Source global manufacturers Product Directory e-commerce product product catalogs

Archive | US RSS feed for this section

Let’s get real on Iran

29 Feb

The cover of the latest Economist reads “Iran” in ominous black letters peppered with nuclear emblems, most of which, like Iran’s nuclear facilities, are depicted deep underground. Being dropped from above are two bombs, one emblazoned with Old Glory and the other with the Star of David. The imagery suggesting an American or Israeli pre-emptive strike could not be clearer. Neither could The Economist’s take on such prospects: “Why an attack will not eradicate the nuclear threat”.

The magazine sums up the views of many, particularly in Europe, who agree that Iran’s nuclear program must be halted but not through military means. While this is a reasonable stance, it must also be supported as such. And here, The Economist falls short, relying on weak assumptions and citing evidence that belie their own conclusions.

“If Iran is intent on getting a bomb…” starts one paragraph. If? Let’s consider, in November of last year the IAEA released a report asserting that Iran is carrying out “activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” including “the acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network.” Does The Economist believe that Iran is willing to withstand ever crippling sanctions and international isolation for a theoretical research project, an academic exercise?

Even the Iranians have dropped this pretense. A high level strategic analysis published by the Iranian Defense Ministry in 2010 contends that in the event of an unconventional attack, “Iran needs to respond with a nuclear strategy.” In other words, it’s not if they want the bomb, it’s if they can attain one.

Even so, warns the Economist, military force against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be ill advised because “using Western bombs as a tool to prevent nuclear proliferation risks making Iran only more determined to build a weapon.” Essentially, don’t try to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, otherwise Iran will want to develop nuclear weapons.

An attack will also prompt Iran to stop cooperating with the IAEA and move its nuclear production underground, warns the magazine. Except, this is already happening, and the authors acknowledge as much in the same issue. “In 2006 [Iran] restarted its centrifuge programme, ended compliance with the additional protocol and turned a deaf ear to the IAEA’s questions about weaponisation. It continues to allow inspectors in, but, as this week, refuses them access to the things they demand to see.”

The suggested solution? Ratchet up sanctions and hope for a new government to forswear the bomb. But which government is The Economist waiting for? Nuclear development started under the pro-Western and secular shah of Iran, continued under the mullahs since 1979, supported by the former reformist President Rafsanjani, paraded by President Ahmadinejad, and duly blessed by his opponent from the Green Movement, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Iranians of all backgrounds see nuclear development as a matter of national pride and every major political leader has reflected this sentiment.

All this is not to say that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities is the right move. The magazine does raise important considerations as well, such as the probability of success in striking nuclear facilities and the pace at which Iran can rebuild their program.

In the end, it may well be that the benefits of military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities do not outweigh the potential costs. But in making this analysis, let’s be frank about the reality of the situation. Iran wants the bomb, they’re actively developing one, and sanctions are unlikely to stop them. Now what? We will find out soon enough.

David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem.  Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

What the US State Department doesn’t know about Mossad trained sharks and imperialist puppeteers

14 Feb

How should we react when AIDS, the swine flu, infertility, economic stagnation, natural disasters, revolutions, and a litany of other grievances are routinely blamed by Middle Eastern populations on the West—the United States and Israel in particular?

Because some of these accusations are so over the top—Mossad trained sharks—or we know them to be patently false—CIA behind the 9/11 attacks—Western analysts tend to dismiss such claims as the rantings of sadly misinformed oddballs:

Conspiracy theories are useful because they provide scapegoats through which disenfranchised societies and their rulers make sense of their predicament while crowding out inconvenient facts.  Accusations of “foreign hands,” Zionist plots, or imperialist (i.e. American) designs are conjured regularly by academics, government higher-ups, and the wider population alike with conviction inversely proportional to the availability of evidence.

Past history also plays a role.  The Middle East has been subject to foreign interference in the past, such as the overthrow of Iranian President Mohammed Mosssadeq in 1953 or the 1956 Suez invasion by Britain, France, and Israel, which makes modern day illusions seem more plausible.

Yes, America’s policy in the Middle East is sometimes counterproductive and has room for improvement.  But there is no policy adjustment that will accommodate grievances that arise from the belief that Americans or Zionists are responsible for every major ill from 9/11 to revolutions to natural disasters.

The problem in glossing over the impact of these lies, half-truths, distortions, and incitement directed at the West, including from our ostensible allies, is that we miss a defining factor of America’s relationship with the region.

How should our foreign policy deal with this challenge?

At the very least, we must acknowledge that some of our allies in the Middle East spread, tolerate, nurture, or co-opt anti-Western conspiracy theories and allow incitement through state media, schools, mosques, and even official communiques (see memri.org) in order to redirect public anger, sow discord among state enemies, and justify repression as a means of defense against nefarious foreign plots—real or imagined.

We should assess our allies’ intentions by what they say publicly to their own people and not the niceties their diplomats convey behind closed doors.  This means when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with her Saudi counterpart, her assessment of the Saudi-American relationship will take into account what is preached in Saudi-sponsored mosques.  It means that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not maintain the status of a peaceful moderate while he glorifies known terrorists. And so on.

This is not interference in domestic affairs.  It is a critical component of our national interest to insist that our allies, who are so devoted to influencing their domestic public opinion, desist from enabling anti-American animus.  And if we are serious about promoting the Arab-Israeli peace process, the same expectations must be applied to the anti-Semitism and denial of Israel’s legitimacy which is so common in this region.

