupled with political reform, so that institutional mechanisms of accountability are developed to monitor any excesses and ensure that benefits are made available to all. Governments have been quick to believe that the protests are fundamentally about high prices and unemployment, but the issue that unites Arab discontent is inadequate governance.

Closed systems are necessary to prevent Islamists from taking power. The West is often afraid that democracy will give Islamists the opening they need to gain control – a fear that Arab regimes exploit to justify maintaining closed political systems. But Islamists did not play a big role in Egypt or Tunisia, and they are not expected to lead any of the new governments that are formed – though they are an important part of Arab societies and should play a role in their emerging regimes.

So it is untrue that the only viable alternative to unrelenting absolutist rule must be Islamist. The protests are clearly the result of ordinary citizens becoming fed up with corruption, the lack of any semblance of rule of law, and arbitrary treatment. There is an opportunity here to start developing pluralistic systems where not only Islamists, but also other parties and discourses can play a role.

Elections equal democracy. No one is fooled by this claim anymore. In order to maintain their dominance, Arab governments have relied on flawed laws and elections that don’t produce strong parliaments or lead to real change. Indeed, in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, government and parliament alike were unpopular. Throughout the region, elections have been used to create a façade of democracy aimed at impressing citizens and the outside world while insulating the regimes from pressure for genuine reform.

The Arab public, however, will no longer accept the status quo. People will not be satisfied with economic handouts or cosmetic changes in governance; they are demanding real change that puts their country on a clear path toward democracy.

The international community has no role to play. While the reform process should certainly be homegrown, the United States and the rest of the international community can encourage democratic development without imposing it from afar. President Barack Obama rejected many of the policies of the George W. Bush administration that were seen as trying to force democracy on Arab countries. But the subsequent silence on democratization aggravated – though it certainly did not cause – the unraveling of the Arab reform process in the last few years.

The US and the West can discuss with Arab countries how political reform should be carried out in a way that would contribute to greater openness and opportunities for power-sharing. The West should not sacrifice these objectives for others; if allies ultimately lose power in popular revolts, such a tradeoff would not have furthered the West’s interests, to say the least.

The unfolding events grabbing headlines around the world have shattered key myths about the Arab world. These countries’ people need to start gradual, sustained, and serious political reform now. At the dawn of a new Arab era, it is up to them to build new, open political systems that can head off the looming threat of escalating crises.

Marwan Muasher, former foreign minister and deputy prime minister of Jordan, is Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a senior fellow at Yale University. He is the author of The Arab Center.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.
www.project-syndicate.org
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #116 on: March 11, 2011, 05:50:34 PM »

STRATFOR CEO George Friedman says the world’s focus should be on the Persian Gulf, not Libya. The latest signs of unrest in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain point to a potentially serious crisis.


Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Colin: While Europe and NATO appear tremulous and uncertain, the chances of global intervention in Libya seem unlikely. But why is the media focused on Gadhafi when real trouble is brewing in the Persian Gulf?

Welcome to Agenda with George Friedman. George, NATO has met, the EU has met, Obama has spoken, but it seems that in Libya at least the chances of intervention are close to zero. Until at least there is a humanitarian crisis and that looks like being Europe’s problem.

George: Well, certainly Europe has a deeper interest in Libya than the United States does and I think the United States really does not want to lead the intervention into Libya and then find themselves criticized by the Europeans. I mean one thing you have to understand, when you intervene in a violent situation, your soldiers will make mistakes and innocent people will be killed. And an intervention that stops the violence is simply a fantasy. So if you go in on the ground, even if you go in in the air, you’re going to wind up in a situation where people will be killed, they will be killed by your troops and some of the people that will be killed will not be the enemy — will be people who are innocent bystanders and so on. And I think the American position is pretty much let the Europeans carry the burden on this, and the Europeans of course might not have the means really, nor the appetite for it, so everybody will stand by.

Colin: And, of course, the Europeans have got the refugee problem. The media is preoccupied with Libya and Gadhafi, but this is not the only trouble spot. In many ways, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia might be more significant.

George: Well, I mean, what’s really happened here is that Libya has the foreign correspondence and CNN covering it. And so this has become the spot, but far more significant is the Persian Gulf where Bahrain has been in a standstill crisis, if you will — a country with a majority Shiite population facing a Sunni government. And now we hear reports that gunfire has broken out in eastern Saudi Arabia with Saudi Arabian forces firing on Shiite demonstrators there too. So now we’re talking about problems all up and down the west bank of the Persian Gulf. It is turning into something that appears to be Shiite versus Sunni — very different from the issues that are being raised in North Africa. And clearly this involves the rivalry between the two main players in the region which is the Iranians, who will undoubtedly support the Shiites, and the Saudis, who are terrified of rising Shiite power backed by the Iranians.

Colin: Now, the Persian Gulf is an area America really does have to worry about.

George: The Iranians have rising influence in Iraq and what is going on in the Persian Gulf, if not directly tied to what’s happening in Iraq, certainly supports that. It’s interesting that countries like Oman, Qatar, Kuwait — all of which have American facilities — have had all of these instabilities, if you will, arise. Now Saudi Arabia as well. We are looking at a serious crisis and, compared to the stakes of the Persian Gulf — from the oil market to the strategic significance — Libya is really a side game. And one of the things that really I think the United States is concerned about is that, while publicly they are going to have to address the question of Moammar Gadhafi killing his own citizens, as if somehow anyone ever thought that Moammar Gadhafi was anything but a thug for the past many years and decades. We have a real problem which could change the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and in some ways globally. And the gunfire that we’ve seen in Saudi Arabia I think is extremely significant — we don’t know how it will play out — but right now it is certainly far more troublesome that anything happening in Libya.

Colin: What kind of contingency planning will now be going on in the Pentagon?

George: Well I mean the problem is what kind of forces are available to plan with. The United States obviously has its Air Force, it also has the Navy, but its ability to influence events on the western literal of the Persian Gulf is limited. Certainly the United States is not in a position to intervene on the ground and any intervention on the ground will probably be counterproductive. So I suspect most of the planning that’s going on is to make certain that the Straits of Hormuz remain opened and hope that nothing happens in those countries that are oil exporters to disrupt the oil markets because the effect that will have the world economy and the recovery from 2008.

Colin: But, should that happen, the United States has its troops tied down elsewhere, it’s got its Navy and Air Force of course, but the Europeans probably will not do anything, so it will be a real mess.

George: It is an enormous mess but I am certain that the Europeans will pass a strong resolution and hold a press conference. I mean it is really interesting to watch the Europeans deal with the Libyan crisis not because it’s a crucial crisis but because I mean here is a case where the Europeans, who always talk about soft power, are facing a situation where soft power really isn’t going to work, and now have to face the question of their collective responsibility for a country like Libya that is clearly within the area of responsibility of European powers, and where the United States will play a supporting role, if any.

So the countries like France, Germany and Italy bear the primary responsibility in this area. They are the major, particularly Italy is the major investor there and have maintained relations so it will be interesting to see how the Europeans come out in their self-conception after this crisis because here is a case where clearly the European responsibility is primary, clearly the Europeans cannot agree a common course. I think this is another blow from the NATO side to the blow that has been struck in 2008 by the financial crisis on the EU side. European institutions are under tremendous strain. But all of that is subsidiary ultimately to the question of whether oil gets out of the Straits of Hormuz, which certainly is not in danger yet at this point but is always dangerous when crises occur when major oil supplies are involved.

Colin: George, I’ll watch out for those Brussels press conferences. George Friedman there ending this week’s Agenda. Join us again next time.

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« Reply #117 on: March 11, 2011, 06:07:16 PM »

I'm actually kind of glad Obama is dithering. Let the europeans wear the big boy pants for once.
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« Reply #118 on: March 12, 2011, 11:20:57 AM »

http://thedignifiedrant.blogspot.com/2011/03/life-without-america.html

Saturday, March 12, 2011
Life Without America
Libya is turning out to be an interesting test case about how the world can get by without we damned Americans taking the lead and mucking things up.

Our president may say we are "tightening the noose" around Khaddafi, but the facts on the ground say otherwise. So what if more and more people declare in somber and serious tones that they don't like Khaddafi? And even the boldest suggestions in the sainted international community conference rooms for action--a "UN" (read that, "tell the Americans to do it") no-fly zone--fall short on two facts: one, Russia or China will veto it in the Security Council to avoid a precedent; and two, a no-fly zone will have no appreciable impact on the course of the fighting.

So while we chat it up with others seeking a consensus, NATO won't act because of divisions within the alliance. The Arab League is unlikely to come down on the pro-rebel side as they talk amongst themselves (again, but for the grace of Allah, and all that). And the European Union won't act without the blessing of someone. And if they got it, I bet they'd still want to talk some more to avoid action. Heck they wouldn't even endorse the idea of a no-fly zone at some future time. The African Union is getting in to the talk game, too, hoping to get the rebels and loyalists to talk. The way things are going, they'll talk all right. But it will be bleeding and broken rebels in basements talking to loyalist interrogators.

So rebels who Westerners hoped three weeks ago would quickly topple Khaddafi with only our words of support to get us a spot in the victory parade rather than requiring action, are starting to get pounded by the superior firepower and organization of the loyalist side. What do the rebels want?

Not more talk and words, naturally:

    Many rebels were angry at international inaction.

    "Where is the West? How are they helping? What are they doing," shouted one angry fighter.


Poor chap. He lacks the nuance to appreciate the "tightening noose" and growing consensus in West conference rooms that Khaddafi is a bad guy. But what can you expect from such scruffy men holding rifles? That fighter probably went to a state college, or something! My God, his pronoun doesn't even match the noun he references!

Strangely, the rebels insist on wanting actual action from the West:

    Libya's insurgent leader said any delay in imposing a no-fly zone could let Gaddafi regain control. "We ask the international community to shoulder their responsibilities," Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, head of the rebels' National Libyan Council, said.

    "The Libyans are being cleansed by Gaddafi's air force. We asked for a no-fly zone to be imposed from day one, we also want a sea embargo," he said.


Like I've said repeatedly, a no-fly zone won't work. But rebels are too divided so far to ask for real help. This is all they can agree on. Get us moving into actual action and if the loyalists continue to win despite that, more rebels will be convinced that keeping the West out so the rebels will "own the revolt" will be meaningless when they find themselves sitting in a basement in Tripoli under a bare light bulb (non-twisty, of course) while a loyalist with a clipboard takes down the names of everyone they know.

Sadly, rebels in Benghazi don't understand our new foreign policy approach:

    "Help us to become a democratic country," said one banner strung between lampposts and written in English and Arabic.


What are they thinking? It doesn't even matter if the demonstrators want or understand what "democracy" means other than the downfall of Khaddafi (a good short-term goal, to be sure). The point is that democracy promotion is no longer an American goal (most old European states couldn't care less and never did believe Arabs were "ready" for it). Don't they know that we can't impose democracy? Don't they appreciate the benefits of doing it all on their own?

Well, they'd better appreciate it. Because if the rebels are counting on effective action from the West (and no, a post-conflict European report issued in 2012 about how the rebels are at fault for their defeat won't count, no matter how brightly festooned with ribbons and wax seals the 2,000-page fully foot-noted document--in English and French language versions--is), they'll hang for that confidence. Ah, nuance! It burns like acid dribbled on exposed skin, huh?

Again, I'm not saying we should openly intervene with a couple divisions. I think we have effective covert alternatives to that, although the chances they will work are diminishing as time goes on (although we may be doing them even as we speak, I suppose). But my point is that without our leadership pressing for action, we are seeing how the sainted international community reacts to a madman at war with his people without the leadership of America. The world community already knows how to talk--how do we add to that?

Libya is the first test of how a post-America world can handle the threats to world peace. How's that working out so far? Are you really ready to say that DNI Clapper is dim-witted for telling a Senate committee that Khaddafi will probably win this civil war?
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« Reply #119 on: March 12, 2011, 03:47:29 PM »

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703597804576194690095426116.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_sections_opinion

The Obama Doctrine
Libya is what a world without U.S. leadership looks like.


'This is the Obama conception of the U.S. role in the world—to work through multilateral organizations and bilateral relationships to make sure that the steps we are taking are amplified."

—White House National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes, March 10, 2011, as quoted in the Washington Post

"They bombed us with tanks, airplanes, missiles coming from every direction. . . . We need international support, at least a no-fly zone. Why is the world not supporting us?"

—Libyan rebel Mahmoud Abdel Hamid, March 10, 2011, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal
***

Whatever else one might say about President Obama's Libya policy, it has succeeded brilliantly in achieving its oft-stated goal of not leading the world. No one can any longer doubt the U.S. determination not to act before the Italians do, or until the Saudis approve, or without a U.N. resolution. This White House is forthright for followership.

That message also couldn't be clearer to Moammar Gadhafi and his sons, who are busy bombing and killing their way to victory against the Libyan opposition. As the U.S. defers to the world, the world can't decide what to do, and the vacuum is filled by a dictator and his hard men who have concluded that no one will stop them. "Hear it now. I have only two words for our brothers and sisters in the east: We're coming," said Gadhafi's son, Saif al-Islam, on Thursday.

Three weeks into the Libyan uprising, here are some of the live action highlights from what Mr. Obama likes to call "the international community":

• The United Nations Security Council has imposed an arms embargo, but with enough ambiguity that no one knows whether it applies only to Gadhafi or also to the opposition. Even the U.S. State Department and White House don't agree.

• The U.N. has referred events to the International Criminal Court for a war crimes investigation. Mr. Obama said yesterday this sent a message to Gadhafi that "the world is watching," as if Gadhafi didn't know. But it also sends a message that leaving Libya without bloodshed is not an option, because he and his sons will still be pursued for war crimes. Had Reagan pursued this strategy in the Philippines, Marcos might never have gone into exile.

• France has recognized the opposition National Council in Benghazi, though the U.S. is only now sending envoys to meet with the opposition for the first time. Dozens of Western reporters can get rebel leaders on the phone, an opposition delegation has visited French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, but the U.S. is still trying to figure out who these people are. The American envoys better hurry because the rebels may soon be dead.

• The French want a no-fly zone, but the Italians and Germans object. NATO is having "a series of conversations about a wide range of options," as President Obama put it yesterday, but NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen emerged from a meeting of defense ministers in Brussels on Thursday saying that "We considered . . . initial options regarding a possible no-fly zone in case NATO were to receive a clear U.N. mandate" (our emphasis). The latter isn't likely because both China and Russia object, but no doubt NATO will keep conversing about the "range of options" next week.

• Even as opposition leaders were asking for help, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the world on Thursday that Gadhafi is likely to win in the long-term. The Administration scrambled to say this was merely a factual judgment about the balance of military power, but the message couldn't be clearer to any of Gadhafi's generals who might consider defecting: Do so at your peril because you will join the losing side.

We could go on, but you get the idea. When the U.S. fails to lead, the world reverts to its default mode as a diplomatic Tower of Babel. Everyone discusses "options" and "contingencies" but no one has the will to act, while the predators march.

This was true in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s until the U.S. shamed Europe and NATO into using force with or without a U.N. resolution. And it has been true in every case in which the world finally resisted tyrants or terrorists, from the Gulf War to Afghanistan to Iraq. When the U.S. chooses to act like everyone else, the result is Rwanda, Darfur and now Libya.
***

One difference in Libya is that the damage from a Gadhafi victory would not merely be humanitarian, though that would be awful enough. The only way Gadhafi can subdue Benghazi and the east now is with a door-to-door purge and systematic murder. The flow of refugees heading for Southern Europe would also not be small.

