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Israel and Palestine

No Change in the Offing on Palestinian Position on the Right of Return

November 5th 2012

UNRWA Refugee Camp

Claims that Palestinian Authority chairman  has apparently relinquished the right of return are baseless in light of the clarifications provided by Abbas himself, in which he called the return a “sacred right” and affirmed his full commitment to the basic Palestinian positions. The interview by Abbas to Israel’s Channel 2 TV, broadcast on Nov. 2, 2012, stirred up a large-scale political storm both in Israel and the Palestinian arena with Abbas’ statements interpreted as a relinquishment of the right of return.

Abbas said in the interview that, as a native of the Israeli town of Safed, he desires to visit the town but not to live there. He further remarked that “for me, Palestine is the ’67 borders with East Jerusalem; I am a refugee, I live in Ramallah, the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, all the rest is Israel.”

The Israeli political leadership was in no hurry to lend credence to Abbas’ supposed readiness to give up the Palestinian demand for a return. Hamas, for its part, accused him of a treasonous violation of basic principles, with senior figures in the movement claiming he had in effect relinquished the right of return. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama and Romney Nearly Matched in Battleground States

November 5th 2012

Obama and Romney road show

The long, hard-fought campaign to be president of the United States for the next four years finally comes to an end with the two viable candidates visiting several states on November 5 for one last attempt to break what polls indicate is a nearly deadlocked race.

Only a handful of the country's 50 states are considered to be virtually tied, led by Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin, along with Virginia, Colorado and Iowa. The small state of New Hampshire joins those six as states where neither candidate is considered to have a clear lead ahead of the Tuesday Niovember 6 election. On November 5, incumbent President Barack Obama returns to Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio to hold political events, before heading to his hometown of Chicago, Illinois where he will be on election night. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Former Gov. Barbour Says Hurricane Sandy Broke Romney’s Momentum

November 4th 2012

Mitt Romney

Former Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) said Sunday that Hurricane Sandy stopped Mitt Romney’s momentum in the presidential race after the candidates temporarily left the trail and the media focused on the superstorm. “The hurricane is what broke Romney's momentum,” Barbour said on CNN’s “State of the Union.

“I don't think there's any question about it,” he added. “Any day that the news media is not talking about jobs and the economy, taxes and spending, deficit and debt, 'ObamaCare' and energy, is a good day for Barack Obama.” Other Republican lawmakers and pundits were less forceful in their assessments of Sandy’s impact on the presidential race, but several said it likely would have some impact.

President Obama has received a favorable reception from the public for his response to Sandy. Obama also received high praise from Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), a prominent Romney surrogate, for his handling of the storm, and the two toured the New Jersey coastline together on Wednesday. Former George W. Bush strategist Matthew Dowd said on ABC’s “This Week” that Christie’s embrace of Obama may have done more for the president than his response to the hurricane itself. Read more ..


Inside Israel

The Israeli R&D Model--Why it Works

November 4th 2012

Israel Airport

The innovations that will drive a knowledge-based economy and employ the next generation of high-skilled workers require a national commitment to research and development, and no nation has made this a higher priority than Israel. The country of 8 million invests more money in R&D per GDP than any other. And while the United States still leads the world in total R&D spending, it ranks ninth when economies are weighted.

Israel has received no shortage of praise for its innovative culture in recent years, a success perhaps best articulated by former CFR fellow Daniel Senor in his book Start-Up Nation. In addition to the highest R&D to GDP, Israel also boasts the most start-up companies per capita, and the most scientists and technicians per capita, according to government figures. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Abbas Backtracks on 'Right of Return' Statements--Tells Al-Hayyat He Was Expressing Personal View

November 4th 2012

Mahmoud Abbas at parliament

Just two days after suggesting that he might give up on the so-called "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas backtracked Saturday, telling Al-Hayyat that he was only expressing his personal views.

As Ha'aretz reports: "What I said about Safed is my personal stance. It means nothing about giving up the right of return," he said. "No one would give up their right of return. But all those international formulas, especially that of 194, speak of a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee issue, and 'agreed-upon' means on the part of Israel."

