11 March 2015

India Gears Up to Tackle China in Its Backyard

March 10, 2015

With Narendra Modi’s tour of three Indian Ocean states this week, New Delhi will renew its commitment to the region. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be on a three-nation trip this week which will take him to the Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka – three key Indian Ocean island nations. There were suggestions that the prime minister will be visiting Maldives as well but it was dropped from the itinerary after the arrest and incarceration of the country’s first democratically elected president and current opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed in an expression of India’s disapproval of these moves. Indian Prime Minister is likely to step up his nation’s military and civilian assistance to the Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka during his visit in an effort to balance China’s growing imprint in the region, which has built highways, power plants, and seaports in these small island nations. India envisages its role as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region and towards that end it is providing patrol ships, surveillance radars and ocean mapping for the island states.

The visit of the Indian Prime Minister to the nation’s maritime neighbors is reflective of India’s desire to shore up its profile in the Indian Ocean region, a region long considered India’s backyard but where New Delhi’s influence has been eroding slowly but steadily. China has extended a quiet challenge to India’s preeminence in South Asia through diplomatic and aid efforts directed at the small island nations dotting the Indian Ocean. While China, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asian nations fight over specks of islands and reefs in East and South China Sea, mainly because of undersea resources, islands in the Indian Ocean are emerging as a new focus for struggle between China and India.

China has also been busy forging special ties with island nations on India’s periphery including Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Mauritius. China’s attempt to gain a foothold in the Indian Ocean came into view in 2012 when reports emerged of an offer from Seychelles – a strategically located island nation in the Indian Ocean – to China for a base to provide relief and resupply facilities to the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Though promptly denied by Beijing, the offer underscored the changing balance of power in the region. India has traditionally been the main defense provider for Seychelles – providing armaments and training to its Peoples’ Defense Forces, or SPDF. India extended a $50 million line of credit and $25 million grant to Seychelles in 2012 in an attempt to cement strategic ties. The Indian Navy has also been making regular forays into the island nation’s surrounding waters.

India No Longer the World's Top Arms Importer

March 09, 2015

IHS reports that Saudi Arabia surpassed India to become the world’s top arms importer in 2014. 

A recently released study by defense research company IHS notes that India conceded its position as the world’s top arms exporter — a superlative it had held for several years running — to Saudi Arabia in 2014. Saudi spending on arms last year stood at $6.5 billion while India spent $5.8 billion on its needs. IHS predicts that the trend will be lasting. Saudi Arabia, according to the report, will spend $9.8 billion in 2015, accounting for a seventh of worldwide expenditure on arms imports. Global defense trade rose to a record $64.4 billion, representing the sixth consecutive year-on-year increase, according to the same report.

India’s recently announced 2015 government budget earmarked $40 billion for defense expenditure, a sum that some have described as inadequate for the country’s ambitious defense modernization plans. For example, Defense News reported recently that India’s newly announced budget casts doubt that the long-running contract negotiations with France’s Dassault Aviation for the purchase of 126 Rafale fighters to fulfill India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) needs could fail due to inadequate funding. The Rafale deal is expected to cost $12 billion. New Delhi currently has nearly $20 billion in foreign procurement proposals pending, with the MMRCA contract being the largest. Following the MMRCA, India is considering acquiring Airbus A330 tankers, Boeing Apache attack helicopters, nearly 200 light utility helicopters, and heavy lift helicopters. Despite its long wishlist of foreign military equipment, the current Indian government has placed a major strategic emphasis on building an indigenous defense industrial base.

Afghanistan: Five Tasks for Ghani’s Crucial U.S. Visit

By Tamim Asey
March 09, 2015

With his country at a critical juncture, the Afghan president needs to make the most of his Washington visit. 

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is about to embark on his first official visit to the U.S. as head of state. He will be hosted at the White House along with his former rival and now partner in the National Unity Government (NUG), Abdullah Abdullah. Both leaders inherit a bumpy legacy of U.S.-Afghan relations. Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai had a rocky relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama and his national security team. That deep distrust, together with Karzai’s very public outbursts at U.S. policies, has cost Afghanistan dearly in terms of both image and goodwill amongst the U.S. public and its policymakers. According to recent polls, Afghanistan no longer ranks among the top foreign policy priorities for the United States.

President Ghani and his team have a major task ahead of them reversing the damaged relationship between the two countries and rebuilding goodwill in the United States. Besides repairing the damaged relationship, the Afghan delegation should try to secure long-term economic assistance and security guarantees from the United States. Without them, Afghanistan will fast descend into chaos, with repercussions for the entire region. The cost of inaction will be far greater than a long-term commitment to peace and stability.

Specifically, Ghani and his delegation should try to accomplish the following five tasks.

1. Rebuild Afghanistan’s image and its relations with the U.S.

Karzai was the darling of the West during his first term in office. It was his sense of insecurity and some misguided tactics by the late Richard Holbrooke and his team in trying to unseat Karzai during the 2009 elections that cultivated deep resentment and distrust. With Karzai’s outbursts, bilateral relationships soured and the interest of the U.S. public in the Afghan war and economic assistance waned.

