Iraq is on a precipice
June 12th, 2014
09:12 AM ET

Iraq is on a precipice

By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes. The views expressed are his own.

Iraq is on a precipice from which it may never recover. The fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to forces ostensibly from the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), may simply be the tip of the iceberg. What has happened in Iraq increasingly appears not simply to be a binary struggle between government and insurgent, but rather a more complicated problem that may be impossible to fully unravel.

I drove from Tikrit through Beiji to Mosul earlier this year, and into Syria along the same roads ISIS and other insurgents now use. Even then, government control over Mosul was tenuous. Iraqi soldiers at checkpoints on the outskirts of town urged me and my driver to reconsider my trip because Mosul was not safe; they relented only because a local vouched for me. After all, while Tikrit was home to former President Saddam Hussein and his immediate entourage, Mosul was the hometown of much of Saddam Hussein’s officer corps. It still is. As I continued on to the Syrian border, a special security agent at a checkpoint separated me from my taxi driver and another man accompanying us to ensure that I was there of my own free will. A senior security official in Baghdad subsequently told me that was standard protocol. It also reflects, however, the lawlessness of that area.

While Americans focus on the shock of al Qaeda flags over Mosul, Iraqis describe a more complicated scene. One Iraqi reported that insurgents in Mosul told his brother that they were not al Qaeda, but rather veterans of Saddam’s army. Rumors are rife throughout Mosul and Tikrit that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, Saddam Hussein’s vice president and the most senior official of the previous regime who evaded American capture, has returned from Syria and is leading renewed insurgency.

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Topics: Iraq • Terrorism • Turkey
How to respond to the ISIS threat
June 12th, 2014
12:39 AM ET

How to respond to the ISIS threat

Just a day after overunning Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, militants from the al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) gained nearly complete control of the northern city of Tikrit. How should the Iraqi government and United States respond? And what are their chances for success? Leading analysts offer their take on what to look for. The views expressed are their own.

U.S. should deal with Iraq and Syria together

By Brian Katulis, Special to CNN

The astonishing advances of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) across parts of northern and central Iraq has reignited a debate about what the Obama administration should do in Iraq and Syria. For now, the centerpiece of the struggle is sharply focused on how Iraq’s government responds and how countries in the region react.

The first key question is how Iraq’s government, led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, responds to this assault. Al-Maliki, a leader from a Shia party who has led Iraq for the past eight years, has been accused by his opponents of becoming increasingly authoritarian and not inclusive when it comes to reaching out to people in the Sunni minority community.  Some have gone so far to say that his neglect of the Sunnis created the opening for extremist groups like ISIS to achieve the rapid gains over the past few days.

If al-Maliki can put together a cohesive response that cuts across the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide and the Arab-Kurd split, this would go a long way toward building a more stable political foundation to address Iraq’s dangerous security problems.  These events come just as Iraqi leaders are negotiating a new governing coalition after national elections on April 30.

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Topics: Iraq • Syria • Terrorism
The big winner from Ukraine crisis? China
June 6th, 2014
04:51 PM ET

The big winner from Ukraine crisis? China

By Mark N. Katz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University and the author of the recent book Leaving Without Losing: The War on Terror After Iraq and Afghanistan. The views expressed are his own.

It’s still not certain how the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is going to be resolved, but there already appears to be one clear winner: China. That, anyway, is the view of several Russian observers I met with last week when I was in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to European talk of reducing natural gas imports from Russia no doubt prompted Putin’s recent trip to Beijing and the signing of a mega-deal under which China has agreed to buy a massive $400 billion of Russian gas over a thirty year period.

But while Putin may believe that Chinese support will help him frustrate what he sees as Western efforts to prevent Russia’s re-emergence as a great power, the view among observers I spoke with wasn’t quite so rosy.

For a start, they interpreted the declaration that what China pays for Russian gas is a “trade secret” as a bad sign for Moscow, suggesting that Putin might have been so desperate for a deal that Beijing was able to get him to accept an extremely low price.

