Breaking down the latest ISIS message
November 14th, 2014
03:35 PM ET

Breaking down the latest ISIS message

CNN speaks with Fareed about a message on an ISIS social media account, which claims to be from the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, saying that the U.S.-led coalition is "terrified, weak and powerless." This is an edited version of the transcript.

What are your first impressions when you hear this message, supposedly from al-Baghdadi, using the words weak, powerless, failed and going as far as mentioning the additional 1,500 troops the president has announced?

This is an old tactic. Al Qaeda used to do it all the time. There’s always a lot of bluster and braggadocio. But I also think it's important to remember something I have often said. They are trying to set a bait – they want the United States more involved. It helps them recruit.

Remember, ISIS has gone from nothing to becoming the replacement for al Qaeda, the most well-known jihadi organization in the world. How? By taking on the 800-pound gorilla of the world, the United States of America. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Syria
A delicate balance in the midst of a crisis
November 10th, 2014
05:56 PM ET

A delicate balance in the midst of a crisis

By Nicole Dow, CNN

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction – a fact that is just as true for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as it is in physics. Now, as the Sunni militant group continues to try to expand its sphere of influence, its progress threatens to tip the delicate sectarian balance. Indeed, the ripple effects could transform the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East.

To understand why this is the case, it’s essential to understand the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia is an Arab state with a Sunni majority, while Iran is a predominantly Shiite, non-Arab state. Between the two countries is an ongoing tension that has been brewing at least since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.

"This is very much a conflict that is molded and shaped by the geopolitical competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region," says Harith Al-Qarawee, a fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

"The very idea of having Sunni countries fighting ISIS, and the tendency to exclude Iran from the conferences that occurred in the past…[suggest] Iran is not considered an ally in that conflict," Al-Qarawee says.

Al-Qarawee says one reason is that the United States and its allies believe that a military offensive is best led by Sunni governments as ISIS identifies itself as Sunni. “I think the Obama administration concluded that no one can face ISIS except Sunnis themselves. If you ally with the Shia or a Shia-dominated government, you are deepening the sectarian divide and it is also the case if the arrangements rely only on Sunni allies and exclude Shias.” FULL POST

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Topics: Middle East • Syria
November 8th, 2014
10:24 PM ET

Is backing Syria rebels a mistake?

Fareed speaks with Joshua Landis, director of the University of Oklahoma's Center for Middle East Studies, about his proposal for addressing the Syria crisis. Watch the full interview this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

So let's understand why you think that the solution that so many people keep urging, which is that the United States supports those rebels in the blue areas and that they will therefore win. They will establish control, create perhaps a democratic Syria. Why is that not going to work?

Well, it's not going to work because most of the blue area are dominated by the big rebel groups which are al Qaeda and the Islamic Front, which are jihadist, very anti-American groups. The pro-American militias just got wiped out in the northern blue spot, Jabal al-Zawiya. They just got pushed aside by al Qaeda. And so they're very small. They may own perhaps 1 or 2 percent of Syria today, the rebels that are being backed by the United States.

So to turn those 2 percent into winners, that would not only wipe out ISIS, but taking on al-Assad would be a gargantuan undertaking.

So they have to beat Al-Nusra and al Qaeda and Khorasan. Then they've got to beat ISIS. Then they've got to beat al-Assad.

Yes, it's not going to happen. And we've only – President Obama has given them half a billion dollars. Now, at the University of Oklahoma we have an endowment of much more than a billion dollars and we can't even pay the students to go for free.

So they're not going to build an army for that kind of money. This is just chump change that's there to satisfy, I presume, people who are criticizing the president.

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Topics: GPS Show • Syria
October 18th, 2014
11:29 PM ET

The problem with the U.S. strategy in Syria

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

By Fareed Zakaria

For any strategy to work in Syria, it needs a military component and a political one. The military one – a credible ground army – is weak. The political one is non-existent.

