As the world continues to progress into the 21st century, analysts and scholars such as Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek are beginning to ponder the implications of a rising multi-polar world. In what Mr. Zakaria refers to as the “rise of the rest,” the international community is gradually experiencing a shift in power that has not occurred since America’s ascendance after World War II. Over the past five decades, nation-states in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East have been forced to contend with a hegemonic American authority; a country in charge of world commerce, the flow of social ideas, technological sophistication, and the already growing realm of medical science. And of course, as most observers recognize, Washington has been able to exert its control through its hard and soft-power: both in terms of military force and in terms of democratic and humanitarian values.
However dominant the United States was in the past, Mr. Zakaria argues that other states are transforming themselves into major players in the arena of international politics. As Zakaria notes in his book, The Post-American World, “the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance…one defined and directed from many places and by many people.” While the United States is still viewed as the primary political and military actor, the all-important financial and social dimensions of global political life are rapidly drifting towards the other side. Brazil, a country once regarded as a mid-level player in the Latin American region, has grown steadily under the leadership of President Lula de-Silva; so much so that many academics are labeling Brazil as the spokesmen for the developing world. Russia, once a remnant of its former Soviet ancestor in the 1990’s, is building up its economic criteria as one of the main exporters of crude oil. China, for whatever flaws remain in its political system, is projected to pass the United States in terms of GDP in the year 2050. Even terrorist organizations, insurgent groups, and militias are making their presence known in the cracks and crevices of this new international system. This was unfortunately confirmed by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by Al’Qaeda: a group that continues to undermine American and NATO efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
At first glance, this unipolar-turned-multipolar world seems genuinely beneficial to all involved. After all, the percentage of the world population categorized as poverty-stricken is exponentially decreasing. In 1981, 40 percent were living on a dollar-per-day, an astounding rate considering that the world consists of 6 billion people. Yet, despite the hardship endured by many, the changing dynamics of global economics (such as steady growth from at least 124 countries) has lowered this rate to 18 percent. There is no denying the fact that this is an amazing development. However, concerning the narrow national-interests of the United States, this “rise of the rest” is threatening to replace its superpower-status.
Russia and China, although still meshed into the “developing world” category, have both established an alliance in the hopes of increasing their leverage in Asian affairs. Regional players such as Venezuela and Bolivia, although poor by western standards, continue to bash Washington’s agenda in Latin America: damaging America’s ability to pursue economic ventures in the Western Hemisphere. Iran and Syria, despite their repressive and autocratic nature in the wider Middle East, are united in an “Islamic resistance front;” obstructing American intervention while supporting the complete destruction of Israel. Even in Europe, a continent that consists of pro-American states, is challenging the United States in unprecedented ways. The fact that the United States is second to the EU in GDP is not a coincidence: Europeans are sacrificing their history and nationalism in order to confront the face of the American “war-machine.” Germany and France’s reluctance to join the United States in its invasion of Iraq only serves as a precedent.
Therefore, while Zakaria is certainly correct in his conclusions, a more decentralized world in terms of power and authority is not necessarily a good thing for Washington. At the same time that America’s allies are strengthening, America’s adversaries are forming partnerships. “What will this new era look like in terms of war and peace, economics and business, ideas and culture?” No one knows for sure.
-Daniel R. DePetris
-This blog was based on Fareed Zakaria’s book, The Post-American World
While I imagine that everyone is sick and tired of news dealing with violence in and around Baghdad, Middle Eastern enthusiasts may take interest in some new information that was just recently acquired by Iraq’s security forces. According to the Iraqi military, last week’s bombing that claimed the lives of over 101 people near government buildings in Baghdad was orchestrated by a former supporter of Iraq’s Baath Party. Of course, this is the same Baath Party that held onto power during the reign of Saddam Hussein, which lasted from 1979 until his ousting by American forces in 2003.
At first glance, Wisam Ali Khazim Ibrahim’s confession on Iraqi-television (the man who perpetuated the attacks) seems normal, considering that Mr. Ibrahim has lost the high social status often given to Baath Party loyalists during the authoritarian tenure of Saddam. Yet, while such a conclusion is tempting to buy into, it neglects to discuss the still resilient structure of the Baath Party in Middle Eastern politics. After all, the same man who planned last Wednesday’s twin bombings also spoke of a coordinated and unified Baath Party in neighboring Syria.
According to reports from the Associated Press, “Ibrahim said the operation was ordered a month ago by a Baath Party operative in Syria in a bid ‘to destabilize the regime.’” In all of the developments that have taken place in the last few months regarding Iraq’s domestic security, this could be the most politically explosive remark of them all. The reason is both clear and undeniable: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the most powerful politician within Damascus’ Baathist establishment. Although history has proven that Syrian Baathists and Iraqi Baathists have been skeptical of each other’s motives- most notably when Saddam Hussein was still Iraq’s supreme authority- the fact that both appear to be casting aside their ideological differences is a cause for concern.
Perhaps more destabilizing to the region is Mr. Assad’s continued role as an antagonistic head-of-state, made all the more apparent with his extensive connections to Islamic proxies. Those that were reluctant to label Syria as a safe-haven for terrorists and insurgents can now caste aside their doubts; intelligence from a number of sources are all rightly concluding that sympathizers of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Saddam are all able to plan coordinated-strikes against Iraq without any condemnation from Mr. Assad himself.
Ibrahim’s confession is all the more interesting when one considers Nouri al-Maliki’s most updated meeting with Bashar Assad. Just one day prior to the truck bombings in Baghdad, a frustrated Maliki demanded Assad’s compliance and partnership; namely by making it more difficult for Sunni insurgents to cross the Syrian border into Northern Iraq. As is apparent from last week’s act of terrorism, such requests have been ignored. Are we to truly believe that similar calls for constructive assistance will be accepted by Assad’s regime, given his track-record and his personal relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran?
