“Shelter from the Storm” presents a panorama of asylum – the protective immigration status many migrants have sought at the U.S. southwest border – from shifting angles of experience, law, demography, economics, history and politics.”
~ ~ ~[...]]]>
“Shelter from the Storm” presents a panorama of asylum – the protective immigration status many migrants have sought at the U.S. southwest border – from shifting angles of experience, law, demography, economics, history and politics.”
~ ~ ~
“Ana and her teenage daughter Teresita (not their real names) fled their home in a Central American city after a local gangster put a gun to Teresita’s head and told Ana that he would kill her daughter if she didn’t pay protection for her little corner store. After eight days of travel, they arrived at what Mexicans call el río Bravo and got into an inflatable boat. In the middle of the river, it started leaking air. Ana, who does not know how to swim, tried vainly to stop the leak with her hands. Teresita can swim, so Ana gave her the plastic bag with their papers and IDs. Mother and daughter clutched each other.”
~ ~ ~
“Asylum means protection against being sent back to a home country where you might be persecuted. It’s recognized as a fundamental human right by United Nations treaties, and protected by international and U.S. laws. Asylum and refugee status are both granted in cases of ‘well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, or national origin.’”
~ ~ ~
This 71-page report is heavily footnoted and referenced. It can be downloaded as a PDF file from:
Google Drive: https://bit.ly/3g2lzfI
For an informative overview of the legalities of asylum, see the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project webcast, “Asylum for Beginners” - video & slides. Thanks to NWIRP for linking to this paper.
Some of my previous stories on immigration include:
“In the Footsteps of the Millennium Migration – download” (footnoted report). Crossover Dreams – Huffington Post, October 12, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/in-the-footsteps-of-the-millennium-migration-download_us_59dffb37e4b09e31db9757cd
“How the ‘Millennium Migration’ from Latin America Shaped the U.S. for the Better”. Foreign Policy In Focus, October 30, 2017. https://fpif.org/millennium-migration-latin-america-shaped-u-s-better
“Manufacturing illegality: An Interview with Mae Ngai”. Foreign Policy In Focus, January 16, 2019. https://fpif.org/manufacturing-illegality-an-interview-with-mae-ngai
“‘Being Tortured Has Been the Best Experience of My Life’”. Foreign Policy In Focus, September 25, 2015. https://fpif.org/being-tortured-has-been-the-best-experience-of-my-life
I’ve also published over 20 pieces on immigration and related topics on Inter Press Service:
United Steel Workers members in big march – Credit: Casey Nelson
Demonstrators blocking street – Credit: Casey Nelson
One afternoon during the 1999 Seattle Ministerial of the World Trade Organization, the police and the Black Bloc were mixing it up on Pike [...]]]>
United Steel Workers members in big march – Credit: Casey Nelson
Demonstrators blocking street – Credit: Casey Nelson
One afternoon during the 1999 Seattle Ministerial of the World Trade Organization, the police and the Black Bloc were mixing it up on Pike Street amid clouds of tear gas. As I retreated from the front lines, I heard music and looked up. On a balcony high on a condo tower, someone had cranked up a big sound system, and Jimi Hendrix was shredding “The Star-Spangled Banner” over the suddenly mean streets.
The Wall Street Journal called the event “the Woodstock of antiglobalization”. But the WTO protests were far more than just a counter-cultural jamboree. This time around, it was the WTO organizers, Clinton administration officials, and City of Seattle hosts who must have felt like they had dropped some of the bad acid.
The Battle of Seattle, for which the volunteer DJ provided an ironic sound track, can’t be reduced to a couple of hundred black-clad, masked “anarchists” breaking a few storefront windows, or the police pepper-spraying peaceful demonstrators.
Jimi’s fuzz, feedback, and howling riffs rocked the zeitgeist of a historic inflection point: the implosion of a market-fundamentalist model of globalization pushed by the richest countries and transnational corporations. On the streets and in independent forums, it was represented mainly by a convergence of labor, environmental, public-health and democracy movements from the far corners of the world, many of which rarely had a chance to dialogue in person. Their march of at least 40 thousand people was complemented by artful and effective civil disobedience by thousands more, who managed to non-violently shut down the planned opening of the Ministerial.
What was not apparent outside the Convention Center was that inside, many delegates from developing countries and opposition organizations were inspired by the energy of the streets. They brought to Seattle many long-standing grievances against aspects of the WTO model. But the protests emboldened some to stiffen their resistance to the hosts’ heavy-handed insistence on an expanding agenda of trade orthodoxy.
I covered the festivities as a member of a team of four journalists writing for Inter Press Service, a global non-profit newswire based in Rome. Abid Aslam had been covering international institutions and economics for many years, and was able to buttonhole delegates and observers from developing countries by name and sit down with them for coffee. Danielle Knight was a veteran chronicler of international environmental issues. Casey Nelson, my nephew, was press-ganged into serving as our photographer, and did not flinch as he gamely dodged the stun grenades.
Below you’ll find links to the articles that we sent out on the IPS wire and a few not published there, along with two retrospectives written on the 10th anniversary in 2009.
The protests against the WTO unleashed flash floods of creativity. The most visible symbolism was probably the two big banners by the Rain Forest Action Network hung from a construction crane, one an arrow labelled “WTO”, the other an arrow labelled “Democracy” and pointing in the opposite direction.
One of my favorite exploits, though, involved 484 pounds of Roquefort cheese. French farmer José Bové, the crusty leader of the Confédération Paysanne (Peasants Confederation), reportedly smuggled it into Seattle and gave it away to passers-by outside a McDonald’s to dramatize what he saw as a particular injustice of the WTO.
Bové had won notoriety in France for driving his tractor into town and using it to pull the roof off of a McDonald’s under construction. His battle cry was “McDo dehors, vive le Roquefort” – “Out with McDonald’s, long live Roquefort cheese”. His WTO action, though, went beyond simple outrage at an affront to French gastronomy.
The European Union had banned beef treated with growth hormones as a threat to consumer health. However, such hormones were approved and commonly used in the U.S. The U.S. government rejected the ban as a trade barrier, brought a complaint against it in the WTO dispute settlement body, and won a judgement that allowed it to slap punitive tariffs on certain European food products, including Roquefort.
Bové was channeling the ire of many European consumers at the use of the WTO to shove down their throats a controversial agribusiness practice that they saw as unhealthy, and the results of which they had democratically decided they did not want to consume. Beyond the immediate issue, this case was emblematic of numerous efforts to use WTO provisions to roll back labor, human rights, environmental, consumer and health regulations in many countries, especially poor ones, in order to protect the profits of powerful exporters and investors and preserve the economic dominance of the wealthiest countries and enterprises.
Criticisms of the WTO at the Ministerial also targeted some tactics used by the WTO leadership and the biggest members to strongarm small, developing counties into accepting agreements expanding the scope of the trade organization.
“Green room meetings” were relatively small closed meetings of representatives of certain member countries hand-picked by the WTO leadership, tasked with reaching a preliminary agreement before taking it to the full membership. Many of the poorer countries saw them as a ploy to circumvent their participation in democratic decision-making on controversial issues.
