Posts Tagged ‘presence’


July 4th, 2012 Comments off
I heard on Fox News this afternoon that the US is “quietly” increasing its military presence in the Gulf.  I was amused because I read about that on the front page of the New York Times.

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‘The US should offer political & material support to Syria’s insurgents even if Al Qaeda infiltrates them!’

May 23rd, 2012 Comments off

Via MoonOfAlabama’s piece “Syria: Time For Assad To Prepare To Attack“; 

“… The presence of jihadists worsens the situation in Syria: it is likely to both bolster the Syrian regime politically and keep the opposition divided. The presence of a jihadist element in the rebellion, however, should not be the conclusive factor determining whether the United States offers stronger political or materiel support to the rebellion…..”

 ‘Al Mawlawi: A her’s welcoming release & newfound friend of the Lebanese Sunni nomenklatura

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Decades to come

April 28th, 2012 Comments off
Krim sent me this: “”The Afghan government and the U.S. signed a deal Sunday governing night raids by American troops, resolving an issue that had threatened to derail a larger pact governing a U.S. presence in the country for decades to come.”  The same article also appeared on yahoo, here, but later on yahoo sneakily changed the above to:
“The U.S. and Afghanistan signed a deal Sunday giving Afghans authority over raids of Afghan homes, resolving one of the most contentious issues between the two wartime allies.”

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Russian warships ‘permanently’ in Syrian waters!

April 13th, 2012 Comments off

(Reuters) – “A Russian news agency reported on Friday that Moscow had decided to keep a warship on patrol off Syria for the foreseeable future, but a military source said Russia’s naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean had “nothing to do” with Syria…”

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The irrelevance of America’s withdrawal from Iraq

April 3rd, 2012 Comments off

On December 15, 2011, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the formal end of America’s military presence in Iraq. The withdrawal came after the inability to reach
agreement on a revised Status of Forces Agreement which would have
allowed a limited number of troops to remain under legal conditions
acceptable to the Pentagon.  While the vast majority of Iraqis and
Americans supported the departure of America’s military presence, some
supporters of a long-term U.S. military presence warned of disaster.  Some, like Senator John McCain and the Romney campaign, continue to fume that we no longer occupy Iraq and complain that Obama has lost what Bush gained. But
in fact, the American departure has hardly mattered at all — and that’s a good thing.

This isn’t to say that Iraq has emerged as a peaceful, democratic
paradise or an enthusiastic pro-American ally. Hardly.  That was never in the cards, after the disastrous invasion and bungled occupation led to a horrific civil war and a near-failed state.  Iraq today remains a violent, poorly
institutionalized place with deep societal fissures and unresolved
political tensions.  But little has happened in the months since the
U.S. withdrawal which differs significantly from what had been happening
while the U.S. remained. The negative trends are the same ones which plagued Iraq despite the presence of U.S. troops in 2007,
2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. The U.S. presence contributed to some of those problems, helped deal with some, and  failed to resolve others.  But it had always struggled to convert its military presence into political leverage, and by 2011 it had become almost completely irrelevant. 

The real story of America’s withdrawal from Iraq is how little impact it has really had on either Iraq or the region.  There are even signs that the withdrawal has helped to nudge Iraqis onto the right path, though not as quickly or directly as I might have hoped. This
month’s death toll was the lowest on record
since the 2003
invasion, while Iraqi oil exports are at their highest level since 1980. Baghdad successfully hosted an Arab Summit meeting, which may have done little for Syria but did go further to bring Iraq back into the Arab fold than anything since 2003.  Maliki’s jousting with his domestic foes and efforts to balance Iraq’s ties with Tehran with improved Arab relations are what needs to happen for Iraq to regain a semblance of normality.   It isn’t pretty, and probably won’t be any time soon, but there’s absolutely no reason to believe that it would look any better with American troops still encamped in the country.  Thus far, Obama’s risky but smart gamble to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq is paying off. [[BREAK]]

This is not to say that there aren’t reasons to worry about Iraq’s future.  There are many.  It is troubling that Maliki has driven Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi into exile on terrorism charges and has rebuffed all efforts at meaningful cooperation with his political rivals. It is troubling that core constitutional issues such as the oil law and the limits of federalism remain unresolved. It is troubling that violence and terrorism continues to claim Iraqi lives and unsettle its politics.  It is troubling that the Iraqi Parliament appears inept and incompetent, as tirelessly chronicled by Reidar Visser, and that the rule of law has gained little purchase. 

