August 14th, 2014
11:06 PM ET

The fantasy of Middle Eastern moderates

By Fareed Zakaria

For decades, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has been to support “moderates.” The problem is that there are actually very few of them. The Arab world is going through a bitter, sectarian struggle that is “carrying the Islamic world back to the Dark Ages,” said Turkish President Abdullah Gul. In these circumstances, moderates either become extremists or they lose out in the brutal power struggles of the day. Look at Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and the Palestinian territories.

The Middle East has been trapped for decades between repressive dictatorships and illiberal opposition groups — between Hosni Mubarak and al-Qaeda — leaving little space in between. The dictators try to shut down all opposition movements, and the ones that survive are vengeful, religious and violent. There was an opening for moderates after the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, but it rapidly closed. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood had a chance to govern inclusively, but it refused. Without waiting for vindication at the polls, Egypt’s old dictatorship rose up and banned and jailed the Brotherhood and other opposition forces. In Bahrain, the old ruling class is following the example of the Egyptian regime, while the Saudi monarchy funds the return to repression throughout the region. All of this leads to an underground and violent opposition. “Because of the culture of impunity [from the government], there is a new culture of revenge” on the street, Said Yousif al-Muhafda, head of documentation at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor, a news and analysis Web site.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Middle East
Time for Israel to face up to only path to peace
August 5th, 2014
04:25 PM ET

Time for Israel to face up to only path to peace

By Sultan Barakat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sultan Barakat is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, and Chairman of the Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit, University of York. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Israel’s repeated wars on the Gaza strip have taken a heavy toll on Palestinian civilian infrastructure, and this latest offensive is no different. Israeli shelling first damaged, then destroyed Gaza’s only power plant, while waves of attacks have shredded power lines and ruptured sewage systems. Indeed, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates as much as two-thirds of the enclave’s population of 1.8 million now lacks or has very limited access to potable water or sanitation services.

But such disregard for basic civilian infrastructure will ultimately prove counterproductive – if Israel genuinely wants a lasting solution to the conflict, it must be made to appreciate that the reconstruction and development of Gaza, not its utter destruction, is crucial.

While the death toll in the strip has continued to climb – even if the current cease-fire holds, it has hit more than 1,800, mostly civilians – the most basic requirements for any kind of dignity and quality of life are being destroyed, and more than 425,000 have been left homeless by the actual or threatened demolition of their homes. Yet the destruction of Gazan infrastructure began long before the first airstrikes and rocket launches of the present conflict. The tiny enclave, measuring about 140 square miles, has been under effective siege since 2007, turning it into what is in many respects the world’s largest open-air prison – even construction materials such as the cement, steel and pipes that are needed to expand the enclave’s water treatment system are banned under the embargo. FULL POST

Welcome to an amoral world without just wars
August 1st, 2014
09:10 AM ET

Welcome to an amoral world without just wars

By Leon Aron, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Leon Aron is a resident scholar and the Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.

Two wars – one in Gaza the other in eastern Ukraine – are unfolding simultaneously. They have nothing in common except this: both should be being seen as unambiguous in terms of which side is right and which wrong. And second, both are likely to end in a strategic (i.e. long-term) defeat for the right side because of the attitudes that shape the approach of Western leaders to both wars.

The facts are not in dispute. In Ukraine, the legitimate government in Kiev is trying to restore Ukrainian sovereignty over its territory, in practical terms seized by Russia in a proxy war using professional special troops, intelligence officers and mercenaries (kontraktniki) to train assorted thugs known collectively as "rebels" or "separatists" who are being armed and supplied by Russia.

In Gaza, Israel is battling a fundamentalist terrorist organization dedicated to killing Jews, Christians and gays and oppressing women. As in Ukraine, they attacked first, by firing hundreds missiles at Israeli cities and towns.

FULL POST

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Topics: Conflict • Israel • Middle East • Russia • Ukraine
July 29th, 2014
05:11 PM ET

Understanding the violence in Gaza

CNN’s New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the roots of the unrest in the Middle East. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Who are the key players, and what are their current positions?

Benjamin Netanyahu is, of course, the prime minister of Israel, a longtime hawk and longtime hardliner on Israeli security issues. John Kerry is the secretary of state who never stops trying which, you know, has caused some controversy. And Khaled Meshaal is a somewhat unknown figure compared to these two. The head of Hamas, he doesn’t live in Gaza because I think he would not stay alive in Gaza, and so he has moved around various places – Qatar and places like that.

Let’s make sure everybody understands what the playing field is, what Israel wants. No more rockets.

You can understand why. The important thing to point out is even though, of course, very few Israelis die because of these rockets because the iron dome air defense system is really quite extraordinary, it still paralyzes the society. Some of these rockets could get through. Everyone is in bomb shelters, and it produces a state of heightened urgency. Imagine any society having to live with that. So that's why the rockets are important, even though they don't…of course, the range and accuracy could keep getting better.

