Merkel Is Europe's Conscience and Leader

Judy Dempsey - September 4, 2015

The German chancellor is showing real leadership over Europe's refugee crisis, to compensate for the EU's shambolic joint response and to salvage Europe's values.

When she chooses to do so, Angela Merkel can speak with real conviction. So it was on August 31 during her one-and-a-half-hour summer press conference in Berlin.

It was an impressive performance for the German chancellor, who continues to deal intensively with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Greece's eurozone woes, which are far from over, and now Europe's biggest refugee crisis since the former Yugoslavia erupted into civil war in the early 1990s.

Indeed, it is Germany that is taking the lead on these three highly complex issues, not the EU institutions or any other leader in Europe. In short, Germany is shouldering a big responsibility for problems that should have been the remit of the EU's foreign, security, and defense policy.

The Search for Peace After Abbas

Gershon Baskin - September 3, 2015

It seems that the era of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is coming to the end. In two weeks the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the most senior representative body of the Palestinian people, representing Palestinians in Palestine and in the diaspora, will convene in Ramallah to elect a new Executive Committee - the government of the PLO.

Abbas told the Fatah leadership Monday evening that he would not be running in the elections.

Yasser Arafat and Abbas both served as the chairmen of the Executive Committee of the PLO and in that position negotiated and signed six agreements with Israel. It is the PNC that created the Palestinian Authority, and Abbas was elected by the Palestinian people in Palestine to serve as president of the PA. The PA, by the decision of the Executive Committee, was converted into the State of Palestine, which gained recognition by the United Nations as a non-member state but nonetheless a recognized state in the community of nations.

Abbas told his Fatah colleagues that he wished to bring to an end all of the positions that he holds and would not run for reelection as president of Palestine, nor as the chairman of the Fatah party.

Khaled al-Asaad, the Martyr of Palmyra

Pierre Leriche - September 2, 2015

A second ancient temple at Palmyra has been razed, with a satellite image appearing to confirm the destruction of the Temple of Bel, previously one of the best-preserved parts of the ancient city.

The revelation follows the release of images by Islamic State last week showing the Baalshamin temple had been blown up.

IS militants seized control of Palmyra in May, sparking fears for the 2,000-year-old World Heritage site. Ancient ruins are not all that has been lost.

Khaled al-Asaad, the 81-year old former director of the world-renowned archaeological site at Palmyra in Syria, was beheaded in August. His body was hung on a street corner by Islamic State for everyone to see.

Pondering Hitler's Legacy

George Friedman - September 2, 2015

Happenstance has brought me today to a house on the Austria-Germany border, just south of Salzburg. That puts me about 3 miles from the German town of Berchtesgaden, on the German side of the border. Adolf Hitler's home, the Berghof, was just outside the town, on a mountain in the Bavarian Alps. To the extent that Hitler had a home, this was it, and it was the place where Hitler met with many notables, particularly before the war began.

As it happens, today is the 76th anniversary of the start of World War II in Europe. It is always a strange feeling to be here. There is a sense of history present here, but it is mostly a sense of the mind, since Berchtesgaden is an attractive but ordinary place. It always feels as if towns like this should have a patina of extraordinariness sticking to everything. But that isn't how history works. There is a patina of mind, but not of place. On Sept. 1 of any year since 1939, and at a place like this, there is a sense of urgency to extract the real meaning of the man who lived in a house on the mountain I am looking at.

After 76 years, it seems appropriate to try to figure out what Hitler and the war he initiated genuinely changed in the world. This is not an easy question, because to arrive at an answer I had to dismiss from my mind the many acts of gratuitous evil that he committed. It is hard to dismiss those, but in a sense they left little legacy to the world except for the realization that civilization is a thin layer over humanity's beastly savagery. But truly, we didn't have to have Hitler to learn that. We humans have always sensed what is beneath our surface.

The question is how the world changed as a result of Hitler's decision to invade Poland.

Refugee Crisis: Germany's Strain, Europe's Gain?

Astrid Ziebarth - September 2, 2015

Berlin - The unprecedented number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany might be a game changer in reforming Europe's broken asylum system. The Federal Ministry of the Interior announced in mid-August that it expects 800,000 asylum seekers to make their way to Germany, twice as many as initially projected and four times as many as Germany saw last year. While Greece and Italy have been struggling for years to put migration on the European policy agenda, the difficulties Germany's states and cities are facing to deal with the incoming refugees is putting pressure on Berlin and leading politicians to make more forceful calls for reforms at the EU level.