If Gadhafi survives after Mr. Obama has told him to go, the blow to U.S. prestige and world order would be enormous. Dictators will learn that the way to keep America from acting is to keep its diplomats and citizens around, while mowing down your opponents as the world debates contingencies. By the time the Babelers make a decision, it will be too late. This is a dangerous message to send at any time, but especially with a Middle East in the throes of revolution.

There is still time for Mr. Obama to salvage his Libya policy, though the costs of doing so are rising every day. Libya today is what a world without U.S. leadership looks like.
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« Reply #120 on: March 16, 2011, 12:52:09 PM »

The Arab League's call this weekend for a no-fly zone over Libya is startling news and has sent diplomats scattering. We'll now see if the "international community" (to use the Obama Administration's favorite phrase) decides anything before Moammar Gadhafi's forces overrun the rebel stronghold in Benghazi. The odds favor Gadhafi.

But the 22-member league's decision also tells us a lot about Arab views of U.S. power. Throughout the Libyan crisis, we've heard from pundits and politicians that the Iraq war tarnished brand America beyond repair, and made U.S. leadership non grata in the Mideast. Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have insisted that the U.N., NATO, the Europeans, Arabs, anyone but Washington take the initiative on Libya.

The Arab League is begging them to reconsider this abdication. With the unsurprising exceptions of Iranian client Syria and Libya's neighbor Algeria, the group took the extraordinary step of calling publicly for American intervention in the affairs of an Arab state. Though the League formally asked the U.N. Security Council to approve a no-fly zone, there's little doubt that the U.S. would carry the military and political burden in imposing one. The Arabs know this well, and their message couldn't be clearer. Maybe they even thought Mr. Obama meant what he said in calling for Gadhafi to leave power.

The weekend decision confirmed what we've heard privately from Arab leaders for years about America's continued engagement in the Middle East. The only people who suffer from an "Iraq syndrome" are American liberals and the Western European chattering classes. The pro-Western Gulf or North African allied states have nothing to gain in seeing American influence or military power devalued in their region—either by others, or as is the current fad in Washington, through American self-abnegation.

Their immediate interest may be to reverse Gadhafi's recent gains against the lightly armed rebels in eastern Libya. Arab hostility to him goes back many years. As neighbors they have much to fear from a post-revolt Libya turned back into a terrorist haven and pariah state.

For the proverbial "Arab street," the defeat of the Libyan uprising would be a dispiriting coda to this springtime of democratic revolutions. If he survives, Gadhafi will have taught other dictators that the next time young people demand accountable leadership, turn your guns on them and exploit American diffidence.

Beyond those pressing worries lie bigger Arab concerns over the changing power dynamic in the Middle East. New and unpredictable regional players are a neo-Ottoman Turkey and especially an Iran determined to get nuclear weapons. However much the Arabs like to complain about America, they know the U.S. is a largely benign force and honest broker.

Propelled by a strong domestic economy, the Turks have built their recent regional standing through trade and a political shift from its longstanding alliance with the West. Tellingly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan opposes a no-fly zone. "We see NATO military intervention in another country as extremely unbeneficial," he said. Turkey had no such qualms when NATO came to the rescue of Europe's besieged Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, but in the 1990s Ankara saw America as an ally, not a potential competitor.

The Sunni Arab states fear the nuclear ambitions of Shiite Iran as much as Israel does. It's not lost on them that while democratic uprisings toppled two Arab regimes friendly to the U.S. and threaten several others, Tehran has squelched the opposition Green Movement without inhibitions. The nuclear program, meanwhile, is Iran's secret weapon to become the dominant regional power.

The Administration chose to hear the Arab appeal for American leadership this weekend as if it were no big deal. White House spokesman Jay Carney used the word "international" three times in three sentences and didn't back a no-fly zone or any other military step. The G-8 foreign ministers yesterday failed to support it as well. A draft Libya resolution (sponsored by Lebanon!) is bouncing around at the Security Council, and likely headed nowhere.

Not by coincidence, Saudi Arabia and fellow Gulf states on Monday sent military forces into Bahrain to help put down an uprising by the majority Shiites against the Sunni monarchy, which yesterday declared a state of emergency. The Saudis fear that the Bahrain contagion, perhaps fueled by Iran, will spread to them.

But their intervention also reflects a lack of confidence that America will assert itself in the region. Remarkably, the Saudis ignored U.S. advice not to intervene in Bahrain. They don't believe they can count on the U.S. to stop an imperial Iran. When the U.S. fails to lead, every nation recalibrates its interests and begins to look out for itself first.

While the "international community" fiddles, Gadhafi's troops continue their march eastward, yesterday taking the strategic town of Ajdabiya, the last significant population center before Benghazi. His victory would be a tragedy for Libya's people. But it would diminish America's global standing as well, which is an outcome that makes Arabs as nervous as it ought to make Americans.

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« Reply #121 on: March 16, 2011, 01:38:35 PM »

http://hotair.com/greenroom/archives/2011/03/16/foreign-policy-america-forefits-its-leadership-role/

Foreign policy: America forfeits its leadership role

posted at 12:13 pm on March 16, 2011 by Bruce McQuain


Anne-Marie Slaughter has a piece entitled “Fiddling While Libya Burns” in the NYT.  She opens with this:

    PRESIDENT Obama says the noose is tightening around Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. In fact, it is tightening around the Libyan rebels, as Colonel Qaddafi makes the most of the world’s dithering and steadily retakes rebel-held towns. The United States and Europe are temporizing on a no-flight zone while the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Gulf Cooperation Council and now the Arab League have all called on the United Nations Security Council to authorize one. Opponents of a no-flight zone have put forth five main arguments, none of which, on close examination, hold up.

The Libyan rebels aren’t particularly happy with the rest of the world at all.  As Gadhafi’s forces close in on Benghazi, the rebel commander has said the world has failed them.

Speaking of the world:

    Foreign Ministers from the Group of Eight nations failed to agree yesterday on imposing a no-fly zone. In Paris, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe of France, which along with the U.K. has pressed for aggressive action against Qaddafi, said he couldn’t persuade Russia to agree to a no-fly zone as other allies, including Germany, raised objections to military intervention.

So since Russia can’t be persuaded and Germany raised objections, no go on the NFZ.  Notice who is not at all mentioned in that paragraph.  Oh, too busy filling out the NCAA brackets?  Got it.

    “President Obama opened up with a plea for bracket participants to keep the people of Japan front of mind, saying, ‘One thing I wanted to make sure that viewers who are filling out their brackets — this is a great tradition, we have fun every year doing it — but while you’re doing it, if you’re on your laptop, et cetera, go to usaid.gov and that’s going to list a whole range of charities where you can potentially contribute to help the people who have been devastated in Japan. I think that would be a great gesture as you’re filling out your brackets.’

There that’s covered – anyone for golf?

Oh wait, Lybia Libya.  Morning Defense (from POLITICO) says:

    Here’s your readout from Tuesday evening: “At today’s meeting, the President and his national security team reviewed the situation in Libya and options to increase pressure on Qadhafi. In particular, the conversation focused on efforts at the United Nations and potential UN Security Council actions, as well as ongoing consultations with Arab and European partners. The President instructed his team to continue to fully engage in the discussions at the United Nations, NATO and with partners and organizations in the region.”

Well the great gab fest is underway, or at least planned to be under way.  Oh, what was it President Obama said on March 3rd?

    With respect to our willingness to engage militarily, … I’ve instructed the Department of Defense … to examine a full range of options. I don’t want us hamstrung. … Going forward, we will continue to send a clear message: The violence must stop. Muammar Gaddafi has lost legitimacy to lead, and he must leave.”

Uh huh.  So there is a reason for the rebels in Libya to at least feel a little let down, isn’t there? There’s a reason they’re saying things like:

    “These politicians are liars. They just talk and talk, but they do nothing.”

Yes sir, now there’s a group that obviously thinks much more highly of America since Obama took office.  Or:

    Iman Bugaighis, a professor who has become a spokeswoman for the rebels, lost her composure as she spoke about the recent death of a friend’s son, who died in battle last week. Her friend’s other son, a doctor, was still missing. Western nations, she said, had “lost any credibility.”

    “I am not crying out of weakness,” she said. “I’ll stay here until the end. Libyans are brave. We will stand for what we believe in. But we will never forget the people who stood with us and the people who betrayed us.”

Fear not Ms. Bugaighis, the UN is on the job:

    The United Nations Security Council was discussing a resolution that would authorize a no-flight zone to protect civilians, but its prospects were uncertain at best, diplomats said.

I think an episode that best typifies what is going on in the Obama administration (and is being mirrored around the world) is to be found in the British comedy “Yes, Prime Minister”.  If this isn’t what we’re seeing, I don’t know what typifies it better (via Da Tech Guy).  Pay particular attention (around the 8 minute mark) to the “4 stage strategy”.  It is what is happening in spades:

In case you missed it, weren’t able to view the vid for whatever reason or just need a recap, here’s the 4 Stage Strategy:

    Dick: “In stage 1 we say ‘Nothing is going to Happen’”

    Sir Humphrey: “In stage 2 we say ‘Something may be going to happen but we should do nothing about it’”

    Dick: “In stage 3 we say “maybe we should do something about it but there’s nothing we can do.’”

    Sir Humphrey: “In stage 4 we say ‘Maybe there was something we could have done, but it’s too late now’”

Folks, there it is in a nutshell.  The Obama variation, aka the “Obama Doctrine” as outlined by Conn Carroll is this:

    It assumes that big problems can be solved with big words while the messy details take care of themselves. It places far too much confidence in international entities, disregards for the importance of American independence, and fails to emphasize American exceptionalism.

And gets absolutely nothing accomplished.

Oh, about that golf game …

[ASIDE] This is not a plea or a demand for a No Fly Zone in Libya. It is an assessment of the way this administration has approached almost every foreign policy crisis with which it has been faced. Back to my point about this president trying to defer everything that requires any sort of difficult decision to others (UN, NATO, etc). This is just another in a long line of examples of that along with his refusal to anything more than talk about it and give the impression of relevant action without any really being done.


Bruce McQuain blogs at Questions and Observations (QandO), Blackfive, the Washington Examiner and the Green Room.  Follow him on Twitter: @McQandO
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« Reply #122 on: March 16, 2011, 01:43:22 PM »

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/03/16/lessons-from-libya-for-dictators-in-distress/

Lessons from Libya for Dictators in Distress
Rick Richman 03.16.2011 - 8:19 AM

1. If you want to remain in power, you need to do more than send a man on a camel into crowds. Declare war on your people; hire other people to help out.

2. Do not worry if the U.S. president says you must “step down” and “leave.” It is only his personal opinion.

3. To ensure that the president does not focus unduly on your war, schedule it while he is preoccupied with other matters: a Motown concert, a conference on bullying, his golf game, and finalizing his Final Four picks.

4. Declare that the opposition is not “organic.” The president will not assist a non-organic revolution. If the revolution is organic, do not worry: an organic revolution is by definition one he does not need to assist. Either way, you’re fine.

5. Recognize that your membership on the UN Human Rights Council will be suspended — the president will send his secretary of state there to ensure that. Do not start a war against your people if you are not prepared for this.

6. Do not worry about a “no-fly zone” or some other U.S. military response. The president will consider it only if the world speaks with one voice. The world includes Russia, China, and Turkey.

7. Remember when the president adopted his Afghanistan policy after an extensive “review;” selected his own general to implement it; got the general’s recommendations; and then held endless meetings before finally reluctantly approving them? That was about a war he was already in. He will need many more meetings than that before he considers any new action against you.

8. You may eventually be subject to sanctions, so check to see if they’ve worked yet with Cuba, North Korea, or Iran.

9. Consider restarting your nuclear program, since the conditions that caused you to suspend it are gone. At most, the president will form a committee of several nations to talk to you; he will consider more sanctions if the world speaks as one. You need not worry about his “deadlines.”

10. There is basically only one thing you do need to worry about: do not, under any circumstances, approve any future Jewish housing in Jerusalem. The president will go ballistic if you do.
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« Reply #123 on: March 22, 2011, 07:26:30 AM »

Every Arab country is unhappy in its own way, and it turns out Syria is no different. A wave of protests the past four days, starting in the city of Deraa on Friday and spreading, makes Iran's chief Arab ally a latecomer to the spring of Muslim discontent.

The unrest has taken Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and the U.S. foreign policy establishment by surprise. Syria was supposedly immune to Arab contagion. Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs magazine published "The Sturdy House That Assad Built," arguing that the Arab wave would not only "pass Syria by" but see Damascus "relatively strengthened" by the collapse of Egypt and other pro-American regimes. The West, urged German political scientist Michael Bröning, better think of new and better ways to "engage Assad."

The Obama Administration had already embraced this policy. The White House put an ambassador back in Damascus charged with pursuing a new detente. John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi have pushed the same line. The demonstrations and the Assad regime's bloody crackdown ought to give the champions of engagement pause. It turns out Syria's young and underemployed are no less frustrated with corruption and repression than are their peers from Tunis to Tehran.

Syria only looked "sturdy" until its people pushed on the doors of the house of Assad. Trouble started after hundreds of people in Deraa marched peacefully to protest the jailing of 15 schoolchildren who had written antiregime graffiti. Security forces opened fire, killing at least four. Protests continued through the funerals of the men killed. The offices of the ruling Baath Party in Deraa and vehicles were torched. Thousands yesterday marched in the nearby towns of Jasim and Inhkil. Demonstrations have also been reported in Damascus, Aleppo and other cities.

Like Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, Syria's regime isn't squeamish about using force against domestic opponents. Bashar Assad's kinder and gentler father, Hafez, ordered the massacre of 20,000 or so people during the 1982 uprising in the town of Hama. His son's allies in Iran certainly won't complain if Hama rules are applied in Deraa.

The U.S. national interest in this season of Arab uprisings is to have anti-American regimes fall while helping pro-American regimes to reform in a more liberal (in the 19th-century meaning of that word) direction. Rather than waste effort wooing Assad, the U.S. should support his domestic opponents at every opportunity. A weaker Syria might cause less trouble in Lebanon through its proxy, Hezbollah, and be less able to spread weapons and terror throughout the Mideast. Even bloody-minded authoritarians are less sturdy than they look to Westerners who mistake fear and order for consent.

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« Reply #124 on: March 22, 2011, 07:50:00 AM »

Libya, the West and the Narrative of Democracy
March 21, 2011


By George Friedman

Forces from the United States and some European countries have intervened in Libya. Under U.N. authorization, they have imposed a no-fly zone in Libya, meaning they will shoot down any Libyan aircraft that attempts to fly within Libya. In addition, they have conducted attacks against aircraft on the ground, airfields, air defenses and the command, control and communication systems of the Libyan government, and French and U.S. aircraft have struck against Libyan armor and ground forces. There also are reports of European and Egyptian special operations forces deploying in eastern Libya, where the opposition to the government is centered, particularly around the city of Benghazi. In effect, the intervention of this alliance has been against the government of Moammar Gadhafi, and by extension, in favor of his opponents in the east.

The alliance’s full intention is not clear, nor is it clear that the allies are of one mind. The U.N. Security Council resolution clearly authorizes the imposition of a no-fly zone. By extension, this logically authorizes strikes against airfields and related targets. Very broadly, it also defines the mission of the intervention as protecting civilian lives. As such, it does not specifically prohibit the presence of ground forces, though it does clearly state that no “foreign occupation force” shall be permitted on Libyan soil. It can be assumed they intended that forces could intervene in Libya but could not remain in Libya after the intervention. What this means in practice is less than clear.

There is no question that the intervention is designed to protect Gadhafi’s enemies from his forces. Gadhafi had threatened to attack “without mercy” and had mounted a sustained eastward assault that the rebels proved incapable of slowing. Before the intervention, the vanguard of his forces was on the doorstep of Benghazi. The protection of the eastern rebels from Gadhafi’s vengeance coupled with attacks on facilities under Gadhafi’s control logically leads to the conclusion that the alliance wants regime change, that it wants to replace the Gadhafi government with one led by the rebels.

