By: Crispin Burke and Albert (Jim) Marckwardt In the book’s final chapter, Kaplan warns America’s pivot to Asia may overlook its greatest foreign policy opportunity: building an enduring partnership with Mexico to safeguard our ... Read more »
President Obama today met with Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Amir of Qatar, a nation the United States works with on a range of issues, including security, military cooperation, commerce and trade.
In remarks following the bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, the President praised Qatar as "a center of innovation" and said the country has shown enormous progress ranging from education to health care under the Amir's leadership.
But President Obama said that most of the leaders' conversation was focused on security issues in that region, relating to U.S. interests and those of the entire world:
"We had a conversation about the situation in Syria. And obviously we've been cooperating closely with Qatar and other countries in seeking to bring about an end to the slaughter that's taking place there; the removal of President Assad, who has shown himself to have no regard for his own people; and to strengthen an opposition that can bring about a democratic Syria that represents all people and respects their rights regardless of their ethnicity or their religious affiliations. And I'm very pleased that we are going to be continuing to work in coming months to try to further support the Syrian opposition, and we'll be closely coordinating our strategies to bring about a more peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis.
We also had an opportunity to discuss the situation in Egypt, where we both very much want to see success on the part of Egyptian democracy. And both of our countries are committed to trying to encourage not only progress in this new democracy, but also economic progress that can translate into actual prosperity for the people there.
We had an opportunity to discuss the situation with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we both agree that peace is in the interest of everyone -- a secure Israel side-by-side with a sovereign Palestinian state. And we exchanged ideas about how we can advance those negotiations, and I've shared the importance of providing support to President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority so that they can be in position to have fruitful negotiations with the Israelis that can bring about, in a timely fashion, a two-state solution.
And I had an opportunity to thank the Amir for the strong support that his country has provided to our efforts in Afghanistan, including the efforts that he has personally been involved with in getting a dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban that might potentially result in some sort of political reconciliation.
These are all very difficult issues and neither of us are under any illusions that they will be solved overnight. But what we agree with is that if our two countries are communicating frankly and constructively, and pursuing common strategies, that we can be a force for good for the entire region and for a vision of a Middle East that is democratic, that is prosperous, that is tolerant, that is representative of all peoples, and that is a force for good around the world."Read more »
By: Richard L. Russell What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in the Middle East and South Asia spreads to the world. Read more »
Ed. note: The full text of the op-ed by Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett is printed below. The piece is published today on BET.com and can be found HERE. Today, General Lloyd Austin became the first African-American to lead the U.S... Read more »
President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres inspect an honor guard during the official arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
On the first day of his visit to the Middle East, the first foreign trip of his second term, President Obama was in Israel, where he met with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The visit is historic, marking the first time the President has visited Israel since taking office, and comes as its citizens celebrate the 65th anniversary of a free and independent State of Israel.
President Obama's visit began with an arrival ceremony at the Ben Gurion airport, followed by an inspection of the Iron Dome Battery defense system in Tel Aviv. The Iron Dome is a short range rocket and mortar defense system, which was developed by Israel and produced with U.S. assistance and is part of a multi-tier missile defense developed to counter the rocket threat against Israel’s civilian population. From there, the President flew on to Jerusalem, where he met with Israeli leaders and attended a working dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu.Read more »
Thomas Friedman is often the target of intense criticism for overly simplistic takes on international relations, the Middle East, business, and society. But he also should be commended when he does right, and this weekend he used his NYT column to direct his readers to a fascinating report on the interface of climate, food prices, and political instability in the Middle East. In short, weather events, food prices, and local-regional political dynamics all intersect with each other to unhinge previously solid dictatorships. Even skilled autocrats long skilled at playing the Middle Eastern game of divide-and-rule, pan-Arab nationalism, and suppression can be unhinged by interaction effects larger than any one country.
The report dovetails with longstanding work by Jack Goldstone, Peter Turchin, and others on demographic-structural causes of political disorder. How do these process act on situatons like the Arab Revolt? Anne-Marie Slaughter, in using the metaphor of "stressor," is exactly on target:
Crime-show devotees will be familiar with the idea of a “stressor”—a sudden change in circumstances or environment that interacts with a complicated psychological profile in a way that leads a previously quiescent person to become violent. The stressor is by no means the only cause of the crimes that ensue, but it is an important factor in a complex set of variables that ultimately lead to disaster.
To recognize deeper forces is to take nothing away from the brave men and women who struggled to overthrow Middle Eastern dictators. It also doesn't suggest that the politics, culture, sociology of the Middle East are just the deterministic products of macroprocesses.1 But one problem with traditional explanations of political unrest is that they do not explain how a solid (yet steadily eroding) authoritarian structure suddenly dissolves. We can see the drip-drip-drip of steadily growing entropy. Yet Hosni Mubarak's Egypt, though dysfunctional, was no Zimbabwe. And guess who is still in power? Likewise, what Friedman dubbed "Hama rules" worked for the elder Assad. Assad Jr. can't seem to hold it together.