People do not act on reality.  They act on their perceptions of reality.  While perceptions are influenced by much more than the efforts of regional governments, we will never win the battle for hearts and minds while our ostensible allies propagandize against us.  We must insist otherwise to secure our foreign policy interests.

David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem and currently works for a political non-profit.

Politics from the Kitchen Table

13 Dec

gingrich romney

Politics from the Kitchen Table
by Marie Tbili

I’m what they call a swing voter–working middle-class mother of two in Ohio. After three years of the Obama Administration, I am interested to hear what the Republican candidates have to offer. And after following the primaries, I’ve concluded that if the GOP nominates Newt Gingrich over Mitt Romney, they are not interested in winning.

Gingrich is smart and good debater. In fact, I agree with much of what he says. But Obama was also a good rhetorician, and the result are…?

We need a president who can deliver economically and politically.

Gingrich may well be able to do that. He can navigate the politics of Washington and manage the necessary backroom deals. He brings with him excellent political experience. I like him. But is he electable in general elections? The answer is no. Who is? Within the GOP, only Romney.

Romney is criticized for not being charismatic enough. Well, we have a very “charismatic” president now. Is it only charisma that we are looking for?

A parallel from history. The Soviet Union’s Michael Gorbachev was very charismatic, a good debater and talker. But he led to the dissolution of his own country and political system. He had good intentions and paved quite a road with them. Obama’s intentions are similarly pure. Somebody has yet to “succeed” in the manner of Gorbachev and only because we have a system of checks and balances it is harder to do. But anything is possible….

And precisely because anything–including the worst–is possible, we need a proper president like a doctor amid an epidemic. First we need remission, then healing.

Romney, as a hands-on businessman, can improve our country’s economy. He is in politics long enough to know how to navigate the system and his positions are not extreme, but balanced. His business friendly approach can attract business professionals and independent voters.

But will independents vote for Gingrich? The answer is no.

If I can see all this sitting at my kitchen table, watching TV and reading periodicals, how is it that GOP strategists cannot see all this?

Perhaps they do see this, and there’s a much wider strategy in play to pave the way for an unbeatable 2016 election.

Let’s look back. In 2008, Republicans had no chance of winning no matter who was running. After eight years of the Bush presidency, the country was ready for a change. The only question was, which Democrat was going to win. Change works both ways. Another four years of Obama, and the country will be ready to boot him out just the same. At that point, the GOP will have the seat waiting for their candidate of choice.

Will it be Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio? Maybe this is what the GOP strategy is!? And if they pick the unelectable Gingrich now, they will pave the way for just that. With the primary elections around the corner, it will not take long to find out.

The author is solely responsible for views expressed.  Marie Tbili can be reached at MarieTbili@gmail.com.

[To submit guest blog, please email contact@streetsmartpolitics.com]

Obama-Netanyahu: What’s the deal?

24 May

Netanyahu and Obama

Has President Obama’s reception of PM Netanyahu form a constructive dialogue, a rift, an insult, an honest discussion, a small disagreement among friends and allies, a reaffirmation of the US-Israel strategic relationship? It all depends who you ask, and not that you’re asking, but below I offer a few reflections.

Obama’s speech.

Israelis took objection to a number of points in Obama’s speech.

From an Israeli perspective, Obama gave the Palestinians the crux of what they would presumably receive through negotiations—“The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps”—at a time when Palestinians are refusing to negotiate.

Two, By adopting the 1967 lines as a US platform, Obama further transformed this position into the opening foray of potential negotiations for Palestinians rather than the end result of a negotiating process.

Three, Palestinians are less likely to rejoin a negotiating process where they will be expected to make their own concessions if they are able to extract Israeli concessions through Obama outside the negotiating process.

Four, in Netanyahu’s perception, as expressed at the join press conference on Friday, a “full” withdrawal to the 1967 lines, even with swaps, is not acceptable since it would leave Israel incapable of properly defending its people. As to the last point, Netanyahu could be posturing in an attempt to reset the middle ground on the issue of borders. But he could also be genuine in expressing Israeli policy while he is in office, which means the US position runs counter to Israeli security interests as Netanyahu perceives them.

At Friday’s press conference, and presumably in the Oval Office, Netanyahu pointed out that Israel’s War of Independence created two refugee problems, as roughly the same amount of Jews and Arabs fled their respective opponents. The President’s speech on Thursday took into account only “the fate of Palestinian refugees.” Meanwhile, the Palestinian demand to “return” these people to Israel along with millions of their descendants is nothing short of demographic destruction from an Israeli point of view. Netanyahu took umbrage that Obama was very specific with what Israel will have to accept as part of a settlement, but did not “state frankly what everyone knows” regarding Palestinian refugees, that they and their descendants will have to remain outside of Israel.

Since these were the issues put forward by Netanyahu at the press conference, we can assume they were the primary sticking points in the Obama-Netanyahu meeting at the Oval Office. We can also assume that there were significant areas of agreement as well, such as on Iran and other matters of security cooperation.

However, the media seized on the points of tension to cover the speech through the lens of a US-Israel rift.

Netanyahu’s press conference did not help with this perception. Netanyahu could have presented the same Israeli positions as points of general agreement rather than disagreement. Obama’s speech had enough positive elements to accomplish this.

