Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Crisis In The Sudans: The Urgency Of U.S.-China Cooperation

The nexus of oil, war and humanitarian catastrophe is an opportunity for the powers involved (increasingly Beijing) to come together to press for a solution
Hannah McNeish / AFP / Getty Images
A photograph taken March 3, 2012 shows environmental damages caused by bombs which hit El Nar oil field in Unity State, South Sudan on February 29.
On the surface, our recent trip to the rebel-held areas of Sudan’s Nuba Mountains hauntingly echoed earlier visits to Darfur and South Sudan. A huge group of people—targeted by their government in Khartoum because of their ethnicity, the rich land they live on, and their resistance to dictatorship — are being serially bombarded, raped, abducted, and starved in this case for the second time in the last two decades. The culprit remains the same as well: the Khartoum regime led by General Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. This human rights catastrophe within Sudan is unfolding alongside a virtual state of war between Sudan and South Sudan, playing itself out in the border oilfields not far from the Nuba Mountains.
A closer look, however, reveals three startlingly new dynamics that together provide an unprecedented opportunity for peacemaking in the region, even as wider war threatens. If this chance is missed, and conflict between Sudan and South Sudan intensifies, the result will undoubtedly be the deadliest conventional war on the face of the earth.
First, the South Sudan government in Juba has shut off the oil wells providing both governments with most of their income, as the bulk of the oil flows from South Sudan’s oil wells through Sudan’s pipeline. Both countries face economic catastrophe as a result, with collapsed currencies, hyper-inflation, and massive food deficits likely as state treasuries are emptied. This introduces new urgency for a comprehensive peace deal that addresses the outstanding issues between the two states as well as creating a process to resolve the parallel civil war within Sudan taking place in the Nuba Mountains, Darfur and other restive regions. As President Salva Kiir told us, “We didn’t shut down the oil indefinitely. We want a solution.”
Second, China’s interests are evolving. Before South Sudan gained its independence last year, China reflexively defended its commercial partner in Khartoum, frustrating international efforts to press the Sudanese regime for peace or human rights compromises. Since the bulk of the oil now lies south of Sudan’s new border, China must deal with both countries to secure a continuing return on its $20 billion oil sector investment. Peace is very much in China’s national interest.
Third, the ongoing crisis in Sudan and South Sudan has historically been a humanitarian concern. But the shutoff of South Sudan’s production has an impact on global energy supplies, and thus, as both President Barack Obama and Senator Richard Lugar pointed out recently, on the price of gas at U.S. pumps. China was reliant on over 6% of its daily imports from the Sudans, but now has to dip into global markets to meet that shortfall. Getting Sudanese supply back on the market is even more imperative due to intensifying U.S. efforts to sanction Iran’s oil exports. Suddenly it is in the national interest of the U.S. and other major oil importers to help secure a deal to counter energy price inflation.
We hope Khartoum can be pressured to stop using starvation as a war weapon by opening aid access to the Nuba Mountains and other areas in extreme need. We also heard repeatedly from Nuba civilians hiding in caves that their most urgent need is to end the Sudan regime’s bombing of their villages and farms.
The above three new dynamics provide a chance to end the bombing and starvation once and for all. The nature of Chinese engagement may hold the key. As the two largest energy consumers in the world, China and the U.S. share a common interest in Sudanese peace. Beijing has more influence than anyone in both Juba and Khartoum. In the aftermath of their meeting in South Korea, Presidents Obama and Hu have a golden opportunity to deepen strategic cooperation to buttress foundering African Union mediation. More visible efforts are required in the form of a joint task force or shared leadership of a small group of influential countries that throw their collective weight behind specific African proposals. Such proposals need to more comprehensively address the interlocking economic and political issues that fuel instability within and between Sudan and South Sudan. Beijing and Washington need to quickly formalize their partnership. Lasting peace in that region will not come easily or quickly.
African mediation lacks hardball leverage. In addition to deeper Sino-American cooperation, further influence could be created if the U.S. and interested allies initiate a hard target search for the assets of Sudanese war criminals and their commercial interests. If those assets can’t be frozen, they should be publicized so that those most responsible for continuing cycles of conflict can be exposed to their own publics for how much oil money they have stolen over the years in the war economy they created.
Missing this window of opportunity for peace may result in a few more pennies at the pump in the U.S. and Europe, but for the Sudans it could cost millions of lives.
-This article was published in TIME on 13/04/2012
-George Clooney and John Prendergast are co-founders of the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), a partnership between the Enough Project, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and DigitalGlobe. The SSP has documented evidence that forces with the government of Sudan razed five towns and villages and bombarded civilians in the border areas of Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile state