Until recently, Germany was happy enough with the EU's Dublin system, which dictates that asylum claims must be made in the EU country of arrival and thus leaves most of the burden with the EU's border states. But now that thousands and thousands of asylum seekers are making their way to Germany, Berlin is feeling the squeeze. In the first half of 2015, 179,037 have applied for asylum, and over 100,000 are thought to be in the country waiting to file. If the ministry is right about the 800,000, this would be 10 times as many per capita as France processed last year.

Across Germany, communities are struggling to find housing for incoming migrants, sometimes using school and university gymnasiums, containers, or tents, even in larger cities. In Dresden, 800 people are living in tents and in Hamburg, more than 1,000 refugees are living in a conference hall. The number of new arrivals is also severely straining local schools, day care facilities, and public medical personnel and facilities. In response, the German government has just doubled federal funding to the state and local level to €1 billion for 2015, agreed to change construction and housing laws to expedite refugee housing, and is adding 1,000 jobs to the agency processing asylum claims. It also trying to cut the number of claimants by designating Western Balkan countries, who account for about 40 percent of current asylum claims, as "safe countries of origin" (i.e. as a rule, not eligible for asylum) and instituting a number of other policies to speed up processes and cut costs. But without withdrawing from the Schengen area and reinstating border controls with its EU neighbors to keep out their asylum seekers, there is little more that Germany can do on the national level to reduce the influx of refugees.

While the German government, media, and the majority of the public have handled the announcement of the 800,000 arrivals with remarkable pragmatism, it is inevitable that Germany will push for more EU burden-sharing. Some recent right-wing rumblings, including arson attacks on buildings housing refugees, only raise the pressure on politicians to act. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel explicitly warned that the freedom of movement within the EU may be threatened, and called it a "shame" for Europe that it was not able to establish a more fair distribution mechanisms for refugees.

Iran Is Already Gloating

G. William Heiser - September 2, 2015

Details of the nuclear talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany have been made public thanks to Abbas Araghchi, an Iranian deputy nuclear negotiator - much to Araghchi's dismay. The website of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, or IRIB, accidentally published the minutes of an off-the-record briefing with Araghchi on Aug. 5. The transcript was removed within hours after Araghchi voiced his anger, but the damage had been done.

Araghchi's briefing was meant exclusively for the senior management of the IRIB, the Islamic Republic's state television broadcaster and a major propaganda tool. The head of the IRIB is always appointed by the Supreme Leader, and its management is selected from senior employees of either the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or the Ministry of Intelligence. Former IRIB heads have included high-ranking Revolutionary Guard officers such as Ali Larijani and Ezatollah Zarghami. IRIB management are culled from the exclusive club of ruling elite and from their underlings in the Islamic Republic. Members of this club do not generally change; they simply move from one position to another. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine that Araghchi would falsify facts to people ultimately responsible for implementing the terms of the Iran deal and its secret side agreements. 

The points made by Araghchi strongly validate the considered judgment held by a majority in the U.S. Congress: that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - the agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 - is not in the national security interests of the United States and should not be approved. While U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to implement the JCPOA using his own executive authority appears to be succeeding, his plan may yet be undone. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may decide that he should not stain his legacy of advancing the Islamic Revolution by endorsing a nuclear deal claimed by the leader of the so-called Great Satan as his signature foreign policy achievement.

Iranian Nuclear Program Certified in its Entirety. Critics of the nuclear deal point out that the stated purpose of negotiations with Iran was to dismantle all or significant parts of Iran's illicit nuclear infrastructure to ensure it would not possess a nuclear weapons capability at any time. Yet the JCPOA requires no dismantling of Iran's nuclear infrastructure and in fact commits the international community to helping Iran develop an industrial-scale nuclear power program, including industrial-scale enrichment. Confirming this is Araghchi's statement that U.S. Secretary of State Kerry agreed not only to give Iran the right to enrich and move its nuclear program forward, but also to grant official recognition of even the commercial and industrial aspects of the program. Araghchi said this means that the Iranian nuclear program has been certified in its entirety.

Why Europe should consider a US-style green card lottery for migrants

Jan Semmelrogen - September 2, 2015

The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that 300,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe this year and 2,500 migrants have lost their lives in the crossing attempt. With the current migration trend unlikely to reverse itself any time soon, politicians across Europe need to act fast to agree on new policies to stop the deaths and agree on a long-term solution to the migration crisis. The push factors behind migration to Europe – war, state persecution and poverty, as well as lack of economic opportunities in much of Africa and the Middle East – will continue to persist in the decades to come.

The recent death of 70 migrants in the back of a lorry in Austria serves as a reminder that the misery and tragedy of the migrant issue is no longer contained on the periphery of the Europe on the islands of Lampedusa and Kos. It has arrived in the heart of the continent.