But that would be too much like the invasion of Iraq against Saddam Hussein, and the United Nations and the alliance haven’t gone that far in their rhetoric, regardless of the logic of their actions. Rather, the goal of the intervention is explicitly to stop Gadhafi’s threat to slaughter his enemies, support his enemies but leave the responsibility for the outcome in the hands of the eastern coalition. In other words — and this requires a lot of words to explain — they want to intervene to protect Gadhafi’s enemies, they are prepared to support those enemies (though it is not clear how far they are willing to go in providing that support), but they will not be responsible for the outcome of the civil war.


The Regional Context

To understand this logic, it is essential to begin by considering recent events in North Africa and the Arab world and the manner in which Western governments interpreted them. Beginning with Tunisia, spreading to Egypt and then to the Arabian Peninsula, the last two months have seen widespread unrest in the Arab world. Three assumptions have been made about this unrest. The first was that it represented broad-based popular opposition to existing governments, rather than representing the discontent of fragmented minorities — in other words, that they were popular revolutions. Second, it assumed that these revolutions had as a common goal the creation of a democratic society. Third, it assumed that the kind of democratic society they wanted was similar to European-American democracy, in other words, a constitutional system supporting Western democratic values.

Each of the countries experiencing unrest was very different. For example, in Egypt, while the cameras focused on demonstrators, they spent little time filming the vast majority of the country that did not rise up. Unlike 1979 in Iran, the shopkeepers and workers did not protest en masse. Whether they supported the demonstrators in Tahrir Square is a matter of conjecture. They might have, but the demonstrators were a tiny fraction of Egyptian society, and while they clearly wanted a democracy, it is less than clear that they wanted a liberal democracy. Recall that the Iranian Revolution created an Islamic Republic more democratic than its critics would like to admit, but radically illiberal and oppressive. In Egypt, it is clear that Mubarak was generally loathed but not clear that the regime in general was being rejected. It is not clear from the outcome what will happen now. Egypt may stay as it is, it may become an illiberal democracy or it may become a liberal democracy.

Consider also Bahrain. Clearly, the majority of the population is Shiite, and resentment toward the Sunni government is apparent. It should be assumed that the protesters want to dramatically increase Shiite power, and elections should do the trick. Whether they want to create a liberal democracy fully aligned with the U.N. doctrines on human rights is somewhat more problematic.

Egypt is a complicated country, and any simple statement about what is going on is going to be wrong. Bahrain is somewhat less complex, but the same holds there. The idea that opposition to the government means support for liberal democracy is a tremendous stretch in all cases — and the idea that what the demonstrators say they want on camera is what they actually want is problematic. Even more problematic in many cases is the idea that the demonstrators in the streets simply represent a universal popular will.

Nevertheless, a narrative on what has happened in the Arab world has emerged and has become the framework for thinking about the region. The narrative says that the region is being swept by democratic revolutions (in the Western sense) rising up against oppressive regimes. The West must support these uprisings gently. That means that they must not sponsor them but at the same time act to prevent the repressive regimes from crushing them.

This is a complex maneuver. The West supporting the rebels will turn it into another phase of Western imperialism, under this theory. But the failure to support the rising will be a betrayal of fundamental moral principles. Leaving aside whether the narrative is accurate, reconciling these two principles is not easy — but it particularly appeals to Europeans with their ideological preference for “soft power.”

The West has been walking a tightrope of these contradictory principles; Libya became the place where they fell off. According to the narrative, what happened in Libya was another in a series of democratic uprisings, but in this case suppressed with a brutality outside the bounds of what could be tolerated. Bahrain apparently was inside the bounds, and Egypt was a success, but Libya was a case in which the world could not stand aside while Gadhafi destroyed a democratic uprising. Now, the fact that the world had stood aside for more than 40 years while Gadhafi brutalized his own and other people was not the issue. In the narrative being told, Libya was no longer an isolated tyranny but part of a widespread rising — and the one in which the West’s moral integrity was being tested in the extreme. Now was different from before.

Of course, as with other countries, there was a massive divergence between the narrative and what actually happened. Certainly, that there was unrest in Tunisia and Egypt caused opponents of Gadhafi to think about opportunities, and the apparent ease of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings gave them some degree of confidence. But it would be an enormous mistake to see what has happened in Libya as a mass, liberal democratic uprising. The narrative has to be strained to work in most countries, but in Libya, it breaks down completely.


The Libyan Uprising

As we have pointed out, the Libyan uprising consisted of a cluster of tribes and personalities, some within the Libyan government, some within the army and many others longtime opponents of the regime, all of whom saw an opportunity at this particular moment. Though many in western portions of Libya, notably in the cities of Zawiya and Misurata, identify themselves with the opposition, they do not represent the heart of the historic opposition to Tripoli found in the east. It is this region, known in the pre-independence era as Cyrenaica, that is the core of the opposition movement. United perhaps only by their opposition to Gadhafi, these people hold no common ideology and certainly do not all advocate Western-style democracy. Rather, they saw an opportunity to take greater power, and they tried to seize it.

According to the narrative, Gadhafi should quickly have been overwhelmed — but he wasn’t. He actually had substantial support among some tribes and within the army. All of these supporters had a great deal to lose if he was overthrown. Therefore, they proved far stronger collectively than the opposition, even if they were taken aback by the initial opposition successes. To everyone’s surprise, Gadhafi not only didn’t flee, he counterattacked and repulsed his enemies.

This should not have surprised the world as much as it did. Gadhafi did not run Libya for the past 42 years because he was a fool, nor because he didn’t have support. He was very careful to reward his friends and hurt and weaken his enemies, and his supporters were substantial and motivated. One of the parts of the narrative is that the tyrant is surviving only by force and that the democratic rising readily routs him. The fact is that the tyrant had a lot of support in this case, the opposition wasn’t particularly democratic, much less organized or cohesive, and it was Gadhafi who routed them.

As Gadhafi closed in on Benghazi, the narrative shifted from the triumph of the democratic masses to the need to protect them from Gadhafi — hence the urgent calls for airstrikes. But this was tempered by reluctance to act decisively by landing troops, engaging the Libyan army and handing power to the rebels: Imperialism had to be avoided by doing the least possible to protect the rebels while arming them to defeat Gadhafi. Armed and trained by the West, provided with command of the air by the foreign air forces — this was the arbitrary line over which the new government keeps from being a Western puppet. It still seems a bit over the line, but that’s how the story goes.

In fact, the West is now supporting a very diverse and sometimes mutually hostile group of tribes and individuals, bound together by hostility to Gadhafi and not much else. It is possible that over time they could coalesce into a fighting force, but it is far more difficult imagining them defeating Gadhafi’s forces anytime soon, much less governing Libya together. There are simply too many issues between them. It is, in part, these divisions that allowed Gadhafi to stay in power as long as he did. The West’s ability to impose order on them without governing them, particularly in a short amount of time, is difficult to imagine. They remind me of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, anointed by the Americans, distrusted by much of the country and supported by a fractious coalition.


Other Factors

There are other factors involved, of course. Italy has an interest in Libyan oil, and the United Kingdom was looking for access to the same. But just as Gadhafi was happy to sell the oil, so would any successor regime be; this war was not necessary to guarantee access to oil. NATO politics also played a role. The Germans refused to go with this operation, and that drove the French closer to the Americans and British. There is the Arab League, which supported a no-fly zone (though it did an about-face when it found out that a no-fly zone included bombing things) and offered the opportunity to work with the Arab world.

But it would be a mistake to assume that these passing interests took precedence over the ideological narrative, the genuine belief that it was possible to thread the needle between humanitarianism and imperialism — that it was possible to intervene in Libya on humanitarian grounds without thereby interfering in the internal affairs of the country. The belief that one can take recourse to war to save the lives of the innocent without, in the course of that war, taking even more lives of innocents, also was in play.

The comparison to Iraq is obvious. Both countries had a monstrous dictator. Both were subjected to no-fly zones. The no-fly zones don’t deter the dictator. In due course, this evolves into a massive intervention in which the government is overthrown and the opposition goes into an internal civil war while simultaneously attacking the invaders. Of course, alternatively, this might play out like the Kosovo war, where a few months of bombing saw the government surrender the province. But in that case, only a province was in play. In this case, although focused ostensibly on the east, Gadhafi in effect is being asked to give up everything, and the same with his supporters — a harder business.

In my view, waging war to pursue the national interest is on rare occasion necessary. Waging war for ideological reasons requires a clear understanding of the ideology and an even clearer understanding of the reality on the ground. In this intervention, the ideology is not crystal clear, torn as it is between the concept of self-determination and the obligation to intervene to protect the favored faction. The reality on the ground is even less clear. The reality of democratic uprisings in the Arab world is much more complicated than the narrative makes it out to be, and the application of the narrative to Libya simply breaks down. There is unrest, but unrest comes in many sizes, democratic being only one.

Whenever you intervene in a country, whatever your intentions, you are intervening on someone’s side. In this case, the United States, France and Britain are intervening in favor of a poorly defined group of mutually hostile and suspicious tribes and factions that have failed to coalesce, at least so far, into a meaningful military force. The intervention may well succeed. The question is whether the outcome will create a morally superior nation. It is said that there can’t be anything worse than Gadhafi. But Gadhafi did not rule for 42 years because he was simply a dictator using force against innocents, but rather because he speaks to a real and powerful dimension of Libya.

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« Reply #125 on: March 22, 2011, 08:17:08 AM »

"Like Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, Syria's regime isn't squeamish about using force against domestic opponents. Bashar Assad's kinder and gentler father, Hafez, ordered the massacre of 20,000 or so people during the 1982 uprising in the town of Hama. His son's allies in Iran certainly won't complain if Hama rules are applied in Deraa."

Next NFZ? I expect Syria to crush the protesters quite soon, with lots of bloodshed, as needed.
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« Reply #126 on: March 27, 2011, 08:35:50 AM »

By AHED AL HENDI
A few days ago, my friend Hussam Melhim, a Syrian blogger jailed for writing a poem criticizing Bashar al-Assad, was released after five years in prison. I too was jailed by Assad's regime. After 40 days of isolation and torture—punishment for my political activism—I was released in 2007.

Despite the fact that the regime has killed more than 100 protesters in the past few days, those of us who have fought for a democratic Syria have reason for optimism. Each day there are new demonstrations breaking out all over the country, even in small towns like Hajar Aswad. In the southern city of Daraa, the whole city is rebelling against the regime.

On Wednesday, Assad's special forces stormed Daraa. They honed in on the mosque where protesters had gathered—but only after the regime had cut electricity, Internet and land-lines, and banned reporters from entering the city.

I called a couple of friends based in Daraa, and I was able to hear the shooting and the voices of protesters screaming.

The call for these protests began on Facebook. The main organizers have chosen to remain anonymous—but one thing is clear: They are not Islamists. On the Facebook group Syrian Revolution Against Bashar al-Assad, which has 60,000 members so far, Fadi Edlbi posted the slogan "National unity, all for freedom, Muslims and Christians!" Another member, Shadi Deeb, wrote: "Not Sunni, not Allawite, all chant for freedom!"

The movement that began on computer screens has spread to the most unexpected places. On March 18, a friend who had gone to the main mosque in Damascus for Friday prayers said that when the imam finished his sermon someone in the crowd started chanting "Freedom, freedom!" As he chanted, he held up a paper with the sign of the cross and crescent as a symbol of unity. Within seconds, the hundreds of people gathered in the Umayyad Mosque began to chant along with him. Minutes later, the security forces stormed the mosque and started to beat the worshippers. These plain-clothed security forces added insult to injury by entering the mosque with their shoes on.

Protests that Friday weren't limited to Damascus. Syrians demonstrated in Homs City, Dair Al Zour, the coastal city of Banias, and Daraa. While in the other cities the demonstrations didn't last longer than an hour, in Daraa the protesters persist and the crowds remain large.

Why are those in Daraa so determined? There, Syrians watched as 15 children were arrested earlier this month simply for drawing graffiti on the wall of their school that said, "The people want to take down the regime." The kids that did this were in the fourth grade. They had no idea that this tiny act of rebellion would lead to their arrest by the secret services—from their classrooms.

On Wednesday, they were released after more than two weeks of being detained. My friend who saw them told me, "It's horrible. There were scars all over their bodies. And their nails were pulled from their hands."

Yesterday, in response to the most widespread demonstrations so far, the regime killed at least 20 people in Daraa, three in Damascus, and four in the coastal town of Latakia. Protesters all over the country shouted: "We sacrifice our souls and blood for you, Daraa." Everyone I speak to says protests will continue. I don't expect them to let up.

Mr. Al Hendi is the Arabic program coordinator for the U.S.-based human rights organization Cyberdissidents.org

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« Reply #127 on: March 27, 2011, 11:42:57 AM »

I expect that Iran will do whatever it takes to keep Syria.

We shall see.
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« Reply #128 on: March 27, 2011, 01:00:05 PM »


http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704050204576218842399053176.html?mod=WSJ_World_RIGHTTopCarousel_1


Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain and the other Gulf states are all individually more important than Libya because they constitute Saudi Arabia's critical near-abroad. In this era of weakening central authority throughout the Middle East, the core question for the U.S. will be which regime lasts longer: Saudi Arabia's or Iran's. If the Saudi monarchy turns out to have more staying power, we will wrest a great strategic victory from this process of unrest; if Iran's theocracy prevails, it will signal a fundamental eclipse of American influence in the Middle East.

Criticize the Saudi royals all you want—their country requires dramatic economic reform, and fast—but who and what would replace them? There is no credible successor on the horizon. Even as Saudi Arabia's youthful population, 40% of which is unemployed, becomes more restive, harmony within the royal family is beginning to fray as the present generation of leaders gives way to a new one. And nothing spells more trouble for a closed political system than a divided elite. Yes, Iran experienced massive antiregime demonstrations in 2009 and smaller ones more recently. But the opposition there is divided, and the regime encompasses various well-institutionalized power centers, thus making a decapitation strategy particularly hard to achieve. The al Sauds may yet fall before the mullahs do, and our simplistic calls for Arab democracy only increase that possibility.

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« Reply #129 on: March 28, 2011, 09:59:42 PM »

http://yargb.blogspot.com/2011/03/way-to-mans-heart.html

I wonder how our economic policies are contributing to this.....
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« Reply #130 on: March 29, 2011, 10:28:21 AM »


http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/in-tunisia-act-of-one-fruit-vendor-sparks-wave-of-revolution-through-arab-world/2011/03/16/AFjfsueB_story.html
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« Reply #131 on: March 30, 2011, 02:52:06 PM »

Lets make this the default thread for Syria folks.
========================================

VERY interesting commentary in this piece.

While protests in Syria are increasing in size and scope, the Syrian regime does not appear to be taking chances by parsing out political reforms that could further embolden the opposition. Instead, the Syrian regime is more likely to resort to more forceful crackdowns, which is likely to highlight the growing contradictions in U.S. public diplomacy in the region.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad delivered a speech to parliament on Wednesday in which he was expected to announce a number of political reforms including the lifting of the state of emergency, which has been in place since 1963. Instead, Bashar al Assad largely avoided talk of reforms. He said that security and stability needs to come first. He also built on a narrative that foreign elements were exploiting the grievances of the Syrian people and trying to break the country apart.

