25 May 2015

Pushing the envelope in foreign policy

May 25, 2015

PTI“Mr. Modi has been exceptionally clear in articulating India’s interests and trying to leverage the relationship with the U.S. and China.” Picture shows the Prime Minister at the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, in 2014.

Narendra Modi’s foreign policy has been continuous with that of his predecessors but he has also sought to push the boundaries of certain engagements much further.

Foreign policy is all about securing permanent interests. As such, it may be best judged in the long run. Nevertheless, since foreign policy has been so prominent during the government’s first year in office, an interim assessment may be useful. What are the areas of continuity and change, the successes and blind spots?

Since the early 1990s, the overarching goal of our foreign policy has been a stable and conducive external environment for India’s internal economic transformation and a larger international profile. Towards these ends, successive governments have sought simultaneously to preserve India’s key security interests and to deepen its ties with the global economy. From this standpoint, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy has been continuous with that of his predecessors. Yet, Mr. Modi has also sought to push the boundaries of certain engagements much further. This is not just a question giving a fresh vim to foreign policy, although the vigour is palpable.

The U.S. and China

Best poised to deliver results


Reuters“While Mr. Modi’s invitation to Mr. Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony had been hailed as a ‘masterstroke’, the strokes played since have puzzled many in both Islamabad and in New Delhi, including the government’s supporters.” Picture shows Mr. Modi and Mr. Nawaz Sharif at the opening session of the SAARC summit in Kathmandu in 2014.

Mr. Modi has been proactive and successful in foreign relations but has stalled in Pakistan. It is time he scripted a new narrative.

In the one year of his government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s travels to five continents have been marked by one common motif: that he is on the front foot. To borrow a phrase, he has boldly gone where many PMs have not gone before, with a first visit to Mongolia, and the first stand-alone visits to Sri Lanka, Canada, Fiji, and the Seychelles in decades. The government has taken up challenges abroad and pursued them unequivocally despite the possible backlash domestically: ratifying the Land Boundary agreement with Bangladesh, pressing ahead with the nuclear deal with the U.S., the announcement of defence buys in Paris, disregarding the security establishment by offering e-visas to China, and several other steps. However, Mr. Modi’s dealings with Pakistan are the one exception to his otherwise proactive style. With Pakistan, the NDA government has appeared indecisive and risk-averse, in sharp contrast to Mr. Modi’s first bold move of inviting Mr. Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony a year ago.

One year of Modi Government: Us versus them

Written by Bruce Riedel
May 25, 2015

Modi’s year in power has seen the hardening of a bipolar alliance system in South Asia, with America and India on one side, and China and Pakistan on the other.

Modi and Obama announced a joint vision of the future. On the other screen was Pakistan’s chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, meeting in Beijing with Chinese leaders. They announced that their alliance was all-weather, deeper than the ocean and taller than the Himalayas.

A year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inaugurated, the bipolar alliance system in South Asia has hardened. While the alliance system remains completely informal, the United States and India have come closer to each other, and China and Pakistan have come much closer together. The current alliance structure has its origins in events dating back to 1962, but it has accelerated dramatically in the last year.

Peasants and professors - Neo-liberalism and the peasantry's distress

Prabhat Patnaik

When I first started teaching at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in July 1973, the starting basic salary of an associate professor was Rs 700 per month. Nowadays the starting basic salary of an associate professor in a Central university is about Rs 47,000 per month. The take-home pay, of course, is always larger than the basic salary, and there are certain benefits in kind, such as campus housing, which accrue to some. There is, however, no reason to believe that the ratio of take-home to basic salary is any lower today than it was then; in fact, if anything it is distinctly larger. Likewise, there is no reason to believe that the ratio of kind benefits to the monetary remuneration is any lower today than then; again, if anything it is larger. It would be no exaggeration to say, therefore, that the nominal income of an associate professor in a Central university now is almost 70 times what it was then.

So much to talk about

By A G Noorani
May 25, 2015

Pakistanis are exercised over the “Cold Start” doctrine. India is worried about the induction of tactical nuclear weapons by Pakistan. Does it make sense to hold seminars on such issues?