In the absence of a common EU migration policy, each country currently fends for itself. In light of the events so far this year and the projections for the years to come, politicians across Europe need to accept that an EU-wide migration management strategy is desperately needed: no country can solve the current and future migration challenge by itself. They also need to share the burden of migration fairly between countries – an idea strongly advocated by German chancellor Angela Merkel, and put on the table by a group of MEPs in July.

One suggestion would be to implement a common EU-wide asylum system with standardised humanitarian criteria whereby refugees can have their asylum claim processed in an EU member state embassy outside EU territory. Prospective asylum seekers would be enabled to claim asylum before they arrived in EU territory, thus eliminating the need for hazardous clandestine migration across the Mediterranean as well as saving state resources in respect to repatriating unsuccessful asylum seekers.

The Western Balkans' Long March to Europe

Judy Dempsey - August 31, 2015

It’s going to take immense political will to ensure long-term stability and prosperity for Southeastern Europe and to guarantee EU membership for the region.

Good news is in short supply in the Western Balkans. But this could change after Kosovo and Serbia signed a landmark accord on August 25 that could bring these two neighbors closer to the EU.

The accord, shepherded by Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, was overshadowed by the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the wars in Syria and Iraq. The refugees have made the Western Balkans-which consist of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia-into a conduit to reach EU countries, especially Germany.

It is not only people from the Middle East and parts of Africa who are seeking asylum in Europe, as EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, will discuss with their counterparts from the Western Balkans during their summit in Vienna on August 27.The German government reckons that 40 percent of those applying for asylum in the country come from Serbia or Kosovo. Forty percent!

Why Middle Eastern Conflicts Will Escalate

Stratfor - August 31, 2015


Editor's Note: This is the third installment of an occasional series on the evolving fortunes of the Middle East that Stratfor will be building upon periodically.

Tehran's competitors in the region will not sit idly by without attempting to curb the expansion of Iranian influence. This will not manifest in all-out warfare between the Middle East's most significant powers; Iran is not the only country well versed in the use of proxies. But the conflicts that are already raging in the region will continue unabated and likely only worsen. These clashes will occur on multiple fault lines: Sunni versus Shiite, for example, plus ethnic conflicts among Turks, Iranians, Arabs, Kurds, and other groups. The Iranian nuclear deal in the short term thus means more conflict, not less.


The Autumn of Europe's Discontent

Jan Techau - August 28, 2015

Between now and the end of 2015, a number of fundamental crises will combine to push the capacity for European policymaking to its limits.

The fall season is always the hard part of European policymaking. After the long summer break, what could be conveniently fitted into a full six months in the first half of the year must be squeezed into the brutally short run between early September and mid-December.

In 2015, these three and a half months promise to be extraordinarily dense. Rarely has the outlook for that period been more dismal than this time around. Numerous crises of fundamental quality will overlap and push the capacity for European policymaking to its limits. The coming months could well be remembered as the autumn of our discontent.

The refugee crisis is the first ingredient in the fall malaise of 2015. To be sure, the new Franco-German plans for greater cooperation on immigration and security, announced on August 24 in Berlin by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, make sense and finally bring an element of leadership to the festering problem. But European governments have proved to have an almost unlimited talent for making fools of themselves on an issue that can be tackled only by all of them together.

Hey Trump, Hugo Chavez Would Be Proud

America Economia - August 28, 2015

This article first appeared in America Economia

SANTIAGO - The notion of a so-called incursion of Latin migrants "invading" the United States through its southern frontier to steal jobs and undermine security sounds like electoral drama cooked up by a rabble-rousing candidate. Trumped up, you might say, in this case by Donald Trump, the real estate magnate shaking up the polls leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

The more sober reality is that between 2008 and 2012, U.S. Census Bureau data showed that 800,000 Mexicans migrated both legally and illegally to the United States, compared to 1.9 million in the four years before that. That's 57% fewer - and without the giant wall Trump says he must build to seal the 3,200-kilometer U.S. border with Mexico.

Not that Trump cares much for realities. Practically all the economic, financial, demographic and social figures he has bandied about on television since announcing his presidential candidacy in June have been inaccurate. When it comes to citing "facts and figures," denouncing fellow Republicans or belittling public personalities such as Sen. John McCain, he speaks with the nonchalance of an entertainer. He accused one female interviewer of asking him hostile questions because she was having her period, and apparently believes most Mexicans are drug dealers and rapists.

Would the Obama Administration Implement Stringent Sanctions on Iran?

Patrick Clawson - August 26, 2015


Even after the deal is in effect, the United States can sustain or increase tough barriers on Iran's trade with other countries, but this fact has not been highlighted by the president or his team.