The minority Alawite regime in Syria faces immense socioeconomic challenges as well as demographic challenges but there are a number of reasons why the Syrian president appears to be so confident. Protesters in Daraa have come under heavy pressure by Syrian security forces and continue to come out in large numbers. Protests have also spread beyond Daraa to cities like Damascus, Latakia, Homs, Hama and Kamishli, but the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which is the main opposition group in the country, has not put its full weight behind the demonstrations and probably for good reason. The Muslim Brotherhood remembers well the 1982 massacre at Hama which devastated the movement and essentially razed that city to the ground. The Brotherhood is likely looking for assurances from the West that they’re going to receive protection as the crackdowns intensify.

But there’s really no guarantee that the Syrian opposition is going to get those assurances. The U.S. administration has been very careful to distinguish between the humanitarian military intervention in Libya and the situation in Syria, arguing that the level of repression in Syria hasn’t escalated to a point that would require military intervention. The U.S. really has no strategic interest in getting involved in Syria in the first place. Syria would be a much more complicated military affair. The prospects for success would be low and the downfall of the al Assad regime is also not a scenario that the Israelis want to see. The al Assad regime remains hostile to Israel but the virtue in that regime from the Israeli point of view lies in its predictability. The Israelis don’t want to see situation developed in which Syrian Islamists could create the political space in which to influence Syrian foreign policy.

To help ensure that it’s not going to get the Libya treatment, the Syrian regime is likely looking to Turkey for some assistance. Turkey, which has become much more assertive in the region and has stepped up its mediation efforts in Syria, does not want to see another crisis flare up on its border. While encouraging reforms in Syria, the Turks have also likely played a key role in getting the Syrians to clamp down on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad activity in the Palestinian territories recently. While the Turks will be encouraging the al Assad regime to make reforms at the right time, they could play key role in quietly sustaining external support for the Syrian regime. Syria’s crisis is far from over and the protests could continue to escalate especially now that the al Assad regime has made clear it’s not willing to go down that slippery slope of offering concessions to the opposition. The Syrian security and intelligence apparatus remains a formidable force and remains fairly unified in its approach to dealing with the uprising. What we’ll see in the coming days is whether those crackdowns will actually have the regime’s desired effect.

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« Reply #132 on: April 03, 2011, 10:22:08 AM »

Taking the conversation from the specifics of the moment of the Libyan thread and expanding them to the more general of the Arab world and the Muslim world, to begin the conversation I posit three options.

a) The GM option (and please correct/adjust my description as you see fit GM!):  Support bastards where it suits our convenience because the alternative, even though at first it may seem groovy, ultimately is an Islamic Reign of Terror.  Problem presented:  We are continuously backing anuses and eventually the pressure will build.  Furthermore, thanks to the goodness of the American people, a strategy based upon backing anuses will eventually be opposed.

b) The NeoCon option:  We need to cast this not as a war between the West/Freedom/Christianity and Islam, but as a war between Civilization and Barbarism.  Islamic Fascism becomes ascendant when people see no other choice to thugs like Saddam Hussein, Daffy, Mubarak, Assad of Syria, Saleh of Yemen, etc. Towards that end, we need to let the Arab/Muslim world see that the West can and does support and respect the desire for a freer and more prosperous way of life.  Not only will this intuitively be supported by the American people, but it will get us out of the conundrum in which we currently find ourselves.  Problem presented: We will enable the takeover by Islamo-fascism.  It will be one man, one vote, one time. see e.g. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-islamists-ambitions-20110403,0,1369436.story

c) Fortress America:  Self-explanatory.
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« Reply #133 on: April 03, 2011, 12:05:15 PM »

I don't think a) is unsustainable, if it offers an acceptible standard of living to the masses, or is willing to play the Hama card. Do I like this?  NO!

However, I like a caliphate even less.
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« Reply #134 on: April 03, 2011, 05:25:05 PM »

I'm not sure that I agree with that as a theoretical matter, but worth noting with the GM option in the current context is that our Fed is printing so much much that world-wide food prices are soaring.  Given that food is a large 5 of family budgets in the Arab world, in a certain, real, and direct sense the upheavals we are seeing are the fault of Obamanomics.

This reality is not likely to change in timely fashion.  Given that, I submit the proposition that the GM strategy will be a loser over time, even though we might debate if it were practical in the presence of food price stability.

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« Reply #135 on: April 03, 2011, 06:41:22 PM »

Crafty,

You might consider that as much as ASSad is an enemy of Israel, Israel isn't real keen on seeing him toppled.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/israel_grateful_for_border_quiet_not_cheering_for_demise_of_syrian_president_assad/2011/03/29/AFCYPvtB_story.html?wprss=rss_world

JERUSALEM — Syria has fought three wars with Israel and maintains close ties to its fiercest enemies in the region, including Iran and the Hamas and Hezbollah militant groups. So it may come as a surprise that many in Israel view the current unrest convulsing Syria with a wary eye, fearful that a collapse of Bashar Assad’s regime might imperil decades of quiet along the shared border.

Israeli leaders, who voiced fears — unfounded so far — that the earlier uprising in Egypt might spell the end of the two countries’ peace agreement, are keeping quiet about the tumult that has spread to Syria.

Several officials said that while Israel is closely following the situation in Syria — where mass protests are posing the greatest threat to the Assad family’s four decades in power — there is no consensus on how to react or even what the best-case scenario is for Israel.

In Geneva on Monday, President Shimon Peres said only that the unrest “changes the status quo in Israel,” while hoping Palestinians and Syrians “will be peaceful and free.”

Privately, officials note that Syria has been careful for decades to avoid direct violence, while fighting proxy wars by backing anti-Israel groups like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

 “That has been the working assumption in Israel for years: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” said Eyal Zisser, director of the Middle East Studies department at Tel Aviv University. “(Syria) scrupulously maintained the quiet. And who knows what will happen now — Islamic terror, al-Qaida, chaos?”
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« Reply #136 on: April 03, 2011, 09:53:48 PM »

In this vein, see my post #130 of March 30.
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« Reply #137 on: April 06, 2011, 01:36:01 PM »



"Syria is a partner in nuclear proliferation with North Korea. It is Iran's agent and closest Arab ally, granting it an outlet on the Mediterranean. Those two Iranian warships that went through the Suez Canal in February docked at the Syrian port of Latakia, a long-sought Iranian penetration of the Mediterranean. Yet here was the secretary of state covering for the Syrian dictator against his own opposition. And it doesn't help that Clinton tried to walk it back two days later by saying she was simply quoting others. Rubbish. Of the myriad opinions of Assad, she chose to cite precisely one: reformer. That's an endorsement, no matter how much she later pretends otherwise." --columnist Charles Krauthammer

=============
Separately, the Israeli president made the point the other day that we may not be seeing a clash of civilizations/religions but rather more a clash of generations.  A point worth considering , , ,
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« Reply #138 on: April 08, 2011, 07:51:46 AM »

From: "Stratfor" <noreply@stratfor.com>
To: "Akita23" <craftydog@dogbrothers.com>
Subject: France Struggles in Libya as the U.S. Focuses Elsewhere
Date: Thursday, April 07, 2011 10:07 PM


STRATFOR
---------------------------
April 8, 2011


FRANCE STRUGGLES IN LIBYA AS THE U.S. FOCUSES ELSEWHERE

France responded to rising criticism Wednesday from eastern Libyan rebels stating that NATO is not doing enough to protect them from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, as the air campaign nears the three-week mark. The rebels posit that NATO is overly concerned with avoiding civilian casualties, and as a result, it is allowing the Libyan army to regain territory lost during its low point last week. Indeed, the army's most recent counteroffensive has taken it back through Brega, with Ajdabiya now within its sights once again, while the rebel enclave of Misrata in western Libya continues to get bombarded by loyalist forces on a daily basis. France, which was the biggest proponent of involvement in Libya from the start, would very much like to step up the intensity of the campaign against Gadhafi, but is handicapped by the rules of engagement that NATO is operating under and the inherent limitations of airpower. Thus, French officials took time Wednesday to explain (in couched terms) why it is not Paris' fault that NATO jets are not pursuing the enemy more aggressively and how France was trying to adjust the way the military operation is being conducted.

"The United States was conspicuously absent from Wednesday's debate over whether NATO is doing enough in Libya."

French Foreign Minister Alan Juppe and French Chief of Defense Staff Adm. Edouard Guillaud both said Wednesday that NATO’s aversion to killing civilians is the main problem facing the operation. While Juppe was slightly less direct in his criticism of NATO, Paris clearly sees the current situation as unlikely to lead to any real success on the battlefield. More than two weeks of daily airstrikes have taken out almost all of the easy targets, and Gadhafi has shifted his tactics to avoid drawing enemy fire, meaning that a stalemate is fast approaching. Indeed, Juppe expressed fears that at the current pace, NATO forces risk getting "bogged down" in a situation that has the ability to linger on for months without producing a clear-cut winner.
 
NATO officials tried to defend its record in response to the rebel criticism and the French complaints, with one spokesman saying Wednesday that its planes have flown more than 1,000 sorties -- with at least 400 of them strike sorties -- in the last six days, and on April 5 alone it flew 155 sorties, with almost 200 planned for Wednesday. This is unlikely to mollify concerns from those who want more intense action, however, about the potential for the Libyan intervention to accomplish nothing but create an uneasy, de facto partition. As no one -- not even Paris -- wants to put boots on the ground, though, the best solution Jupee could proffer was to broach the topic of NATO's timid approach with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a Wednesday meeting. There, he was expected to push the suggestion for NATO to create a safe sea lane connecting Misrata to Benghazi, so that supplies could be shipped in by unknown naval forces.

The United States was conspicuously absent from Wednesday's debate over whether NATO is doing enough in Libya. While French foreign policy is focused almost entirely on Africa (where France is involved in two conflicts, the other being the Ivory Coast), Washington’s attention span is divided between Libya and the Persian Gulf.

The Persian Gulf may appear a lot calmer than it did three weeks ago, but the challenge of containing Iran looms large. Washington is seeking now to mend damaged ties with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that felt they did not receive enough American support during February and March. In addition, Washington is likely having second thoughts about its scheduled withdrawal from Iraq this summer, and suspects that Iran may have been seeking to foment much of the instability that was seen in Bahrain, which had a slight ripple effect on the situation in Saudi Arabia's own Shiite-rich Eastern province.
 
?U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited both Riyadh and Baghdad Wednesday, while U.S. Central Command Gen. James Mattis was in Manama, three regional capitals that form a line of American Arab alliances that serve as strong counters to Iranian hegemony in the Persian Gulf. Maintaining the balance of power between the Saudis (and by extension, the other five Gulf Cooperation Council countries, as well as Iraq) and Iranians in the Persian Gulf is of the utmost importance for the United States, certainly more important than anything that might occur in Libya. ?

Gates visited Saudi Arabia at a time in which relations between the United States and the kingdom are at their lowest in nearly a decade, as a result of what Riyadh viewed as American indecisiveness during not just the uprising in Bahrain, but also in Egypt and elsewhere. Saudi King Abdullah canceled a meeting in March with Gates and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, officially due to his health. However, it could have been seen as anger over how Washington was treating allied regimes during the midst of the popular unrest that has been spreading across the region since January. While he was there, he made the strongest comments to date by U.S. officials about the role of Iranian meddling in the region, saying for the first time that the United States has explicit evidence of a destabilization campaign hatched by Tehran. This was music to Saudi ears, as Riyadh and its GCC cohorts have been pushing this notion for the past several weeks in public, and the past several years in private, as seen by the WikiLeaks cables from Riyadh.

Meanwhile, Mattis' presence in Bahrain was a sign that while the United States may still be committed to the al-Khalifa family engaging in reforms, it is not about to abandon them in the face of the popular uprising that has largely been suppressed. Washington's support for Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, is by extension support for Saudi Arabia, as Shiite unrest in one directly affects the Shiite population in the other.
 
?It was most interesting that Gates ended his trip in Baghdad, where the United States is trying to withdraw forces by the end of the year. Washington is officially still committed to its withdrawal timetable, especially with U.S. President Barack Obama now officially back in campaign mode for the 2012 elections. Iraq was labeled by Obama during the 2008 campaign as the "wrong war" and has staked a large chunk of his political capital upon following through with a pledge to withdraw. But the events of 2011, and the strategic imperative of maintaining the balance of power in the Persian Gulf as a means of countering Iranian power, may be cause for a broken promise, or a slightly delayed one at least.

 

Copyright 2011 STRATFOR.

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« Reply #139 on: April 11, 2011, 10:19:49 AM »

In our 2011 annual forecast, we highlighted three predominant issues for the year: complications with Iran surrounding the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the struggle of the Chinese leadership to maintain stability amid economic troubles, and a shift in Russian behavior to appear more conciliatory, or to match assertiveness with conciliation. While we see these trends remaining significant and in play, we did not anticipate the unrest that spread across North Africa to the Persian Gulf region.

In the first quarter of 2011, we saw what appeared to be a series of dominoes falling, triggered by social unrest in Tunisia. In some sense, there have been common threads to many of the uprisings: high youth unemployment, rising commodity prices, high levels of crony capitalism, illegitimate succession planning, overdrawn emergency laws, the lack of political and media freedoms and so on. But despite the surface similarities, each has also had its own unique and individual characteristics, and in the Persian Gulf region, a competition between regional powers is playing out.

When the Tunisian leadership began to fall, we were surprised at the speed with which similar unrest spread to Egypt. Once in Egypt, however, it quickly became apparent that what we were seeing was not simply a spontaneous uprising of democracy-minded youth (though there was certainly an element of that), but rather a move by the military to exploit the protests to remove Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose succession plans were causing rifts within the establishment and opening up opportunities for groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

As we noted in our annual forecast; “While the various elements that make up the state will be busy trying to reach a consensus on how best to navigate the succession issue, several political and militant forces active in Egypt will be trying to take advantage of the historic opportunity the transition presents.” In this quarter, we see the military working to consolidate its control, balance the lingering elements of the pro-democracy movement, and keep the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist forces in check. Cairo is watching Israel very carefully in this respect, as Israeli military actions against the Palestinians or against southern Lebanon could force the Egyptian leadership to reassess the peace treaty with Israel, and give the Islamist forces in Egypt a political boost.

In Bahrain, we saw Iran seeking to take advantage of the general regional discontent to challenge Saudi interests. The Saudis intervened militarily, and for now appear to have things locked down in their smaller neighbor. Tehran is looking throughout the region to see which levers it is willing or capable of pulling to keep Saudi Arabia unbalanced while not going so far as to convince the United States it should keep a large force structure in Iraq. Countering Iran is Turkey, which has become more active in the region. The balancing between these two regional powers will be a major element shaping the second quarter and beyond.

We are entering a very dynamic quarter. The Persian Gulf region is the center of gravity, and the center of a rising regional power competition. A war in or with Israel is a major wild card that could destabilize the area further. Amid this, the United States continues to seek ways to disengage while not leaving the region significantly unbalanced. Off to the side is China, more intensely focused on domestic instability and facing rising economic pressures from high oil prices and inflation. Russia, perhaps, is in the best position this quarter, as Europe and Japan look for additional sources of energy, and Moscow can pack away some cash for later days.

Middle East
Table of Contents
Introduction
Middle East
South Asia
East Asia
Former Soviet Union
Europe
Sub-Saharan Africa
Latin America

Regional Trend: Iran’s Confrontation with the Arab World

The instability in the Middle East carrying the most strategic weight is centered on the Persian Gulf, where Bahrain has become a proxy battleground between Iran and its Sunni Arab rivals. Iran appears to have used its influence and networks to encourage or exploit rising unrest in Bahrain as part of a covert destabilization campaign in eastern Arabia, relying on a Shiite uprising in Bahrain to attempt to produce a cascade of unrest that would spill into the Shiite-heavy areas of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province. Saudi Arabia responded by sending military forces into its island neighbor.