Ghani and his delegation must convince the American public and policymakers that Afghanistan is worth the fight and that the sacrifices the U.S. has made should not be for nothing. The national security interests of both countries are at stake.

Preserving History: Lessons From Afghanistan and Iraq

By Jack Detsch
March 10, 2015

ISIS’s destruction of sacred historical monuments deserves condemnation. But it is part of a broader and older problem. 

The Islamic State’s bulldozing of statues, walls, and a castle in the ancient Assyrian capital of Nimrud drewinternational condemnation last week.

Writer Mohammad Rabia Chaar, speaking with Anne Barnard of The New York Times, was particularly sickened. “Daesh wants people wit no memory, with no history, with no culture, no past, no future,” Chaar said, referring to an Arabic derivation of the group’s name. ISIS even destroyed the winged bulls that adorn Iraqi currency, calling the statues “false idols.”

This is nothing new for militant groups. A week before the Nimrud attack, ISIS tore through Mosul, ransacking the city’s museum, library, and Nirgal Gate, taking sledgehammers to ancient Assyrian treasures, some which dated back to the 13th century. Before American forces drove Taliban militants out of Afghanistan in March 2001, Mullah Omar ordered the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, relics of the ancient Gandhara civilization, which inhabited the region in the sixth century CE.

But it’s not just armed militants that are destroying the treasures of antiquity. In Afghanistan, farmers, merchants, and vandals venture to the northern city of Balkh, once the crossroads of traders and conquerors like Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, in hopes of digging up ancient relics to bring to the illicit marketplace.

In Afghanistan, the black market for ancient treasures has become increasingly lucrative. With their eyes on keeping the peace, neither the government nor the army has the interest in punishing such crimes. For Afghans,preserving artifacts like the Bactrian Hoard, fine golden jewelry dating to the first century CE that was excavated just before the Soviet invasion in 1978, seems less important than dealing with basic human needs.

China Challenges ASEAN with Land Fills in South China Sea

March 10, 2015

With ongoing reclamation work, the outlook for the region remains grim. 

A stunning series of photos released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C. offer a grim outlook for the region as Beijing ratchets-up its territorial assertions over the hotly disputed Spratly and Paracel islands.

At least four major man-made structures have been erected on Itu, Gaven, Johnson South and Fiery Cross reefs with supply platforms, communications, gun emplacements, and docking facilities installed alongside artificial islands over the winter months.

CSIS analyst Greg Poling said China’s reclamation work in the South China Sea – known as the East Sea in Hanoi and the West Philippines Sea in Manila – was progressing faster than anticipated and that Beijing had gone further than any other claimant.

“Its reclamation certainly violates the spirit of the 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) between China and ASEAN, and is at best on shaky legal grounds,” he said.

The DOC is supposed to facilitate dialogue among the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, providing a means to halt potential confrontations in the South China Sea before they escalate into something much worse.

But its implementation remains incomplete and Beijing is demanding territorial disputes involving the Spratly or Paracels be dealt with on a bilateral basis and not at a regional level through a unified ASEAN approach. That has divided loyalties within ASEAN.

Of members with overlapping claims, the Philippines and Vietnam have been vocal and Hanoi has been on a defense build-up through a series of major arms acquisitions with Russia worth billions of dollars, including six Kilo-class submarines and up to 20 Su-30 fighter-bombers.

China’s lawless path

March 8,2015

The biggest beneficiary of Vladimir Putin’s depredations, at least in the short term, may be China. 

It’s not just that, with his European markets constricting, Putin is easy pickings for Chinese negotiators when he comes selling natural gas. 

Fred Hiatt is the editorial page editor of The Post. He writes editorials for the newspaper and a biweekly column that appears on Mondays. He also contributes to the PostPartisan blog. 

It’s also that he makes China look good by comparison — which is not easy, given that China is in the midst of a historic crackdown on civil society and freedom. 

With Russia invading and occupying a neighboring nation, and repeatedly lying about it, China’s bullying in the South China Sea seems tame. 

And with opposition politicians being gunned down gangland-style within walking distance of the Kremlin, China’s harassment and imprisonment of human rights activists comes across as almost civilized. 

Yet for all of Putin’s barbarities, China may pose a greater challenge to the democratic world — and to the next U.S. president — because its turn toward repression has upended the basic assumptions of U.S. policy toward China since it opened to the world decades ago. 

The crackdown itself is no longer in dispute. Last year President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party “unleashed the harshest campaign of politically motivated investigations, detentions, and sentencing in the past decade, marking a sharp turn toward intolerance of criticism,” Human Rights Watch said recently in its annual world report. 

From the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, party control coincided with “an expansion of space for citizens and society,” as the organization’s senior Asia researcher Nicholas Bequelin told me during a recent visit to Washington. 

That loosening ended in 2007, as the Beijing Olympics approached, and China began going in the opposite direction. The trend has accelerated since Xi took over two years ago. “The space is not expanding any more, and the walls are getting higher,” Bequelin said. 