On Thursday, Abbas told Israel's Channel 2 that he envisioned two states for two peoples. "Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders," he said, "with East Jerusalem as its capital." He insisted that he has no territorial demands on Israel beyond this, and that he believes the "West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts are Israel." Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iran Sanctions Biting But Nuclear Program Progressing

November 4th 2012

Iranian Rial Close-Up

With the sanctions on Iran tightening in recent months, its leadership including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the heads of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been trying to project a business-as-usual atmosphere and underscore that the Iranian people are capable of coping with the “ineffective sanctions” as they have been doing successfully for more than thirty years of the revolution, during which they have stood firm against “the hostility of the United States and the West.” They reiterate that Iran’s nuclear program is only an excuse for imposing the sanctions, whereas the real reason is the West’s desire to contain Iran’s growing influence on the rapidly changing regional reality, especially in light of the Islamic Awakening (as Iran calls the Arab Spring), and to try and sway the results of Iran’s June 2013 elections.

In actuality, the harsher the sanctions – particularly their dramatic effect on Iran’s revenues from crude-oil exports, which are a crucial part of the revenues on which Iran’s national budget depends – the greater their impact on Iran’s economy and society. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria and the Next U.S. Administration

November 3rd 2012

Anti Assad insurgents

During a trip to Lebanon earlier this month, outspoken Druze leader Walid Jumblatt complained bitterly to me about the absence of a serious US policy that would end the senseless killing and destruction in Syria. Jumblatt was right. The Obama Administration's Syria policy since the beginning of the uprising has demonstrated a real lack of leadership and sense of urgency.

Even before the popular revolt, the Administration's policy of trying to diplomatically engage with the clearly irredeemable dictator was misguided. But over the last nineteen months, this early Administration misstep was compounded -- first by opposing the militarization of the intifada, then by focusing efforts on the hapless Syrian National Council, and later by outsourcing the lead on Syrian policy to the Turks, the French, and finally the United Nations. Read more ..


Israel and Gaza

Powder Keg in Gaza

November 2nd 2012

Hamas protester

The violent blows exchanged between Israel and armed Islamist groups in Gaza over the past few weeks mark a dangerous shift. The pattern of occasional clashes established after Israel's 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead has given way to protracted fire with very short lulls. Although neither Israel nor Hamas wants the situation to escalate into a major confrontation, things could ultimately get out of hand as jihadist groups step up their violent activities.

The primary engine behind this deterioration is the growth of armed jihadist groups in Gaza over the past few years. These groups, many consisting of former Hamas members, are ideologically and sometimes organizationally affiliated with al-Qaeda and do not feel bound by Hamas ceasefire rules regarding Israel. Rather, they closely cooperate with Sinai jihadists to plan and carry out terrorist attacks against Israel.

The main jihadist groups currently operating in Gaza are Jaish al-Islam, Jund Ansar Allah, al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, and Ansar al-Sunna; the latter two are also part of an umbrella framework called the "Shura Council of Jihad Fighters in Greater Jerusalem." Jaish al-Islam, led by Mumtaz Dughmush, participated in the 2006 abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, among other incidents. Read more ..


Colombia on Edge

Decades of Bloodshed on the Line as Colombia Opens Peace Talks with FARC Once Again

November 2nd 2012

FARC Terrorists
FARC Terrorist Army

The latest peace talks between the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (People’s Army, FARC-EP), a guerrilla movement, have been the center of attention in the Latin American media for weeks. Given the length of the conflict, Colombian nationals and the international observers in the region are anxious to approach and resolve some of the central issues that have perpetuated the violence plaguing the country. The General Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Lasting Peace, a six-page document issued by the Colombian government and FARC, contains basic rules and the topics that are scheduled to be discussed among the involved parties. According to this document, the matters that are subject to be examined are agrarian development policy, political participation, drug trafficking, the status of victims, and the end of the conflict itself. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Where Obama and Romney Stand on Key Foreign Policy Issues

November 2nd 2012

Obama-Romney

Here's a look at where President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney stand on key foreign policy issues:

Defense spending
President Obama, as a result of a 2011 deficit reduction agreement, could face an automatic federal budget cut of more than $100 billion at the end of the year if there is no compromise agreement with Republicans. The plan, known as sequestration, slows the rate of U.S. defense spending. During the foreign policy presidential debate, Obama said his military budget proposal would not be "reducing" spending but "maintaining" it. He accused Romney of proposing military spending that had not been sought by military leaders.

Romney wants to reverse what he calls "Obama-era defense cuts." The former Massachusetts governor said his goal would be to set core defense spending, which includes funds for military personnel operations, procurement and research and development, at a minimum of 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. During an October presidential debate, Romney defended his plans to build a larger military by cutting spending on government programs, including the president's health care plan which critics call "Obamacare." Read more ..


Gaza on Edge

The Meaning of the Emir's Gaza Visit

November 1st 2012

Emir Qatar Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani & Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh

The emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, last week became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control over the area in 2007. While al-Thani used the visit to promise $400 million in aid to Gaza for various building projects, the emir's trip was as much for his and Hamas's political gains as it was humanitarian causes.

