Misunderstanding Al Qaeda's New Affiliate

Arif Rafiq - September 16, 2014

Al Qaeda's announcement earlier this month of a new affiliate in South Asia is a troubling reminder that wars in the region will go on long after U.S. troops leave Afghanistan. To make matters worse, leading analysts in the announcement's wake have revealed a complete lack of understanding about the goals and the focus of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and head of President Barack Obama's 2009 Afghanistan-Pakistan policy review, wrongly described the new group as focused exclusively on India. He even suggested that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence is hiding al Qaeda top man Ayman al-Zawahiri -- a claim that echoes hearsay from Indian intelligence sources.

Vikram Sood, the former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (India's CIA), went a step further, arguing that al Qaeda's new branch provides Islamabad the deniability it needs to continue supporting terror attacks in India. The presence of AQIS, Sood says, "absolves Pakistan of the charge that there is an al Qaeda in Pakistan."

India's Times Now news channel had a prime time discussion centering on the question of why Pakistan, in its view, is siding with al Qaeda. Amid the media hysteria, several Indian states were put on high alert, despite the absence of an imminent threat.

Security Challenges of Independent Scotland

Dan Mahaffee - September 12, 2014

Once a political improbability, the voices of independence seem to grow stronger and stronger in Scotland. As the Scots prepare to go to the polls Sept. 18, questions about Scottish independence and U.S. national security remain unresolved. While the vote will ultimately be a display of Scottish self-determination, an independent Scotland could present challenges to what has been one of the longest and most productive security partnerships in history.

The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom — not withstanding a certain White House cake on Twitter a few weeks ago — has been the bedrock of transatlantic security for most of the 20th century through World War II and the Cold War, as well as the shifting sands of the post-Cold War and post-9/11 eras.

Of all the factors now being discussed by leaders in London and Edinburgh, it is the British armed forces and security services that benefit the most from the geographical and financial advantages of the union, as well as the talented personnel from throughout the British Isles.  

The United Kingdom is a steadfast partner in the NATO alliance. Even with significant budgetary pressure, Britain is one of the few countries that still reaches the recommended 2 percent of GDP threshold for military spending, and, with France, it remains one of the few nations able to join the United States in conducting significant expeditionary operations. As members of the “Five Eyes,” the United States and United Kingdom — alongside Australia, Canada, and New Zealand — monitor a chaotic world. American and British law enforcement work hand-in-hand to confront terrorism and crime. 

Why Failure Helps

Robert Kaplan - September 11, 2014


"Man's real treasure is the treasure of his mistakes, piled up stone by stone through thousands of years," writes the great Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset in his 1941 book, Toward a Philosophy of History. Though we flatter ourselves by always "wanting to begin again," civilization requires that we never break our continuity with the past, for it is the very memory of what has gone grievously wrong that is the signal requirement for progress.

Not to fail, not to be wrong, is inhuman. And there are no more callow, uninteresting personalities than those who claim or feel themselves to have always been right and who have never known humiliation. Failure and being wrong are things that we should hold dear, as prized possessions, and learn from constantly; they are more valuable than money in the bank or degrees from elite schools. The young are seen to be unwise and shallow not because they are made that way, but because they haven't accumulated enough years yet to make the kind of humiliating mistakes and to suffer the hardships that are a precondition for the true enrichment of character.

Without the career mistakes made by Thucydides and Machiavelli, we might never have had The Peloponnesian War and The Prince, arguably the two greatest, seminal works of international relations.

Thucydides was an Athenian general whose army in 424 B.C. failed to return from Thasos in time to save the city of Amphipolis from Spartan forces. The Peloponnesian War was written by Thucydides in the full knowledge of his own disgrace. The book's searing objectivity and realism, which give it almost a modern sensibility, is no doubt integrally connected to the author's own appreciation of limits and constraints based, in turn, on his own shame and misfortune.

Obama's ISIS Strategy Plays Into Iran's Hands

Fabio Rafael Fiallo - September 11, 2014

In his May 28 speech at West Point, President Obama emphasized the need of “thinking through the consequences” when engaging in acts of war. That commendable precept, however, doesn’t seem to have been adhered to in the strategy, unveiled in his prime time television address on Sept. 10, destined to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the self-branded “Islamic State” – formerly called ISIS.

There was indeed one critical question that should have been tackled, but wasn’t, in that address, namely: how to prevent Iran – and for that matter its Syrian ally, i.e. Assad’s regime – from taking advantage of the fight against ISIS.