The present standoff in India-Pakistan relations is at once unreal, wasteful and dangerous. Unreal, because it has far exceeded the reasonable limits of resentment that it was supposed to express when talks between the foreign secretaries were called off last year. Wasteful, because it does not serve any national interest. On the contrary, talking points are piling up relentlessly. And it is dangerous because a long impasse can precipitate developments that neither side expects or desires.

In our times, there is growing international unease at standoffs between important countries, particularly nuclear weapons powers carrying a heavy baggage of complaints and demands, like India and Pakistan. The trend is unmistakably towards resumption of dialogue without any unrealistic expectations of an immediate détente. Standoffs are old-fashioned.

Next Door Nepal: What Nepal wants

By: Yubaraj Ghimire
May 25, 2015

What can we do for you?” is a question almost every friend that earthquake-devastated Nepal has, is asking. Nepal is not being able say “No, thank you.” It is confused about what it wants its friends and donors to do. Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat told foreign mission chiefs that the government is facing a cash crunch. But in the absence of a clear blueprint for reconstruction — combined with the notoriety Nepal has earned for corruption, statelessness and lack of accountability — how much donors will offer in cash is debatable.

P.K. Mishra, a senior official in the Indian PMO, visited Nepal, assuring Kathmandu that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was willing to do anything and everything, provided Nepal was clear about what it wanted India to do. Apparently aware that the Indian embassy is not very popular with the Nepalese, Modi has dispatched top aides. Mishra was the third, after NSA Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar. Within hours of Mishra’s departure without a wishlist, the Chinese made the same offer. The US, meanwhile, has increased its aid volume unilaterally.

Pushing the envelope in foreign policy

May 25, 2015 

Narendra Modi’s foreign policy has been continuous with that of his predecessors but he has also sought to push the boundaries of certain engagements much further.

Foreign policy is all about securing permanent interests. As such, it may be best judged in the long run. Nevertheless, since foreign policy has been so prominent during the government’s first year in office, an interim assessment may be useful. What are the areas of continuity and change, the successes and blind spots?

Since the early 1990s, the overarching goal of our foreign policy has been a stable and conducive external environment for India’s internal economic transformation and a larger international profile. Towards these ends, successive governments have sought simultaneously to preserve India’s key security interests and to deepen its ties with the global economy. From this standpoint, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy has been continuous with that of his predecessors. Yet, Mr. Modi has also sought to push the boundaries of certain engagements much further. This is not just a question giving a fresh vim to foreign policy, although the vigour is palpable.

The challenge from China

Gurmeet Kanwal
May 25 2015 

The challenge from ChinaAt mid-day on May 15, soon after the Indian and Chinese Prime Ministers had addressed the media together and the formal part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit was over, it was best described as high on optics, low on substance. Though the joint statement issued later in the day contained some important formulations that were a departure from the past, it was the PM’s speech at Tsinghua University that afternoon that made the visit historic.

The nation had been used to Indian Prime Ministers visiting Beijing and restricting themselves to mouthing diplomatic niceties. Several of them repeated the Tibet-is-part-of-China mantra without Chinese reciprocity. For the first time an Indian PM stood on Chinese soil and boldly and clearly articulated India's core concerns and misgivings. He deserves to be lauded for his courage. It would be fair to presume that the PM would also have flagged these concerns during his one-on-one meeting with President Xi Jinping at Xian on the first day of his visit. 

Overt impact of covert acts

V. Balachandran

Hersh’s story should be a tutorial for all those in India who reacted with a high degree of exuberance after the Abbottabad raid, that the US would rap very hard Pakistan’s knuckles for giving refuge to the greatest terrorist in the world.

Immediately after Independence we had a police chief in the old Bombay state who was very fond of sports hunting. Police officers soon learnt that the best way to please him was to arrange a hunt. During one such shoot they managed to locate a tiger in a forest, which was successfully shot by him. However, his detractors spread the story that the tiger was very old and blind and was chased by the local policemen to fall into a dry well where it was ceremoniously shot by the chief.

Seymour Hersh’s sensational 10,000-word investigative report in the London Review of Books on how the US special forces had killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011, rhymes with this old Bombay police story: “While Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false”. Hersh claims that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies had captured Osama in 2006 from the Hindu Kush. He was kept a prisoner with Saudi Arabian support till 2010, when they decided to use him to bargain with the United States for resuming military aid and for a “freer hand in Afghanistan”.

