Saturday, June 23, 2012

Carnage In The Streets Of Iraq

By Daniel DePetris

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
                                                          Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

In the most violent day in Iraq since the United States pulled out its remaining troops  last December, a series of well-thought-out and coordinated terrorist strikes across the country killed approximately 80 Iraqis last Wednesday. As is usually the case in Iraq, members of the Shia community constituted most of the casualties, with some of the most powerfully built bombs detonated in neighborhoods jammed packed with Shia worshipers making their way to northern Baghdad on a religious commemoration ceremony. The BBC puts the death toll at 84, with police and security forces included in the number.  The British-based Independent placed the number in the seventies. Yet whatever the casualty count actually happens to be, the attacks this week demonstrated just how insecure life in Iraq still is, even if overall violence in the country is at an all-time low since 2003.
The assault is disturbingly familiar to the types of attacks that Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, has executed over the past decade.  Explosives-packed cars, suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices along busy roadways, and mortar attacks on Shia neighborhoods have been, when taken together, Al-Qaeda’s preferred set of tactics. And indeed, Wednesday’s attack made use of many of these same devices—a car bomb explosion near a busy restaurant packed with Shia pilgrims one hour, and a targeted killing of an Iraqi government employee in the next.

The total of 130 Iraqi civilians killed last month will surely be surpassed in June, with more than a week to go before the month is finally over. As if to underscore how deadly the past week has been for Iraq’s Shia community, Sunni militants followed up their Wednesday attack with a pair of car bomb explosions last Saturday, on the final day of the religious commemoration, killing 26. An additional 22 Iraqis died two days later, when an unidentified suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt in a roomful of packed mourners for a high-level Shia tribal figure in the city of Baquba.

As usual, those responsible for the bombings this week were hardly original in either choosing their targets orjustifying the violence. The Iraqi government’s opponents, particularly those Sunni Islamist groups who have yet to lay down their weapons, have long marked Shia religious holidays as an opportunity to kill as many of that sect’s members as possible. In the first week of the year, militants from Al-Qaeda in Iraq quietly unleashed a suicide attacker disguised as a pilgrim into a crowd of Shia worshipers commemorating the Arbaeenholiday, a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. Over 50 pilgrims were killed in that breach of security, leading some Iraqis to fear that Al-Qaeda was regaining steam after years of being battered by U.S. and Iraqi troops.

Practically speaking, it would take a tremendous amount of sustainable violence to return to the dark days of 2006 and 2007. The impulse of revenge that Shia militias acted on after an Al-Qaeda attack is not as large as it once was, partly because the Shia are now in nominal control of the central government.

As long as Shia leaders feel that they have the upper hand, this dream is unlikely to come true.  However, the secondary affect of these bombings—contributing to a general sense of insecurity among the Iraqi people and less confidence in their government—may be just as important for militants like AQI in the long run. Every major act of violence feeds into a disturbing narrative that has become all too often normal in everyday Iraqi discourse; the Iraqi security forces are incapable of stopping or minimizing the costs and damage of terrorism.

It is unlikely that this year’s version of AQI will set off another round of sectarian clashes in the capital.  Nevertheless, if massive terrorist attacks continue to be a recurring problem, a large wedge may well be driven between the Iraqi people and their leaders. Coupled with the Iraqi government’s inability to pass key legislation (the only major law that has gotten through the parliament this year has been the national budget) and the internal deadlock within Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s governing coalition over power-sharing, the already poor legitimacy of the current political system could decline even further. Ultimately, itis mass resentment and a lack of faithin the political process that will prove to be more threatening to Iraq than the rekindling of a sectarian civil war.

The more frequently that terrorists are able to execute bold operations successfully, the more likely that the Iraqi people will continue to lose confidence in their politicians. Terrorism will not be eradicated from Iraq completely, but it can be diminished or contained at an acceptable level. Although it would surely be portrayed as a blow to Iraq’s newfound sense of national sovereignty and independence, it may be time for the prime minister to elicit additional assistance from the United States—a level of cooperation that has gone down since Washington withdrew its military last yearand redeployed some of its intelligence capability.

Yet even help from the United States on the counterterrorism front will not bridge the gap betweenthe people and their representatives in the long term. Only Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems, starting with an easing of the numerous political crises that are engulfing Baghdad, can begin to achieve that objective. There is no greater defeat for a young democratic system than if citizens turn away from the very same people they elected in the first place. Allowing thestatus quo to persist will virtually guarantee such a result for Iraq.

-This commentary was published first in Foreign Policy In Focus on 22/06/2012
- Daniel R. DePetris is the senior associate editor of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis.  He is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus

The Twisted Arc Of History

In the land of no-good-options, is Barack Obama doing enough to push the cause of human rights in the Middle East?


This has been a week, or two, to try men's souls. Egypt's military rulers, tiring of the flimsy trappings of democracy, dissolved the parliament, reinstated martial law, and promulgated a constitutional declaration arrogating virtually  all legislative power to themselves. That was the banner headline, but Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, not wishing to be outdone, instructed the "executive agencies" to take "the necessary legal measures" to deal with those who criticize the military, whose chief business over the last year had been beating and jailing protestors. And let's not forget the Libyan militia leaders who kidnapped and imprisoned officials from the International Criminal Court.