Was Syria fully behind last Wednesday’s Bagdad massacre, in the hopes that the Shia-led government in Iraq would collapse under the weight of public outrage? It would be extremely difficult to provide evidence for this assertion. However, this does not rule out other aspects of Damascus’ questionable behavior. Syria, through its refusal to beef up security along its shared border with Iraq, could very well be cheering for Maliki’s incapacitation. We must remember that a weak Iraqi state incapable of delivering basic security for its population plays right into Assad’s hands. Such violence, however dismal for Iraq’s internal situation, allows Assad and his cronies to frighten the Syrian electorate into submission. A violent-prone Iraq is absolutely necessary for Bashar’s survival as Syria’s primary strongman, for such a weak neighbor allows him to sustain the belief that he is personally responsible for keeping Iraq’s anarchy away from the heart of Syrian life. While a stretch, it may be perfectly acceptable to link Assad with past (and present) bombings inside Baghdad…wherever they may strike in the capital city.
-Daniel R. DePetris
-Information from Sameer N. Yacoub of the Associated Press contributed to this blog.
101 deaths and 1200 injuries later, Iraqis are finally beginning to understand the ramifications behind the U.S. troop withdrawal. For months, even years, the Iraqi population was convinced that their personal safety could be ensured solely through Bagdad’s army and police force. Trained alongside United States Marines in battles across the country, it was thought that the Iraqi Security apparatus was maturing to the level needed for a complete taming of terrorism and violence. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, despite his over-reliance on U.S. troops in the past, is beginning to invoke feelings of hope and grandeur for a greater and more resilient Iraqi state: something that could be reached without Washington’s armies patrolling the streets of Baghdad. This sentiment had risen to such a degree that I have even commented on Mr. Maliki’s transformation earlier on this blog, arguing that the former Shia-exile is now intent in defeating criminality, and terrorism in all its shapes and forms. Now, one week later, with two-massive truck bombings in front of Iraq’s Financial, Foreign and Defense Ministries, this optimism is quickly wearing thin.
Iraqis themselves, some of whom lost loved-ones in the attacks, have spoken to the media and blamed Mr. Maliki outright…claiming that government promises of continued security are but political-tricks used to ensure Maliki’s re-election in the future. Others are taking a more controversial tone, arguing that the Iraqi Government deliberately orchestrated the bombings in order to cement a pro-Maliki coalition among the injured. Conspiracy-theories aside, most Iraqis are formulating a correct assessment on this most recent incident: while greatly improved over the past two years, the Iraqi Security Forces are nowhere near ready to combat the persistent threat of Al-Qaeda-sponsored jihad.
In a short one-week period, it appears that the same Iraqis that were once celebrating the re-deployment of U.S. soldiers from Iraq’s cities and villages are now desperately pleading for their return.
Understandably, the sights and sounds of blood-soaked pavement, broken windows, and destroyed buildings are taking their toll on Iraqis across the nation. Sadly, despite this reality, U.S. troops are not allowed to assist without the formal petition of the Iraqi Government. In what is being viewed by national politicians as a necessary staple of the joint U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, the common civilian views as an unwarranted provision threatening the physical security of themselves and their families. Unfortunately, before last week’s act of terrorism, this notion was virtually absent from the Iraqi political landscape. Similar to September 11, 2001, sometimes it takes an extreme act of brutality to change peoples’ minds.
Mind you, this is all speculation. On realistic terms, I have no idea what is running through the minds of Shias, Sunnis, Kurds, and Christians living in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Perhaps Iraqi Arabs are taking a more pragmatic approach to the whole situation, believing that it is only a matter of time before Iraq’s armed-forces will beat back an already declining insurgency. However diverse some thoughts may be, one statement does seem safe to declare: the ISF has a long road ahead of them without the direct assistance of U.S. forces.
Iraqi troops are going to have to take the lead in criminal investigations, something they have been reluctant to do in the past six years. Bagdad is going to have to practice impartial judgment, a policy difficult to implement in a diverse and multi-ethnic population. More importantly, Mr. Maliki and his cabinet must be willing to make public-policy for the future, no matter how unpopular these decisions may be in the present. For if Iraq fails to perform these functions, and if sectarianism trumpets nationalism, a second round of civil-war is all too likely.
-Daniel R. DePetris
Behind the well-documented news reports of Afghanistan’s election, as well as the violence continuing to plague Iraqi society, is an event that has been ignored by Middle East watchers as a rather routine development: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran. While it is already widely-known that Syria and Iran are steadfast allies in the region, namely due to the two country’s unified stance against American and Israeli influence, Assad’s most recent visit to Iran demonstrates the extent of his personal embrace towards Tehran’s “rejectionist front.” This should be viewed with some suspicion by security analysts across the globe, considering that Mr. Assad has also vowed to participate in direct talks with Washington on the all-too-frustrating Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only Assad would be able to mastermind this “two-faced” phenomenon, supporting America’s endeavors for peace in the Holy Land while strengthening his military ties to a regime that threatens to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth.”
However unethical and questionable his demeanor seems to be to the ordinary observer, I can fully understand why the Syrian president is willing to sacrifice his character and integrity on such a “duality of man” approach. Whatever flaws the autocrat has in his regime, Mr. Assad is able to exploit his current position as a man who is intent on standing up for the rights of Arabs: whether or not this concerns Palestinian oppression in the West Bank/Gaza Strip territories or resisting the intervention of western imperialism. Syria is in a strategic location- in the very heart of the Middle East- possessing an extraordinary amount of ties to issues that the United States and Israel are expected to deal with as a superpower. Lebanon, however independent and democratic the small state has been in the last few months, is still susceptible to Syrian interference…thanks to Assad’s financial contributions to the Hezbollah militia in the southern half of the country. In a similar vein, any prospective peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians will be heavily influenced by Syria, in large part to the enormous amount of respect that ordinary Palestinians have for Bashar’s Alawite regime. And of course, this is not even taking into account Hamas, an Islamic proxy that receives a majority of its funding from the Iranian-Syrian partnership.