The crucial underlying reason for the violence in Iraq and Syria is a Sunni revolt against governments in Baghdad and Damascus that the Sunnis view as hostile, apostate regimes.

The political solution, presumably, is some kind of power-sharing arrangement in these two capitals. But this is not something that the United States can engineer, certainly not in Syria. It tried it in Iraq and, despite 176,000 troops on the ground, tens of billions of dollars, and David Petraeus' skillful leadership, the deals he brokered started unraveling within months of his departure, well before American troops had all left.

The only strategy against ISIS that has any chance of working is containment – bolstering the neighbors who are willing to fight militarily and politically, neighbors who are threatened far more than the United States is. They include, most importantly, Iraq then Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the Gulf States. The greatest challenge is to get the Iraqi government to make serious concessions to Sunnis so they are recruited into the fight, something that has not happened so far.

Watch the video for the full Take or read the WaPo column

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Syria
September 24th, 2014
05:30 PM ET

Zakaria: ISIS policy 'remains somewhat troubling'

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about President Obama’s speech on the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria delivered at the United Nations on Wednesday. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Many were surprised that the Obama administration did in fact put together a coalition including five Sunni Arab countries to not only express support, but military support against ISIS. They got involved in striking these ISIS targets in Syria. That certainly is going to put enormous pressure on the rest of the world and friends of the United States to at least voice support for what the U.S. is trying to achieve.

Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing the United States leading a little bit from behind on this one, which is to say having the Sunni Arab states in the front confronting ISIS, rather than having what ISIS would regard as the crusader capitalist Western Christian power do it.

The issue here, though, is that the strikes are fine, and I think the president will find there's broad support in a campaign against ISIS. There's broad support for the kind of talk about world order. But what's the regional strategy and follow up?

These addresses before the U.N. General Assembly are usually pretty good speeches, well written, there's a whole laundry list of international issues they want to get through, make some points, but then a few days later, certainly a few weeks later, very few people remember what they said. Will this speech be remembered down the road?

I think it will because of that very distinctive piece of it, the call on the Muslim world to cleanse itself of extremism. Very unusual. Many presidents have thought about talking in those terms, but have always been deterred – I know this was a conversation that took place within the Bush White House – because [they] always felt it would seem too anti-Muslim.

But I think it's also important to point out that this was a great speech, the kind Obama gives well. It's Obama as professor. It's a public education speech. It's coherent. It arches over lots of subjects, talks about world order. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • ISIS • Syria • Terrorism
U.S. must not jump when ISIS asks it to
September 16th, 2014
04:04 PM ET

U.S. must not jump when ISIS asks it to

CNN’s New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about recent developments over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and what the U.S. response should be. This is an edited version of the transcript.

What is the perspective from Arab states about who is willing to join the coalition against ISIS and put boots on the ground?

Let's think about it from this point of view. What is ISIS’s strategy? What are they trying to do to put out these videos, by doing this kind of brutality? They are trying the goad the United States in. What they want to do is say, there America goes again, invading another Arab country, bombing Muslims, and we are the defenders. They want to make it us against them.

What we have to be careful not to play into the game, not to jump when they ask us to.

How?

The most important thing is that we have to make sure that the other Arab states are involved. We have a few countries like Saudi Arabia that say they would be willing to participate in the bombings. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Syria
Why U.S. is wary about intervening in Syria
August 14th, 2014
10:38 AM ET

Why U.S. is wary about intervening in Syria

CNN speaks with Fareed about the latest developments in Iraq and U.S. involvement in the region. This is an edited version of the transcript.

So, aren't these boots on the ground in Iraq? 

You know, they are boots on the ground. But I think in a way that's a kind of weird shorthand that we’ve developed to try to understand whether or not this is an open-ended mission. The really important question is, what is the nature of the mission? You go into a country and say we are going to save the country, restore it to its normal functioning, nation build – those are vast open-ended missions. It's not clear how you would do them. It's not clear how you would ever know you had succeeded.