For example, Obama stated, “As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.  Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security.” Netanyahu could have couched his intention to keep Israeli forces along the Jordanian border within the context of what Obama said above instead of voicing this position as a disagreement with Obama’s insistence on “full” Israeli withdrawal.

Even a full withdrawal is conditional on Palestinian security cooperation. Israel could try to raise the expectations of what is acceptable security cooperation.

While Obama did give credence to the issue of Palestinian refugees, it can be reasonably concluded that the US position does not support a Palestinian “right of return.” Obama’ expressly supported “Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people.” Netanyahu was fair in pointing out that there was also a Jewish refugee problem, but he could have forcefully agreed with Obama that Israel must remain “a Jewish and democratic state,” which is why Palestinian refugees and their descendants will remain outside of Israel. In other words, the issue of refugees is not one of disagreement, but one of agreement as Israel understands it.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. The Palestinians did this in February, when they put forward a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity, lifting the language from Secretary Clinton’s recent statements. While the US vetoed the resolution due to its one-sided nature, it was made harder since they were essentially vetoing their own expressed positions. While Netanyahu must be careful not to misconstrue Obama’s words, his same points could have been made using a different tone and approach. Let’s remember, press conferences are for public consumption, and the primary goal is to posture effectively.  Netanyahu is one the few Israeli leaders who understand media savvy, so perhaps his focus on setting the record straight was more calculated than I imply.  Still, it seems that a different tone would have been more effective.

(By the way, I am not sure how much spin could have salvaged the issue of 1967 lines. However, by voicing the other positions as points of agreement, 1967 lines would have become the only point of obvious contention.)

Finally, Obama gave Netanyahu an easy out. Obama’s language could have been stronger (as it was during his follow-up speech at AIPAC on Sunday) but he did say that the Fatah-Hamas pact is an obstacle to negotiations. The Israelis can now emphasize their agreement with the US that Palestinians are preventing negotiations.  Netanyahu did take advantage of this at the press conference.

Palestinian reaction.

Hamas rejected the speech outright. Palestinian President Abbas, head of the rival Fatah faction, was disappointed for his own reasons, although chose to withhold public comment.

The Palestinians have not been on the same page as the US for a while now. By brokering a unity deal with Hamas and insisting on declaring Palestinian statehood through the UN, Abbas has sidelined the US.

What explains this seemingly counterproductive pursuit?

Palestinian President Abbas is at an age where he cannot continue to lead much longer, as he himself acknowledged. As a result, he is thinking more about his exit strategy and legacy than about an arduous negotiating process.

With Netanyahu’s government in charge, he figures he cannot maximize Israeli concessions. Besides, a newly resurgent Hamas (a side effect of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in the Egyptian revolution) would make proper negotiations impossible. By ushering a detente with Hamas, he would leave a less divided Palestinian body politic upon his departure.

The declaration of statehood at the UN is meant to embolden Palestinian public opinion and enhance international pressure on Israel at a time when negotiations are not desirable. Palestinians know that real statehood can only come through an accord with Israel, which only the US is in a position to broker, but the symbolic victory at the UN can be achieved now. There is some speculation that Palestinians may seek to invoke the United for Peace resolution by which the UN Security Council is bypassed and a binding resolution is enacted by the General Assembly with the help of Arab and Islamic states. However, this is unlikely to succeed (see in depth analysis by Robbie Sabel here). The ultimate purpose is to strengthen the Palestinian position in the court of public opinion and enhance international standing.

The US is clearly unhappy about this, and Obama’s speech made that point clear. However, Abbas likely figures that US aid will continue unabated, or be replaced by the Europeans in the worst case scenario. As for US-Palestinian diplomatic relations, they will resume where they left off once Palestinians are ready to negotiate. At that time, however, the Palestinians will be in a stronger position vis-a-vis the Israelis.

Netanyahu at joint session of Congress.

As I write this, Netanyahu is addressing the a joint session of Congress. I’m on a train, and will hear the speech only later, but I can presume the following.

I expect that Netanayhu will reiterate Israel’s stance on the 1967 lines, but generally take a positive tone, emphasize close US-Israel ties, and focus on areas of agreement. Congress is perceived as more favorable to Israel than Obama’s Administration has been at times. By focusing on the positive, Netanyahu would separate his disagreement with Obama as one between two leaders rather than one between two nations whose close relationship is defined by mutual trust and cooperation.

Addressing a US Joint Session of Congress is an opportunity few leaders are granted, and Netanyahu is unlikely to have another such opportunity himself. Mere platitudes about close US-Israel ties would waste this opportunity. He has to say something big, which is why I suspect he will unveil his own peace initiative. But even here I wonder what can he say that would add anything new to the conversation. At the very least, he can deflect criticism from the Israeli Left by showing initiative and presenting a plan, however stillborn, rather that merely reacting to events.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem. Become a Facebook fan. Follow on Twitter.

Middle East expert Dr. Walid Phares speaks

12 May

Interview with Middle East expert Dr. Walid Phares
by David Bratslavsky

 
I was recently in Washington D.C. and had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Walid Phares. He is an American scholar born in Beirut and frequent commentator on global terrorism and developments in the Middle East. Dr. Phares has testified before committees of the US Departments of Justice, Defense, State, Homeland Security, as well as Congress, UN Security Council, and the European Parliament. He is a frequent contributor to publications on international affairs and author of eleven books, the latest of which is The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.

