United States

Source: Gage Skidmore; URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/24480213852

On several occasions throughout her campaign, Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has mentioned that part of her plan to defeat terrorist organization “The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (ISIS) consists of killing or capturing its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She believes that this decapitation strategy will allow the United States to “focus [its] attention [on fighting ISIS],” citing the demise of Al-Qa’ida in Pakistan and Afghanistan on the assassination of founder Osama Bin Laden in 2011. By assuming that the ISIS will react in a similar way to Al-Qa’ida after the removal of a leader, I believe that Secretary Clinton is oversimplifying the comprehensive strategy that we need to employ to destroy ISIS.

What is decapitation?

Terrorism expert Audrey Cronin defines decapitation as “the removal by arrest or assassination of the top leaders or operational leaders of a group.” In the study she conducted for her book “How Terrorism Enders: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns,” Cronin cites several case studies where leaders of terrorist organizations were killed: the assassinations of the Philippines’ Abu Sayyaf leader Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani in the 1990s, of leaders of Chechen groups by Russians in the early 2000s, of Anwar Sadat in 1981, and of terrorist leaders from countries like Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestine by Israel. She concluded that there seem to be no cases where decapitation resulted in the halting of a group’s campaign. Instead, the organization may have evolved to have more of a political agenda, for example with Abu Sayyaf; still, groups often remain and may become more prolific and rampant after a ‘decapitation’ attempt.

There are, according to Cronin, many factors that affect the success of a decapitation strategy; for example, the structure of the organization, “the degree to which it fosters a cult of personality, the availability of a viable successor, the nature of its ideology, the political context, and whether the leader was killed or imprisoned.” With this in mind, we can begin to examine more closely Secretary Clinton’s assumption that getting rid of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will help defeat ISIS.

Al-Qa’ida

Founded in the late 1980s, Al-Qa’ida’s core leadership, according to the Wilson Center, does not claim to have direct control over the group’s structure. It instead focuses on messaging, strategy, and daily operations. However, the group’s affiliates do have to consult with the leadership before carrying out an attack. The core leadership is made up of a shura council in addition to committees for finance and information sharing.

Since the death of Bin Laden, former head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has led Al-Qa’ida. The activities of the group have been severely limited from 2011 (and even before that). According to some U.S. officials, the reason why al-Zawahiri has not been as influential as Bin Laden is that he lacks the charisma and combat experience. He has instead, on several occasions, been known as the brains behind Al-Qa’ida.

Source: Hamid Mir; URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hamid_Mir_interviewing_Osama_bin_Laden_and_Ayman_al-Zawahiri_2001.jpg

ISIS

Earlier this year, ISIS released a propaganda video that conveniently detailed the organization’s structure, as experts had previously not known much about it. At the top of the hierarchy is the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Directly below him are the Shura Council – all of whom were appointed by Baghdadi and have the power to depose him – and the Delegated Committee, which is tasked with overseeing the Wilayats (provinces), the group’s Offices and various Committees (such as those which are appointed to oversee people’s rights and to enforce punishments). The video states that ISIS is made up of over 30 provinces, in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Yemen.

Previous speculations about the structure of ISIS are very similar. They indicate that Baghdadi is at the top, along with his Shura Council. In these versions, Baghdadi also has two deputies – one for Iraq and one for Syria. Both receive reports from 12 governors, all of whom oversee the eight councils that focus in areas from Media, Finance, Intelligence, and Leadership. However, as a result of US operations in the Middle East, both deputies – Abu Muslim al-Turkemani and Abu Ali al-Anbari, were killed in the last two years. Turki al-Binali and Moussa al-Shawakh are the top candidates.

Al-Binali is the second most influential person in ISIS, he led the organization’s Research and Fatwa Department and served as the negotiator for the freeing of American hostage Peter Kassig. Also known as Abu Luqman, al-Shawakh was appointed as the first governor of Raqqa and was the former emir of the al-Nusra front. al-Shawakh is famous for his brutality, his sadistic torture methods, and for ordering the kidnapping of several members of the Free Syrian Army after he accused its members of working with the West.

Comparison

Although there are many similarities between ISIS and Al-Qa’ida, I believe that using a decapitation strategy on the former will not be as successful for several reasons. First, with regard to successor, is it possible that ISIS will inherit a leader who, like al-Zawahiri, is less charismatic and experienced? It is very much so; however, we also have to consider the possibility of whoever becomes the next “caliph” might think they have something to prove and will thus employ more heinous tactics.

It is important to remember that much of ISIS’ success has also come from its online recruitment and propaganda. Al-Qa’ida was not this successful in inciting so many attacks and only in spreading and inspiring people to follow the sermons of cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Even if Baghdadi were killed, there seems to be no evidence that the recent strategies of ISIS to elicit more domestic attacks will fall by the wayside. If one of the two above candidates did succeed Baghdadi, I contend that the group will pursue more aggressive recruitment tactics to seek revenge.

Another pertinent question to ask at this point is: Who has been running ISIS since last year? There have been numerous reports that Baghdadi was incapacitated due to a spinal injury and poisoned. If Baghdadi has not been running ISIS since the emergence of these reports, it is possible that the recent trends in ISIS’ activity – increased online recruitment and limited success in the Middle East – would be the direction of the group after the removal of Baghdadi. This would only further undermine Secretary Clinton’s argument that getting rid of Baghdadi would help the United States focus its attention, as it would be incredibly difficult to focus on the group’s fighters when they could appear anywhere. It would, however, help the United States to start to tackle funding channels and strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

My final question in making the comparison between ISIS and Al-Qa’ida would be: Is it possible that the demise of the core leadership of Al-Qai’da was caused not by the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, but rather the evolving nature of the threat – creation of factions as well as the rise of online recruitment ­– and the birth of ISIS? It can be argued that the core leadership of Al-Qa’ida had, for years before the fall of Bin Laden, not been successful. In fact, most of the coverage of Al-Qa’ida focused on its affiliates, namely the activities of Boko Haram and Al-Shabbab.

I believe that Secretary Clinton’s assumption that going after the leadership of ISIS will devastate the group’s activity is flawed. Though it is possible that it might cause the intended outcome, given the comparison she draws with Al-Qa’ida, it is equally as possible that ISIS will continue to operate and cause chaos wherever their affiliates and fighters are located. If Secretary Clinton does want to go forward with this plan, she must also consider the potential consequences if the targeted killing of Baghdadi were to fail because, as Cronin writes: “the killing of the leader can backfire, resulting in increased publicity for the group’s cause and the creation of a marry who attracts many new members to the organization.”