At such moments we must remind ourselves that the path to democracy is long and winding, the arc of history bends towards justice, and so forth. Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, worked in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, and he reminded me a few days ago that democratizing states which regress do, in the end, "fall back on the institutions they've had in the past." That's an encouraging thought for Chile or Hungary but not, as Posner acknowledges, for Libya, or for that matter any other Arab state. They have no such institutions to fall back on. Nor did Russia, or Ukraine, for example, which reverted to strongman rule after an unhappy spell with liberal reform. The arc of history bends in all sorts of directions.

Well, what then? How should the disheartening state of affairs in Egypt and elsewhere, and the recognition that things might not turn out well in the end, shape the behavior of the United States and other outside actors? There's a good case to be made that Washington should stand aside, let events play themselves out, and help whoever comes out on top pick up the pieces of the inevitable wreckage -- a case cogently, if brutally, made in a recent column by Les Gelb. Foreign Policy's own Aaron David Miller made a similar argument for a policy of benign neglect on Syria. There's an honorable  precedent to the realist case for restraint: As then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams famously declared in a July 4, 1821, oration: The United States "is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."

There's a lot to be said for a prudent impartiality in the face of turmoil and profound uncertainty. But haven't we also learned about the costs of such prudence? Condoleezza Rice was quite right when she said in Cairo in 2005, "For 60 years my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East -- and we got neither." The United States not only got neither, it also got a well-deserved reputation for supporting friendly autocrats, a reputation which made the country feared and disliked across the region. That didn't matter much while the autocrats ran the show, but that era has come to an end. Even in Egypt, public opinion now matters; and it behooves Washington, even if only for reasons of self-interest, to align itself with people's aspirations.

The Obama administration has, if anything, erred on the side of this imprudent prudence. The administration was slow to criticize President Hosni Mubarak as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to protest his rule in January 2011, and even slower to criticize the regime in Bahrain as it met peaceful protestors with tear gas, live ammunition, prison, and torture. Prudence is Barack Obama's watchword. There are far worse guides to action, particularly the magical faith in American power which propelled President George W. Bush after 9/11; but silence, too, can have unexpected costs. A national-security official was recently quoted in the New Yorker confessing, of Obama's decision to soft-pedal criticism of the fraudulent 2009 elections in Iran, "It turned out that what we intended as caution, the Iranians saw as weakness."

Obama believed, with very good reason, that nothing he said would advance the cause of reform on Iran, and he was not about to belabor Tehran just to burnish his own democratic credentials. Right now, the Arab world feels equally impervious to American influence.

The administration has issued appropriate criticism of the rolling coup now occurring in Egypt, but nothing Washington says or does, almost certainly including threats to cut military aid, is likely to deflect the military from its apparent goal of keeping the Muslim Brotherhood from taking power, and of hanging on to its own preeminent role. Similarly, Washington has remonstrated Bahrain, including through public remarks by Michael Posner during a visit to Manama last week, but the king, a Sunni, seems determined not to yield an inch to demands for more equal treatment by the majority Shiite population. In Bahrain, too, the United States has substantial leverage in the form of the Fifth Fleet, which is quartered there, but the king and his hard-line advisors are convinced that the protests threaten their very survival, and are unlikely to be moved by American suasion or threats.

So why bother then? Why remonstrate, much less threaten, if Washington can't do much to produce the outcomes it wants? Because, put simply, the difference between a bad outcome and a not-so-bad outcome matters so much. "Boy, have we helped the Libyan people into a new, free and democratic life," Gelb writes sardonically of the bombing campaign which ended the Muammar al-Qaddafi regime. The country, as he observes, seems poised to dissolve into a series of militarized city-states. And yet the Libyan people themselves are almost unanimous in believing themselves better off without Qaddafi. They desperately want everything they have lost out on over the last four decades. What the United State -- and others -- can do to help Libya become a coherent, functional, and democratic state is modest, but it's not nothing either. Posner, who was also just in Libya, says that the Justice Department is helping to organize a criminal justice system there. If the government can prosecute a few of Qaddafi's henchmen, the militias now acting as private jailers might begin to turn over their prisoners. It's certainly worth a try.

Of course, the big question now is Syria. Just as it's possible that the NATO intervention in Libya will have helped create a country as violent and even unjust as the one that existed before, so to could Western intervention in Syria have undreamed-of consequences. That strikes me as one good reason -- I can think of others -- not to re-enact the NATO air war in Syria. But it's not a good reason for the United States to stand aside while President Bashar al-Assad slaughters his own citizens. The Obama administration cannot adopt a prudent neutrality between Assad and those he is killing.

Aaron David Miller writes that Barack Obama is rightly more concerned about his own political future than about the lives of Syrians. Is it naïve of me to hope, and believe, that that's not the case? I think Obama's hand has been stayed by the fact that there's just no good solution, and that Russia has blocked attempts at even modestly better options. The question now before the administration is whether it will accept that Russia can not be brought around, and instead work with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others to strengthen both the political and military capacity of the Syrian rebels. Recent news accounts imply that it is moving in that direction. In general, Obama has done the right thing during the Arab Spring, if not always exactly at the right time or with quite enough conviction.

Can we say for sure that this is the most effective way to advance American national security interests? No. The future of the Arab world really is impossible to predict from what feels like the eye of the hurricane. But sometimes -- and perhaps especially when things look most grim -- it's not enough to be the detached well-wisher of freedom.