This strategic conundrum can hardly be overestimated. ISIS being an enemy of the Iran-Syria axis, its weakening and eventual destruction may play into the hands of that axis unless a corresponding action is taken to preclude such eventuality.

True, President Obama announced that the U.S. would broaden its support to moderate Syrian rebels, a move that is expected to thwart the Assad regime. However, given the present balance of forces in the Syrian battlefield, it is unlikely that such support would be enough to prevent the Syrian regime from benefitting from the degrading of ISIS by the U.S.

Dubai to Build World's Largest Airport

Adam Schreck - September 9, 2014


DUBAI, UAE (AP) -- Dubai's ruler has endorsed a $32 billion expansion plan for the city's second airport that aims to make it the world's biggest, the emirate's airport operator said Monday in the latest sign that the Middle East's brash commercial hub is determined to move on from its 2009 financial crisis.

The approval sets in motion a vast building project that will boost capacity exponentially at the airport known as Al Maktoum International at Dubai World Central. Backers envision it will eventually handle more than 200 million passengers per year.

The first phase of the expansion alone aims to build enough runway and terminal space to handle 120 million passengers a year and 100 mammoth Airbus A380 double-decker jets at any given time.

The world's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, handled 94.4 million people last year.

Russia Can Hit Back With Resource War

Gary Litman - September 4, 2014

This week, heads of 28 nations gather in Newport, Wales, for a NATO Summit described by a former NATO military commander as “the most important since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” In the face of increasing Russian military action in Ukraine, NATO leaders will discuss what mix of tools, including new and stricter sanctions, would cause the Russian leadership  to rethink its Ukraine policy.

Today’s headlines don’t tell the story, but in spite of the tumult in its eastern regions, Ukraine finds itself on the path of integrating itself into the so-called Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the EU - even as its government and private sector have to look ahead for ways to sustain commerce with its eastern neighbors. 

Recent news stories highlight the impact of trade sanctions on the economies of Russia and Europe, and to a lesser extent the United States. What’s often overlooked is the potential exposure of Western economies to Russian counter-sanctions in the resource sector.  

For the American economy, the emerging energy bonanza makes the U.S. less vulnerable to the vagaries of the pipeline disputes than our European partners. And yet one area where U.S.-based manufacturers have to hedge for increasing risks is in the global metals markets that are susceptible to disruptions of Russian supplies due to disputes, sanctions and retaliation cycles.

Resource Wars: Coming Soon to a Border Near You?

Daniel McGroarty - August 30, 2014


Russia in Ukraine, ISIS in Iraq, war in Gaza and nightly riot-watch in Ferguson, Missouri: Could the world possibly handle another crisis?

Well, ready or not, here one comes: The resource wars -- the global quest for raw materials that is likely to define the 21st Century.

Cynics and realists will say that human conflict is always about resources -- from control of the salt roads in ancient times (Roman soldiers were paid in salt) to the undercurrent of oil access that has marked much of the conflict in the Middle East over the past 50 years. But today, the list of resources worth fighting over is growing with each technological advance to include row after row of the arcane metals and minerals in the Periodic Table of elements.

And technology is only one demand-driver. Demography is the other, as the global population will surge to a projected 9.5 billion people by 2050. That's 35 percent more than today's 7 billion -- the equivalent of adding a new Africa and China to the world in just over a single generation. And the demand for added resources will actually rise more than 35 percent, because the 4 billion people presently surviving on the equivalent of $5 a day or less won't be content to live at subsistence level for the rest of their lives. Lifting them up will take more -- much more -- of everything, as the average person living in the industrialized world today consumes or uses 40,000 pounds each year of metals, from aluminum to zinc, and more than 70 elements in between.

Time to Erase the Line Between Old and New NATO Members

Michal Baranowski - August 30, 2014


It is time to call a spade a spade. By annexing Crimea, supplying separatists with weapons and personnel, and now directly intervening in Ukraine, Russia has broken the rules-based system in Eastern Europe and has undermined international laws and norms. This has profoundly changed the security situation for Europe as a whole, but especially for the eastern-most NATO members. Western leaders meeting in Newport, Wales, for the NATO Summit have to meet this challenge head on.

When visiting Poland in June, U.S. President Barack Obama talked about his country's unwavering commitment to Eastern Europe's security. During her recent visit to Riga, Chancellor Angela Markel also reconfirmed Germany's commitment to NATO's Article 5, which sanctions collective defense. But the Alliance must not only be willing but also able to defend all of its members. While some allies - such as Poland, with its fast-growing defense budget and large military modernization program - are doing their part, NATO as a whole is not currently well-prepared to defend against the threat posed by Russia.