For Qatar, which has long tried to play an influential role in issues pertaining to Palestinians and the wider region as a whole, embracing Hamas is seemingly part of a larger plan to undercut Shi'ite Iran's influence in the region in light of the changes caused by the Arab uprisings. From arming the rebels in Libya to possibly now doing the same for those in Syria, to showing an increased focus on Hamas, Qatar is working to strengthen parties and relations not in Iran's interest. Specifically, if Tehran loses Hamas, it loses its strategically placed ally sitting on the border with both Israel and Egypt. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Is Israeli Defense Minister Taking Softer Stand On Iran?

November 1st 2012

Ehud Barak

In a world that's used to hearing strong rhetoric from Israel regarding Iran's nuclear program, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's interviews this week with British media seemed discordant.

Speaking to Britain's "The Daily Telegraph," Barak said that Iran had used up to one-third of its enriched uranium to make fuel rods for a medical research reactor. And that by doing so, it had delayed "the moment of truth" when Iran will be able to develop nuclear weapons "by eight to 10 months."

Barak could only speculate on Tehran's motives for the move, saying that possibly the ruling ayatollahs wanted to reduce tensions over the issue until after the November 6 presidential election in the United States. Or perhaps, he said, Tehran was attempting to convince the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it's cooperating with demands regarding the program. Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes and points out that it -- unlike Israel -- has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iranian Money Laundering Network Running Through Vienna

November 1st 2012

Dollar to Rial Exchange

According to reports in the Austrian news magazine "Profil" and the British "Telegraph", the Iranian regime uses Austrian banks to launder money in order to circumvent the sanctions and to provide technology for its nuclear program. A representative of the Iranian Center for Innovation and Technology Cooperation (CITC) has been in Vienna as recently as September. CITC is closely related to the office of President Ahmadinejad and has been sanctioned by the US due to its direct involvement in Iran's nuclear and missile program.

STOP THE BOMB, a European coalition which works towards the enactment of economic and political sanctions against the Iranian Islamist regime, has criticized the lack of action by the Austrian authorities: "Apparently, the authorities knew about the years of excessive traveling of a representative of the CITC, without taking an interest," says Simone Dinah Hartmann, STB's spokesperson. "We demand that this case and the general involvement of Austrian banks be fully investigated and conclusions be drawn. The latest reports prove that only a solid EU travel ban for all representatives of the Iranian regime can prevent Iran from continuing to procure critical components for its nuclear program and laundering money in Europe", Hartmann added. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Federal Reserve Bank and Interest Rates Biased toward the GOP?

November 1st 2012

Federal Reserve

With the elections less than a week away, it's worth considering that the party of the president influences the policy behavior of the Federal Reserve Bank, according to a new University of Michigan study.

The Federal Reserve Bank increases interest rates before the presidential elections when Democrats are in office, but lowers the rates when Republicans control the White House. The independent bank finds it easier to accomplish its policy goals when Republicans control the White House than when Democrats do, the researchers say.

"The behavior we have observed is consistent with the possibility that the Fed seeks to aid the election and re-election of Republican presidents," said U-M political scientist William Clark, lead author of the study appearing in an upcoming issue of Economics & Politics. Clark and U-M doctoral student Vincent Arel-Bundock examined the Federal Funds Rates from 1951 to 2008—a period in which a Republican has occupied the White House nearly two-thirds of the time. Read more ..


Islam On Edge

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Plan Belligerent Pan-Islamic Super-State

October 31st 2012

Qaradaqi in Cairo

Recent comments by the head of the Muslim Brotherhood [MB], the winner of the recent elections in Egypt, and others, provide yet another jolting reminder of the ruling party's plans for the Middle East.

With the presidency under its control, members of the MB apparently believe they must oversee a comprehensive process of Islamization of the Egyptian state and society, before they can turn their sights on their final goal, the creation of a pan-Islamic super-state that will encompass the region, and then wage war on Israel.