-This commentary was published first in Foreign Policy in its July/August issue
-James Traub is a fellow of the Center on International Cooperation

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hamas Violence Undermines The Real Resistance

The National Editorial

The violence that has plagued Gaza over the past four days may be ended by a truce offered to Israel by the military wing of Hamas. But the group is using tactics from an outdated playbook. The occupation of Palestinian lands must be fought in political, public and legal arenas, where Israel is weak. The battlefield plays to its strengths.

The recent round of violence to make the headlines - distinct from the daily low-level violence experienced by Gazans and often ignored by the global media - began after rockets were fired into Israel by Hamas's Izz Aldin Al Qassam brigades; Israel responded with air strikes.

Hamas appeared to have broken a ceasefire that had held for a year. But firing rockets into Israel will not end the occupation. Instead, it provokes a violent response, which Israel justifies as self-defence. The stranglehold that Israel imposes on Gaza - blocking land and sea borders to starve people into submission - does require resistance, but violent resistance is counterproductive. As columnist Jonathan Cook writes today, Israel's settler extremists are conducting a terror campaign against Palestinians that is meant to harden opinions.

Israel has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to react to the slightest provocation, while demanding that Palestinians endure daily brutality. For Hamas, this is the dilemma of governing: as the authority in the Gaza Strip, the group is responsible for the welfare of the population, and cannot conduct half-cocked militant campaigns to score political points. If Hamas was playing politics, making itself relevant in regional calculations, it was doing so with Palestinian lives. A teenage boy, Momen Al Adam, was killed in an air raid on Wednesday, bringing the death toll in this round of violence to eight.

Hamas is wasting an opportunity in Gaza. The organisation has struggled to come to terms with running a government while being a "resistance" organisation. Coupled with gains made by other Islamist organisations in the region, its inability to make peace with Fatah is a glaring failure.

The occupation is being challenged in Israel's courts; the international movement to sanction Israel is growing in reach and support; and the rise of new, responsive governments in the Arab world means that public support for Palestine will filter into policy. Hamas is not part of any of this.

Hamas needs to adapt to the reality around it. The group's behaviour gives support to Israel's false narrative, while doing nothing to end the Gaza crisis or pressure Israel. If Hamas feels it has no partner with whom to make peace, it is wrong: the Israelis may not be willing to talk, but the Egyptians are and the world is listening.

-This was the Editorial of The National on 22/06/2012

What Russia Gave Syria

A guide to Bashar al-Assad's arsenal.


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has had no better friend than Vladimir Putin's Russia. Just this week, three Russian ships reportedly headed to reinforce the Syrian port of Tartus. Meanwhile, the head of Russia's arms control export company ominously declared that the Syrian regime had been supplied with an advanced-missile defense system -- "whoever is planning an attack should think about this," he said.

Amid these developments, the news that Barack Obama and Putin agreed at the G-20 summit this week to support a political solution to the Syria conflict would seem almost, well, laughable -- if the situation on the ground weren't so dire.

As the death toll rises -- the United Nations says more than 10,000 Syrians have lost their lives -- the United States and Russia remain on opposite sides of the conflict. The Obama administration has declared that Assad must step down, while the Kremlin has staunchly supported the Syrian regime -- vetoing two U.N. Security Council resolutions addressing the conflict and warning darkly about thousands of "foreign terrorists" fomenting violence in the country.

The New York Times reported on Thursday, June 21, that CIA agents are steering arms to the Syrian opposition, but this covert action pales in comparison to Russia -- which brazenly continues to supply the Syrian regime with advanced weapons that bolster the state and its violent crackdown.

The Syrian-Russian arms trade goes back more than a half-century, to at least the 1950s. At the time, the Soviet Union found a willing Cold War ally in its struggle against the United States and Israel -- when President Hafez al-Assad's regime was threatened by an Islamist-led insurgency in the 1980s, the Kremlin supplied the weaponry and trainers to put down the threat. From 1950 to 1990, the two countries' arms trade totaled at least $34 billion.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union did nothing to dent Russia's strategic alliance with Syria. Under Putin's stewardship, Russian weapons exports to the Assad regime have only increased. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Syria's arms imports increased five-fold between 2007 and 2012 -- and Moscow was the source of at least 78 percent of these weapons.

But what exactly have they supplied Assad's forces with?

We know that the Syrians have Russian bullets, shells, tanks, and attack helicopters. Numbers, of course, are hard to come by -- much of the counting relies not on an inspection of the arsenals or public records, but in glimpses of the weapons as they are used on the Syrian people. YouTube videos filmed by Syrian activists or defected soldiers have proven vital for this task.

Here's the best attempt, using reliable data, at a list of Russian weapons in Syria:

Attack helicopters: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently accused Moscow of shipping attack helicopters to Damascus; Russian officials shot back that they were merely returning helicopters that had been subject to previously scheduled repairs. The first reports of Syrian helicopters firing S-5 air-to-surface rockets emerged in February, and new videos suggest that the Syrian Army has recently employed such weapons in the northern Idlib and Aleppo governorates.

Mortars and shells: Much of the Syrian army's assault has been conducted through the shelling of urban areas, a strategy particularly liable to result in civilian casualties. The U.S. embassy in Damascus has released satellite images of Syrian artillery and tanks surrounding restive towns and cities in the country.

One of the weapons that has been used to devastating effect around the city of Homs is the Russian-made 240mm mortar, the world's heaviest mortar round. This behemoth can fire a shell containing 280 pounds of high explosives at a target over six miles away -- it was designed to destroy enemy fortifications, but can also devastate a civilian building in one shot. Here, a video still appears to show Syrian forces firing a 240mm mortar near the city of Homs.