Confirmed: China Is Building 2nd Aircraft Carrier

March 9, 2015 

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is building its second aircraft carrier, several senior Chinese military officials have confirmed, a Hong Kong daily is reporting.

On Monday, Taiwan Focus News Channel cited the Chinese-language The Hong Kong Commercial Daily in reporting that China has begun work on its second aircraft carrier, which will have a more advanced launch system the one currently used on China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

According to Taiwan Focus News Channel, the initial report cited Liu Xiaojiang, the former political commissioner of the PLA Navy, as saying that the “government's industrial and manufacturing agencies are now in charge of the ship's construction.” The report also cited Ding Haichun, who was promoted to the position of deputy political commissioner of the PLA Navy back in January, as confirming that China’s second aircraft carrier is under construction.

Taiwan Focus News Channel went on to paraphrase Ding as saying that “after the completion of the ship's construction, it will be turned over to the Navy for training maneuvers.”

Revealed: The Battleground in China's Next War

March 10, 2015 

The opening salvo in China's next major conflict is likely to take place in cyberspace.

East Asia’s strategic assessments and debates currently focus on five key issues: the pace, character, and direction of China’s military modernization; the struggle for dominance by the region’s two major powers (China and Japan); the future of the Korean Peninsula; intra-regional competition in territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea; and perhaps most importantly, the contours of long-term regional strategic competition and rivalry between China and the United States. In every major security issue facing East Asia, however, there is a major Chinese footprint, both direct and indirect.

Traditionally, China’s primary strategic interests, influence, and military modernization initiatives have aimed at prevailing in any future conflict over the status of Taiwan. While Taiwan scenarios remain the baseline for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) defense planning, China’s military is gradually developing asymmetric warfare strategies and technologies designed to constrain U.S. freedom of action in East Asia. Notwithstanding China’s development of fifth-generation air platforms, standoff precision weapons, ballistic and cruise missiles, early warning, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to naval assets, the key emphasis in PLA strategy is the applicability of computer network operations. Indeed, the next main conflict involving China will likely start in cyberspace.

PLA’s Integrated Network Electronic Warfare

Sorry, America: China Is NOT Going to Collapse

March 10, 2015 

The American fantasy that refuses to die...

In a recent piece published in the Wall Street Journal, The Coming Chinese Crackup, China scholar and George Washington University professor David Shambaugh boldly predicts that the Communist Party of China (CCP)’s endgame has begun. Although, in the past, such brave predictions of the CCP’s collapse have been proven wrong, the fact that such a prediction has come from Shambaugh, a leading China expert, makes it all the more interesting. Ina report from China’s Foreign Affairs University, Shambaugh was named the second most influential China expert in the United States. As such, Chinese scholars and officials will take his opinions seriously.

Professor Shambaugh listed five indicators that point to China’s coming collapse. However, a closer analysis of these five points reveals thatShambaugh’s conclusion is based on incorrect facts and flawed interpretations of China’s recent socioeconomic and political developments.

First, he asserts that wealthy Chinese are fleeing China. Actually, this is only half true. While a large number of wealthy Chinese have migrated to countries like Canada, most of them still do business in China, meaning that they are still have a positive outlook on China’s future. In any case, a good number of these wealthy people move their assets out of China to avoid corruption charges, which has nothing to do with China’s future development. Moreover, in recent years an increasing number of overseas students have chosen to come back to China because they have confidence in China’s future.

Islamic State recruitment in Syria


A look into the factors that have caused some young Syrians to sign up with the world’s most infamous terrorist group, and the strategies it has used to draw them in
North of Aleppo—The Syrian revolution has always been characterized by spontaneity. Even the call to arms was unplanned. Most of the people who first picked up weapons were civilians with no previous experience of war. As a result, most Syrians, and especially the youth, were amazed by the foreign fighters who joined Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups. Because many of these emigrants, or muhajirun, to use their religiously-connoted Arabic name, are highly skilled and experienced fighters, a large number of youths have felt inspired to join their groups and fight alongside them.

The starting point for most Syrians who joined Jabhat al-Nusra and similar groups was a simple and innocent one. Their sole desire was to topple the Assad regime; no ideological element or political aspirations were involved. It was the arrival of the “emigrants” that made young men burn with the desire to fight. “We felt ashamed when we saw the fervor and boldness of the muhajirun; we were the country’s inhabitants and we didn’t have their audaciousness or bravery,” says Liwa al-Tawhid member Abou Mahmoud.

When leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the dissolution of Jabhat al-Nusra, a split began to develop. The picture became gradually clearer and the policies of the two groups differed on the ground. “Syrians liked Nusra because it dedicated itself to fighting the regime,” says Mahmoud, an activist from Aleppo. “It also provided services to the people, and at the time, didn’t want to make material gains or seize power. People were left to administer liberated public utilities for themselves.” ISIS, on the other hand, acted according to a very clear and very different vision. From an early stage, it appropriated vital economic establishments and facilities, and refused to recognize or join any of the revolution’s juristic, political, military or educational institutions. “I remember asking an emir in the group when the split developed, why he didn’t unite with us in the fight against Assad,” says Nasser, a former Free Syrian Army (FSA) member. “He smiled at me and said ‘your problem is that you do not understand we are a state and we work on that basis. How can you expect a state to unite with groups and factions?’ At the time, I made fun of the idea, thinking it was no more than a pipedream.”