As is expected, Ayatollah Khamenei and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have continued to benefit from Assad’s popularity within the Arab community. For a country that is commonly viewed with suspicion by tens of millions of Arabs in the Middle East, having an Arab partner joined at the hip is essential if Persians are to successfully pursue their national interests in a antagonistic region. Khamenei’s public praise and commendation towards Damascus shows the Supreme Leader’s desperation for friends…all at a time when his rule is increasingly being questioned and challenged by Iran’s moderate camp. One only needs to take a look at some of Khamenei’s most notable quotations during his meeting with Assad:
“Syria’s most important characteristic among Arab countries is its steadfastness and resistance.”
“The unity between Iran and Syria is the embodiment of resistance in the region.”
“America’s blade has become blunter in the region.”
Each declaration could simply be an attempt to show the international community how invigorated Iran and Syria’s alliance has become. Perhaps this language is Khamenei’s way of convincing President Obama that his efforts to accomplish a Mideast peace accord on Washington’s terms is a futile journey. Perhaps it is a combination of the two. While all of these predictions are viable explanations, each fails to grasp Iran’s hidden motivation…that is the powerful iceberg below the surface. At a period when Tehran is on the verge of international isolation over its nuclear program, and at a time when the Islamic Republic is forced to confront a wave of domestic insecurity that was virtually absent since the regime’s inception, Syria is Iran’s only true ally. Combine this with Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iranian sentiment, and the importance of Damascus is even more significant for the survival of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and Islamic hard-liners in general.
In the past, analysts have portrayed the Iranian-Syrian alliance as one between a parent and a child, where Tehran is pulling the strings behind the scenes and Damascus is but a puppet of the tenants of the Islamic Revolution. Policymakers perceive Syria’s inferior status as basic knowledge, only confirmed by Bashar al-Assad’s dependency on Iranian oil reserves. It was argued that the very survival of Assad’s political career was directly linked to his beleaguered acceptance of a rising Persian power…for if he withdrew support, Iran would limit oil exports and cross-border trade (further declining Syria’s already abysmal economy). What appears to be occurring now is exactly the opposite: an Iran gambling all of its chips on the expectation that Syria will continue its cooperation in the military, economic, and political spheres. Although Assad seems willing to permit this course in the coming days, as is apparent based on his meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei, the balance-of-power formula that used to categorize Iranian-Syrian relations is slowly but radically changing. The United States, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq should take note of this reality, not dismissing it as yet another insignificant event in the wider Middle East.
-Daniel R. DePetris
-Information from the AFP contributed to this blog. The full news story can be accessed at: http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090819/wl_afp/iransyriadiplomacy_20090819172025;_ylt=AnCbEEbBzU17FECQhsu5T0z6SpZ4
While tenuous at best, diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya was virtually nonexistent after Muammar Kaddafi emerged as Tripoli’s supreme political authority in September 1969. Kaddafi’s belligerent rhetoric towards the west in general, as well as his connections and support for international terrorism, all but transformed his image and credibility as a man who was extremely dangerous to world peace and security. Libya’s apparent ties to the Pan Am Flight 103 tragedy over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 only cemented Kaddafi’s “evil” persona in the eyes of Washington: a conclusion that Democratic and Republican presidents over the last 40 years could actually agree upon in the all-to-normal atmosphere of D.C. partisanship. After September 11, 2001, the United States became even more concerned about Kaddafi’s aggressive tendencies in Northern Africa…fueled in large part on evidence that Tripoli had acquired a sophisticated and extensive chemical and nuclear-weapons program that posed a gathering threat to Europe and Sub-Sahara Africa.
Yet, despite the bad blood that has existed between the two countries for close to a half-century, Libyans and Americans are slowly implementing positive steps towards reconciliation. The dramatic transformation occurred in 2003, when President George W. Bush and his National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, convinced Mr. Kaddafi to eliminate his weapons facilities. In reciprocation, the United States rewarded Libya for its agreement to disarm its weapons facilities, lifting a set of economic sanctions that were all but crippling Libya’s national economy. Kaddafi’s isolation eventually dwindled as well, allowing Tripoli to engage in talks with the west that were all but absent in his first 35 years of rule…topics dealing extensively with terrorism, security, and the domestic stability of African nations. With the termination of George Bush’s presidency and with the introduction of a new American administration, “the policy of closer ties is continuing:” an assertion that was publicly confirmed when President Obama shook the Libyan leader’s hand in front of the camera’s during last month’s G-8 Summit.
Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between two countries that were historically hostile to each other’s motives? According to some analysts in the Washington D.C. area, this question has already been answered…with a U.S. and Libyan military relationship evolving, and with a former pro-Libyan business executive (David Goldwyn) appointed as the coordinator of energy affairs for the U.S. State Department, improved dialogue between the two is more than possible. In fact, rumors are even circulating that Washington is willing to sell Tripoli light weapons for its fight against Islamic extremism in North Africa: a declaration confirmed when Jeffrey Feltman (acting assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs) endorsed the notion of a “strengthened” military cooperation. Could anyone have imagined such assistance taking place six years earlier, when the Bush administration labeled Libya as one of the world’s leading state-sponsors of terrorism?