Tanks: According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' 2011 Military Balance, the Syrian army possesses 4,950 main battle tanks, along with another 4,000 light tanks and armored personnel carriers. The Russian-made T-72 figures in heavily to this force, and Moscow continues to upgrade these tanks for Syria. Russia has already modernized 800 T-72s for the Syrian military under a recent contract, and another 200 tanks are on their way.

Above, a modernized T-72 patrols the streets of the Damascus suburb of Douma. It has been fitted with armor to protect it from rocket and missile attacks.

Landmines: Russian weaponry has also helped the Assad regime trap its citizens inside the country, while preventing weapons and aid from the outside from getting in. In an effort to control its porous border, Syrian forces have planted landmines along the frontier with Turkey -- and also reportedly inside Lebanon. These mines include Russian-made PMN-2 anti-personnel mines and TMN-46 anti-vehicle mines. In March, a former Syrian army mine expert detailed the removal of 300 PMN-2 mines from the Syrian-Turkish border.

Missiles: Syria has large numbers of Russian-made GRAD multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS), capable of simultaneously firing up to 40 122mm missiles at targets up to 20 miles away -- a devastating and inherently indiscriminate weapon.

Syria's neighbors also have plenty to worry about: Assad's military possesses a large arsenal of long-range missiles capable of being launched across its borders. A 2010 report described Syria's array of Scud missile systems -- including the Scud-D, which is capable of delivering a 1,500 pound warhead to a target over 900 miles away. Those in Assad's inner circle have also not been shy about broaching the possibility that they could broaden the conflict if the regime's demise appeared imminent. "If there is no stability here, there's no way there will be stability in Israel," Rami Makhlouf, a Syrian business tycoon and Assad's cousin, told the New York Times last year.

Chemical weapons: Perhaps most worryingly, Syria possesses vast stocks of chemical and biological weapons, and has the delivery mechanisms to use them if it wishes to do so. According to the CIA's annual reports to Congress, these weapons include everything from mustard gas to nerve agents such as sarin, and possibly VX gas.

Israeli officials have repeatedly expressed concern that these weapons could be turned on them by the Syrian military, or fall into the hands of terror organizations. The United States and Israel have reportedly planned to secure these chemical weapons stocks should the Assad regime collapse.

Troops: U.S. military officials have accused Russia of sending troops to protect its naval base in the Syrian city of Tartus, Moscow's only military outpost on the Mediterranean.

What the opposition has: Unlike the Libyan rebels, who gained access to vast stockpiles of weaponry when large parts of the Libyan army defected at the beginning of the protests, the Syrian armed opposition remains comparatively lightly armed. Their rag-tag armament has proved little match for the Syrian Army's advanced weaponry.

However, the Syrian rebels' expanding arsenal and guerrilla tactics are increasingly turning them into a deadly force. Even as overall violence declined in May, for example, more Syrian solders were killed in clashes with the armed opposition than in any previous month. On the morning of June 20, rebels reportedly killed at least 20 Syrian soldiers after storming a military barracks in the northwest of the country.

Putin and Obama may not agree on much when it comes to Syria, but they did agree this week about the necessity of preventing the country from descending into full-blown civil war. With their respective governments working at cross purposes, however, it remains a mystery how they expect to accomplish even that limited goal.

-This report was published first in Foreign Policy on 21/06/2012
-David Kenner is an associate editor at Foreign Policy

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Was The Arab Spring Worth It?

The people of the Middle East have paid a steep price to overthrow their dictators.


Last year's Arab revolutions captured the world's imagination as they toppled dictators from Tunis to Sanaa. But what they haven't yet done is make life measurably better for the people throwing off the tyrant's yoke.

The price of freedom may be incalculable, but it seems equally hard to tally up the very real costs of the so-called Arab Spring. How many have died or been displaced in these conflicts? How have they affected economies and standards of living? Have they made their societies more or less stable? A look at the numbers so far makes for grim accounting: In the four most violent uprisings, in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen -- all four of which slid backward on the Failed States Index for 2012, and likely will again next year -- as many as 50,000 people have died since the revolutions began. Some $20 billion of GDP evaporated last year in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen, in addition to more than $35 billion in public finances, according to International Monetary Fund data.

But each country will assess the revolutionary toll in its own way. In Libya, clearly the staggering death tally from the civil war dwarfs all other prices. For average Egyptians, growing political tensions and the cratering economy probably outweigh the violence between protesters and security forces. Yemen was well on its way to failed statehood and economic collapse before the Arab Spring, and virtually all indicators are distinctly, and in some cases alarmingly, negative, while the benefits of the protest movement have yet to manifest themselves in any concrete way. In Syria, there is only cost -- including thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of displacements, and an incipient economic meltdown. The benefits, if any, of the Syrian intifada will only be realized far in the future.

So, was it worth it?

Because most of these dramatic transformations are still playing themselves out, only soothsayers and knaves can give a confident answer. In spite of the ongoing violence and chaos in Libya, there appears to be very little nostalgia for Muammar al-Qaddafi. The same applies to Egypt, where the longing for Hosni Mubarak is still limited to remnants of the former regime. In those countries, where the costs have been very grave, most would say the uprisings were nonetheless worth it -- at least for now. The answer is far more complicated in Yemen, where the country's interlocking crises make it hard to untangle where the chaos began and how it will end.

