Category: Middle East (Page 1 of 2)

Trump applies the lessons of Iraq backwards

The false choice between “intervention” and “restraint”

A survey by the Charles Koch Institute and the Center for the National Interest is being touted as showing Americans want “restraint” in their foreign policy. According to the write up, 52 percent believe that U.S. foreign policy has made America less safe over the past 15 years, and twice as many want the U.S. to pull troops out of Europe compared to those who want to increase troop levels. (60 percent chose to keep troop levels the same or had no opinion.) Daniel DePetris a fellow at Defense Priorities, an organization that advocates for a “more prudent, restrained foreign policy that assesses the world as it exists,” writes this means “Americans want restraint.”

His view is supported by a growing trend towards anti-interventionist sentiment amongst Americans over the years, illustrated in Donald Trump’s campaign promises to renegotiate trade deals and demand changes to America’s defense treaty obligations with his allies, and playing down the threat of Russia—even to the point of denying that Russia hacked into the DNC’s and Hillary Clinton’s servers (while saying on the trail that Russia should hack Hillary’s server).

There’s one narrative about Barack Obama’s presidency that he intervened in too many countries—causing Libya to become destabilized, fueling war in Syria, and inflaming relations with Russia.

On the other hand, there’s another opposite narrative about Obama that Obama wasn’t interventionist enough. By staying out of Syria, ignoring ISIS until it was too late, and failing to see the threat of Russia (remember he would have more “flexibility” in dealing with Russia after his reelection, he told Dmitry Medvedev), he projected “weakness” and emboldened America’s enemies.

Donald Trump buys into both narratives. Even as Trump has put Article 5 defense of NATO allies into question, he has also called for “bombing the shit” out of ISIS in Syria and invading to steal Iraq and Syria’s oil. Barack Obama smartly didn’t send large numbers of ground troops to Syria or Iraq to get stuck in another quagmire. Trump has said about sending troops, “We really have no choice. … I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000 to 30,000.”

The lesson in Iraq should be that wars in unstable Middle Eastern countries are rarely quick and easy. Trump has apparently not learned that lesson. Instead, he appears to buy into into the argument that Obama was “weak” for either not overthrowing Assad or not taking on ISIS with a ground war.

A related lesson should be to not overreact to terrorist attacks. For all the attention to ISIS, there have been no attacks directed by ISIS in the United States and only five attacks inspired by ISIS between October 2015 and July 2016, resulting in 53 of the more than 16,000 murder that occur in the country every year. The amount of Americans who would be killed directly in battle and indirectly as a result of massive American war in Syria could easily exceed the number killed by terrorism each year by many factors.

On the other hand, Trump takes the critique of Iraq and applies a broad “anti-interventionist” messages to parts of the world that are comparatively safe—namely Europe and Northeast Asia. Because Russia isn’t invading Poland, we should pull back from NATO. But America’s commitment to NATO hasn’t cost the U.S. anywhere near as much as its previous attempts to bomb the shit out of the Middle East and destroy terrorism have. NATO expansion, I have argued, unnecessarily lead to Russia feeling antagonized, and NATO countries could contribute more, but that implies reforms, not scraping the project. Trump’s plan amounts to pulling down your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.

The American public is fickle and poll questions are not made for capturing nuance. Politicians will use any kind of argument they can think of to hit the other party; hence Republican House Majority Leader Paul Ryan praising Obama’s Russia sanctions while slamming him for doing too little, too late—while ignoring that his party’s leader wants even less to be done. The solution, then, isn’t a false choice between “intervention” and “restraint” but a smarter foreign policy. Trump, as it stands, espouses the wrong answers for both sides of the equation.

The madness of calling for a No Fly Zone in Syria

The Labour MPs in Britain and assorted bleeding heart Twitter liberals called again for a No Fly Zone in Syria. One might have wondered that this insanity is over, but no…like a Phoenix it comes up every time there’s a bombing raid in Aleppo.

Unfortunately, Labour’s plan had zero specifics on how the NFZ would be achieved. Nothing on how to do it. Nothing about security dilemma or escalatory spiral. Nothing on why should we do it anyway, other than to “save Syrians”. Or what British interest would it achieve. Nothing about if a Western plane gets shot down, should we counter escalate, or climb down.