Backed Into a Corner

Hey America, there's a pretty good reason why Iran doesn't trust you. Maybe it's time for a different approach.
                                                  Iranian President Ahmadinejad
The Obama administration has done more to undermine Iran over the past three years than any U.S. presidency in the 33 years since the Iranian revolution. Under the shadow of a policy of "engagement," the United States and Israel have led a campaign of economic, cyber, and covert war against Iran. Yet this coercive approach, conducted along with sporadic negotiations on nuclear issues between Iran and the P5+1 group of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States has failed to resolve the future of Iran's nuclear program.
The primary issue is mistrust. American and Western politicians continuously reiterate their mistrust of Tehran but seem not to understand that this mistrust is mutual. Iran has profound reasons to distrust the West. The United States and the Britain orchestrated the 1953 coup that removed Iran's democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, and installed a dictator, supporting him for a quarter century. Following the Iranian revolution, the West unilaterally withdrew from its contractual commitments and left Iran with billions of dollars of unfinished industrial and nuclear projects. In 1980, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, sparking an economically ruinous eight-year war in which Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran, and 300,000 Iranians lost their lives. The United States and the West supported the aggressor in that conflict. In 1988, the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian civilian jetliner, killing 290 innocent civilians, including 66 children.
In 1989, during Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's presidency, Iran welcomed a proposal by President George H.W. Bush -- encapsulated by Bush's declaration that "goodwill begets goodwill" -- for hostages in exchange for unfreezing Iranian assets. Iran facilitated the release of American and Western hostages in Lebanon. Instead of goodwill, the United States responded by heightening pressures and hostilities, which convinced Iran's new leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that the United States could not be trusted to keep its promises. During Mohammad Khatami's presidency, Iran was among the first countries to condemn the 9/11 terrorists attacks and cooperate with the United States in the "war on terror," leading to the removal of the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan in 2001. In return, the United States rewarded Iran by designating it a member of the "axis of evil."
As recently as 2011, Iran, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, offered to invite the U.S. representative in Afghanistan, Marc Grossman, to Tehran for talks on cooperation in Afghanistan, welcomed the Russian "step-by-step plan" to resolve the nuclear crisis, offered five years of full supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over Iran's nuclear program, and proposed halting uranium enrichment to 20 percent and instead limiting it to 5 percent, if Iran was provided with fuel rods for the Tehran Research Reactor. However, the United States and the West responded to all these unprecedented overtures with mounting pressures, sanctioning oil exports and Iran's Central Bank, and advancing U.N. resolutions that condemn Iran on terrorism and human rights.
Recognizing that mistrust is mutual is the first step toward confidence building. A second step is to acknowledge that the international community's "dual track" policy of pressure and diplomacy toward Iran has in fact been mostly a single track of coercion, sanctions, covert war, and isolation -- with no clear, coherent, strategic vision of the kind of relationship the United States can ultimately accept with the Islamic Republic. There has not been a meaningful agenda of specific proposals for practical ways to build confidence through diplomacy.
The third requirement for progress is for the United States to guarantee Iran that if it answers all of the IAEA's outstanding questions, the United States, Israel, and others will not use this information to ratchet up sanctions or other forms of coercion against Iran. The IAEA has frequently confirmed that it has found no evidence of Iran's nuclear materials being diverted for military purposes, but to close the file and end the nuclear crisis a more comprehensive modus vivendi needs to be established with the United States. Therefore bilateral talks between the United States and Iran must grow out of the coming P5+1 negotiations with Iran.
The fourth imperative is to recognize that Iran perceives small "step-by-step" negotiations as a trap. The Iranians have experienced such piecemeal policies for the last three decades with no success and no end to the fundamental conflict with the United States. Iran needs to know the entire game plan, including the end goal, before committing itself to anything. Thus, the next talks between the P5+1 and Iran will fail if the United States and other P5+1 members take a "piecemeal approach," asking Iran for example to reduce uranium enrichment from 20 percent to five percent in exchange for fuel rods. This idea is no longer attractive for Iran, since it has already reached the 20 percent enrichment level and produced fuel rods for the Tehran Research Reactor.
What's the best way to remove the atmosphere of crisis and to create a more stable basis for addressing Iran's relations with its neighbors and the broader international community? World powers must use negotiations on the nuclear crisis to resolve outstanding issues with the IAEA and allow Iran to exercise its right to enrich uranium while guaranteeing that this will not lead to nuclear weapons. "Commitments against rights" is the win-win formula. Iran would gain recognition of its legitimate right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, the lifting of relevant sanctions, and the normalization of its nuclear file at the United Nations and the IAEA. The P5+1 would gain specific commitments and measures to guarantee that Iran will not make a nuclear weapon, assuring the international community of Tehran's commitment to remain a non-nuclear weapon state.
The current pressures only encourage Iran to be intransigent and a peaceful and reasonable solution to this imminent confrontation is necessary, now. After 30 plus years of mistrust, the stakes are now way too high to risk going about this in a piecemeal fashion.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 13/04/2012
-Ambassador Hossein Mousavian is a research scholar at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and a former spokesman for Iran's nuclear negotiating team. He is the author of the forthcoming book, The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir, published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Victims Of Assad

By Rania Abouzeid

         Salwa, 30, (holding her baby niece, Hadeel, 2 months old) and Khadija, 33, Salwa’s aunt

Khadija: "Some of our relatives are missing. I think they have been martyred. May God have mercy on their souls."

Salwa: "There is a woman, my neighbor, who forgot one of her sons. He's still in Syria. We left in such a hurry. Can you imagine? She forgot one of her children."