On the final day of the Ministerial, I was sitting with Abid in the press room when someone came in and whispered something to one of the other journalists. The word quickly circulated that Director General Michael Moore and U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky had convened a secret last-gasp green room meeting, inviting only selected U.S. allies, in hopes of approving a closing statement that they had drafted. We suspected that this might announce agreement on launching the new round of trade negotiations they were promoting.
A stampede of ink-stained wretches, the two of us included, thundered towards the conference room on another floor of the Convention Center where the meeting was going on. The organizers refused to let us in, and called security to hold us at bay. Testy scriveners banged on doors and walls and chanted loudly, bringing a little of the atmosphere of the streets into the suites. Finally, the meeting conveners relented and let us in. They had failed to reach the agreement they sought, and there was nothing left to conceal from us. The high drama of what was billed as an epoch-making conclave ended with a whimper of crestfallen officials and without a new round of trade talks.
The failure in Seattle to reach agreement on the expansion of the WTO through ongoing talks set a precedent. Each following ministerial failed to convince many of the developing countries, and many political forces within the industrialized countries, that the WTO was a fair forum for protecting their economic interests, reducing poverty, and fostering broader development. With the conflicts that flashed over in Seattle simmering unresolved, the next round of WTO negotiations never took place and the WTO was never expanded.
Ten years later, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy acknowledged that “Trade liberalisation has transition costs and not all segments of society reap the benefits of it. … Trade liberalisation creates winners and losers.” Beyond trade per se, the WTO and similar agreements have also drawn widespread criticism for creating incentives for unbridled foreign investment, enabling transnational corporations to strip away national and local safeguards for labor, the environment, and consumer protection. Rather than encouraging trade, these provisions promote outsourcing of jobs and a global race to the bottom on public regulation of corporate abuses.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, the WTO’s regional progeny, was widely viewed as an effort to create a trade bloc to woo some Pacific Rim countries away from Chinese economic influence. In the U.S., however, significant forces across the political spectrum rejected the proposed agreement. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the TPP in 2017, and it is now defunct.
Beyond the TPP, Trump’s use of extortionate tariffs to launch trade wars with U.S. partners has effectively rendered any trade agreement signed by the U.S. a dead letter. He has demonstrated that the most powerful nation can simply ignore a basic premise of all trade treaties – negotiated settlement of disputes – and revert to 18th Century mercantilism in an effort to beggar its neighbors. So far, this does not bode well for the U.S. or world economies.
Despite these setbacks, the immense juggernaut of corporate-led globalization rumbles on, with or without trade agreements. A new effort to bring the digital economy – and particularly data, the new e-gold – under transnational corporate control has been proposed as a new “e-commerce” treaty within the WTO framework. NAFTA 2.0, a revision of the North American regional treaty, has been inked and is being debated in Congress. Nevertheless, efforts to use trade treaties to universally institutionalize some of neoliberalism’s worst abuses have not fared well in this millennium.
Twenty years later, it looks like the Seattle Ministerial will be remembered less as the WTO’s Woodstock than as its Waterloo.
The Tear Gas Ministerial – December 1999
“The Tear Gas Ministerial: Introduction”. Peter Costantini, The Tear Gas Ministerial. November 1999 – January 2000.
“Free trade truck grinds theoretical gears”. Peter Costantini, The Tear Gas Ministerial. November 23, 1999.
(A shorter version ran on IPS as “TRADE: Free Trade Theory Takes a Beating”.
“Temblors shake World Trade Organization in Seattle”. Peter Costantini with Abid Aslam & Danielle Knight, The Tear Gas Ministerial. December 1, 1999.
(A shorter version ran on IPS as “TRADE: WTO Talks Resume in Face of Protests.” http://www.ipsnews.net/1999/12/trade-wto-talks-resume-in-face-of-protests)
“HEALTH-TRADE: WTO Urged to Address Access to Medicine”. Danielle Knight, Inter Press Service. December 2, 1999.
“TRADE: Third World Tastes the Carrot and the Stick”. Abid Aslam, Inter Press Service. December 2, 1999.
“TRADE: Developing Countries Assail WTO “Dictatorship’”. Abid Aslam, Inter Press Service. December 3, 1999.
‘”ENVIRONMENT: WTO Attacked for Ignoring ‘Precautionary Principle’”. Danielle Knight, Inter Press Service. December 3, 1999.
“Beardless in Seattle: Cuban delegation backs developing countries in WTO”. Peter Costantini, The Tear Gas Ministerial. December 3, 1999.
“ENVIRONMENT-TRADE: Anti-WTO Protests Begin in Seattle”. Danielle Knight, Inter Press Service. December 4, 1999.
“Trade talks without tear gas”. Peter Costantini, The Tear Gas Ministerial. January 17, 2000.
“What’s wrong with the WTO? A guide to where the mines are buried”. Peter Costantini. November 2001.
A reference site on the WTO treaties and issues surrounding them
“TRADE: A Lost Decade for the WTO?” Peter Costantini, Inter Press Service. December 7, 2009.
“Winners and losers: the human costs of ‘free’ trade.” Peter Costantini, Huffington Post. December 14, 2009.
Greece and the troika (the International Monetary Fund, the EU, and the European Central Bank) are in a dangerous game of chicken. The Greeks have been threatened with a “Cyprus-Style prolonged bank holiday” if they “vote wrong.” But they have been bullied for too long and are saying “no more.”
A return [...]]]>
Greece and the troika (the International Monetary Fund, the EU, and the European Central Bank) are in a dangerous game of chicken. The Greeks have been threatened with a “Cyprus-Style prolonged bank holiday” if they “vote wrong.” But they have been bullied for too long and are saying “no more.”
A return to the polls was triggered in December, when the Parliament rejected Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ pro-austerity candidate for president. In a general election, now set for January 25th, the EU-skeptic, anti-austerity, leftist Syriza party is likely to prevail. Syriza captured a 3% lead in the polls following mass public discontent over the harsh austerity measures Athens was forced to accept in return for a €240 billion bailout.
Austerity has plunged the economy into conditions worse than in the Great Depression. As Professor Bill Black observes, the question is not why the Greek people are rising up to reject the barbarous measures but what took them so long.
Ireland was similarly forced into an EU bailout with painful austerity measures attached. A series of letters has recently come to light showing that the Irish government was effectively blackmailed into it, with the threat that the ECB would otherwise cut off liquidity funding to Ireland’s banks. The same sort of threat has been leveled at the Greeks, but this time they are not taking the bait.
Squeezed by the Squid
The veiled threat to the Greek Parliament was in a December memo from investment bank Goldman Sachs – the same bank that was earlier blamed for inducing the Greek crisis. Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi wrote colorfully of it:
The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who’s Who of Goldman Sachs graduates.
Goldman has spawned an unusual number of EU and US officials with dictatorial power to promote and protect big-bank interests. They include US Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who brokered the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 and passage of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act in 2000; Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who presided over the 2008 Wall Street bailout; Mario Draghi, current head of the European Central Bank; Mario Monti, who led a government of technocrats as Italian prime minister; and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, chair of the Financial Stability Board that sets financial regulations for the G20 countries.