Review: The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905

By Nigel Collett
May 23, 2015

An excellent new book considers some of the less salutary aspects of Britain’s history in India.

I am not sure why this should be so, but it is undeniable that the present time is providing something of an intellectual feast for those with an interest in India and its history. Writers and publishers seem to have realized at last that the sub-continent is a treasure house of unknown and exotic stories. Until now, few of these have been excavated from the archives and memoirs in which India is particularly rich, or exposed to the daylight of public consciousness.

Earlier generations of historians and biographers have tended to concentrate upon the big themes of Indian independence and its principal figures, upon accounts of conquest (and usually military glory) or upon analyses of economic exploitation and famine. For some fifty years after India’s independence, save for the older generation of colonial hands like Penderel Moon, serious British writers abandoned India as precipitately as had Britain’s colonial proconsuls. In this, perhaps, a reluctance to pick at the scabs of past colonial misbehavior joined with the prevailing popular revulsion against jingoistic imperialism to create a textual no-man’s land entered more often by novelists than historians.

Kabul’s Deepening Political Gridlock

May 22, 2015 

Nine months after its establishment, the National Unity Government of Afghanistan has not been successful in accomplishing its basic goals. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah, left, and Ashraf Ghani, right, at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2014, after he helped broker an agreement on a technical and political plan to resolve the disputed outcome of the election between them. (US Department of State

Following the establishment of the National Unity Government (NUG) under the leadership of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghans were anticipating a genuinely better future for their country. The hopes were for social, political and economic security in a country that has been at war for more than three decades. The underlying assumption was that the NUG would be able to improve the economy, provide security and undertake serious measures against corruption that the new administration had inherited from the previous government of former president Hamid Karzai. 

What Bin Laden learned (and didn't learn) from Brookings

Brendan Orino and Jeremy Shapiro

On May 20, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released “Bin Laden’s Bookshelf,” a limited collection of documents seized by Navy Seals during the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in May 2011. Writings by three Brookings fellows—Michael O’Hanlon, William McCants, and Paul Pillar—are among the non-classified materials retrieved.

As Bruce Riedel explains, the list offers a helpful window to understand Bin Laden. And it is quite a reading list—and bears a shocking resemblance to many a bookshelf at Brookings. Clearly, Bin Laden in hiding had a lot of time on his hands and lacked a decent cable television package. But the other than passing the time, just what was Bin Laden trying to learn? 

'This is not our city': Latest attacks bring the battle into Kabul's stately courtyards

Taran Khan

So much has changed since I first came to Kabul in the spring of 2006, living in a small guesthouse close to the target of last week's horrific attack that killed 14.

The name of Kolola Pushta, an upmarket residential area in Kabul, means "round hill". The term refers to a small peak visible on the horizon of the neighbourhood, with a fort on top. It is a pleasant sight, especially in spring when the dust of Kabul is briefly washed away by the rains, and the silhouette of the peak shimmers against a blue sky. When I first came to Kabul in the spring of 2006, I arrived at a small guesthouse in this locality. The place where I spent my first few weeks getting to know the city was close to the Park Palace Guesthouse, the target of last week'shorrific attack that killed 14. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack as part of their annual “spring offensive”, a spate of fighting since April after the relative calm of the winter months. In the past three weeks, “Operation Azm” (meaning "resolve" or "determination") has unleashed five major attacks on the embattled capital.

Afghan President Being Pressured to Kill Intelligence Sharing Agreement With Pakistan

Ayaz Gul
May 21, 2015

Afghan President Under Pressure to Scrap Intel-Sharing Deal With Pakistan

Afghanistan and Pakistan’s recent ground-breaking agreement to share intelligence and resources to combat terrorism is getting a rocky reception from many people in Afghanistan. Former President Hamid Karzai, for example, is demanding that the national government in Kabul repudiate the accord, and many lawmakers in the Afghan parliament make the same point even more emphatically. Senior Afghan officials say the agreement will not be scrapped, but that discussions are underway on possible changes. The controversy has cast a shadow on President Ashraf Ghani’s goal of establishing national unity.

Former president Karzai said he has serious concerns about last week’s agreement signed by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Karzai is urging President Ghani to withdraw from the memorandum of understanding, on the grounds that it is against Afghanistan’s national interests.