It is in Syria that the biggest constituency for a "no" is probably to be found. Yet the protest movement, as well as the insurgency that arose to protect it, is not going away. The costs of unseating Bashar al-Assad will be exorbitant in blood and treasure, it is now abundantly clear. But the brutality of the crackdown is inexorably pushing ever larger numbers of Syrians to think that anybody but Assad is a better way to go.


2011 Failed States rank: 45 | 2012: 31

Deaths: According to government figures, at least 846 Egyptians died in the three-week uprising early last year. In subsequent months, at least another 150 have died in violent street clashes.

Economic costs: After growing 5 percent in 2010, Egypt's GDP grew less than 2 percent in 2011.


2011 rank: 111 | 2012: 50

Deaths: There is no independently verified account of the number of people killed in the Libyan civil war, but the new government claims at least 30,000 people died on both sides. Postwar clashes have killed dozens of others.

Refugees: According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 700,000 people, almost half of them expatriate workers, fled during the civil war, and few have returned.

Economic costs: In 2011, Libya lost as much as 60 percent of its GDP as the value of oil exports fell an estimated 40 percent. GDP is projected to grow at a 76 percent clip this year, with oil production returning to pre-war levels.


2011 rank: 13 | 2012: 8

Deaths: Yemen's government recently estimated that 2,000 people were killed in the uprising leading to Ali Abdullah Saleh's resignation. Amnesty International's estimate of 200 people killed during the protests is far smaller.

Economic costs: Before the crisis, the United Nations projected Yemen's economy would grow 3.4 percent in 2011, but instead it has "shrunk substantially," with inflation averaging about 20 percent. And it will get worse: The IMF expects Yemen's GDP to decrease another 0.5 percent in 2012.

Humanitarian crisis: Nearly half a million Yemenis have been displaced from their homes in recent years. Almost 1 million Yemeni children under age 5 face acute malnutrition, with 250,000 at risk of dying. An estimated 55 percent of Yemenis live below the poverty line on less than $2 per day, with 10 million "food insecure" and 5 million of those "severely food insecure." Youth unemployment is estimated to be more than 50 percent.


2011 rank: 48 | 2012: 23

Deaths: The most recent U.N. estimate of civilian deaths in the Syrian uprising, from late March, is more than 9,000. By now that number has likely exceeded 10,000. Opposition groups cite figures closer to 15,000.

Refugees: In May, the U.N. estimated that half a million Syrians had fled their homes during the fighting and that 73,000 had become refugees in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

Economic costs: Syria's currency is in free-fall, inflation is soaring, and exports collapsing. The consultancy Geopolicity estimates that the country had lost more than $6 billion in GDP as of October 2011.

-This article was published first in Foreign Policy magazine in its July/August issue
- Hussein Ibish is senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine

Succession Dilemma For Al Saud family

Abdullah confronted with appointment of crown prince for third time

By Joseph A. Kéchichian

                                      New Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz

Even before the Saudi Crown Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz was laid to rest in Makkah, leading Al Saud family members recognised they had a succession problem.

To remedy shortcomings associated with a handful of senior princes settling on a successor, King Abdallah Bin Abdul Aziz introduced a specific mechanism in 2007 by creating an Allegiance Commission whose writ was to oversee selections through a carefully laid out voting procedure.

Even if untested, the device was a novelty, and geared to avoid potential crises although few anticipated the death of two heirs over the course of a year.

How Riyadh planned to activate the Allegiance Commission to “elect” a new Crown Prince, and whether its 34 current members [a 35th seat was vacant] would quickly settle on Defence Minister Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, were largely theoretical questions.

More important than this immediate appointment was the pace of political reforms that confronted Saudi Arabia that, in the aftermath of various uprisings throughout the Arab World, highlighted the necessity for urgent actions.

Interestingly, and as recently as mid-2005, Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz called on Riyadh to “start with political reform, that is introducing a new basic stature (of government), or what is known in the West as a constitution.

”Prince Talal emphasised that the proposed constitution would be tantamount to “a social covenant between ruler and ruled, compatible with known constants in Saudi Arabia in terms of religion and genuine traditions.”

Five years earlier, this prominent Al Saud had cautioned that the family ought to “find a smooth way to pass the monarchy to the next generation, or face a power struggle after the era of old royals passes.”

Prince Talal, who once was the leader of the “Free Princes” movement — that called for democratic changes in the early 1960s — returned home after several years in exile to play a vital legitimiding role.

More recently, he saw the need to further modernize the kingdom, including giving women additional rights. In particular, he articulated the voices of those who wanted to carefully plan the passing of the torch to the next generation because, he clarified more than once, the dilemma that faced the Al Saud was with the grandsons. Thus, not only was it critical to ensure smooth successions, it was essential to prepare a new generation that would be called upon to assume responsibilities.

It was with such goals in mind that Prince Talal proposed to form a political party in Saudi Arabia in September 2007, a proposal that could not have been made without the monarch’s tacit approval. This was a calculated declaration by a trusted brother who had his pulse on the “state-of-the-family” and who sincerely believed that political reforms were in the best interests of the ruling establishment.

Although no political parties were authorised, the monarch recognised that genuine sociopolitical reforms were long overdue, and seemed to have worked in earnest with senior officials to address them. Still, the ultimate challenge for Riyadh was whether the Al Saud were able to keep up with the reformist ruler, since reorganizations by themselves were not enough.

Rather, as societies equipped themselves with the wherewithal to self-govern, and trained legal minds to look after their interests—both those of the general public as well as of each individual — it behooved the ruling establishment to correctly interpret their “will to power.”

