Iran and Middle East and Nuclear and Uncategorized and US Foreign Policy
afghanistan, Geneva, iaea, Iran, iraq, Nuclear, nuclear negotiations, russia, syria
By Sharmine Narwani
The recent high-drama nuclear negotiations in Geneva were riveting, to be sure. Old foes shuttled between conference rooms, chatted amiably in corridors, colluded to guard the sensitive details of their discussions from an eager global media.
Every utterance from officials, every smile, grimace and gesture made its way onto the twitter feeds of foreign policy wonks and commentators, mostly frustrated by the lack of substance to report.
When a deal did not materialize between Iran and the P5+1, off went the pundits to dig up further minutiae. Who scuttled the agreement? What were the terms of the agreement on the table? Why are the Saudis, Israelis, Congress and the French being such spoilsports?
Hang. On. One. Minute.
For any dedicated critic of western policies in the Middle East, this last bit was just mind-boggling. For a change, nobody was blaming the Iranians for anything much. Instead, an atypical set of people and parties were being held accountable as “spoilers.”
Really, in that moment, the world turned a fraction faster. Brought us into the future, it did.
Because here’s the actual deal: deal or no deal at the negotiating table in Geneva, we have entered a new era in the Middle East. Iran is the center of all things important to all the parties that count. Today, nothing of consequence can be done in any of the major military and political theaters in the region without the cooperation of the Islamic Republic. (more…)
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Afghanistan and Iran and Syria and US Foreign Policy
afghanistan, china, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, pakistan, russia, syria, US military, US withdrawal from Afghanistan
By Sharmine Narwani
Washington’s options in Syria are dwindling – and dwindling fast.
Trumped up chemical weapons charges against the Syrian government this month failed to produce evidence to convince a skeptical global community of any direct linkage. And the US’s follow-up pledge to arm rebels served only to immediately underline the difficulty of such a task, given the fungibility of weapons-flow among increasingly extremist militias.
Yes, for a brief few days, Syrian oppositionists congratulated themselves on this long-awaited American entry into Syria’s bloodied waters. They spoke about “game-changing” weapons that would reverse Syrian army gains and the establishment of a no-fly zone on Syria’s Jordanian border – a la Libya. Eight thousand troops from 19 countries flashed their military hardware in a joint exercise on that border, dangling F-16s and Patriot missiles and “superb cooperation” in a made-for-TV show of force.
But it took only days to realize that Washington’s announcement didn’t really have any legs.
Forget the arguments now slowly dribbling out about why the US won’t/can’t get involved directly. Yes, they all have merit – from the difficulties in selecting militia recipients for their weapons, to the illegalities involved in establishing a no-fly zone, to the fact that more than 70% of Americans don’t support an intervention.
The single most critical reason for why Washington will not risk entering the Syrian military theater – almost entirely ignored by DC policy wonks – may be this: the 2014 US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“Help, we can’t get out”
There are around 750,000 major pieces of American military hardware costing approximately $36 billion sitting in Afghanistan right now. The cost of transporting this equipment out of the country is somewhere close to the $7 billion mark. It would be easier to destroy this stuff than removing it, but given tightening US budgets and lousy economic prospects, this hardware is unlikely to be replaced if lost.
Getting all this equipment into Afghanistan over the past decade was a lot easier than getting it out will be. For starters, much of it came via Pakistani corridors – before Americans began droning the hell out of that country and creating dangerous pockets of insurgents now blocking exit routes. (more…)
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BRICS and Foreign Affairs and Iran and Syria and United Nations and US Foreign Policy
5th BRICS Summit, African Union, BRICs, china, IMF, Iran, Rule of Law, russia, South Africa, syria, UN, UN Security Council, Vladimir Putin, World Bank, Xi Jinping
By Sharmine Narwani
The BRICS just became impossible to ignore. At the close of the Fifth annual BRICS Summit in Durban, South Africa last week, there was little question that this group of five fast-growing economies was underwriting an overhaul of the global economic and political order.
The eThekwini Declaration issued at summit’s end was couched in non-confrontational language, but it was manifestly clear that western hegemony and unipolarity were being targeted at this meeting.