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Topics: China • Russia
How U.S. can reinvigorate India defense ties
June 5th, 2014
02:55 PM ET

How U.S. can reinvigorate India defense ties

By Vikram J. Singh and Joshua T. White, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Vikram J. Singh is vice president for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress. Joshua T. White is Deputy Director for South Asia at the Stimson Center. The views expressed are their own.

Narendra Modi’s landslide victory in last month’s Indian general election has raised hopes that the country will break through the policy stagnation of the last decade and advance reforms that can jump-start India’s economy and bolster its standing on the world stage.

Modi’s declared priorities focus heavily on the economy, and the U.S. government should make economic statecraft a central pillar of engagement with India. But Washington should not lose sight of the most successful area of U.S.-India cooperation to date: the thriving defense relationship. Actions taken in New Delhi and Washington now will determine if the two nations can break through a successful but largely transactional relationship toward strategic partnership that delivers for both nations on shared security interests.

On the U.S. side, four priority areas matter most to reinvigorate U.S.-India defense ties:

First, the Obama administration should continue to put forward innovative defense trade proposals, regardless of how responsive Modi’s government appears to be in the near-term. Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last month, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that he would take “an active and very personal role” in what has come to be known as the U.S.-India Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), and designated the Department’s Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Frank Kendall, as the initiative’s American lead.

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Topics: India • Military • United States
How to stop a repeat of Ukraine crisis
June 3rd, 2014
04:15 PM ET

How to stop a repeat of Ukraine crisis

By Kim Davis, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Kim Davis is co-founder and managing director of Charlesbank Capital Partners, a private equity firm. He is also chairman of the Baltic American Freedom Foundation and a member of the board of Freedom House. The views expressed are his own.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea, destabilization of Ukraine and protestations ("threats") about his need to defend Russian speaking populations throughout Eastern Europe have elicited many reactions and analyses.

The most troubling of these reactions have been from observers who believe that NATO's enlargement in the 1990's was wrongheaded and an immediate cause of Putin's belligerent actions. But not only is that suggestion flawed – it also signals a profound misunderstanding of what took place over the past few months. Indeed, any policy based on that kind of thinking will heighten the danger to Russia's non-NATO neighbors and may also increase Putin's adventurism in new NATO countries, especially the Baltics.

Many foreign policy observers favor a tacit, or even explicit, undertaking by the United States and Europe that the West will no longer support further eastward expansion of NATO and the EU as long as Russia agrees to renounce its territorial ambitions. Such a bargain, Finlandization writ large, would be a terrible mistake.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
Obama the 'very careful' foreign policy president
May 29th, 2014
09:21 AM ET

Obama the 'very careful' foreign policy president

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about U.S. foreign policy, President Barack Obama’s policy address at West Point on Wednesday, and how history might judge the Obama administration.

Critics of the Obama administration say military reluctance has left the United States weakened and openly defied by the likes of Russia and Syria. Is America weak?

No. Gosh, America is stronger than perhaps at most points in its history. You think about when we faced the Soviet Union, when we faced a communist China that was funding revolutionary movements all over the world against us – even when we faced a pretty powerful jihadi terrorist movement only 10 years ago. The United States is basically very strong, very secure. This debate is not really about American strength or weakness. It's about American engagement – how should America engage with the world?

Some might argue it's easier to appear strong when you're fighting one known enemy, like Japan during World War II, or Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan after 9/11. But now the United States is dealing with Russia, Syria, China, Boko Haram, al Qaeda affiliated groups all over the world. Should the president focus on one or two, or all of them? What should his foreign policy be?

That's a very, very good point. I think that it's not just that there are lots of different challenges as opposed to the central challenge during the Cold War. You know, you had the Soviet Union and that was a kind of moral and political and strategic challenge, but the world of many different challenges is also much more complicated. For example, China is our second largest trading partner, yet at the same time in some sense it is a strategic rival in Asia. We have good commercial ties with Russia, and yet Russia is a strategic adversary on many issues. FULL POST

What's behind China's territorial spats?
May 25th, 2014
08:55 PM ET

What's behind China's territorial spats?

CNN’s Beijing bureau chief and correspondent, Jaime A. FlorCruz, responds to readers’ questions about recent tensions in the South China Sea, China’s relations with its neighbors and what may be behind recent disputes.