In an October 19 Egyptian Channel One television broadcast, made available by the invaluable MEMRI, Egypt's President can be seen deep in prayer. The prayer session included a sermon by Futouh Abd Al-Nabi Mansour, a cleric in charge of religious endowment in the Matrouh governorate of northwest Egypt. Mansour called out to the worshipers: "O Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters." [Note: The call takes on anti-Semitic tones rather than hiding behind the usual code word of "Zionists." – the Editor]. The call to destroy the Jews did not disturb Morsi's prayers. (See "Egyptian President Morsi Joins Preacher in Prayer for Dispersal of the Jews," Middle East Media Research Institute, Video Clip No. 3614, October 19, 2012) Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

A Historical Perspective on the Current Presidential Race

October 30th 2012

romney buttons

The U.S. presidential election will be held a week from today, and if the polls are correct, the outcome will be extraordinarily close. Many say that the country has never been as deeply divided. In discussing the debates last week, I noted how this year's campaign is far from the most bitter and vitriolic. It might therefore be useful also to consider that while the electorate at the moment appears evenly and deeply divided, unlike what many say, that does not reveal deep divisions in our society -- unless our society has always been deeply divided.

Since 1820, the last year an uncontested election was held, most presidential elections have been extremely close. Lyndon B. Johnson received the largest percentage of votes any president has ever had in 1964, taking 61.5 percent of the vote. Three other presidents broke the 60 percent mark: Warren G. Harding in 1920, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 and Richard Nixon in 1972. Read more ..


Jordan on Edge

Is Jordan's Next Leader from the Muslim Brotherhood with the Assistance of Washington?

October 29th 2012

Muslim Brotherhood Jordan

It might be helpful now to start wondering what sort of ideas Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, and its leader, Controller General Sheikh Hamam Sai'd, will advance if they seize power in Jordan -- possibly with the blessing and encouragement of the United States.

Sheikh Sai'd, of Palestinian origin, was elected to the leadership if Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood in 2008 by its hardline faction. They support a partnership with Hamas and the overthrow of Middle Eastern leaders who side with the United States. The prominent Jordanian journalist, Osama Al-Rantisi, published an article on July 14, 2011, in the Jordanian daily newspaper, Al-ghad, in which he alleged that Sai'd had held a meeting in Turkey with "recently-retired officers from the CIA and the internal counter-intelligence and security agency, the MI5." Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

The Size of the Navy Matters

October 29th 2012

Nimitz

As he showed in the final presidential debate, President Obama's understanding of the U.S. Navy—or for that matter, any navy—is suboptimal. His explanation about Navy carriers "where planes land on them," and "ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines," left out the largest single group of naval combatants: surface ships. The omission is important because of surface ships' ability to defend against ballistic missiles and their pivotal role in protecting carriers and submarines. Surface ships also carry the weight of visiting foreign ports, showing the flag, and establishing and maintaining cooperative relationships with other navies around the world. These tasks have in common the goal of reassuring allies, making new friends, and ultimately preserving an international order favorable to the self-governance and classically liberal principles for which the U.S. stands. The same tasks are all conducted during peace and deliberately aimed at preserving it. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

That Strange New York Times Report About Secret U.S. – Iran Talks

October 29th 2012

Iran-US Hatred

In one of the strangest articles on the relations between the U.S. and Iran, the New York Times reported on October 20 that Washington and Tehran had reached an agreement to hold one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The sources that provided the story, according to the newspaper, were “Obama administration officials.” They added that Iran only insisted that the proposed negotiations be held after the U.S. elections.

Yet in the sixth paragraph of the very same article in which Obama administration officials disclose the U.S.-Iranian agreement, the White House issued a firm denial that any final agreement had been reached. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor released a statement saying: “It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections.” Read more ..


The Edge of Crime

Sanctions on MS-13: Not Enough but a Good First Step

October 28th 2012

MS-13 Tat

President Obama and Governor Romney may have been arguing over the strength of sanctions on Iran, but there is another set of sanctions that the Obama administration has enacted on a global threat which would likely win Romney’s approval: sanctions against international criminal groups.

In July 2011, the White House issued an executive order sanctioning four transnational organized crime groups: the Brothers’ Circle (a Eurasian group spanning the former Soviet Union, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America); the Camorra (an Italian criminal group that operates international counterfeiting rings); the Yakuza (a Japanese criminal group with affiliates in Asia, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere that claims as many as eighty thousand members and facilitates sexual slavery and white collar crime); and Los Zetas (a Mexican criminal organization that is blamed for tens of thousands of deaths and widespread drug trafficking throughout the Americas). Read more ..


South Korea on Edge

Global Korea in International Security: Why It Is Likely to Last

October 28th 2012

South Korean marines

The agenda for the annual U.S.-ROK Security Consultative Meeting to be held this week in Washington between South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, will inevitably focus on how to keep the Korean peninsula stable against potential North Korean provocations. However, with South Korea’s decision to contribute resources to a variety of international peacekeeping and stabilization missions, U.S.-ROK security cooperation has gone global.

