By Fareed Zakaria
What are the strengths of the Islamic State? I posed this question to two deeply knowledgeable observers – a European diplomat and an American former official – and the picture they painted is worrying, although not hopeless. Defeating the group would require a large and sustained strategic effort from the Obama administration, but it could be done without significant numbers of U.S. ground troops.
The European diplomat, stationed in the Middle East, travels in and out of Syria and has access to regime and opposition forces. (Both sources agreed to speak only if their identities were not revealed.) He agrees with the consensus that the Islamic State has gained considerable economic and military strength in recent months. He estimates that it is making $1 million a day each in Syria and Iraq by selling oil and gas, although U.S. experts believe this number is too high in Iraq.
The Islamic State’s military strategy is brutal but also smart.
CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria, traveling in Bodrum, Turkey, about recent developments in Iraq. This is an edited version of the transcript.
What do you make of the growing international alarm over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)?
The level of concern about ISIS is very deep, and very different from what I heard only a few months ago. There’s a sense that ISIS has become what al Qaeda always wanted to be. Remember, the world al Qaeda means base. Since 2001, al Qaeda really hasn’t had a base. It's been running around in mountains and caves.
ISIS is developing a very large, deep and sophisticated base. It has a financial base, by some estimates making $1 million a day. It has the ability to sell oil and wheat at a bargain. And of course it has this extraordinary military capacity. That military capacity is morphing in the wake of American air strikes. It’s moving from an open ground strategy, taking towns, to a guerilla strategy, hiding within towns. A kind of Hamas strategy. But all in all, if you look at that this, this is the most significant terrorist organization I think we’ve really ever faced. FULL POST
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Fareed speaks with Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy, and Emma Sky, former chief political adviser to the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, about recent advances by ISIS.
Shadi, I want to pick up on something that you point out in your book that explains, I think, why you have a situation where you have all these brutal dictators on the one hand, and you have groups like ISIS on the other. It’s that the dictators, the leaders of the Arab world, are actually much more threatened by moderate opposition groups than they are by extreme opposition groups. They kind of like the idea that the only alternative to them is al Qaeda, right?
Hamid: Yes. I mean groups like ISIS are perfect for dictators like Bashar al-Assad because he can point to them and say, well, this is what you get when you have an opening of political space. And I think one of the most dangerous developments of the past three years is that you did have mainstream Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. Yes, they're deeply illiberal. They're religiously conservative. We as Americans don't share their values. But they do believe in the democratic process. They're not using violence like groups like ISIS. They tried to work through the process in countries like Egypt and, of course, there was a military coup last year. There was a devastating crackdown.
So now, groups like ISIS are saying forget about the Muslim Brotherhood approach, they're gradualists, they're soft. They're saying we can give you the Islamic State not in 20 years or 50 years, we can give it to you right now, through brute force, through violence. And what I'm really worried about now is violence is working in today's Middle East. That is one of the legacies, ironically, of the Arab Spring. FULL POST
By Olga Oliker and Keith Crane, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Olga Oliker is associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center and a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. Keith Crane is director of the RAND Environment, Energy, and Economic Development Program as well as a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The views expressed are their own.
Ukraine is burning. Ongoing fighting between government forces and insurgents in eastern Ukraine have left more than 2,000 Ukrainian civilians dead and some 300,000 displaced, according to AP. Meanwhile, in large swathes of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, those who remain lack food, running water, and electricity. If the West is serious about preventing things deteriorating further it needs to find a new approach – and one that makes Russia part of the solution.
The Ukrainian government argues that it is doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine, but it is believed to have been using Grad rockets, an inaccurate weapon that makes this particularly difficult. The separatists have for their part also used heavy weapons indiscriminately, killing Ukrainian civilians and likely accidentally shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.