What follows is a summary of our interview.

Q: What is the impact of bin Laden’s death?

A: It’s going to be a “game changer” that transgresses geopolitics and political division.

Number one impact is the US relationship with Pakistan. For bin Laden to be in a conspicuously fortified compound near a Pakistani military academy so close to the capital indicates that there was a shielding of bin Laden on some level within the intelligence apparatus of Pakistan. I personally project (unless proven wrong) that the government was not shielding him, but “there are segments of the national security apparatus within Pakistan which allowed this to happen.”

Although, a new theory is now emerging that segments of Pakistan’s ISI was in fact containing bin Laden in a type of house arrest. But up till what level in the intelligence and defense establishment it was covered, that we’ll have to discover. For it would be illogical that the top leaders pf the People’s Party in the cabinet would have endorsed a shielding of Bin Laden, as his group, the Taliban and the Jihadists in general were waging a terror campaign against them. In any event, the Pakistanis must have known at least of his presence inside Pakistan while svery few people knew of his presence there.

Q: What happens next?

A: Congress and the Administration are going to initiate a review of the relationship with the Pakistanis.

In this review I am calling for two things:

The Pakistani government must reform its intelligence services. Government policy is already on the right track. However, the ISI has a historically sympathetic relationship with Islamists in general and al-Qaeda in particular, which remains in some capacity today. As part of the reform, more action on al-Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistani territories is required.

US foreign policy must better identify and deal with the long term strategic threat to the US and the region. This analysis should clarify for the US that “there are two species of jihadis.” On the one hand there are the Salafists, al-Qaeda being the most extreme, and on the other hand is Iranian Islamism. I call on the US government administration to “start developing a national security doctrine which will see the threat as it is and not as it wants it to be.”

Q: How is the media in the Middle East reporting bin Laden’s death?

A: There are several kinds of media. Pro-Jihadist and Salafist media on the web and certain shows on Al-Jazeera are clearly anti-American. They are calling this an attack against Islam. The spin on bin Laden’s death is that he “wanted to die as a martyr” and “this will not change the course of al-Qaeda.”

For the most part, Al-Jazeera, although influenced by a Muslim Brotherhood-type outlook, is not making an issue of bin Laden’s death. They are making an issue of Pakistani sovereignty. They’re also advancing the point that now that bin Laden is dead, there is no reason for the US to be deployed in the region.

Q: How popular is this mindset?

A: Even if this viewpoint is not the majority, it is often the most vocal. We see this phenomenon in general with respect to Islamic fundamentalism. While civil society is generally moderate, the extremists are the most organized and the best equipped. I made the case for this in my last book, The Coming Revolution, which was published before the revolutions, in which I said that eventually all these societies are going to stand up. But at the same time, because they are not organized, “those who will harvest the revolution are the Islamists.” We see that now everywhere, including in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Q: Do we have a clear understanding of these dynamics in the West?

A: Many in Washington and the West have a bifurcated outlook. Some focus almost exclusively on the Islamist element and others focus almost exclusively on moderate civil society. We need a better analysis. What we have seen are truly popular revolutions on the onset. The Islamists on their own would not have been able to get hundreds of thousands into the streets. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt did not show up until the third or fourth day. At the same time, the tidal wave of popular outrage is then co-opted by more organized Islamist elements whose aim is to take over the leadership. The West and the United States in particular have to be smart in understanding these forces, in understanding who controls what.

We need to partner with the right people. Within Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Jordan, and even to some degree the Arabian peninsula, the US must determine what are the pro democracy and civil society elements in those societies.

Q: Why has the American establishment analysis been clouded in your opinion?

A: Over the past many years, the body of  experts serving the US foreign policy establishment “have not given the administration, the president, and Congress the right expertise.” In my book, Future Jihad, I describe how our academic expertise and the national security analysis that is derived from it is compromised. Most of those who give academic advice come from the universities, whose Middle East departments are funded to a large degree by petrodollar regimes with strings attached. Thus, we have generations that have been raised in the classroom with the ideas of apology for jihadism. In sum, this explains why the President and Congress did not have from their experts the right information on either the threat or the democracy forces in the region.

The bigger change has to be done not in the Middle East but here in Washington.

Q: Should the US have gone into Libya?

A: With the exception of genocide, there is no single principle by which to decide whether to enter a conflict. The other exception is helping defend an ally if we’re bound to do so by treaty. There is a ground to help the Libyan civil society defend itself against brutal oppression but at the same time the forces seeking democracy have to be identified clearly 

Q: Is the conflict in Libya a revolution or a tribal conflict?

The jury is still out on this. In the beginning these were popular demonstrations against Qadaffi inspired by Tunisia and Egypt. The response by the regime was so sharp and violent that it encouraged members of the armed forces to break away and join demonstrators from their tribe or home town who were harmed in Qadaffi’s response. When you have a split army fighting each other along tribal lines, it’s a civil war.

We know Qadaffi is a bad guy, but we must also understand who is there to replace him. In my analysis, the core of the revolution in Libya is made up of former diplomats, bureaucrats, military personnel, and intellectuals. However, a wide swath of rebels is made up of Islamist-inspired militias. The concern is that if this conglomeration of groups reach Tripoli, the Islamists “would overthrow the others and then declare a Taliban or Muslim Brotherhood inspired state.”