However significant all of these changes are to the U.S.-Libyan relationship, this American rapprochement has more to do with Kaddafi’s stance as an African leader than a genuine partner in the War on Terrorism. While it is true that Kaddafi’s rein may be weakening after 40 years in power, the “king of all kings” continues to strengthen his hand in the affairs of the African continent…recently becoming the African Union’s most powerful member. His electoral ascendance to the AU chairmanship, a tremendous political comeback for a man who is routinely chastised by European powers, shows the extent of his influence in some of the world’s poorest societies. Sure, the United States and Europe may view Kaddafi as a jokester who dresses in funny and exotic capes, but Africans increasingly look up to him as someone who will stand up to the forces of western imperialism. Kaddafi’s consistent call for a “United States of Africa,” in addition to his vow of uniting Africans of all religions, tribes, ethnicities, and backgrounds gives the aging leader a sense of credibility on the world stage; even if others do not like it.
Bearing in mind that President Obama recently took a 7-nation tour of Africa in the hopes of promoting his agenda for the region, the disease-ravaged continent seems especially vital for his overall legacy. If this is so, sidestepping Kaddafi’s presence is certainly not an option. This would essentially be the same as bypassing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin when dealing with issues pertaining to the Kremlin…a move that would be both foolish and wasteful. For this reason, and this reason only, Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have no choice but to appease Africa’s most respective dignitary. Portraying Washington’s cooperation with Tripoli solely on security or economic terms is only an attempt to sugarcoat reality. Who would have thought that a former supporter of terrorism would get the last laugh against the world’s only remaining superpower?
-Daniel R. DePetris
-Information from Michael Isikoff of Newsweek and information from the BBC contributed to this blog.
-Isikoff’s full article can be accessed at: http://www.newsweek.com/id/212128
-The BBC news headline can be accessed at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7864604.stm
While lawmakers in Congress and officials within Washington continue their summer-vacations in the dog-days of summer, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is traveling to the nation’s capital for the first time in six years. Of course, while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will undoubtedly rise to the forefront of the discussion between the Egyptian leader and President Obama, another issue may very well prop onto the diplomatic agenda…namely Mubarak’s reluctance to support anything democratic inside his own country. The simple fact that Mr. Mubarak has reined supreme in Egyptian politics over the past 28 years accurately demonstrates his devotion to an authoritarian and hard-line regime. With human rights abuses frequently occurring within the very confines of Egyptian society, and with Cairo’s security services internationally known for shutting down democratic movements throughout the country, it is understandable for Americans and Egyptians alike to question the legitimacy of Mubarak’s administration. Yet, while abuses are certainly taking place (thanks to the reporting of Human Rights Watch), this should not cloud the minds of Washington policymakers with respect to Egypt’s primary role in the Middle East peace process.
President Barack Obama would not have invited Mr. Mubarak to Washington if his interests did not coincide with those of Egypt’s most powerful politician. Each man, while possessing distinguished personal characteristics, are both heavily interested in reconciling diplomatic relations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Both consider themselves bulwarks against a rising Iranian power in the region, an ascendance that Americans and Egyptians alike view as both dangerous and potential catastrophic to a stable Middle East. In addition, and perhaps the most important of all, Washington and Cairo view one another as valuable allies in the “War on Terrorism.” Egypt’s disruption of an alleged Hezbollah-endorsed terrorist plan only serves as a testament to this assertion: Mubarak, despite all of his flaws as an autocrat, takes the terrorist threat with the utmost sincerity. In a region where terrorism is free to maneuver with relative ease, this is precisely the type of ally that Washington needs to champion if any hopes for “victory” are realistic in the next ten or twenty years.
With all of the parallels existing between the American and Egyptian governments, and with the Arab population consistently embracing Egypt’s role as an important mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, President Obama would be wise to avoid chastising Cairo’s record on human rights. Of course, this would include bypassing the discussion of democracy-related projects within Egyptian politics. With the Israelis continuing their aggressive posturing towards the Palestinian government in the West Bank, and with Hamas continuing to advocate “armed-resistance” against Israeli soldiers and civilians, now is not the time for Obama’s Middle East team to alienate the only true non-partisan in the entire peace process.
Pressuring Mubarak into enacting domestic political reform should be the last thing on Obama’s mind. Such a move would not only strain the invaluable relations existing between the United States and Egypt -ties that are extremely crucial in combating and/or limiting Tehran’s nuclear ambitions- but a decision that would severely degrade any hopes for a reasonably time-oriented peace in the Holy Land. Alienating a mediator is never a good start to dialogue and cooperation.
In terms of President Obama’s own personal interests, talking about Egypt’s internal politics would essentially translate into a “shoot-yourself-in-the-foot” scenario. If there is anything that can be said of Obama’s short tenure in the White House, it is that his administration has sacrificed a tremendous amount of political capital in the hopes of bolstering the prospect for the two-state solution: a plan considered to be the only viable alternative to another 50 years of terrorist-related violence between the Jewish and Arab communities. If Obama truly wishes to extend his presidency, and if the U.S. Government is really interested in modifying America’s image in one of the world’s most politically turbulent areas, sidetracking the “freedom agenda” may be his best option.
Is Egypt’s record on human rights disturbing? Yes. Is Hosni Mubarak considered one of the most repressive leaders in the modern world? Absolutely. But, at the same token, is Cairo an ally America can count on when Iranian-sponsored Islamic proxies spread to unprecedented levels? Yes. Is Mr. Mubarak committed to keeping secular values in Egyptian society, all the while cutting off support to Hamas through the enforcement of an arms embargo? Without question. With the pros of a Mubarak-relationship seemingly outweighing the cons, I hope Mr. Obama puts on a friendly-face and focuses exclusively on issues that both leaders can find common ground on. Democracy promotion in the Middle East, while one of Washington’s unlimited hopes, should not dictate the meeting’s tone. There is no reason to believe that a democratic Egypt would strengthen its resistance to Islamic terrorism. Even if Mr. Mubarak decided to reform the political process in Egypt, such as invoking opposition parties and encouraging dissent, history proves that such a transformation would take an extremely large time to fully take effect.