In an effort to convince Russia to stop supplying the separatists with weapons and other kinds of support that have kept the conflict going, the European Union, the United States and their allies have imposed economic and travel sanctions on Russian citizens and companies in an effort to change President Vladimir Putin’s policies. Two weeks ago, Russia responded by banning food imports from most of the countries sanctioning it. Yet despite a running joke among some critics that Russia has become the latest country to sanction Russia, most Russians have maintained their long-running support of Putin. FULL POST
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By Global Public Square staff
Remember last December when President Barack Obama shook hands with Cuban President Raúl Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, and got a lot of criticism for it? In truth it didn't signal any sort of a real rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. The Cuban rapprochement of note is a different one – with Vladimir Putin, who recently made the long trip to Havana.
While there, Putin forgave about $32 billion worth of debt that Cuba had accrued from the former Soviet Union decades ago and that Russia had inherited – that's 90 percent of Cuba's outstanding debt to Moscow.
In addition, Russian officials recently confirmed that Cuba has also provisionally agreed to reopen a spy post. This eavesdropping facility, 150 miles off the coast of Florida, allowed Russia to spy on the United States until it closed in 2001. (Putin denied claims that he's reopening the listening post in Cuba, but many experts doubt his denial).
What in the world is going on? FULL POST
By Tatiana Darie
Tatiana Darie, a recent intern with GPS, speaks with Russian journalist Ilya Barabanov, special correspondent for Kommersant and winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous & Ethical Journalism. The views expressed are his own.
You’ve been reporting from eastern Ukraine and along the Ukraine-Russia border. What do Russians think is going on there?
Actually, there’s a civil war going on at the moment, I think that would be an appropriate description of what is happening there right now. At the moment, the Ukrainian army is continuing its anti-terrorist operation, which was launched in April. These past days they have been getting closer to Luhansk and Donetsk.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and many in the West are convinced, that this is actually a conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
You know, we can have a long discussion about what kind of support Russia is providing to the armies of these self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine, but there’s a clear terminology for this. And while the Russian army isn’t officially taking part in this conflict, I think it’s not worth talking about a Russia-Ukraine conflict. I’ve read some articles published by some international human rights and humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross, and to my understanding, they have the same assessment of the situation. Obviously, Russia is offering political support to these militias in Luhansk and Donetsk, but that doesn’t change the facts on the ground. We're talking about an armed conflict on Ukrainian territory in which Russia is not, at least officially, participating.
You’ve talked toboth locals and rebels in the region. What have you found? What are they fighting for?
I think this story had several phases. The first phase began last spring, right after the events in Kiev, around April, when they took over public buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk. Back then, this looked like a political strategy that the family and supporters of the fugitive former President Viktor Yanukovych used, to take control of the situation in the country.
The second phase occurred in early May after the events in Odessa, just ahead of the so-called referendum in Donbass and right after the launch of the Ukrainian army’s anti-terrorist operation. Then it appeared that these republics were receiving some kind of support – some people voted in the referendum and a good amount of the people, though we cannot know for sure how many, joined the separatist forces. FULL POST
Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Fareed Zakaria
Over the last decade, the United States helped organize Iraq's “moderates” – the Shiite-dominated government – gave them tens of billions of dollars in aid and supplied and trained their army. But, it turned out, the moderates weren't that moderate and they turned authoritarian and sectarian. Sunni opposition movements grew and jihadi opposition groups, like ISIS, gained tacit or active support from the population.
This is a familiar pattern throughout the region.
For decades now, American foreign policy in the Middle East has been to support “moderates.” Great, the only problem is there are actually very few moderates. The Arab world is going through a bitter, sectarian struggle that is, “carrying the Islamic world back to the dark ages,” says Turkey’s 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. FULL POST
Fareed speaks with Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy and the author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East, about the rise of ISIS. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
You see Syria as much more central here, correct?
Yes. I mean the rise of ISIS is tied more to the Syrian civil war. And Bashar al-Assad is really the root cause of the problem, in many ways. You had peaceful protesters in 2011. They were being shot down. And then more and more Syrians took up arms.
