REVIEW OF PART II IN THE MIDDLE EAST: WHAT IS TO BE DONE? (DON’T BLAME OBAMA FOR THE MIDDLE EAST PROBLEMS!)

President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

By

Harry C. Blaney III

 

The recent debate over American policy in the Middle East and most recently the criticism of have engendered much debate, most of it misguided.  (See Post of 5/27/15)

There has been a profusion of comments and advocacy in our national security debate. They aimed at digging us deeper into a dangerous military alliance with those that do not share our values or interests and also a perverse kind of military adventurism beyond rationality.  In an area of conflicting powers, mixed loyalties and motives, and few  good, if any, national powers with the same outlooks and values of Western democracies, finding good partners for the long run will not be easy. But it is necessary to try. 

In the same vein, the critics recent simplistic and partisan knee jerk responses to the recent fall of the provincial capital Ramadi of Ambar province in Iraq and other events, underlines the absence of long-term critical thinking. Critics fails to look at the nature and depth of the Middle East’s woes and what can and can’t be done to mitigate these age old conflicts and their newer manifestations.

Further, there is no single leader, no single group, no single country, nor one single failure of society that can be attributed to all of the many sources of these upheavals and hatreds. Thus no single “silver bullet” exists to redeem these tragedies or can put to rest all the injustices and conflicts that we now see in this tragic “rotting” Middle East conundrum. 

The entire Middle East has and is undergoing cataclysmic changes and upheavals in local communities, within whole nations, and beyond national borders, indeed throughout the whole region.  Those causes of instability that otherwise might be seen in a century or more of violent change now appear rapidly and widely. 

Nor is there yet in sight a serious abatement of these conflicts, and the sad part is that “new” and “old’ regional leaders, with a few exceptions, do not seem able or willing to put a stop to these conflicts. Many leaders even have exacerbated them and contributed to their savageness.  

Forces and divisions long dormant have risen up. New political and military groups have asserted their power and used the tools of armed conflict, bigotry, religious extremism, and sectarian hatred to gain power and to enforce brutal rule without restraint. Powerful leaders without any moral sense have used the hatred of “the other” for narrow self-interested, and in the end likely self-defeating, political power.

All this is illustrated not only by ISIS and their mass killings, but in the mass convictions of a former prime minister and hundreds of citizens to death sentences in Egypt by a rigid authoritarian military regime. Not to mention the killings in Gaza of 1,200 largely civilians including woman and children by Israel and the use in the last election by the right-wing Prime Minister Netanyahu of denigrating statements about Palestinians citizens within and outside Israel.  

Equally, this corrosive environment is shown by the deadly civil conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Syria and beyond.  This all indicates not only a new level of extreme mass killings by the jihadists but also official use of the power of the state to kill or jail political opponents. There appears to be widespread indifference to the value of life and sense of justice. Civil society and institutions have become weakened.

The lack of tolerance, reconciliation and of compromise among the conflicting parties of the region in recent years has only exacerbated the problem of poverty, un-employment, prejudice between sects and ethnic groups that have lived with each other for centuries and indeed millennium. Corruption also has undermined civil society as has sizable inequality.

So can any of this be solved by added American fighting troops alone? 

In these conditions it is hard to frame a workable let alone effective American and Western military strategy that can mitigate meaningfully the massive instability and brutality in the region. Those that think they have an answer appear to be critical of President Obama’s policies and action. They seem bent on actions that likely will do no good or do real harm and reflect a misguided ideology and narrow view that itself is destructive.

Above all for those supposed leaders who call for the use of U.S. active combat troops on the ground it seems that this is their only answer to these complex forces of unrest and upheavals. While some combat troops can help deal with specific events and crises, their insertion in areas with little understanding of the territory can do much harm.  Their actions too often have escalated the conflicts and problems. 

How can we trust them and our security with this simplistic view of massive complexity and many dangers? Some still think they have the right or arrogance to run for president and under the banner of more senseless war. 

In this context the question our next post will address is how we might advance some measure of actions and policies that might stop the stride toward endless war on this region.

We welcome your comments!

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2015: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UNKNOWN CHALLENGES GOING FORWARD?