Does a democratic Egypt really change things all that much? Looking at other countries in the past decade that took a similar path to democracy (i.e. Vladimir Putin’s Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union), the answer should be straightforward regardless of ones position on the political spectrum: talking about democracy and actually practicing its tenants are two radically different things. An Egypt that emphasizes stability and secularism is much more significant to Washington’s security interests in the Middle East than an Egypt that stresses the fundamental freedoms of speech and assembly.
-Daniel R. DePetris
-Information from Laura Rozen of ForeignPolicy.com contributed to this blog. Her full article can be accessed at: http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/08/17/mubarak_on_the_potomac
Lets rewind our clocks back to the year 2005…a tumultuous time when the United States took complete control over Iraqi politics, including Iraq’s domestic security, economic reconstruction, political reconciliation, and outreach to neighboring countries. The year was the beginning of a rising Sunni insurgency, challenging the very fabrics of the American mission a mere two years after the removal of Saddam Hussein from Baghdad. Ethnic tribes, many of whom were concerned about their personal safety in a society with dwindling resources, started to squabble amongst themselves for the food, water, and influence necessary to survive…eventually laying the groundwork for the devastating wave of sectarian warfare that would soon follow.
The Al’Qaeda terrorist organization, already making its presence known throughout every corner of the Muslim world, was successfully shifting resources and manpower to the deserts of Iraq…embarking on a wave of violence aimed exclusively towards Shias in the Southern portion of the country. Hundreds upon hundreds of Shia men, women, and children lay victim to the suicide-attacks and car-bombings of Al’Qaeda operatives, only to force the Shia community to declare their unending support to Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army for a sense of protection. The result is something Americans and Iraqis alike are continuing to experience four years later: a fragile Iraqi state susceptible to cataclysmic cycles of shootings, bombings, beheadings, and kidnappings.
Wow, the year 2005 was turbulent indeed. Yet, while each violent development outlined above helps students and scholars evaluate America’s successes and failures during the Iraqi campaign, these same security issues neglect to discuss Washington’s influential role in Iraq’s diplomatic sphere. Although thousands of Iraqis have died at the hands of Islamic terrorists and insurgents, and despite the unfortunate loss of 4,500 American servicemen, the modern analyst too often devotes research towards the military dimension…all the while failing to recognize the many other responsibilities Washington was forced to undertake during this same time period.
As was quite obvious in the media’s coverage of the war, the civil violence of 2005-2007 routinely overshadowed the coalition’s efforts to negotiate and manage the diplomatic affairs of the Iraqi state. This should come as a surprise, considering the fact that the internal affairs of Iraq have been largely dictated and controlled by foreign powers since March of 2003 (issues that range from cross-border security between Syria and Iraq, as well as the Iraqi Government’s attempts to forge new relationships with Middle Eastern powers).
You may be asking why I am digressing from the typical military-security paradigm that so many scholars have repeated and overplayed? With so many lives lost and with so much taxpayer money spent on stabilizing Baghdad from sectarian warfare (recent estimates are in the trillions of dollars), what does U.S.-controlled diplomacy have anything to do with Iraq’s future as a sovereign state? The answer is relatively straightforward: the prevalence of diplomacy is an accurate demonstration of a nation’s success. Though a long time coming, Iraq seems to be gradually shifting into the right corner of this spectrum.
Despite six years of bloodbath on the streets, and six years of a weak central government in Iraq, it appears that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is finally taking steps to both improve and legitimatize Iraq’s stance in the international community. Once seen an installed-puppet of the U.S. occupation, Maliki is successfully re-making his image: not only transforming himself into a national leader, but building his credentials at the same time. In contrast to his past security policies, many of which were perceived as alienating the Sunni and Kurdish populations, Mr. Maliki is slowly but surely uniting his fellow Iraqis- Sunni, Shia, and Kurd- under the powerful banner of nationalism.
About a week ago, I would have been skeptical of this assertion. The acceleration of suicide-bombings that occurred days after America’s withdrawal from major urban centers gave me reason to doubt the Iraqi security forces’ continued success on the ground. I have often engaged in pessimism regarding Iraq’s future survival as a member of the nation-state club. In previous blogs, I have consistently feared the worst once U.S. troops fully complied with the joint U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement…a document that kicks out American soldiers from Iraqi soil by the end of 2011. The infiltration of Iran and Saudi Arabia in Iraqi politics is one of my main concerns. In fact, I still believe that Iranian and Saudi agents will seep deep into Iraq in order to promote their own national interests, in addition to weakening each other. However, while such worries are still embedded in my mind, their strength has mitigated somewhat in the last few days.
To the celebration of ordinary Iraqis, Prime Minister Maliki is taking the lead on Iraq’s domestic politics…showing the United States that Iraqis themselves are finally able to take firm control over their own affairs. As Mr. Maliki explains to the press on a potential Baghdad-Damascus security arrangement, “it is not the duty of the American delegation to negotiate on the behalf of Iraq…it is the Iraqi government that will directly negotiate on security with Syria.”
For a politician who was often construed as an American patron in the past, this statement may come as a complete bombshell to academics, policymakers, and President Obama’s own Middle East team. Yet, it is a shock that we should all be grateful for.
Of course, this type of rhetoric has its downfalls. Some people have gone so far as to label Mr. Maliki as a potentially dangerous nationalist, choosing to participate in the same anti-western language as Saddam Hussein in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. As Qassim Abdul-Zahra of the Associated Press comments in his most recent piece, Maliki’s “remarks underscored emerging strains in the relationship between the Iraqis and the Americans as the balance of power shifts with the impending withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2011.”