Continued crackdowns and delays in political reforms will quietly fuel tensions between the United States and many of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states as Washington struggles between its need to complete the withdrawal from Iraq and to find a way to counterbalance Iran. The Iranians hope to exploit this dilemma by fomenting enough instability in the region to compel the United States and Saudi Arabia to come to Tehran for a settlement on Iranian terms or to fracture U.S.-Saudi ties, thereby drawing Washington into negotiations to end the unrest and thus obtain the opportunity to withdraw from Iraq. So far, that appears unlikely. Iran has successfully spread alarm throughout the GCC states, but it will face a much more difficult time in sustaining unrest in eastern Arabia in the face of intensifying GCC crackdowns.

Iran probably will have to resort to other arenas to exploit the Arab uprisings. In each of these arenas, Iran also will face considerable constraints. In Iraq, for example, Iran has a number of covert assets at its disposal to raise sectarian tensions, but in doing so, it risks upsetting the U.S. timetable for withdrawal and undermining the security of Iran’s western flank in the long term.

In the Levant, Iran could look to its militant proxy relationships with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories to provoke Israel into a military confrontation on at least one front, and possibly on two. An Israeli military intervention in the Gaza Strip would put pressure on the military-led regime in Egypt as it attempts to constrain domestic Islamist political forces. Syria, which carries influence over the actions of the principal Palestinian militant factions, can be swayed by regional players like Turkey to keep this theater contained, but calm in the Levant is not assured for the second quarter given the broader regional dynamic.

In the Arabian Peninsula, Iran can look to the Yemeni-Saudi borderland, where it can fuel an already-active al-Houthi rebellion with the intent of inciting the Ismaili Muslim communities in Saudi Arabia’s southern provinces in hopes of sparking Shiite unrest in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. This represents a much more roundabout method for trying to threaten the Saudi kingdom, but the current instability in Yemen affords Iran the opportunity to meddle amid the chaos.


Regional Trend: War in Libya, Fears in Egypt

Libya probably will remain in a protracted crisis through the next quarter. Though the Western leaders of the NATO-led military campaign have tied themselves to an unstated mission of regime change, an air campaign alone is unlikely to achieve that goal. Gadhafi’s support base, while under immense pressure, largely appears to be holding on in western Libya. The eastern rebels meanwhile remain an amateurish group that is not going to transform into a competent militant force within three months. The more the rebels attempt to advance westward across hundreds of miles of desert toward Tripoli, the easier Gadhafi’s forces can fall back to populated areas where NATO is increasingly unable to provide close air support for fear of inflicting civilian casualties. The geography and military realities in Libya promote a stalemate, and the historic split between western Tripolitania and eastern Cyrenaica will persist. The elimination of Gadhafi by hostile forces or by someone within his regime cannot be ruled out in this time frame, nor can a potential political accommodation involving one of Gadhafi’s sons or another tribal regime loyalist. Though neither scenario is likely to rapidly resolve the situation, a stalemate could allow some energy production and exports to resume in the east.

Coming out of its own political crisis, Egypt sees an opportunity in the Libya affair to project influence over the oil-rich eastern region and position itself as the Arab power broker for Western countries looking to earn a stake in a post-Gadhafi scenario. However, domestic constraints probably will inhibit Egyptian attempts to extend influence beyond its borders as Cairo continues its attempts to resuscitate the Egyptian economy and prepare for elections slated for September. Egypt also has a great deal to worry about in Gaza, where it fears that a flare-up between Palestinian militant factions and Israeli military forces could embolden the Egyptian opposition Muslim Brotherhood and place strains on the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.


Regional Trend: Syria Locking Down

The minority Alawite Syrian regime will resort to more forceful crackdowns in an attempt to quell spreading unrest. There is no guarantee that the regime’s traditional tactics will work, but Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s government appears more capable than many of its embattled neighbors in dealing with the current unrest. The crackdowns in Syria occurring against the backdrop of a stalemated Libyan military campaign will expose the growing contradictions in U.S. public diplomacy in the region, as the United States and Israel face an underlying imperative to maintain the al Assad regime in Syria which, while hostile, is weak and predictable enough to be preferable to an Islamist alternative. Both the GCC states and Iran will attempt to exploit Syria’s internal troubles in trying to sway the al Assad regime to their side in the broader Sunni-Shiite regional rivalry, but Syria will continue managing its foreign relations in a cautious manner, keeping itself open to offers but refusing commitment to any one side.


Regional Trend: Rising Turkey

The waves of unrest lapping at Turkey’s borders are accelerating Turkey’s regional rise. This quarter will be a busy one for Ankara, as the country prepares for June elections expected to see the ruling Justice and Development Party consolidate its political strength. Turkey will be forced to divide its attention between home and abroad as it tries to put out fires in its backyard. The crisis in Libya provides Turkey an opportunity to re-establish a foothold in North Africa, while in the Levant Turkey will be playing a major role in trying to manage the situation in Syria to avoid a spillover of Kurdish unrest into its own borders. Where Turkey is most needed, and where it actually holds significant influence, is in the heart of the Arab world: Iraq. Iran’s destabilization attempts in eastern Arabia and the United States’ overwhelming strategic need to end its military commitment to Iraq will put Turkey in high demand for both Washington and the GCC states as a counterbalance to a resurgent Iran.


Regional Trend: Yemen in Crisis

The gradual erosion of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime over the next quarter will plant the seeds for civil conflict. Both sides of the political divide in Yemen agree that Saleh will be making an early political exit, but there are a number of complications surrounding the transition negotiations that will extend the crisis. As tribal loyalties continue to fluctuate among the various political actors and pressures pile on the government, the writ of the Saleh regime will increasingly narrow to the capital of Sanaa, allowing rebellions elsewhere in the country to intensify.

Al-Houthi rebels of the Zaydi sect in the north are expanding their autonomy in Saada province bordering the Saudi kingdom, creating the potential for Saudi military intervention. An ongoing rebellion in the south as well as a resurgence of the Islamist old guard within the security apparatus opposing Saleh will meanwhile provide an opportunity for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to expand its areas of operation. Saleh’s eventual removal — a goal that has unified Yemen’s disparate opposition groups so far — will exacerbate these conditions, as each party falls back to their respective agendas. Saudi Arabia will be the main authority in Yemen trying to manage this crisis, with its priority being suppressing al-Houthi rebels in the north.

South Asia
Table of Contents
Introduction
Middle East
South Asia
East Asia
Former Soviet Union
Europe
Sub-Saharan Africa
Latin America

Regional Trend: Intensifying Taliban Actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Our annual forecast remains on track for Afghanistan. With the spring thaw, operations by both sides will intensify, but decisive progress on either side is unlikely. The degree to which the Taliban is capable of mounting offensive operations and other intimidation and assassination efforts in this quarter and the next will offer an opportunity to assess the impact of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operations. It may also reveal the Taliban’s core strategy for the year ahead, namely, whether it intends to intensify the conflict or hunker down to encourage and wait out the ISAF withdrawal.

The Pakistani counterinsurgency effort has made some progress in the tribal areas, but the Pakistani Taliban have yet to really ramp-up operations. The tempo of operations that the Pakistani Taliban are able to mount and sustain this quarter and next will be telling in terms of the strength of the movement after Islamabad’s efforts to crack down.

The Raymond David case brought ongoing tensions between the United States and Pakistan over the U.S.-jihadist war to an all-time high in the past quarter. Though the issue of the CIA contractor killing two Pakistani nationals was resolved via a negotiated settlement, the several weeklong public drama has emboldened Islamabad, which the Pakistanis will build upon to try to shape American behavior. While a major falling out between the two countries is unlikely, the Raymond Davis incident as well as the increasing perception in the region that Washington’s position has been significantly weakened will allow Pakistan to assert itself in terms of the overall U.S. strategy for South Asia, and especially on Afghanistan.

Islamabad will be trying to leverage further gains by Afghan Taliban insurgents to move the United States toward a negotiated settlement and exit strategy that does not create problems for Pakistan. However, there is little sign of meaningful negotiation or political accommodation so far this year. While there have been efforts to reach out behind the scenes, neither side is likely ready to give enough ground for real discussions to begin.

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« Reply #140 on: April 12, 2011, 10:34:05 AM »

The Arab Risings, Israel and Hamas
April 12, 2011


By George Friedman

There was one striking thing missing from the events in the Middle East in past months: Israel. While certainly mentioned and condemned, none of the demonstrations centered on the issue of Israel. Israel was a side issue for the demonstrators, with the focus being on replacing unpopular rulers.

This is odd. Since even before the creation of the state of Israel, anti-Zionism has been a driving force among the Arab public, perhaps more than it has been with Arab governments. While a few have been willing to develop open diplomatic relations with Israel, many more have maintained informal relations: Numerous Arab governments have been willing to maintain covert relations with Israel, with extensive cooperation on intelligence and related matters. They have been unwilling to incur the displeasure of the Arab masses through open cooperation, however.

That makes it all the more strange that the Arab opposition movements — from Libya to Bahrain — have not made overt and covert cooperation with Israel a central issue, if for no other reason than to mobilize the Arab masses. Let me emphasize that Israel was frequently an issue, but not the central one. If we go far back to the rise of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his revolution for Pan-Arabism and socialism, his issues against King Farouk were tightly bound with anti-Zionism. Similarly, radical Islamists have always made Israel a central issue, yet it wasn’t there in this round of unrest. This was particularly surprising with regimes like Egypt’s, which had formal relations with Israel.

It is not clear why Israel was not a rallying point. One possible explanation is that the demonstrations in the Islamic world were focused on unpopular leaders and regimes, and the question of local governance was at their heart. That is possible, but particularly as the demonstrations faltered, invoking Israel would have seemed logical as a way to legitimize their cause. Another explanation might have rested in the reason that most of these risings failed, at least to this point, to achieve fundamental change. They were not mass movements involving all classes of society, but to a great extent the young and the better educated. This class was more sophisticated about the world and understood the need for American and European support in the long run; they understood that including Israel in their mix of grievances was likely to reduce Western pressure on the risings’ targets. We know of several leaders of the Egyptian rising, for example, who were close to Hamas yet deliberately chose to downplay their relations. They clearly were intensely anti-Israeli but didn’t want to make this a crucial issue. In the case of Egypt, they didn’t want to alienate the military or the West. They were sophisticated enough to take the matter step by step.


Hamas’ Opportunity

A second thing was missing from the unrest: There was no rising, no intifada, in the Palestinian territories. Given the general unrest sweeping the region, it would seem logical that the Palestinian public would have pressed both the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Hamas to organize massive demonstrations against Israel. This didn’t happen.

This clearly didn’t displease the PNA, which had no appetite for underwriting another intifada that would have led to massive Israeli responses and disruption of the West Bank’s economy. For Hamas in Gaza, however, it was a different case. Hamas was trapped by the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. This blockade limited its ability to access weapons, as well as basic supplies needed to build a minimally functioning economy. It also limited Hamas’ ability to build a strong movement in the West Bank that would challenge Fatah’s leadership of the PNA there.

Hamas has been isolated and trapped in Gaza. The uprising in Egypt represented a tremendous opportunity for Hamas, as it promised to create a new reality in Gaza. If the demonstrators had succeeded not only in overthrowing Hosni Mubarak but also in forcing true regime change — or at least forcing the military to change its policy toward Hamas — the door could have opened for Hamas to have increased dramatically its power and its room to maneuver. Hamas knew that it had supporters among a segment of the demonstrators and that the demonstrators wanted a reversal of Egyptian policy on Israel and Gaza. They were content to wait, however, particularly as the PNA was not prepared to launch an intifada in the West Bank and because one confined to Gaza would have had little effect. So they waited.

For Hamas, a shift in Egyptian policy was the opening that would allow them to become militarily and politically more effective. It didn’t happen. The events of the past few months have shown that while the military wanted Mubarak out, it was not prepared to break with Israel or shift its Gaza policy. Most important, the events thus far have shown that the demonstrators were in no position to force the Egyptian military to do anything it didn’t want to do. Beyond forcing Mubarak out and perhaps having him put on trial, the basic policies of his regime remained in place.

Over the last few weeks, it became apparent to many observers, including the Hamas leadership, that what they hoped for in Egypt was either not going to happen any time soon or perhaps not at all. At the same time, it was obvious that the movement in the Arab world had not yet died out. If Hamas could combine the historical animosity toward Israel in the Arab world with the current unrest, it might be able to effect changes in policy not only in Egypt but also in the rest of the Arab world, a region that, beyond rhetoric, had become increasingly indifferent to the Palestinian cause.

Gaza has become a symbol in the Arab world of Palestinian resistance and Israeli oppression. The last war in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, has become used as a symbol in the Arab world and in Europe to generate anti-Israeli sentiment. Interestingly, Richard Goldstone, lead author of a report on the operation that severely criticized Israel, retracted many of his charges last week. One of the Palestinians’ major achievements was shaping public opinion in Europe over Cast Lead via the Goldstone Report. Its retraction was therefore a defeat for Hamas.

In the face of the decision by Arab demonstrators not to emphasize Israel, in the face of the apparent failure of the Egyptian rising to achieve definitive policy changes, and in the face of the reversal by Goldstone of many of his charges, Hamas clearly felt that it not only faced a lost opportunity, but it was likely to face a retreat in Western public opinion (albeit the latter was a secondary consideration).


The Advantage of Another Gaza Conflict for Hamas

Another Israeli assault on Gaza might generate forces that benefit Hamas. In Cast Lead, the Egyptian government was able to deflect calls to stop its blockade of Gaza and break relations with Israel. In 2011, it might not be as easy for them to resist in the event of another war. Moreover, with the uprising losing steam, a war in Gaza might re-energize Hamas, using what would be claimed as unilateral brutality by Israel to bring far larger crowds into the street and forcing a weakened Egyptian regime to make the kinds of concessions that would matter to Hamas.

Egypt is key for Hamas. Linked to an anti-Israel, pro-Hamas Cairo, the Gaza Strip returns to its old status as a bayonet pointed at Tel Aviv. Certainly, it would be a base for operations and a significant alternative to Fatah. But a war would benefit Hamas more broadly. For example, Turkey’s view of Gaza has changed significantly since the 2010 flotilla incident in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish civilians on a ship headed for Gaza. Turkey’s relationship with Israel could be further weakened, and with Egypt and Turkey both becoming hostile to Israel, Hamas’ position would improve. If Hamas could cause Hezbollah to join the war from the north then Israel would be placed in a challenging military position perhaps with the United States, afraid of a complete breakdown of its regional alliance system, forcing Israel to accept an unfavorable settlement.

Hamas had the same means for starting a war it had before Cast Lead and that Hezbollah had in 2006. It can still fire rockets at Israel. For the most part, these artillery rockets — homemade Qassams and mortars, do no harm. But some strike Israeli targets, and under any circumstances, the constant firing drives home the limits of Israeli intelligence to an uneasy Israeli public — Israel doesn’t know where the missiles are stored and can’t take them out. Add to this the rocket that landed 20 miles south of Tel Aviv and Israeli public perceptions of the murder of most of a Jewish family in the West Bank, including an infant, and it becomes clear that Hamas is creating the circumstances under which the Israelis have no choice but to attack Gaza.


Outside Intervention

After the first series of rocket attacks, two nations intervened. Turkey fairly publicly intervened via Syria, persuading Hamas to halt its attacks. Turkey understood the fragility of the Arab world and was not interested in the uprising receiving an additional boost from a war in Gaza. The Saudis also intervened. The Saudis provide the main funding for Hamas via Syria and were themselves trying to stabilize the situation from Yemen to Bahrain on its southern and eastern border; it did not want anything adding fuel to that fire. Hamas accordingly subsided.