Here’s a simple war gaming simulation for all the Twitter bleeding hearts. Let’s go on to impose a NFZ in Syria. We try and knock out C4ISR. The Syrians delegate their anti-air ops to the Rus. The Russians come with fighter escorts, or worse, the Russians shoot down a Western jet. The Russians then say it was rebels or ISIS that shot it down. Should the West escalate? Climb down? If they climb down, what about perception and resolve? What if there is asymmetric escalation? Proxies attacking Western interests in other places? What about mission creep? If you haven’t done these aforementioned threat assessments and are calling for NFZ or intervention, you’re insane. Leave it to the pros. If you still want to take risk of escalation with Russia over Syria where there’s no long term geo-strategic interest, you’re an idiot. 

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How Bush and Obama let ideology mislead their foreign policies

In my latest column for The Federalist I argue that Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama both followed their ideologies and idealism too closely on Iraq. The result is the current mess we have in Iraq and Syria.

To quote some of the important passages:

Yet a war can just as easily lead to mass American deaths. In fact, in the years since 9/11, 30 times more Americans died fighting in Iraq than died from terrorist attacks. Those mistakes have been well-reported over the years, and the Chilicot Report adds some details but not too much groundbreaking information. In short, the United States and United Kingdom didn’t do enough preparation and were overconfident about their ability to spread democracy to a country with no experience of such. It was a classic example of idealism overpowering cold analysis of facts.

Bush thought spreading democracy would mean more freedom, and that freedom and democracy would create open societies and discourage radicalism. We Americans value our political freedoms. Seeing people around the world suffer under tyranny is disheartening indeed, and it would be wonderful if all people could live in freedom.

But events in recent years in places like Egypt, with its election of the Muslim Brotherhood; Libya, which collapsed into chaos; Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez won multiple semi-democratic elections; Thailand, which suffers from coups and populism; and others show that democracy doesn’t always work everywhere.

Bush didn’t spend enough time considering whether there was a reason Iraq didn’t have democracy and hadn’t had democracy before. Wishing for something is one thing, but one’s wishes and ideals shouldn’t invade the life-and-death decisions of the commander in chief.

Obama was so wed to the idea of “peace,” he didn’t think of how to win peace. … Since then Obama has begun campaigns of air strikes in Iraq and Syria and sent more troops. There are now 5,000 service members on the ground in Iraq, and generals want more. Meanwhile, Obama has slowed the ongoing withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The result is neither peace nor an end to American involvement.

Read the whole thing here: It’s Time To End Ideology-Based Foreign Policy

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Weekly Reading List: So, I got published in War on the Rocks and Nottspolitics

Big week, as I mentioned before, with a couple of major publications coming, other than my regular columns.

To start with, the biggest one till date, my essay on War on the Rocks, where I write a Neo-Realist critique of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s latest revisionist history lesson. And was then called a Neo-Con for some reason, in the comments. But that’s another issue.

The second big one was my guest post at the official blog of the University of Nottingham, Dept of Politics and IR, where I talk about a foreign policy course for Philippines and how it should balance between China and US.

Other than that, here are my weekly columns.

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Weekly Reading List: All about foreign policy Realism.

Hi everyone, been long we had a Weekly Reading List! Not weekly anymore, unfortunately, as I am busy with my work and research, but as Easter break is approaching, and I will be immersed full time in my PhD thesis, here’re a few articles which I want to leave you guys with, which I wrote in the last one month.

JIR2016_1First, the big one.

My research paper got published, titled “Was Putin Ever Friendly to the West?”: An Expository Study of the First Two Terms of President Vladimir Putin, In Light of the Theories of Realism. (Journal of International Relations, Faculty of International Relations, University of Economics in Bratislava 2016, Volume XIV, Issue 1, Pages 58-92. ISSN 1336-1562 (print), ISSN 1339-2751 (online) Published 15. 3. 2016)

You can download the full paper here.

Aurangzeb_in_old_age_2Secondly, most of you would remember I wrote a comparative piece on how modern Russia is like seventeenth century India under the Mughals? I went a bit further and compared Putin and the medieval Indian emperor Aurangzeb. (Which, incidentally got a nice review here!)