While I do believe that Secretary Clinton’s strategy is more sound, comprehensive, and feasible compared to Mr. Trump’s, she needs to focus on creating no-fly zones, safe zones, working with allies in the region, cutting off funding channels for the group, and focusing on tackling online radicalization.

Black-Palestinian Solidarity: Acknowledging the Past, Understanding the Present, and Imagining a Productive Future
By Salma Khamis

Columbia University students in favor of prison divestment, April 2015. Source: http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/23/us/columbia-university-prison-divest/

This post is part three of a three-part series. To read part one, click here. To read part two, click here.

It is worth noting that Black-Palestinian solidarity and the gradual establishment of transnational ties between the two separate movements are not recent phenomena, the product of social media hashtags, and online campaigns. Rather, Anna Isaacs traces the development of this sentiment of transnational solidarity to as early as 1967. Historically enjoying a robust base of progressive Jewish support, activists behind the American Civil Rights Movement tended to recognize the validity of the Israeli state and thus sanction its right to protect itself against so-called Arab aggressors. With the atrocities brought about by the 1967 War, however, this image of Israel as a struggling state fighting for its right to survive began to waver and civil rights activists began recognizing parallels between the injustices committed against Palestinians and those that they face here in the United States.

Within the present context, drawing parallels between the two movements has certainly moved far more into mainstream discourse than it ever was before. Aided by increased access to information from both regions about one another, and thus increased avenues for communication between them, the establishment of transnational solidarity has definitely benefited as a result. As early as 2009, Jimmy Johnson was warning of Israel’s global exportation of law enforcement strategies. In a comparable 2011 study, Max Blumenthal called attention to the disturbing pattern of cooperation between Israeli and American police forces. Dating back to post-9/11 era of counterterrorism in the U.S., this legacy of Israeli-American cooperation in law enforcement is presented by Blumenthal as one of the root causes behind the brutal violence endured by protestors involved with the Occupy movement, from Oakland to New York City.

More recently, when 18-year-old Michael Brown was murdered by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, images of brutal police suppression of the resultant protests prompted observers to point to similarities to the Israeli state’s treatment of (and habitual violence against) Palestinians in Gaza. Further strengthening the validity of these transnational parallels, barely a week after the events in Ferguson, evidence emerged revealing that both the St. Louis County Police Department and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department received training from Israeli security forces. Soon thereafter, both the Black Lives Matter movement and a number of Palestinian activists issued official statements of solidarity for one another’s demands for justice.

In response to these emergent narratives of Black-Palestinian solidarity, Stanford professor David Palumbo-Liu has presented a series of intersections between Ferguson and Gaza, both in terms of their respective historical and contemporary features. From similar tactics of historical land dispossession, to the present-day perpetuation of (decidedly unquestioned) state violence; Palumbo-Liu demonstrates a stark congruence between the experiences of Black communities in the United States and those of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Wary of asserting absolute equivalence between the two systems of oppression, however, Palumbo-Liu closes with a sobering piece of advice for those working to reinforce transnational links of solidarity: “Certainly the two situations are different, and demand different strategies and tactics in response. And yet one should not discount the moral and indeed inspirational value of gestures that reach across those differences to claim solidarity.”

It is precisely this sentiment with which I approach the question of Black-Palestinian solidarity among student activists. As demonstrated above, both movements have traditionally enjoyed a vibrant and often productive legacy on college campuses across the United States. This legacy encompasses a variety of important achievements: successfully enacting tangible reform in university policies, making their demands for justice unavoidably visible among their communities, and resisting the hegemony of oppressive narratives about their respective experiences simply by virtue of maintaining a sustained presence on college campuses, despite mounting opposition.

With that said, as college activists’ aspirations for justice continue to thrive beyond the limits of their individual campus communities, they are often met with the increasingly difficult task of bringing about justice on a larger, more impactful, scale. Whether it is students organizing for the divestment from oppressive systems of mass incarceration in the United States that disproportionately target racial minorities, or their peers making similar calls for the divestment from corporations whose activities directly facilitate and profit off of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the ruthless violation of Palestinian human rights; both groups are united under two core motivations.

Primarily, these students are not prepared to sit idly by as numerous industries thrive off of the oppression of the communities they respectively represent. Secondly, and more importantly, they recognize the efficacy of reallocating university endowments as a strategy for dismantling the oppressive systems of state violence of which these industries are a part. Consequently, one can only imagine how productive an alliance between these two groups could be in their unanimous call for ethical university endowments that do not facilitate the perpetuation of global state violence in its various manifestations, but instead contribute to the realization of justice for oppressed communities the world over. By grounding themselves in a narrative that acknowledges the countless parallels between systems of racial injustice in the United States and Israel’s colonization of the occupied Palestinian territories, student activists associated with either movement will be better positioned to achieve each of their respective objectives. Working within a holistic framework of transnational justice that acknowledges the fundamental similarity between all oppressive systems, whilst still accounting for the contextual nuances defining each of their different manifestations all over the world; a movement of Black-Palestinian student solidarity could pave the way for a whole new era of transnational college activism that is as revolutionary as it is entirely realistic.

On-Campus Activism for Palestinian Liberation and Building on Transnational Ties
By Salma Khamis

Loyola SJP chapter leading an on-campus solidarity protest. Source: SJP Loyola (Facebook)

This post is part two of a three-part series. To read part one, click here. To read part three, click here.

Having endured a longer legacy on college campuses than the Black Lives Matter movement, students organizing for Palestinian liberation have had quite a turbulent history of activism in the American context. Most commonly housed under different chapters of the national Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization, students organizing for Palestinian liberation tend to be primarily concerned with the recognition of Israel as a colonial force that perpetually violates Palestinian human rights and breaks international law in its occupation of the Palestinian territories and denial of Palestinians’ right of return. Furthermore, activists point to Zionism’s racist implications on the Palestinian population and how it contributes towards the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories; the disproportionate access to resources and social services afforded to Jewish Israelis over Palestinians; as well as the institutionalized use of excessive force against Palestinians by Israeli police and military apparatus.