What is the dispute between China and Vietnam over the Paracel Islands about? Is it just about resource claims?

It is about resources. Much of the disputed area is believed to be potentially rich in oil and other natural resources. But it’s more than just a fight over resources – it’s the latest episode of a long-running saga of conflicting territorial claims of the South China Sea. China this time is acting aggressively to assert its claim to most of the oil-rich sea while its neighbors with conflicting territorial claims are angrily pushing back.

It’s also about China’s perception that Asian claimants like Vietnam are nibbling away at islands that China claims is its “indisputable sovereign territories”, as Chinese officials say. China insists it is simply defending its territory, sovereignty and security. It denies that it will impede freedom of navigation, an overriding concern of the U.S. and other third party stakeholders.

It’s a proxy fight, and extension of U.S.-China rivalry, taking place while the United States “rebalances” its defense and foreign policy toward Asia. China thinks some of these claimants, like Vietnam and the Philippines, are colluding with the United States, and are ganging up against China.

The U.S. and China find themselves on the opposite side of the existing political world order. The United States is the established power, the sole superpower, although its ability to enforce its will has been eroded lately. China on the other hand is a rising power – it’s gaining confidence as its economy and military might grow.

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Topics: Asia • China • Reader Q&A • United States
Will Thailand take leaf out of Asia's book of change?
May 20th, 2014
06:05 PM ET

Will Thailand take leaf out of Asia's book of change?

By Matt Stumpf, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Matt Stumpf is the Washington director of Asia Society and the Asia Society Policy Institute. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Asia Society or the Asia Society Policy Institute.

As “change” elections and momentous transitions sweep Asia, Thailand has self-selected for stagnation. Tuesday’s action by the Thai military to declare martial law while leaving the government in place continues the perpetual crisis the country has lived with since the coup that ended Thaksin Shinawatra’s government in 2006.

Across Asia, public calls for a sea change in governance have brought to power new leaders with a wide range of views but a common imperative. From Narendra Modi in India to President Thein Sein in Myanmar, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan, Indonesian presidential front-runner Joko Widodo, and even President Xi Jinping in China, today’s Asian leaders must promise to install reformed, more accountable, and effective governments in their countries. These leaders face headwinds in challenging political and economic environments, but know that public support is premised on their ability to lead more adept governments to deliver new prosperity.

There is no such voice in Thai politics, and the country is falling behind dramatically. The Wall Street Journal reports that Thai consumers are the most pessimistic about the economy that they have been in 12 years and that Thailand’s economy has shrunk 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2014, compared to the fourth quarter of 2013. Even before the declaration of martial law, the Thai stock market was down 15 percent over the last year. Fitch Ratings have said that the failure to resolve the impasse by mid-2014 would lead to a downgrade of its sovereign rating. Tourism, a key driver of the Thai economy, is already off 5 percent for the year. This week’s news might even worsen the picture.

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Topics: Asia • Thailand
What Reagan can teach us about Ukraine
May 14th, 2014
12:30 PM ET

What Reagan can teach us about Ukraine

By Rudy deLeon and Aarthi Gunasekaran, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Rudy deLeon served as deputy secretary of defense from 2000-2001 and is senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Aarthi Gunasekaran is a research assistant at the Center for American Progress. The views expressed are their own.

At the peak of the Cold War, a Soviet military fighter shot down a civilian airliner and all 269 passengers on board were killed, including a U.S. congressman and 61 other Americans. The world waited for a response from the United States.

But President Ronald Reagan didn't offer much beyond strong rhetoric and careful words, only condemnation without a serious call for action. He urged the international community to deal with the Soviets in a calm manner; labeled the Soviets as "savagery," "murderous," "monstrous," and united the European allies against a Soviet system nearing its end.

"We didn't elect a dictionary. We elected a president and it's time for him to act," is said to have sounded conservative columnist George Will. Reagan was the commander-in-chief at the time, and a conservative stalwart who today's hardliners believe would have never allowed such aggression go without response.