To the dismay of Abdul-Zahra, his conclusion is a microcosm for those who do not truly understand the political game, not to mention the improved circumstances within Iraq’s provinces. American officials should be shouting with glee at Mr. Maliki’s declaration, for they demonstrate to the world his sincerity in moving Iraq back into the society of modern-day nation-states. Perhaps America’s services have run out. Perhaps our country’s influence in Iraq has spread too thin. More importantly, perhaps the Iraqi population is recuperating quicker than expected. If this is the case, mothers and fathers will be happy to discover the safe return of their sons and daughters from the deserts of a foreign land at a much faster pace.
Based solely on Mr. Maliki’s language, it appears that the tremendous sacrifice donated by Washington (in lives, treasure, and political capital) will indeed pay off at the end of this difficult, yet crucial, endeavor. Iraqis of all ethnicities and tribes are fervently working together in the hopes of converting their state into a stronger, more democratic and prosperous sovereign-entity. In the sporadic world of international politics and security, progressing towards a better tomorrow is the only true constant. In the end, isn’t this precisely what the United States hoped to achieve at the very beginning of this campaign?
-Daniel R. DePetris
-Information from Qassim Abdul-Zahra of the Associated Press contributed to this blog. His full article can be accessed at: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090812/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_iraq_169;_ylt=AkEAHKhBxy3CuBrqMfJi_Cf6SpZ4
In the first half of 2009, virtually every American in the country understands the extent of the U.S. Military’s quagmire in Afghanistan. In what was previously viewed as a war secondary to the sectarian and ethnic conflict in Iraq, the war in Kabul was portrayed by the media as America’s “successful front” in the “War on Terrorism”…a theatre where the combined efforts of the American-NATO alliance was severely degrading the capabilities of Al’Qaeda and the Taliban. Now, with a new president in the Oval Office, and with the Taliban insurgency picking up speed on a daily basis, the American electorate has rightly transformed this casual outlook. Unfortunately, it took a record number of U.S. casualties to finally bring the “forgotten war” back to its rightful place.
Now with a newly-formed comprehensive approach to the “Af-Pak” region, the United States Military, as well as the armed-forces of Britain, France, Germany, Spain, and Pakistan, is finally bolstering their efforts in the southern portion of the Afghan countryside…the same section of the nation that is plagued by narcotics trafficking, ethnic infighting, warlord activity, and a festered Taliban insurgency. Of course, this is precisely why President Obama has decided to deploy an additional 21,000 soldiers to the battlefield. In fact, the president is coming to grips on how dire the security situation in Southern Afghanistan is becoming: so much so that Mr. Obama has ordered his commanders to activate a new offensive against Taliban-intimidation. With the help of both British forces and the still-growing Afghan National Army, the United States hopes to launch a new counterinsurgency policy that will pave the way for peaceful elections on August 20th. In a correlation to General David Petreaus’ doctrine in Iraq, U.S. Commander Stanley McCrystal is advocating a “clear, hold, and build” strategy that he believes will protect ordinary Afghans from re-Talibanization.
As is expected, more troops on the ground often equates into more injuries and fatalities. To the dismay of all Americans, this is exactly what is occurring to western forces inside the mountainous Islamic country. Below is a list of figures recently released by military and journalistic sources. While extremely difficult to swallow, these statistics are especially important to analyze if Washington wishes to avoid the same dismal path in the future.
1) Roadside bombs and suicide-blasts in Afghanistan have increased six-fold in July 2009 compared to the same month last year.
2) A record 75 U.S. and NATO deaths were recorded in July 2009, the highest casualty count of the eight-year campaign.
3) Last month, 49 coalition troops died in bomb attacks, a more than six-fold increase from July 2008.
4) 828 improvised-explosive devices (IED’s) were found in July of this year, of which 108 bombs succeeded in their detonations. This number is triple the 36 effective bombings that were recorded the same time last year.
5) Afghan civilians are frequently becoming victims of Taliban-placed IED’s…a 24 percent increase from previous levels.
6) 230 coalition troops were wounded by IED’s and roadside bombs in July 2009, compared to the 67 wounded in July 2008.
All of these figures point to one overarching conclusion: while constantly being bombarded by coalition forces, the Taliban insurgency continues to demonstrate their resilience and adaptability in the Afghan theatre. What the United States has for sophisticated technology and massive manpower, Taliban militants respond with decentralization, networking, and a unified sense of confidence. For a president that has invested so much time, effort, money, and credibility on taking the fight to the enemy and reclaiming the Afghan streets, this development is frightening to say the least. Luckily, Mr. Obama seems to grasp the notion that Afghanistan will take a long-term American commitment.
Students and scholars of terrorism will also find it interesting to note the similarities between these recent Taliban-sponsored attacks and the roadside bombs that were once prevalent in the neighborhoods of Baghdad, Mosul, Fallujah, Basra, and Samarra. With the Al’Qaeda network in Iraq increasingly marginalized by Iraq’s Sunni population (although the organization remains relatively strong in the Northern Iraqi city of Mosul), it is realistic to conclude that AQI is outsourcing its most successful methods of warfare to the Afghan theatre. Perhaps viewing Iraq as a lost cause, members of Al’Qaeda may be gradually shifting their priorities to Afghanistan: a country that once served as the movement’s main sanctuary in the 1990’s.
While this scenario is certainly possible, a more practical explanation for the rise of suicide-bombings in Afghanistan is the Taliban’s willingness to quickly adjust in the face of a well-equipped U.S. fighting machine. With the implementation of IED’s and roadside bombs so successful in Iraq during 2005-2007, both in terms of U.S. casualties and a loss of U.S. morale, it is more than rational for the Taliban to acquire similar methods of combat. The motive is all too simple: with the U.S. campaign in its eighth-year, and with President Hamid Karzai’s authority exceedingly corrupt and illegitimate, the Taliban insurgency is attempting to create the same chaotic atmosphere in Afghanistan that once engulfed Iraqi society.
