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I’d like to hear thoughts from more informed people about our new ambassador to Syria, where we are reestablishing ties after withdrawing in 2005 over the controversy of Hariri’s assassination.
Does President Obama’s decision-making process leading up to the surge in Afghanistan give you hope in the mission and the administration?
Battle on the Times op-ed page between our friend Tom Friedman and our graduation speaker Nick Kristof highlights the difficulty of the Afghanistan decision. Friedman advocates for a lighter footprint while Kristof argues that nation-building is essential.
Friedman’s logic makes no sense to me – folks on both sides of the aisle agree that continuing to “muddle through” this mission is the worst possible tack. For the past eight years we’ve simply been losing ground – and lives – because our military presence was insufficient. The Taliban are decentralized, tactically brilliant, have local footholds and operate across very difficult terrain. Friedman points out that we were able to topple the Taliban with the help of a few tribal leaders, but it has become obvious from watching both Afghanistan and Iraq that while this can be relatively easy it takes a lot more to actually defeat an insurgency. Here’s where Kristof comes in; he advocates for, say, building schools rather than focusing on a military campaign. This sounds great to me, except that it is difficult to provide such services without basic security. Building the size and capacity of the Afghan National Army is a crucial first step. Furthermore, many would caution against patronage (a word that Obama used in his speech) and keep in mind that such structures are much more sustainable if the movement to build them comes from within.
Both of these positions, and everything in between, are popular among foreign policy wonks right now – and every recommendation has flaws. This was not an easy decision.
For those of you who watched President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan last night here is a response claiming that he did not sufficiently address the issue of Pakistan. I’m inclined to agree – the President cited the Pakistani Army’s mission against the Taliban groups in Swat as evidence that Pakistan and the US are fighting the same war, but this is sort of misleading given that the Taliban groups ISAF is combating are located elsewhere along the border (not in Swat) and are known to receive support from Pakistan’s army and spy service. (This is all very complicated.) President Obama claimed that “the Taliban” pose a grave threat to Pakistan – which is true, but again, that is a different Taliban group from the one that the US is fighting in Afghanistan. Maybe it seems too complicated to differentiate between these two groups but they are very different – the Pak army is supporting one and fighting the other – and I think conflating them to make it seem like we are working in perfect partnership with Pakistan could be dangerous.
Perhaps a bigger issue is that the timeline of 18 months gives Pakistan greater incentive to hedge its bets by supporting the Taliban militants that ISAF is combating, which will only make that fight more difficult. As explained by Ahmed Rashid, a respected Pakistani writer, “Is it in Pakistan’s interest to antagonize the Afghan Taliban now, if they will be in power two or three years down the road?”
Muslims in Switzerland and abroad are disappointed in a recent move by the Swiss Government to ban the building of minarets.
Tom Friedman claims that the pervading narrative in the Arab and Muslim world is the unfair misperception that the US is at war with Islam.
I take issue with this piece on several levels. First of all, Friedman has made simplistic arguments about Islam – namely that it is a static religion, stuck in the ancient world and exemplified by a few violent fanatics. This is false, and exactly the type of stereotyping that Friedman is criticizing here. Furthermore, it’s disingenuous to claim that our foreign policy seeks especially to help Muslims. It took years to intervene in Bosnia, and no one prevented Srebrenica; our missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia are driven by the threat of terrorism, not humanitarian purposes; and Darfur received little attention until 2004-5, and even since then many believe that the genocide (now “remnants of genocide” as Special Envoy Scott Gration puts it) has not been made a high enough priority. Though their methods are horrific and reprehensible, militants who protest against US involvement in the Middle East often claim a genuine beef: about our oil companies or military bases in the Gulf states; about botched invasions; even about our support for Israel through some of its more objectionable actions. I don’t doubt that there are lots of crazies out there, and I could obviously never condone – and I hope to prevent – any of the actions that such ideology produces, but much of the anger at the United States can be rationalized in real political qualms.
More than his remarks about our kindness to Muslims, though, Friedman’s generalization really bothers me. A quote from one Jordanian academic is not gospel, and protests about an offensive cartoon do not prove that the acts of a few radicals represent an entire religious community. Maybe he’s just trying to bait more moderate elements, but this is an odd way to go about it. It also seems wrong to write a piece like this without any mention of the misperceptions in the US about Islam – I guess some of those stereotypes have affected even Friedman.
The Times just ran an interesting review of a book refuting Israel’s claim to the land it now occupies by showing that the Jewish community’s lineage does not trace back to Palestine. The new question could be whether Israel’s legitimacy stems from its historical roots or the status of the state it has developed into – and to what extent this conflict is religious and primordial rather than political, based on economic or social factors. It’s also a fascinating theory for those of us who have been wondering about what it means to be Jewish.
While the American military is in the midst of pulling out of Iraq, The Economist sees its ambitious neighbors – Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – moving in. Iran, needless to say, has antagonized the American operation by supporting opposing militants, but could turn instead to the burgeoning Shiite political groups. A leader among them, Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric-turned insurgent-turned political leader, made a visit to Turkey a few months ago to discuss the secular Sunni state’s relationship with Iraq. Saudi Arabia’s ties to the US are obvious, and might complicate Iraq’s efforts as a newborn democracy in the Middle East – it would be a shame to see talk of the Iran-Saudi proxy war being fought in Yemen start including Iraq as well. This article’s final point is that whatever international actions evolve in Iraq, the US will no longer dominate them.
This could complicate the peace process even further. I don’t know much about Lebanon – anyone else have thoughts on this issue?
We can always count on the Journal to bring it home. This seems simplistic; if the US appears at all supportive of the movement won’t it lend false credibility to the claims – which are already being made – that it is the work of foreign forces?
It’s interesting that Ayatollah Montazeri, who was in the original revolutionary club, condemned the 1979 embassy takeover. I know he has become pretty outspoken but to criticize one of the Republic’s most seminal and proud moments seems particularly incendiary. It raises the question of to what extent the regime – and not just the elections – is being challenged.
Today echoes the Quds Day protests, directed inwards instead of at Israel (which is traditionally demonstrated against throughout the day) – despite recent disputes.
Remember when Turkey’s President Erdogan stormed out on Israeli President Peres in the wake of Gaza? It’s interesting to see Turkey’s recent shift in focus towards the Middle East after years of attempting to join the EU, and especially in the context of the peace process. Any thoughts on how this will affect regional dynamics?
The New Hostage Crisis in Iran: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/10/23/the_new_hostage_crisis?page=0,0
I’m part of a little discussion group on campus and this weekend we focused on Iran. By the end of the conversation most participants had agreed that an acceptable way – perhaps the only way – to resolve the nuclear quagmire is to move towards normalizing relations with Iran so that when and if it gets the bomb it will not pose as much of a threat, much the way that we can sleep at night being cognizant the arsenals in China and Russia. Maybe – maybe – I would have conceded this a few months ago, but it’s difficult enough to condone an oppressive, abhorrent regime; now that it is being challenged in unprecedented ways (and being oppressive and abhorrent in unprecedented ways), I find this plan even harder to swallow.
And then there’s the question of if it’s even possible, especially given what seems to be a one-year time frame and the extent to which the regime defines itself in opposition to The Great Satan…