Q: Do you believe economic sanctions will dissuade Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?


A: “Sanctions are not a policy, they are tools of a policy.” To change the course of the Iranian regime, additional pressure must accompany sanctions. Sanctions worked against South Africa and may work against Syria along with other measures,  given the nature and interests of those countries. Iran, on the other hand, is interested in becoming a regional empire and a few sanctions will not dissuade them.

I am not even sure that more pressure will alter Iran’s course. Ultimately, what may required is regime change.
Some hold that they are against regime change in Iran because such change is accomplished through military action. Since they are against military action, by extension they oppose regime change.

But when we say regime change, it does not necessarily entail military action. The military option is for instances when national security is concerned. The other option, which I propose in my book, is to support the popular movement against the regime.

Q: Do you believe that the current US Administration failed to do this so far? 

A: “The Administration is not yet there.” They were given a great opportunity in June 2009 when 1.5 million people marked for reform in the streets of Iran. The beauty about it is that 60% of them were under the age of 20 and half of all demonstrators were females. This is unusual. When you have young protesters of both genders who are not proposing fundamentalism as a solution, you are in business with moderate civil society.

The Obama Administration did not go for it and I do not see in Washington a real change of direction yet. We’ll see a real change when the narrative, speeches, expertise, behavior, and funding priorities will change.
Q: Iranian public opinion surveys, to the degree that they are accurate, show a wide support for pursuing nuclear development. The issue is seen as a matter of national pride and defense across the political spectrum. Will a more moderate regime alter nuclear development given the popular base of support for it? 

A: If Iran was Italy or Poland, one would worry less about it seeking a nuclear segment of the economy or even a nuclear deterrent because those countries are committed to democratic ideals and norms.
Iran is a regime which has a stated goal to destroy Israel. To this effect, they support Hamas and Hezbollah and threaten use of missiles and gas. A nuclear weapon in the hands of such a regime is extremely detrimental to regional stability and to the West. What we need to see in Iran is not just a change of regime but of the political direction of that regime.
Currently, nuclear development is one way of expressing their national pride. Were they a practicing democracy, the Iranian regime would be focused on what to do with oil revenues, labor unions, and other quotidian concerns about the welfare of their citizens. In such an environment, Iranian nuclear ambitions could then be negotiated and they will likely find more productive ways of expressing their national dignity.

Ukraine provides a good example, since at one point it had nukes. It left the Soviet orbit and is developing as a democracy. The basis of their pride now revolves primarily around economic development.

The Iranian alternative, the Green movement, is another Iran. If this Iran takes over, I would be less inclined to see Iranian nuclear development as posing a problem. But if, say, another president replaces Ahmadinejad, this is not true reform. We need to see change at the level of Khamenei—not an Islamic republic, but just another democratic republic.

Q: Switching our focus for a moment, how will the recently announced Fatah-Hamas unity government affect prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

A: First issue is how will the alter the Palestinian scene itself. It is unfortunate that Mahmoud Abbas accepted the deal of unifying Fatah and Hamas without even asking Hamas to reform. They have killed hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians in Gaza. In my opinion, Mahmoud Abbas has done a poor evaluation of events after the Egyptian revolution. He figured the Palestinians are not getting much from the Israelis and the United States is busy with other matters. These are legitimate concerns. The reaction to this was to go to the opposite pole of their position and join with Hamas.

What factored into this decision? The Egyptian revolution has brought the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to have a significant influence on the Egyptian military, which is now going to be more supportive of Hamas, and MB offshoot. Also, since Hamas is going to be supported by a Sunni regional power, they are expected to move away from Iran. The thinking was that if Fatah connects with Hamas, they will be at equal distance from the Egyptians. This is a big mistake because in Egypt there will be a struggle between MB on the one hand and the moderates on the other. The military will aim to survive and maintain the dollars coming from the US. Palestinian interests are not their primary concern.

My view is that the military is allowing this level of MB influence for peculiar reasons. The MB has a lot of embarrassing information on the military establishment about their financial involvement in the Egyptian economy. As a result, the military is trying to establish an understanding with the MB while keeping an equal distance from the United States. The military does not fear distancing from Israel because it does not receive any tangible support from them. With respect to maintaining peace, the US will anyone come and moderate between the US and Israel because it is important to them.

In short, Egypt will not be as important a partner as the United States for the Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas should have instead built a direct relationship with the United States, and that would have been his guarantee to continue negotiations with the Israelis. As for the original question, my feeling is that Hamas will eat the PLO and not the other way around in this instance.

Q:  Does that change European policy?
The Europeans are divided. We have the classical more “progressive” Europeans who will continue to be with Hamas, albeit in a very limited way. There are also Europeans who are concerned with the rise of Islamism worldwide. The politics in Europe are moving slightly right, while the political establishment remains tilted to the left. In other words, the majority of the elites in Europe are on the progressive/left while the majority of the public is going in another direction. At some point there will be a political clash within Europe. That is why official Europe considers Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood as acceptable partners, but the emerging Europe will be very different.

David Bratslavsky comments on US foreign policy and the Middle East.  Follow StreetSmartPolitics on Facebook and Twitter.