On August 19, in a move designed to address concerns by wavering members of Congress, President Barack Obama sent a letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) outlining some steps his administration will take after the nuclear deal's implementation to continue to press Iran. Another set of clarifications the administration could issue toward the same end would be about the sanctions pressure Washington will apply to block Iran from normal trading relations with other countries.

Indeed, under the nuclear deal Washington has reserved rights to preserve serious limits on Iranian trade with European and Asian firms. However, it is by no means clear if the Obama administration will make vigorous use of those rights. Sanctions are never automatic: just because the U.S. government has the authority to block certain transactions does not mean it will actively make use of that power, including through vigorous enforcement. At least some of those uncertain about the nuclear deal would feel more comfortable were there convincing evidence that the administration plans to continue vigorously impeding normal Iranian trade.

Israel: The Case Against Attacking Iran

George Friedman - August 26, 2015

On Aug. 21, Israeli Channel 2 Television aired a recording of Ehud Barak, Israel's former defense minister and former prime minister, saying that on three separate occasions, Israel had planned to attack Iran's nuclear facilities but canceled the attacks. According to Barak, in 2010 Israel's chief of staff at the time, Gabi Ashkenazi, refused to approve an attack plan. Israeli Cabinet members Moshe Yaalon and Yuval Steinitz backed out of another plan, and in 2012 an attack was canceled because it coincided with planned U.S.-Israeli military exercises and a visit from then-U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The fact that the interview was released at all is odd. Barak claimed to have believed that the tape would not be aired, and he supposedly tried unsuccessfully to stop the broadcast. It would seem that Barak didn't have enough clout to pressure the censor to block it, which I suppose is possible.

Yaalon, like Ashkenazi, was once chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces but was also vice premier and Barak's successor as defense minister. Steinitz had been finance minister and was vocal in his concerns about Iran. What Barak is saying, therefore, is that a chief of staff and a vice premier and former chief of staff blocked the planned attacks. As to the coinciding of a U.S.-Israeli exercise with a planned attack, that is quite puzzling, because such exercises are planned well in advance. Perhaps there was some weakness in Iranian defenses that opened and closed periodically, and that drove the timing of the attack. Or perhaps Barak was just confusing the issue.

A number of points are worth noting: Ehud Barak is not a man to speak casually about highly classified matters, certainly not while being recorded. Moreover, the idea that Barak was unable to persuade the military censor to block the airing of the recording is highly improbable. For some reason, Barak wanted to say this, and he wanted it broadcast.

Is a Tougher China Policy on the Way in the US?

Bonnie Glaser - August 25, 2015

China-bashing in the 2016 presidential election has begun in earnest. In past campaigns, many of the attacks on China were forgotten as candidates dropped out of the race or were defeated. In 2012, for example, Mitt Romney pledged to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. He never got the chance, of course, and Obama's policies were unaffected by Romney's campaign rhetoric.

Sometimes, promises to 'get tough' with China during the campaign simply became irrelevant as presidents, once in power, confront the demands of real-world policy challenges. When George W Bush ran for president in 2000, he criticised his predecessor Bill Clinton for calling China a strategic partner, and instead said China should be viewed as a 'strategic competitor.' After becoming president, however, Bush dropped that label. When a Chinese jet collided with a US surveillance plane over the South China Sea, Bush worked hard to avert a US-China political crisis, and after the September 11 attacks, he welcomed Beijing's proposal to fight together against terrorism.

This time may be different, however.

China's repressive policies at home, combined with its transgressions in the South China Sea and massive cyber attacks on US companies and the Federal Government, make it an easy target. Moreover, criticism of China likely resonates with most Americans. Republican candidates will accuse Obama of being too soft on China and vow that if elected, they will stand up for American interests. Democrats, including Obama's former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, are more likely to find fault with than defend the current Administration's approach to managing US-China relations. Regardless of who is elected president in November 2016, he or she is likely to adopt a firmer approach to China on a litany of issues.

What Europe's Refugee Influx Means for EU Foreign Policy

Judy Dempsey - August 25, 2015

The European Union's approach to crisis management is reactive. What is more, the union is unwilling to consider using hard power to underpin its values.

It is as if European governments were not warned about the current refugee crisis and its serious consequences for Europe's foreign and security policy. Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of refugees -- particularly those fleeing the wars in Syria and Iraq, unrest in Afghanistan, and repression in Eritrea -- have risked their lives to reach Europe.

The refugees are beholden to gangs of smugglers, with Albanians taking the leading role in exacting huge fees to get the migrants to an EU country.

Unless the EU's crisis management policy radically changes, the flow of refugees will continue. Few North African and Middle Eastern countries provide security, stability, or a democratic and economic perspective for their youth.