The BRICS hit some major western sore spots by announcing the formation of a $50 billion jointly-funded development bank to rival the IMF and World Bank. Deals were signed to increase inter-BRICS trade in their own currencies, further eroding the US dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.
A series of unmistakable challenges were dealt to old world leaders: reform your institutions and economies – or we’ll do it ourselves. (more…)
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Arab Awakening and BRICS and Foreign Affairs and Iran and Middle East and Syria and United Nations and US Foreign Policy
BRICs, china, Chinese Ambassador Wu Zexian, Henry Kissinger, Iran, islamists, Middle East, russia, syria, UN Security Council, US Foreign Policy
By Sharmine Narwani
Russia and China have drawn a great deal of censure this past year for resisting UN Security Council resolutions to intervene in the domestic affairs of Syria and Iran. Why, many ask, would this duo leverage their growing global political clout for two Mideast states so actively marginalized by their fellow UNSC members – the US, UK and France?
And do these new Russian and Chinese positions place them on a collision course with Washington – in the Middle East and elsewhere?
While the US has typically viewed this activism as a direct challenge to its global hegemonic interests, neither Moscow nor Beijing have any specific strategy to slay the American behemoth. On the contrary, the non-confrontational positions they take in the Middle East are “reactive” ones, designed to slow down, halt or counter US economic, political and military aggressions heading in their direction.
Russia and China have good reason to be concerned about US initiatives in the international arena in the past few years: (more…)
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Arab Awakening and Foreign Affairs and Middle East and Syria and US Foreign Policy
Bashar al-Assad, chemical weapons, foreign intervention, FSA, Information Warfare, qatar, regime change, russia, Saudi Arabia, syria, Syrian Opposition, turkey, US Unconventional Warfare
I haven’t posted any of my Syria media interviews on this blog – I figure most readers have heard these views from me in some form or other over the past eight months. It is worthwhile though to hear them in context of a broader discussion on Syria that includes other participants, with varying points of view.
Participants in the Voice of Russia (UK) radio discussion on Syria included Jonathan Steele, Guardian columnist, foreign correspondent and author; Nadim Shehadi, Associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa programme for Chatham House, London; Gumer Isaev, head of the St Petersburg Centre for Modern Middle East studies – and myself.
The discussion was broad, but focused largely on recent events inside the country: armed clashes in the major cities, Syria’s chemical weapons cache, foreign intervention, the militarization of the conflict, use of information warfare to create perceptions, regime change and even whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad still enjoys popularity.
Click here to hear the full debate.
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Arab Awakening and Foreign Affairs and Syria and United Nations
Annan Plan, Bashar al-Assad, BRICs, Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton, Libya, New York Times, russia, syria, UN, Vladimir Putin, Zbigniew Brzezinski
By Sharmine Narwani – The New York Times, June 25, 2012 (Unedited version)
When we look back at Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya this past year, we have to ask whether the premise of “dictator leaves, problem solved” is remotely valid.
It is a key reason why Russia has little incentive to relinquish support of its longtime ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Russian position was entirely evident during the recent Putin-Obama meeting when the question of Assad’s removal came up.
“Then what?” Putin is said to have responded.
Aside from Russia’s own strategic alliance with Syria, they have several urgent concerns. Firstly, the Russian position is firmly tied to that of the BRICs today. These four disparate economic-political powerhouses have resolved to redress a global imbalance of power and Syria has become a frontline state in this effort. The BRICs insist that Syrians should resolve their crisis with minimal intervention, which precludes forcing regime change from the outside.
Secondly, the external parties that are demanding Assad’s ouster are the same handful of NATO-GCC interventionists that brought us the Libyan catastrophe under the cloak of Responsibility To Protect (R2P) and Humanitarian Intervention narratives. The Russians deeply regret having signing on to the Security Council resolution that enabled the unraveling of Libya, and will go to great lengths to prevent the same scenario in Syria. (more…)
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Arab Awakening and Middle East and Syria and United Nations and US Foreign Policy
al Qaeda, Annan Plan, Ayman al-Zawahiri, foreign fighters, Geoffrey Aronson, Haytham Manna, Jihadists, Kofi Annan, qatar, Robert Mood, russia, salafists, Saudi Arabia, syria, UN Security Council
By Sharmine Narwani
Note: In light of today’s twin bombings in Damascus and the UN Mission’s feeble response to it, the Security Council needs to close this dangerous loophole in their Syria Protocol – one that currently allows Jihadists unfettered freedom to bomb, assassinate and terrorize.