King Abdullah’s ultimate challenge was to affirm his own resolve as well as acculturate putative successors to appreciate the limits of power. This was critical as he forged ahead with inclusive political institutions that added value to citizens at large — not easy propositions under the best of circumstances, but certainly within the realm of the possible in Riyadh — because of the monarch’s foresight and dedication.

Seven years into his rule, King Abdullah demonstrated a knack for significant changes, first with his 2007 Allegiance Law of Succession and, more recently, with the appointment of two crown princes. He was now confronted with yet a third such designation although chances were excellent that he would rely on the Allegiance Commission to share this immense burden.

Remarkably, the monarch was conscious that none of these steps ought to upset the 1744 alliance between the Al Saud and the Al Shaikh, which formed the cornerstone of the kingdom’s legitimacy, and which was seldom subjected to any cataclysmic tests.

Rather, the Saudi ruler intended to strengthen that critical alliance by interjecting fresh reforms, not to eliminate any party or group, but to open the doors for gradual transformations required by time.

These were clear signs of inherent skills to refine his “will to power,” which required serious attention to political reforms, and which were nearly impossible to postpone.

-This commentary was published first in The GULF NEWS on 19/06/2012

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Intervention Dilemma In Syria

One thing worse than a cruel dictator is a sectarian civil war

By Joseph S. Nye

The intervention dilemma in Syria

When should states intervene militarily to stop atrocities in other countries? The question is an old and well-travelled one. Indeed, it is now visiting Syria.

In 1904, US president Theodore Roosevelt argued that “there are occasional crimes committed on so vast a scale and of such peculiar horror” that one should intervene by force of arms. A century earlier, in 1821, as Europeans and Americans debated whether to intervene in Greece’s struggle for independence, president John Quincy Adams warned his fellow Americans about “going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

After a genocide that cost nearly 800,000 lives in Rwanda in 1994 and the slaughter of Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, many people vowed that such atrocities should never again be allowed to occur.

When Slobodan Milosevic engaged in large-scale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted a resolution recognising the humanitarian catastrophe, but could not agree on a second resolution to intervene, given the threat of a Russian veto. Instead, Nato countries bombed Serbia in an effort that many observers regarded as legitimate but not legal.

In the aftermath, the then-UN secretary-general Kofi Annan created an international commission to recommend ways that humanitarian intervention could be reconciled with Article 2.7 of the UN Charter, which upholds member states’ domestic jurisdiction.

The commission concluded that states have a responsibility to protect their citizens and should be helped to do so by peaceful means, but that if a state disregarded that responsibility by attacking its own citizens, the international community could consider armed intervention.

The idea of a “responsibility to protect” (R2P) was adopted unanimously at the UN’s World Summit in 2005, but subsequent events showed that not all member states interpreted the resolution the same way.

Russia has consistently argued that only Security Council resolutions, not General Assembly resolutions, are binding international law. Meanwhile, Russia has vetoed a Security Council resolution on Syria, and, somewhat ironically, Annan has been called back and enlisted in a so-far futile effort to stop the carnage there.

Until last year, many observers regarded R2P as at best a pious hope or a noble failure. But in 2011, as Muammar Gaddafi prepared to exterminate his opponents in Benghazi, the Security Council invoked R2P as the basis for a resolution authorising Nato to use armed force in Libya.

In the US, President Barack Obama was careful to wait for resolutions by the Arab League and the Security Council, thereby avoiding the costs to American soft power that George W. Bush’s administration suffered when it intervened in Iraq in 2003. But Russia, China and other countries felt that Nato exploited the resolution to engineer regime change, rather merely protecting citizens in Libya.

In fact, R2P is more about struggles over political legitimacy and soft power than it is about hard international law. Some Western lawyers argue that it entails the responsibility to combat genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes under the various conventions of international humanitarian law. But Russia, China and others are reluctant to provide a legal or political basis for actions such as what occurred in Libya.

There are other reasons why R2P has not been a success in the Syrian case. Drawn from traditional “just war” theory, R2P rests not only on right intentions, but also on the existence of a reasonable prospect of success.

Many observers highlight the important physical and military differences between Libya and Syria that will make Syrian no-fly zones or no-drive zones problematic. Some Syrians who oppose President Bashar Al Assad’s regime, pointing to Baghdad in 2005, argue that the one thing worse than a cruel dictator is a sectarian civil war.

Such factors are symptomatic of larger problems with humanitarian interventions. For starters, motives are often mixed (Roosevelt, after all, was referring to Cuba). Moreover, we live in a world of diverse cultures and we know very little about social engineering and how to build nations.

When we cannot be sure how to improve the world, prudence becomes an important virtue and hubristic visions can pose a grave danger. Foreign policy, like medicine, must be guided by the principle, “First, do no harm.”

Prudence does not mean that nothing can be done in Syria. Other governments can continue to try to convince Russia that its interests are better served by getting rid of the current regime than by permitting the continued radicalisation of his opponents. Tougher sanctions can continue to delegitimise the regime and Turkey might be persuaded to take stronger steps against its neighbour.

Moreover, prudence does not mean that humanitarian interventions will always fail. In some cases, even if motives are mixed, the prospects of success are reasonable and the misery of a population can be relieved at modest expense. Military interventions in Sierra Leone, Liberia, East Timor and Bosnia did not solve all problems, but they did improve the lives of the people there. Other interventions — for example, in Somalia — did not.