It was approaching midnight but many of the hundreds of Syrians who had arrived at the Reyhanli refugee camp in southern Turkey just hours before were still restless, even the toddlers. Most were concerned with where they were going to sleep that night, and if friends and family members had reached safety. It was difficult to get people to talk. Many were afraid to speak for fear of reprisals against relatives still in Syria, others were clearly physically and emotionally worn down. Nevertheless, some were prepared to share their experiences, their fears and thoughts.
TIME was granted vast access during the first week of April to the Reyhanli and Yayladagi camps in Turkish territory to document, through words and pictures, the travails of the thousands who were fleeing Syria. As photographer Peter Hapak and his assistant took portraits of several of the refugees against a white backdrop set up just beyond the tents, other residents of Reyhanli—both newcomers and those who had been there for months—swirled about.
A wiry young newlywed in a thin aqua blue zippered jacket was searching for his wife among the families milling around the cramped canvas tents. His Syrian border village of Kili in Idlib province was shelled and strafed by helicopter gunships that morning, an account repeated by many of the other refugees from the town. The 26-year-old with a thin mustache and enraged eyes was seething: “I buried a man today. Two others and me, we buried a man who had half of his head missing.” When the young man, who refused to give his name, returned to his house after the burial, his wife wasn’t there. Believing she had fled across the border, he headed for Turkey as well. “Now, I learnt from others who arrived after me that my family was behind me, that they have reached the border but haven’t crossed it yet.”
Like so many others in Reyhanli that night, the young man had made a perilous journey on foot through mountainous terrain to reach Turkey, guided and aided by members of the rebel Free Syrian Army along backroads and mountain trails to avoid Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops. Some had walked for hours; others for days; most brought nothing but the clothes on their backs and harrowing tales of what they had fled. They spoke of mass killings, of homes being shelled, burnt to the ground, of relatives marched in front of tanks as human shields in the village of Taftanaz.
“Assad’s army is trying to find us, they are hunting us down in these hills to shoot and kill us,” the young man said. His group, however, was lucky. It did not encounter Assad loyalists. Just days later, a Syrian refugee was killed and several wounded after Syrian troops fired across the border at a refugee camp in the Turkish town of Kilis after a skirmish with rebel fighters. It wasn’t the first time the regime’s firepower had chased its opponents across borders into Turkey and Lebanon, but where the Lebanese government has been pliant and weak in its response to the attacks, Turkey’s patience is waning. The country already houses more than 24,000 Syrians, and is expecting thousands more.
In just one day last week, more than 2,800 Syrians streamed into Turkey from Idlib, the highest 24-hour figure to date. The exodus belied President Assad’s pledge to adhere to an internationally backed ceasefire agreement brokered by joint United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The deal called on Assad to withdraw his troops and heavy weaponry from besieged cities and towns by Tuesday April 10, and for both sides to cease violence. But instead of winding down, the regime’s muscle escalated operations to crush the year-long revolt.
Syria has routinely ignored diplomatic deadlines and scoffed at half-hearted international ultimatums, relying on its Russian and Chinese allies to shield it from censure. But this time, Assad’s powerful friends signed off on Annan’s initiative. His dismissiveness may yet chip away at their support, or at the very least make it harder for them to insist, as they have, that the Syrian president must be part of any diplomatic solution.
International discord is one thing. The disunity among the opposition to Assad is another. The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, remains divided and beset by claims of corruption, personal pettiness, feuds and rising suspicion that its secular leader Burhan Ghalioun is merely a front for the powerful Islamists. The nominal military leadership of the Free Syrian Army isn’t in better shape. Corralled in a camp in Apaydin, they have offered little to the men fighting and dying inside Syria in its name.
In the real struggle, within Syria, it has always been a revolution of ordinary people, of farmers and taxi drivers turned armed rebels, of students and laborers who have become community leaders. But, if the accounts of the refugees in Turkey are any indication, these revolutionaries despair of receiving the help they need to beat Assad. Early on, they had baptized their uprising a “revolution of orphans,” bereft of support. As he scurried away with a thin foam mattress tucked under his arm, one man said, “Before we thought that the world didn’t know what was happening to us, now we realize that you do and you don’t care.”
“We only have God and our own hands!” said another man, who had been standing nearby. It was a view shared by many. Said the young man searching for his wife: “Tanks we can stand in front of, we can try and stop them, stand in front of them, die as martyrs, but how can we stop a helicopter? We are now in Turkey, we don’t want to be here.” Growing more agitated, he says, “We want weapons, we want to fight… We want weapons, we want weapons, we want weapons.”
-This report was published in Time on 12/04/2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Annan's Syria Plan The Only Game In Town