My new CFR ebook, with chapters by Scott Bruce, John Hemmings, Balbina Hwang, and Terrence Roehrig, describes the expanding scope and variety of Korean contributions to international stability, reflecting an agenda that extends well beyond the Korean peninsula alone. The ebook analyzes the significance of a variety of South Korean operations, including South Korea’s contribution of peacekeepers in Haiti and Lebanon, Korean participation in ongoing antipiracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, the contribution of a Korean Provincial Reconstruction Team to multinational stabilization operations in Afghanistan, and South Korea’s membership in the Proliferation Security Intiative (PSI). South Korea has grown into each of these new areas of security collaboration with the United States within the past five years, and is well-positioned to continue as a “middle power” partner in multilateral security operations in the future. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Local TV Stations In Swing-States Cash In On Deluge Of Political Ads

October 28th 2012

Obama

Swing state residents may be growing weary of the barrage of political ads, but this election season has been a boon to local TV stations. President Obama, Mitt Romney, the two parties and the 10 largest independent groups have spent more than $610 million on presidential TV ads so far this year, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, which obtained data from ad tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG. More than 915,000 presidential ads have aired on broadcast and cable television since June 1. That’s a 44.5 percent increase from the same period in 2008, and a 43.7 percent increase from 2004. 

Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, said the ad buys this year are concentrated in the handful of swing states that will likely decide the election.

Four years ago, Obama had the luxury of spending money in conservatives states like Missouri, Indiana, Montana and North Dakota, but this year, locked in a tight race with Mitt Romney, he has concentrated his funds only in areas where he has a strong chance of winning. Read more ..


Israel and the Sudan

If Israel Attacked Khartoum Munitions Factory, What does it Mean for Gaza and Iran?

October 27th 2012

Israeli Jet

Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Is it Time to Test Iran

October 27th 2012

Ahmadinejad Nuclear

Most of the debate about how to address Iran's efforts to develop nuclear-weapons capacity focuses on two options. The first is to rely on deterrence and live with an Iran that has a small nuclear arsenal or the ability to assemble one with little advance notice. The second is to launch a preventive military strike aimed at destroying critical parts of the Iranian program and setting back its progress by an estimated two or more years. But now a third option has emerged: negotiating a ceiling on the nuclear program that would not be too low for Iran's government and not too high for the United States, Israel, and the rest of the world.

In fact, such an option has been around for years – and in several rounds of negotiations. What has changed, however, is the context. And changes in context can be critical; indeed, what happens away from the negotiating table almost always determines the outcome of face-to-face talks. The single most important change in context is the rapidly deteriorating state of Iran's economy. The many financial and oil-related sanctions that have been implemented in recent months and years are starting to bite. They were designed not to impede Iran's nuclear program directly, but rather to increase the price that Iran's leaders must pay for pursuing their nuclear ambitions. The thinking (or, more accurately, the hope) was that Iran's leadership, if forced to choose between regime survival and nuclear weapons, would choose the former. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

A Slight Edge for Romney Becomes Clear in a Tight Presidential Race

October 26th 2012

Mitt Romney

President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, are engaged in a furious final push for votes with a little more than a week to go before Election Day on November 6. Both campaigns are going to great lengths to ensure their supporters get to the polls either on or before Election Day. Public-opinion polls show a very tight race for president and both candidates are targeting a small group of so-called swing states that will determine the outcome. The southern state of Florida is a frequent stop for both Mitt Romney and President Obama. “Florida, I believe in you. I’m asking you to keep believing in me," the president said during a campaign stop this week.

Another prime target is the Midwest state of Ohio, where Romney is urging supporters to get out and vote early. “Because we happen to believe that America faces big challenges and we recognize this is a year with a big choice and Americans want to see big changes, and I’m going to bring it to this country," he told the crowd. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah Under Pressure

October 26th 2012

Hezbollah

Hezbollah's days of dominating Lebanon are likely numbered, and the militia's recent behavior suggests that it sees the writing on the wall.

To many Lebanese, the massive car bomb attack in Beirut on Friday that killed the Sunni Muslim head of internal security Wissam al Hassan and seven others evoked the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. Members of the Shiite militia Hezbollah were indicted for the 2005 crime, and the organization -- along with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime -- is a leading suspect in this latest outrage. Rather than a demonstration of strength, however, the attack highlights the militia's sense of insecurity.