Given the funding, institutional support, and strength of pro-Israel groups and organizations all over the country, however, activism for the Palestinian cause is often met with virulent opposition, the likes of which is rarely if ever launched against any other student political campaign of a comparable nature. Nevertheless, students have been able to achieve limited gains with respect to raising social awareness of the Israeli occupation on college campuses. Moreover, despite the extent of the opposition met by pro-Palestine student organizers, the most important of their functions has been their sustained facilitation of spaces for dialogue and activism on Palestinian human rights, politics, and culture on university campuses. Speaker events and annual campaigns such as Israeli Apartheid Week, for example, challenge the predominant narrative in American political discourse regarding the Palestinian population and their right to self-determination. However, as with the Black Lives Matter movement, students’ activism often has little bearing on the impactful reform of institutional and national policies vis-à-vis the Israeli occupation and the merciless violation of Palestinian human rights.

In response to this ‘impact gap,’ recent activism for Palestinian liberation tends to coalesce around the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement. As a means of non-violent protest to the ongoing occupation, BDS seeks to impart pressure on the Israeli state by boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning corporations and institutions that facilitate, legitimize, or profit from the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories and violation of Palestinian human rights. In turn, this has prompted students to petition their respective university administrations to divest from these corporations that, either through their direct activity or that of their subsidiaries, contribute to or profit from the Israeli occupation.

Increasingly, a similar tactic is gaining ground among activists working for racial justice on university campuses. These activists are attempting to bridge their aforementioned ‘impact gap’ by calling for their institutions to divest from corporations that benefit off of the widely-documented Prison Industrial Complex. Drawing on evidence that categorically proves the racial prejudices underpinning the United States’ ever-increasing prison industry, activists decry the unjust policing of racial minorities, and the vast amounts of profit associated with, and thus incentivizing the continuation of, this system of mass incarceration. By organizing to pressure university administrations into reorienting their investment policies away from private companies that accrue substantial profit from either managing, supplying, or securing prisons; activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement and other groups concerned with racial justice have begun pursuing similar tactics of non-violent protest to those once led by SJP groups.

Herein lies the central issue: how can on-campus activists make the most out of this convergence of protest tactics among students working for Palestinian liberation and American racial justice? What thematic parallels can be highlighted in the narrative surrounding both movements that would contribute towards the widening of each of their respective bases? Can we work backwards from these two movements’ shared employment of institutional divestment as a protest tactic to trace further commonalities between their initial causes for protest?

Black Lives Matter and On-Campus Activism for Racial Justice
By Salma Khamis

Angela Davis, as featured in the “When I See Them I See Us” video produced by the Black-Palestinian Solidarity campaign. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsdpg-9cmSw

This post is part one of a three-part series. To read part two, click here. To read part three, click here.

The US-Middle East Youth Network was designed to provide students across both the United States and the Middle East with the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue on issues pertinent, not only to their respective regions, but also to the interaction that occurs between them. In doing so, USMEYN seeks to recognize the powerful potential that arises out of the intersection of three key factors: politically and socially conscious students from the Middle East and North Africa, their American counterparts, and the space and skills provided by university campuses across both regions to both sharpen and express this consciousness. I pride myself in being affiliated with a platform that creates a space for the intersection of all three of these factors and that yields impactful, transnational dialogue in return.

As important as the facilitation of this dialogue has been, however, it has prompted me to reflect on what the intersection of these three factors would look like on the ground. If there really is much to be gained from university students’ cooperation across both regions, why have we yet to see this take shape in a tangible way? What would this cooperation even look like? What possible results can we expect to see from its fruition? Is there really much to “cooperate” on in the first place? By narrowing my focus onto two specific student movements, I argue that there is much to be gained from the cooperation of both U.S. and Middle East oriented student activists. Not only is my contention supported by the historical precedence of transnational activism between the two regions, but also by the commonality between their respective goals and tactics for bringing about sociopolitical reform.

Black Lives Matter and On-Campus Activism for Racial Justice:

One of the main issues defining the nature of contemporary student activism on university campuses has been the Black Lives Matter movement. Founded in 2012 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for his murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the Black Lives Matter movement was assembled to combat the dehumanization of Black lives throughout American society. Be that through the deliberate mass incarceration of Black bodies, the racial discrimination rampant throughout American political and social discourse, or the discriminatory provision of social services across racially segregated communities in the U.S.; the Black Lives Matter movement assembled to call attention to the persisting legacy of slavery, how it continues to affect Black individuals and communities throughout the United States, and the myth that is a post-racial American society.

On-campus activism has been central to the movement. Just as colleges formed the bulwark of progressive activism in the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, and the South African Apartheid Movement, so too have they returned with a vengeance as outlets of sociopolitical activism. Particularly following the incidents at the University of Missouri in October of 2015, student groups across the United States have been mobilizing in an effort to protest an array of racially discriminatory practices on their respective campuses. Especially given the fate of former University of Missouri President Tom Wolfe, students have been emboldened by the possibility of enacting tangible reform at their own institutions. Open, unapologetic dialogue about issues of racial justice has surfaced and, yes, despite the occasional superficiality of university administrations’ responses to this new environment of dialogue and action, the value of even breaching these issues in lecture halls and on-campus events, protests, and publications cannot be overstated.

With that said, however, not all student groups working for racial justice on campus are limiting their purview to the systematic racism prevalent throughout their own universities. Student activists are also mobilizing to address the system of endemic racial oppression as it functions on the national stage, taking up issues like prison reform and police brutality and thus situating themselves, and their activism, within the larger national debate on racial justice in America. As impactful and symbolic as the inclusion of college students is in this national conversation, however, it goes without saying that little can be done to address issues of racial justice that play out in the larger and more complex national context through on-campus protests alone. The question thus emerges: what can politically and socially conscious university students do to bridge the ‘impact gap’ that exists between university campuses and national policy reform? That is, how can the impact of these students’ activism be directed towards the dismantlement of nationwide systems of racial oppression and injustice?