By Michael Wahid Hanna
                                                                            Kofi Annan
Despite the tentative and fragile ceasefire that appears to have now taken hold in Syria, skepticism and outright vitriol regarding the mission of United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan remains. This frustration is understandable as the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has until now shown no signs of credible compromise and the human costs of conflict have continued to escalate. The odds against success remain high. Even as the Syrian regime has observed a cessation in hostilities, it has ignored agreements to redeploy troops and heavy weapons from population centers. However, even if the current iteration of the Annan mission fails, a sequential diplomatic approach remains the only avenue by which an international consensus might be reached; without such consensus there is simply no hope for a near-term resolution of the conflict through managed transition.
The ceasefire that is at the crux of current attention is not an end in and of itself. The six-point plan endorsed by the Arab League and the United Nations also seeks to establish a Syrian-led political process that addresses the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. While the terms of a transition are left unspecified, it should be clear to Russia and others that any credible managed transition will require the removal of Assad from power. There can be no stability in Syria if the regime remains fully intact. In light of the indispensability of Russia and China and their reservations about the consequences of a political transition, focus should now shift to fashioning a serious transition process that retains specific figures and institutions from the Assad regime while allowing for genuine political change to take root. If international consensus cannot be marshaled around such basic realities then Syria is destined to suffer from escalating and protracted conflict that is the sole alternative to a diplomatic resolution.
The limitations of the Annan mission and its mandate are a reflection of the polarized international debate on Syria and the decidedly poor options available for ending the bloodshed. Chief among the complaints against the Annan initiative has been the argument that it is buying time for the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on peaceful and armed opposition. However, the Assad regime has made abundantly clear that its only means for dealing with the opposition is by force. As such, it is in no need of cover.
It is also not the case that the Annan initiative is blocking more consequential action. There is currently no appetite for direct foreign military intervention in Syria, despite continued hopes by some that Turkey would lead such an effort. Sharpened Turkish rhetoric, particularly that of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has fueled these hopes among the Syrian opposition and its supporters. While Turkish officials have privately confirmed the existence of contingency planning regarding various types of intervention, there is no real sense of imminent Turkish action, especially without regional and international backing. Short of massive refugee flows, clear evidence of outright Syrian support for Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerillas, or escalating cross-border spill-over violence, Turkey will not opt for unilateral military options.
Furthermore, the logistical and operational difficulties of arming the Free Syrian Army, coupled with the manifest dangers of this approach, have hindered any serious efforts to do so. While the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, offered resolute words regarding the arming of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) during the inaugural meeting of the Friends of Syria group in February, actual support has not materialized. This gap between rhetoric and actions on the part of Saudi Arabia, as well as Qatar, is partly a reflection of the lack of consensus within the anti-Assad camp regarding the wisdom of arming the Syrian opposition. But as importantly, it is also a reflection of the lack of depth of Saudi and Qatari diplomacy and their inability to effectively carry out such policies. While the Gulf is in a dominant position in terms of its ability to set the diplomatic agenda of the Arab League, without direct assistance from Turkish or Jordanian intelligence, it is unclear whether the policy apparatus of either country could manage such a complex process beyond simply funding various favored Syrian groups. The lack of serious policy coordination between the Gulf and Turkey should also be a warning as to the seriousness of their intent.
Against this backdrop, the Annan mission will serve to clarify the intentions of the interested international parties, including Russia, which has positioned itself, buttressed by China, as the chief obstacle to international efforts to initiate a managed transition. For Russia, the question presented by current diplomatic efforts is whether their interests can be satisfied through a managed transition process despite their longstanding objections to policies that Russia deems to compromise state sovereignty. It will also clarify the sincerity, or lack thereof, of Russia's current stance and whether it is only driven by its desire to be treated as a great power and to be consulted on critical issues of international security. This is particularly the case since Russia demonstrably supported the Annan plan. Its own credibility as an international player is put into doubt by its inability to persuade the Assad regime to fulfil its own obligations.
Any assumption that the Assad regime could crush the armed opposition and reestablish order on its terms should now be moot. While Assad has proven willing to slaughter his own people, his regime has proven unable to decisively crush the opposition to his continued rule. Despite recent tactical successes for the Assad regime, the armed opposition cannot simply be wiped out by military means. Following the massive destruction of the Baba Amr district of Homs and the high toll on civilians, it is likely that the FSA will shift from seeking to openly hold territory to more traditional insurgent tactics. While this will lead to greater resilience, it will also likely result in increased civilian casualties and human suffering.
If all avenues for diplomacy are shut down, the conflict in Syria will escalate and the end goal will be a toppling of the regime. Particularly for Russia, such an outcome represents an all or nothing scenario that would risk Russian strategic interests and further poison Russia's relations with much of the Arab world. It should be clear that there can be no return to the status quo ante. The sequential progression of diplomacy now offers both Russia and China an opportunity to engage in a process that does not create a threatening new precedent while also limiting the destabilizing spillover effects that would accompany heightened sectarian conflict and the likely increase in transnational jihadi involvement.
Syrian opposition figures who have met with Chinese officials have also noted emerging but tentative signs of a potential shift by China, which would leave Russia much more exposed if it casts a lone veto against any further U.N. Security Council action.
In recent conversations with several senior members of the Syrian opposition, it is clear that there remains space for non-military options and diplomatic solutions in the minds of certain sectors of the opposition. This attachment to diplomacy on the part of some political leaders comes despite facing severe bottom-up pressure insisting upon outright regime change through military options. These individuals described the parameters of a managed transition that should satisfy Russian and Chinese concerns while preserving space for a democratic transition. The broad outlines of such a process would include a dignified exit for the president and his most trusted aides while limiting the vetting of the security services to the core leaders of the crackdown. These limited steps would focus attention in immediate terms solely on the 50 or so individuals most culpable for the regime's brutal crackdown. While such steps would undoubtedly be controversial and entail wrenching compromises, in limiting the focus in this fashion, a managed transition would preserve Alawite control of the security sector and would serve as a curb against reprisals and escalated sectarian conflict. In exchange, the transition process would mandate an expedited multi-party electoral process, guarantees of a free and fair process, and an opportunity to craft a new constitution, in addition to fulfilling the existing obligations of the regime as laid out in the Arab League's six-point plan.
Clear signals of the inevitability of a managed transition will also send positive signals to fence-sitters, as such regime figures and potential defectors are calculating their personal interests based on an assessment of the internal balance of power. Shifting their assumptions about the intent of diplomatic efforts could encourage defections and regime fragmentation.
The practicability of this type of managed transition is dependent on the ability of the Syrian National Council (SNC) to unify its ranks inside and outside Syria in support of diplomacy and compromise solutions. It will also require much greater internal consensus than the fragmented Syrian opposition has displayed to date. While rejection of political solutions has increased as regime brutality has escalated, creating de-escalatory momentum and establishing new facts on the ground are the best possible route for limiting the appeal of extremists among the ranks of the opposition.
Such proposals might also be the only path to international consensus regarding Syria's political transition and the only hope for steering the country away from the possibility of increased and protracted violence. If even such far-reaching proposals for compromise are shunned by the supporters of the Assad regime then Syria, its people, and the region will undoubtedly suffer the consequences of proxy conflict and growing sectarian animus.
The current diplomatic process has appeared impotent in the face of the Syrian regime's brutality but with such grim alternatives, the Annan plan and a process of sequential diplomacy remain the last and only hope available for avoiding the worst-case scenarios that might await Syria.
-This commentary was published on 12/03/2012
-Michael Wahid Hanna is a fellow and program officer at the Century Foundation

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Options In Syria

Bashar al-Assad said he'd stop shooting on April 10. He lied. So what now?


                                            Kofi Annan

The April 10 deadline for Syrian forces to withdraw from major cities set by Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League special envoy for Syria, appears to have come and gone with little change on the ground. Thursday's deadline for a complete ceasefire looks set to pass as well. For now, Annan rightly insists the plan is still on the table. But Syria's last best chance for a diplomatic solution is dying.

If Annan's plan is likely dead, the coroner won't pronounce it for a few more days. Deadlines like these are sometimes rescued in diplomatic overtime. Russian prestige is now on the line, and we may see a last-ditch effort from Moscow to get Assad to comply. The upcoming G8 foreign ministers' meeting in Washington on April 12, where Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will confront an irate Hillary Clinton, might provide an opportunity to break the deadlock between the United States and Russia.

There's precedent for this: When the U.N. Security Council was stalemated in 1999 over Kosovo, it was a G8 meeting that provided the diplomatic breakthrough between the United States and Russia. There will be ferocious diplomacy to that end in the next few days, as well as diplomacy aimed at seeing whether Beijing can be persuaded to play ball -- or at least not block Security Council action -- leaving Moscow more isolated. We could still see the Security Council agreeing to a new resolution, calling on President Bashar al-Assad to implement Annan's plan and agreeing to deploy a monitoring force. Still, those hoping for a diplomatic solution to this mess shouldn't fool themselves -- the odds are low.

But the odds were always low. Several days ago, commentators were busily rehearsing the line that Annan was naive to be "shocked" that Assad broke his promises. Casablanca-style "shocked, shocked" is more like it: Annan is nobody's fool. He has long experience with Assad, and knew full well the odds lay against his following through on any diplomatic solution. The former U.N. secretary-general was not counting on Assad's good will, but on producing a plan that could unify the Security Council, shifting Assad's international calculus. It still might. It probably won't.