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Topics: Foreign Policy • History • Ukraine • United States
How to strike a win-win deal with Iran
May 13th, 2014
07:57 AM ET

How to strike a win-win deal with Iran

By Reza Marashi and Trita Parsi, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Reza Marashi is director of research at the National Iranian American Council. Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran. The views expressed are the writers' own.

The United States and its allies are now preparing for the home stretch in their nuclear negotiations with Iran. And, as they approach the finish line, it will be critical for insightful voices to help the Obama administration parse through difficult issues that remain on the negotiating table.

Kenneth Pollack – a top Clinton administration official and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution – recently took to the pages of the New York Times to do exactly that. He correctly notes in his op-ed that a comprehensive deal verifiably ensuring the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program will be enormously beneficial.

Ken is our friend and one of the sharpest minds working in Washington today. That's why we hope to use his New York Times op-ed as a launching pad for a broader dialogue about what the details of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran should look like.

He rightly points out three critical issues that will make or break our negotiations with Iran: inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities; creating mechanisms to ensure Iran doesn't cheat; and the duration of a final deal. However, we believe the contours recommended in his op-ed would risk creating such an imbalance in the deal that it would incentivize the Iranians to cheat, and by that turn a diplomatic win into an embarrassing fiasco.

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Topics: Iran • Nuclear
Benghazi must not overshadow big picture of Libyan security
May 12th, 2014
04:18 PM ET

Benghazi must not overshadow big picture of Libyan security

By Karim Mezran, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Karim Mezran is resident senior fellow at The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. The views expressed are the writer's own.

Of Libya’s manifold challenges, deteriorating security has occupied most of the international community’s attention, particularly in the aftermath of the tragedy in Benghazi that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in September 2012.

In the highly partisan Washington climate, the House of Representatives voted to establish a select committee to investigate the Obama administration’s handling of the event. But if the underlying goal is to protect U.S. diplomats and interests, the latest move misses the big picture. If the United States and its partners want to see security improved in the long run, it should instead renew its engagement with Libya and more robustly support its transition to democracy. After all, continued insecurity can have dire consequences not just for Libyans but for others too, as Benghazi illustrated.

Since the toppling of Gadhafi in October 2011, Libya has been gripped by chaos as the weak central government struggles to assert authority, inadvertently allowing centrifugal forces to gain momentum. Recent local election results suggest that, in the absence of state action and authority, a frustrated public is willing to cast a vote for elements that stand for operating outside of the law.

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Topics: Libya
Zakaria: Sanctions strategy could work against Russia
May 5th, 2014
01:53 PM ET

Zakaria: Sanctions strategy could work against Russia

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the latest developments in Ukraine, tensions between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian militants, and whether sanctions can deter Russian aggression.

There is a fear that Vladimir Putin might look at the violence over the weekend in Ukraine and say “we now see a reason to invade.” Do you see Russia really wanting to invade eastern Ukraine or do you think Putin is just happy with the instability that's already being created within the country right now?

That's the million dollar question – is he doing this to create an atmosphere of instability, which allows him to prove his point, which is that you can't solve Ukraine without him. You can't hold elections there. And this is all about the run-up. We're 20 days away from the elections and he’s trying to prove, it seems to me, that nothing can happen in Ukraine unless he decides it's going to happen.

Now, the West has made several offers of diplomatic meetings and solutions. Right now, he doesn't want to take them, because I think he still wants to continue to prove that he can destabilize the place much more than we think. Now, the danger is that things can get out of control. We don't entirely know what his calculation is. But you know, in the back of everyone's mind, the big question is, could you imagine Russian troops and American troops in some way being locked in a military confrontation? Remember, the entire Cold War that never happened. We seem to be getting a little bit closer to what is still a very unlikely event. But we're getting a little bit closer to it.

My fear about those kind of gestures, military gestures, is you want to do something that would actually work and would make a difference, and where the threat is real. One of my old professors said two things are very dangerous and expensive in international relations – threats when they fail and promises when they succeed. So be very careful when you make threats and promises. I think it would be very hard to muster a military threat that will be meaningful, other than presumably a lot of air power.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
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