By Joshua Shinbrot

Kurdish Peshmerga troops take part in intensive security deployment against the Islamic State in January 2015. Source: Flickr/Times Asi (https://flic.kr/p/qTtEd7)

Yazidi men and women are being massacred. Their girls are being sold as sex slaves. Their boys are being forcibly converted and indoctrinated to form a modern Janissary Corps of suicide bombers and executioners. ISIL (ISIS/Daesh/IS) has been attempting to exterminate the Yazidis for over a year, yet with few exceptions the world has remained silent. All major world leaders know, few care, and none will act. History offers a plethora of examples of the dire consequences of the silence and indifference exhibited by the President of the United States and the leaders of powerful European Countries. This type of apathy allowed for the genocidal murder of approximately 10,000,000 people in the twentieth century: 100,000 in Bosnia, 800,000 in Rwanda, 2,000,000 Armenians, over 1,000,000 Roma, and well over 6,000,000 Jews. ISIL’s ideology seeks to implement a radical seventh century interpretation of Islam by using 21st century weaponry to murder or subjugate all who refuse to embrace their ways. The group most threatened by ISIL is the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, who overwhelmingly reject ISIL’s fanatical interpretation of the Islamic faith.

Today, ISIL is stronger than al-Qaeda was on September 11, 2001. It controls more territory, it is better funded, and it is more successful at recruiting westerners. ISIL’s genocide of the Yazidis is just the beginning. If we are to protect ourselves, our allies, the Yazidis, and Muslims threatened by ISIL, the United States needs to destroy the Islamic State and it must do this now. It’s time to level the territory controlled by ISIL and destroy the major transportation routes the group uses to supply and maintain itself.

President Obama has accurately referred to ISIL as a cancer. However, Obama has failed to properly treat the disease. This aggressive radical cancer requires an equally aggressive treatment. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it kills a lot of normal, healthy cells too. There is no way to destroy ISIL without killing large numbers of innocent people. The Obama administration’s attempts to destroy Daesh have killed many innocent people, but it has failed to make substantial progress in the struggle against ISIL. Drone strikes may kill higher-ups in IS, but it seems that every time this occurs there are plenty of people waiting to take the place of the dead. A 2014 report by The Guardian regarding Obama’s “targeted killing” program indicates that “attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of 1,147 people.” That means 28 civilians were killed per targeted individual without any substantial strategic gain from their deaths. Those are 28 families who lost an innocent mother, father, brother or sister. Locals lose loved ones, but the terrorists are not defeated.

It is time to take noncombatant immunity seriously. The United States and its coalition partners have a responsibility to ensure that the innocent lives lost during hostilities actually serve to defeat ISIL. If the strategy advocated in this article were implemented, substantial numbers of civilians would be killed. Yet, ISIL would be defeated, the world would know that America will do what it takes to defeat extremism, and international norms against genocide would be strengthened.

Just War Theory demands more than ensuring the proportionality of noncombatant deaths during hostilities. The object of a war with ISIL needs to be the creation of a just and lasting peace. It will not be possible to achieve such a peace without a long-term American presence in Iraq. ISIL is creating a backwards society with apocalyptic aims. The United States and its allies have defeated warped ideologies before. It was accomplished in the post-war occupation and reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II.

Unlike in Iraq, the United States never turned its back on Japan and Germany. Even today, there is a massive American military presence in Germany (36,691 troops) and Japan (52,060 troops). If the United States and our coalition partners aggressively work towards post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq, in a few decades, the American military presence in Iraq may look much more like the American military presence in Germany or Japan. There is no simple, fast, or cheap way to resolve the “ISIS Crisis.” Failure to change the strategy for defeating ISIL will only raise the cost of victory over extremism in treasure and, more importantly, in blood.

By Ben Jury

Source: Patrik Nygren/Flickr

Ah, the new year. Whether you’re still regretting your overly priced New Year’s Eve Uber or putting off your New Year’s Resolution another day (or year), the writers and editors at the US-Middle East Youth Network are excited to bring you fresh insight on the latest news from the region. We’ve got a number of exciting projects lined up for this year, including collaborations with other universities across the country.

So much has changed in the last year throughout the region. The multilateral nuclear weapons deal with Iran, the ongoing refugee crisis throughout the Middle East and Europe, the terrorist attacks in Paris, and protests against trash and corruption in Lebanon are just a few of the headline grabbers from 2015. Perhaps It was also a watershed year in the war against the Islamic State. With ISIS’s loss of Ramadi’s center just a few days ago, the tide seems to be turning against the terrorist group, though its far too soon to tell what the future holds for ISIS.

Yet so much has remained the same. Five years on, President Obama’s 2009 call for a ‘New Deal’ between the United States and the Muslims of the world rings hollow. Five years on, the Syrian Civil War rages with no end in sight. Continued drone strikes in Yemen and other countries throughout the region put civilian lives in danger. American troops remain stationed in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and more than a dozen other Middle Eastern countries. All the while, private military contractors continue to operate and profit from continued presence in the region.

What we need now from U.S. policymakers and politicians is the resolution to make tangible steps towards Western military disengagement in the Middle East. Similarly, it’s high time that Western multinationals and governments ditch the military-industrial business model in the region and formulate a new strategy to support our supposed allies without treating them like second-class powers. Rather than using predatory and neo-colonial economic policy under the guise of spreading democracy and peace, Washington needs to reconsider its grand strategy for foreign policy abroad. President Obama has a little over a year left in office to realign American strategy towards more equitable and mutually prosperous relations with Muslim countries. It’s time to make good on these high-minded promises.

Whether or not you believe the United States is an empire in decline, it’s clear that America’s role in global politics is shifting. As we move towards a more multi-polar system with Russia, China, and other nations exerting more and more power within and beyond their regional centers, the old model of imperial politics must fade into obsolescence. Remaining a strong global power may well be Washington’s priority. Brute force and coercion aren’t the only ways of preserving American strength and influence in the world, much less in the region. Sending American boots on the ground will always be an unsustainable, quick fix solution to a perennial problem. MENA nations need to build up their own national security infrastructures to combat terrorism and domestic threats to their sovereignty, all the while remaining transparent. Diplomacy, soft power tactics, and fair-minded coalition building with regional actors will ensure the Iran keeps its promises better than anyone.

At the very least, a country’s foreign policy represents its vision for how the world should be. 2016 is a promising year for change, with a number of important elections (including the U.S. presidential election) and global summits. Yet the chance for meaningful change requires political courage. Change in the world, in the Middle East will require bottom-up organizing and active, meaningful participation by the people affected by policy changes. Chances of that happening on a systematic level are slim. After all, only 10% of New Year’s resolutions are successfully followed through with come December 31. Maybe this year, the West will seek a change and follow through.

 

By Kate Moran

Members of the Free Syrian Army preparing to fight, February 2012. Source: Freedom House.