It has kept getting better. You don't want to confuse the success of the defensiveness of Israel with its dome and other defense systems with absence of a threat. So that’s why demilitarizing Gaza is very important.

Right. This is the big demand in a sense – a demilitarized Gaza so that you don't face a constant threat. This is, of course, the hardest one to do, because in today's world it's so easy to get small arms, light ammunition, all kinds of things, and Hamas has been doing it for decades now.

And the tunnels play into that…

Right. And you see that these tunnels are fairly elaborate and well done. As people have pointed out, they are concrete. How do you prevent the building of concrete tunnels? What kind of embargo do you have to put in place? Gaza lives under a very, very tight Israeli embargo. That means you allow people not to get concrete. Concrete is fungible. You can use it for anything, and the problem is, therefore, how do you stop getting concrete in when they may want it to build schools? FULL POST

July 27th, 2014
12:53 AM ET

Clinton: Settlement policy my biggest complaint with Israeli government

Fareed speaks with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about unrest in the Middle East. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

Martin Indyk has just resigned as the kind of sherpa of the peace process. And he says that the immediate trigger, in his view – there were many – was the fact that the Palestinians looked at the Israeli continued settlement activity...

Right.

…and said these guys are not serious, we're never going to be able to get a state...

Right.

…look at what they're doing.

This is my biggest complaint with the Israeli government. I’m a strong supporter of Israel, a strong supporter of their right to defend themselves. But the continuing settlements, which have been denounced by successive American administrations on both sides of the aisle, are clearly a terrible signal to send if, at the same time, you claim you're looking for a two-state solution.

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Topics: GPS Show • Middle East
Why Qatar could be key to a Gaza ceasefire
July 24th, 2014
11:40 AM ET

Why Qatar could be key to a Gaza ceasefire

By Sultan Barakat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sultan Barakat is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Egypt has long been viewed as a key player in the Middle East peace process – a major Arab country willing to engage with Israel while endeavoring, however begrudgingly, to advance the interests of the Palestinian people. But as the Israeli military campaign on the Gaza strip continues, it is becoming increasingly clear that Egypt’s new government might not be in a position to broker a ceasefire this time around. Indeed, Western powers might find themselves having to look for help from a different partner: Qatar.

Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt has proven more adept at securing the backing of politicians and diplomats in Tel Aviv, Washington and New York for a peace initiative than it has at reaching out to Palestinians. This is especially the case as far as the leaders of Hamas in Gaza are concerned, many of whom only learned of the ceasefire proposal through media reports.

And while Hamas rejected the agreement “in its current form,” Cairo has shown seemingly little interest in genuinely appreciating Hamas’ take on the causes of the conflict or modifying the terms of the proposed ceasefire to address the longer term issues. In fact, Egypt under el-Sisi has attacked the Islamist group as part of its relentless crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, with former Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy removed from power and put on trial, hundreds of his supporters killed, and thousands more imprisoned. Over the past year, Hamas has been vilified in both official statements and public opinion, with its members banned from Egyptian soil, the Rafah border crossing between the two countries effectively shut, and hundreds of smuggling tunnels destroyed – blocking the supply of food, fuel, construction material and medicine along with weapons.  FULL POST

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Topics: Egypt • Israel • Middle East • Palestinian Authority
July 21st, 2014
11:06 AM ET

Brzezinski: Netanyahu 'making a very serious mistake'

Watch"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski about Israel's military operation in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on CNN told Wolf Blitzer that the invasion of Gaza was a strategy to demilitarize Gaza, explaining the use of force. But it has been quite a robust use of force…Do you think that it is going to succeed, the Israeli strategy?

No, I think he is making a very serious mistake. When Hamas in effect accepted the notion of participation in the Palestinian leadership, it in effect acknowledged the determination of that leadership to seek a peaceful solution with Israel. That was a real option. They should have persisted in that.

Instead Netanyahu launched the campaign of defamation against Hamas, seized on the killing of three innocent Israeli kids to immediately charge Hamas with having done it without any evidence, and has used that to stir up public opinion in Israel in order to justify this attack on Gaza, which is so lethal.

I think he is isolating Israel. He's endangering its longer-range future. And I think we ought to make it very clear that this is a course of action which we thoroughly disapprove and which we do not support and which may compel us and the rest of the international community to take some steps of legitimizing Palestinian aspirations perhaps in the U.N.

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Topics: GPS Show • Middle East
Iraqis don't want their country broken up
July 16th, 2014
10:57 AM ET

Iraqis don't want their country broken up

By Amal Mudallali, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Amal Mudallali is a senior scholar at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are her own.

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Iraq is heading for partition. The argument is that Iraq is on the cusp of being broken into three states: a Sunni, a Shiite, and a Kurdish state to replace the current state of Iraq. But while many of the proponents of this view contend that the Iraqis themselves want this because they simply cannot live together, I believe nothing could be further from the truth.