How Egypt, more than Libya, will affect the Middle East

1 Mar

Rebel forces have taken over cities in Libya as Gadhafy declares “my people love me.”   Whatever the outcome of these battles, I believe Egypt more than Libya will help determine the fate of the Middle East.  Thus, I would like to offer a few additional thoughts on Egypt, even though media attention has shifted for now.

We have all seen the story.  In eighteen short days 30 years of Hosni Mubarak’s reign as president has come to an end. There is a deserved sense of triumph among Egyptians.  But this is just the first chapter of a developing saga.  Political stagnation, widespread corruption, economic inequality, abusive security forces, a 30% illiteracy rate, joblessness, and a litany of other legitimate grievances will not be addressed in Tahrir Square. These issues cannot be dealt with through slogans, populist rhetoric, religious salvation, or conspiracy theories. And they will not be resolved overnight, if indeed they are resolved.

A lot must occur to enable Egyptian reform. Democratic safeguards–free press, independent judiciary, protected constitution, independent political parties, protection of minority rights—are not yet present.  For example, deep-seated discrimination against minorities such as Copts remains.  Without minority protection and the rule of law, Egypt faces the prospect of either mob rule or exploitation of the democratic process by a new set of tyrants.

The army will soon retreat into the political background where it can maintain popularity while protecting its vast business interests. A nascent civil society will have to fill the political void. For now, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is the most organized political opposition.  This raises a few questions and concerns.  Will Egyptians build resilient democratic institutions that enable progress or will religious fundamentalism or populism reign the day? What will the inclusion of Islamist parties in the government mean for women, minorities, and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty?  Will elections infuse fresh blood into the political system or will the old guard remain under a new label?

How Egyptians deal with these issues will determine the fate of the Middle East.  Egyptian protests have bolstered the resolve of others in the region.  A disappointing outcome will serve as a harsh lesson. If democracy becomes synonymous with turbulence, indecision, and shattered hopes, the remaining tyrants will have evidence as to why oppressive stability trumps democracy.

Whatever government emerges, it must have space to craft its own policies.  At the same time, the US should unequivocally communicate that anti-Western populism will not be appreciated and stress how both sides benefit from close bilateral relations.  Respecting “the will of the people” does not mean acquiescing to developments that are detrimental to our national interest.

Trusted partners like the spy chief Omar Suleiman (a graduate of the US Special Warfare School in Fort Bragg) have been removed from their positions.  Cooperation on important international issues such as Iranian nuclear development will diminish. In fact, an emboldened Iran will jostle for input. Similar to what happened in Afghanistan after the Taliban and in Iraq after Saddam Hussein, Iran will aim to exploit the US freedom agenda to gain influence in a formerly hostile state. Already Egypt has let two Iranian war ships into the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal, the first such voyage since 1979.

While respecting the democratic process the US should not be naive about Egypt’s immediate limitations.  We must aim to influence reform in a positive manner before others fill that role to our detriment.  We already spend billions subsidizing Egypt’s army and government.  By also underwriting emerging civil institutions, something largely avoided thus far, we can increase the possibility that Egypt’s liberal revolution remains liberal.

One important consideration of US foreign policy is the American brokered Egypt-Israel peace treaty. The agreement looks safe for now, if only because $1.3 billion dollars a year of Egypt’s military aid is tied to it.  Egypt no less than Israel, wants to avoid war and border confrontations.  However, relations with Israel will undoubtedly worsen as strong anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment is calculated into government policy. A 2010 Pew Poll found that 95% of Egyptians held an ‘unfavorable view’ of Jews (compared with only 35% of Israeli Arabs). And in a 2007 Pew survey, an overwhelming 80% of Egyptians said that the needs of the Palestinians could never be accommodated so long as Israel exists.  Protesters in Tahrir square were actively chanting “To Jerusalem we’re heading, martyrs in the millions.” In a democracy, this attitude will translate into action. For example, a new government may quit helping contain Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot. Egypt’s role as an example of Arab-Israeli peace will cease if Egyptian hostility is reflected in government policy.

The jury is still out on the ultimate success of the Egyptian revolt.  How Egyptians define success will matter as much as whether they achieve it.

David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem. Become a Facebook fan of Street Smart Politics.  Follow on Twitter.

What’s happening in Egypt?

30 Jan

The week long protests in Cairo have led to the resignation of President Mubarak‘s cabinet and the appointment of Omar Suleiman as Vice President and Ahmed Shafik as Prime Minister.  This shakeup can be interpreted in several ways.

One, Mubarak knows his rule is over and is setting up a graceful exit while trying to avoid anarchy.

Two, by appointing military men long part of of his inner circle, Mubarak is signaling that his regime is here to stay. Suleiman is a former general and head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service since 1993. Shafik is a former air force commander (like Mubarak) and headed Egypt’s Civil Aviation since 2002. With these appointments, Mubarak is also sending a message to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood that a strongman policy against the group will continue.

Three, the appointments are necessities of internal politics, imposed by the military as a condition for taking over crowd control and protecting Mubarak. A similar scenario happened in the ‘bread riots‘ of 1977 when the army agreed to step in to quell protests only after then-President Anwar Sadat agreed to reinstate bread subsidies. The military has been a political institution and the bedrock of the Egyptian regime since a military coup overthrew King Farouk I to establish the republic in 1952.  As part of the military establishment, Suleiman and Shafik are now more in charge than Mubarak himself.