Goldman’s role in the Greek crisis goes back to 2001. The vampire squid, smelling money in Greece’s debt problems, jabbed its blood funnel into Greek fiscal management, sucking out high fees to hide the extent of Greece’s debt in complicated derivatives. The squid then hedged its bets by shorting Greek debt. Bearish bets on Greek debt launched by heavyweight hedge funds in late 2009 put selling pressure on the euro, forcing Greece into the bailout and austerity measures that have since destroyed its economy.
Before the December 2014 parliamentary vote that brought down the Greek government, Goldman repeated the power play that has long held the eurozone in thrall to an unelected banking elite. In a note titled “From GRecovery to GRelapse,” reprinted on Zerohedge, it warned that “the room for Greece to meaningfully backtrack from the reforms that have already been implemented is very limited.”
Why? Because bank “liquidity” could be cut in the event of “a severe clash between Greece and international lenders.” The central bank could cut liquidity or not, at its whim; and without it, the banks would be insolvent.
As the late Murray Rothbard pointed out, all banks are technically insolvent. They all lend money they don’t have. They rely on being able to borrow from other banks, the money market, or the central bank as needed to balance their books. The central bank, which has the power to print money, is the ultimate backstop in this sleight of hand and is therefore in the driver’s seat. If that source of liquidity dries up, the banks go down.
The Goldman memo warned:
The Biggest Risk is an Interruption of the Funding of Greek Banks by The ECB.
Pressing as the government refinancing schedule may look on the surface, it is unlikely to become a real issue as long as the ECB stands behind the Greek banking system. . . .
But herein lies the main risk for Greece. The economy needs the only lender of last resort to the banking system to maintain ample provision of liquidity. And this is not just because banks may require resources to help reduce future refinancing risks for the sovereign. But also because banks are already reliant on government issued or government guaranteed securities to maintain the current levels of liquidity constant. . . .
In the event of a severe Greek government clash with international lenders, interruption of liquidity provision to Greek banks by the ECB could potentially even lead to a Cyprus-style prolonged “bank holiday”. And market fears for potential Euro-exit risks could rise at that point. [Emphasis added.]
The condition of the Greek banks was not the issue. The gun being held to the banks’ heads was the threat that the central bank’s critical credit line could be cut unless financial “reforms” were complied with. Indeed, any country that resists going along with the program could find that its banks have been cut off from that critical liquidity.
That is actually what happened in Cyprus in 2013. The banks declared insolvent had passed the latest round of ECB stress tests and were no less salvageable than many other banks – until the troika demanded an additional €600 billion to maintain the central bank’s credit line.
That was the threat leveled at the Irish government before it agreed to a bailout with strings attached, and it was the threat aimed in December at Greece. Greek Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis stated in an interview:
The key to . . . our economy’s future in 2015 and later is held by the European Central Bank. . . . This key can easily and abruptly be used to block funding to banks and therefore strangle the Greek economy in no time at all.
Europe’s Lehman Moment?
That was the threat, but as noted on Zerohedge, the ECB’s hands may be tied in this case:
[S]hould Greece decide to default it would mean those several hundred billion Greek bonds currently held in official accounts would go from par to worthless overnight, leading to massive unaccounted for impairments on Europe’s pristine balance sheets, which also confirms that Greece once again has all the negotiating leverage.
Despite that risk, on January 3rd Der Spiegel reported that the German government believes the Eurozone would now be able to cope with a Greek exit from the euro. The risk of “contagion” is now limited because major banks are protected by the new European Banking Union.
The banks are protected but the depositors may not be. Under the new “bail-in” rules imposed by the Financial Stability Board, confirmed in the European Banking Union agreed to last spring, any EU government bailout must be preceded by the bail-in (confiscation) of creditor funds, including depositor funds. As in Cyprus, it could be the depositors, not the banks, picking up the tab.
What about deposit insurance? That was supposed to be the third pillar of the Banking Union, but a eurozone-wide insurance scheme was never agreed to. That means depositors will be left to the resources of their bankrupt local government, which are liable to be sparse.
What the bail-in protocol does guarantee are the derivatives bets of Goldman and other international megabanks. In a May 2013 article in Forbes titled “The Cyprus Bank ‘Bail-In’ Is Another Crony Bankster Scam,” Nathan Lewis laid the scheme bare:
At first glance, the “bail-in” resembles the normal capitalist process of liabilities restructuring that should occur when a bank becomes insolvent. . . .
The difference with the “bail-in” is that the order of creditor seniority is changed. In the end, it amounts to the cronies (other banks and government) and non-cronies. The cronies get 100% or more; the non-cronies, including non-interest-bearing depositors who should be super-senior, get a kick in the guts instead. . . .
In principle, depositors are the most senior creditors in a bank. However, that was changed in the 2005 bankruptcy law, which made derivatives liabilities most senior. In other words, derivatives liabilities get paid before all other creditors — certainly before non-crony creditors like depositors. Considering the extreme levels of derivatives liabilities that many large banks have, and the opportunity to stuff any bank with derivatives liabilities in the last moment, other creditors could easily find there is nothing left for them at all.
Even in the worst of the Great Depression bank bankruptcies, said Lewis, creditors eventually recovered nearly all of their money. He concluded:
When super-senior depositors have huge losses of 50% or more, after a “bail-in” restructuring, you know that a crime was committed.
Greece can regain its sovereignty by defaulting on its debt, abandoning the ECB and the euro, and issuing its own national currency (the drachma) through its own central bank. But that would destabilize the eurozone and might end in its breakup.
Will the troika take that risk? 2015 is shaping up to be an interesting year.]]>
The new year may have brought with it some signs of progress toward a comprehensive deal between world powers and Iran, lending credence to one of Graham Fuller’s 2015 predictions for the Middle East. However, any movement toward a nuclear agreement must now contend with a potentially game-changing complication: the desire of a new and more hawkish Republican-led Congress to impose additional sanctions on Iran regardless of how the talks are progressing.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that the P5+1 (the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China) had reached a tentative agreement with Iranian negotiators on a plan to have Tehran ship some portion of its stockpiled low enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia. The agreement would presumably be along the lines of the arrangement that was first reported by IPS’s Gareth Porter in October whereby Iran’s stockpiled LEU, as well as much of its newly enriched LEU, would be converted by the Russians into fuel for its Bushehr civilian nuclear facility.
If the AP report is accurate, the deal could represent a major breakthrough in one of the core areas of dispute between the parties: the size of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. The P5+1 have sought to limit the number of centrifuges that Iran would be allowed to operate under the terms of a deal in order to lengthen the amount of time it would take the Iranians to produce enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a single nuclear bomb if it chose to pursue one (Iran’s “breakout time”). But Iran has balked at the idea of reducing its centrifuge program. However, another element in the “breakout time” calculation (part of the so-called “Rubik’s Cube” of a final nuclear deal) is the amount of LEU that Iran has stockpiled. Were Iran to agree to ship its LEU (which can be fairly easily enriched to levels required for weaponization) to Russia for conversion into fuel rods (which cannot be easily converted to a weaponizable form), then Iran’s “breakout time” could be extended with only a relatively minor –and perhaps even no — reduction in Iran’s current centrifuge capacity.