Annan and current U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were right to try. Diplomacy sometimes succeeds in unlikely circumstances, and could have forestalled the inevitable deterioration that will now follow. And if diplomacy irrevocably fails in the next few days, then no one can credibly argue that all other options were not exhausted before more forceful measures are used.
What might those measures be?

There will be new calls for the use of force to achieve regime change. The strong moral pros and substantial operational cons of that option have been fully debated in this magazine and elsewhere. At this stage, there is no sign that the United States, NATO, Turkey, or anyone else is contemplating a full-blown intervention. Indeed, the White House has reportedly signaled to the Syrian opposition recently that it is not prepared to escalate its conflict with the Assad regime.

A more likely scenario was spelled out by Foreign Policy's own James Traub. His argument is that the least bad option may be one of arming the rebels, supporting them politically if they accept certain basic standards of conduct, and engaging in a slow, drawn-out process of bleeding the regime -- what he calls a "neo-mujahideen" strategy. That phrase deliberately invokes the risks as well as potential gains of such an approach, and there should be no doubting that it carries the danger of major escalation and sectarian clashes.

There is a further option that has not been exhaustively examined: that of a multi-national stabilization force. A stabilization force is neither an intervention nor a peacekeeping tool: It has the military capacity of the former, but the intentions of the latter. It does not aim for regime change, but to stop a particular bout of killing and to prevent more. The deployment of such a force helped stop widespread slaughter by the Indonesian army in East Timor in 1999.

It's neither an easy option nor a silver bullet. Memories of the disastrous U.S.-led multinational force in Beirut in 1982, which ended ignominiously after bombings of the U.S. and French barracks killed 241 American servicemen and 58 French soldiers, still linger. The multinational force deployed to eastern Congo in 1996 to bring an end to massive violence and displacement illustrates the strengths and limitations of this approach. That force achieved its goal: The mere pre-deployment of the force in Entebbe, Uganda, got Rwanda to withdraw its forces back across its border -- but not before Rwanda's rulers killed tens of thousands of former rebels. Still, in both eastern Congo and East Timor, multinational forces probably forestalled a far-worse slaughter.

A stabilization force of this kind can't fight its way into Damascus. The Syrian regime, or at least the army, doesn't have to formally acquiesce to its deployment, but it does have to signal that it won't fight it on the way in. This was the case during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, when France, India, Italy, and others sent troops into southern Lebanon as part of a cease-fire arrangement. Hezbollah never agreed to the presence of the force, but quietly sent signals to Paris that it wouldn't contest its deployment.

Why might Syria's forces hold back? First, it's a lot better than opening the door to aggressive attempts at regime change, if those measures start becoming more credible. Second, as in eastern Congo, the pre-deployment of such a force can change the army's calculation. As my Brookings Institution colleague Martin Indyk has pointed out, the Syrian army has no appetite for a confrontation with Turkish forces, and even preparation of a force could shift its psychology and its assessment of the choices it faces. Western powers can also help by increasing the economic costs on Assad's business-community supporters, by working with international financial institutions to stipulate that debt accrued under this regime should be considered "odious" -- a step that would mean debt incurred under this regime need not be paid back, setting out a deeply uncertain economic future for Assad's business-community supporters.

Who could lead such a force? Turkey has understandably equivocated about the option of using its army to help protect civilians or stabilize Syria. The risks Turkey faces are enormous -- but it might be more willing to see its army deployed as part of a multinational force with international authorization, spreading both the operational costs and the political risk. Gulf states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have strongly signaled their desire to support the Syrian opposition, would be more than happy to supply the financing.
Such a force would first have to try to win Security Council authorization. Turkey would have to be willing to make the first move, as the willingness of one country to take a leadership role is usually a precondition of authorization. That's already a tough step -- but winning support from China and Russia, veto-wielding members of the Security Council who have already rejected two resolutions targeting Assad, will be even harder. Is it doable?

The odds aren't as slim as one might think. Tactically, the right approach here would be for Turkey to make this proposal, not the United States. The Turks could seek support from its emerging-power friends both inside the Security Council (India, South Africa) and outside it (Brazil, Indonesia). The emerging powers collectively make a great deal of noise about using the Security Council as a tool to avoid force aimed at regime change. So let them lead an effort to do so.

Russia and China would be much harder pressed to oppose an initiative from these emerging powers than from the usual clutch of Western states in the Security Council. The Gulf can put some pressure on China here -- Beijing is distracted by its own problems right now, and how much longer it will provide cover to Moscow's errant allies in Syria remains to be seen.

And if the Security Council won't authorize an international force, NATO or the Arab League could. NATO has been desperate to avoid getting dragged into Syria, but providing diplomatic cover for a multinational force is a different story.

Of course, some of U.S. President Barack Obama's critics would no doubt charge that letting Turkey and others drive a proposal forward amounts to another example of "leading from behind" -- but that criticism would be infantile, and the Obama administration has earned more than enough foreign-policy credibility to turn the other cheek. Once authorized, a force would certainly need U.S. intelligence and tactical support, but not American boots on the ground.

All of this, it bears repeating, is unlikely. There's no overnight deus ex machina here. First, several more days will pass in diplomatic overtime trying to rescue Annan's plan -- infuriatingly so for Syrian civilians, but realistically the right call. Those frustrated by the slow pace of diplomacy must remember that military options will take weeks, if not months, to organize.

Still, faced with a range of other dreadful choices, this one might balance the pros and cons less badly than some. Right now, the so-called international community faces all bad choices, and Assad has the choice of continued slaughter -- in slow motion or high gear. If and when diplomacy does finally fail, the decision to form a multinational force to protect civilians could turn the tables and confront Assad's supporters with bad choices of their own.