What are the consequences of the protests?

The Muslim Brotherhood is not behind the demonstrations but has joined in and will look to take advantage of the turmoil in order to position themselves as the leading alternative to Mubarak’s regime. They are the best organized political opposition group with strong grassroots support propagated mostly through mosques and religious institutions. Their adoption of the freedom agenda and support for democracy reflect the calculated sense that a popular vote will be to their benefit. Similarly, Khomeini espoused democracy while riding popular sentiment to power in Iran’s 1979 revolution only to do away with it once in control. Should the Brotherhood gain significant power, their moderation and commitment to democratic ideals are likely to evaporate as they advance their agenda. They espouse sharia law and have strong anti-American and anti-Israel undertones. Egypt’s alliance with the United States, peace treaty with Israel, and embargo against Hamas (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza) are likely to disintegrate under the Brotherhood’s leadership.

However, the Brotherhood’s ascendancy to power is not a forgone conclusion.  While their historic 88 seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections solidified the group’s force, their strength may be tempered.  The secular national army has so far avoided clashing with the people, generating some sense of solidarity. The military establishment may still be able to assuage public sentiment and maintain power, at least as part of an interim government. The longer the chaos continues, the more the Egyptian middle class will seek stability, which only the army can provide. But it is not clear how the military can diffuse the situation without arranging for the departure of Mubarak and either promising fair elections or enacting sweeping reforms, none of which is yet to happen.

The secular opposition is strong but diffuse. Mohammad El Baradei, a Nobel laureate and former head of UN’s IAEA, returned to the country last year and is positioning himself as the leader of the pro-democracy opposition. Since El Baradei is a public persona in largely amorphous protests, the secular opposition is uniting around him. However, he has been out of the country for too long to have established deep support and may be seen as opportunistic and too ‘intellectual’ to generate wide appeal.

The ideal scenario for the United States is anything that tempers the tide of Islamism and keeps Egypt in a pro-American alliance. But any such solution must also been seen as legitimate by Egyptians.  It is unlikely that the new military establishment will be able to accomplish this short of allowing for real elections.  The US must therefore work to ensure fair elections while giving the secular pro-American voice the financial means and tacit support to organize. This does not mean the US should bet on one horse in this race. Rather, it should quietly align itself with all groups that would maintain good bilateral relations. This includes the current military establishment, especially Suleiman (a graduate of the U.S. Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg). This scenario would also require the US to use whatever leverage it has left to privately urge Mubarak to transition out of government, if not immediately then soon.  The US must then work with the new government to insist on the development of strong civil institutions that would temper extremism and extend democratic reforms beyond one election.

Flying from New York a few days ago, I met a lovely Egyptian woman on her way back from Cairo. She pointed out, “Amazing what change a few days can bring to a timeless place like Egypt.” Indeed.  Having spent a summer in Egypt in 2006, I have fond memories of a welcoming people.  My sincere hope is that the final outcome of this chaos ends with little additional bloodshed and a positive path forward, first and foremost for the Egyptian people.


David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem.  He may be reached at contact@streetsmartpolitics.com.
Become a Facebook fan of Street Smart Politics.  Follow on Twitter.

Pulse of the Middle East: Q & A with Shmuel Rosner

26 Jan

Q&A with Street Smart Politics Guest:  SHMUEL ROSNER

Shmuel Rosner is an Israeli journalist and editor based in Tel Aviv. He writes for the Jerusalem Post and Maariv, and also wrote many articles for Slate.com, The New Republic, Commentary Magazine, and other publications. He was formerly senior editor (1996-2005) and Chief US Correspondent (2005-2008) for the Israeli daily Haaretz. Pursuing his interest in US history and politics, Rosner also traveled across the United States covering the 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 elections. While in the United States Rosner lectured in Yale, Boston University, Berkeley, American University, The Army War College, The Hudson Institute, The Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, and other venues. He is also author of an upcoming book on American Judaism and Israel-Diaspora relations. He is married with four children.

1) Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama’s relationship has been described as rocky from the outset. However, both leaders have made a public effort to smooth over this perception. How would you describe their relationship now, and to what degree does their liking or not liking each other affect US-Israel diplomacy?

I still don’t think they like each other very much – it would have been nicer to have the two leaders of the two countries to be on friendlier terms – but that’s not the end of the world. President Clinton and PM Rabin got along very well, but President Bush and PM Sharon were not real buddies. Presidents Carter and Reagan didn’t find PM Begin agreeable, but both had to work with him. President G.H.W Bush had to work with PM Shamir (and Shamir had to work with Bush) – no great friendship there. All in all, very good personal relations between leaders are the exception rather than the norm.

The impact this has on diplomacy depends on the men (always men!) involved. I suspect that both with Obama and with Netanyahu the personal rarely have real sway over policy decisions. This means that the President will pursue the same policy with Netanyahu that he would have pursued with someone else – that is, unless one is convinced that Netanyahu the man is the obstacle for peace. In such case, the policy of personal pressure might be applied.

To end: President Obama has many things to worry about – the economy, jobs, China, Russia, Iran, 2012 elections. I don’t think he has much time to worry about Netanyahu – and the Israeli PM would do fine if he makes sure not to give the President reason to worry about him.