U.S. On the Sidelines As Iranian Military Leads Fight Against ISIS in Iraq

W.J. Hennigan and David S. Cloud
May 9, 2015

Iran’s role in Iraqi fight against Islamic State a quandary for U.S.

A major Iraqi military offensive that seeks to oust Islamic State fighters from Saddam Hussein’s hometown is placing the U.S. military in a position it has rarely occupied since it invaded Iraq in 2003 — on the sidelines.

As many as 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and Shiite Muslim militia fighters supported by Iranian military advisors, artillery and rocket launchers started a ground and air assault last week aimed at retaking the strategic city of Tikrit, which fell to militants last summer. No U.S. warplanes are involved in the operation, though they have been carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Iraq for seven months.

The Iraqi attack is the largest and most ambitious by far since Islamic State fighters stormed out of Syria last year and quickly captured 10 cities and vast amounts of territory in Iraq, abruptly pulling the Obama administration and a coalition of allies into the war.

Tikrit is viewed as a pivotal foothold for an expected assault on Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities and the militants’ self-declared capital in Iraq. The Pentagon already has divulged plans to support that operation with airstrikes and possibly special operations teams.

If the Tikrit operation fails or leads to sectarian atrocities and an urban war of attrition, it could hamper a push north to Mosul. It also could weaken the government in Baghdad and deepen the sectarian and political divisions that have fueled Sunni extremists.

But the fighting that began Monday on the outskirts of Tikrit, about 90 miles northwest of Baghdad, highlights a deepening divide between the United States and Iraq over the conduct and pace of the war.

Senior U.S. officials worry that the Iran-backed Shiite militia fighters will carry out reprisals against Sunni residents in Tikrit. Sentiment remains strong there for Hussein, the executed former ruler, as does hostility to the current Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

Did the U.S. Military Play a Role in a Disastrous Philippine Commando Raid Against Islamist Militants?

March 9, 2015 

US Role In Disastrous Philippine Raid Under Scrutiny 

MANILA, Philippines — A disastrous raid on alleged Islamic militants has ignited the worst political crisis yet for Philippine President Benigno Aquino — and questions about the extent of any US role in the operation are deepening his discomfort. 

Some Philippine lawmakers are asking whether the US military played a leading role in the operation in January, which ended with 44 police commandos dead in a field in the country’s Muslim-majority south. 

They point to reports that a US drone was overflying the area at the time, and said to be beaming back real-time images to US commanders as the fiasco unfolded. 

Senate president Franklin Drilon, a powerful member of Aquino’s ruling Liberal Party, is one of at least five senators to have raised questions about what the United States knew. 

"Did the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) know beforehand about this operation?" Drilon asked the head of the police commando unit Getulio Napenas, who lost his job over the affair, in one hearing. 

"Or any US armed forces personnel, did they know about this operation beforehand?" 

Under the terms of an anti-terrorism training deployment, the US is not permitted to engage in combat in the Philippines. 

A US government official told AFP that its troops helped evacuate casualties, but that the operation was “planned and executed by Philippine authorities,” and declined to comment further. 

The State of the Battlefield in the Failed State of Yemen: Is a Sunni v. Shi’ite Civil War Upon Us?

March 9, 2015

The Shia rebels have declare themselves the legitimate rulers of Yemen, but they only control about a third of it. Shia militiamen occupy nearly half the country but in central Yemen the majority Sunnis are resisting with demonstrations and armed violence. The last elected leaders have set up a new capital in the southern port of Aden. There are now frequent attacks against Shia rebels in Baida, Marib, Ibb and Hadramout provinces. The Shia rebels are now trying to obtain aid, investment and diplomatic support from Russia and China, two countries that have long supported Iran. Over 80 percent of the 77 million people living in the Arabian Peninsula are Sunni and they are heavily armed and, at the moment, violently opposed to Shia Iran (the de facto head of Shia Islam). Over 80 percent of all Moslems are Sunni and the most holy shrines for all Moslems are in Saudi Arabia under the control of a very Sunni monarchy. The Yemeni Shia are aware of this which is why so many of them back making a peace deal with the Yemeni Sunnis and accepting as much as they can get. While the Sunni government in Aden is willing to talk, they are also asking for military assistance from the GCC. Many foreign embassies that had left the capital have now reopened in Aden. The U.S. “embassy” for Yemen is now being run out of the American consulate in the Saudi Arabian Red Sea port of Jeddah. Arab and Western nations are mobilizing economic support for the Aden government. 