For much of the past decade, Hezbollah has struck a cocky pose. But twenty months into a popular uprising in Syria that threatens to topple the Assad regime, interrupt Hezbollah supply lines, and leave the Shiite Party of God surrounded by a sea of Sunni Muslims, the organization is under unprecedented pressure and its normally confident leader Hassan Nasrallah seems concerned. While his speeches continue to reflect their perennial bravado, in recent appearances Nasrallah clearly isn't looking himself. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Will the U.S. Take on the Russians to Take Out Assad?

October 25th 2012

Fire big

There are two reasons for the U.S. to seek the demise of Bashar Assad's regime -- for what it would mean to Syria and for what it would mean to Iran. The first is insufficient reason for the U.S. to involve itself directly. The second raises the elephant-in-the-room question: "Would the Obama administration act against the expressed interests of Putin's Russia to achieve a victory against Iran in Syria?"

The administration currently takes the approach that a serious American strategic objective can be achieved without direct American military involvement. Arming the "good rebels" is supposed to oust Assad and provide later influence in Damascus. But while the CIA was looking for the good guys (we didn't have a serious presence in the area until August), the administration was outsourcing the political conversation and the transfer of aid and weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to increasingly openly Muslim Brotherhood-supporting Turkey. That gave the Sunni-related -- and maybe al-Qaeda-related -- jihadi rebels a head start. So now we have to assume that the "good rebels" can defeat the Assad government and the "bad rebels." Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Range

Arab Fears of Abandonment Could Threaten U.S. Interests

October 25th 2012

Cairo burning US embassy

One of the most disturbing of many disturbing developments in the Middle East recently is the growing fear among America's traditional Arab allies that Washington's support can no longer be relied on.

Whether this fear has any valid basis is irrelevant. Last month, for instance, Reuters reported on two different conspiracy theories that are gaining currency among the Gulf states' leadership: that America is plotting with the Muslim Brotherhood to replace existing Arab monarchies, and that it wants to create a Shi'ite-led government in Bahrain as a step toward rapprochement with Iran. Needless to say, both are nonsensical. But even if one deems the premise delusional, the consequences are very real - and highly detrimental to American interests.

America's Arab allies have always relied on a U.S. defense umbrella for protection against outside threats, from Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 to Iran today. In exchange, they keep oil markets relatively stable (Saudi Arabia, for instance, boosted oil production to compensate for the shortfall caused by sanctions on Iran), cooperate closely on counterterrorism activity against anti-American groups like al Qaeda (even as they remain largely responsible for financing the spread of the extremist Islamic ideology that fosters such terrorism), avoid destabilizing military activity, and occasionally support other American policy goals (for instance, Saudi Arabia's grand mufti publicly denounced the attacks on America's consulate in Benghazi and embassy in Cairo as un-Islamic). Read more ..


Inside Russia

A Political Chill Settles into Wintry Russia

October 25th 2012

Kremlin

As gray winter skies descend on Moscow, Russians are adjusting to a political winter. Since taking office nearly six months ago, President Vladimir Putin has methodically reduced civic space in Russia by advocating new laws on treason, blasphemy, libel, Internet censorship and curbs on public protest. Then on Monday, Russians saw a new twist: a well-known opposition activist, Leonid Razvozzhayev, shouting to reporters that he had been kidnapped off a sidewalk in Kyiv, Ukraine, and forcibly brought to Moscow for trial.

Oleg Kashin, a radio analyst for the Russian daily Kommersant, says get used to it. President Putin, he says, is taking Russia down the road of neighboring Belarus, a nation run for 18 years by Alexander Lukashenko, often called "the last dictator of Europe." What may hold the Russian president back is what analysts in Russia call “handshakeability”: Putin is still welcome in Western capitals, whereas Lukashenko is not.

Back to Soviet era

With the ruling party sweeping all governors' elections two weeks ago and a new "foreign agent" law going into effect next week, Putin seems to be taking a big political step back to the Soviet Union. For now, these conservative new laws seem to be having a chilling effect.

Masha Lipman, an analyst for Carnegie Moscow, says she sees “...a desire to intimidate the tens of thousands of people who have taken part in protests and other forms of civic activism, and indeed push them back where they used to be.” Lipman and others say the goal is to return Russia to the apolitical days during the boom years of the 2000s. During this decade, Russians largely traded their political freedoms for the freedom to travel, to buy, and to make more money. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Why Syria's Fragmentation Is Turkey's Opportunity

October 24th 2012

Syrian Kurdish protesters
Protesting Syrian Kurds

One-and-a-half years into Syria's civil war, the latest chapter is the armed hostility between Syria and Turkey, once a friend of the Assad regime. A century ago, it was Western powers that dismantled and carved up the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Today, Turkey can place itself in the driver's seat of shaping the borders of the emerging Near East map.