It should be noted that the AP report contained no specifics, saying simply that “both sides in the talks are still arguing about how much of an enriched uranium stockpile to leave Iran.” It also offered no indication that the deal would motivate the US/P5+1 negotiators to alter their demand that Iran cut its current number of operating centrifuges by over 50%, to 4500, under a final deal. In addition, Iran’s foreign ministry quickly dismissed the AP report, with spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham saying that “no agreement has been reached yet on any of the issues [being discussed] during nuclear talks,” although that denial could reflect diplomatic posturing on Iran’s part.
Other news out of Tehran, however, has offered a more encouraging sign that the sides may be moving closer to a deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday argued that Iran should be prepared to accept some limits on its uranium enrichment program if doing so could help achieve a larger aim:
Speaking to an economic conference in Tehran, Rouhani both countered hard-line critics worried Iran will give up too much while also attempting to signal his administration remains open to negotiation with the six-nation group leading the talks.
If “we are ready to stop some types of enrichment which we do not need at this time, does it mean we have compromised our principles and cause?” Rouhani asked.
He responded: “Our cause is not linked to a centrifuge. It is connected to our heart and to our willpower.”
Rouhani’s remarks caused a bit of a social media storm, with some reputable analysts, including Suzanne Dimaggio who heads the Iran initiative at the New American Foundation, suggesting that a final deal is on the horizon.
Important speech by #Iran‘s @HassanRouhani today: “Our ideals are not bound to centrifuges.” Preparing for a deal. http://t.co/f9CB66RT9G
— Suzanne DiMaggio (@suzannedimaggio) January 4, 2015
Additionally, Rouhani seemed to suggest that he could put the terms of a final nuclear deal to a national referendum, possibly in order to bypass potential opposition from hardliners in the Majles (Iran’s parliament) and higher up the country’s religious and political hierarchy. As Juan Cole notes, the results of such a referendum could still be overruled by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but Khamenei may be reluctant to overrule the will of a majority of the Iranian public.
Unfortunately, these positive developments take place amid the rise of a new threat to the ongoing negotiations, not from hardliners in Iran’s parliament but rather from hardliners in the newly installed (as of Saturday) US Congress. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) visited Israel late last month and told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there would be a vote on the previously stymied Kirk-Menendez bill (to impose additional sanctions on Iran) sometime in January, and that the new Congress would “follow [Netanyahu’s] lead” on dealing with Iran and the nuclear talks. Putting aside the astonishing sight of a US senator pledging allegiance to a foreign leader, sanctions are a clearly decisive issue for Tehran. The imposition of another round of broad US sanctions, even if they are made conditional on Iran abandoning the talks or breaking its obligations under the existing negotiating framework, would strengthen hardliners in Tehran who have long argued that Washington cannot be trusted. The Obama administration has pledged to veto any additional sanctions on Iran so long as talks are ongoing, but that may not matter; Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) told reporters last week that he expects the new Congress to pass a new sanctions bill with veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate.
The most recent extension of the talks called for a final framework to be in place by March 1 and for a full deal to be reached by July 1. It seems likely that most Republicans in Congress will do their best to scuttle the talks before either of those deadlines can be reached, putting negotiators (who will meet again Jan 15. in Geneva) on an even tighter timeframe.]]>
The Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) ended on January 2 a fire that raged for days among tanks in Libya’s largest oil export terminal of Es-Sider, but the militia violence fed by the implosion of governance that caused it continues. Indeed, the levels of suffering, civilian casualties, refugees, and those internally displaced have increased steadily. The talks between Libya’s rival warring governments slated for today have been postponed. Meanwhile, extremist elements are taking greater advantage of the ongoing maelstrom.
The NOC managed to put the fire out, but three days of normal Libyan oil exports were destroyed. Of course, with Libyan crude exports already down to less than 400,000 barrels per day (only 1/3 of normal output), the fire’s impact on global markets was minimal.
Libya’s low exports since mid-2013 pose serious fiscal challenges for the country. The internationally recognized, relatively moderate House of Representatives (HOR), elected in June 2014, headed by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, and driven to take refuge in the small eastern city of Tobruk, is in fiscal crisis. The Libyan Central Bank, so far neutral between rival governments, has drawn down Libya’s currency reserves to cover spending. With two hostile governments, there is also no budget for the allotment of funds in 2015.
One might think government spending and a budget would be the least of Libya’s concerns. But beneath the government standoff and rule of local or extremist armed elements around the country, much of the Qadhafi-era’s largely socialist economy remains. If the Central Bank fails to pay government employees, those of the National Oil Corporation, personnel keeping most ports functioning, workers struggling to maintain the electric grid, civil police, and others life would grind to a halt. Goods would stop flowing, businesses would lose customers, and people would not be able to obtain goods and services at the most basic level. Fraud-ridden and often dysfunctional, presently there is an economy just the same.
The Es-Sider inferno was triggered by a rocket fired by Islamic Dawn (LD), the robust Islamist militia comprised of fighters from Libya’s third largest city of Misrata, near Tripoli. LD is the muscle behind the rival Tripoli government.
Since last August when it propped up the Islamist portion of the former parliament, the General National Council (GNC) as a “government,” LD has been gaining ground. Its ability to push nearly 400 miles eastward, to menace Libya’s twin oil ports of Es-Sider and Ras Lanuf plus their supporting oil fields to the south illustrates LD’s rising power at the expense of the HOR and its loyalist allies.
Likewise, 500 miles to the west, LD has been driving toward Libya’s other major oil and gas terminal of Mellitah, near the Tunisian border. Thinni has been struggling to halt this other LD drive using local tribal militias and air strikes. A NOC statement from late December, fearing the loss of Mellitah, said Libyan hydrocarbon production would fall below the levels needed to even meet Libyan domestic demand.
A severe impediment for the HOR and its loyalist allies is the more extremist militia grouping continuing to dominate much of Libya’s eastern second largest city of Benghazi. Led by the formidable al-Qaeda associated Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL), a militant alliance— despite see-saw fighting—has managed to hold various Libyan military units and former General Khalifa Haftar’s polyglot secular forces allied with the HOR in check.
The commitment of so many HOR military assets to the military meat-grinder in Benghazi to prevent ASL from moving eastward toward Tobruk has weakened its efforts elsewhere. Eleven more died and 63 were wounded in Benghazi on Dec. 22. In fact, most killed in clashes across Libya die in Benghazi. Eastern Libyan jihadists car bombed the HOR’s Tobruk hotel on Dec. 30 wounding 3 deputies.
The UN Support Mission in Libya and the UN’s High Commission for Human Rights announced on Dec. 23 that nearly 700 hundred Libyan civilians have died as collateral casualties of Libyan violence since August; many times that have been wounded. Combatant casualties would likely push fatalities over 1,000. This death toll is lower than those emerging from Syria and Iraq from the regime-rebel civil war in the former and Islamic State-related violence in both. Still, the UN warned commanders of Libyan armed groups they could be charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with criminal atrocities.
