Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

Check and Checkmate in Syria

Posted: October 1, 2015 in Iran, Russia, Syria
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Our Daily Challenge: Checkered I too went with the obvious choice.

 

Today it was reported that Russian aircraft targeted sites outside of Homs which contained no ISIS elements but rather CIA funded rebels fighting the Assad regime.

Shocking.

Any hope that Russia is in Syria to take on ISIS is held only by the White House and its supporters. Vladimir Putin has no track record of being on “the right side of history” (as the White House has a proclivity to say).  To believe Russia would be an honest broker and a credible actor is nothing short of naive.

What is shocking is how bewildered this White House is in its reaction to Putin’s successful gambit of aiding President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the eleventh hour. From Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s remarks of “this is like pouring gasoline onto the fire” to John Kerry’s joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following the announcement of Russia’s unilateral military action — this administration’s actions defy logic or explanation.

The Kremlin, in cooperation with Iran, has made an obvious promise to the Assad regime.  The Russians and the Iranians have promised to see the Assad regime through the present crisis. Russian airpower is the first strike in this promise. It has been reported in the UK press that Iranian and Hizbollah forces have entered the northwest area of Syria (targeted by Russian aircraft) in preparation for a ground attack on Syrian rebel forces holding that territory.

Inaction by the US has now brought on a wider conflict, leading to the real possibility of greater lethal complexity in Syria.  The White House has been checkmated but the true losers in this fiasco are the Syrian people themselves.

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Taylor_Callery__No_Choice

The White House held a hastily convened news conference yesterday to shore up flagging support for the recently concluded nuclear deal with Iran.  In that news conference President Obama narrowed the conversation regarding its merits — that we should be enlightened and intelligent enough to see the world in his terms or, in his inference, admit to our own ignorance in opposing it.

Some choice.

This is familiar territory with this White House.  The President believes there is never a choice when it comes to disagreeing with his vision of right and wrong.  The conversation, such as it is, ends with a “my way or the highway” fait accompli.

In reality there is a third way to consider the President’s deeply flawed agreement. He claims that the only alternative to his diplomacy is war.  In fact, the third alternative is that a better agreement can be achieved through better negotiations by the US.

This agreement leaves gaping holes in the verification process as well as the storage of processed fissionable material which has Russia as a guarantor of its safety.  Let’s be clear on this — Russia, a kleptocractic state, that recently committed one of the most flagrant acts of aggression in Europe when it forcibly took over of over 30% of Ukraine (Crimea as well as swaths of eastern Ukraine), is going to be a central guardian in curbing the nuclear ambition of one of the most flagrant aggressors in the Middle East. Ok, I got it.

Meanwhile Mr. Obama told us the problem lies within our own embarrassing inability to see his global perspective; in short we cannot perceive the brilliance of his own vision and intellectual dexterity. In reality this agreement clears the path for Iran to acquire weapons of mass destruction and frees billions of dollars so Iran can continue its policies of mayhem and destruction in its immediate neighborhood.

Mr. Obama stated within fifteen minutes of reaching this deal that he would veto any Congressional action other than full agreement.   This isn’t a choice.  This is not leadership.  This is rule by fiat.  We just celebrated the 239th anniversary of rejecting this path…when a choice was still a choice.

 

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In his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, President Obama stated “a page has been turned, the shadow of crisis has passed.”  This references, among other topics, the security situation from the Middle East to Afghanistan and the assumption of a peace won.  The events below show peace is still far from a reality and that the shadow of the threat has passed only because the threat itself is now directly overhead.

Boko Haram has laid claimed to the genocide of the town of Baga in northeast Nigeria on January 3. Baga was a town of over 2,000 people with approximately 3,700 homes. It was totally destroyed by Boko Haram in one horrific act of violence. Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, stated that Baga was “just the beginning with more mass deaths to follow.”  As the country gears up for Presidential elections on February 14, Boko Haram has stated this is the “end of politics and democracy in Nigeria.”

In Afghanistan’s Helmand Province it is now reported that “fissures in the Taliban leadership” have led to an opening for ISIS to slingshot its influence from the deserts of Iraq to the far flung provinces of Afghanistan and beyond. Truly a “corporate merger” of death and destruction that Afghanistan does not need as it struggles to hold on to the level of security it has today with no promise of a better day tomorrow.

In Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, Shiite Houthi rebels have captured President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s home yesterday and forced him to agree to yet unspecified concessions from his government. The Houthi have been battling the government and Sunni tribal forces for years, reportedly with the assistance of Iran. It has been reported for the past several years that Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, has been assisting the Houthi’s in their battle for northern Yeman.