We had an opportunity early on, in early 2012, to intervene militarily in Syria. And many of us were calling for that, not just arming the so-called moderate rebels, but targeted air strikes, the creation of safe zones. That what was necessary then. And many observers warned the Obama administration, if you don't do more now, this is going to come to haunt you in the future, that the radicals are going to rise, they're going to gain ground. And that's precisely what's happened now.
And I think in some ways, it's too late. Even if we had the ideal president doing the ideal list of things, so much damage has been done over the last three years. And this is why sometimes, if you keep on waiting, if you keep on dithering, the costs are tremendous.
Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
On GPS this Sunday: First, Fareed offers his take on the Middle East – and why one of the key tenets of U.S. foreign policy in the region has been fundamentally misguided.
Then, he convenes a panel of leading analysts including Emma Sky, former chief political adviser to the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and author of the forthcoming book Dove Among Hawks: a Memoir of High Hopes and Missed Opportunities, Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy, and David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer and counter-insurgency expert who served as senior adviser to U.S. General David Petraeus during the Iraq War.
Also, if you think relations between the United States and Russia are rough right now, just wait. Russia intends to soon have a spy station in Cuba again. What in the world?
And, a cheap nuclear power plant that uses nuclear waste as its fuel. Sound like a pipe-dream? Fareed will introduce you to someone who says that she can make it a reality.
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.
By Fareed Zakaria
"Silicon Valley isn't the only jargon culprit in the corporate world, of course. But tech's semantic tics are more meaningful, because they dictate what kinds of innovations are rewarded and financed," writes Kevin Roose in New York magazine. "Words like 'functional' and 'compatible' were important in the early days of Silicon Valley, when engineers were trying to bring order to messy technological infrastructure. But in the post-iPhone world, it's no longer enough to make something work well; it has to feel good, too. This isn't just a matter of taste—it's a political shift. Emphasizing form over function is a way for designers, who typically sit lower on the Silicon Valley totem pole than their engineering counterparts, to remind executives that their opinions matter.
"The liberal assumptions embedded in American foreign policy put the U.S. at odds with China, and also heighten Beijing's mistrust of Washington's intentions and ambitions. The spiral of animosity that threatens to culminate in a confrontation between the two countries is in large part a creation of American policy," writes Christopher Layne in the Financial Times.
"As China's rises, Washington has a last clear chance to avoid the looming Sino-American conflict. This would entail making real concessions on Taiwan and on China's territorial claims in the East and South China Seas. It would also involve a commitment that Washington would not interfere in China's internal affairs.
"America's political culture – based on exceptionalism, liberal ideology, and openness – is a big obstacle to coming to terms with a resurgent China. So is the fact that the foreign-policy elite remains wedded to American primacy, and refuses to accept that this will inevitably slip away because of the relative decline of U.S. power."
By F. Stephen Larrabee and Ian J. Brzezinski, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: F. Stephen Larrabee holds the Distinguished Chair in European Security, Emeritus, at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and served on the National Security Council staff in the Carter administration. Ian Brzezinski is a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy in the administration of George W. Bush. The views expressed are their own.
Just weeks before its scheduled September 4 summit in Wales, NATO is bogged down in bureaucratic wrangling and losing important momentum. Without firm intervention and leadership from the White House, the summit is unlikely to provide the far-reaching strategic vision and initiative that is badly needed in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to destabilize Ukraine.
To its credit, the Obama administration has pressed its European Allies to do more to reverse the decline of their defense capabilities. Many of Washington’s proposals – including reanimating the goal that alliance members should spend two percent or more of GDP on defense, hold more assertive exercises, make command structure modifications and carry out more realistic contingency planning – are sensible and point the alliance in the right direction. But without a more forceful engagement from President Obama, many of them may never be implemented.
Moreover, there is a real danger that before the summit opens, Putin may succumb to strong nationalist pressures to send Russian regular forces into eastern Ukraine, presenting NATO with another fait accompli on top of its occupation of Crimea. FULL POST