A majority of lawmakers in the lower house of the parliament are taking a similar stand. During Wednesday’s session in Kabul they demanded that the intelligence agreement be scrapped immediately, and they summoned top officials of the NDS and Ghani’s national security adviser to appear before the House next week.

Is This Japan’s New Challenge to China’s Infrastructure Bank?

By Prashanth Parameswaran
May 23, 2015

There is more nuance to Tokyo’s approach than some of the headlines suggest. 

On May 21, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe announced at a symposium in Tokyo that Japan would inject $110 billion to help develop high-quality Asian infrastructure.

Abe’s announcement, made during a speech at the 21st International Conference on the Future of Asia, has been widely read as a direct challenge to the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). In reality, while there is little doubt that Japan is asserting its own role in Asian infrastructure development, it is also true that the idea that Tokyo is adopting a new and adversarial, zero-sum approach is somewhat simplistic.

Japan Ups Ante On AIIB

Shinzo Abe announces a big increase in infrastructure investment in Asia. 

“Anything you can do, I can do better.”

The famous line from the Broadway musical, Annie Get Your Gun, might also describe Japan’s response to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), after announcing plans to up the ante on the China-led bank’s planned capital of $100 billion.

On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an international conference that his government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) would jointly provide $110 billion for the financing of “innovative” infrastructure in Asia over the next five years, a 30 percent increase on previous funding and exceeding the AIIB’s $100 billion.

The South China Sea Showdown: A Tragedy in the Making?

Nicholas Khoo
May 23, 2015

Satellite imagery of the South China Sea has established that over the previous twelve months, China has expanded its presence there by up to 1500 acres. The Chinese have been actively reclaiming land at the following reefs: Cuarteron, Fiery Cross, Gaven, Hughes, Subi, and the Union reefs (Johnson South and Johnson North reefs). One perspective on this activity is that it represents straightforward, aggressive Chinese expansionism, requiring a robust response. Alas, the situation is far more complex than this view suggests, and the policy response needs to take this into account. A few points merit highlighting.

First, it is not entirely clear that any international law has been violated. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Russel recently noted that Chinese “reclamation isn’t necessarily a violation of international law, but it’s certainly violating the harmony, the fengshui of Southeast Asia, and, its certainly violating China’s claim to be a good neighbor and a benign and non-threatening power.” Russel’s point is good counsel to the Chinese to ease up. However, one struggles to think of empirical examples to buttress his point. It is exceedingly rare for states on the periphery of any great power to view their neighbor as benign and non-threatening. Certainly, claims in the 1998-2008 period that China was viewed by its Asian neighbors as benign and unthreatening are now viewed as a far from accurate analysis.

Soros sees risk of another world war


George Soros said it is “worth trying” to link the U.S. and Chinese economic spheres and reduce the risk of armed conflict.

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Billionaire investor George Soros said flatly that he’s concerned about the possibility of another world war

Much depends on the health of the Chinese economy, Soros said in remarks at a Bretton Woods conference at the World Bank.

If China’s efforts to transition to a domestic-demand led economy from an export engine falter, there is a “likelihood” that China’s rulers would foster an external conflict to keep the country together and hold on to power.

“If there is conflict between China and a military ally of the United States, like Japan, then it is not an exaggeration to say that we are on the threshold of a third world war,” Soros said.

Why the U.S. Needs to Listen to China


And why China needs to listen to the U.S. The importance of the mutual economic criticisms between two major world powers.

The relationship between the United States and China involves cooperation and competition, but recently the latter has received more attention. Much of the mistrust between the two countries has its roots in geopolitical tensions—China’s assertive behavior in the East and South China Seas, for instance, or U.S. naval surveillance off China’s coasts. But economic tensions have played a large role as well.

Discussions of the U.S.-China economic relationship too often begin with a recital of each country’s grievances against the other. The usual litany of American criticisms includes China’s management of its exchange rate, subsidies that benefit state-owned enterprises, and barriers to American companies seeking to operate in China. Another prominent critique involves Chinese cyber-hacking of U.S. businesses’ intellectual property, and China’s failure to protect intellectual property more generally.