Syria's slide into ungovernability suggests that, unlike Libya at the moment, splintering and partition are increasingly likely outcomes, unless the Assad regime falls. If the conflict in Syria continues unabated, leading to full-blown sectarian war between Alawites and Sunnis, and violent ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds, the scenario that is more likely to unfold now is more along the Iraq model of de facto zones of semi-independent control.

Aleppo and Damascus would still likely be connected, though they would be pulled in different directions thanks to countervailing trade links. There would be a middling Druze enclave in the south. Alawites, or at least those who survive the impending and unfortunate cataclysm, would retreat to their traditional stronghold around the Mediterranean port of Latakia. Read more ..


India and the Middle East

The Development Of India's Economy And Its Impact On Trade with the Middle East

October 24th 2012

Indian Currency

In order to better examine India's new role on the world stage and the Middle East we must first understand the extent of India's economic transformation and its political impact.

From its inception in 1947, India's economic progress was dictated by the country’s adoption of socialist principles in localized form. The ruling ideology sought distributive justice, poverty eradication and the avoidance of wealth concentration as a social, political and economic policy. Modern India's founding fathers bequeathed a "mixed economy" of mostly state-directed projects and small privately owned businesses.

Policy implementation was managed through five year plans by an immense and ponderous bureaucracy that would regulate every facet of the country's economic and political life. Indian economic development policies were characterized by an inward focus on the immense internal market, and the stated goal of economic self-sufficiency. Large state supported industrial projects and rural development were the main means to achieve these goals.

Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The True Impact of Presidential Debates

October 24th 2012

Obama and Romney road show

Monday night's presidential foreign policy debate probably won't change the opinion of many voters. Proponents of President Barack Obama are still convinced that Mitt Romney is a fool and a liar. Proponents of former Gov. Romney have the same view of the president.

Of course, this is normal in any American presidential race. Along with the eternal conviction that the party in power is destroying the country, we have regarded Abraham Lincoln, during the 1860 election, as a simple-minded country bumpkin with a touch of larceny; Franklin Roosevelt as a rich dilettante and socialist; and Dwight Eisenhower as a bumbling fool who is lazy and incapable of understanding the complexity of the world -- this about the man who, during World War II, led the most complex military coalition on the planet to victory. Read more ..


Brazil on Edge

Freedom of the Press Endangered in Brazil

October 23rd 2012

Brazil slum baby

In Latin America’s largest country, journalists, legislators, courts, street gangs, and political factions are waging a back-and-forth war over the status of the freedom of the press. Brazil has experienced a recent spate of threats and violence against journalists, including the slaying of seven journalists in the first half of 2012 alone. In terms of the freedom of the press, one human rights organization places Brazil 91st of 197 countries in the world, and 21st of 35 countries in the Americas. While Brazil is not yet the worst setting for the independent press, current trends suggest that its press freedoms will be increasingly challenged in the months and years to come.

Challenges for Journalists

Brazilian journalists are facing disheartening violence and censorship from a variety of sources. Some of these attacks are gang-related, such as on August 30, when drug traffickers fired at a TV news van in an effort to assert their dominance over a neighborhood in Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahai. Read more ..


Inside Gaza

Qatar's Emir Visits Gaza--What it Means

October 23rd 2012

Gaza city skyline

When Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani arrives in the Gaza Strip tomorrow, he will be the first head of state to visit the territory since Hamas seized power in 2007. Ostensibly, he will be there to inaugurate some Qatari-funded aid projects, but his visit has much wider significance.

The Gulf state of Qatar has one of the world's smallest populations (around 200,000 citizens) but one of the highest per capita incomes (over $110,000, the result of rapid development of huge natural gas reserves). This wealth affords a huge foreign labor force to help build the country, as well as a surplus that enables it to have a diplomatic profile out of proportion to its size.

Ably assisted by his prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, the emir has made Qatar a regional player and an increasingly important actor on the world stage. Its Aljazeera satellite television network influences opinion in the region and further afield. Qatar is also the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and its airline flies to more than a hundred destinations. Read more ..


Palestine on Edge

Palestinian Authority Dealing with Money Troubles

October 22nd 2012

Mahmoud Abbas at parliament

The Palestinian Authority is facing a severe financial crisis, according to an executive summary recently submitted by the Israeli government this past September to the international Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), for assisted Palestinian development, in New York.  The report showed that although a shortfall in international donor aid has played a significant factor in the current PA fiscal crisis, overspending in the implementation of the 2011 PA budget has also contributed to financial troubles.