But what’s striking is that these problems are the same ones which
kept us all up nights in previous years. None of these trends is remotely new, and few have become palpably worse since the American departure.  Iraqis have been worried about
the centralization of power in Maliki’s office and his authoritarian
tendencies for the last four years.  Iraq’s political and sectarian
factions have failed to reconcile or achieve meaningful political unity
despite intense U.S. pressure to do so for years.  Various militant
groups have been carrying out bombings, revenge killings,
assassinations, and acts of terrorism for years. 

But the key point is that extending the U.S. presence beyond 2011 would likely have had almost no impact on any of these trends.  By serving as a lightning rod for political criticism in a very hostile Iraqi political arena, an unpopular extension might well have made them worse.  The argument that the U.S. would have more influence over Iraqi politics if it had not withdrawn its troops simply has very little foundation.  A stronger argument can be made that a residual U.S. force would have provided a needed safety net in the difficult political battles to come, for instance in the relationship between Baghdad and the Kurdish areas.  But even there it isn’t obvious that troops inside of Iraq would make a significant difference — and the safety net itself might have retarded progress towards the necessary compromises.  

All told, Obama’s decision to complete the withdrawal from Iraq along his original timeline has been largely vindicated.  Disaster has yet to occur, and some positive signs can be glimpsed from within the haze of a hotly contentious and murky political scene.   And American troops are no longer trapped in the middle.  That’s probably the best that could have been hoped for out of the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq — a mistake which we should all hope is not repeated in Syria, Iran or anywhere else.   

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‘Kyai’ Twitter: When clerics go online

February 6th, 2012 Comments off, ‘Kyai’ Twitter: When clerics go online, 3 Feb 2012 “Rest assured, the presence of moderate clerics on the Internet has given new optimism for disseminating moderate teachings to Indonesian Muslims. In addition, preaching through social media might serve as an effective tool for deradicalization.”
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EU approves Iran oil imports ban

January 23rd, 2012 Comments off

EU foreign ministers formally agree to an oil embargo against Iran, as Western powers reinforce their naval presence in the region.
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Should Embassy Damascus be closed?

January 22nd, 2012 Comments off


The U.S. Embassy in Damascus is
reportedly planning to shut down
if the Syrian government can not — or
will not — provide adequate security guarantees.  If the safety of
Embassy personnel is seriously in danger, then of course they should
make the safe call to protect them.  But the security rationale masks a
deeper question:  at what point should Ambassador Robert Ford be
recalled on political grounds?

I argued long and hard for Ford’s confirmation as Ambassador, and
for the importance of having someone like him on the ground in
Damascus.  I believe that his performance has more than vindicated that
stance.   But has the usefulness of his presence come to an end? 

There are
three arguments to withdraw him and close the Embassy, beyond the security concerns.  First, the Asad
regime is too far gone at this point for diplomacy, listens to nobody,
and this leaves little room for traditional diplomacy.  Second, the
rapid and frightening militarization of the conflict has seriously
reduced the space for public diplomacy, as Embassy personnel (and Ford
himself) have few opportunities to get out to engage.  Finally,
withdrawing him would send a strong message to Asad and to the world
that the window has closed on a transition which includes him.   

These arguments all have merit, and the point may soon come where
withdrawing Ford and closing the Embassy would be appropriate.  But we
have not yet reached that point.  All policy choices at this point on
Syria must be guided by three objectives:  ending the violence and
protecting civilians;  hastening Asad’s fall;  and creating the
conditions for a successful transition following Asad’s fall.  One of
the reasons which I continue to oppose Western military intervention is
that while such a military role it may hasten Asad’s fall it would
likely create far less favorable conditions for post-Asad Syria.  The
same goes for a deliberate strategy of arming the Syrian opposition,
which could quickly empower armed militias at the expense of political
leadership and create the conditions for wide-scale civil war following
Asad’s fall. 