China’s Belt and Road Strategy ignores India’s concerns

MAY 23, 2015

In March 2015, the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi put out a document titled “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road” on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China. The document highlights the initiatives of President Xi Jinping in building the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ and ‘Belt and Road’, latter denoting the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. In 2013, China had expounded the Maritime Silk Road oriented towards ASEAN, to create strategic propellers for hinterland development. So, now accelerating the building of the Belt and Road is aimed to help economic prosperity and regional economic cooperation. The Belt and Road Initiative aims to promote the connectivity of Asian, European and African continents, and their adjacent seas.

Non-committal Chinese Wall Foils Modi Bid to Reset Ties


Narendra Modi’s three-day (May 14-16) visit to China, his first as prime minister, was successful in its attempt to suggest parameters for a reset in India-China relations. Pertinently, the three-nation tour included Mongolia and South Korea, both with dominant Buddhist populations and uneasy with China’s rise. South Korea is also a choice as an economic and trade partner as evidenced by the agreements valued at US$ 10 billion concluded during Modi’s visit to Seoul.

Modi travelled to China with a limited and focused agenda. He conveyed that India and China need not stay locked indefinitely in strategic rivalry and deny themselves benefits that could accrue from their untapped economic potential. To begin such a relationship, however, he conveyed—more firmly than when Xi Jinping came to Delhi last September—that China “reconsider its approach” and “take a strategic and long-term view”. Modi also said India would explore opportunities for trade and investment, but growth of this relationship would be dependent on steps taken by China to address the existing trade deficit and India’s other core concerns. India didn’t endorse Xi Jinping’s initiative of the “One Road, One Belt” and neither was there forward movement on the BCIM Corridor.

3 Things China Can Do to Reduce South China Sea Tensions

May 23, 2015

China needs to reassure the U.S., reassure other Asian states, and be more transparent with its ambitions. 

After a U.S. P8-A Poseidon surveillance plane flew over China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea, all attention is focused on what China will do next and whether the situation could escalate into a much more dangerous confrontation between the U.S. and China. This provocative move by the U.S. leaves no doubt that Washington is not going to tolerate China’s ongoing reclamation activities in the South China Sea, even though these reclamation activities do not violate international law as U.S. officials have admitted.

How the US Senate Can Help Stabilize the South China Sea

May 23, 2015
If the U.S. wants to moderate Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea, it should ratify UNCLOS. 

As diligent Diplomat readers may be aware, the situation in the South China Sea is starting to heat up. The United States has started challenging China’s ongoing land reclamation activity in a bid to demonstrate that despite China’s actions, the sovereignty of the disputed reefs and islands, in the Spratlys and elsewhere, remains indeterminate. The United States’ use of aircraft and soon ships, if recent reports are accurate, is designed to support a particular interpretation of international law and how it applies in the South China Sea.* The United States purports to defend the freedom of navigation in a manner consistent with international law. In this context, the fact that the United States has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) is somewhat problematic.

Why Islamic State Is Winning

May 23, 2015 

The Saudi-Israeli alliance and U.S. neocons have pressured President Obama into continuing U.S. hostility toward the secular Syrian government despite major military gains by the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, leading to an emerging catastrophe in the Mideast, as Daniel Lazare explains.By Daniel Lazare 

May 23, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - "Consortium News" - President Barack Obama and his foreign policy staff are not having a very merry month of May. The Islamic State’s takeover of Ramadi, Iraq, on May 15 was one of the greatest U.S. military embarrassments since Vietnam, but the fall of Palmyra, Syria, just five days later made it even worse. This is an administration that, until recently, claimed to have turned the corner on Islamic State.

In March, Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, assured the House Armed Services Committee that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) was in a “defensive crouch” and unable to conduct major operations, while Vice President Joe Biden declared in early April that “ISIL’s momentum in Iraq has halted, and in many places, has been flat-out reversed.”

Discussing Islam: Western Logic is Flawed

by Sufyan bin Uzayr

Is Islam really at war with everyone? Or is Islam having a crisis within itself? Do Muslims need to react? 

The Kaaba in the Al-Masjid al-Haram Mosque, Mecca, Saudi Arabia (Medineli/Wikimedia Commons) 

Of late, checking the news has become monotonous. Every other day, in virtually all publications and verticals of repute, there is some “expert” or the other busy discussing ways in which Islam is in conflict with the rest of world, or how Islam is having trouble dealing with itself, etc. 

