How Proxy Wars Work – By Lionel Boehner November 12, 2015


With U.S.-made antitank missiles finding their way to Syrian rebels and Russian fighter jets pummeling the same rebels and supplying the Bashar al-Assad regime with antiaircraft missile systems, it might seem easy to describe the battle in Syria as a proxy war. But that phrase gets tossed around too carelessly and comes with some dangerous myths.

First, describing the Syrian quagmire as a proxy war implies that the conflict is mainly about larger fissures in the region, especially the rift between Sunni and Shiite, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Second, it suggests that the conflict will be resolved chiefly by outside actors hashing out their differences at the table. Third, the phrase indicates that the conflict is an incredibly high-stakes game involving existential issues on which compromise is impossible.

As the history of past proxy wars teaches, though, all three assumptions are wrong. To bring the fighting in Syria to an end, all parties involved will need to get real about what a proxy war is—and what it isn’t. Proxy wars do not miraculously extinguish themselves without some measure of bottom-up attempts to make peace among local fighters or a fundamental shift in the conflict’s balance of power on the ground.

Smoke rises from what activists said was a military position of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after clashes with Army of Islam fighters, outside Douma, near Damascus September 13, 2015.

Smoke rises from what activists said was a military position of forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad after clashes with Army of Islam fighters, outside Douma, near Damascus September 13, 2015.

COLD WAR THINKING

The term “proxy war” conjures images of the Cold War, when outside powers—namely, the United States and Soviet Union, but also regional players—treated local combatants as pawns on a geopolitical chessboard. In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of guerrilla conflicts in Latin America became de facto conflicts between the Soviet Union and the United States. Ditto wars in Angola, Chad, and Vietnam.

Just as it was unthinkable in those days that Washington and Moscow would get tangled in a conventional war, it is hard to imagine the United States and Russia going to war today. And, in fact, proxy wars are prevalent when the costs of traditional interstate war are high. And so, Hezbollah-backed Syrian forces and rebels from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS) can go at each other’s throats with little risk of regional escalation.

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2015-11-12/how-proxy-wars-work

The End of Pax Americana – By Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson November/December 2015 Issue


Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at Oct 24, 2015 11.10

The Obama administration has clearly pulled back from the United States’ recent interventionism in the Middle East, notwithstanding the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and the U.S.-led air war against it. Critics pin the change on the administration’s aversion to U.S. activism in the region, its unwillingness to engage in major combat operations, or President Barack Obama’s alleged ideological preference for diminished global engagement. But the reality is that Washington’s post-9/11 interventions in the region—especially the one in Iraq—were anomalous and shaped false perceptions of a “new normal” of American intervention, both at home and in the region. The administration’s unwillingness to use ground forces in Iraq or Syria constitutes not so much a withdrawal as a correction—an attempt to restore the stability that had endured for several decades thanks to American restraint, not American aggressiveness.

It’s possible to argue that pulling back is less a choice than a necessity. Some realist observers claim that in a time of economic uncertainty and cuts to the U.S. military budget, an expansive U.S. policy in the region has simply become too costly. According to that view, the United States, like the United Kingdom before it, is the victim of its own “imperial overstretch.” Others argue that U.S. policy initiatives, especially the recent negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, have distanced Washington from its traditional Middle Eastern allies; in other words, the United States isn’t pulling back so much as pushing away.

The long period of American primacy in the Middle East is ending.

In actuality, however, the main driver of the U.S. pullback is not what’s happening in Washington but what’s happening in the region. Political and economic developments in the Middle East have reduced the opportunities for effective American intervention to a vanishing point, and policymakers in Washington have been recognizing that and acting accordingly. Given this, the moderate U.S. pullback should be not reversed but rather continued, at least in the absence of a significant threat to core U.S. interests.

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https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2015-10-20/end-pax-americana

America’s Fading Footprint in the Middle East – By Yaroslav Trofimov Oct. 9, 2015 1:32 p.m. ET


As Russia bombs and Iran plots, the U.S. role is shrinking—and the region’s major players are looking for new ways to advance their own interests

U.S. Army soldiers board a helicopter as they leave after the end of their one-year deployment in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, in March 2012.

U.S. Army soldiers board a helicopter as they leave after the end of their one-year deployment in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, in March 2012. Photo: Erik De Castro/Reuters

Despised by some, admired by others, the U.S. has been the Middle East’s principal power for decades, providing its allies with guidance and protection.

Now, however, with Russia and Iran thrusting themselves boldly into the region’s affairs, that special role seems to be melting away. As seasoned politicians and diplomats survey the mayhem, they struggle to recall a moment when America counted for so little in the Middle East—and when it was held in such contempt, by friend and foe alike.

“It’s the lowest ebb since World War II for U.S. influence and engagement in the region,” said Ryan Crocker, a career diplomat who served as the Obamaadministration’s ambassador to Afghanistan and before that as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan.