The refugee situation is far worse. By September, 1.8 million Libyan refugees had sought shelter in Tunisia. Added to those elsewhere, as in Egypt, refugees comprise approximately 1/3 of Libya’s entire population. Those in Tunisia have overwhelmed available humanitarian assistance, particularly now during the cold, rainy Mediterranean winter. Almost 400,000 Libyans are reportedly internally displaced.
No End in Sight
So far, diplomatic efforts seeking some sort of accommodation between Tripoli and Tobruk have been futile. Talks led by UN Envoy for Libya Bernadino Leon came to naught back in September. Leon tried to organize another round for Dec. 9, but this foundered due to more fighting triggered by a failed HOR effort to retake Tripoli. Leon reported to the UN Security Council on Dec. 23 that the two sides had agreed to meet today.
That initiative also collapsed. HOR airstrikes over the weekend against targets in Misrata (the home of the GNC’s “Libya Dawn” militia) came as a surprise. Two reportedly were wounded. An HOR military spokesman said the strikes were retaliation for renewed LD attacks against Es-Sider and Ras Lanuf where fighting has resumed. Yesterday a loyalist warplane struck a Greek tanker near the eastern port of Derna, killing two crewmen; a Libyan military spokesman claimed it was carrying militants.
Meanwhile, General David Rodriguez, head of US Africa Command, revealed on December 3 that “nascent” Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or IS) training camps had been established in eastern Libya containing a “couple of hundred” militants. Fourteen Libyan soldiers were executed on Feb. 3 in southern Libya by a group calling itself the Islamic State of Libya. Even the more moderate Islamist GNC and LD, already hostile to ASL, condemned the killings. With Libya’s disarray and the grip of ASL and associated extremists over much of Benghazi plus areas nearby like militant-held portions of Derna, IS’s appearance at some point was inevitable.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Kharti in December chaired a meeting of his counterparts from Libya’s neighbors to express concern about the Libyan crisis’ regional impact. Weighing heavily on participants was the near conquest of Mali in 2013 by extremists, many staging out of and receiving munitions from Libya’s lawless southwest. There also has been arms smuggling from eastern Libyan militants to Egypt’s Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis jihadists, many of whom affiliated themselves with IS in Fall 2014.
Increasingly concerned about Libyan jihadist spillover, French President François Hollande urged the international community today to address Libya’s crisis. In a two-hour interview with France Inter radio, Hollande ruled out unilateral French intervention in Libya itself, but is establishing a base in northern Niger 60 miles from the Libyan border to help contain the menace. Last year, another French base was set up near the Malian border with Libya.
The longer Libya’s chaos remains on the global back burner, the nastier its impact will be in Libya and beyond. Crises left to fester sometimes find their own way to the front burner.]]>
The book “Preparing For The Day After” is a photojournalistic treatise, a veritable treat for the newshound published on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Asian Tsunami as an E Book on Google Play. Taking off on a critique on the role of the media on [...]]]>
The book “Preparing For The Day After” is a photojournalistic treatise, a veritable treat for the newshound published on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Asian Tsunami as an E Book on Google Play. Taking off on a critique on the role of the media on the day of the tsunami, the author substantiates media’s ignorance and paralysis with official U.N. reports.
The E book is an authoritative analysis and compendium of the evolution of disaster management, the concept of disaster risk reduction, which evolved as a post script to humanity’s biggest recorded disaster – the Asian tsunami.
Issues such as culture sensitive food security, administrative coordination, mass mortality management, impact of calamities on agriculture, livelihood, fisheries, bio diversity etc. have been authenticated with news reports, interviews, official reports, scientific perspective and pictures to make this work a credible, aesthetic, authoritative and attractive literature in a current affairs perspective.
What makes it so attractive as a Picture Handbook online is its endless repertoire of referenced links to official U.N. and country reports, news media articles and visualisation with never before seen pictures and Street view graphics from Google Earth, Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, Global Volcanism Programme of Smithsonian Institutions, NOAA, USGS, Ministry of Defence, Government of India, Swiss Avalanche Forecasting Establishment, Agencia Brazil etc.
There is a credible attempt at exposing what may be either corruption, missing links, dereliction of duty or nepotism in implementing actionable inputs of early warning. Lacunae in standard operating procedures of early warning in South Asia have been exposed.
The author has also articulated a geological perspective of climate change which often escapes the attention of the mainstream media. That is a very fresh breathe of air… for as the book title suggests it is not at all a doomsday prophecy rather it is a positive learning experience with vigorous illustrated documentation. In all, the book makes a veritable storehouse of well researched data on natural calamities.
Evolution of best practises can have far reaching consequences on diplomacy in South Asia. A south Asian version of meals on wheels to mitigate starvation with the cultural diversity of Asiatic cuisine has an unimaginable amount of goodwill, economic and diplomatic scope.
Indeed it can be a game changer. Convergence of economic and military might on the high seas for humanitarian mission? Is it naïveté or brilliance? I was unable to decide. But the compelling logic makes it a gripping read in lucid yet powerful text.
Some first person accounts take the reader effortlessly to the forlorn locales like the high seas on Campbell Bay or Sunda Straits. Reading those accounts are enigmatic and addictive, the kind of books ideal during travel for lay persons and serious library referencing for trainee administrators, NGOs and disaster managers in any part of the globe, I can assure you!
Besides the fund of information housed in this literature, another aspect which appeals is the rich narratives of human triumph and tragedy. Most lay persons only remember seeing visuals on TV showing the damage done by the monster waves of the Asian tsunami. Few people are able to get an inside view of the survivor’s mind, body and psyche of a tsunami survivor.
The author through her interactions and interviews with a range of brave hearts who survived the trauma, has sensitively brought home the awareness of just what all entails being a survivor of a disaster of this magnitude; and the ramifications of such a disaster on human souls, which unfolds over years. There is a picture of a cat hiding from scare of a seismic event… there is a picture of a dead cow entangled in the roots of a mangrove forest.
The book also serves as an awareness manual to the common man to get a sense of how delicate the balance in nature is… And just how ruthless and ferocious Mother Nature can be.
A downside is the size of the E book. At 1332 pages it doesn’t make for a quick read, all of which is encapsulated in two words! – “Go Green”. But the author explained that this is because it is an E Book. Once designed for a hard copy printed edition, it should be far less, but of encyclopaedic proportions I am sure!
Also the author could have treated climate change with a lot more of serious attention it calls for; although it is touched up as sub text in various chapters. Said Shankar, in an exclusive discussion with this writer “Even U.N. reports like SREX cannot be a complete and exhaustive compilation of extreme weather events; how then can one unfunded author put it together? Hence I created an online Survey seeking best practices on mitigating hydrometeorological disasters”.
Looking at the alphabetical listing of hydrometeorological disasters in “Preparing For The Day After”, it is obviously a challenge to compile all HM disasters with research reports, field anecdotes, quotes, best practices, pictures, dissertation etc on a global scale in one picture handbook that too without funding by one author.