Hamas then resumed its attack this weekend. We don’t know its reasoning, but we can infer it: Whatever Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria or anyone else wanted, this was Hamas’ historic opportunity. If Egypt returns to the status quo, Hamas returns to its trap. Whatever their friends or allies might say, missing this historic opportunity would be foolish for it. A war would hurt, but a defeat could be turned into a political victory.

It is not clear what the Israelis’ limit is. Clearly, they are trying to avoid an all-out assault on Gaza, limiting their response to a few airstrikes. The existence of Iron Dome, a new system to stop rockets, provides Israel some psychological comfort, but it is years from full deployment, and its effectiveness is still unknown. The rockets can be endured only so long before an attack. And the Goldstone reversal gives the Israelis a sense of vindication that gives them more room for maneuver.

Hamas appears to have plenty of rockets, and it will use them until Israel responds. Hamas will use the Israeli response to try to launch a broader Arab movement focused both on Israel and on regimes that openly or covertly collaborate with Israel. Hamas hopes above all to bring down the Egyptian regime with a newly energized movement. Israel above all does not want this to happen. It will resist responding to Hamas as long as it can, but given the political situation in Israel, its ability to do so is limited — and that is what Hamas is counting on.

For the United States and Europe, the merger of Islamists and democrats is an explosive combination. Apart, they do little. Together, they could genuinely destabilize the region and even further undermine the U.S. effort against jihadists. The United States and Europe want Israel to restrain itself but cannot restrain Hamas. Another war, therefore, is not out of the question — and in the end, the decision to launch one rests with Hamas.

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« Reply #141 on: April 26, 2011, 07:38:33 AM »

Iraq, Iran and the Next Move
April 26, 2011


By George Friedman

The United States told the Iraqi government last week that if it wants U.S. troops to remain in Iraq beyond the deadline of Dec. 31, 2011, as stipulated by the current Status of Forces Agreement between Washington and Baghdad, it would have to inform the United States quickly. Unless a new agreement is reached soon, the United States will be unable to remain. The implication in the U.S. position is that a complex planning process must be initiated to leave troops there and delays will not allow that process to take place.

What is actually going on is that the United States is urging the Iraqi government to change its mind on U.S. withdrawal, and it would like Iraq to change its mind right now in order to influence some of the events taking place in the Persian Gulf. The Shiite uprising in Bahrain and the Saudi intervention, along with events in Yemen, have created an extremely unstable situation in the region, and the United States is afraid that completing the withdrawal would increase the instability.


The Iranian Rise

The American concern, of course, has to do with Iran. The United States has been unable to block Iranian influence in Iraq’s post-Baathist government. Indeed, the degree to which the Iraqi government is a coherent entity is questionable, and its military and security forces have limited logistical and planning ability and are not capable of territorial defense. The issue is not the intent of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who himself is enigmatic. The problem is that the coalition that governs Iraq is fragmented and still not yet finalized, dominated by Iranian proxies such Muqtada al-Sadr — and it only intermittently controls the operations of the ministries under it, or the military and security forces.

As such, Iraq is vulnerable to the influence of any substantial power, and the most important substantial power following the withdrawal of the United States will be Iran. There has been much discussion of the historic tension between Iraqi Shia and Iranian Shia, all of which is true. But Iran has been systematically building its influence in Iraq among all factions using money, blackmail and ideology delivered by a sophisticated intelligence service. More important, as the United States withdraws, Iraqis, regardless of their feelings toward Iran (those Iraqis who haven’t always felt this way), are clearly sensing that resisting Iran is dangerous and accommodation with Iran is the only solution. They see Iran as the rising power in the region, and that perception is neither unreasonable nor something to which the United States or Saudi Arabia has an easy counter.

The Iraqi government’s response to the American offer has been predictable. While some quietly want the United States to remain, the general response has ranged from dismissal to threats if the United States did not leave. Given that the United States has reportedly offered to leave as many as 20,000 troops in a country that 170,000 American troops could not impose order on, the Iraqi perception is that this is merely a symbolic presence and that endorsing it would get Iraq into trouble with Iran, which has far more than 20,000 troops and ever-present intelligence services. It is not clear that the Iraqis were ever prepared to allow U.S. troops to remain, but 20,000 is enough to enrage Iran and not enough to deal with the consequences.

The American assumption in deciding to leave Iraq — and this goes back to George W. Bush as well as Barack Obama — was that over the course of four years, the United States would be able to leave because it would have created a coherent government and military. The United States underestimated the degree to which fragmentation in Iraq would prevent that outcome and the degree to which Iranian influence would undermine the effort. The United States made a pledge to the American public and a treaty with the Iraqi government to withdraw forces, but the conditions that were expected to develop simply did not.

Not coincidentally, the withdrawal of American forces has coincided with tremendous instability in the region, particularly on the Arabian Peninsula. All around the periphery of Saudi Arabia an arc of instability has emerged. It is not that the Iranians engineered it, but they have certainly taken advantage of it. As a result, Saudi Arabia is in a position where it has had to commit forces in Bahrain, is standing by in Yemen, and is even concerned about internal instability given the rise of both reform-minded and Shiite elements at a time of unprecedented transition given the geriatric state of the country’s top four leaders. Iran has certainly done whatever it could to exacerbate this instability, which fits neatly into the Iraqi situation.

As the United States leaves Iraq, Iran expects to increase its influence there. Iran normally acts cautiously even while engaged in extreme rhetoric. Therefore, it is unlikely to send conventional forces into Iraq. Indeed, it might not be necessary to do so in order to gain a dominant political position. Nor is it inconceivable that the Iranians could decide to act more aggressively. With the United States gone, the risks decline.


Saudi Arabia’s Problem

The country that could possibly counter Iran in Iraq is Saudi Arabia, which has been known to funnel money to Sunni groups there. Its military is no match for Iran’s in a battle for Iraq, and its influence there has been less than Iran’s among most groups. More important, as the Saudis face the crisis on their periphery they are diverted and preoccupied by events to the east and south. The unrest in the region, therefore, increases the sense of isolation of some Iraqis and increases their vulnerability to Iran. Thus, given that Iraq is Iran’s primary national security concern, the events in the Persian Gulf work to Iran’s advantage.

The United States previously had an Iraq question. That question is being answered, and not to the American advantage. Instead, what is emerging is a Saudi Arabian question. Saudi Arabia currently is clearly able to handle unrest within its borders. It has also been able to suppress the Shia in Bahrain — for now, at least. However, its ability to manage its southern periphery with Yemen is being tested, given that the regime in Sanaa was already weakened by multiple insurgencies and is now being forced from office after more than 30 years in power. If the combined pressure of internal unrest, turmoil throughout the region and Iranian manipulation continues, the stress on the Saudis could become substantial.

The basic problem the Saudis face is that they don’t know the limits of their ability (which is not much beyond their financial muscle) to manage the situation. If they miscalculate and overextend, they could find themselves in an untenable position. Therefore, the Saudis must be conservative. They cannot afford miscalculation. From the Saudi point of view, the critical element is a clear sign of long-term American commitment to the regime. American support for the Saudis in Bahrain has been limited, and the United States has not been aggressively trying to manage the situation in Yemen, given its limited ability to shape an outcome there. Coupled with the American position on Iraq, which is that it will remain only if asked — and then only with limited forces — the Saudis are clearly not getting the signals they want from the United States. In fact, what further worsens the Saudi position is that they cannot overtly align with the United States for their security needs. Nevertheless, they also have no other option. Exploiting this Saudi dilemma is a key part of the Iranian strategy.

The smaller countries of the Arabian Peninsula, grouped with Saudi Arabia in the Gulf Cooperation Council, have played the role of mediator in Yemen, but ultimately they lack the force needed by a credible mediator — a potential military option to concentrate the minds of the negotiating parties. For that, they need the United States.

It is in this context that the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, will be visiting Washington on April 26. The UAE is one of the few countries on the Arabian Peninsula that has not experienced significant unrest. As such, it has emerged as one of the politically powerful entities in the region. We obviously cannot know what the UAE is going to ask the United States for, but we would be surprised if it wasn’t for a definitive sign that the United States was prepared to challenge the Iranian rise in the region.

The Saudis will be watching the American response very carefully. Their national strategy has been to uncomfortably rely on the United States. If the United States is seen as unreliable, the Saudis have only two options. One is to hold their position and hope for the best. The other is to reach out and see if some accommodation can be made with Iran. The tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia — religious, cultural, economic and political — are profound. But in the end, the Iranians want to be the dominant power in the Persian Gulf, defining economic, political and military patterns.

On April 18, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s adviser for military affairs, Maj. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, warned Saudi Arabia that it, too, could be invaded on the same pretext that the kingdom sent forces into Bahrain to suppress a largely Shiite rising there. Then, on April 23, the commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jaafari, remarked that Iran’s military might was stronger than that of Saudi Arabia and reminded the United States that its forces in the region were within range of Tehran’s weapons. Again, the Iranians are not about to make any aggressive moves, and such statements are intended to shape perception and force the Saudis to capitulate on the negotiating table.

The Saudis want regime survival above all else. Deciding between facing Iran alone or reaching an unpleasant accommodation, the Saudis have little choice. We would guess that one of the reasons the UAE is reaching out to Obama is to try to convince him of the dire consequences of inaction and to move the United States into a more active role.


A Strategy of Neglect

The Obama administration appears to have adopted an increasingly obvious foreign policy. Rather than simply attempt to control events around the world, the administration appears to have selected a policy of careful neglect. This is not, in itself, a bad strategy. Neglect means that allies and regional powers directly affected by the problem will take responsibility for the problem. Most problems resolve themselves without the need of American intervention. If they don’t, the United States can consider its posture later. Given that the world has become accustomed to the United States as first responder, other countries have simply waited for the American response. We have seen this in Libya, where the United States has tried to play a marginal role. Conceptually, this is not unsound.

The problem is that this will work only when regional powers have the weight to deal with the problem and where the outcome is not crucial to American interests. Again, Libya is an almost perfect example of this. However, the Persian Gulf is an area of enormous interest to the United States because of oil. Absent the United States, the regional forces will not be able to contain Iran. Therefore, applying this strategy to the Persian Gulf creates a situation of extreme risk for the United States.

Re-engagement in Iraq on a level that would deter Iran is not a likely option, not only because of the Iraqi position but also because the United States lacks the force needed to create a substantial deterrence that would not be attacked and worn down by guerrillas. Intruding in the Arabian Peninsula itself is dangerous for a number reasons, ranging from the military challenge to the hostility an American presence could generate. A pure naval and air solution lacks the ability to threaten Iran’s center of gravity, its large ground force.

Therefore, the United States is in a difficult position. It cannot simply decline engagement nor does it have the ability to engage at this moment — and it is this moment that matters. Nor does it have allies outside the region with the resources and appetite for involvement. That leaves the United States with the Saudi option — negotiate with Iran, a subject I’ve written on before. This is not an easy course, nor a recommended one, but when all other options are gone, you go with what you have.

The pressure from Iran is becoming palpable. All of the Arab countries feel it, and whatever their feelings about the Persians, the realities of power are what they are. The UAE has been sent to ask the United States for a solution. It is not clear the United States has one. When we ask why the price of oil is surging, the idea of geopolitical risk does come to mind. It is not a foolish speculation.

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« Reply #142 on: April 26, 2011, 07:47:45 AM »

Careful neglect?  rolleyes

Howabout a part-time president more interested in partying and the perks of the office than actually doing the job, and can't make a decision when actually focused on it. What happened to a meeting without preconditions with Iran that was supposed to make everything better?
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Body-by-Guinness
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« Reply #143 on: April 26, 2011, 10:08:47 AM »

The cognitive dissonance embraced and the semantic convolutions articulated to further our ad hoc and inconsistent Mid-East "policy" truly do amaze. . . .

Obama considers new Syrian sanctions
By Sam Youngman and Ian Swanson    - 04/25/11 05:35 PM ET
The White House is considering new sanctions against Syria amid a crackdown by that country’s government against pro-democracy demonstrators.
 
Syria is one of only four countries on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List and is already subject to heavy sanctions, limiting U.S. options.
 
As a result, new sanctions are expected to focus on the assets of Syrian officials close to President Bashar al-Assad. Such a strategy would mimic actions taken by the U.S. against Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
 
Asked Monday about possible sanctions against individuals in the regime, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration was looking at targeted sanctions.
 
“Again, targeted – you can parse that – but targeted sanctions,” he said.
 
The administration imposed a similar strategy with Libya, said Richard Sawaya, director of USA Engage, which promotes alternatives to unilateral U.S. sanctions. He also noted that Iran sanctions legislation approved by Congress in 2010 targeted individuals in Iran.
 
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the White House is drafting an executive order empowering the president to freeze the assets of senior Syrian officials from doing any business in the United States. Such a move would have a limited effect in the U.S., but could be used to pressure other government to take the same action.
 
Pressure has built on the White House to respond more forcefully to Syria late last week after Assad’s regime ramped up its crackdown against those protesting for reforms.
 
According to reports from Syria, government forces killed more than 100 people over the weekend and arrested many more.  Reports on Monday indicated an escalation; The New York Times reported that tanks had entered the city of Dara’a.
 
Republicans have criticized President Obama, calling his approach to turmoil in the Middle East inconsistent.
 
The U.S. took part in military strikes against Libya, but has engaged only in diplomacy so far with Syria, a country closer to the heart of the Middle East that shares a border with Israel. Under Obama, the U.S. has sought engagement with Assad, who some have seen as a potential supporter of reform.
 
“President Obama should immediately recall the ambassador that he sent to Syria and move to invoke additional economic sanctions,” likely GOP presidential contender Tim Pawlenty said Friday in a statement.
 
The former Minnesota governor said Obama should instruct the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to call a special Security Council meeting to condemn the Syrian government.
 
Carney said having an ambassador in Syria has been useful “precisely because we can communicate directly what our positions and views are.”
 
He also defended the U.S. policies toward Syria and Libya, which he described as a “unique situation” that was different from what the U.S. faces with Syria.
 
“We had large portions of the country that were out of the control of Moammar Gadhafi,” Carney said. “We had a Gadhafi regime that was moving against its own people in a coordinated military fashion and was about to assault a very large city on the promise that it would show it, the regime, would show that city and its residents no mercy.
 
“We had an international consensus to act. We had the support of the Arab League to act in a multilateral fashion. And we supported that move to save the lives of the people of Misurata and elsewhere in Libya.
 
“So Libya was a unique situation,” Carney concluded. “However, we continue to look for ways and are pursuing a range of possible policy options, including targeted sanctions, to respond to the crackdown in Syria and to make clear that this behavior is unacceptable.”
 
Few if any U.S. companies are still doing business with Syria, which could put a limit on the effect of any U.S. sanctions, said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council.
 
“For the most part, companies doing business there pretty much unilaterally decided to get out,” he said.
 
Carney said sanctions “can put pressure on governments and regimes to change their behavior,” but also acknowledged that Syria already is under “some significant sanctions.”
Source:
http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/157645-obama-mulls-more-sanctions-for-much-sanctioned-syria
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #144 on: April 26, 2011, 10:22:21 AM »

The Syrian regime is obviously having a lot of trouble putting down unrest as crackdowns are intensifying and as protests are spreading. A number of regional stakeholders are meanwhile trying to exploit the regime’s current vulnerabilities in trying to promote their own agendas in the region, particularly as tensions are escalating between Iran and the GCC states in the Persian Gulf region.

