By Fareed Zakaria
Syria shows limits of drones
“In a politically complex environment – one in which the United States is not at war and the targets are unclear – armed drones are really not all that useful,” writes Audrey Kurth Cronin in Foreign Affairs. “They might seem like a cool new tool to many observers and policymakers, but the horrible predicament in Syria reveals the sharp limitations of the technology - and the serious problem of relying upon it so heavily in the U.S. force structure. Rather than looking for a quick technological fix, U.S. policymakers should invest more in good analysis and robust human assets on the ground, so as to sort friend from foe.”
The biggest fear in Lebanon these days is car bombs exploding in residential neighborhoods, argues Rania Abouzeid in the New Yorker. “Here in Beirut, trying to predict which neighborhoods might be hit has become a dark parlor game. Will it be like 2005, when a string of small bombs were planted in mainly Christian areas? Or large-scale explosions in Sunni and Shiite areas that result in double-digit deaths? Will night spots be hit? Restaurants? Which ones?”
“The country’s center is holding for now, in part because it is serving as a ‘back office’ for the various parties in Syria, who are using its banks, its port, its airport, and its territory. Its border areas, however, are fraying. As in the seventies, some rebel groups have carved out safe havens that they also use as clandestine bases, and for logistical support. The relative stability of these areas serves their needs for now, but perhaps not for long.
“The big question is what, if anything, Hezbollah might do if there’s a Western strike against Syria.”
By Global Public Square staff
One of the most powerful leaders in the world once said this:
“Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is the best novel that has ever been written in history ... I have said over and over again, go read [it] once. Les Miserables is a book of sociology, a book of history, a book of criticism, a divine book, a book of love and feeling.”
Who said those words? It was not the president of France. In fact, it was not any Western leader at all. Those are the words of a man the West has come to perceive as a sworn enemy – Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and Ayatollah of Iran.
This revelation is part of an important essay in the new edition of Foreign Affairs, by the Iranian dissident and writer Akbar Ganji. It turns out Khamenei believes novels have given him a deep insight into the West. The Supreme Leader has read The Grapes of Wrath, as well as Uncle Tom's Cabin and many other books from around the world. Ganji's essay, entitled ‘Who is Ali Khamenei?’ provides fascinating insights into the most powerful man in Iran.
Remember, Khamenei has been in power in Iran since the beginning. When Iran had its revolution in 1979, and Iranians overthrew the American-backed Shah to found the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei was at the forefront. He became president in 1981, and then Supreme Leader in 1989, with full control over the military, executive, and judiciary.
By David Andrew Weinberg, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He previously served as a staff member covering Middle East issues at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are his own.
Barely a week after having been released from prison, prominent Saudi rights activist Mohammed Al-Bajadi was reportedly detained again on Wednesday. Sadly, Al-Bajadi had already served more than two years in jail for something that should not have been a crime in the first place: establishing a human rights NGO that urged Saudi officials to live up to their own stated legal code.
Ironically, Al-Bajadi first ran afoul of Saudi authorities by calling attention to the plight of other individuals detained without charges, often for years at a time. In 2007, he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for four months for highlighting this issue.
In 2009, he was hauled in for questioning about his continued peaceful activism for democratic reform and for the rights of prisoners. Although he was released without further punishment, his passport was confiscated to prevent him from traveling abroad. The organization he helped found that year, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, has consistently been denied requests for a license. Earlier this year, the group’s assets were confiscated, and two of its other founders were each sentenced to at least a decade in prison.
Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Peter Beinart, a senior political writer with the Daily Beast, and Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for the Wall Street Journal, about the developments in Egypt.
So, Bret, when you look at what's going on in Egypt, you now have a military coup that it's very difficult to make the case it was a soft coup. And I understand the niceties of the American government not calling it that, but you had the military take over a democratically elected government. You now have the military appointing 17 out of 19 generals as governors. How should we think about this?
Stephens: Look, first of all, it's a problem with no good solutions. You have in Egyptian politics a kind of a zero-sum game. I mean, efforts by Senators McCain and Graham, by the administration itself to try to finesse a power sharing agreement between the military and the Brotherhood, have clearly failed. The Brotherhood aims to topple the military; the military understands that it's in a kind of death match with the Brotherhood and is going to exert itself forcefully, and as we've seen this week, violently on the Brotherhood to stop them.
The question is, can we help? Can we show the military that it’s in their own interests to have a political process that if it doesn’t quite include the Brotherhood, doesn’t suppress them as violently. Because the government, especially General Sisi, will not be doing themselves favors with the rest of the Arab world – certainly not with Europe and the United States – if protesters continue to be massacred in the streets. So how do you soften those blows?