With photographs sourced from Government of India, Government of Switzerland Government of Brazil, U.N. Photo Library, and another 8 photographers, the illustration is a very rich kaleidoscope of Disaster Management issues. The graphic images of mass graves, mass mortalities have been handled with sensitivity and cannot be called sensational. The book’s photojournalistic value comes out perfectly synchronous to the copious text. Illustration and text both justify the portraiture of disaster management issues.
All in all, an informative and interesting read, needs editing though if it needs to reach the unconverted clichéd “illiterate vulnerable communities”. However the critical significance of the book justifies multilingual editions for a global reach. It’s a shame that a work of this genre lacked funding and had to compromise on research or printing costs. Google Play Books has universal reach no doubt but its technical accessibility can be challenging, denying the critical reach of the work to the ones to whom it matters the most.
The E Book is available only on Google Play App on smartphones on this link: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=EbzkBQAAQBAJ
Researched, compiled, interviewed photographed and written by Malini Shankar
Photo Editor: Walter Keller.
I offer the following longer terms predictions about the Middle East for 2015.
OK, that’s enough predictive risks for one year…
Photo: The Middle East at Night (NASA, International Space Station, 06/04/12).
This article was first published by Graham E. Fuller and was reprinted here with permission. Copyright Graham E. Fuller.]]>
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has now moved a step closer to making good on its threat to go to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and bring charges against Israel. There is little doubt that this was a move Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tried desperately to avoid. In the end, he was forced to do it by a combination of U.S.-Israeli rejectionism, Palestinian desperation to do something to try to end Israel’s occupation, and his own many missteps.
Abbas signed on to 18 international agreements after the quixotic attempt to pass a resolution at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) predictably failed. Among them was the 1998 Rome Statute, which established the ICC and took formal effect in 2002. This is the step that the U.S. and Israel have warned Abbas against most strongly. Among all the “unilateral steps” the Palestinians could take (which, one should note, is no more “unilateral” than any number of actions taken by Israel on a routine basis), this is the one Israel worries about most.
The reason, of course, is obvious. Israel knows it has committed war and other international crimes—some very serious—in the course of its occupation. While Israel generally scoffs and waxes indignant at critical world opinion, it is concerned that being hauled before the ICC could further negatively impact public and elite opinion in Europe, Israel’s main trading partner, where patience with Israeli policies has grown ever thinner.
Abbas knows only too well that he risks losing what little power he has in the West Bank. There are many ways this move can blow up in his face, and most of the roads to success are going to take more time than he has. That he has taken this step testifies to his desperation.
When, on behalf of the Palestinians, Jordan submitted its resolution to the UNSC last month, it did so under tremendous pressure from other Arab states. Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah had preferred to wait until France was ready with its own resolution, which the United States had strongly hinted it would support, or at least not oppose. Abbas knew full well that, even if the Palestinian resolution had mustered the nine votes needed to pass the UNSC, Washington would have vetoed it. Approval of the French version, while toothless and lacking a fixed deadline to end Israel’s occupation, would at least have had virtue of demonstrating the international community’s insistence on a two-state solution.
But internal pressure to submit the Palestinian version, as well as the external pressure that turned out to be decisive, seems to have pushed the French version to the back burner, at least for the time being. With the expected failure of the Palestinian resolution at the UNSC, Abbas was forced to carry through with his threat to sign the Rome Statute, a move that many Palestinians, including many in his own Fatah faction, had been clamoring for ever since the 2012 U.N. General Assembly vote that granted Palestine non-member observer state status, thus enabling it to join international agreements and UN specialized agencies.
In the long run, this is a move that could pay off for the Palestinians, but it carries enormous risks, especially to the PA. The most obvious and immediate threats lie with the responses that can be expected from Israel and its most important foreign backer, the new Republican-led U.S. Congress. Many in Congress have made it clear that they intend to push for suspension of aid to the PA if it signs the Rome Statute. And Israel will surely ramp up its settlement expansion and likely once again withhold taxes it collects on the PA’s behalf. The resulting economic impact could very well lead to the PA’s collapse.
That outcome has been forestalled in the past by Israel’s recognition that the security and economic costs it would inherit would be exorbitant. Israeli officials not only allowed their own cooler heads to prevail, but also urged restraint on their friends in Congress. Despite the recent splash the Labor Party made by joining forces with peace process veteran Tzipi Livni, Bibi Netanyahu’s main challenge still comes from his right in the elections scheduled for mid-March, and he can’t afford to look soft on the Palestinians.
That certainly won’t help Abbas. He knows the dangers that confront him. Moreover, the approach to the ICC carries another risk. Even if Abbas survives the Israeli-U.S. response, it is very possible that Hamas will also face charges at the ICC. The case against Hamas, while covering crimes involving far less destruction and loss of life, is also more clear-cut than one likely to be brought by the PA against Israel, whose acts in Gaza and in the day-to-day occupation of the West Bank will require lengthy investigation. Should Hamas find itself on the losing end of the law before Israel does, Abbas’s position is likely to weaken further.
Despite his moves toward internationalization, Abbas still much prefers to work with Washington. U.S. fecklessness in the face of persistent Israeli opposition to any diplomatic initiative, however, has essentially brought him to this Rubicon. And his own clear reluctance to cross it will itself likely diminish the chance of success.
Under the Rome Statute, the Palestinians will not be able to formally file any cases with the ICC prosecutor for 60 days from the date of signing. That time will certainly be used by the Obama Administration, which will no doubt argue that such a filing could bolster the Israeli Right in the critical final days of the election campaign, to pressure the Palestinians against going forward. Still, the repeated failure of the Security Council to address the occupation in any substantive way, coupled with the failed history of the U.S.-brokered peace process, has sent the Palestinian people the message, however unintentionally, that diplomacy and cooperation are dead-end strategies. That is going to lead to more Palestinians embracing the violent paths called for by Hamas and other, considerably more militant, factions.
At the same time, Palestinians have seen the futility of armed struggle over the decades. Failure at the UNSC and joining the ICC — but then forgoing charges against Israel – will only increase Palestinian despair and desperation. That will no doubt lead to more of the kind of “lone wolf” attacks that Israelis endured in 2014.
The one party that could make a difference is the European Union (EU). It can exert serious pressure on Israel of a kind even the United States cannot match. The EU accounts for nearly one-third of Israel’s export business. (By comparison, the U.S. accounts for just under one-quarter). Labeling settlement products (as some EU countries currently require, but don’t generally enforce) could be a first step. And if it is couched as a warning that sterner measures are in the offing, the impact on Israeli thinking could be significant, perhaps even a game-changer.
Indeed, ultimately, that sort of European action is what Israel fears. If the Obama administration wants to see a reversal of the downward spiral its own peace-making efforts have helped create in Israel-Palestine, it could quietly encourage the EU in that direction.