The Syrian regime has been employing this me-or-chaos theory. It’s one that’s had a pretty good effect so far. The current regime has been in power since the ‘63 coup and there’s no real viable political alternative to the al Assad regime. At the same time, there are a lot of patronage networks tied to this regime that do not want to see the government go. And the main drivers to these protests have come from the majority Sunni conservative camp. There are a number of players in the region who just don’t know how a majority Sunni regime would conduct their foreign policy. That’s of great concern to a number of players in the region who are concerned by sectarianism spreading not only in Lebanon, where Syria is a major player, but also in Iraq. There is major Kurdish unrest in Syria’s northeast that could spill over into Turkey and also fuel unrest in northern Iraq where protests have also been significant.

Given all these factors, the Saudis, the Turks, the Israelis and the Americans - pretty much anyone with a major stake in Syria - have not been openly advocating for regime change in Syria. They have a lot of reason to worry about the fallout of a regime collapse. At the same time, certain players see an opportunity. The Saudis in particular have been trying long and hard to coerce Syria into joining the Arab consensus and into cutting its ties with Iran and Hezbollah. The urgency of this demand has intensified, especially as tensions have been on the rise between Iran and the GCC states in the Persian Gulf region. Syria has accused a number of the surrounding Sunni Arab states of supporting the protests in its country. The Saudis have responded by saying that Syrian compliance with its demands in cutting relations with Iran and Hezbollah could lead to an easing of domestic pressure.

And therein lies the paradox. Syria could always reject foreign pressure to end its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah, but then it would be giving a reason to these regimes to search for alternatives to the al Assad regime. On the other hand, Syria could comply with these demands and try to sever ties with Iran and Hezbollah. But Iran has built up an insurance policy to such a scenario. Remember Iran has a core interest in maintaining a strong stake in the Levant region with which to threaten Israel, and Syria’s crucial to that agenda.

Syria also derives a lot of leverage from its relationship with Iran. That’s the main reason why the Saudis and others have been throwing cash at the Syrian regime in an attempt to coerce the Syrians out of that relationship. Plus there’s a huge indigenous factor to these protests. There’s no guarantee that Syrian compliance with foreign demands will actually ease the pressure at home. Syria is undoubtedly in a tough spot on a number of fronts. Regime collapse may not be imminent nor assured in the near term especially as the army seems to be holding together, but the regime’s room to maneuver is definitely narrowing by the day.

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« Reply #145 on: April 28, 2011, 06:42:35 AM »

The Middle East in Long-Term Flux

There are days when disparate events in multiple countries offer key insights into the trajectory of the wider region. Tuesday was one of them. A number of significant developments took place in the Middle East – a region that in the past four months has become far more turbulent than it has been in the last decade. Let us start with Egypt, where the provisional military authority appears to be considering a radical foreign policy move in re-establishing ties with Iran. It is too early to say whether such a rapprochement will materialize, but the country’s interim premier, Essam Sharaf, who is on a tour of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), sought to reassure his Persian Gulf Arab hosts that revived Egyptian-Iranian ties would not undermine their security. Having successfully dealt with popular unrest at home, the military of Egypt appears to be on a path to reassert Cairo onto the regional scene, and revitalizing relations with an emergent Iran is likely a key aspect of this strategy.

Egypt, being far removed from the Persian Gulf region, does not have the same concerns about Iran that its fellow Sunni Arab states on the Arabian Peninsula do. It can therefore afford to have ties with the clerical regime. The Egyptians are also watching how the GCC states are unable to effectively deal with a rising Tehran and are thus seeing the need to become involved in the issue. However, unlike the Khaleeji Arabs, they do not think confrontation is the way forward. Establishing ties with Iran also allows Egypt to undercut Syria, which thus far is the only Arab state to have close relations with the Persian Islamist state.

“Iran wants to dispense with the unfinished business of Iraq, allowing it to focus on the other side of the Persian Gulf where turmoil in places like Bahrain offers potential opportunities of historic proportions.”
Meanwhile, Syria faces growing public agitation and its future looks uncertain. Damascus is caught in a dilemma — its use of force to quell the popular demonstrations has only aggravated matters. Placating the masses through reforms is also risky for the future well-being of the regime. Faced with bad options, it has largely focused on using force to try and neutralize the opposition — a move that has its northern neighbor, Turkey, concerned about turmoil on its southern borders (turmoil that could easily spread to Lebanon). This is why on Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he will send a delegation to the Syrian capital to try to help defuse the situation.

Growing instability in Syria, however, is beginning to be an issue for the Turks. In Iraq, the Turks have long been caught in the middle of an intensifying U.S.-Iranian struggle. And on Tuesday, that struggle took an interesting turn with reports that the Iraqi prime minister is considering ways in which his government could allow American troops to remain in his country while not upsetting his patrons in Iran. It will be difficult to strike such a compromise given that Iran is anxiously waiting for the withdrawal of American forces from its western neighbor so it can move to consolidate its influence there unencumbered.

Iran wants to dispense with the unfinished business of Iraq, allowing it to focus on the other side of the Persian Gulf, where turmoil in places like Bahrain offers potential opportunities of historic proportions. While its arch regional nemesis, Saudi Arabia, seems to have things under control in the Shiite-majority Arab island kingdom for now, the situation there is not tenable given that the demographics work in favor of Iran. A more immediate concern for the Saudis in relation to the Arabian Peninsula is the serious potential for a meltdown of the Yemeni state.

Riyadh and its GCC allies have been working overtime trying to broker a deal in Yemen whereby beleaguered President Ali Abdullah Saleh can step down and hand over power to a transitional coalition government. On Tuesday, it was announced that the deal is supposed to be signed next Monday in the Saudi capital. Given the complex fault lines separating the various players in the largely tribal country, the chances of Yemen undergoing an orderly transfer of power remain low. In fact, because of the complexity and number of actors involved in the process, the likelihood of civil war remains high.

Ultimately, the prospects of turmoil on the Arabian Peninsula and Levant remain high. Egypt, Turkey and Iran – to varying degrees – could benefit in the long term. In the short term, we are looking at a slow but steady spread of instability throughout the region, rendering it precarious for years to come.

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« Reply #146 on: April 28, 2011, 12:09:51 PM »

http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/Royal-Wedding/Video-Royal-Wedding-Syrian-Ambassadors-Royal-Wedding-Invitation-Withdrawn/Article/201104415980785?f=rss

Take that, evildoers!
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #147 on: May 11, 2011, 11:51:50 AM »




 

By Reva Bhalla

Syria is clearly in a state of internal crisis. Protests organized on Facebook were quickly stamped out in early February, but by mid-March, a faceless opposition had emerged from the flashpoint city of Daraa in Syria’s largely conservative Sunni southwest. From Daraa, demonstrations spread to the Kurdish northeast, the coastal Latakia area, urban Sunni strongholds in Hama and Homs, and to Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus. Feeling overwhelmed, the regime experimented with rhetoric on reforms while relying on much more familiar iron-fist methods in cracking down, arresting hundreds of men, cutting off water and electricity to the most rebellious areas, and making clear to the population that, with or without emergency rule in place, the price for dissent does not exclude death. (Activists claim more than 500 civilians have been killed in Syria since the demonstrations began, but that figure has not been independently verified.)

A survey of the headlines would lead many to believe that Syrian President Bashar al Assad will soon be joining Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak in a line of deposed Arab despots. The situation in Syria is serious, but in our view, the crisis has not yet risen to a level that would warrant a forecast that the al Assad regime will fall.

Four key pillars sustain Syria’s minority Alawite-Baathist regime:

Power in the hands of the al Assad clan
Alawite unity
Alawite control over the military-intelligence apparatus
The Baath party’s monopoly on the political system
Though the regime is coming under significant stress, all four of these pillars are still standing. If any one falls, the al Assad regime will have a real existential crisis on its hands. To understand why this is the case, we need to begin with the story of how the Alawites came to dominate modern Syria.


The Rise of the Alawites

Syria’s complex demographics make it a difficult country to rule. It is believed that three-fourths of the country’s roughly 22 million people are Sunnis, including most of the Kurdish minority in the northeast. Given the volatility that generally accompanies sectarianism, Syria deliberately avoids conducting censuses on religious demographics, making it difficult to determine, for example, exactly how big the country’s Alawite minority has grown. Most estimates put the number of Alawites in Syria at around 1.5 million, or close to 7 percent of the population. When combined with Shia and Ismailis, non-Sunni Muslims average around 13 percent. Christians of several variations, including Orthodox and Maronite, make up around 10 percent of the population. The mostly mountain-dwelling Druze make up around 3 percent.



(click here to enlarge image)
Alawite power in Syria is only about five decades old. The Alawites are frequently (and erroneously) categorized as Shia, have many things in common with Christians and are often shunned by Sunnis and Shia alike. Consequently, Alawites attract a great deal of controversy in the Islamic world. The Alawites diverged from the mainstream Twelver of the Imami branch of Shiite Islam in the ninth century under the leadership of Ibn Nusayr (this is why, prior to 1920, Alawites were known more commonly as Nusayris). Their main link to Shiite Islam and the origin of the Alawite name stems from their reverence for the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali. The sect is often described as highly secretive and heretical for its rejection of Shariah and of common Islamic practices, including call to prayer, going to mosque for worship, making pilgrimages to Mecca and intolerance for alcohol. At the same time, Alawites celebrate many Christian holidays and revere Christian saints.

Alawites are a fractious bunch, historically divided among rival tribes and clans and split geographically between mountain refuges and plains in rural Syria. The province of Latakia, which provides critical access to the Mediterranean coast, is also the Alawite homeland, ensuring that any Alawite bid for autonomy would be met with stiff Sunni resistance. Historically, for much of the territory that is modern-day Syria, the Alawites represented the impoverished lot in the countryside while the urban-dwelling Sunnis dominated the country’s businesses and political posts. Unable to claim a firm standing among Muslims, Alawites would often embrace the Shiite concept of taqqiya (concealing or assimilating one’s faith to avoid persecution) in dealing with their Sunni counterparts.

Between 1920 and 1946, the French mandate provided the first critical boost to Syria’s Alawite community. In 1920, the French, who had spent years trying to legitimize and support the Alawites against an Ottoman-backed Sunni majority, had the Nusayris change their name to Alawites to emphasize the sect’s connection to the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law Ali and to Shiite Islam. Along with the Druze and Christians, the Alawites would enable Paris to build a more effective counterweight to the Sunnis in managing the French colonial asset. The lesson here is important. Syria is not simply a mirror reflection of a country like Bahrain, a Shiite majority country run by a minority Sunni government. Rather than exhibiting a clear Sunni-Shiite religious-ideological divide, Syria’s history can be more accurately described as a struggle between the Sunnis on one hand and a group of minorities on the other.

Under the French, the Alawites, along with other minorities, for the first time enjoyed subsidies, legal rights and lower taxes than their Sunni counterparts. Most critically, the French reversed Ottoman designs of the Syrian security apparatus to allow for the influx of Alawites into military, police and intelligence posts to suppress Sunni challenges to French rule. Consequently, the end of the French mandate in 1946 was a defining moment for the Alawites, who by then had gotten their first real taste of the privileged life and were also the prime targets of purges led by the urban Sunni elite presiding over a newly independent Syria.


A Crucial Military Opening

The Sunnis quickly reasserted their political prowess in post-colonial Syria and worked to sideline Alawites from the government, businesses and courts. However, the Sunnis also made a fateful error in overlooking the heavy Alawite presence in the armed forces. While the Sunnis occupied the top posts within the military, the lower ranks were filled by rural Alawites who either could not afford the military exemption fees paid by most of the Sunni elite or simply saw military service as a decent means of employment given limited options. The seed was thus planted for an Alawite-led military coup while the Sunni elite were preoccupied with their own internal struggles.

The second major pillar supporting the Alawite rise came with the birth of the Baath party in Syria in 1947. For economically disadvantaged religious outcasts like Alawites, the Baathist campaign of secularism, socialism and Arab nationalism provided the ideal platform and political vehicle to organize and unify around. At the same time, the Baathist ideology caused huge fissures within the Sunni camp, as many — particularly the Islamists — opposed its secular, social program. In 1963, Baathist power was cemented through a military coup led by President Amin al-Hafiz, a Sunni general, who discharged many ranking Sunni officers, thereby providing openings for hundreds of Alawites to fill top-tier military positions during the 1963-1965 period on the grounds of being opposed to Arab unity. This measure tipped the balance in favor of Alawite officers who staged a coup in 1966 and for the first time placed Damascus in the hands of the Alawites. The 1960s also saw the beginning of a reversal of Syria’s sectarian rural-urban divide, as the Baath party encouraged Alawite migration into the cities to displace the Sunnis.

The Alawites had made their claim to the Syrian state, but internal differences threatened to stop their rise. It was not until 1970 that Alawite rivalries and Syria’s string of coups and counter-coups were put to rest with a bloodless military coup led by then-air force commander and Defense Minister Gen. Hafez al Assad (now deceased) against his Alawite rival, Salah Jadid. Al Assad was the first Alawite leader capable of dominating the fractious Alawite sect. The al Assads, who hail from the Numailatiyyah faction of the al Matawirah tribe (one of four main Alawite tribes), stacked the security apparatus with loyal clansmen while taking care to build patronage networks with Druze and Christian minorities that facilitated the al Assad rise. Just as important, the al Assad leadership co-opted key Sunni military and business elites, relying on notables like former Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass to contain dissent within the military and Alawite big-business families like the Makhloufs to buy loyalty, or at least tolerance, among a Sunni merchant class that had seen most of its assets seized and redistributed by the state. Meanwhile, the al Assad regime showed little tolerance for religiously conservative Sunnis who refused to remain quiescent. The state took over the administration of religious funding, cracked down on groups deemed as extremist and empowered itself to dismiss the leaders of Friday prayers at will, fueling resentment among the Sunni Islamist class.

In a remarkably short period, the 40-year reign of the al Assad regime has since seen the complete consolidation of power by Syrian Alawites who, just a few decades earlier, were written off by the Sunni majority as powerless, heretical peasants.


A Resilient Regime

For the past four decades, the al Assad regime has carefully maintained these four pillars. The minority-ruled regime has proved remarkably resilient, despite several obstacles.

The regime witnessed its first meaningful backlash by Syria’s Sunni religious class in 1976, when the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood led an insurgency against the state with the aim of toppling the al Assad government. At that time, the Sunni Islamists had the support of many of the Sunni urban elite, but their turn toward jihadism also facilitated their downfall. The regime’s response was the leveling of the Sunni stronghold city of Hama in 1982. The Hama crackdown, which killed tens of thousands of Sunnis and drove the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood underground, remains fresh in the memories of Syrian Brotherhood members today, who have only recently built up the courage to publicly call on supporters to join in demonstrations against the regime. Still, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood lacks the organizational capabilities to resist the regime.

The al Assad regime has also experienced serious threats from within the family. After Hafez al Assad suffered from heart problems in 1983, his younger brother Rifaat, who drew a significant amount of support from the military, attempted a coup against the Syrian leader. None other than the al Assad matriarch, Naissa, mediated between her rival sons and reached a solution by which Rifaat was sent abroad to Paris, where he remains in exile, and Hafez was able to re-secure the loyalty of his troops. The 1994 death of Basil al Assad, brother of current president Bashar and then-heir apparent to a dying Hafez, also posed a significant threat to the unity of the al Assad clan. However, the regime was able to rely on key Sunni stalwarts such as Tlass to rally support within the military for Bashar, who was studying to become an ophthalmologist and had little experience with, or desire to enter, politics.

Even when faced with threats from abroad, the regime has endured. The 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the 2005 forced Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon may have knocked the regime off balance, but it never sent it over the edge. Syria’s military intervention in the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war allowed the regime to emerge stronger and more influential than ever through its management of Lebanon’s fractured political landscape, satisfying to a large extent Syria’s strategic need to dominate its western neighbor. Though the regime underwent serious internal strain when the Syrian military was forced out of Lebanon, it did not take long for Syria’s pervasive security-intelligence apparatus to rebuild its clout in the country.


