With Russia and China blocking serious international action on Syria, numerous states have begun seeking ways to intervene indirectly. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are reportedly already giving weapons to the Syrian rebellion. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland has suggested that this is among the options on the table in the long run for the U.S., and in today’s New York Times, Roger Cohen argues that the time to start sending in weapons is now. Cohen:
In short, Syria is dangerous. But that not a reason for passivity or incoherence. As the Bosnian war showed, the basis for any settlement must be a rough equality of forces. So I say step up the efforts, already quietly ongoing, to get weapons to the Free Syrian Army.
Cohen extends the argument in that vein–that a stronger FSA will be a viable opposition, forcing Assad to negotiate and ushering in a new era of stability. Failing to arm the Syrian rebels ensures that the present bloody stalemate will continue. Shipping weapons, training rebel forces, and creating humanitarian enclaves will bring the conflict to a resolution, or at least to a ceasefire. In return for some modicum of authority, the FSA will be expected to guarantee the rights of minorities, assuaging Alawite and Christian fears of Sunni vengeance.
Great summary for those who haven’t been following the Iran confrontation, though it leaves out the simultaneous transformation that’s been occurring in Iran’s domestic politics.
But now the element of surprise is gone. The Iranians are digging their plants deeper underground, and enriching uranium at purities that will make it easier to race for a bomb. When Barack Obama was sworn into office, they had enough fuel on hand to produce a single weapon; today, by the I.A.E.A.’s own inventory, they have enough for at least four. And as the Quds Force has shown, sabotage and assassination is a two-way game, which may ratchet up one confrontation just as Americans have been exhausted by two others.
F/A-18s launch from the USS John C. Stennis (DoD Photo).
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that the U.S. government is “confused” by Iran’s recent behavior, and suggests that it may be turning towards a military government (full interview here):
But we have no doubt that this [the plot against the Saudi ambassador] was ordered. Now, I cannot tell you how high up the chain it went, which actually bothers me in both ways. If it went up the chain to the supreme leader, for example, that’s really troubling, right? If it didn’t, if it was a plot hatched by military personnel, that should be troubling to the leadership in Iran.
I think because of the – this is just my opinion; I am by no means an expert on Iran or on Iranian politics – but I believe there is a power struggle going on inside the regime and they can’t sort out what they really are willing to do [in negotiations with the U.S.] until they sort out who’s going to do what. And therefore I think there’s an opportunity for people within the country to try to influence how that debate turns out.
Spot on. The Islamic Republic has a two-dimensional political spectrum: reformists vs. hardliners, and clericalists vs. anti-clericalists. The 2009 crackdown showed that the regime’s core–i.e. Khamenei and his associates–wanted to dramatically weaken the reformist sides. The 2011 struggle between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei shows that the core wants to weaken the anti-clerical side. The only people left are various stripes of clericalist hardliners–still a diverse bunch, but nothing compared to the normal spectrum of Iranian politics. I think that Khamenei, if he can consolidate his faction’s position as the only acceptable venue for politics, will find his coalition fragmenting. The IRGC, a key constituency, has an enormous role in the economy. The new Iranian elite may be divided on pro- and anti-IRGC lines, and between business- and military-oriented factions (traditionalist merchants and IRGC business operators likely will not appreciate any new sanctions that result from Qods’ adventurism in Washington). Khamenei, who is normally a master at behind-the-scenes politicking, will find himself forced to take a more and more assertive role as his supporters fight each other and the anti-clericalist conservatives and reformists try to find a way back into the system.
News broke seemingly without warning this afternoon that the U.S. is significantly increasing its military assistance to Uganda, enough that U.S. president Barack Obama felt it necessary to send a letter to Congress for War Powers purposes. The soldiers will be noncombat advisers helping regional militaries fight the Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader Joseph Kony.
The sheds some light on the “doctrine” of the Obama Administration. American administrations typically have a doctrine associated with them–the Truman doctrine, for instance, was a standing offer to assist any nation threatened by Communist agitation, while the Reagan doctrine supported rolling back and undermining Communist influence. Presidential doctrines seem to become more complex with each Administration–the (George W.) Bush doctrine, for instance, included a range of propositions about how the U.S. would prevent threats from overseas and resists straightforward definition (thus, with chagrin, I must admit that the normally oversensitive Sarah Palin was justified in claiming that an interviewer’s question about it may have been a trap intended to make her look foolish). We are more than halfway through the Obama Administration, yet it has so far not made a clear statement of doctrine. This has drawn some praise–the post-Cold War world is complicated enough to resist those who would simplify it. However, the Uganda and Libya actions suggest that if there is not a doctrine, there is certainly a tendency. Behold, the Obama Doctrine:
Barack Obama has had a terrible summer. A key provision of his healthcare reform was ruled unconstitutional at the circuit court level. Unemployment remains high. Republican rivals are stealing the spotlight. Solutions in Syria and Yemen are elusive. The al-Maliki government in Iraq was unable to extend the U.S. troop presence. The economy is stagnant. Afghanistan policy is paralyzed while casualties mount. The national credit rating was downgraded. The debt ceiling crisis was resolved on terms so unfavorable to the President that comedian Stephen Colbert joked that Republicans even made him give up his 50th birthday. Even his legendary skills as an orator seem to have deserted him. This is hardly the resume Obama wants to present to the American people in 2012; if he isn’t re-elected, he certainly won’t enjoy reading this chapter of the histories.