Such a course would be wise. Abbas’s strategy of relying entirely on U.S. help to pull him through has clearly failed, and his reign, whether due to a P.A. collapse or just his own advancing age, will not last much longer. He has no clear heir apparent, so what comes after is a mystery. The United States won’t exert significant pressure on Israel in the near future, and, absent some unanticipated shock, Obama’s successors in the White House are unlikely to spend as much political capital as he has on resolving the conflict. The pressure must come from Europe and from the Palestinians using whatever international tools are at their disposal.
This is, after all, just what was always demanded of the Palestinians—that they pursue their goals without recourse to violence. If a peaceful path to statehood is denied them, ongoing and escalating violence is all we can expect to see.]]>
by Hooshang Amirahmadi
President Barack Obama’s move towards normalization of relations with Cuba has generated lots of hope and analyses that a similar development may take place with Iran. Jim Lobe, founder of the Lobe Log and Washington Bureau Chief of the Inter Press Service, is one such observer. His recent article offers an excellent elaboration of the arguments. I rarely comment on writings by others, but his article deserves a response.
Lobe writes, “In my opinion, Obama’s willingness to make a bold foreign policy move [on Cuba] should—contrary to the narratives put out by the neoconservatives and other hawks—actually strengthen the Rouhani-Zarif faction within the Iran leadership who are no doubt arguing that Obama is serious both about reaching an agreement and forging a new relationship with the Islamic Republic.”
As someone who has spent 25 years trying to mend relations between the US and Iran, I wish Mr. Lobe and his liberal allies were right, and that their “neoconservative” opponents were wrong in their assessments that after Cuba comes Iran; unfortunately they are not. The truth is that Obama cannot so easily unlock the 35-year US-Iran entanglement that involves complex forces, including an Islamic Revolution.
First, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani used to tell Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that Obama could be trusted, but after 14 months and many rounds of negotiations, they have now subscribed to Khamenei’s line that the US cannot be trusted. Iran’s nuclear program has already been reduced to a symbolic existence but the promised relief from key sanctions, Rouhani’s main incentive to negotiate, is nowhere on the horizon.
During the meeting in Oman between Kerry and Zarif just before the November 24, 2014 deadline for reaching a “comprehensive” deal, as disclosed by the parliamentarian Mohammad Nabavian in an interview, “[Secretary of State] Kerry crossed all Iranian red lines” and Zarif left for Tehran “thinking that the negotiations should stop.” One such red line concerns Iran’s missile program, which is now included in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
In a recent letter to his counterparts throughout the world regarding the talks and why a comprehensive deal was not struck last November, Zarif writes that “demands from the Western countries [i.e., the US] are humiliating and illegitimate” and that the “ball is now in their court.” Partly reflecting this disappointment, the Rouhani Government has increased Iran’s defense and intelligence budgets for 2015 by 33 percent and 48 percent respectively (the Iranian calendar begins on March 21).
Second, Zarif and Rouhani could not make the “beyond-the-NPT” concessions that they have made if the supreme leader had not authorized them. The argument that Khamenei and his “hardline” supporters are the obstacle misses the fact that while they have raised “concern” about Iran’s mostly unilateral concessions and the US’s “rapacious” demands, they (particularly the supreme leader) have consistently backed the negotiations and the Iranian negotiators.
Third, Lobe’s thinking suggests that the problem between the two governments is a discursive and personal one: if Khamenei is convinced that Obama is a honest man, then a nuclear agreement would be concluded and a new relationship would be forged between the two countries. What this genus of thinking misses is a radical “Islamic Revolution” and its “divine” Nizam (regime) that stands between Washington and Tehran.
The Islamic Revolution has been anti-American from its inception in 1979 (and not just in Iran), and will remain so as long as the first generation revolutionary leaders rule. The US has also been hostile to the theocratic regime and has often tried to change it. No wonder Khamenei and his people view the US as an “existential threat,” and to fend it off, they have built a “strategic depth” extending to Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and other countries.
Fourth, several times in the past the Iran watchers in the West have become excited about elections that have produced “moderate” governments, making them naively optimistic that a change in relations between the US and Iran would follow. What they miss is that the Islamic “regime” (nizam) and the Islamic “government” are two distinct entities, with the latter totally subordinated to the former.
Specifically, the Nizam (where the House of Leader and revolutionary institutions reside) is ideological and revolutionary, whereas the government has often been pragmatic. Indeed, in the last 35 years, the so-called hardliners have controlled the executive branch for less than 10 years. The division of labor should be easy to understand: the Nizam guards the divine Islamic Revolution against any deviation and intrusion while the government deals with earthly butter and bread matters.
Fifth, to avoid a losing military clash with the US and at the same time reduce Washington’s ability to change its regime or “liberalize” it, the Islamic Republic has charted a smart policy towards the US: “no-war, no-peace.” The US has also followed a similar policy towards Iran to calm both anti-war and anti-peace forces in the conflict. Thus, for over 35 years, US-Iran relations have frequently swung between heightened hostility and qualified moderation (in Khamenei’s words, “heroic flexibility”).
Sixth, the Cuban and Iranian cases are fundamentally dissimilar. True, the Castros were also anti-American and are first-generation leaders, but Fidel is retired and on his deathbed while his brother Raul has hardly been as revolutionary as Fidel. Besides, with regard to US-Cuban normalization, Fidel and his brother can claim more victory than Obama; after all, the Castros did not cave in, Obama did. Furthermore, the Castros are their own bosses, head a dying socialist regime, and are the judges of their own “legacy.”
In sharp contrast, Khamenei subscribes to a rising Islam, heads a living though conflicted theocracy, and subsists in the shadow of the late Ayatollah Khomeini who called the US a “wolf” and Iran a “sheep,” decreeing that they cannot coexist. Indeed, in the Cuban case, the US held the tough line while in the case of Iran, the refusal to reconcile is mutual. Furthermore, the Cuban lobby is a passing force and no longer a match for the world-wide support that the Cuban government garners. Conversely, in the Iranian case, Obama has to deal with powerful Israeli and Arab lobbies, and the Islamic Republic does not have effective international support.
On the other hand, we also have certain similarities between the Cuban and Iranian cases. For example, both revolutions have been subject to harsh US sanctions and other forms of coercion that Obama called a “failed approach.” Obama is also in his second term, free from the yoke of domestic politics, and wishes to build a lasting legacy. Despite these similarities, the differences between the Iranian Islamic regime and the Cuban socialist system make the former a tougher challenge for Obama to solve.
Finally, while I do not think that the Cuban course will be followed for Iran any time soon, I do think that certain developments are generating the imperative for an US-Iran reconciliation in the near future. On Iran’s side, they include a crippled economy facing declining oil prices, a young Iranian population demanding transformative changes, and the gradual shrinking of the first-generation Islamic revolutionary leaders.
On the US side, the changes include an imperial power increasingly reluctant to use force, rising Islamic extremism, growing instability in the Persian Gulf and the larger Middle East, and the difficulty of sustaining the “no-war, no-peace” status quo in the absence of a “comprehensive” deal on Iran’s nuclear program. However, on this last issue, in Washington and Tehran, pessimism now far outweighs optimism, a rather sad development. Let us hope that sanity will prevail.