-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 10/04/2012
Bruce Jones is director of the Managing Global Order program at Brookings, and of the NYU Center on International Cooperation. He formerly served with the United Nations in Kosovo and the Middle East

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Court Allows Britain To Send 5 to U.S. On Terror Charges

By ALAN COWELL and JOHN F. BURNS from London
                                                          Abu Hamza al-Masri in London in 2004
The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Britain could legally extradite five suspects wanted in the United States on terrorism charges, including Abu Hamza al-Masri, an inflammatory Egyptian-born cleric incarcerated in Britain but accused in a range of unprosecuted anti-American plots that date back 14 years.
In a major precedent that appeared to greatly ease extradition of terrorism suspects — an issue that has surfaced repeatedly since Britain and the United States agreed to a new, more flexible extradition treaty after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — the court ruled that the human rights of the defendants would not be violated by their incarceration in a maximum security American prison. Some legal experts called the ruling stunning, considering the court’s history of wariness on the human rights standards of American justice.
How quickly any transfers might take place is uncertain. The court, based in Strasbourg, France, said the defendants could not be sent to the United States before further legal procedures were completed, and gave them three months to seek one last hearing at the European court. But legal experts said it was far from sure that the court’s Grand Chamber, a plenary body that can overrule findings like the one handed down on Tuesday, would accept a further appeal, and Theresa May, the British home secretary, said the government would move “as soon as possible” once the last legal steps had been completed.
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the ruling. “It is quite right that we have proper legal processes, although sometimes one can get frustrated with how long they take,” The Press Association news agency quoted him as saying.
Based on charges filed in the United States, Mr. Hamza and the four other suspects could get life sentences without parole in maximum security. The suspects had all objected to being incarcerated at a “supermax” prison in Florence, Colo., on the grounds that conditions there infringed their human rights. Such conditions include concrete furniture, timed showers, tiny cell windows and sharply restricted communications with the outside world, including family members.
But the judges found that conditions did not breach European laws prohibiting “inhuman and degrading treatment,” concluding that inmates, “although confined to their cells for the vast majority of their time,” were provided with “services and activities” that “went beyond what was provided in most prisons in Europe.”
However, they also said it was unlikely Mr. Masri, who is in his 50s, would end up there, because of his disabilities. Mr. Masri has one eye and a steel hook in place of his right hand. The court referred to the amputation of his “forearms,” suggesting that he may have lost parts of both. Accounts differ on how he sustained his injuries: he said he was caught in a land-mine explosion while working as a road surveyor near Jalalbad in Afghanistan after the Soviet troop withdrawal in 1989, but others have said he was handling explosives that detonated.
Born Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, Mr. Masri was the principal preacher at the Finsbury Park mosque in London at a time when it was regarded as a hotbed of radicalism and is serving a seven-year sentence in Britain for inciting racial hatred and urging followers to commit murder. Britain considers him an Egyptian citizen, but he maintains that he has lost that status.
Before the Sept. 11 attacks, the Finsbury mosque drew a succession of Islamic militants who became notorious later for their involvement in terrorist attacks. One was Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, who is serving a life term in the Colorado prison for his attempt to down an American airliner in mid-Atlantic in 2002. Another is Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of having trained to be the hypothetical “20th bomber” in the Sept. 11 attacks. He is also at the Colorado prison.
Mr. Masri, the son of an Egyptian army officer, arrived in Britain as a student in 1979. He married a Briton and raised a large family. He studied for an engineering diploma in Brighton, then left for Afghanistan as the war against the occupying Soviet forces ended, avoiding involvement in the fighting.
After he was injured, he returned to Britain and found a job as a janitor, but lived mainly off state welfare benefits, according to British newspaper accounts. Those accounts also said that he used some of the government payments, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, to amass a small real-estate empire in the Finsbury area.
Mr. Masri and the other suspects had been indicted in the United States between 1999 and 2006 on charges relating variously to hostage-taking in Yemen and attacks on American embassies in East Africa. Mr. Masri faces 11 counts relating to hostage-taking in 1998, calling for holy war in Afghanistan in 2001 and participation in an attempt to establish a militant training camp at Bly, Ore., between June 2000 and December 2001. American prosecutors say, the 16 hostages, all tourists, included two Americans. Four hostages — three Britons and one Australian — were killed and several others were wounded when the Yemeni Army tried to rescue them. The four other suspects are Seyla Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary, Khaled Al-Fawwaz, and Babar Ahmad.
Mr. Bary and Mr. Al-Fawwaz were charged with multiple murders in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed more than 200 people. Mr. Ahsan, like Mr. Ahmad, is charged with providing support to terrorists and conspiracy-related offenses.
Mr. Ahmad, 37, a computer expert accused of being a fund-raiser for terrorist causes, has been held in prison in Britain without a trial for almost eight years. In an unusual interview last week with the BBC, conducted in a special detention unit for terrorism-related extradition cases, Mr. Ahmad declared: “I have been in prison now for nearly eight years without trial. I am facing extradition to the U.S. to spend the rest of my life in solitary confinement. I have never been questioned about the allegations against me. I have never been shown the evidence against me.”
“I do not hold the Americans responsible for anything that has happened to me,” he said, “but I think it is fair to say that I am fighting for my life — and I am running out of time.
“Eight years without trial is like living on death row. It’s like you are living every day for a tomorrow that might or might not come. And it has been very, very difficult. It’s just not knowing: There are prisoners all around me who have release dates. Even if it is 10 years ahead of them, they have a date. Detention without trial is the most unimaginable type of psychological torture.”
The case of a sixth suspect was postponed. The court delayed a ruling on Haroon Rashid Aswat, accused of being Mr. Masri’s co-conspirator, while awaiting further details of his psychological condition.
The outcome announced on Tuesday contrasted sharply with a ruling by the same European court in January that Abu Qatada, a radical Islamic preacher regarded as one of Al Qaeda’s main inspirational leaders in Europe, could not be sent from Britain to his native Jordan because his trial there would be tainted by evidence obtained by torture.
The preacher, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, was subsequently released on strict bail terms in February.
The ruling on Tuesday also played into a tangled debate in Britain over its extradition treaty with the United States, which is widely perceived and depicted here as giving American prosecutors unwarranted powers to demand the extradition of British suspects whose crimes were not committed on American soil.
Two particular cases relate to Britons accused of infringing on American laws from their computers at home. One of them is that of Gary McKinnon, who was accused of hacking into American military computers, and the other is that of Richard O’Dwyer, accused of offenses under American copyright laws.
The latest ruling “still leaves open the case of whether the U.S. is the right place to try all of these suspects,” said Sarah Ludford, a spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrat junior coalition partner, arguing that those “whose alleged crimes were perpetrated from their computers at home in Britain should face home-grown justice.”
-This report was published in New York Times on 10/04/2012