One way is to look at social and political divisions and try to predict who can win a mobilization race. Many political analysts looking at Arab states ought to have bitten Jay-Z and said "we don't believe you, you need more people," instead of believing that secular-liberal movements with thin bases of support were going to come out on top. That this was going to happen, to continue the Jay-Z metaphor, was as believable as Mobb Deep's street credibility after Hova put Prodigy on the Summer Jam screen. The other method is to look at political contagion. When enough people individually decide to disobey El Jefe, the macrosocial pattern that results collapses the regime. But why they decide is still contested.
Another way is to look at larger patterns created by the interaction of the human and natural worlds. There is a certain determinism, as John Sheldon observed, in rejecting geopolitics and other natural influences on politics out of a fear of....determinism. it's a determinsm of the kind that rejects the causal influence of the very structures that human civilization both grew with and substantially changed. The intelligence community recognizes the importance of the possible political impact of larger natural-social processes: that's precisely why they shell out the dough for Global Trends. I can't really improve on Tuchin's explanation of why the "determinism" accusation falls flat:
W]hen students of dynamical systems (or, more colourfully, ‘chaoticians’ such as Jeff Goldblum’s character in the film Jurassic Park) talk about ‘cycles’, we do not mean rigid, mechanical, clock-like movements. Cycles in the real world are chaotic, because complex systems such as human societies have many parts that are constantly moving and influencing each other.
The ability to appreciate and integrate the moving parts and how they enable Malthus to trump Mubarak is an important (and underreported) element of 21st century security policy analysis. Note that I'm probably preaching to the choir here--the website I am blogging on also hosts a center that tackles these issues.
1. A side note: though I defended political science from what I viewed as unfair attacks, I do agree that political science could use some improvement. Political science has a problem with complex causality. As Kindred Winekoff pointed out, political science (particularly international relations) falls short in recognizing that social outcomes are not interdependent of each other. This is perhaps why those inclined towards war studies and military history often find American political science frustrating. Barry Watts (full disclosure: former professor at Georgetown) skewered Robert Pape's Bombing to Win because it lacked the proper instruments to measure the full strategic effect generated by strategic bombing.
Though it's an unscientific intuition, I suspect that the policy-inclined often are frustrated with how reductionist political science can be in looking at the messy, complex real world they've observed in their own practice. This explains the popularity of pop-sci "butterflies and hurricanes" bastardizations of complexity science among policy circles. People are looking for a language, vocabulary, and knowledge base that resonates with their own experiences. This isn't to say reductionist models aren't useful---reduction is inevitable. But how much does matter for the problem you're trying to explain and how you intend to use the explanation you generate.Read more »
By Chris Lundry Indonesian Islamist site syabab.com featured a story on Syria’s embattled leader Bashar al-Assad which states that his looming demise is the culmination of a “Western Plot.” This “news” is fascinating for those who have paid even just a little attention to events as they unfold in Syria. Didn’t the US and the West equivocate for months as Assad murdered his own people? Was that part of the plan? Was part of the [...] Read more »
The fight for control of Iraq's Oil is heating up again between the government in Iraq and Kurdistan. Now, major oil companies are choosing sides. Read more »
ASP ICYMI- Read about what's going on today! #energy #Iran #China #Climate Change #Nuclear #Egypt Read more »
The Middle East Channel Editor's Blog
On December 26, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi signed off on a new constitution. It was not a cheerful occasion for many politically active Egyptians, following one of the most intensely, dangerously polarized months in recent Egyptian history. The bitterly controversial two-round referendum approving the constitution revealed the depth of the political and social chasm which had been torn through the political class. I offered my own thoughts on the meaning of these events late last month in my "Requiem for Calvinball," but that was only one part of the wide range of coverage on the Middle East Channel of coverage of the crisis. So I'm pleased to announce here the release of POMEPS Briefing #17: The Battle for Egypt's Constitution, collecting our articles on the constitution and the political landscape left in the wake of this explosive crisis.[[BREAK]]
The constitutional drafting process, as Nathan Brown pointed out just before the explosion of the crisis, had been a shambolic mess for over a year and little resembled academic conceptions of how a constitutional process should unfold. There was little high-minded public discourse here, little search for wide national consensus, little attempt to reach beyond political interest to seek a higher dimension of political agreement. Rebuilding a ship at sea, in Jon Elster's endlessly evocative phrase, never looked so perilous. Complaints about Islamist domination of the constituent assembly had led to mass resignations by non-Islamist members and excoriating commentary in the Egyptian public sphere. Backroom battles over the powers of state institutions intersected with principled arguments over matters such as the role of Islam and public freedoms. This was not the heady stuff of the great constitutional assemblies celebrated in the history textbooks -- even before the surreal, late-night, non-deliberative ratification process.