The lack of preparedness relates to the divide between old and new NATO allies enshrined in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act. Through that agreement, which codified relations between NATO and Russia in the post-Cold War era, NATO committed to not having a significant presence in countries that joined the Alliance after 1999. But the Act was premised on the notion that Russia would be a partner of the West, and that Moscow would not undermine the security of Europe. Russia's recent actions mean that both of these assumptions are now clearly obsolete. The document itself needs not to be thrown out. But European leaders, particularly in Germany, need to stop referring to it as a basis for NATO's restraint. Poland and the Baltic states see such references as undermining NATO unity, by respecting obligations to Russia over those to treaty allies. It is time, then, to erase the line between new and old NATO member states. The Wales Summit presents a perfect opportunity to do so.

What would that mean in practice? Among other things, it would mean permanently stationing NATO assets, including troops and bases, where the threat is most acute in northeastern Europe. Such a presence on Europe's eastern periphery would not only enable an effective defense in case of an attack, but would serve as clear sign of the Alliance's resolve in deterring any potential aggression. Over time, this would also help lead to the de-escalation of the conflict in Ukraine. Russia is more likely to respond to a show of strength rather than to weakness.

The World Will Watch This NATO Summit

Jan Techau - August 29, 2014


What a difference half a year makes. In early 2014, NATO was preparing for a not-too-exciting summit in Wales on September 4-5, dutifully filling the agenda with issues such as this year's withdrawal from Afghanistan, partnerships with nonalliance countries, "smart defense," and readiness.

Six months ago, the big overarching question was how NATO could master the transition from an alliance deployed in Afghanistan and elsewhere to a postoperational organization, desperate to cling on to the military skills and lessons it had learned over a decade of operations.

Now, NATO is preparing for the most important summit in recent memory-perhaps not quite historic, but definitely under intense scrutiny and with potentially enormous ramifications for the alliance's future posture.

The unfolding crisis in Ukraine and the West's deteriorating relationship with Russia have contributed to this shift just as much as the devastating success of the Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East. Both issues have raised questions about the very nature of security in Europe. They also neatly mirror the balance NATO needs to strike between reassurance inside the alliance and the organization's role as a provider of security elsewhere in the world.

How Diamond Smuggling Drives Central African Religious War

Cyril Bensimon - August 29, 2014


This analysis first appeared in Le Monde

Not a single stone. Not a single carat.

Since May 23, 2013, and the suspension of the Kimberley Process - the certification scheme for the origin of rough diamonds - the Central African Republic (CAR) has officially exported none of the many diamonds that lie in its rivers. It's a massive loss of income for this bankrupted state. In 2012, even though most of the stones were already fraudulently exported, almost 372,000 carats were transported out of the country legally for a value equal to around 45 million euros.

Today, the French embassy in Bangui is calling for the sanctions to be lifted. The aim of the embargo decreed two months after the Muslim Séléka rebels took over power was to prevent armed groups from financing themselves by trading stones, but this measure led to a boom in smuggling. And it was enough to worry the World Diamond Council (WDC), which, on June 30, threatened to punish all those who violate this prohibitive measure. The WDC declaration followed a search carried out two weeks earlier in Antwerp, in Kardiam Diamond Tools' facilities.

Terrorism as Theater

Robert Kaplan - August 28, 2014


The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was much more than an altogether gruesome and tragic affair: rather, it was a very sophisticated and professional film production deliberately punctuated with powerful symbols. Foley was dressed in an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of the Muslim prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. He made his confession forcefully, as if well rehearsed. His executioner, masked and clad in black, made an equally long statement in a calm, British accent, again, as if rehearsed. It was as if the killing was secondary to the message being sent.

The killing, in other words, became merely the requirement to send the message. As experts have told me, there are more painful ways to dispatch someone if you really hate the victim and want him to suffer. You can burn him alive. You can torture him. But beheading, on the other hand, causes the victim to lose consciousness within seconds once a major artery is cut in the neck, experts say. Beheading, though, is the best method for the sake of a visually dramatic video, because you can show the severed head atop the chest at the conclusion. Using a short knife, as in this case, rather than a sword, also makes the event both more chilling and intimate. Truly, I do not mean to be cruel, indifferent, or vulgar. I am only saying that without the possibility of videotaping the event, there would be no motive in the first place to execute someone in such a manner.