By Fareed Zakaria
“Among the world’s potential interstate confrontations, one between the United States and Iran has the greatest potential for a significant cyber component,” writes Martin Libicki in Foreign Affairs.
“Indeed, Iran has already started to flex its muscles in cyberspace. In late 2012, cyberattackers linked to Iran penetrated the network of Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil and gas company, effectively trashing 30,000 computers. Rasgas, a Qatari corporation, faced similar treatment. This spring, anonymous U.S. officials claimed that Iranian hackers were able to gain access to control-system software that could allow them to manipulate U.S. oil and gas pipelines.”
“Egypt's powerful military leadership may be offended by Obama's decision Thursday to cancel a biennial joint military training exercise that was scheduled to start next month to show his displeasure with the rising death toll, arbitrary arrests and virtual martial law,” argues Paul Richter in the Los Angeles Times. “But the generals who toppled the democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, on July 3 are not likely to suspend crucial counter-terrorism cooperation with Washington, halt oil tankers and other commercial shipping in the Suez Canal, or jettison the peace treaty with Israel that has formed a cornerstone of regional peace for three decades.”
By Global Public Square staff
Washington’s efforts to broker Middle East peace have given this age-old conflict a high profile and raised expectations once again. But there is another decades-old dispute, thousands of miles away, that is getting very little attention. And for the first time in many years, there are reasons to be optimistic about its prospects: We’re talking about India and Pakistan.
Yes, the two countries have fought three full-scale wars and are locked in a nuclear arms race. They have frequent skirmishes over disputed territory in Jammu and Kashmir, as they did once again this week when five Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush.
But if you take a step back from Kashmir and examine the broader political climate in the region – India, Pakistan, and also Afghanistan – there are reasons for cautious optimism.
By Fareed Zakaria
Has Merkel missed an opportunity?
The period since 2009 has been a domestic policy black hole in Germany, write Markus Feldenkirchen and Christiane Hoffmann in Der Spiegel. “No reforms were passed that looked beyond just the next few years. Yet decisive action is critical, especially now - notwithstanding the country's low unemployment rate, record-high tax revenues and an export economy that continues to set new records. But the situation is only looks rosy. Germany is not prepared for the changes that lie ahead. Clear structural reforms are necessary, and yet lawmakers deny that there is any need for action.”
“Germany's social welfare systems are designed for a society that constantly generates growth and never ages - in other words, for fair-weather conditions. Not even now, in times of historically high contributions and revenues, have lawmakers been able to compel pension, health and long-term care insurance companies to build adequate reserves for the more difficult times that lie ahead - times in which one in two Germans will be retired and the number of the chronically ill and people in need of care will be twice as high as it is today. Those who fail to act now are only creating the crises of the future.”
By Fareed Zakaria
America’s middle class left behind?
The split between corporate profits and middle-class living standards – call it America's ‘wedge economics’ – had its roots in the late 1970s, with Democrats in control of Congress and the White House, argues Hendrick Smith in the LA Times.
“For the previous 30 years, from 1945 through the 1970s, middle class Americans shared in the nation's growing prosperity. Based on Labor Department reports, economists tell us the productivity of the U.S. workforce rose 97 percent from 1945 to 1973, and the income of the average family rose 95 percent. In short, average workers reaped the benefits of rising U.S. efficiency along with their bosses.
“But since 1973, the picture has changed: Productivity has risen 80 percent, economists report, but the average family's income has risen only 10 percent, and that bump has come primarily because more women have entered the workforce, not because wages have gone up. According to the Census Bureau, the typical male worker made the same hourly pay and benefits in 2011 as in 1978, adjusted for inflation. Three decades of going nowhere.”
By Fareed Zakaria
“There are many other examples of Syrian-Iranian coordination and the utter ruthlessness of both states in pursuing their objectives, such as the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. During my time in Lebanon, we had a dark joke about ‘Hama rules,’ meaning there were no rules governing Syrian conduct,” writes Ryan Crocker in Yale Global.
“So this current fight didn’t start in the southern Syrian city of Dara’a in 2011. Nor is it part of the so-called Arab Spring. It began decades before. Lebanese, Palestinians, Iranians, Jordanians, Iraqis and Syrians – Sunnis, Alawis, Christians and Druze – all remember. Americans may not have ever really understood it in the first place. The history helps explain the ferocity of the fight on the part of both the regime and its opponents, and it illustrates why this regime is not like those in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya. It was ready for this war.”
“Whatever hope Egypt’s transitional government has instilled in Egyptians as it gets to work, it also faces an angry and resentful Muslim Brotherhood that is determined to do what it can to disrupt the political process,” argues Steven Cook in Foreign Affairs.