Here, you have a very defined mission. The idea is to try to save these Yazidis, to perhaps bolster the Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces. That seems to me pretty doable. There is a great danger, and I understand it, a wariness about getting more involved in Iraq. But you don't slip down every slippery slope.

Once they come off the mountaintop, what do we do for the Yazidis?

Where they will go is probably the ones that want to leave will go into Kurdistan, the Kurdish part of Iraq, which is very tolerant, but also very secure, and will become increasingly secure because we are now supplying the Kurdish forces with arms.

Remember, because these guys are an autonomous part of Iraq, the United States wouldn't sell them weaponry, wouldn't give them weaponry, because the idea was that that's violating the central government. You know, we're meant to be giving money to the Iraqi army, not to this group of militias.  Well, we have gotten over that now. The United States is helping the Kurdish Peshmerga. The Yazidis will go there. That's a secure, safe, tolerant place and can be defended.  FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Syria
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
July 14th, 2014
10:41 AM ET

Is U.S. throwing fuel on Middle East fire?

By Fareed Zakaria

The Obama administration's decision to seek $500 million to train and fund moderate elements of the Syrian opposition has been greeted with bipartisan support in Washington. The general consensus is that if the administration had done three years ago what it is doing now, the situation in Syria would not have turned into a bloody sectarian civil war.

But almost all elements of this conventional wisdom are wrong. The administration is caving in to the classic Washington desire to "do something" in the face of a terrible tragedy without any clear sense as to whether it has the ability to improve things or to make matters worse…

…The complexity of Washington's task can be seen in the American attitude towards ISIS. When the group battles the al-Maliki government in Iraq, it is a deadly foe of the United States and must be ruthlessly attacked. But when it crosses the now non-existent border between Iraq and Syria and battles the al-Assad regime, it’s aligned with America's stated goal of regime change in Damascus.

With this whole history of sectarian conflict in mind, it’s difficult to believe that three years ago a modest American intervention of arms and training, which is all that was being advocated, would have changed the trajectory of events in Syria.

Watch the video for the full Take or read the WaPo column

 

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Syria
Time to rethink approach to Iraq's displacement crisis
July 11th, 2014
12:09 PM ET

Time to rethink approach to Iraq's displacement crisis

By Elizabeth Ferris and Vittoria Federici, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Ferris is the co-director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement and a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. Vittoria Federici is a senior research assistant at the Brookings Doha Center. The views expressed are their own.

In a scene reminiscent of Iraq’s 2006-2008 displacement crisis, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are again fleeing violent conflict for perceived safer areas. Indeed, more than 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced since fighting erupted in Anbar Province between Sunni insurgents and the Iraqi army at the start of this year, a situation dramatically worsened by the lightning advances of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Sadly, this mass displacement looks like it will be even more complicated than the previous one.

For a start, ISIS fighters have quickly and brutally taken over large swathes of territory in order to establish an Islamic Caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq. Taking advantage of widespread discontent among the local Sunni population, the group is fighting an open sectarian war against the Shia-led government in Baghdad. As it consolidates its powerbase, ISIS is demanding that Muslims pledge allegiance to its movement, live according to its harsh interpretation of Islam, and wage international jihad. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Syria
July 10th, 2014
10:29 PM ET

Obama caves to conventional wisdom on Syria

By Fareed Zakaria

Syria has been unstable from its birth. Between its independence in 1946 and Assad’s coup, there were around 10 other coups and attempted coups. By the late 1970s, it was already divided into camps, largely defined by Islamism and sect. Outside powers in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran — have been funding, arming and training militants on both sides. In 2011, these long-simmering tensions bubbled over.

Today, according to James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, there are about 1,500 separate insurgent groups in Syria, with between 75,000 and 115,000 insurgents. In addition, there are 7,500 foreign fighters from neighboring countries. The strongest groups are all radical Islamist — the Islamic State, Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Syria
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
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