In producing a docu-drama in its own twisted way, the Islamic State was sending the following messages:

-- We don't play by your rules. There are no limits to what we are willing to do.

-- America's mistreatment of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay comes with a "price tag," to quote a recently adopted phrase for retribution killings. After all, we are a state. We have our own enemy combatants as you can see from the video, and our own way of dealing with them.

-- Just because we observe no limits does not mean we lack sophistication. We can be just as sophisticated as you in the West. Just listen to the British accent of our executioner. And we can produce a very short film up to Hollywood standards.

-- We're not like the drug lords in Mexico who regularly behead people and subsequently post the videos on the Internet. The drug lords deliver only a communal message, designed to intimidate only those people within their area of control. That is why the world at large pays little attention to them; in fact, the world is barely aware of them. By contrast, we of the Islamic State are delivering a global, meta-message. And the message is this: We want to destroy all of you in America, all of you in the West, and everyone in the Muslim world who does not accept our version of Islam.

-- We will triumph because we observe absolutely no constraints. It is because only we have access to the truth that anything we do is sanctified by God.

Welcome to the mass media age. You thought mass media was just insipid network anchormen and rude prime-time hosts interrupting talking heads on cable. It is that, of course. But just as World War I was different from the Franco-Prussian War, because in between came the culmination of the Industrial Age and thus the possibility of killing on an industrial scale, the wars of the 21st century will be different from those of the 20th because of the culmination of the first stage of the Information Age with all of its visual ramifications.

U.S. Should Bomb ISIS ... and Assad

Michael Weiss - August 28, 2014


Last summer, as President Obama was strolling along the White House grounds with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, contemplating airstrikes on the regime of Bashar al-Assad for its use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta district of Damascus, everyone who until then had professed confusion or ignorance as to the complicated nature of the Syria conflict became an expert on the subject overnight. A special focus was on the anti-Assad rebels’ perceived shortcomings and alleged extremist orientation. If America was to have another war in the Middle East, our media establishment would be damned if it was to be on “slam-dunk” pretenses or in the service of inscrutable beneficiaries.  Articles were duly produced attempting to link the nominally US-backed Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to terrorists – no matter if the timeline or the evidence got a bit fudged in the rush to press. Questions both hard- and tender-headed were asked, not least by congressmen with tetchy constituencies. If we further armed these proxies, wouldn’t the weapons fall into the hands of terrorists? Why wasn’t the poorly-armed and poorly-trained FSA waging a multi-front effort against Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, now IS), the regime, Hezbollah, the shabiha, Iranian-built National Defense Forces, and Iranian-built Iraqi Shia militias? If we weakened Assad, would the rebels take Damascus – and if so, then what? Could we afford to see “another Benghazi” occur in a country where we no longer had an embassy or consulate? How could we weaken Assad, even in an “unbelievably small” manner and if only once to teach him a lesson, when he had “formidable” air defense systems capable of downing American aircraft?

The very arguments trotted out against the Obama administration’s seemingly imminent intervention were in fact the very inventions of his administration, which had spent two years drumming them in to a more complacent and accommodating press, then eager to justify the standing policy of non-intervention. But as the policy appeared to change, so too did the urgency of the facts – or, at any rate, the information. Luckily, Vladimir Putin came along with a deal to save everyone from themselves. Not a single shot was fired. This is why there have been more chemical attacks, Assad’s chemical production facilities are still intact, and no one really knows for sure if all of his sarin or tabun stockpiles have been destroyed.

Well, summer is once again drawing to a close, Syria’s death toll has about doubled, and Obama is once again strolling the White House grounds in deep, photo-opped thought with McDonough. Only this time, the prospective war on their minds is against the IS, which, in the intervening year, has made a staggering conquest of territory, "slightly larger" than the United Kingdom, running from the Levant to Mesopotamia.

The IS is the most well-financed and successful terrorist organization in history; it operates, according to military experts, more as a terrorist army run by a functioning terrorist state. Its fighters range between 10,000 and 80,000 in number, depending on who’s counting – and everyone is. It commands a corps of foreign volunteers drawn collectively from a host of nations, including the United States, Britain, France and Belgium, the domestic security services of which are said to be stretched trying to monitor them all. Assuming that these foreign-born jihadists have not destroyed their passports, and assuming that Turkey’s border control is as lax as I remember it, there is every expectation that a few will return to their countries of origin and continue their holy war at home. In fact, they don’t even have to return from Syria to make the IS’s presence felt in the West: this new, too-extreme-for-al-Qaeda franchise can easily inspire or radicalize “lone wolves” sympathetic to the revolutionary romanticism it claims to espouse. YouTube sermons of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or the latest takfiri hurrahs on Twitter may be all that is needed to have a disaffected teenager, whom everyone will later remember as the pleasant, fun-loving sort, decide to set something off in his native city. Former deputy CIA director Mike Morell said that he “would not be surprised” if an “ISIS member showed up in a mall in the United States tomorrow with an AK-47 and killed a number of Americans.” I would not be surprised if Baghdadi already relishes that idea.