With these types of statistics now made public to the international community, anyone paying attention to world affairs can discover the Iraq-Afghanistan connection. The year 2009 is increasingly evolving into an unwanted déjà-vue for the United States in Southwest Asia. It looks as if insurgents are much smarter than intelligence officials give them credit for. They are not only able to learn from one another in a swift and smooth fashion, but are able to do so in ways much distinguished from a typical nation-state. In the end, cumbersome bureaucracy and the rules of war need not apply to terrorist aspirations.
-Daniel R. DePetris
-Information from Jason Straziuso of the Associated Press contributed to this blog. His full article can be accessed at: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090811/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan
Soldiers, statesmen, and analysts of the U.S. Intelligence Community have been celebrating over the past week on news that Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, was killed last Wednesday by an American air-strike in South Waziristan. In an operation that is commonly being viewed by the United States Government as a triumphant victory over Islamic extremism in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials are hoping that Mehsud’s death could snowball into a potential unraveling of a unified and coherent Taliban movement. For Pakistani officials, particularly the newly-installed Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, this development comes as a relief. After all, the Pakistani Military has been risking the lives of its soldiers, as well as its international credibility as a legitimate fighting force, for the past several months…battling a Taliban-led insurgency that was quick to expand itself from Pakistan’s tribal areas to 60 miles of Islamabad. Yet, thanks to persistent American pressure, in addition to Washington’s “Af-Pak” counterinsurgency strategy for the region, the Taliban-Al’Qaeda alliance that once found itself as the dominant authority along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are now on the retreat. Unfortunately, there is only one problem: terrorists and insurgents are retreating into Afghanistan, further exacerbating the already treacherous conditions faced by American troops on the ground.
For both Pakistani and U.S. interests in Southwest Asia, the apparent killing of Mehsud comes at a much-needed time when militancy, lawlessness, and religious radicalism were on the upslope throughout the provinces of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier. The Swat-Valley offensive led by Pakistan’s armed-forces, as well as the brutality often portrayed by Al’Qaeda affiliates against ordinary villagers and tribesmen, were already factors that decreased the influence and control of Islamists. Now, with the death of Mehsud reported by a wide variety of sources, the Pakistani Taliban faces a critical time in its movement…perhaps the most crucial period that the organization has had to deal with since its founding in the 1990’s. The direct question is this…who will emerge as Mehsud’s successor and rebuild the capabilities of the Pakistani Taliban?
For the U.S. and NATO campaign in Afghanistan, this question does not necessarily translate into immediate benefits in Kabul and Kandahar. Indeed, Mehsud’s killing is certainly a major success story for Washington and Islamabad, considering both capitals’ shared objective in combating terrorism and political extremism in all its forms. It may even be accurate to conclude that Mehsud’s decline will eventually destroy the unified ideology that cemented the movement’s many ethnic and tribal factions together…further eliminating the threat posed by Taliban militants against President Zardari’s government and the Pakistani population. However, with this being said, U.S. Commanders in Afghanistan should be weary of a possible Taliban dissolution in Pakistan. Such infighting within the organization will not only have drastic consequences for the security and stability of the region…it will also inevitably create a circumstance that U.S. and NATO soldiers have yet to experience: fighting multiple enemies on multiple fronts.
Some may say that the U.S. Military, under the leadership and guidance of General David Petraeus, has already mastered these counterinsurgency techniques in Iraq, when the country was beginning to drift apart due to the violent aspirations of Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. Some may even state that American soldiers are currently engaging in this type of asymmetrical warfare in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, where Taliban fighters are often decentralized and spread out compared to their western counterparts. These assertions may be true in technical terms. Yet, with Mehsud seared in half, and with the Pakistani Taliban in disarray over who will replace the iconic Muslim as their next commander, the possibility of the movement’s complete separation is extremely dangerous for the American mission in Afghanistan. With Mehsud killed, the one man talented enough to keep rival tribes together in an orderly-rank-and-file is gone…leaving behind an insecure skeptical, and fragmented group. If we have learned anything in the field of terrorism, it is that potential aspirants will use whatever violent means possible to exert personal control over the future of an organization. More times than not, infighting within a terrorist group will occur after the “main man” is killed or captured.
This, however, is unlikely to happen to the Pakistani Taliban. Over the next few weeks and months, do not be surprised to discover the Pakistani Taliban’s many ethnicities separating from each other, entering Afghanistan themselves and fighting American troops independently. From a military perspective, resisting a swath of small, yet numerous, insurgencies is much more detrimental than fighting a single enemy.
Omar Waraich of Time Magazine said it best in this week’s issue:
“Under his charismatic and fearsome leadership, at least 13 separate and disparate groups were able to forge a fractious but powerful alliance. If Mehsud is gone, that alliance is likely to fracture. His replacement will determine the new direction of the Pakistani Taliban: it may fall under the greater influence of al-Qaeda, concentrate on fighting in Afghanistan, continue fighting chiefly in Pakistan or break up into small, rival groups.”
For President Obama, Special Envoy Richard Holbrook, and his entire national-security team at the White House, each of these scenarios places the United States at a severe disadvantage. If Al’Qaeda is able to exert control over the Pakistani Taliban, well-coordinated and devastating terrorist incidents will likely occur in both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan (further jeopardizing the region’s overall stability while hurting the morale of American troops on the ground). If one of Mehsud’s loyalists rises to the top of the ladder, Pakistani security forces will have a rough couple of months ahead of them…further risking their blood and treasure in an unending confrontation against Islamic insurgency. If the Pakistani Taliban separates, like I am predicting, a whole new conflict may be created between Afghans and Pakistanis themselves, based solely on sectarian, ethnic, and tribal lines. Finally, if members of the Taliban begin viewing their Pakistani branch as a lame-duck, the prospects of increased American and Afghan casualties in Afghanistan are all the more likely. The Islamic movement may start to question their abilities against the Pakistani Military, instead focusing their priorities on fighting the foreign-occupation inside Afghanistan. If this is the case, the American electorate should be prepared to witness a rising body count on their television screens.