I wrote two articles on Russia-Direct, the first one on how unlikely it is for Russia to actually invade the Baltics, and the second one on the fact that Russia and US is not in any New Cold war, but just a usual Great power rivalry with competition and cooperation happening simultaneously.

I also wrote one long essay for The Interpreter Magazine, on how contrary to popular belief, Obama is not a Realist…infact he doesn’t seem to understand what Realism in foreign policy means.

With regards to my weekly columns, here are they. 

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Trump’s fake anti-war position slips

Trump calls for boots on the ground in Syria

One of the weird things about the Republican primary up until now is how “anti-interventionists” and “anti-war”-ists have praised or even supported “the most militaristic person” (Trump’s own self-definition), Donald Trump.

For Anti-Interventionists, Trump vs. Sanders Is Ideal Race,” isolationist Pat Buchanan wrote in an article published at white nationalist website VDare.com. WarInContext.org described Trump as an “anti-interventionist” in a headline.

Trump has created that image by saying things like “We can’t continue to be the policemen of the world,” and, “Let Syria and ISIS fight. Why do we care?” But later he said the U.S. should “bomb the shit out of ISIS” and steal Iraq’s oil.

Now at the most recent debate, he called not only for bombing ISIS but also invading with ground troops. He said, “I’m hearing numbers of 20 to 30,000. We have to knock them out fast,” and then added some gibberish about, “We’re not allowed to fight. We can’t fight. … They didn’t want to knock out the oil because of what it’s going to do to the carbon footprint. … We used to fight to win. Now we fight for no reason whatsoever.”

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Turkey-Erdogan-Gulen- from Google.

Analysis: “Freedom of Press”, Turkey and the real story of Zaman takeover

The crescendo of the Conflict: Guest post by Akif Avcı. (Akif is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Nottingham)


 

The motivation behind typing this article is to resist against the mainstream media in the issue of the takeover of media group Feza Journalism by the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, Justice and Development Party) government. Two days ago, a decision has been made by a Turkish court to takeover the Feza Journalism, which owns Turkey’s largest-circulation newspaper and one of the most famous private news agency affiliated with Gulen Movement. Many people gathered in front the Zaman building to protest this seizure. Police forces have attacked the protestors with water-cannons and tear gasses. Many of the journalists, intellectuals, and political party leaders in Turkey have approached the takeover of the Feza media group as a threat to the freedom of press, and declared their solidarity with Gulenist Media.

Supposing this as a threat to the freedom of speech in Turkey-as most of the mainstream media has done so far- is nothing more than masking the truths behind the scene. Rather, this takeover, from my perspective, is the latest attempt of the AKP government in the sense of overcoming its enemy in the ongoing battle between the Gulen Movement and the AKP government, which has become crystallised after the so-called corruption probe started in 17-25 December of 2013. I would like to highlight the fact that there is this agenda needs to be focused on in order to unearth why the AKP has attacked the Gulenist media. This article argues that the takeover is the reflection of intra-capital, intra-state conflict between the AKP government and the Gulen Movement. The task of this article is to uncover the history and unpack what the AKP-Gulen coalition fuelled the neoliberal authoritarian regime. 

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“New Cold War” and policies to confront Russia

Joint editorial by Mitchell Blatt and Sumantra Maitra, editors of Bombs and Dollars


 

For those who make a career out of observing and analyzing international relations, the Munich security conference is a surreal experience. A lot changed since the passive aggressive rupture in 2007 by Vladimir Putin, in front of a stunned and a little dismissive European audience, and the world has come a long way since then. Russia pummeled Georgia, annexed Crimea, divided Ukraine, and intervened in Syria. Europe faces a migration crisis unlike ever before in history, of an exceptional magnitude and character. Migration and jihadism are used as weapons of blackmail not just by an adversarial Russia but a supposed ally in Turkey, and partners in East Europe. The liberal world order has crashed, and history has returned with a vengeance. Not everything has changed, of course… Stop the War, Code Pink and Global Research Canada still blames Western imperialism. Ed Snowden and Glenn Greenwald still think intelligence-gathering and espionage in times of war are totally outdated and provocative policies, a view shared (rhetorically, at least) by Ted Cruz, for some reason. Donald Trump proudly touts his support from Putin and pledges to buddy up to him in return, while Trump’s supporters comment on Facebook that at least they think an autocratic tyrant who is behind the deaths of dissidents is better than President Obama. Trump defended him, on the grounds that, “the U.S. kills people, too,” and “there’s no evidence” he has killed a journalist, but it doesn’t matter, because even if he did start shooting people on Fifth Avenue, they would still support him. Mitt Romney was mocked in 2012 for stating that Russia was America’s“biggest enemy.” Obama painted him as an out-of-touch old hawk who didn’t know the Cold War ended decades ago. Just this February, Russian PM Dimitry Medvedevsaid, “We are in a new Cold War.” 291150701-e1409886026827