None of these so-called “insights” are original, nor do they add any merit to the news in general. Yet, such opinions continue to remain in vogue, and are preferred by the common populace. You know, when you segregate people and talk about ‘us’ versus ‘them’, people enjoy taking sides. 

The Mediterranean Migration Crisis

by Timothy G. Hammond 

Faced with a migration crisis in the Mediterranean, Europe is struggling to assist people in need while securing its borders. 

Increased international attention has recently been paid to the ongoing and escalating irregular migration crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. The combined death toll of more than 1,200 migrants in a series of shipwreck disasters occurring in mid-April 2015 largely triggered this current upsurge in attention to the situation.[1] Among these incidents was the worst single shipwreck tragedy on record, involving the death of an estimated 800 migrants.[2] While by no means a new phenomenon, the number of sub-Saharan African and Middle Eastern migrants traveling across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe—along with the associated death toll—is unprecedented in scale. The complexity of these migration flows is challenging current frameworks, and Europe is struggling to develop a comprehensive architecture that balances efforts to assist persons in need with efforts to secure its borders. 

2012 Defense Intelligence Agency Document: West Will Facilitate Rise of Islamic State “in Order to Isolate the Syrian Regime”

By Brad Hoff

2012 Defense Intelligence Agency Document:
West Will Facilitate Rise of Islamic State “in Order to Isolate the Syrian Regime”

May 22, 2015 "Information Clearing House" - "Levant Report " - On Monday, May 18, the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch published a selection of formerly classified documents obtained from the U.S. Department of Defense and State Department through a federal lawsuit.

West will facilitate rise of Islamic State “in order to isolate the Syrian regime”: 2012 DIA document

by Brad Hoff 

A Defense Intelligence Agency document notes that the supporters of the Syrian opposition seek to establish an Islamic state to isolate the Assad regime. 

On Monday, May 18, the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watchpublished a selection of formerly classified documents obtained from the U.S. Department of Defense and State Department through a federal lawsuit. 

While initial mainstream media reporting is focused on the White House’s handling of the Benghazi consulate attack, a much “bigger picture” admission and confirmation is contained in one of theDefense Intelligence Agency documents circulated in 2012: that an ‘Islamic State’ is desired in Eastern Syria to effect the West’s policies in the region. 

A Defense Intelligence Agency document notes that the supporters of the Syrian opposition seek to establish an Islamic state to isolate the Assad regime. 


Stakes getting dangerously high for Saudi Arabia and its young prince

Bruce Riedel

As the war in Yemen resumes after a short humanitarian truce, the stakes are getting higher for Saudi Arabia's princes. 

The Royal Saudi Air Force and its allies resumed their bombing campaign this week after a five-day cease-fire to allow humanitarian supplies into Yemen. Saudi Arabia's 29-year-old Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman has staked his future and his country's on achieving some kind of victory in the kingdom's war in Yemen. A truce that leaves Sanaa under the control of what the Saudis claim is an Iranian protégé regime is clearly not a decisive victory for the royals.

How ISIS Expands

By Hannah Fairfield, Tim Wallace and Derek Watkins

A central goal of the Islamic State is expansion. This week, the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, took over key cities in Iraq and Syria. It aims to build a broad colonial empire across many countries. A year after announcing its expansion goals, it is operating or has cells in more than a dozen countries.

Controlling and Governing


Why fight for the Iraqis if they are not going to fight for themselves?

By Eugene Robinson 

If Iraqis won’t fight for their nation’s survival, why on earth should we? 

This is the question posed by the fall of Ramadi, which revealed the emptiness at the core of U.S. policy. President Obama’s critics are missing the point: Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many troops he sends back to Iraq or whether their footwear happens to touch the ground. The simple truth is that if Iraqis will not join together to fight for a united and peaceful country, there will be continuing conflict and chaos that potentially threaten American interests. 

Eugene Robinson writes a twice-a-week column on politics and culture, contributes to the PostPartisan blog, and hosts a weekly online chat with readers. In a three-decade career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper’s Style section.