2) Palestinian statehood under the Oslo Accords was based on the “land for peace” formula. With Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in a stalemate and gaining international support for an “imposed solution,” is a Palestinian state inevitable whether or not it leads to peace?

There’s no such thing as “inevitable” – we do not know what the future holds. However… I’m yet to see any more plausible scenario. The Israeli public might not worry about Palestinian rights as much as it should – but it did realize long time ago that demographic trends will make it very tricky to keep control of the occupied territories. On the other hand, an “imposed solution” is no more than pipe dream. How will it be imposed and by whom? The international community proved to be quite incapable in Lebanon in recent years – as recent events clearly demonstrate – and it will not be more efficient if it tries to “impose” peace in the Palestinian territories. While frustration of those wanting peace is understandable, vying for solutions that will only complicate matters is definitely not the right course to pursue.

3) Is the leakage of the ‘Palestine Papers’ the nail in the coffin for Mahmoud Abbas and the current Palestinian Authority leadership, at least in terms of domestic credibility? Is the Palestinian public ready (or could they be) to accept compromises that an agreement with Israel would entail?

I’m not sure if Palestinians are ready for the compromises offered according to the Palestinian Papers, but I do think that those quick to mourning the early political demise of Abbas’ were hasty and somewhat hysterical. Abbas will not benefit much from recent publications, but I get the feeling that most of the “Palestinian anger” over the alleged “compromises” was manufactured and hardly authentic. Palestinians seem to be busy with their lives and for the most part un-bothered by the Papers.

4) PM Netanyahu’s public position is that a ‘united Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.’ Is this a red line or a starting position for potential negotiations?

You can divide Jerusalem and still call it “United Jerusalem”. Dividing the city will be very complicated, but insisting on it remaining all under Israeli jurisdiction, while also claiming to be striving for peace, will also be complicated.

5) Being in Israel, what is more worrisome, a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities (and the likely reprisal) or a nuclear armed Iran?

What’s worrisome is the fact that Iran seems to be gaining and having more influence and that the forces opposing Iran seem to be weakening and loosing ground. What’s worrisome is the happenings in Lebanon and the inability of the international community to form a policy that is viable to counter Iran’s growing strength. The two options you’ve mentioned are the two bad options – can’t we try first to have one option that isn’t as bad?

SOTU ‘Word Cloud’

26 Jan

Below is a “word cloud” created on Wordle.net of the President’s State of the Union Address and the Republican response. An interesting visual representation of what each speech focused on.

State of the Union

(click to expand)

Republican Response


America and Arab political reform

9 Jan

A couple weeks ago I commented on the Egyptian parliamentary elections and the effect that political stagnation in Egypt has on the United States.  The Wall Street Journal reports that Secretary of State Clinton is now embarking on a Mid-East tour of Arab states allied with the US, with the goal of promoting political reform:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will press key Arab states this week to further open up their political systems, according to U.S. officials, amid what analysts say are growing signs that democratic reforms in parts of the strategic Middle East have stagnated.

The Obama administration has been criticized by democracy activists over the past two years for not pushing Arab leaders from Cairo to Amman to more aggressively pursue political openness. But the chief American diplomat’s mission will be complicated, say Mideast analysts, by recent political and social turmoil engulfing some of Washington’s closest strategic partners in the region, including Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria.

WSJ’s foreign affairs correspondent and deputy editorial page editor, Bret Stephens, comments on how Egyptian politicians, public figures, and government controlled media are attempting to deflect criticism by casting events such as shark attacks, sectarian violence, and even al-Qaeda as Zionist plots.  This phenomenon is not new and not specific to Egypt.  While such conspiracy theories are humorous in their overreach, they also underscore a desperate inability of Arab states to accept accountability and deal with festering social, political, and economic issues head on.

The dangers of political stagnation in Arab countries reaches beyond their borders and directly affects US interests and security.  As for Egypt, notes Stephens:

For the West, it means an Egypt that resembles nothing so much as Iran in the waning days of the Shah, in which a comparatively moderate regime led by a sickly despot confronts a restive and radical public.

The last thing the United States needs right now is an Iran-style Islamist revolution.  While there is no immediate danger of that happening in Egypt or other regional states aligned with the US (with the possible exception of Tunisia), the region is not exactly stable.  Continued stagnation in Arab states is forcing their public to seek alternative forms of government.  More often than not, as with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the alternative is more dangerous than the status quo.  Since protests and rigged elections are ineffective in effecting change, extremism and revolution become a tempting “solution.”

This predicament leaves the US trying to balance good relations with our Arab allies while pressuring them to make tough but necessary internal reforms.

Democracy promotion in the Middle East was a cornerstone of the second Bush administration post 9/11.  But support for this policy waned as America faced increasing complications in Iraq.  In his outreach to the Muslim world, President Obama has also muted support for political reforms which peeve Arab governments.  Secretary Clinton’s trip may signal a more engaged approach.   And yet, one trip is unlikely to yield any but cosmetic reforms.  What will be required is a deliberate, sustained effort on the part of the United States to make political reform in the Arab world a top priority.  Given how much such pestering aggravates the Arab governments whose support in the region we continue to seek, it remains to be seen whether the current US administration will sustain this effort or pitch it in favor of government-to-government cooperation on other regional issues.

Source global manufacturers Product Directory e-commerce product product catalogs

Source global manufacturers Product Directory e-commerce product product catalogs