DANGERS, OPPORTUNITIES, AND CHOICES IN 2015 AND BEYOND

By: Harry C. Blaney III

After looking back at 2014, which was in so many ways a time of change and a time of conflict and tragedy for many around the world but there were also moments of active and sometimes productive diplomacy and renewal that transpired. In some areas of the world, it was lamentably much of the same. The sad questions that remain: Was the globe well served by its leaders? Did the citizens of each nation take the lessons of our times with renewed understanding and engagement? Did the institutions of our international community react, educate, and address with honesty and in comprehensive detail what these changes and trends portend for our frail planet? Does the international community know what needs to be done to safeguard the security and lives of its citizens?

Looking ahead, there are two categories of our analysis: (1) Recognizing the distinctly “macro global” trends of 2015, and (2) an attempt to understand these trends and consequences while devising possible responses to specific functional and regional problem areas.

In the “macro” or what some call the “geo-strategic” level, and what I have also called major global challenges, we are indeed facing the kind of significant risks and dangers which are among the most confounding and complex, along with not as easily understood barriers to progress. We often see across-the-board disruptive forces that impact much of the rest of the specific regional and functional issues we face.

Looking forward, there are two important issues. First, what are the underlying landscapes and trends that are shaping our global system? Second, what can the United States, our allies and friends, do to improve global security, poverty, and reduce violence and secure well being as we move forth into 2015 and beyond?

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S “SECOND WIND” ON GLOBAL ISSUES AND SECURITY

 One of the most important new developments is a tougher, more focused and more innovative stand by President Obama in foreign affairs including national security. This policy is still created with great deliberation, but also with more of a will to act “out of the box” than it did before the November election.

                 

Already, there are several examples of this development. One example is the agreement with China regarding a climate change limitation of greenhouse gasses that bypasses Congress. Another example that has great importance is the decision to open negotiations with Cuba, creating the ability to establish diplomatic relations and to relax decade’s old failed sanctions, overall promoting closer and a more intense engagement. His immediate action to deal with Ebola showed when prompt action was clearly needed he would act.  The very recent decision to continue to negotiate with Iran over their nuclear program as well as to start a quiet dialogue on broader issues, like how to handle ISIS, has also become another signal of this new development.  All show a new tendency to take political risks at home to achieve key American objectives.  

 

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama made it clear that he would be more active in taking the lead on a host of outstanding and difficult issues abroad. As our world grows more conflict prone, he is more assertive to make our best efforts to try to mitigate the worst consequences of upheaval, humanitarian disasters, global health dangers, the rich-poor poverty gap, terrorism and its repercussions, and last but not least the so called “rise” of China and Russian aggression. Presidential meetings in Saudi Arabia and India indicate a game-changing mode. But his caution and deliberation are likely to continue.

 

It is clear that the White House, Department of State, and Department of Defense are all currently going through a “re-thinking” of American strategy to account for the fast moving changes that are developing around the world. Included in this reassessment are relations with Russia; especially dealing more actively with the escalating Ukrainian-Russian conflict. This is extremely relevant as this conflict not only touches the security of our NATO countries, but also shows a perspective for a long-term diplomatic modus vivendi with Russia. But, as this is being written, there is a building consensus on both sides of the Atlantic that some added assistance to Ukraine is necessary.

 

Look for new instruments and modalities from Obama to shape the foreign affairs agenda and debate in the coming months. Also look for Secretary John Kerry to be even more active in setting the stage in places like the Middle East, China, Africa, and India.  Expect a host of added initiatives over the coming months and even into 2016. President Obama is clearly laying a more active and innovative American agenda in the foreign affairs field, even beyond his term in office.

 

A second installment of this post, looking forward into 2015 and beyond,  specifically in key problem sectors describing the difficulties and opportunities that lay ahead for American foreign and security policy will follow in the coming days.

 

We welcome your comments!

THE DEBATE OVER ISIS AND AMERICA’S ROLE: “BOOTS OR SUPPORT”

US Navy F/A - 18 Super Hornet refueling midair after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq (Photo: Department of Defense)
US Navy F/A – 18 Super Hornet refueling midair after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq (Photo: Department of Defense)

By Harry C. Blaney III

The Washington Post Editorial in its October 8th edition titled, “A straitjacketed war,” got it largely wrong. They have a long history of advocating a military solution to far too many problems that require more than a knee-jerk, kinetic response. They have criticized President Obama because he “has ruled out such ground personnel despite requests from our military.” They have criticized his “restrictions” on commanders and said they are not compatible with the objectives. On the contrary, they are keeping with our objectives which are not to make this a unilateral fight and endanger our troops unnecessarily, but play a key role with others. This includes Iraqi troops and the new coalition members, specifically Arab nations, in battling ISIS. This is not an easy task.