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Undersea World Of Ali Khamenei

By Scott Charney
Iranian Kilo class submarine
                                                                       Iranian Kilo class submarine
In the middle of all the discussion of the possibility of attacks on Iran and a war in the Persian Gulf region, one factor in particular has been largely overlooked. The Iranians have evidently fallen in love with submarines.
Brief news stories about the launch of new submarines have appeared repeatedly in the past few years, and yet this phenomenon receives only a passing mention in most articles and reports. No other country in the area (unless one counts Pakistan) operates any submarines. By contrast, the Iranians now could potentially have more than 20.
Obviously the Iranian naval establishment thinks it’s on to something, and that their near-term future lies beneath the waves. What do they have in mind?
What They Have
Accurate information about Iran’s submarine force is difficult to acquire. The announcements of new submarines often emanate from semi-governmental Iranian sources, which are known to boast about the capabilities of their indigenous weapons systems.For their part, international journalists often vary widely in their estimates of the size of Iran’s submarine force, with no consistent pattern emerging..
In the 1990s and shortly thereafter, the Iranians purchased three Kilo class submarines from Russia.  These submarines are diesel-electric attack subs, well-known for being quiet. The Iranians subsequently began constructing their own midget submarines, with one craft of the Nahang class and many more of the Ghadirclass. The Iranians may also have acquired a few midget submarines from North Korea, though details are hazy, and these craft may no longer be operational. All of these midget subs can carry two torpedoes or anti-ship missiles, lay mines, and transport commando teams.
More recently, the Iranians seem to be seeking to bridge the gap between the midget subs and the Kilos by constructing what they call “semi-heavy” submarines of the Qaaem and/or Fateh class, with more possibly to come. Such submarines, if successful, could complement the Kilos at first and eventually supplant them when the larger submarines reach the end of their service lives. The upshot of all of this is that, even by the most conservative estimates, the Iranians have a sizable submarine force, are seeking to make it larger, and have a substantial head start over any of the other states bordering the Persian Gulf.
Why They Want Them
The reason for this submarine construction binge is very similar to the reason for Iran’s missile program:  it circumvents their aerial deficiencies and, in so doing, creates a deterrent to attack. The Persian Gulf is mostly shallow and is littered with shipwrecks from centuries of traffic. Antisubmarine warfare is complicated in such an environment, and smaller submarines have particular advantages. All of the Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf have small navies, and suffering losses to Iranian submarines would leave these kings, sheiks, and emirs able to protect neither their exports of oil nor their imports of vast quantities of consumer goods. The Saudis have the most powerful navy in the region by far, but they are cursed by geography. Some of their most powerful ships are based at a port on the Red Sea, and transferring these elements to the Persian Gulf would necessitate sailing through the Straits of Hormuz. This would likely be a suicide mission in the face of Iran’s mines, submarines, shore-launched missiles, warships, air strikes, and so on.
The Arab air forces would surely attempt to eliminate Iran’s naval bases. But the Iranians have likely constructed missiles with that in mind. The multi-billion dollar air forces and navies of the Gulf states are concentrated at very few bases such that even an inaccurate missile is likely to land on something valuable.
In the case of a conflict with the United States, the Iranians could not win per se, but this is where deterrence comes into play. Before being overwhelmed and destroyed, Iranian submarines could conceivably sink one or more American ships and/or submarines, resulting in unacceptable casualties for the United States. This strategy is behind most of Iran’s recent military moves, and is common around the world. For this reason, among others, many current and retired American senior military officers oppose any attack on Iran. The military situation for the Israelis is similar. They would love to add the firepower of their own submarines’ cruise missiles to any strike on Iran, but risking the subs would be very foolish at a time of terrible relations with Turkey, upheaval in Syria, and an uncertain future with Egypt.
The Iranians would not have acquired so many submarines if they did not think they would come in handy. Thanks in part to these undersea craft, the regime in Tehran may have developed the ability to dominate its neighbors and ward off attack from faraway powers even as most of the foreign policy community has been chasing the specter of nuclear weapons.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy In Focus on 09/04/2012

George W Bush Was Right!