As of writing, the Syrian civil war has been raging for more than four and a half years—or, to be precise, 1,697 days. Since that time, the influence of various players—Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State in its many forms and reinventions, and any number of rebel and opposition groups—has ebbed and flowed considerably. Who controlled Aleppo today did not necessarily control it yesterday, and will probably not control it tomorrow.

As the conflict wears on and the Middle East becomes even more entrenched in a seemingly endless cycle of political dysfunction and humanitarian crises, power brokers from outside the region have also sought to get involved in what is to date the worst refugee crisis since World War II and one of the bloodiest civil conflicts in recent memory. Foremost among these powers is the United States, which has yet to form a cohesive strategy vis-à-vis Syria and the seemingly unshakable Assad regime. Simply put, U.S. foreign policy in this regard has been a no-strategy strategy. Although the Obama Administration has dabbled in airstrikes and halfhearted threats, it has yet to undertake a clear and comprehensive stance on the civil war, choosing instead to direct its attentions to the symptoms of the conflict, rather than its cause.

This has resulted in increased numbers of Syrians being admitted to the United States under a national refugee resettlement program, and in more money being allocated to humanitarian organizations in Europe working on the ground to provide for those individuals and their families who make the awful calculus to risk drowning at sea in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean and find new life. What the United States hasn’t done, however, is implement a strategy in Syria that both addresses the rising threat of the Islamic State and provides for a viable alternative to the so-called caliphate’s rule.

Last year, the United States launched its first airstrikes in Syria, targeted at Islamic State facilities in its stronghold in Raqqa province. The U.S. military coordinated with five different Arab countries in implementing the airstrikes, a rare display of unity in a region known in recent months more for infighting than collaboration. And by and large, these strikes were successful—taking out strategic facilities and destroying oil reserves key to the Islamic State’s economy. But in destroying these facilities, the surrounding areas have also been affected; civilians have become collateral damage of a conflict they never wanted to take part in, and other infrastructure in Syria has been inadvertently damaged. With the addition of Russian airstrikes in October of this year, targeting not Islamic State but the facilities of rebel groups hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an even greater number of civilian have been affected. Critical resources—like water and electricity, have similarly been affected as a result of the strikes, leaving an already-starved country worse off than before. Ultimately, these airstrikes will only serve to strengthen the Islamic State’s influence in embattled Syria; with no plans to rebuild infrastructure, the United States and its allies are creating a power vacuum that will serve to benefit Islamist extremists and provide opportunities for groups worse than even the Islamic State to establish footholds inside the country. Syria’s masses will be left to languish, and groups like the Islamic State will be the better for it.

Long before “ISIL” rose to prominence in the international media, it was waging its own, local propaganda campaign. Before the brutal beheadings on Youtube, Islamic State representatives were hard at work in Raqqa and in other areas of Syria and Iraq setting up social service organizations, supplying electricity to thousands of citizens who had previously lived without it, implementing media campaigns and winning over supporters. This is not to say that most Syrians genuinely harbored support for ISIL ideology, but rather, that the provision of critical services was an offer too good to refuse.

If the United States truly wants to help Syrians take back their country from the Islamic State, then it is crucial that the country seeks more than a brute-force, military resolution to the conflict. It must also supplant Islamic State’s grip on the social, educational, and financial institutions, and provide an appealing alternative to IS’s rule in Syria and Iraq.

While the Islamic State’s public executions are what the group is best known for today, it has not slowed its social propaganda campaign; in the areas that it controls in Iraq and Syria, they are laying power lines, operating bus routes, and beautifying cities. The world must do the same, and better.

In order to end the Syrian civil war and ensure that it doesn’t continue into its fifth, sixth, or seventh year, the United States and all those who care about the Middle East’s stability must abandon their no-strategy strategies. They must provide for refugees, yes, but they must also provide for the Syrians who remain, and who will be the ones that will rebuild the country when the dust settles and the sun sets on the civil war.

By Kate Moran

Photo Credit: Flickr/GlobalPanorama

If you’re like millions of Americans, you were anxiously anticipating the Season 5 premiere of Homeland, which aired last night on Showtime. I too, couldn’t wait to tune in. For months, I’d been looking forward to Carrie Matheson’s return to primetime with her motley crew of CIA agents and agency assets.

But despite my love for the show, I’ve always been rather uncomfortable with Homeland’s portrayal of the Muslim world—from Arabs to Iranians and Pakistanis, the show’s most ubiquitous archetypes consist of angry, radicalized, bushy-browed men with hooked noses, and beautiful, veiled women who seem desperate to break free of the bondage of their fathers and brothers. It’s assumed that these caricatures are synonymous with Muslim culture at large.

And with the Season 5 premiere opening in predictable fashion—an ominous-looking man of clearly Middle Eastern descent skulks through a German train station and finds his way to a brothel—it got me thinking about the ways in which Western media and entertainment demonize minorities and perpetuate the cycle of marginalization that has led to a rise in Islamic extremist attacks in Europe.

Almost every crime and drama show produced in the post-9/11 era has contained some form of ethnic demonization—often blurring the lines between religion, culture, and nationality to forge a grotesque stereotype of “Muslim.” To those seeking to make a profit, misrepresentation of Muslims and an ever-increasing portrayal of a singular storyline—namely Muslim terrorist—is of no consequence. But what producers and screenwriters and even the actors themselves don’t realize—the vast majority of whom are not of Muslim heritage—is that the continued demonization and marginalization of Muslims in entertainment fuels extremist ideology and perpetuates a culture of “otherness” that is a main reason for the lone wolf attacks we’ve seen in recent months carried out by Islamist militants. Studies as early as 2007 show the negative effects of such social marginalization in EU member states; in every instance, increased marginalization was linked with upticks in violence by members of marginalized communities.

Sure, Homeland (and the dozens of shows like it) might make great television. But if these shows are also sowing seeds of extremism, is it worth it? A recent study published by Pew reveals that by 2050, Muslims will make up 30% of the global population, with 2.8 billion adherents. This number will essentially be on par with the global Christian population, which will comprise 2.9 billion followers at 31% of the population. By 2070, the world’s Muslim population will eclipse that of Christians. And in places like Europe, where birthrates have been rapidly dropping (and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future), these demographic shifts will appear even more drastic. By 2050, the Muslim population on the Continent will have doubled—to almost 10%; that’s 7.8 million believers.