Thus, by taking a closer look at the killing of Baitullah Mehsud, students and scholars of international affairs are able to uncover the real effects of last week’s U.S.-drone attack in South Waziristan. Sure, killing terrorists is always a good thing when the free and civilized world is engaged in a continuous struggle against radical Islam. Equally accurate, targeting leaders of radical Islam may be a good short-term solution to the complicated facts surrounding counterterrorism and the “War on Terrorism” in general. The ongoing air campaign directed against Al’Qaeda and Taliban hideouts along the Afghan-Pakistani border is only a testament to this well-received view in Washington. However, the death of a nihilistic individual, while extraordinarily beneficial to the United States and its western allies at first glance, could quickly result in an unwanted escalation of further violence and intimidation.
In the corporate environment of the real world, weakening an enemy always translates into your advantage. However, in the confusing and frustrating world of terrorism, one rarely deals in absolutes.
-Daniel R. DePetris
-Information from Omar Waraich of Time Magazine contributed to this blog. His full article can be accessed at: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1915592,00.html
Hot off the press…in a defiant move towards Washington and its power in the Western Hemisphere, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has decided to purchase “several battalions of Russian tanks” by September of this year. Thanks to the reporting of Joshua Keating, a blogger at the highly-acclaimed ForeignPolicy.com, President Barack Obama and his cabinet may finally realize how challenging it will be to improve American-Venezuelan diplomatic ties. In more pragmatic language, Mr. Chavez’s continued belligerence towards anything and everything American exposes the Venezuelan leader’s true nature as a two-faced individual: smiling in front of the cameras and shaking the hand of Mr. Obama while promoting America’s demise behind the scenes.
Joshua Keating’s description of the Venezuelan-Russian arms deal is the best summary I have read thus far:
“We’re going to buy several battalions of Russian tanks,” Chavez said at a news conference, saying the deal is among accords he hopes to conclude during a visit to Russia in September.
Chavez’s government has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005, including helicopters, fighter jets and Kalashnikov assault rifles.
The socialist leader called Colombia’s plan to host more U.S. soldiers a “hostile act” and a “true threat” to Venezuela and its leftist allies. He warned that a possible U.S. buildup could lead to the “start of a war in South America,” but gave no indication that Venezuela’s military is mobilizing in preparation for any conflict.
To begin with, any Venezuelan troop deployment against U.S. soldiers stationed in Columbia would not only be politically and militarily irrational…it would have suicidal consequences for Mr. Chavez’s socialist outlook throughout Central and South America. Nobody in the world can dispute the pervasive ineptitude that has taken root within Venezuela’s military establishment over the past decade. Ever since Mr. Chavez’s triumphant rise to power in 1998, the country’s armed-forces have been frequently categorized as ill-equipped and technologically-inferior in relation to its “arch enemies” in Latin America (Columbia, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay). Such conclusions do not even take into account the fact that Venezuela’s army…the same portion of the political hierarchy that gives Chavez most of his support…is comprised of poorly-trained and amateur soldiers who have yet to be tested in any external conflict (some of whom simply join the ranks for economic reasons as opposed to an ideological belief in the Socialist Dream). For this reason, more tanks, jets, and helicopters in Caracas should not be of concern to the White House. As Keating so amply puts it, “bringing a bigger knife to a gun fight doesn’t really shift the odds in your favor.” With Venezuelan troops already suffering from a lack of morale, destroying Venezuelan resistance will continue to be a relatively easy task for both the U.S. Military and the U.S-trained Columbian Security Forces.
What should worry Mr. Obama and his foreign-policy team is the Venezuelan-Russian relationship…an alliance that has exponentially increased over the past few years. Unlike Venezuela’s status in the international community, the Kremlin under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev possesses an inherent ability to frustrate the United States in a variety of foreign-policy arenas. Russia is a primary supporter and builder of Iran’s nuclear program: the same “civilian project” that poses an existential threat to Washington, Jerusalem, and Western Europe in the Middle East. In addition, Moscow continues to block any attempt by the United Nation’s Security Council to impose harsher sanctions on Iranian noncompliance…consistently vetoing a string of economic punishments that could drastically diminish the Islamic Republic’s unity and fortitude.
Diplomatically, Russia is still skeptical in advancing a partnership with its European neighbors: either due to Putin’s paranoia towards Western European values or for the fear of a possible European resurgence at the expense of a Russian decline. Poland, one of America’s most trusted friends on the European continent, continues to view the Russians with hostility. And of course, the military campaign in Georgia last summer by the Kremlin’s war-machine certainly did not help appease the sentiments of western nations of a Moscow undergoing a peaceful transition from authoritarian politics.
For all of these reasons, particularly in the security realm of foreign-policy, the United States should be questioning the expansion of the Venezuelan-Russian connection. While the Cold War has been over for close to two decades, and while the U.S. and Russia have made tremendous improvements in diplomatic relations over the past eighteen years, the U.S.-Russian rivalry continues to linger on the backburner both practically and symbolically. Casting aside Chavez’s unwavering desire to oppose and demean Washington’s policies in all its forms, his relationship with Moscow does indeed pose a gathering threat for the United States in the politically-sensitive Latin American region. With Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev already intent on renovating the former Soviet empire, an authoritarian Russia spreading its wings in America’s backyard may not be the best situation for the young Commander-in-Chief.
-Daniel R. DePetris
-Information from Joshua Keating of Foreign Policy contributed to this blog. His full article can be accessed at: http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/08/06/what_does_hugo_chavez_really_want_all_those_tanks_for.