Would withdrawing Ford and closing the Embassy serve those goals?  At this point, it would have
little effect one way or the other on the violence.  Nor would it likely
have much impact in hastening Asad’s fall.  Asad would probably be thrilled to see him gone, frankly. It might matter at the
margins if all major Embassies closed at the same time in a coordinated,
multilateral demonstration of Asad’s international isolation —
something which I would recommend when the time comes. But it isn’t
going to a primary driver of political change.

The core question, then, is whether a U.S. diplomatic presence helps
create the conditions for a "soft landing" post-Asad.  At this point, I
believe that it does. The Syrian National Council is still struggling
to create a legitimate, effective and unified external opposition
umbrella, and the State Department is doing what it can to work with
them.  But increasingly the important action is taking place inside of
Syria — not just the Free Syrian Army, but the local leadership and
opposition groups emerge in villages and cities.  They will likely play a
key role in any post-Asad Syria.  The more opportunity the Embassy has
to engage with, learn about, and forge relationships with these new
forces inside Syria the better.

Beyond the internal opposition and the Asad regime, Ford and the
Embassy also still have the chance to talk with the fence-sitters and
elites whose decision to stick with or abandon Asad will likely
determine his fate. They have legitimate fears about the future, and
doubts about their fate after Asad.   It is just as important to talk
with the business community, minorities, intellectuals, and other elites
at this point as it is to talk with the emerging opposition.   The
business community in particular needs to come to believe that the
sanctions which Asad has brought upon them will increasingly harm their
interests — but could be quickly removed and their fortunes restored
should Asad and his regime depart and a legitimate, inclusive political
transition begun.

For now, then, Ford and the Embassy should stay in Damascus unless
the security situation is genuinely too dangerous.  The political
benefits of his presence, particularly for preparing for a potential
transition and engaging emergent forces and frightened elites, still
outweight the momentary impact of his withdrawal.  That may change, but
for now I hope they stay.

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Sectarian killings in Syria and role of Hizb At-Tahrir

December 7th, 2011 Comments off
An informed reader answered a few questions for me about Syria:  “Yes, both sides appear engaged in kidnapping and killing. Some Sunni blame Al-Sahbei7a for some of these (they claim that the regime wants to fuel sectarianism) but no one could confirm that for me with evidence.

Historically, Hizb AtTahrir had a strong presence in Hims. I was invited as a teenager (now I am 49) but was more interested in girls than in the party. As I’ve seen in the ’80s, the regime managed to eliminate most, if not all, of its followers (along with Ikhwan, of course) and I do not believe that the young generation (now 15-40) has been significantly exposed to either party. This is based on my observations, and I have to say that I cannot be 100% sure. My contacts are not politically connected to these parties (they are mostly liberal/secular or lightly religious) so I doubt they would know for certain. The names of demonstrators (and detainees) that I was told about do not belong to Islamist parties for sure. Most of them are educated young men that either cannot find jobs or have little prospects for advancement if they have ones. The graduated from college (or even higher education) yet they have to drive a taxi or do other menial jobs to make some living. Also, many of the demonstrators (whom I am less directly exposed to) are of economically poor and from a traditional, strict (but not political,) religious background. The demonstrations have galvanized people around their respective neighborhoods and became some sort of a communal activity with a fair amount of organization. People have roles and those who do not participate are shunned and ridiculed as cowards. Leaderships have arisen from within with loose connection with adjacent neighborhoods.

Towns that I know quite well about are Djebleh and banias. There was/is no signification presence of Tahrir or Ikhwasn in these rather small (mixed Sunni and Alawi) towns. Yet they were one oh the early risers against the regime. They have been brutally subdued and numerous men still detained.

To sum, it is my impression that the Islamist political parties (with much stronger presence outside rather than inside Syria) have been taken by surprise with the revolution and did not have a role, at least initially, in it. I am not confident in judging whether they managed to connect with (steal) the revolution and participate in organizing in any significant way. I am sorry I cannot be of more useful in this regard. I will ask, though, and if I gather any additional information, I will forward it to you.”

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Karzai’s fate

November 15th, 2011 Comments off
Afghan officials affirmed, however, that Mr. Karzai’s overarching goal is to obtain an agreement with the Americans, not least because he knows that his fate is closely tied to their military presence and aid.”

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