“The Brothers might ultimately be unsuccessful, but their sit-ins, demonstrations, and not-so-hushed rhetoric of violence and martyrdom vastly complicate the tasks ahead. The narrative of victimhood will stir a base that might have otherwise dissipated had the calamitous Morsi been permitted to carry on. Of course, the Brothers’ commitment to the ballot box has always been most pronounced when the group is under pressure. If the now-deposed president had stayed in office, he and the Brothers’ guidance office would likely have found a way to ensure the Brotherhood’s political power regardless of the group’s performance. It now seems unlikely that the colorless jurist who is palace-sitting has the ability to match the Brothers’ war of position with anything other than coercion. This portends a slide toward authoritarianism, not democracy.”
“The government is using a variety of instruments, including financial-sector credit discipline, to rein in investment demand. Essentially, the government guarantee associated with financing public-sector investment is being withdrawn – as it should be,” writes Michael Spence for Project Syndicate.
“But, to circumvent the restrictions in the state-dominated financial system, a shadow banking system has developed, raising new risks: economic distortions; reliance on excess leverage to drive growth in the consumer, real estate, corporate, and government sectors; and dangers associated with inadequate regulation. As a result, investors are worried that China could slip into the excess-leverage growth model that has served many developed economies so poorly.”
By Jason Miks
U.S. Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-Va), chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and co-chair of the China Caucus, answers GPS readers’ questions on China, the U.S. military and U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific.
America is losing its air power edge, but its naval supremacy is secure, for now at least. Do you agree?
It’s a difficult question, but I appreciate the challenge. I could simply say that both our airpower and seapower capability are in decline, which I believe they are in certain areas, but it is more complicated than that. First, we need to ask what our global national security interests are and what objectives we have for our policies. When it comes to our defense policy, the answer to this question will inform what sort of military power we need to build. For instance, during various periods of the Cold War we invested in irregular military power, long-range strike, mechanized capabilities, and naval power, among others. And during the last decade we invested heavily in our land power, including counterinsurgency training and capabilities. In other words, we do not just build seapower or airpower for its own sake or because our competitors are.
When I look out over the next decade or two I see a number of trends that will create new demands on our military. First, from the Persian Gulf, to the Indian Ocean, to the South China Sea, to the East China Sea, the character of this global environment strikes me as increasingly maritime. Second, while the United States has enjoyed advantages in areas such as precision-guided munitions, satellite communications, stealth technologies, and cyber, our competitors have found ways to match or undermine these advantages with their own asymmetric investments.
By Fareed Zakaria
The United States still has a window to take advantage of historically low interest rates. “However, that window is beginning to close, and we need to act sooner rather than later,” writes Barry Ritholtz in the Washington Post.
“As D.C. dithers, the rest of the economy has already jumped at the chance to put this cheap credit to work. The corporate sector has taken advantage of low rates to refinance its debt. Today, publicly traded U.S. companies have the cleanest balance sheets seen in decades. It is in no small part a driver of the stock market rally that began in March 2009.
“Households have also taken advantage of low rates. Families with a reasonable income and a half-decent credit rating should be refinancing their consumer debt, especially home mortgages. And the data show that many of them have been. That leaves Uncle Sam, along with the states and municipalities, as the odd men out of the debt refinancing boom.”
"Pakistan's current and future leaders, starting with Nawaz Sharif, will have little reason to implicate themselves in the drone hypocrisy of their predecessors," writes Daniel Markey in Foreign Affairs. "Sharif is on sounder political footing than his predecessor, but - as his top lieutenants are already signaling - he cannot weather the political storm that is likely to result if the United States appears to blithely disregard his authority. Washington’s failure to shift its policy would lead Islamabad to escalate its diplomatic protests."
"One step in this escalation has already happened, with Pakistan taking its case against drones to the international community by way of the United Nations. If Pakistani frustration mounts without yielding results, one can imagine Sharif’s new army chief threatening to shoot U.S. drones from the sky, just as past Pakistani leaders have threatened to take down helicopters that cross into the nation’s airspace. At that stage, Washington would likely pull the drones from normal operation rather than play a high-stakes game of chicken."
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.
After two years of escalating violence, the Syrian rebellion looks more and more like a Middle East version of the Spanish Civil War. It has turned into a vicious proxy war that is cleaving the region along sectarian lines and inspiring atrocities on all sides – ironically, the very dangers opponents of U.S. intervention have warned against.
President Barack Obama’s original decision to stand aloof from the Syrian uprising reflected his broader strategy of extricating America from Middle East conflicts. It also mirrored the anti-intervention consensus that has come to dominate U.S. foreign policy debates in the wake of our long and costly engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But as the death toll rises — and as Iran and Hezbollah go all in for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, provoking a counter-mobilization of Sunni jihadists from across the region — Washington’s hands-off stance has become strategically and morally untenable.