Italy and Japan: Troubled Twins of Globalization

Joji Sakurai - August 27, 2014


It might seem odd but two inward-looking countries from old Europe and the Pacific, troubled twins with such strong cultures, offer insights into the future of globalization: Italy has campanilismo, or loyalty to the village bell-tower. The Japanese talk about takotsubo-ka, being caught in the clay pot that traps octopus. Japan is the world's third largest economy and Italy is ninth - though both have slipped in recent years. Both attract millions of visitors each year and sell their products around the world, yet remain stuck in a mindset that is fundamentally provincial.

Provincialism. Insularity. They may seem like bad words, but any visitor to these countries senses that fierce attachment to culture is part of what make Italy and Japan attractive. Visitors strolling into any village in either country, who ask for the local speciality, are treated to unforgettable delights. Both countries have an astonishing array of living dialects that are nearly incomprehensible to people from other parts of the country.

Provincialism can just be a snooty way of saying cultural vibrancy, but it can also be an economic shackle.

Japan and Italy are major developed economies that are struggling mightily with the trade-offs between preserving a way of life and adopting reforms - such as inviting foreign workers, promoting free competition and liberalizing labor - that could allow them to succeed in a globalized world.

A Grim Stalemate at War's End in Gaza

Dan Perry - August 27, 2014


TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- The third Gaza War in six years appears to have ended in another sort of tie, with both Israel and Hamas claiming the upper hand. Their questionable achievements have come at a big price, especially to long-suffering Palestinians in Gaza.

In a sense, Israel got what it wanted: Hamas stopped firing rockets in exchange for mostly vague promises and future talks. But the cost to Israel was huge: Beyond the 70 people killed - all but six of them soldiers - the economy has been set back, the tourism season destroyed, its people rattled for 50 days and its global standing pummeled by images of devastation in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces bristling from people who sense that Hamas controlled events and could not have its grip loosened on the Gaza Strip, which it seized by force from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Around the corner lie international investigations into war crimes allegations.

Hamas is celebrating its success after surviving Israel's far superior firepower. The Islamic militant group's rocket fire emptied a string of Israeli border communities and disrupted Tel Aviv's international airport. Weak a few months ago, it may emerge as more of a player in Palestinian politics, and the plight of Gazans is again atop the world's concerns.

Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon's Precedent

George Friedman - August 26, 2014


Lebanon was created out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement between Britain and France reshaped the collapsed Ottoman Empire south of Turkey into the states we know today -- Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and to some extent the Arabian Peninsula as well. For nearly 100 years, Sykes-Picot defined the region. A strong case can be made that the nation-states Sykes-Picot created are now defunct, and that what is occurring in Syria and Iraq represents the emergence of those post-British/French maps that the United States has been trying to maintain since the collapse of Franco-British power.

The Invention of Middle East Nation-States

Sykes-Picot, named for French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and his British counterpart, Sir Mark Sykes, did two things. First, it created a British-dominated Iraq. Second, it divided the Ottoman province of Syria on a line from the Mediterranean Sea east through Mount Hermon. Everything north of this line was French. Everything south of this line was British. The French, who had been involved in the Levant since the 19th century, had allies among the region's Christians. They carved out part of Syria and created a country for them. Lacking a better name, they called it Lebanon, after the nearby mountain of the same name.

The British named the area to the west of the Jordan River after the Ottoman administrative district of Filistina, which turned into Palestine on the English tongue. However, the British had a problem. During World War I, while the British were fighting the Ottoman Turks, they had allied with a number of Arabian tribes seeking to expel the Turks. Two major tribes, hostile to each other, were the major British allies. The British had promised postwar power to both. It gave the victorious Sauds the right to rule Arabia -- hence Saudi Arabia. The other tribe, the Hashemites, had already been given the newly invented Iraqi monarchy and, outside of Arabia, a narrow strip of arable ground to the east of the Jordan River. For lack of a better name, it was called Trans-Jordan, or the other side of the Jordan. In due course the "trans" was dropped and it became Jordan.