We have arrived at a determining moment in the Syrian crisis. The choices are startlingly simple:
1) Cautious, incremental movement toward political reconciliation and reform spearheaded by the Syrian government and closely monitored by Kofi Annan’s UN mission, Moscow, Tehran and Beijing.
2) Dangerous escalation of violence and militarization that will increasingly include foreign jihadists and is likely spill to over into the broader Middle East.
After only one week of observing events in Syria first-hand, United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) commander Major-General Robert Mood spelled out the dwindling options:
“I can tell you from my engagement that whomever I meet, they tell me that they want to move on the basis of Kofi Annan’s Six Point Plan, and that includes the Free Syrian Army locally, and that includes Local Coordination Committees. I am fully aware that there are others with a different agenda, that have other ideas, but I have yet to see a credible alternative to Kofi Annan’s Six Point Plan. So one way to put it is that it is, for now, the only game in town.”
Perhaps he should have said the only “sane” game in town. Because there is that other “game” – the one that seeks forced regime-change at any cost, even if it means having dangerous Salafi militants fight the battle NATO cannot.
Those with “different agendas” and “other ideas” are a diverse group with goals distinctly opposed to demilitarization, reconciliation and reform along the Annan/Syrian/Russian track.
So far, we understand them to include countries and organizations still intent on materially assisting or weaponizing the armed opposition – in contravention of the spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 2043. After all, only days after Syria approved the Annan Plan, Friends of Syria member states committed millions of dollars in “non-lethal aid” to the rebels. Members Saudi Arabia and Qatar pledged to provide salaries for the fighters and financially reward defectors from the regular Syrian Army, while the Turkish, GCC and western-backed Syrian National Council (SNC) overtly went begging for funds to increase weapons supplies to armed groups inside Syria.
If Annan does things right, these nations and groups can be bullied and cajoled into compliance via a more robust set of UN Protocols, expressly drafted to change their behaviors.
No, the 600-pound gorilla in the room with “different agendas” and “other ideas” is not so much the GCC-NATO backed armed militias scattered throughout the country’s opposition strongholds. It is the growing presence of al-Qaeda and other jihadists operating inside the Syrian theater. (more…)
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Arab Awakening and Media and Middle East and Syria and United Nations
Arab League, Arab League Monitoring Mission, Ban Ki-moon, Kofi Annan, qatar, russia, Saudi Arabia, syria, UN observer mission, UN Protocol, United Nations, UNSC
By Sharmine Narwani
There is a lot of noise coming out of different quarters about the “imminent collapse” of the UN observer mission in Syria. “Dead on arrival,” says one American commentator. “Failure to uphold truce,” accused the White House and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, pointing fingers at the Syrian government.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned the international community – just one day after the Mission Protocol was signed – to “prepare for the possible failure” of peace efforts. The very same day, his US counterpart Hilary Clinton enthused: “We need to start moving very vigorously in the Security Council for a Chapter 7 sanctions resolution,” which allows for UN resolutions to be militarily enforced.
The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was more specific about their concerns. They’re worried about the “non-objective results it might issue.”
Non-objective results? This sounds all too familiar. Usher in the discourse surrounding the Arab League observer mission in December/January, and you will find the exact doom-and-gloom rhetoric from more or less the same cast of characters, this time headed by Western-allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Ironically, it was Qatar and Saudi Arabia who vigorously championed the Arab League Mission until Syria decided to participate. The moment it became clear that monitors would enter Syrian hotspots and report back their observations, those two countries started counter-spinning aggressively against the investigative mission, eventually scuttling it altogether.