All this Shia success comes from the fact that the Shia rebels from the north allied themselves with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh (who is from a small Shia tribe near the capital) who was forced out in 2012 and refused to leave the country. Saleh supported (secretly at first but now openly) the Shia rebels and now he has called on military officers who were close to him (many of the senior ones were) to get their troops to join the Shia. Many of the Sunni troops refused or simply deserted. With many army bases undermanned Shia rebels have, pro-Hadi tribesmen and AQAP have been scrambling to take as many bases (and the weapons and other supplies they hold) as they can before all have new, and more determined, owners. Saleh’s successor (Hadi) proved unable to reassemble the coalition Saleh relied on for decades to run the country. Then again, when the Arab Spring came along in 2011 the Saleh coalition showed its age and crumbled. 

On Iran, U.S. Torn Between Supporting Israel and Fighting IS

March 6, 2015

A pro-Israel demonstrator waves flags near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2015 (AP photo by Cliff Owen). 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress this week slammed U.S. President Barack Obama’s quest for a nuclear agreement with Iran, unleashing a political firestorm in Washington. While the speech did not compel anyone to shift their position on the Obama policy, it dramatically amplified the debate, with each side fully convinced that Netanyahu made his case or failed to do so.

That the United States has been unable to manage its conflict with Iran, or even implement a coherent policy, reflects the intricate complexity of the issue—with its multiple components, clashing priorities and impassioned domestic political elements. It is the most politically challenging national security issue that the U.S. faces today.

The most pressing component of the conflict—at least this week—is Iran’s nuclear program. It’s not hard to understand Tehran’s desire for nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic is well aware that regimes without nuclear weapons, like Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi or Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, fell to U.S. military intervention, while those with nuclear weapons, like North Korea, have not. For Iran, the U.S. poses an existential threat.

ISIS Bulldozes One-of-a-Kind Ancient Palace in Iraq

By A. R. Williams, National Geographic
MARCH 06, 2015

Attack may have shattered royal sculptures from the ninth century B.C.
Iraqi workers clean a winged-bull statue at the archaeological site of Nimrud in July 2001. 

The ancient city of Nimrud is the latest target of Islamic militants now ravaging the cultural treasures of Iraq.

In a brief statement, the country's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities reported that ISIS had bulldozed the site, but it offered no information on the extent of the damage.

Spreading along the east bank of the Tigris River south of the modern city of Mosul, the site was one of four consecutive capitals of the Assyrian Empire.

"Nimrud is the modern name," says Nicholas Postgate, a professor of Assyriology at the University of Cambridge. "The ancient name was Kalhu. It's mentioned in the Bible, under the spelling 'Calah.' "

A city had already taken shape at this location by 1400 B.C., but in the early ninth century B.C. King Ashurnasirpal II made it into his new administrative capital, adding a five-mile-long wall, a monumental stepped tower called a ziggurat, new temples, and a large palace covered in elaborate decorations.

The Danger of a Failed Iran Deal

March 08, 2015 

If you want a nuclear Middle East, there’s no better way than to let Tehran walk away. 

In national security policy, you must always be careful what you wish for. Policies with short-term appeal often come with disagreeable longer-term consequences. And that may be exactly what is happening on Capitol Hill as politicians line up against a nuclear deal with Iran.

Today, there are many who are prepared to reject a negotiated nuclear agreement with Iran on the grounds that a return to coercive pressure and isolation will ensure the elimination of the entire Iranian nuclear capability and extend that “zero probability” of a nuclear weapon into the indefinite future. This is close to the position that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out in his speech to Congress last week.

Certainly, turning back the clock and eliminating every aspect of nuclear know-how in Iran would be desirable. But proponents of an even more coercive policy should recognize that if they get their wish, they may create a security threat far greater than the limited threat they are now trying to prevent.

We don’t need a fortuneteller or crystal ball to predict the outcome of such a policy. We have more than three decades of experience to draw upon, based on the policies of eight successive American presidents and four presidents of Iran. Over that period of time, Iran has been subjected to a wide variety of sanctions and pressures. Originally these were mostly unilateral pressures from the U.S., but under the Obama administration they have become far more international and far-reaching, culminating in the crippling sanctions on Iran’s oil sales and its ability to access international financial markets.

The Architects of National Insecurity

March 9, 2015

Policy intellectuals -- eggheads presuming to instruct the mere mortals who actually run for office -- are a blight on the republic. Like some invasive species, they infest present-day Washington, where their presence strangles common sense and has brought to the verge of extinction the simple ability to perceive reality. A benign appearance -- well-dressed types testifying before Congress, pontificating in print and on TV, or even filling key positions in the executive branch -- belies a malign impact. They are like Asian carp let loose in the Great Lakes.

It all began innocently enough. Back in 1933, with the country in the throes of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt first imported a handful of eager academics to join the ranks of his New Deal. An unprecedented economic crisis required some fresh thinking, FDR believed. Whether the contributions of this "Brains Trust" made a positive impact or served to retard economic recovery (or ended up being a wash) remains a subject for debate even today. At the very least, however, the arrival of Adolph Berle, Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and others elevated Washington's bourbon-and-cigars social scene. As bona fide members of the intelligentsia, they possessed a sort of cachet.