Those byzantine battles might have continued indefinitely had Morsi not seen the opportunity to act more forcefully. His diplomatic success in brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas (see Brumberg's essay, and mine) brought him unprecedented international acclaim, and perhaps emboldened him to press his advantage at home. He first issued a presidential decree of breathtaking scope (see Revkin's essay), which in principle (though of course not in in reality) placed him above all oversight and accountability. His brazen power grab succeeded where almost everything else had failed -- it got Egyptians back out into the streets protesting. But those protests quickly turned ugly and violent, revealing intense polarization rather than societal unity, as Muslim Brotherhood supporters attacked protests and Brotherhood offices were burned to the ground across the country (see Goldberg's essay).
The diagnosis of the nature of the crisis is itself controversial. Indeed, as Hamid points out, the Islamists and their opponents seemed to be living in almost entirely different conceptual worlds. Was this the unfolding of an Islamist scheme to consolidate theocratic rule, or the ungainly and poorly executed endgame of a horribly mismanaged transition? Was it a renewal of the January 25 revolution or the dividing of that revolutionary unity into two hostile camps? Hanna's essay incisively argues that Morsi and the Brotherhood appeared to aspire to domination rather than to building a consensual political system, taking their electoral victory as a mandate for majoritarian politics. I pointed to the greater analytical significance of the absence of any institutional constraints, which made the fears of such alleged Brotherhood ambitions difficult to contain. With the Brotherhood and Morsi seeming to repeatedly break their word and escalate the situation, and with blood in the streets and furious words everywhere, no consensus seemed remotely possible.
The constitutional referendum set the stage for exceptionally important parliamentary elections, now scheduled for April. For the first time in ages the divided and weak opposition sees the possibility of pushing back against the Brotherhood through the unification and mobilization of a new coalition united mainly by fury over the rule of the Brotherhood (see Hill and Yaqoub). The referendum results, with a strong showing for the opposition in Cairo, low turnout overall, and a failure to reach the symbolic 67 percent threshold, offered some grounds for optimism among the various opposition forces (see Masoud's essay). The renewed political divisions and bickering of the opposition over the last few weeks are not reassuring in this regard.
Whatever the elections bring, the Brotherhood is now facing more public scrutiny and political pressure than ever before, and seems unable or unwilling to reach out to mend the shattered relationships. It has dealt poorly with this new political arena, struggling to adapt to its new power and responsibilities (see Anani). The crisis has generated a tremendous wave of antagonism toward the Muslim Brotherhood among parts of the Egyptian political class Brotherhood's opponents now warn of the "Brotherhoodization" of all sectors of political and social life. They see Islamists pushing to deepen their control not only over elected bodies such as the Shura Council and the parliament, but over local government, the bureaucracy, labor unions (see Bishara), and the media (Mabrouk). That anti-Brotherhood rhetoric can go to such absurd extremes that it sometimes resembles the silliness of Western anti-Islamist conspiracy theorists (two spheres which are regrettably increasingly feeding upon each other). But broadly speaking, the pushback against the Brotherhood and the challenges it faces in governing and its badly dented reputation speak well for a more balanced Egyptian political arena in the coming years.
And what of the constitution itself? It isn't the worst constitution in the world, but it's not very good (see Hellyer). It is not the blueprint for theocracy or for renewed dictatorship described by its most extreme critics, but nor does it lay out a clear and forward leaning political architecture. Its treatment of Islam (see Lombardi and Brown) potentially opens the door to significant changes in the relationship between religion and state. More broadly, the ambiguous wording of the constitution and its frequent references to important issues being determined through legislation worry those who fear that such loopholes will be exploited.
Lurking behind this political drama lies Egypt's accelerating and truly frightening economic collapse. Morsi and the IMF were reportedly close to a deal, but talks broke down in the face of the political instability (see Wills). Attempts to deal with the cost of subsidies were quickly withdrawn in the face of the political turbulence, and won't be easy for the Brotherhood to implement (which should be another source of optimism for the opposition). But this isn't just politics. With the Egyptian pound collapsing, tourism and exports in an abyss, and Qatari loans only a stopgap, the crisis is acute. Last year, Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater told me that attracting foreign investment and rebalancing the Egyptian economy had to be the country's top priority -- but what rational investor would take a stake in Egypt as it has been for the last two years? Perhaps the political respite will reassure investors and the IMF, but it seems unlikely that this polarized political arena will remain calm for long.
Analysis of Egyptian politics over the last year, much like Egyptian politics itself, has tended toward hyperbole and polarization. It also tends to be too Egyptian-centric, seeing everything there as unique and neglecting the lessons of other difficult transitions from authoritarian rule. Economic struggles, political polarization, resentment at the opportunism of parties which surge into power, dissatisfaction with the fruits of revolution, disappointing constitutions -- these are not unique to Cairo. Analysts should perhaps spend less time trying to decipher the true Islamic inclinations of the Muslim Brotherhood and responding to the daily Egyptian political churn, and more time with the political science transitions literature. And, of course, with POMEPS Brief #17: The Battle for Egypt's Constitution.Read more »