Practically speaking, these numbers mean that continued marginalization and demonization of Muslim communities is a bad idea. This is neither new nor revolutionary information, but it seems to be the case that it must be reiterated nonetheless. Simply put, we are directly and significantly contributing to a culture of Islamic extremism in Europe and the United States by continuing to endorse and financially support the marginalization, discrimination, and misrepresentation of Muslims in our media and entertainment.

We cannot escape the implications of our actions; by watching television shows and movies that seek to portray Islam in a negative light and by failing to take a stand against blatant Islamophobia in our culture, we are paving the way for increased attacks—not just abroad, but in our own communities. By refusing to educate ourselves and provide a better path forward for the generations who will come after us, we are perpetuating a world order in which ignorance will fuel greater discrimination and greater violence. And this is why, despite my love and devotion to the first four seasons of Homeland, I won’t be tuning in to Season 5. Sorry, Carrie, but Islamophobia’s not cool. Instead, I’ll be putting my money (and my Netflix binge sessions) to better use by supporting filmmakers and arts projects that promote cross-cultural dialogue, not division, and who refuse to take the easy way out by relying on old, tired tropes that were never relevant in the first place.

“Discussing Life in Afghanistan” A Psychologist and Department of Defense civilian deployed to Afghanistan as members of the Human Terrain System interview local residents in April 2009. Source: U.S. Army/Flickr.

In 2005, Montgomery McFate, a former defense consultant for the Rand Corporation, and Andrea Jackson, the Director of Research and Training at the Lincoln Group, published a paper entitled: “An Organizational Solution for DOD’s Cultural Knowledge Needs.” In it, they outlined the goals, needs, and cost for the development of a “specialized organization within the Department of Defense to produce, collect, and centralize cultural knowledge, which will have the utility for policy development and military operations.” The article in Military Review was published at a time when policy makers recognized the need to have cultural knowledge of their enemy, especially during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It went on to suggest the establishment of regional combatant commanders (RCC) and regional offices to supplement teams on the ground and to maintain close relationships with local forces and possible other sources of intelligence.  From this paper, the Human Terrain System (HTS), a United States Army, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) support unit costing $726 million, was born.

Units in HTS, known as Human Training Teams (HTT), were supposed to deploy people with social-science backgrounds, such as anthropologists and linguists, to provide military commanders and staff with an understanding of the local population in the area. In 2007, the program was critiqued by the American Anthropological Association, which called the collaboration of social scientists and combat units “an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise,” as there existed a moral conflict between studying, for example, Iraqis, and advising troops who might end up killing them. However, the criticisms did not stop there; taxpayers were upset, as were military personnel, who felt that there already existed units that carried out the same function and that HTS was draining resources away from other priorities. The program also came under close scrutiny in 2009, when Staff Sergeant Paula Lloyd, a member of HTT in Afghanistan, was doused with petrol and set alight by a local Afghan. Her death went unreported, despite it being the third researcher with HTT to die on that deployment.

The need to thoroughly understand our enemies and associates is something that has been recognized for a long time. Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” And the need still exists today; General Odierno, the 38th Chief of Staff of the Army and former Commander General, United States Forces – Iraq, acknowledged its necessity during the war. While in Iraq, he recruited Emma Sky, a non-military British expert on the Middle East and who had lived in Kirkuk and dealt with the Iraqi-Kurdistan disputes after the Fall of Saddam and the war, to be his political advisor.

In late June of this year, the press got word that HTS had been terminated quietly in September 2014, as “there was no longer a requirement for HTS teams in theater.” But why was there such a long delay in announcing the end of the program? Many believe that HTS had the potential to change humanitarian missions and reconstruction efforts. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates even praised the program and its “alternative thinking” that was key to success for a military that has a reputation of being heavy handed, something that was only emphasized around the world. Secretary Gates expressed how HTS led to less violence, citing a commander in Afghanistan who had worked with Human Terrain Teams and, as a result, had to carry out 60% fewer armed strikes.

So what does the military do now that HTS has been terminated? Major Adam Martin doesn’t believe HTS’s termination left any void for his operations. His fellow soldiers are from diverse backgrounds and are trained in the same way and can, therefore, carry out the same functions as HTS personnel did; he works with reserve soldiers who are anthropologists, state troopers, civil engineers, and environmental engineers to name a few. Maj. Martin has been with Civil Affairs since 2010 and is the HQ Company Commander for the 304th Civil Affairs Brigade based in Philadelphia. His unit is part of the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) (USACAPOC(A)) which was founded in 1985, is comprised of mostly U.S. Army Reserve soldiers and which is meant to carry out five functions: civil information management, population resource control, support to civil administration, foreign humanitarian assistance and nation assistance. I met Maj. Martin when I worked at the International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Youth Summer Academy this year in New York where he was visiting to research how to engage youth in post-conflict areas through creative arts programs, such as the dance and music classes the Academy ran.

He too thinks that understanding your enemy is vital, as you cannot do your job (in this field) without understanding the culture. He added that this applies more to Civil Affairs soldiers who are “expected to understand and to know a lot more than anybody else.” For example, when examining the next Area of Operations (AO), he explained how there are two systems the unit uses to assess various factors: PMESCII – political, military, economic, social, cultural, informational and infrastructure – and ASCOPE – areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people and events. Every minute detail, such as the location of power plants and natural resources, are plotted, analyzed and discussed.

U.S. Army Reserve Officers from 418th Civil Affairs Brigade work with locals in the Horn of Africa in 2010. Source: U.S. Army Africa/Flickr.
U.S. Army Reserve Officers from 418th Civil Affairs Brigade work with locals in the Horn of Africa in 2010. Source: U.S. Army Africa/Flickr.

Despite being civilians, HTS personnel wore uniform when deployed, like those in Civil Affairs. Wearing uniform might seem imposing and threatening but Maj. Martin assured that it “can be helpful as it opens doors. There is credibility.” He even mentioned that local interpreters would also wear military uniform but would be covered, as they would not want to be seen, as this may endanger their families – something that the army would try and prevent at all costs. Maj. Martin did explain that Civil Affairs does differ from HTS in its operations, which include advising on infrastructure development projects, water distribution centers, and school and bridge refurbishment – known as Engineering Civil Action Programs or ENCAP – such as those he carried out in the Philippines. Moreover, Civil Affairs personnel can carry out a wide range of programs: Veterinarian Civil Action Programs (VETCAP), Educational Civil Action Programs (EDCAP), and Medical Civil Action Programs (MEDCAP) – Maj. Martin disclosed that through this last set of programs, he has had to carry out circumcision operations with a local doctor.