Recent large-scale interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, though not primarily humanitarian, have eroded public support for military action. But we should recall Mark Twain’s story about his cat. After sitting on a hot stove, it would never sit on a hot stove again, but neither would it sit on a cold one.

Interventions will continue to occur, though they are now more likely to be shorter, involve smaller-scale forces and rely on technologies that permit action at greater distance. In an age of cyber warfare and drones, the end of R2P or humanitarian intervention is hardly foretold.

-This commentary was published in GULF NEWS on 18/06/2012
-Joseph S. Nye is a professor at Harvard University and author of The Future of Power

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Egypt’s Military Issues Decree Giving Vast Powers To Armed Forces, But Few To President

By Ernesto Londoño and Leila Fadel from Cairo

 Egyptians go to polls: Egyptians on Saturday began voting in the presidential election runoff to replace deposed ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt’s military leaders issued a constitutional decree Sunday that gave the armed forces sweeping powers and degraded the presidency to a subservient role, as the Muslim Brotherhood declared that its candidate had won the country’s presidential runoff election.

The bold assertion of power by the ruling generals followed months in which they had promised to cede authority to a new civilian government by the end of June. Instead, activists and political analysts said, the generals’ move marked the start of a military dictatorship, a sharp reversal from the promise of Egypt’s popular revolt last year.

The declaration, published in the state gazette, had been expected, but its details indicate that the military has asserted far greater authority than observers had anticipated. Under the order, the president will have no control over the military’s budget or leadership and will not be authorized to declare war without the consent of the ruling generals.

The document said the military would soon name a group of Egyptians to draft a new constitution, which will be subject to a public referendum within three months. Once a new charter is in place, a parliamentary election will be held to replace the Islamist-dominated lower house that was dissolved Thursday after the country’s high court ruled that one-third of the chamber’s members had been elected unlawfully.

“With this document, Egypt has completely left the realm of the Arab Spring and entered the realm of military dictatorship,” said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent human rights activist. “This is worse than our worst fears.”

The declaration left little doubt that the generals have moved aggressively to preserve and expand their privileged status after a transitional period that revealed the significant appeal of Islamist politicians. It also indicates the military leadership’s concern about accountability if a system of civilian rule with checks and balances were to take root.

The Obama administration, with the president spending the day in Chicago and much of his national security staff in Mexico preparing for this week’s Group of 20 summit there, had no initial reaction to the new developments. But the decree appeared likely to compound the administration’s frustration over its waning influence in Egypt.

Less than 48 hours before the declaration was issued, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta telephoned Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt’s ruling military council, to underscore “the need to ensure a full and peaceful transition to democracy,” the Pentagon said.

Thursday’s dissolution of parliament also prompted Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee in charge of foreign aid, to warn the State Department against disbursing any of this year’s $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt.

Brotherhood decries order

The Egyptian military’s declaration was issued just 20 minutes after the polls closed Sunday night at 10. The campaign of Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s candidate, said a limited sample of preliminary vote counts from across the country indicated that the Islamist leader was ahead of rival Ahmed Shafiq, who was the last prime minister appointed by Hosni Mubarak and was widely considered the generals’ preferred candidate.

Preliminary results published in the state-run Ahram Online news site showed that, with nearly 3.5 million ballots counted, Morsi was ahead with almost 55 percent of the vote. About 50 million Egyptians were eligible to cast ballots. Final results are expected Thursday.

But after hailing the preliminary results, Brotherhood officials decried the military’s declaration, calling it a stunning power grab.

“This is ridiculous, and it confirms that we’re facing a new dictatorship,” Mourad Mohammed Aly, a spokesman for the Morsi campaign, said in a phone interview.

The move comes after the country’s top judges, who were appointed by Mubarak, issued a ruling that dissolved the lower house of parliament, where the Brotherhood held nearly half the seats after elections last year.

The constitutional declaration will be binding at least until a new charter is approved. But because the generals will appoint the body that will draft that document, they are expected to ensure that the new constitution leaves them with continued power and shields them from scrutiny and prosecution.

After Mubarak’s ouster from the presidency, the generals portrayed themselves as champions of the revolution. But revolutionaries have since accused the military leaders of mishandling the transition and working to preserve their own interests. Last fall, in the face of a revolt against military rule that led to a security crackdown, the generals agreed to speed up the transition to civilian rule by holding a presidential vote no later than the end of this month.

“This makes it impossible to speak of a transfer to civilian rule at the end of June,” Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, said Sunday night. “It was a soft coup to start with, but now it’s pretty blatant.”

Trading fraud allegations

Shafiq’s campaign issued a statement Sunday accusing the Brotherhood of “systemic” fraud, including ballot stuffing, voter bribing, voter intimidation and attacks near polling stations.

The Brotherhood’s violations, the statement said, prove that the Islamist group “does not believe in freedom of choice and democracy unless this democracy brings them to power.”

The statement said the Shafiq campaign filed more than 100 complaints of electoral violations with the presidential election commission. Aly, Morsi’s spokesman, rejected the charges, insisting instead that Shafiq’s camp had manipulated the vote.

Independent observers have not alleged large-scale fraud in the runoff vote, which was conducted Saturday and Sunday. But Sunday night’s allegations offered a taste of the contentiousness to come once a winner is declared.

The dissolution of parliament enraged Muslim Brotherhood leaders. The speaker of parliament, Mohamed Saad Katatny, issued a statement Sunday night after meeting with the generals that decried the appointment of a new panel to draft the charter.