Photo: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets a rally in commemoration of the Islamic Republic’s 35 anniversary of its 1979 revolution in Tehran, Iran on Feb. 11, 2014. Credit: ISNA/Hamid Forootan]]>
by Wayne White
As 2014 draws to a close, there is no shortage of alternative suggestions about how to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS or IS). Most of them involve US escalation, driven by exaggerated notions of IS capabilities. Retaking IS’s extensive holdings will, however, take some time. All do acknowledge that regional coalition members are not pulling their weight.
Dismayed by the early December debate in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which many Senators sought to limit President Barack Obama’s military options, Senator Marco Rubio said Dec. 12 that it was “alarming” that IS “now reaches from North Africa…the Middle East, Pakistan, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.” Dismissing administration efforts as “half-measures,” Rubio also demanded that defeating IS include ousting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad from power.
Retired Marine Corps Colonel Gary Anderson of George Washington University argued Dec. 22 that a mainly American “large scale punitive expedition” should swiftly crush the Islamic State. Georgetown University’s Anthony Cordesman pointed out, however, that US “airpower cannot resolve the religious, ethnic, political, and governance issues…at the core of Iraqi and Syrian…conflict.” Although Anderson believes a huge foreign ground offensive would clear the way for follow-on solutions, Cordesman, while critical of the inadequacies of the air campaign, warned against major escalation and said realistic endgames could be elusive.
Senator John McCain visited Iraq Dec. 26 and said the training of some 4,000 anti-IS Sunni Arab tribesmen allied to the Iraqi government should take no more than 6 weeks to 2 months and that retaking the IS-held northern Iraqi city of Mosul should be the first Iraqi goal in driving IS from Iraq. He praised Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi for “success in unifying the Iraqi factions.”
There also has been a burst of December peace and ceasefire proposals or feelers put forward by the UN, Russia, and some individual countries. Unfortunately, the motives behind Moscow’s initiative are highly suspect, and none would appeal to all combatants or be properly monitored.
Mission Creep à la Obama
Unfortunately, the Obama administration, whether spooked by hawkish critics or pressured by the US military brass, has steadily ramped up US military involvement. The Pentagon is seeking a contractor to deploy jet fuel and gasoline to the al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq (far behind IS lines) by mid-January. One thousand troops from the US 101st Airborne Division also are scheduled to deploy to Iraq in January to train, advise and assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
If US aircraft begin using al-Asad, aircraft and US personnel would become a prime IS objective. When the US based aircraft inside South Vietnam, the need to deploy sizeable American ground forces to protect them was quickly generated. Furthermore, nearly 200 US troops sent to al-Asad in November may have fought IS forces in that area earlier this month; if this proves true, it would be the first such encounter between supposedly non-combat US troops sent to Iraq and IS forces.
The State of the Islamic State
Despite the jitters many have concerning the sweep of Islamic State forces, the view from the IS capital of Raqqa is hardly rosy. Still stalled in front of embattled Kobani, IS could not stop a sweeping Iraqi Kurdish, Yazidi, and Iraqi Army drive across northern Iraq to take Sinjar Mountain (again rescuing Yazidi refugees) and wrest from IS much of the town of Sinjar by December 21. Back in mid-December, the Pentagon also confirmed that an air strike killed Haji Mutazz, a deputy to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as the IS military operations chief for Iraq, and the IS “governor” of Mosul. Meanwhile, daily coalition air strikes grind away at various targets within IS’s “caliphate” (now increasingly wracked by shortages).
Senator Rubio’s notion of IS extending from North Africa to Southeast Asia is an exaggeration. It merely refers to a scattering of mostly small groups here and there—already extremists—simply declaring allegiance to or praise for IS.
The situation of IS forces beyond Kobani in Syria is meanwhile somewhat muddled. In the northwest Aleppo area, largely Islamic extremist elements like IS and the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front (plus a few mainstream groups) formed a “Shamiyya Front” alliance Dec. 25 to resist recent advances by Syrian government forces. In the south, seventeen mainly non-extremist rebel groups united in early December. Making slow gains against regime forces near Damascus, this grouping has received some moderate Arab aid. Rumors of a grand alliance between IS and al-Nusra, which still fight here and there, were premature.
The desire of some US politicians (and Turkey) for the US-led coalition to also take on the Assad regime is very risky. The fall of or severe weakening of the regime in the near-term would create a vacuum in western Syria and IS and Nusra would be best positioned to fill it. Both groups already encroach on the holdings of moderate rebels there. To block extremist exploitation of regime implosion, a large force of effective combat troops would have to be committed. No coalition member seems ready to do so. Finally, crafting endgames for Syria—now a chaotic, shattered land flush with raging ethno-sectarian hatreds—is an incredibly daunting task.
Iraqi Government Challenges
Despite Senator McCain’s claims, Abadi has not “unified Iraqi factions.” McCain probably got the “canned” tour limited to government successes. On Dec. 18, Abadi did expand press freedom, dropping predecessor Nouri al-Maliki’s official lawsuits against journalists and publications. Yet little else, particularly relating to the military front, is going well.
Only a relatively limited number of Sunni Arab tribes and former “Awakening” cadres continue to fight alongside the government. Worse still, the Iraqi Army has not even rebounded enough to replace Shi’a militias fighting on the front lines against IS in many areas where they devastate recaptured Sunni Arab towns. And Abadi has offered no sweeping initiative to guarantee Sunni Arab inclusion and rights. Meanwhile, IS has been busily weakening Sunni Arab tribal structure by playing on intra-tribal clan rivalries to make major tribal desertions to Baghdad more difficult.
Moreover, four thousand pro-government Sunni tribesmen is a paltry number stacked against many tens of thousands currently in IS’s pocket or under its sway. Opening an offensive against IS in Iraq by assaulting the vast Mosul area would also likely further grind up and demoralize recently trained Iraqi and other forces than empower them or result in victory. Finally, Baghdad is still preoccupied with simply trying to hold onto several key pieces of real estate behind IS lines, repeatedly under attack and poorly supplied.
Abadi appealed to his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu for greater support in battling IS. Davutoglu declared, “We are open to any idea,” but specifically noted only continuing to train Iraqi Kurds. Aside from intelligence cooperation and training, Ankara may well avoid most meaningful commitments to Baghdad, just as it has rebuffed other coalition members—including its NATO allies.
Long War Ahead
Short of a severe weakening of IS from the inside, the struggle against the group probably will be prolonged. The problem is not merely the limited Western forces willing to participate, but paltry support from the nearest coalition members.
Turkey, sharing a vast border with IS, is the worst offender. Nonetheless, the extreme reluctance of a nervous Jordan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to become heavily involved is also a major drawback. Unless these reluctant allies enter the fray more forcefully on the military and economic fronts, and Baghdad grasps the need for a genuinely diverse future for Iraq, the fight is likely to be a hard slog. And the more the US does militarily further reduces the incentive for regional players to do their part.
Photo: President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, convenes a meeting regarding Iraq in the Situation Room of the White House, June 12, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza]]>