Understanding our enemies and foreign populations beyond what their military capabilities are, where they could be deployed, what history says and what their tactics are can only tell us so much. It is vital to comprehend and to follow cultural practices to add credibility to the incoming force and to not aggravate what is likely to be an already complex, volatile environment. The United States has, unfortunately, only emphasized its controversial approach to reconstruction efforts in recent history. The Human Terrain System was established to help with this. Although marred in controversy, the program also received much praise so it does not seem to make sense that its termination was abrupt, hushed and muted. However, there is no rush for the country to consider finding and funding another similar program for it seems as if there already exists a unit to help military forces without the assistance of HTS.

Civil Affairs appears to overlap with HTS in many aspects but surpasses it in its capacity with regard to personnel and operations, which beckons the questions: did we really need the Human Terrain System? What would have happened if it were never established?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (Left) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif (Right) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Source: http://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/wabe/files/IranianNegotiations_033015.jpg

By Joshua Shinbrot

Since the August 2002 revelation of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, efforts have been made to prevent the development of nuclear weapons by the Iranians. Initial attempts to curtail the Iranian nuclear program were led by the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. In 2006, the United States, China, and Russia joined the Europeans in their endeavor to prevent Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, forming the P5 + 1 (the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).

In March 2013, the United States held secret, direct talks with Iranian officials in Oman. Only three months away from Iranian presidential elections, the Islamic Republic seemed unwilling to budge due to domestic political considerations. The Obama administration became more hopeful about talks after Hassan Rouhani became president of Iran in June 2013.

Since Rouhani’s approval of talks, two deadlines for the conclusion of a comprehensive nuclear agreement have passed, but no final agreement has been reached and deadline extensions have been repeatedly granted. Most recently, in November 2014, the P5 + 1 and Iran agreed to extend the deadline for concluding a final deal until June 2015. As part of the extension agreement, the US and Iran were supposed to produce a “framework understanding” by the end of March. Despite its release two days past the limit set by negotiators, a framework was agreed upon on April 2.

Ever since the release of this framework agreement, media pundits on every major US news network have been praising or condemning the Iran deal. At this point, however, there really is no deal. What exactly was reached, then, after the most recent marathon round of negotiations between the US and Iran hosted in Lausanne, Switzerland? In his April 2, 2015 speech, US Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the outcome of these talks as a “political understanding with details.” For those readers not fluent in ‘Bureaucrat’ who are wondering what a “political understanding with details” actually is, so am I. But, when I attempt to translate from Bureaucrat-speak to English it means something like, “we have a handshake agreement on the outline of a possible deal.”

What are the actual “details” contained within Secretary Kerry’s “political understanding?” Iran must reduce the number of centrifuges it is spinning to 5,060 for the next ten years. The Islamic Republic is only allowed to spin its first generation centrifuges. All centrifuges remaining beyond the first 6,104 are to be placed in “IAEA monitored storage.” This means that the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, will have access to the facility where Iran’s 12,896 remaining centrifuges are stored. All 19,000 of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges (devices used to produce and enrich fissile material) will remain on Iranian soil. Iran is only obliged to limit the number of centrifuges it is spinning for ten years. Leaving all 19,000 centrifuges on Iranian soil ensures Iran retains all the components needed to reignite an industrial sized nuclear weapons program the moment this agreement expires.

The Impermanent Portions of the Deal

In fairness, not all aspects of this “political understanding with details” will expire after ten years. The President of the United States, Secretary Kerry, and other members of the Obama administration have attempted to reassure skeptics by stating that some components of this deal will remain in place indefinitely. What exactly are those indefinite components of the deal?

“Iran has committed indefinitely to not conduct reprocessing or reprocessing research and development on spent nuclear fuel.” Iran has a heavy water reactor at Arak. The spent fuel from this reactor could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium. The detail of Kerry’s “political understanding” quoted above seems designed to prevent Iran’s ability to weaponize spent fuel from the Arak reactor, which must be modified according to the terms of the agreement. In addition to the ban on research and development, Iran must not build any additional heavy water reactors for fifteen years.

While the Obama administration is correct in asserting that some aspects of the “political understanding with details” are indefinite, a deal based on this “political understanding with details” is simply inadequate to reassure skeptics that Iran will never develop a nuclear weapon. Iran’s “indefinite” moratorium on research and development simply means that it agrees to halt this research for a period of time that is undetermined. It would be unreasonable to assume that this agreement is so ambiguous that Iran could resume reprocessing research on spent fuel from its nuclear reactors tomorrow. Nevertheless, it is much less unreasonable to assume that Iran will resume reprocessing and reprocessing research after the expiration of Iran’s fifteen-year commitment to refrain from building additional heavy water reactors. In fact, according to an agreement based on this outline, in ten or fifteen years Iran could resume reprocessing and reprocessing research while claiming it is still abiding by the terms of its agreement with the P5 + 1. According to its understanding with the P5 + 1, the ban on reprocessing and associated research is not permanent. It is only indefinite.

This is not merely playing semantics. The word “permanent” does appear in another portion of the text of the political understanding between the US and Iran released by the State Department. According to the text of the agreement, “Iran’s adherence to the Additional Protocol of the IAEA is permanent, including its significant access and transparency obligations.”

Iran has invested copious resources to develop an industrial-size military nuclear program, even under severe economic sanctions. An agreement with Iran must be specific regarding the limits that are placed on research and development. Prohibitions on research and development that could allow Iran to better understand how to build a bomb should be permanent and any final nuclear deal should specifically delineate those unending restrictions.

Is No Enrichment Really Unreasonable to Ask of Iran?

Some have insisted that in order for a nuclear deal with Iran to be acceptable, Iran must not be allowed to enrich any Uranium. In other words, some have insisted that an acceptable deal could allow Iran to have a civilian nuclear energy program. However, given Iran’s support of terrorist organizations, bellicose rhetoric, and violent behavior, Iran should not be allowed to enrich its own Uranium. Instead, Iran could obtain the fissile material it needs for civilian nuclear power and medical purposes abroad.