The above crisis hot spots are far from a shadow of a threat. They are, rather, the active and growing threat that faces the world today.  These dangers cannot simply be “willed away” through the power of speech or by ignoring them. Only by defining them for what they are, Islamic extremism, along with sustained military/political engagement will we overcome these larger than life challenges that we face today.

 

Do Sanctions Work?

Posted: July 31, 2014 in Current Affairs, Iran, Russia

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Sanctions have been in place against Cuba since 1960 and expanded to all exports in February 1962 when,  then White House Press Secretary, Pierre Salinger famously went out the night before to buy as many Cuban cigars for President Kennedy as he could find before the embargo was in place. The calls for lifting the embargo have been a mantra chanted in recent years  as many political pundits see little point in its continuance in light of it fulfilling its original purpose.

Sanctions have been in place against Iran since February 1979, ramping up and then down in intensity mostly tied to the success and/or failure of the de-nucleariazation talks the West has been engaged in with Teheran.  The White House today have hailed these sanctions as a success as they point to these sanctions as the cause of Teheran’s eventual cooperation in de-escalating its nuclear program.

The untold segment of bringing Iran to the negotiation table through sanctions is–it has taken over ten years of sanctions for this cooperation to be measured in any significant scale.  When sanctions were initiated against Iran during the George W. Bush’s administration there was a a wide spread belief that immediate sanctions would bring about immediate results.  This idea slowly evolved into the reality that sanctions are a policy for the long haul in US foreign policy and there should be a strong commitment to see it through in order to see any benefit from this action.

Today the West is on the threshold of introducing significant financial sanctions upon Russia for its recent policies of destabilization Ukraine as well as unilaterally annexing a portion of its territory, Crimea. These sanctions have come about relatively quickly in light of other sanctions that have been imposed upon regimes from Cuba to Teheran to Damascus. Nevertheless these sanctions are now focusing less on individuals in Russia and more upon sectors of the Russian economy.

There should be no doubt , both in Washington as wells Brussels, that sanctions are a policy that is measured by a calendar and not a stop watch. Sanctions against Russia is a long game with significant impact upon the Russian economy likely to be seen after the current administration leaves office. Sanctions against Russia will look very different than an embargo against Cuba or the financial cornering of Iran. Russia has integrated its economy into the West more deeply than other sanctioned states and has more leverage for retaliatory action.  The being said sanctions will take a toll on Russia’s financial sector over the course of time.

Vladimir Putin has made it clear he is in power in Moscow for the long term.  He also has made it clear he is willing to endure sanctions for the sake of his political goals.  The West must be equally committed to a long term strategy of sanctions to slowly turn the hegemonic behavior of the Kremlin.

 

 

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This weekend was the 100th Anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo,an event of which pundits have rushed to announce”lit the fuse that brought about the modern age.” Hence they are ready to attribute WWI, WWII, the Cold War and the now Cold Peace to that street corner in Sarajevo.

Drawing a solid line from the two shots fired by Gavrilo Princip in 1914 to the configuration of the modern world is as dangerous as laying the blame for the recent collapse of Iraq’s borders to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916. Both explanations are one dimensional and simply wrong.

Modernity’s need for instantaneous connections between events substitutes for thoughtful explanation. To say that Archduke Ferdinand’s assignation in Sarajevo in 1914 was the spark that set Europe on fire is too convenient to retrofit into past events.  Likewise with Baghdad today, experts are looking to a past event, in this case the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, as a catalyst to explain current events in Iraq as they unfold on Twitter feeds and news reports.

In both cases there will be disappointment if more than a cursory look is given to either Sarajevo or Baghdad.  In such a superficial explanation of events, the workings of the great powers of the day have been ignored if not exonerated.  Historians have written for decades that Germany in 1914 was looking more for an excuse to go to war than to avoid it.

Sykes-Picot, similarly, is that event in history which is a convenient marker from which all the woes of the region can be pinned. This releases the great powers of today of all responsibility for recent events, played out in misjudged policies and misguided principles. Sykes-Picot as the reason for events from the end of WWI to ISIS’s recent sweep over northern Iraq serves to dismiss US policy and actions in the 2003 invasion of Iraq as well as the precipitous abandonment of it in 2011–not to mention the Sunni-Shi’a proxy war that is being played out by Saudi Arabia and Iran within the borders of Iraq.

The missing piece of the puzzle which exists in Sarajevo of 1914 and Baghdad of 2014 are the contemporary actions of the powers that be not the agreements that are found on aging parchment or ancillary events that were part of, not the reason for, the tide of unfolding events.