Then came World War II, followed in short order by the onset of the Cold War. These events brought to Washington a second wave of deep thinkers, their agenda now focused on "national security." This eminently elastic concept -- more properly, "national insecurity" -- encompassed just about anything related to preparing for, fighting, or surviving wars, including economics, technology, weapons design, decision-making, the structure of the armed forces, and other matters said to be of vital importance to the nation's survival. National insecurity became, and remains today, the policy world's equivalent of the gift that just keeps on giving.

Republicans Warn Iran -- and Obama -- That Deal Won't Last

MAR 8, 2015

A group of 47 Republican senators has written an open letter to Iran's leaders warning them that any nuclear deal they sign with President Barack Obama's administration won’t last after Obama leaves office.

Organized by freshman Senator Tom Cotton and signed by the chamber's entire party leadership as well as potential 2016 presidential contenders Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the letter is meant not just to discourage the Iranian regime from signing a deal but also to pressure the White House into giving Congress some authority over the process.

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” the senators wrote. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Arms-control advocates and supporters of the negotiations argue that the next president and the next Congress will have a hard time changing or canceling any Iran deal -- -- which is reportedly near done -- especially if it is working reasonably well.

Ahead of Abe Visit, Pressure Builds For Obama on TPP

By Jack Detsch
March 10, 2015

The clock is ticking for the Obama administration to get the TPP past Congress. 

In less than fifty days, Japan will begin its biggest holiday period of the year. Golden Week, which lasts from April 27 to May 10, includes seven public holidays, and is typically a time for rest and relaxation. You wouldn’t have any trouble spotting Japanese tourists at San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island, on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, or sunbathing on Guam’s Gun Beach during that time.

Joining the exodus will be Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He’s expected to arrive in Washington for a state visit, during which he could become Japan’s first premier to address a joint session of Congress. That speech could come at a critical moment. Congress is deep in negotiations on “fast track” trade promotion authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would allow the White House to deliver a finalized agreement to the legislature without the threat of amendment. TPP negotiations are still ongoing between 12 countries on both sides of the Pacific, including the U.S. and Japan.

If the current mood in Congress is any indication, Abe’s visit will be anything but a walk in the park. At a heated hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Asia Subcommittee last Wednesday, TPP supporters got an earful from critics in the lower chamber. “Goods that are 65 percent admitted made in China, which means they may be 70, 80, or 90 percent made in China, they get ‘made in Korea’ put on them,” Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, argued in his opening remarks. “That’s the value added in Korea. They come into our country duty-free, and we get no benefits, no access to the Chinese market.”

China isn’t involved in the TPP: Sherman is referring to “rules of origin,” which determine how goods produced outside the free trade zone are treated in the agreement. Still, Sherman is hardly the only voice on President Obama’s side of the aisle that has expressed misgivings about the deal, which encompasses nearly 40 percent of the world economy.

What the Dutch Can Teach Americans about Politics

March 9, 2015

Political polarization seems engrained in American public affairs. Yet a model that has been working for much of the last three decades in the Netherlands can be seen as a partial template for consensus-building.

By any measure, the US is a remarkably divided nation. Stagnant real wages for the average worker, increasing wealth accumulation for the top 5%, social tension, and competitive elections have all contributed to what many view as one of the most polarized periods in recent American memory.

With gerrymandering, the 24-hour news cycle, the lack of campaign finance restrictions, and a host of other potential explanatory variables, ascribing the blame for this development is not easy. Measuring its toll, however, is.

The deteriorating political climate led to the National Journal last year ranking Congress as the most divided since it began its ratings in 1982. FiveThirtyEight has gone even further, grading Congressional partisanship as the highest since World War I.

Most depressingly, a seminal 2011 study by McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal found that the House and Senate were at levels of ideological disunity not seen since the end of Reconstruction. And that was written before the political acrimony caused by the "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

Increases in political polarization have been linked to actual reductions in investment, output, and employment, according to the Philadelphia Fed. Additionally, polarization not only means less meaningful bipartisan laws passed on Capitol Hill, but fewer laws passed in general. Last year's batch of legislators passed the second lowest number of non-ceremonial bills since mid-century. The least productive assembly? The 112th Congress the year before.

But there's an alternative to the hyper-partisan political trajectory.

America Is Losing the War in Syria

MARCH 9, 2015 

Moderate rebel groups are suffering. The Islamic State and Nusra are gaining ground. And Washington’s piecemeal efforts are worthless. Here’s a grand plan worth paying for. 
The current U.S. strategy in Syria isn’t working. Despite the coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State, the group still has strategic depth in Syria to back its campaign in Iraq. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, meanwhile, isn’t fighting the Islamic State — it’s locked in combat with the moderate opposition. Despite Washington’s hope for a national political transition away from Assad, there is no sign of a cease-fire, much less a comprehensive political deal.

More than ever, Americans — and Syrians — need to ask themselves what has gone wrong and what can be fixed. U.S. strategy needs to center on taking back ground from the Islamic State and driving a wedge between Assad’s small ruling circle and his increasingly wobbly support base so that a new government can be established to rally more Syrians against the jihadis. Reinforcing Syria’s moderate rebels is still the key component in achieving these goals, but we — and they — have to get the strategy and tactics right.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration should undertake a major diplomatic and assistance effort, or it should walk away from Syria.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration should undertake a major diplomatic and assistance effort, or it should walk away from Syria. Merely continuing to inject small amounts of aid and men in the fight won’t sustainably contain the jihadis or be sufficient to reach the political negotiation the administration keeps hoping for.