So are we or are we not in a new cold war? And if we are, how big is Putin’s Russia a threat to the West, and how to deal with it?

Well…the question itself is complicated, and the key is in the wording. While news outlets that printed Medvedev’s quote used capital letters for “Cold War,” as if it were a proper noun, it is indisputable that we are in a cold war—not like the one between America and Russia, but a geo-political battle of a different scale. No matter how much German foreign minister tries to Germansplain Medvedev’s remarks, there is no questioning that is true. Russia is a shadow of the former Soviet self and simply lacks the capability for global political, military, economic and ideological confrontation. However, that doesn’t make it any less important, because unlike last time, the West is not united. Many in Western Europe and the U.S. and Canada are complacent and accommodating this time around. But for the Baltic countries and Ukraine, they are in big trouble, and they know it.

To deal with this new development, we need to understand and more importantly accept that we’re in a geo-political conflict. Here’s how. 

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Get back to work

Few blog posts for your holiday weekend reading!

Well, I apologise for not being regular, hectic week. But here’re a few publications by me. It’s that time of the year. When we celebrate the birth of our Lord of Scientific Reasoning, Sir Isaac Newton. 12436640_10203967247220283_1423912340_o

On the ongoing battle of Ramadi. Just remember, this Christmas, there are men and women fighting and dying so that others can live for free.

On what IR theory tells us about what’s happening in South China Sea. (Psstt…it’s called Buckpassing)

On why Turkey and Saudi Arabia are a major threat to Western credibility when it comes to Human Rights.

On the top four takeaways from Putin’s annual Presser. Where he answered some “tough” questions by Russian journalists on about what perfumes he like and how men look up to him on villages. It was surreal to watch, like anything on Russia.

And finally, what according to me, are the top geo-political changes of 2015 and the top challenges of 2016.

That’s pretty much it from me to end this year…Merry Christmas from all of us! Have a wonderful time, with your loved ones! God Bless.

 

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Takeaways from Marco Rubio’s foreign policy speech to Republican Jewish Coalition

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition has been energizing conservatives and was shared frequently on Twitter. In it, the Senator from Florida and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee outlined a hawkish position to bolster what he feels is a waning American influence in the world and support Israel against the boycott campaign. Here are some key takeaways from his speech (which can be viewed in full at his website):

Rubio opposed international campaigns to pressure Israel over its West Bank settlements.

He called the European Union’s product labeling rule, which requires products produced in the West Bank to be labeled as “made in settlements” anti-Semitic.

“The rule applies to no other country – not to Russia, which invaded Georgia and Ukraine, nor China, which occupies Tibet. The EU is singling out only Israel,” Rubio said.

“Discriminatory laws that apply only to Jews are now being written into European law for the first time in more than half a century. I believe we need a president who is not afraid to call this out for what it is: anti-Semitism,” he continued.

He also promised to “defund UN entities that attack Israel or promote anti-Semitism.”

The US did, under President Obama, cut off funding to UNESCO after UNESCO voted to admit Palestine. That was in accordance with laws passed in 1990 and 1994. As such, the US lost its voting rights within UNESCO.

Rubio also promised to oppose the domestic “BDS” (“boycott, divest, and sanction”) campaign within the US.

Rubio would not follow the nuclear deal with Iran.

Rubio reaffirmed his past promises to abandon the nuclear deal the Obama administration and five other nations negotiated with Iran that attempts to stop or limit its nuclear development.

“Let me be loud and clear about how I will begin: I will immediately shred this president’s disastrous deal with Iran. … And those who are now rushing to do business with Iran need to know that upon taking office, I will re-impose the sanctions that President Obama plans to waive over congressional objection,” he said.

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