Next came their demands to “upgrade” to an “international” observer group led by the United Nations. But now that the Syrian government has agreed to the terms of the UN mission, the negative rhetoric – from the same geopolitical bloc of nations/allies – is once more threatening to cast doubt on the mission and its ability to positively impact events in Syria. (more…)
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Foreign Affairs and Iran and Middle East and US Foreign Policy and US Politics
brazil, BRICs, china, economy, eu, finance, india, Iran, Oil, russia, Sanctions, trade, United States
By Sharmine Narwani
Imagine this scenario: A developing nation decides to selectively share its precious natural resource, selling only to “friendly” countries and not “hostile” ones. Now imagine this is oil we’re talking about and the nation in question is the Islamic Republic of Iran…
Early news reports on Wednesday claimed that Iran pre-empted European Union sanctions by turning off the oil spigot to six member-states: the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Portugal.
The reports were premature. According to a highly-placed source in the country, Iran will only stop its oil supply to these nations if they fail to adopt new trading conditions: 1) signing 3 to 5-year contracts to import Iranian oil, with all agreements concluded prior to March 21, and 2) payment for the oil will no longer be accepted within 60-day cycles, as in the past, and must instead be honored immediately.
Negotiations are currently underway with all six nations. Iran, says the source, expects to cut oil supplies to at least two nations based on their current positions. These are likely to be Holland and France.
Meanwhile, the other four EU member-states are in dire financial straits. They are knee-deep in the kind of fiscal crisis that has no hope of resolution unless they exit the union and go back to banana republic basics. Yet, they found the time to sanction Iran over some convoluted American-Israeli theory that the Islamic Republic may one day decide to build a nuclear weapon. I am sure arm-twisting was involved – the kind that involves dollars for votes.
But I digress. This blog is really about ideas. And not just ideas, but really ridiculous ideas.
New World Order Jump-Started by Iran?
Alternative sources of oil will be found in a jiffy for these beleaguered EU economies. But this isn’t so much about a few barrels of the stuff that fuels the world’s engines. This is about the idea that a singular action taken amidst the political and economic re-set about to take place globally, can propel us in a whole new direction overnight.
The past few years have shown that there is no global financial leadership capable of pulling us back from the abyss. The US national debt hovers around the $15.3 Trillion mark. Its GDP in 2011 was just under $15 Trillion. You do the math – there is no fixing that one. The only next-big-thing coming out of that dead end will be the complete transformation of the current global economic order.
But how will that take place without leadership and clear direction? I’m betting hard that It will not come from the top, nor will it be directed. The new global economic order will be organic, regional and quite sudden. (more…)
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Foreign Affairs and Hamas and Middle East and US Foreign Policy
ahmet davutoglu, Bashar al-Assad, china, Cold War, erdogan, Hamas, Iran, Jon Stewart, Khaled Meshaal, lula, Middle East, New Middle East, politics, Rally To Restore Sanity, russia, Saudi Arabia, stephen colbert, syria, turkey, US Foreign Policy, World News
What do US comedian Jon Stewart and Hamas Chief Khaled Meshaal have in common? What does Stewart have in common with Syrian President Bashar al Assad or outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for that matter?
For starters, they’re all sick of waiting for the American government to do something useful. And just as critically, they are pretty tired of the “you’re either with us or against us” theme too.
Watching Jon Stewart speaking to more than 200,000 Americans who had traveled far and wide to attend Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” two weeks ago, I was struck by some themes that I repeatedly heard throughout the Middle East this summer.
In August during an <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sharmine-narwani/khaled-meshaal-on-hamas-a_b_738758.html” target=”_hplink”>interview</a> in Damascus, Hamas Chief Meshaal described a new trend in the Middle East where certain leaders and states were rejecting the notion of being stuck in “blocs” or political camps, always warring with the other side:
<blockquote>Why should we be dividing ourselves into two blocs — either being against America and the West, or acquiescing 100% to them? We do not want to wage a war against the world. Or to sever relations with countries. So the nations and the people of the region want a state model based on self respect — without any enmity with the world.</blockquote>
Not that we would know this back home. The divisive media that Stewart and Colbert rail against for partisan politicking in Washington is on hyper-drive when it comes to the Middle East — creating more fear, more hate than is good for us. It paralyzes our ability to act and ensures that we will have zero policy breakthroughs.
I am fairly sure that Stewart was not thinking about Meshaal when he said “we can have animus, and not be enemies,” but I am equally certain the core of his sentiment — the promotion of the kind of political maturity we used to see in politics where foes could sit around a table, break bread and try to find common ground — is absolutely relevant to our foreign policy breakdown, too. (more…)
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