The Defeat in Ramadi: A Time for Transparency, Integrity, and Change

By Anthony H. Cordesman

On Wednesday, a State Department official did something that the U.S. government has not done in years. They provided a meaningful and in-depth explanation of the course of the fighting in Ramadi. They also provide a realistic assessment of the problems the United States faced, the uncertainties in its plans for reacting, the fact it might take years to succeed, and the risks the United States now faced.

It makes a particularly striking contrast to the constant stream of vacuous spin the Department of Defense has issued on the war against ISIS – as well as Afghanistan and Yemen and had previously issued in reaction to the defeat in Ramada Briefings like “Dempsey: Iraqi Forces Not Driven From Ramadi, They Drove Out of Ramadi” and “ Centcom Officials ‘Confident’ Iraqi Security Forces Will Recover Ramadi.”

Or, the monumental lack of content and integrity in a much broader report by the new Lead Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations called “Operation Inherent Resolve” – assigned to their disgrace by the Inspector Generals of State, DOD, and USAID.

VOICE The Five-Minute Commencement Speech Or, what IR theory can teach you about living a happy and productive life.

MAY 20, 2015 

It’s late May, and thousands of young adults are donning academic robes, receiving their diplomas, and making the transition from students to alumni. If you are one of those happy graduates, this moment is a significant rite of passage; henceforth it will be the Development Office, not the Registrar, that asks you for money. Meanwhile, your grateful and newly impoverished parents will be making the transition from human ATMs to empty nesters (unless you have younger siblings or become a boomerang kid). 

This year I’ll be among those beaming throngs of moms and dads, as I watch my son receive his B.S. in neuroscience at Wesleyan University. Of course I’m thrilled, and immensely proud. But there’s a downside to this joyful occasion: I’ll be forced to sit through another commencement speech. I’ve heard a fair number of them over the years — and from luminaries like Bill Clinton, John Hope Franklin, and Ted Koppel — but I can’t say I was much moved by any of them. All I remember is that I wish they had been shorter. 

Defying Gravity: Working Toward a Regional Strategy for a Stable Middle East

By Ross Harrison
May 06, 2015 

In this MEI Policy Paper, Ross Harrison asserts that a new regional order is emerging out of the conflicts of the Middle East. The relationships among the pillars of this order--Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran--are crucial, as they will largely determine "whether the future of the Middle East will be a continuation of the current chaos and destruction or a more positive transition toward stability and prosperity." Harrison argues that global powers must concentrate on creating conditions conducive to cooperation among the pillars.

A French philosopher once said that “no problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”[1] This bold claim might never have been made had he encountered the challenges of the modern Middle East, where solutions to problems have stumped some of the best strategic minds.

Exposing US hypocrisy on South China Sea island reclamation

Qinduo Xu

The US is considering using warships and helicopters to pressure China into scaling back construction in the Spratly islands. But why is there one rule for China, and another for other nations?

The United States is considering sending warships and helicopters to patrol in the South China Sea, under the guise of so-called “freedom of navigation” exercises. This is reportedly part of a plan to pressure China into scaling back its construction work in the Spratly islands (known in China as the Nansha islands).

That would be an unjustifiable and provocative act, which could lead to a military confrontation between the world’s two most powerful countries.

The US has so far failed to build a strong case for its much-talked-about strategic move. On May 13, US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the US:

can and does play an active role in the South China Sea to defend our national interests and international legal principles.

America's Dangerous South China Sea Gamble

Does Washington know what it’s doing? 

The idea that the United States may send military aircraft and ships to assert freedom of navigation around Chinese claimed islands in the South China Sea is seriously bad. It’s bad because it would involve an unreasonably assertive interpretation of the international law of the sea, and because it shows such little regard for the impact of such action on regional stability.

There are three main implications of the U.S. proposal that concern the law of the sea. The first is the status of China’s claims to the disputed islands. A recent authoritative report from the Center for Naval Analyses in Washington concluded that while Vietnam may have a better claim to both the Spratlys and the Paracels, ‘[a]t the same time, U.S. policymakers cannot lose sight of the fact that China’s claims may be superior’, and that ‘[t]he absence of an unambiguous legal case in any of these disputes reinforces the wisdom of the U.S. policy of not taking a position regarding which country’s sovereignty claim is superior.’ The action now being contemplated can only be seen as an indication that in fact the United States has taken a position on the sovereignty claims.