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THE PARTISAN DEBATE INTENSIFIES ON OUR STRATEGY IN IRAQ, SYRIA, AND BEYOND – NO SIMPLE ANSWER!

F-15E Strike Eagles flying over Iraq after bombing ISIS targets in Syria.
F-15E Strike Eagles flying over Iraq after bombing ISIS targets in Syria.

By Harry C. Blaney III

President Obama has spoken at the United Nations General Assembly and gave an excellent summary of the global challenges that we currently face. He had earlier made a number of short and general statements about his perspective on the U.S. and the international coalition that he has assembled, but now comes the hard part of implementation and fixing the train wreck caused by Bush II’s invasion of Iraq.

Recently, a surge of criticism has focused on President Obama over whether he and the intelligence community misjudged the spread and effectiveness of ISIS forces. This has been used by right wing Republicans, notably Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to beat up on Obama: “This was not an intelligence failure, but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat.” This is despite the fact that they too were getting about the same briefings from the CIA on the Syria and Iraq security situation all along. Even the New York Times has played the story on the September 30th front page by Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt, the way the GOP hardliners want to see it played. The White House reiterated that the President took full responsibility, but the fact is that nearly everyone, our intelligence, our diplomats, and the media, did not see in advance the capability and power of ISIS, nor the astonishing weakness of Iraqi forces which collapsed under poor, indeed corrupt and incompetent leadership and a sectarian myopic government. 

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COALITION AIR STRIKES OVER SYRIA AND IRAQ – WHERE NOW?

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

By Harry C. Blaney III


“Earlier this month, I outlined for the American people our strategy to confront the threat posed by the terrorist group known as ISIL.  I made clear that as part of this campaign the United States would take action against targets in both Iraq and Syria so that these terrorists can’t find safe haven anywhere.  I also made clear that America would act as part of a broad coalition.  And that’s exactly what we’ve done.” – President Obama’s Statements on the Air Strikes in Syria (September 23, 2014)


With new air strikes over Syria against ISIS, by not only America, but a coalition of countries that included Islamic nations like Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, and Saudi Arabia, a new stage in the struggle against ISIS has started. The significant element is the participation of key Arab states. This is an entirely new stage of the struggle against the ISIS threat with its own risks and also new opportunities to make a real difference in the protection of people on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border that have fallen under the bloody assault of a newly armed, mobile, and well equipped and resourced terrorist group, the likes of which has not been seen before.

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PRESIDENT OBAMA SPEAKS AND A STRATEGY IS OUTLINED – NOW THE HARD PART!

Leaders at the Iraq Peace and Security Conference in Paris, France (Reuters/Michel Euler)
Leaders at the Iraq Peace and Security Conference in Paris, France, September 16, 2014 (Reuters/Michel Euler)

By Harry C. Blaney III

Dateline London

President Obama’s speech to the American people on Wednesday, September 10th finally outlined for the American people, as he did with Congressional leaders on Tuesday, the key elements in the complex and difficult task of “degrading and destroying” ISIS. Much is at stake, not least is the future of the Islamic world, now at the point of a sectarian conflict between Sunni and the Shiite populations, as well as the Kurds. The Middle East is undergoing not only a large scale conflict, but also a fundamental struggle for the future of the entire Middle East and beyond. Obama is right that it is now self-evident that it is America who will lead, but at the same time work with others in this struggle, not least the nations and people of the region itself.

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THE CHALLENGE OF ISIS AND BEYOND – GETTING IT RIGHT

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff Army General Martin Dempsey briefing reporters at the Pentagon.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff Army General Martin Dempsey briefing reporters at the Pentagon.

By Harry C. Blaney III

There are few things more challenging today, not only for the West but also for the Islamic world, than confronting ISIS and stopping its carnage and above all seeking the rise of a more unified moderate Islamic consensus. After all, ISIS is an even greater threat to the Islamic world than it is for America and Europe.

On August 25th the New York Times wrote an editorial titled “A Necessary Response to ISIS.” This had about as good a short appraisal of the situation, and of a strategy for dealing with it, as can be found in an American journal. Frankly, it is also what seems to have been and still is the approach of the Obama administration to address the many complex levels of the current conflict. Its perspective is to seek a long-term solution or at least to lessen ISIS’s threat to the Islamic world and perhaps the West. Continue reading