However, in one area, Barack Obama has consistently excelled. His policies are a sensible, effective, and measured responses to the problem, and he faces little serious opposition. His successes have stolen headlines–indeed, one was so big that Americans poured into the streets to celebrate. Charitable historians will remember Obama as the counterterror president.
There are three key points on which Obama’s counterterror policy has succeeded. He has taken control of Afghanistan policy despite formidable opposition, he has killed Al Qaeda’s leader, and he has maintained the drone policy in the face of much screeching on his own side of the aisle.
Obama in the Situation Room, observing the operation would kill Osama bin Laden. (Image via Middle East Post)
Like the rest of the Middle East-enthusiast world, I’m glued to CNN as rebel action has broken out in Tripoli. It’s a good day for free people–more than thirty students at my university were killed in the Gaddafi-backed Pan Am 103 bombing, and that pales in comparison to the horrors Gaddafi has inflicted on his own people. Gaddafi’s faux-liberal son, noted plagiarist Saif al Islam Gaddafi, is reportedly in rebel custody, and we have to wonder how long it will be before the Mad Dog himself is captured, betrayed, or kills himself. It’s good to see that Gaddafi has had the rug pulled out from under him–I was very worried that there would be massacres by Gaddafi’s falling armies (some of the Second World War’s worst massacres occurred as German troops withdrew from occupied territory).
Anyway, CNN has changed their video loop, so I can’t get a picture, but for a while they kept showing a group of rebel fighters celebrating, and I noticed one of them wearing a pakul hat, like this:
That's Ahmed Shah Massoud, of course. (Image via kayakif)
Thing is, I’ve never heard of people wearing the pakul in North Africa. It’s traditional in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, thousands of miles and a vast cultural gulf away from Tripoli. It’s a woolen cap that would be, I think, uncomfortable during a summer on the Mediterranean coast. There’s really no reason that someone would be wearing one in Tripoli, unless they had odd fashion taste. There is, however, one other possibility for our pakul-wearing man.
Filed under Libya, Terrorism
Media reports are swirling about the shooting of an Iranian “academic” on the way to his childrens’ kindergarten. The Associated Press is saying that the man killed was Daryoush Rezaei, a physicist reportedly closely involved with Iran’s nuclear program. This version is being carried by Iran’s Mehr News Agency and the Tehran Times. (Fars is still apparently silent). However, the slickest and most “professional” of Iran’s English-language outlets, PressTV, is saying that it was a case of mistaken identity, and that the man killed was Daryoush Rezaeinejad, an “academic” (the word used in all Iranian sources). IRNA is also claiming that the man killed was Rezaeinejad, not Rezaei, but says that he was a postgraduate “in the field of power and electronics and was cooperating with a number of universities and scientific centers.”
The National Strategy Forum Review just published an article I coauthored on the troubles of Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate. The article speaks for itself, so I won’t belabor it, but note that the section on insecurity is already out of date. The major natural gas pipeline that runs through the region, supplying both Jordan and Israel, has been blown up four times since the Egyptian revolution–we had to update the publishers once in April, and it’s been blown up twice in July. There’s really no telling who was behind it–the region is home to dissatisfied Bedouins, radical Islamist groups (foreign and domestic), and a range of organized crime groups. There are also human traffickers, drug runners, and rumors of Iranian-backed weapons smuggling. If I had to guess who’s blowing up the pipelines, I’d say it’s the Bedouin, as they’ve got a long history with the Egyptian central government. After years of displacement, corruption, sedentarization, and delegitimization, it’s no shock that they’re unhappy.
The pipeline burns near el Arish, Egypt. (Image via the Daily Mail)
I found this interesting memo in George Washington University’s National Security Archive from 1985 that lists US interests in Iran after the Revolution. It’s interesting to see what’s changed–and what’s stayed the same.
Mourners attempt to steal pieces of Ayatollah Khomeini's burial shroud at his disastrous 1989 funeral. (Image via iconicphotos)
Filed under Iran, The West