 

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The question is not is there a new map of the Middle East but, rather, are maps any longer relevant?

Over the weekend the insurgent group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) made further gains in Iraq pushing down from Mosul presumably on their way to Baghdad. Western leaders are making bold statements and admonishments to the Maliki government in Baghdad for drifting into sectarian rule since the departure of US troops in 2011 but so far have made no binding commitment to assist in stemming this flood of violence sweeping south.

Some quarters of the Iranian government are now calling on the the US to take action to stop ISIS’s seemingly unconstrained success in routing Iraqi security forces. Although the US moved a carrier, destroyer and a cruiser from the Arabian Sea into the Persian (Arabian) Gulf no further evidence is visible of US involvement in this crisis.

This returns us to the question, are maps of the Middle East more relevant for the West than they are for those that live in the region? As ISIS carves out its new sphere of influence extending from Aleppo, Syria past Mosul, Iraq a new way of viewing the region has been introduced to the West.

We in the West see borders as inviolate “firebreaks” containing conflicts within that respective country.  ISIS and groups simpler to it see maps as limiting in nature — separating those who share a faith, ideology or common vision.  If the events of the past weeks have taught us anything it is that the existing political order is a construct not always accepted by those in the region and in fact is seen as shackles.

The crisis unfolding in Iraq has been called a warning to the West as to how we respond to a regional events. Unfortunately, we are still looking at conflict through the prism of a Westphalian nation-state model and are seemingly unable to view events through the prism of our adversaries. As long as we look at this and every other crisis through a traditional map we will continue to be confounded by events that don’t unfold under the parameters which we have constructed.

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Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian President, visited Turkey yesterday making this the first official delegation to visit Ankara in eighteen years.  In this visit Rouhani held talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish President Abdullah Gul on topics ranging from gas and oil prices to regional security.

Turkey is the latest stop in what some have termed a managed charm offensive by Rouhani as he attempts to bring Teheran out of several decades of isolation by the international community.  The reason for this trip now is that Turkey is one of those states which Teheran has been at odds with primarily over regional security events, specifically Iraq and Syria.

Currently Turkey is taking an offensive posture against neighboring Syria. This has degenerated into a shooting war with the Assad regime both on the ground and in the air.  Turkish villages on the border with Syria have been shelled by the Assad government with Turkey responding in kind.  Additionally, Turkey has begun to crack down on militant recruits from Europe traveling through Turkey on their way to Syria to join the various militant Islamic factions fighting the Assad government. Meanwhile,  Iran is the prime supporter of the Assad regime and has reportedly sent fighters into the battle from their Revolutionary Guard.   Teheran has cast the civil war in Syria in much broader terms which transcend the civil war itself by stating it is “the front of hegemony against the front of resistance. ”

In Iraq, Ankara’s competition with Teheran has set Turkey on a path of anything but cooperation with Iran.  Iran sees a closely aligned Iraq as part of its regional security interests while Turkey is keen to see its economic interests grow into a security pact upon the 2011 withdrawal of US forces.  Additionally, despite Ankara’s own challenges with the Kurdish population within Turkey, Ankara has been a strong supporter of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq.   Recently this has created distance between Teheran and Ankara as both capitals have worked tirelessly to carve out their own respective sphere of influence in Iraq.

Despite these seemingly polar opposite positions regarding regional security, President Ruhani brought 90 business leaders with him, as well as seven Ministers and the Iranian central bank Governor to discuss trade and economic issues in Ankara.  These talks centered on gas, oil and increasing the amount of trade to possibly climbing to $30 billon by 2015.  This would entail, however, lifting current restrictions that Turkey has set in place in line with global embargoes vis-a-vis Teheran.

These challenges notwithstanding, Teheran has everything to gain and little to lose with this visit to Ankara. Talks over Iran’s nuclear program are about to restart and with that a review of the trade restrictions which have crippled the Iranian economy. By attempting to show a “softer side” of the regime in Teheran, Rouhani is betting on an easing of these economic sanctions.

Ankara, on the other hand, should be more circumspect as it considers a rapprochement with Tehran which could have more far reaching effects because Turkey is a NATO member. Obviously Washington and other Western capitals will watch these meetings closely as Turkey holds the southern flank of the Black Sea region and this area has taken on significant importance in US policy with the crisis in Ukraine. Understanding that NATO security concerns would never trump those of Turkey,  Turkish interests should never run in competition with those of NATO.