Muhammadu Buhari: Nigeria's Ticket to a Strong Democracy?

March 10, 2015 

The challenger to Goodluck Jonathan could do wonders for Nigeria.

Though he's not the candidate with the name "Goodluck," Muhammadu Buhari, the challenger in Nigeria's now-delayed presidential election, must be feeling lucky.

As the race shapes up to be the closest election since the return of “civilian” government in 1999, it also promises to be the most important test of Nigeria's nascent and imperfect democracy. Unlike the previous four elections, there's a real chance that the dominant People's Democratic Party (PDP) could fall from power. If it does, Nigeria's incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan will be judged by history on the basis of how he left office as much as what he did in power.

Jonathan today is as embattled as African heads of state typically get. Struggling in his fight to halt Boko Haram's rise in northeastern Nigeria as a growing international threat, and reeling from a collapse in global oil prices that's left his government staggering to slash a national budgetalready inadequate to address the dual challenges of Nigerian security and development, the country's nominally independent national election commission postponed its general election for six weeks—from February 14 to March 28—ostensibly to register more voters in areas affected by the Boko Haram insurgency and to give the Nigerian military a chance for one last offensive against the group.

The six-week delay initially felt like a suspicious opportunity for Jonathan to rally his chiefly southern, chiefly Christian supporters to win reelection. But it is already turning out quite differently. Jonathan is increasingly sidelined by economic and security problems, and last week brought a long-time-coming defection from his former patron, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who tore up his PDP membership card last week, the latest chapter in an increasingly vocal turn away from Jonathan and toward Buhari.

After Obama: Restoring America's Middle East Leadership

March 10, 2015 

It's time to ditch the dramatics and get serious about America's future in the Middle East.

President Obama sure knows how to get the world’s attention. His public tantrum over Benjamin Netanyahu being invited to speak before a joint session of Congress pretty much assured that the entire globe would tune in to hear the Israeli prime minister enumerate his concerns over a nuclear deal with Iran.

This soap opera offers a potent reminder of the sorry state of U.S. policy in the Middle East, a policy that has pulled the closest of allies the furthest apart on the most important issues. While the fate of the Iran agreement may play out over the next few months, much of the Middle East muddle will remain until Obama vacates the Oval Office and beyond. So it’s is not too soon to start thinking about how to live with the mess this administration will leave behind.

President Obama has misunderstood the region at every level. The next presidential team will have to do better—not only grasping all the relevant frameworks that govern the greater Middle East, but jettisoning the bad reasoning that clouds everything the White House has done. Here are five key frameworks.

The Great Game

Russian Defense Industry On the Rebound After Two Decades of Neglect

Richard Weitz
March 9, 2015

Russia’s Defense Industry: Breakthrough Or Breakdown? – Analysis

The actual state of Russia’s military-industrial complex remains something of a mystery. On the one hand, Russian defense firms are currently breaking post-Soviet export records and providing all branches of the Russian military with new weapons systems that boast cutting-edge capabilities (at least on paper). On the other, the country’s defense industry remains beset by countless production problems, while the armed forces have yet to confirm the effectiveness of its new systems in traditional combat operations. And while the Kremlin insists that it will continue to increase defense spending, it now faces unprecedented financial challenges due to the fall in the value of energy exports, the collapse in the value of the Ruble, and increasingly severe Western sanctions.

The traumatic disintegration of the formerly integrated Soviet military-industrial complex (voenno-promyshlennyy kompleks, or VPK) , coupled with the sharp and sustained slowdown in government defense spending, left Russia’s post-Soviet defense companies with excess human and manufacturing capacities. Whereas the Soviet Union produced hundreds of modern tanks and planes, as well as dozens of new warships every few years, the newly-founded Russian Federation struggled to manufacture a handful of new systems. For example, while production of the next-generation strategic submarine Yury Dolgoruki commenced in 1996, the boat did not enter into service until the end of the following decade. It also took 19 years to complete the Yaroslav Mudry frigate, which finally entered service in June 2009. The Sukhoi design bureau labored for a decade to develop a fifth-generation fighter that has yet to enter into service with the Russian Air Force. Meanwhile, even Soviet-era platforms proved difficult to maintain as so many weapons designers and manufacturers went bankrupt or tried to enter more lucrative civilian markets. Even today, the Russian armed forces show the signs of the decade-long suspension of almost all new military procurements.

Syria’s ancient sites under attack

Author Wissam AbdallahPosted 
March 8, 2015

A girl runs along an archaeological site, which displaced families are using as shelters, in the southern countryside of Idlib, Feb. 5, 2015. (photo by REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi)

Syrian civilization can be described as an outdoor museum. Museums and archaeological sites are scattered all over Syrian territory. As the fire of war has reached the people and the stones, the country’s civilization, both in terms of the archaeological sites and Syria’s identity, has become a part of the war.