Iran’s negotiating position calls for domestic enrichment. The Obama administration has generously sought to construct a deal that enables Iran to say that it is continuing to enrich Uranium, while the P5 + 1 can say that Iran will be unable to build a bomb. However, the President has not done anything to ensure the fearful Saudis, Egyptians, Emiratis, and Jordanians that this deal does not “pave Iran’s way to the bomb,” as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated.

In his speech to the United State Congress that received much media coverage, Prime Minister Netanyahu notably did not call for a deal that prevents the Iranians from all nuclear enrichment. This seems to be an even more moderate position than the one taken by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states at their meeting with President Obama at Camp David in early May. At this meeting the Saudis and other Arab states have committed to match any enrichment program that the Iranians are allowed to retain.

When the United Arab Emirates decided to act upon its desire for a peaceful nuclear program, it signed a cooperation agreement with the United States that prevents domestic nuclear enrichment. Instead, the UAE is assured a supply of needed nuclear fuel from outside sources.

Iran is one of four countries on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. The United Arab Emirates is not on that list. According to the State Department’s 2013 Country Report on Terrorism, Iran has armed Houthi rebel groups in Yemen and Shia rebels in Bahrian. Iran has continued to sponsor Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In Syria, Iran has continued to actively support Assad, even after he used chemical weapons on his own people. Iran has also aided Al-Qaeda and used its proxy, Hezbollah, to train Shiite militants who have killed Americans in Iraq.

Why is Iran, perhaps the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, allowed to enrich Uranium while the United Arab Emirates is not? The United Arab Emirates is not on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List and the UAE did not plan a raid in Iraq in which five American soldiers were killed. This is not to argue that the UAE should be allowed to enrich Uranium. It shouldn’t be permitted to enrich its own Uranium and it seems perfectly happy to be obtaining its own Uranium abroad.

Perhaps the case of the UAE illustrates the clear difference in the intentions between the Iranians and the Emiratis. The Emiratis want nuclear power for civilian purposes. They are willing to forgo domestic enrichment and obtain nuclear fuel abroad. Despite maintaining that it only seeks a peaceful nuclear program, Iran has all the components of a military nuclear program. Beyond its industrial-sized and extensive nuclear enrichment program, Iran has a vast ballistic missile program. It is important to mention that the other components of Iran’s military nuclear program, including its ballistic missile program are not limited in any capacity according to the “political understanding with details” between the P5 + 1 and Iran. Unlike the UAE, Iran insists on enriching its own Uranium and on keeping the 13,940 centrifuges that it is not permitted to use within its borders.

The “political understanding with details” that the Obama administration has produced is not a framework for an agreement that ensures that the only type of nuclear program Iran maintains is a peaceful one. Any Iran deal that Obama signs based on this framework is one that merely kicks the can down the road and will leave a future American President with no option to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb but military intervention. As Iran is allowed to continue nuclear research and development, its breakout time will be continually reduced. President Obama himself has said that in a mere thirteen years, Iranian breakout time will be near zero.

In 2028, with an Iranian breakout time of zero, the President of the United States will not have the luxury that President Obama has now of extending deadline after deadline in the hope of negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran. The President will be faced with the choice of either eliminating Iran’s nuclear program or permitting the development of nuclear weapons by the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and allowing for the outbreak of a massive nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

Negotiating a Better Deal

At present, the US has a tremendous opportunity to alter its negotiating tactics and lock down a better deal with Iran that ensures any Iranian nuclear program will be a peaceful nuclear program. Realities of the negotiating situation have changed. Although Iran needs a nuclear deal more than the US, the Obama administration has negotiated as if it wants a deal more than the Iranians. On May 21, the President signed a bi-partisan law granting Congress the power to review any deal he makes with the Iranians. Regardless of whether or not the President wants a deal more than Iran does, the President will only get a deal, if any, that Congress can accept. Moreover, the insistence by Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council that they will match any enrichment capability that Iran retains provides the US with additional bargaining power and it may change the president’s calculations.

Can President Obama accept responsibility for Iran as a threshold nuclear power in the Middle East if it does not develop a nuclear weapon on his watch? Perhaps. Can the crowning foreign policy achievement of Obama’s presidency be the creation of multiple threshold nuclear powers in the Middle East, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council? President Obama has coined himself as an opponent of nuclear proliferation and claims to be opposed to a nuclear Iran partly because of the arms-race that a nuclear Iran would initiate in the Middle East. If a deal with Iran based on the released framework guarantees the development of industrial sized nuclear programs within many Middle Eastern states, this will constitute a threat not only to American national security, but also to Obama’s legacy.

Americans need to reevaluate whether or not Iranian nuclear enrichment is tolerable if other Middle Eastern states intend to match that enrichment capacity. The United States should also re-examine whether or not it is really wise to allow Iran to keep all 19,000 of its centrifuges within its borders. Saudi Arabia has insisted that it will match Iranian enrichment capacity. This could mean that Saudi Arabia will decide to keep 19,000 centrifuges within its borders, but promises only to spin 5,060 of them. Could the United States really prohibit its Saudi friends from pursuing this type of enrichment program after approving it for the Iranians?

Would the United States be changing the rules in the middle of the game if it were to deviate from the understandings reached in the political framework? It may be more accurate to characterize such a move as an acceptance of the Iranian rules of negotiation, rather than a change of the rules by the US. After all, the adoption of a position insisting upon enrichment was a change in the middle of the process by the Iranians. In 2003, when the UK, France, and Germany threatened to bring Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program, Iran agreed to “cooperate fully with the IAEA and suspend all Uranium enrichment.” This demonstrates that in the past, the Iranians have been willing to accept a position of zero-enrichment in order to prevent possible sanctions.

Any deal with Iran must not only prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in the short term, but assure the United States and its friends that Iran will never be able to develop a military nuclear program. This will involve strict limitations on the types of nuclear components and dual-use items that can be kept inside the country. Moreover, the world will not be confident that Iran only seeks a peaceful nuclear program until it demonstrates a change in its intentions. The P5 + 1 should craft a deal that compels Iran to restrain its ballistic missile program, forces it to abandon its sponsorship of terror, permanently limits Iranian nuclear research and development, and puts a comprehensive and intrusive nuclear inspections regime in place. Inspectors should be allowed to go anywhere in the country at any time. Failure to accept such a deal will reveal Iran’s true intentions and the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program should be dealt with accordingly.

 

 

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