Katatny reiterated that ­Brotherhood legislators intend to attend a scheduled session of parliament Tuesday, a move that could provoke a confrontation between the Islamist lawmakers and security forces.

Other prominent politicians called on Egyptians to resist the military’s actions. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood member who was a presidential candidate in the first round of voting, called the constitutional declaration a “full military coup” in a message on Twitter.

Mona El-Ghobashy, a political science professor at Barnard College, said the document puts the military beyond reproach. It is a role that the armed forces have taken for granted for decades because Egyptian leaders have hailed from the ranks of the military.

“The military stands over and above everyone else, elected by no one and unaccountable to anyone,” she said in an e-mailed statement.

-This report was published in The Washington Post on 17/06/2012
-Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington and special correspondent Ingy Hassieb in Cairo contributed to this report

After Ben-Ali's Conviction: The State Of Tunisian Justice

It has been a significant week – but Tunisia's justice system lacks independence and the principle of 'command responsibility'

By Clive Baldwin

Tunisian soldiers stand guard outside the national assembly
Tunisian soldiers stand guard outside the national assembly after president Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali fled the country in January 2011. Photograph: Zoubier Souissi/Reuters

A few years ago Zine el Abidine Ben Ali looked set to be president of Tunisia for life, having ruled since 1987. Instead, on Wednesday, a Tunisian military court sentenced him to prison for life, for complicity in the murder and attempted murder of demonstrators during the revolution that began the Arab spring.

In practice, this seems likely to mean exile for life in Saudi Arabia, the country the 75-year-old former ruler fled to with his family after the deaths of more than 100 protesters failed to stop the popular uprising.

The two trials that concluded on Wednesday were far from ideal, even if several of his most senior officials were convicted, and some acquitted. Ben Ali's absence from Tunisia meant his trial was conducted in absentia. So for him justice has still not been served, although all of his co-defendants were present.

If he did ever return to the country he should be entitled to a new hearing. There appears little chance of that at present, with the current Tunisian government making only the most desultory requests of the Saudis. The Tunisian prime minister has said the issue of Ben Ali's extradition is "minor".

The trial also took place in a military court, which automatically raises concerns about independence. Military justice should be limited to prosecuting military personnel for strictly military issues, and trials for killing civilians belong in ordinary courts.

Although significant reforms in military justice took place after the revolution, bringing in some civilian judges and allowing the victims of crimes to participate in trials as full parties, problems remain. A senior civilian judge told me in Tunis a few weeks ago: "The military judges now wear robes, but underneath they still have their uniforms and their ranks" – meaning that the judges are still subject to military hierarchy. The defence minister still appoints military judges.

Despite these problems, what is going on in Tunisia should be recognised as significant. It was not just Ben Ali who was convicted on Wednesday but several other senior figures, including his former minister of the interior Rafik Hadj Kacem. And although the lawyers for the victims and the defendants did appear to have well-founded complaints about their ability to access some of the evidence, in our monitoring of the hearings we found little evidence of serious violations of the right to a fair trial. Indeed the court acquitted others, including Ali Seriati, former head of the presidential guard, to the great disgust of many. But the prosecution had not presented evidence that Seriati or his forces were present during the relevant shootings, or that he gave orders to shoot demonstrators.

In fact the greatest problem in ensuring legal accountability of senior people is that Tunisian law does not recognise the principle of "command responsibility" – that those in positions of authority can be criminally responsible for serious crimes committed by their subordinates, when they knew or should have known about the crimes and failed to prevent them or punish those responsible. This is a basic principle of international criminal justice, and has shown itself again and again to be essential in holding to account the most senior officials – those who are rarely at the scene of a crime and do not give their orders in writing. Without this principle in Tunisian law the prosecution has had to try to show that the senior figures actually gave orders.

Tunisia has dropped from the headlines, often for good reasons, as it has not experienced the chaos of Libya or Egypt. Yet it remains at a critical stage, with its first elected assembly in the process of drawing up a new constitution. At the same time the status of justice, and basic rule of law remains a critical signal of whether it is progressing toward the country the demonstrators against Ben Ali wanted. Tunisia has the world's only minister for transitional justice, but there appears to be very slow progress on the basic issues that need to be addressed in reforming justice after a revolution.

Tunisia needs to make the justice system fully independent of the government – a system in which ministers do not interfere in prosecution decisions or trials. But Tunisia also needs to remove, and even prosecute, the judges who were clearly complicit in the abuses under Ben Ali. At present a "temporary" solution, of suspending the Ben Ali-era mechanisms of governing the justice system, has given the justice minister more power to appoint, discipline and assign judges than ever before. Such a temporary situation should not become permanent.

Justice in Tunisia remains in flux. You still have to step over barbed wire and walk past an army vehicle to get into the main civilian court. The trials of senior figures show a certain willingness to attempt to address, in court, the crimes committed by the most senior people. But the laws and justice system are still not up to the task of such prosecutions. It is now urgent for Tunisia to reform them to meet the international standards it has signed up to, not least to recognise command responsibility for serious crimes, and ensure the independence of the judges and prosecutors from politicians.

-This commentary was published first in The Guardian 0n 16/06/2012
-Clive Baldwin has been senior legal advisor at Human Rights Watch since 2007. He previously worked for the OSCE in Kosovo and Minority Rights Group International. He is the author of the 2006 report Minority Rights in Kosovo under International Rule