A source who is well informed about the protection of Syria’s heritage affairs told As-Safir that the country’s heritage has been impacted by the war. He said, “The map of the affected Syrian archaeological sites can be divided into four administrative divisions. From this division, the reports of the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums are based, as well as the figures included in the directorate's recent report on the fourth quarter of 2014.”

The source estimated that nearly 104 sites have been damaged in the country's east, which includes Deir ez-Zor, Hasakah and Raqqa. In Raqqa, the museum was damaged in a blast. In Hasakah's countryside, illegal excavation and digging activities were conducted, as occurred in Tel Barde, Tel Abu Hamza and Tel Jalal. Secret excavation activities took place at the Dura-Europos site in Deir ez-Zor, yet they were halted after the archaeological layers were almost completely destroyed. In north Syria, including Aleppo and Idlib, about 39 sites have been damaged.

Collateral Damage

March 8, 2015

Russia appears to have triumphed on the battlefield in Ukraine, but in doing so it has done at least as much damage to itself as its poor neighbor.

The war in Ukraine seems fated to be a drawn-out, lose-lose proposition. Paradoxically, notwithstanding the recent triumph of Russian arms in the Donbass—in fact, partly because of it—the Russians are shaping up to be the biggest losers of all.

Recall that the original justification for Russia’s intervention was to save ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians from slaughter at the hands of roving bands of Ukrainian fascists, reportedly on their way to Crimea when the polite green men arrived to save the day. How, then, have the Russians of Ukraine fared one year on?

The Russians of Crimea, the initial beneficiaries of Moscow’s humanitarian intervention, have seen the collapse of tourism and agriculture, soaring prices, physical isolation, and massive disruption as the peninsula switches from Ukrainian to Russia law, regulation and practice. All the same, the most acute problems are potentially only of a transitional nature. If Moscow comes through with the promised funding, and most of it isn’t stolen (two very heroic assumptions), Crimea could with time settle into, if not exactly prosperity, then at least a state of tolerable stagnation.

The Donbass, on the other hand, would be lucky to have Crimea’s problems. Desultory demonstrations and the seizure of a few municipal centers and armories were transformed into armed conflict once Igor Strelkov and his gang of Russians gunned down the Ukrainian security forces who tried to stop their incursion. However, Moscow failed to repeat its Crimean cakewalk in the Donbass, which became a theater of fierce positional fighting punctuated by heavy artillery bombardment in densely populated areas.

It’s Nato that’s empire-building, not Putin

7 March 2015

Two sides are required for a New Cold War — and there is no obvious need for an adversarial system in post-Soviet Europe

Peter Hitchens and Ben Judah debate Putin's empire building

Just for once, let us try this argument with an open mind, employing arithmetic and geography and going easy on the adjectives. Two great land powers face each other. One of these powers, Russia, has given up control over 700,000 square miles of valuable territory. The other, the European Union, has gained control over 400,000 of those square miles. Which of these powers is expanding?

There remain 300,000 neutral square miles between the two, mostly in Ukraine. From Moscow’s point of view, this is already a grievous, irretrievable loss. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the canniest of the old Cold Warriors, wrote back in 1997, ‘Ukraine… is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.’

This diminished Russia feels the spread of the EU and its armed wing, Nato, like a blow on an unhealed bruise. In February 2007, for instance, Vladimir Putin asked sulkily, ‘Against whom is this expansion intended?’

In Nemtsov Murder: Five Suspects Taken Alive, Another Blows Himself Up


The head of Russia’s spy agency announces the names of suspects in the brazen murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. All appear to have Chechen connections. 

On Sunday, the ninth day since the murder of Russian opposition leader and former vice prime minister Boris Nemtsov, the list of suspected and detained assassins had included names of six men, one of whom allegedly blew himself up with a grenade. 

Not a single one of the suspects’ names sounded Russian. All were said to have come form the North Caucasus, and one of the key suspects, Zaur Dadayev, reportedly served as a deputy commander of an interior ministry battalion in Chechnya. Dadayev admitted his involvement in Nemtsov’s murder, according to a spokeswoman at the Basmanny court in Moscow on Sunday. The court formally arrested Dadayev. 

The other four detained suspects, Anzor Gubashev, Shagid Gubashaev, Tamerlan Eskerkhanov and Khamzat Bakhayev denied their involvement in the crime. 

It was remarkable, some Moscow experts noted, that most of the information about detainees came not from the offices of judicial officials but from Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) the major security agency in charge of investigating, among other things, crimes committed by so called “Islamic underground.” The FSB is the successor organization to the old Soviet KGB. 

One more suspect, a 30-year-old resident of Chechnya, Beslan Shavanov, allegedly committed suicide during a special police operation on Saturday night, according to the generally reliable website Caucasus Knot.

That night, Chechen special forces surrounded Shavanov in a multiple story building in downtown Grozny, the Chechen capital. Shavanov did not have any criminal record, reports say. The order to detain him came from Moscow. 

Why would Chechens be involved in killing an opposition leader? 

The core question remains unanswered: Who ordered the murder of Boris Nemtsov?