The former U.S. president's Freedom Agenda correctly identified the Middle East's dictatorships as the incubators of extremism.
                                                                       Former US President George W Bush
When mass demonstrations began spreading across the Arab world early last year, conservative commentators lost no time in singing the praises of George W. Bush, the first U.S. president to aggressively push for democratization in the region.
Today, with Islamists dominating politics wherever tyrants have stumbled or fallen, many of those who waxed eloquent about Bush's Freedom Agenda have either fallen silent or taken to arguing that Islamist ascendancy will prove to be a temporary setback on the road to liberal democracy. Those who were critical of it all along are having a field day.
In fact, even if the Arab Spring constitutes "an unshackling of Islam, not an outbreak of fervor for freedom in the Western sense," it is proof positive that the Bush administration correctly diagnosed the causes of Arab political dysfunction and made extraordinarily sound -- if short-lived -- policy changes to combat it.
In the wake of 9/11, the White House openly repudiated the longstanding conventional wisdom that U.S.-backed autocratic regimes in the Middle East served as bulwarks against the regional and international security threat posed by radical Islamism. Al Qaeda was then a largely Saudi and Egyptian network, its leadership drawn primarily from disgruntled subjects of the Arab world's two most powerful pro-American governments. The Bush administration quickly recognized that authoritarianism had swelled the ranks of radical Islamist movements by traumatizing Arab citizens and eradicating alternate channels of political expression, while Washington's longstanding support for this state of affairs infused them with hatred of America.
To make matters worse, Arab regimes typically sought to co-opt Islamists by introducing illiberal religious dogma into education, civil law, and media, allowing them to advance their long-term goal of Islamizing society in exchange for short-term political quietism. Those who persisted in subversive activity were typically imprisoned and tortured, then released into exile to seek other paths to martyrdom.
The Bush administration was not the first to recognize that the political survival strategies of friendly Arab regimes were fueling the growing threat of transnational Islamist terrorism, but it was the first to take bold action to address the problem. President Bill Clinton's administration understood the malignant spillover effects of autocracy in the region, but believed that democratization in the Middle East was a pipe dream in the absence of a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Pushing for political reform before a resolution was in hand, the reasoning went, would only alienate Arab governments whose cooperation was needed to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough.
By the time Bush took office, however, prospects for a peace settlement were at a nadir. Given the multitude of septuagenarian and octogenarian heads of state in the Arab world and the growing impact of communications technology in weakening authoritarian controls, the assumption that political reform could wait for peace was dismissed as untenable.
Bush administration officials feared a repeat of Iran's 1979 revolution, when the collapse of an oppressive, U.S.-backed government led to a power vacuum that violently anti-American Islamists were best positioned to exploit. Iraq aside, the Freedom Agenda was intended less to bring about full-blown transitions to democracy than to treat the pathologies of existing regimes, maximize the capacity of secular opposition groups to compete with Islamists, and dispel the widespread belief among Arabs that the United States, as Al-Quds al-Arabi editor Abdelbari Atwan once put it, "wants us to have dictators and monarchical presidents."
Of course, this policy shift did not gain consensus in Washington purely on the basis of such pragmatic considerations. Bush's soaring rhetoric about democracy gratified conservative perceptions of American exceptionalism, provided ideological cover for the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, and dovetailed neatly with efforts by Israel's supporters to discredit the claim that Arabs hate the United States primarily because of its support for the Jewish state.
Whatever the motivations of its fair-weather advocates, however, the Bush administration's commitment to effecting political liberalization in the region was genuine. It was uneven in practice, to be sure -- countries heavily dependent on U.S. aid were pressured far more than the oil-rich monarchies, for example, where the United States had little leverage.
The administration's flagship democracy promotion effort targeted Egypt -- recipient of more than $1.5 billion in annual military and economic aid -- and it was no joke. The Bush administration pressured Cairo to hold its freest parliamentary elections in decades, vastly increased U.S. aid to Egyptian NGOs working for political reform, and directed the U.S. Embassy to devote a large portion of its resources to civil society outreach. While his predecessor never dreamed of publicly pressuring a friendly Arab leader to release a political prisoner, Bush launched high-profile campaigns of diplomatic and economic pressure to win the release of liberal Egyptian dissidents Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Ayman Nour.
In the wake of Islamist electoral advances in Egypt and Gaza, deteriorating security conditions in Iraq, and the resurgence of Iranian regional influence, the Freedom Agenda encountered growing objections from in Washington. As a result, American pressure for reform in Egypt began to taper off in 2006 -- but it was hardly abandoned. American aid to reformist NGOs continued apace, while the U.S. Embassy in Cairo remained active behind the scenes encouraging and defending pro-democracy activists, as revealed in State Department cables released by WikiLeaks.
The Bush administration succeeded in cultivating the perception among educated Arabs that America is sympathetic to -- if not always willing to do much about -- their political grievances. Even the deputy head of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammad Habib, grudgingly admitted in 2005 that Mubarak's introduction of reforms "could have been the result of pressure from the United States."
President Barack Obama came into office with grand, if unimaginative, ambitions of reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which placed a high premium on the cooperation of Arab governments. To accomplish this goal, he quickly strove to patch up American relations with Middle Eastern autocrats whose cooperation he needed to impose a top-down solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict -- or at least a Rose Garden signing likely to endure through the 2012 U.S. election cycle. The Freedom Agenda had to go.
In Egypt, the new administration broadcast clear signals that dissidents should not expect American help in resisting a hereditary succession. During her March 2009 trip to Cairo, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed a reporter's inquiry about the Mubarak regime's poor human rights record by saying "we all have room for improvement" and calling the Egyptian president and his wife "friends of my family." The Washington Post presciently accused her of obliviously offending "millions of Egyptians who loathe Mr. Mubarak's oppressive government and blame the United States for propping it up." When an equally oblivious Obama paused in expectation of applause after proclaiming that democracy should not be "imposed" by outsiders in his landmark June 2009 speech in Cairo, he was greeted with silence.
Meanwhile, the White House cut aid to Egyptian reform NGOs by half and redirected the remainder away from NGOs not approved by the government. In 2009, Mubarak made his first visit to Washington in five years, while his son and heir apparent, Gamal, visited twice. This caused an uproar among democracy activists, and contributed to a decline in the percentage of Egyptians holding favorable views of the United States from 30 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2010.
The Obama administration did not go full circle in its toleration of Egyptian tyranny, but only because American democracy promotion efforts had become too institutionalized to completely jettison without drawing negative publicity. But there is no doubt that it gravely underestimated popular anger at the Mubarak regime and scaled back U.S. support for pro-democracy initiatives at precisely the moment when secular liberal opposition forces needed it most.
In the end, Washington's support for Mubarak was sufficient to encourage his pursuit of a hereditary succession, but insufficient to actually enable it. It left secular liberal political forces powerful enough to crack the authoritarian edifice, but woefully unequipped to assert themselves when the levee broke. And what a flood it has been: Islamists won more than 70 percent of the seats in Egypt's November 2011 parliamentary elections, and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat el-Shater is the apparent front-runner in next month's presidential election.
This trend is not confined to Egypt.  In Tunisia and Morocco, Islamists won a plurality of seats in recent elections.  Whether it proves to be a fleeting aberration or blankets the region with a new generation of theocratic tyrannies, however, the Islamist surge  underscores that the Bush administration's reading of the political dynamics at work in Egypt and the broader Arab world was essentially correct, with one minor exception -- the day of reckoning came sooner than anyone expected.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 09/04/2012
-Gary Gambill, a Philadelphia-based political analyst, has published widely on contemporary Arab politics