Sunni Iraqis do not want to be separate, they want to be equal. And for the Shiite Iraqis, the definition of equal is for Iraq to remain whole, but under a Shiite-dominated government. These views may appear somewhat inconsistent, but a regional and international coalition that sees the dangers of dismembering Iraq two sides should be able to help them walk back from their positions.

I know this is possible because Lebanon, another Arab country that suffered a bloody 15 year civil war, managed to step back from the abyss through a political settlement. Thirty years after the end of that civil war, and despite the suicide bombings that have blighted the country in recent months, Lebanon is still united.

FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Middle East • Syria
A new map for the Middle East?
July 10th, 2014
03:35 PM ET

A new map for the Middle East?

Watch"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, about tensions in the Middle East.

You had a terrific piece in The New York Times a year ago that struck me in which you mapped out a new Middle East based on really, the realities of the ground. Describe for us what the new map of the Middle East looks like.

Well, in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, we saw a kind of combustible situation emerge that allowed rival ethnicities and tribes and religions begin to fight for their rights with dictators now absent from the scene. And that exploded.

Syria, of course, lit the match. And we're now seeing Syria already at least into three different pieces. And that has been explosive in rippling across borders, challenging traditional boundaries established a century ago. We see that play out in Iraq today, where we see the emergence again of at least three different parts of the country – the Kurds particularly in the north, almost kind of de facto establishing their own boundary with the rest of Iraq by deploying Peshmerga, their own militia, along that border.

FULL POST

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Topics: GPS Show • Middle East
Zakaria: Flare-up in Gaza violence will be hard to stop
July 8th, 2014
10:27 AM ET

Zakaria: Flare-up in Gaza violence will be hard to stop

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the escalating violence in Gaza following the kidnappings and killings of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers in the past few weeks. This is an edited version of the transcript.

The fact that the teenager who was beaten by the Israeli Police, an American citizen – how much could that, or should that, change the U.S. posture on this unfolding very serious, potentially very deadly situation in the Middle East?

It changes it a lot. As you know, the way in which the United States reacts varies very dramatically depending on whether the people involved – whether killed, wounded, hurt – are American citizens or not. Now this means that the American embassy has to be involved. It means the State Department has to be involved. It means that potentially congressmen might get involved, senators might get involved.

And in general, there’s going to be a heightened media scrutiny, inevitably. And all of that’s going to make an already raw situation even more difficult to handle.

FULL POST

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Topics: GPS Show • Israel • Middle East
Repression no cure for challenge of political Islam
July 2nd, 2014
12:28 PM ET

Repression no cure for challenge of political Islam

By Dalibor Rohac, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Dalibor Rohac is a policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute. You can follow him @daliborrohac. The views expressed are his own.

The events in Iraq, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been mounting an offensive against the ill-prepared Iraqi army, raises important questions about political Islam and about the response to it by both Middle Eastern governments and the West.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the increased perception of political Islam as a major security threat led Western governments to boost support to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East as long as they were secular and therefore seen as superior to their theocratic alternatives. When the Egyptian military brought down President Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013, there was a sense of relief among many observers in Washington.

Some of them may be willing to give Egypt's current military regime a pass even after its judiciary convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists for seven years for "aiding terrorists" – not to mention recently upholding death sentences for 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who allegedly organized an attack on a Cairo police station last year. Yet the repression of Islamic political movements, such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, often backfires, with consequences that could be as dire as the current bloodbath in Iraq.

FULL POST

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Topics: Egypt • Iraq • Islam • Middle East • Syria
Iraq: It’s not about us
July 2nd, 2014
12:17 PM ET

Iraq: It’s not about us

By Will Marshall, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Will Marshall is the president of the Progressive Policy Institute. The views expressed are his own.

The debate over how to keep Iraq from falling apart reveals a peculiarly American kind of self-centeredness. When things blow up abroad, we often spend more time arguing about the U.S. reaction to the crisis than what triggered it in the first place.

So it is with the stunning rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which styles itself as a resurrected “caliphate” to which all Muslims owe allegiance. Instead of focusing on how to protect Americans and our regional partners from a new jihadist malignancy, much of Washington’s political class is consumed by recriminations over who is to blame for resurgent Sunni terrorism in the Middle East.

Is it George W. Bush’s fault for invading Iraq in 2003 and cluelessly stirring up a sectarian hornet’s nest? Or did Barack Obama squander America’s costly success in stabilizing Iraq in his haste to “end” an unpopular war?

Both indictments contain a large grain of truth. But is this really the time to be pointing fingers and rehearsing bitter debates about the wisdom of the invasion, the “surge” or the U.S. exit? U.S. leaders should leave such questions to historians and concentrate instead on mustering a coherent response to the present predicament. This isn’t a naïve plea to take the “politics” out of national security – which is both impossible and potentially dangerous – or to ignore the lessons of past mistakes. But we shouldn’t let the interminable argument over whose “lessons of Iraq” should prevail get in the way of a clear assessment of the new threat.

FULL POST

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Topics: Foreign Policy • Iraq • Middle East
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