Israel’s report, which is available on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) website, indicates that the overspending occurred due to the PA’s disbursement for development expenses--for which no funds were available-at the expense of recurrent expenditure. During 2012, the budgetary goals were not met in the first half of the year, and were built upon financing gaps of more than $150 million. “The public finance management system’s role in the current crisis may undermine its track record as a system that meets the requirements of a well-functioning state,” the report stated. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Unions and Others Score Big Donations to Obama

October 22nd 2012

Click to select Image

Priorities USA Action, the super PAC backing President Barack Obama, scored another win last month in the head-to-head matchup against its counterpart.

Restore Our Future, which backs GOP nominee Mitt Romney, towers over all other super PACs in terms of cash raised -- $111.4 million since it was formed last year -- but for the past two months, Priorities USA has bested it. In September, Priorities raised $15.2 million, while Restore Our Future picked up $14.8 million.

Comparing the two groups' donors, it's clear that while both turn to traditional demographics -- unions for the Democrats and big business for the Republican side -- the real fundraising might comes from extremely wealthy individuals who write enormous checks. Overall, Priorities received about 85 percent of its money for the month from individuals -- $13 million from 716 such donors. Restore Our Future relied on individuals for about 79 percent of its cash -- $10.9 million from 215 individuals. Read more ..


Security on Edge

Growing Concern over Domestic Security in the Northern Triangle of Central America

October 21st 2012

HOnduras armor tank

The ambiguity between the role of military forces and the police is a growing concern in Central America’s Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In all three countries, underpaid, outmanned, outgunned, and ill-trained police forces are forced to solicit assistance from the military. Most international attention on these matters revolves around social pathologies, such as drug violence, gang rivalries, and overcrowded prisons. While all of these issues remain major problems in the countries, the militarization of the police force is a larger, almost uncontainable, domestic issue that threatens citizens’ safety. As it stands, the Northern Triangle situation is the most severe challenge to the leadership of these nations. Despite past experiences, U.S. foreign policy in Latin America supports military assistance for police forces, and contributes to the current ambiguity. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Justice on Israel's Side--Belligerent Acts by the Arab State Justified Israel's Acts per the Law of Nations

October 21st 2012

6 day war

In June 1967, the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan attacked Israel with the clear purpose expressed by Egypt's President: "Destruction of Israel." At the end of what is now known as the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel, against all odds, was victorious and in possession of the territories of the West Bank, Sinai and the Golan Heights. 

International law makes a clear distinction between defensive wars and wars of aggression. Egypt's blockade of the waterway known as the Strait of Tiran, which prevented access to Israel's southern port of Eilat, was an act of aggression that led to the Six-Day War in 1967. More than six decades after the 1948 War and more than four decades since the 1967 Six-Day War, it is hard to imagine the dire circumstances Israel faced and the price it paid to fend off its neighbors' attacks. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Countering the Iranian Missile Threat in the Middle East

October 21st 2012

Iran Missiles

A major two-week missile defense exercise has just started in Israel involving both Israeli and U.S. military personnel. But Exercise Austere Challenge 12 has wider significance as it also highlights the efforts invested by the United States in building capabilities for allies in the East Mediterranean and Persian Gulf region to counter Iran's substantial rocket and missile threat.

For their part, Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened to strike U.S. bases and coalition partners in the region with missiles in the event of a conflict, and have expressed confidence that their missiles could overwhelm current defenses. Thus, the commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Maj. Gen. Mohammad Jafari, stated in September 2012 that U.S. missile defenses in the region "could only work for a few missiles, but when exposed to a massive volume of missiles … [they] will not work." As a result, according to Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, the "enemies of the Islamic Revolution have been left hopeless and paralyzed due to the IRGC's missile … might and power." Read more ..


Lebanon on Edge

Lebanon Teeters on a Knife Edge of Anxiety

October 20th 2012

Beirut Bombing Carnage 10-20-12

Tensions run high in Lebanon as the government declared an emergency meeting following a bomb attack that killed a top security official. Clashes and protests have been reported throughout the country amid opposition calls for the PM to resign.

Riots and protests continued into Saturday as thousands of people across Lebanon voiced their ire at the car bomb blast in Beirut on Friday that claimed the lives of eight people. Over a hundred people were also injured in the explosion that killed Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan.

Enraged citizens have blocked roads with burning tires as a sign of their protest, while clashes in the city of Tripoli close to the southern Syrian border fueled fears the Syria’s conflict is overflowing across the border. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati offered to step down amidst the fallout of Friday’s deadly attack, but President Michel Suleiman refused his resignation. Read more ..



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