The Current Crisis

The past seven weeks of protests in nearly all corners of Syria have led many to believe that the Syrian regime is on its last legs. However, such assumptions ignore the critical factors that have sustained this regime for decades, the most critical of which is the fact that the regime is still presiding over a military that remains largely unified and committed to putting down the protests with force. Syria cannot be compared to Tunisia, where the army was able quickly to depose an unpopular leader; Libya, where the military rapidly reverted to the country’s east-west historical divide; or Egypt, where the military used the protests to resolve a succession crisis, all while preserving the regime. The Syrian military, as it stands today, is a direct reflection of hard-fought Alawite hegemony over the state.

Syrian Alawites are stacked in the military from both the top and the bottom, keeping the army’s mostly Sunni 2nd Division commanders in check. Of the 200,000 career soldiers in the Syrian army, roughly 70 percent are Alawites. Some 80 percent of officers in the army are also believed to be Alawites. The military’s most elite division, the Republican Guard, led by the president’s younger brother Maher al Assad, is an all-Alawite force. Syria’s ground forces are organized in three corps (consisting of combined artillery, armor and mechanized infantry units). Two corps are led by Alawites (Damascus headquarters, which commands southeastern Syria, and Zabadani headquarters near the Lebanese border). The third is led by a Circassian Sunni from Aleppo headquarters.

Most of Syria’s 300,000 conscripts are Sunnis who complete their two- to three-year compulsory military service and leave the military, though the decline of Syrian agriculture has been forcing more rural Sunnis to remain beyond the compulsory period (a process the regime is tightly monitoring). Even though most of Syria’s air force pilots are Sunnis, most ground support crews are Alawites who control logistics, telecommunications and maintenance, thereby preventing potential Sunni air force dissenters from acting unilaterally. Syria’s air force intelligence, dominated by Alawites, is one of the strongest intelligence agencies within the security apparatus and has a core function of ensuring that Sunni pilots do not rebel against the regime.

The triumvirate managing the crackdowns on protesters consists of Bashar’s brother Maher; their brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat; and Ali Mamluk, the director of Syria’s Intelligence Directorate. Their strategy has been to use Christian and Druze troops and security personnel against Sunni protesters to create a wedge between the Sunnis and the country’s minority groups (Alawites, Druze, Christians), but this strategy also runs the risk of backfiring if sectarianism escalates to the point that the regime can no longer assimilate the broader Syrian community. President al Assad has also quietly called on retired Alawite generals to return to work with him as advisers to help ensure that they do not link up with the opposition.

Given Syria’s sectarian military dynamics, it is not surprising that significant military defections have not occurred during the current crisis. Smaller-scale defections of lower-ranking soldiers and some officers have been reported by activists in the southwest, where the unrest is most intense. These reports have not been verified, but even Syrian activist sources have admitted to STRATFOR that the defectors from the Syrian army’s 5th and 9th divisions are being put down.

A fledgling opposition movement calling itself the “National Initiative for Change” published a statement from Nicosia, Cyprus, appealing to Syrian Minister of Defense Ali Habib (an Alawite) and Army Chief of Staff Daoud Rajha (a Greek Orthodox Christian) to lead the process of political change in Syria, in an apparent attempt to spread the perception that the opposition is making headway in co-opting senior military members of the regime. Rajha replaced Habib as army chief of staff when the latter was relegated to the largely powerless political position of defense minister two years ago. In name, the president’s brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, is deputy army chief of staff, but in practice, he is the true chief of army staff.

The defections of Rajha and Habib, which remain unlikely at this point, would not necessarily represent a real break within the regime, but if large-scale defections within the military occur, it will be an extremely significant sign that the Alawites are fracturing and thus losing their grip over the armed forces. Without that control, the regime cannot survive. So far, this has not happened.

In many ways, the Alawites are the biggest threat to themselves. Remember, it was not until Hafez al Assad’s 1970 coup that the Alawites were able to put aside their differences and consolidate under one regime. The current crisis could provide an opportunity for rivals within the regime to undermine the president and make a bid for power. All eyes would naturally turn to Bashar’s exiled uncle Rifaat, who attempted a coup against his brother nearly three decades ago. But even Rifaat has been calling on Alawite supporters in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon and in Latakia, Syria, to refrain from joining the demonstrations, stressing that the present period is one in which regimes are being overthrown and that if Bashar falls, the entire Alawite sect will suffer as a result.

While the military and the al Assad clan are holding together, the insulation to the regime provided by the Baath party is starting to come into question. The Baath party is the main political vehicle through which the regime manages its patronage networks, though over the years the al Assad clan and the Alawite community have grown far more in stature than the wider concentric circle of the ruling party. In late April, some 230 Baath party members reportedly resigned from the party in protest. However, the development must also be viewed in context: These were a couple of hundred Baath party members out of a total membership of some 2 million in the country. Moreover, the defectors were concentrated in southern Syria around Daraa, the site of the most severe crackdowns. Though the defections within the Baath party have not risen to a significant level, it is easy to understand the pressure the al Assad regime is under to follow through with a promised reform to expand the political system, since political competition would undermine the Baath party monopoly and thus weaken one of the four legs of the regime.


The Foreign Tolerance Factor

Internally, Alawite unity and control over the military and Baath party loyalty are crucial to the al Assad regime’s staying power. Externally, the Syrian regime is greatly aided by the fact that the regional stakeholders — including Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Iran — by and large prefer to see the al Assads remain in power than deal with the likely destabilizing consequences of regime change.

It is not a coincidence that Israel, with which Syria shares a strong and mutual antipathy, has been largely silent over the Syrian unrest. Already unnerved by what may be in store for Egypt’s political future, Israel has a deep fear of the unknown regarding the Syrians. How, for example, would a conservative Sunni government in Damascus conduct its foreign policy? The real virtue of the Syrian regime lies in its predictability: The al Assad government, highly conscious of its military inferiority to Israel, is far more interested in maintaining its hegemony in Lebanon than in picking fights with Israel. While the al Assad government is a significant patron to Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, among other groups it manages within its Islamist militant supply chain, its support for such groups is also to some extent negotiable, as illustrated most recently by the fruits of Turkey’s negotiations with Damascus in containing Palestinian militant activity and in Syria’s ongoing, albeit strained, negotiations with Saudi Arabia over keeping Hezbollah in check. Israel’s view of Syria is a classic example of the benefits of dealing with the devil you do know rather than the devil you don’t.

The biggest sticking point for each of these regional stakeholders is Syria’s alliance with Iran. The Iranian government has a core interest in maintaining a strong lever in the Levant with which to threaten Israel, and it needs a Syria that stands apart from the Sunni Arab consensus to do so. Though Syria derives a great deal of leverage from its relationship with Iran, Syrian-Iranian interests are not always aligned. In fact, the more confident Syria is at home and in Lebanon, the more likely its interests are to clash with Iran. Shiite politics aside, secular-Baathist Syria and Islamist Iran are not ideological allies nor are they true Shiite brethren — they came together and remain allied for mostly tactical purposes, to counter Sunni forces. In the near term at least, Syria will not be persuaded by Riyadh, Ankara or anyone else to sever ties with Iran in return for a boost in regional support, but it will keep itself open to negotiations. Meanwhile, holding the al Assads in place provides Syria’s neighbors with some assurance that ethno-sectarian tensions already on the rise in the wider region will not lead to the eruption of such fault lines in Turkey (concerned with Kurdish spillover) and Lebanon (a traditional proxy Sunni-Shiite battleground between Iran and Saudi Arabia).

Regional disinterest in pushing for regime change in Syria could be seen even in the April 29 U.N. Human Rights Council meeting to condemn Syria. Bahrain and Jordan did not show up to vote, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt insisted on a watered-down resolution. Saudi Arabia has even quietly instructed the Arab League to avoid discussion of the situation in Syria in the next Arab League meeting, scheduled for mid-May.

Turkey’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) has given indications that it is seeking out Sunni alternatives to the al Assad regime for the longer term and is quietly developing a relationship with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. AKP does not have the influence currently to effect meaningful change within Syria, nor does it particularly want to at this time. The Turks remain far more concerned about Kurdish unrest and refugees spilling over into Turkey with just a few weeks remaining before national elections.

Meanwhile, the United States and its NATO allies are struggling to reconcile the humanitarian argument that led to the military intervention with Libya with the situation in Syria. The United States especially does not want to paint itself into a corner with rhetoric that could commit forces to yet another military intervention in the Islamic world — and in a much more complex and volatile part of the region than Libya — and is relying instead on policy actions like sanctions that it hopes exhibit sufficient anger at the crackdowns.

In short, the Syrian regime may be an irritant to many but not a large enough one to compel the regional stakeholders to devote their efforts toward regime change in Damascus.


Hanging on by More Than a Thread

Troubles are no doubt rising in Syria, and the al Assad regime will face unprecedented difficulty in trying to manage affairs at home in the months ahead. That said, it so far has maintained the four pillars supporting its power. The al Assad clan remains unified, the broader Alawite community and its minority allies are largely sticking together, Alawite control over the military is holding and the Baath party’s monopoly remains intact. Alawites appear to be highly conscious of the fact that the first signs of Alawite fracturing in the military and the state overall could lead to the near-identical conditions that led to its own rise — only this time, power would tilt back in favor of the rural Sunni masses and away from the urbanized Alawite elite. So far, this deep-seated fear of a reversal of Alawite power is precisely what is keeping the regime standing. Considering that Alawites were second-class citizens of Syria less than century ago, that memory may be recent enough to remind Syrian Alawites of the consequences of internal dissent. The factors of regime stability outlined here are by no means static, and the stress on the regime is certainly rising. Until those legs show real signs of weakening, however, the al Assad regime has the tools it needs to fight the effects of the Arab Spring.



Read more: Making Sense of the Syrian Crisis | STRATFOR
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #148 on: May 13, 2011, 07:20:57 AM »

The Broadening of the Gulf Cooperation Council

It is rare that events in small countries like Jordan and Morocco warrant a diary. This week, that happened. The leaders of both countries welcomed the decision by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — a bloc of Persian Gulf Arab states — to allow Rabat and Amman’s accession into the Saudi-led GCC.

Since 1981, the GCC has been a forum for six Arab states — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Apart from the fact that they are all located on the Arabian Peninsula’s east coast hugging the Persian Gulf, these states share commonalities, such as being wealthy (mostly thanks to their petroleum reserves) and under the rule of hereditary monarchies.

Why would such an exclusive bloc of countries want to include others, such as Jordan and Morocco? After all, both are relatively poor countries and are not located in the Persian Gulf region. Jordan is on the crossroads of Mesopotamia and the Levant. Morocco is the farthest Arab outpost on the western end of North Africa where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic.

“The GCC seeks to expand its footprint in the Arab world at a time when the region is in unprecedented turmoil.”
The answer is in the timing. The GCC seeks to expand its footprint in the Arab world at a time when the region is in unprecedented turmoil, as regimes are forced to adjust to the demand for democracy. A wave of popular unrest has swept across the Arab world, threatening decades-old autocratic structures. Not only is this turmoil forcing domestic political change, it is also leaving the Arab countries vulnerable to an increasingly assertive Iran.

As a result, the Saudi kingdom and its smaller GCC allies have been working hard to contain uprisings in their immediate vicinity — in Bahrain and Yemen — in the hopes that they themselves will remain largely immune. Meanwhile, the GCC states continue to have internal differences, especially regarding Iran. The most visible example of these differences is illustrated by Qatar, which has long tried to emerge as a player in Arab geopolitics and acts unilaterally on many issues.

That said, the GCC’s move to finally open up membership to other countries in the Arab world underscores that the bloc and its main driver, Riyadh, want to assume leadership of the region. With the GCC trying to emerge onto the regional scene, it raises the question of what will happen to the Arab League, which, despite its dysfunctional status thus far, remains the main pan-Arab forum.

The GCC has always been a subset of the 22-member Arab League, which includes all Arab states. Yet, the Arab League has long been dominated by Egypt. For the longest time, both the Arab League and the GCC have been able to coexist given that they had separate domains. But as the GCC expands its scope, the Arab League question presents itself.

One reason for the GCC’s attempts at expansion is the evolutionary process under way in Egypt. In the post-Mubarak era of multiparty politics, Cairo’s behavior could become less predictable. At the very least, the country’s military-controlled provisional authorities have demonstrated that they want to see their country revive itself as a regional player, illustrated in moves toward greater engagement with Hamas and efforts to re-establish relations with Iran.

Egypt is therefore unlikely to accept life under the growing influence of the GCC states. In other words, we may see another intra-Arab fault line emerge. While the Arabs struggle among themselves, Iran has been working on its regional security alliance, especially with Iraq in its orbit. Thus, the GCC effort to enhance its regional standing, in an effort to deal with a rising Iran, will run into a number of challenges, while also running the risk of self-dilution.

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« Reply #149 on: May 13, 2011, 08:18:48 AM »

Second post of the morning

Hearty salutations and reassurances from Damascus. After killing more than 600 (and counting) and arresting and injuring thousands more in a seven week crackdown, the Syrian regime wants you to know that it thinks it has the upper hand over protestors. And Bashar Assad appreciates the support and understanding in these trying times from so many in the Arab world, Europe and the U.S.

That's the word this week from Syrian President Bashar Assad's adviser Bouthaina Shaaban, who called in the New York Times man in Beirut for a security update. It's all under control now, she said, and the world can relax. "I hope we are witnessing the end of the story. I think now we've passed the most dangerous moment."

The regime's confidence is playing out in towns like Homs, where reports filtering out via Facebook and smuggled phones tell of indiscriminate artillery shelling of entire civilian neighborhoods. Mass arrests are common and intensified this week. Human rights groups estimate that more than 10,000 people have been detained.

A correspondent for the Times of London, Martin Fletcher, who snuck into Syria on a tourist visa last week, reported that he found "scores of young men" held at secret detention centers in Homs. "It was quite obvious that . . . the regime had been arresting almost every young man of fighting age that they could find on the streets of Homs."

A French journalist spent 23 days inside Assad's jail and tells a harrowing story about his ordeal. He was beaten in the first few days, but "the psychological torture was hearing the screams of all the other detainees," said Khaled Sid Mohand, who reported for Le Monde daily and France Culture radio from Syria before his arrest. "Any time they would take a detainee from his cell you would hear him scream like hell. Sometimes for 15 minutes, sometimes as long as an hour."

And the world's reaction? The U.N. Security Council couldn't muster the courage to put out a press release. Iran, Russia, China, India and the Arab states all have President Assad's back. Six weeks into the crackdown, the U.S. did impose financial sanctions on three top Syrian officials, the intelligence agency and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The European Union followed by freezing the assets and putting a travel ban on 13 officials.

Statements have also been issued. "There may be some who think that this is a sign of strength but treating one's own people in this way is in fact a sign of remarkable weakness," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday in Greenland.

But neither the U.S. nor the EU put President Assad on the sanctions list or travel ban. President Obama didn't call for him to step down or even pull the U.S. Ambassador from Damascus. In an interview with the Atlantic website published Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton elaborated on the U.S. approach to the Syrian dictator: "What we have tried to do with him is to give him an alternative vision of himself and Syria's future."

In other words, America thinks Bashar Assad may still reform, cut ties with Iran, seek peace with Israel and therefore deserves to be treated like a potential friend of the U.S.—notwithstanding the brutality of the last two months.

Damascus certainly appreciates the forbearance, and it looks forward to normal relations once all this unpleasantness passes. The comments by U.S. officials were "not too bad," Ms. Shaaban told the Times. "Once security is back, everything can be arranged. We're not going to live in this crisis forever."

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