From shepherding Israel toward peace with its Arab neighbors to rolling back Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and halting the contagion of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the U.S. has long been at the core of the Middle East’s security system. Its military might secured critical trade routes and the bulk of the world’s oil supply. Today, the void created by U.S. withdrawal is being filled by the very powers that American policy has long sought to contain.

“If you look at the heart of the Middle East, where the U.S. once was, we are now gone—and in our place, we have Iran, Iran’s Shiite proxies, Islamic State and the Russians,” added Mr. Crocker, now dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. “What had been a time and place of U.S. ascendancy we have ceded to our adversaries.”

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http://www.wsj.com/articles/americas-fading-footprint-in-the-middle-east-1444411954

 

Iran’s President: ‘Driving Out The Terrorists’ Is Key To Syria’s Future – Steve Inskeep SEPTEMBER 27, 201510:11 PM ET


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani prepares to speak with NPR's Steve Inskeep on Saturday in New York. Rouhani reaffirmed Iran's commitment to the nuclear deal and said his country would be willing to discuss Syria's future with the United States — after ISIS is defeated.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani prepares to speak with NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Saturday in New York. Rouhani reaffirmed Iran’s commitment to the nuclear deal and said his country would be willing to discuss Syria’s future with the United States — after ISIS is defeated. Bryan Thomas for NPR

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani prepares to speak with NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Saturday in New York. Rouhani reaffirmed Iran’s commitment to the nuclear deal and said his country would be willing to discuss Syria’s future with the United States — after ISIS is defeated.

Bryan Thomas for NPR

Here’s the basic difference between the United States, Russia and Iran: The U.S. wants Syrian President Bashar Assad to go. Russia and Iran, Assad’s allies, want him to stay.

Over the weekend, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, met with NPR in New York, where he will be attending the United Nations General Assembly. Through an interpreter, Rouhani argued that, where Syria is concerned, the most important issue for everyone is destroying ISIS.

“Perhaps political reform is needed. However, is that today’s priority? We believe that it’s driving out the terrorists,” he tells NPR.

“The issue of stability and security in the region is of utmost importance for us,” he emphasizes. Americans may not like Syria’s government, he says, but Iran needs to prop it up to avoid a dangerous leadership vacuum. If Assad goes now, Rouhani says, extremists will step in.

So Iran is collaborating with Syria, Russia and Iraq against ISIS. An intelligence-sharing agreement among the four countries was announced by Iraq on Sunday.

“We say between worse and bad, we must choose bad. Or in other words, we choose the lesser of two evils,” he says.

 

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http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/09/27/443992544/irans-president-driving-out-the-terrorists-is-key-to-syrias-future

Colin Powell and top Jewish Democrat back Iran deal in triumph for Obama – Sabrina Siddiqu Sunday 6 September 2015 11.34 EDT


Debbie Wasserman Schultz, leader of Democratic National Committee and Florida’s first Jewish congresswoman, says decision was her hardest yet

Colin Powell<br>In this Aug. 21, 2013, photo provided by CBS News, former Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks on CBS’s “Face the Nation” during a pre-taped interview in Washington. The first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and first black secretary of state, Powell says America has come a long way toward racial equality 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. (AP Photo/CBS News, Mary F. Calvert)

The Iran nuclear deal has gained the backing of both a top Democrat and George W Bush’s secretary of state, in what is shaping up to be a major victory for Barack Obama.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the first Jewish congresswoman to represent Florida, announced her support for the deal in what she said was her most difficult decision in more than two decades in public office.

Colin Powell, who served as secretary of state between 2001 and 2005, hailed “remarkable changes” agreed to by Iranian leaders while downplaying skepticism over whether the accord could be implemented.

“It’s a pretty good deal,” Powell said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “These are remarkable changes, and so we have stopped this highway race that they were going down – and I think that’s very, very important.”

While critics of the deal insist Iran cannot be trusted to comply with the terms of the deal, Powell expressed his confidence in the process agreed upon by Tehran and six world powers in July.

“I think a very vigorous verification regime has been put into place,” Powell said. “I say, we have a deal, let’s see how they implement the deal. If they don’t implement it, bail out. None of our options are gone.”

Wasserman Schultz came out in favor of the deal in an op-ed published on Sunday in the Miami Herald.

“This agreement is not perfect,” she wrote. “But I join many in the belief that with complex, multilateral, nuclear non-proliferation negotiations with inherent geopolitical implications for the entire world, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ deal.”

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http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/06/iran-deal-colin-powell-debbie-wasserman-schultz

Foes Try New Ways To Attack Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal – By KRISTINA PETERSON And JAY SOLOMON Updated Aug. 28, 2015 7:54 p.m. ET


Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), right, listens to Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) last month in Washington, D.C.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), right, listens to Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) last month in Washington, D.C.Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

WASHINGTON—Capitol Hill opponents of the landmark Iranian nuclear accord are devising a Plan B to ratchet up pressure on Iran as President Barack Obama moves closer to locking up the support needed to implement the deal.

Critics of the agreement in both parties haven’t yet conceded defeat in the congressional battle next month, where they will push to derail the deal.

But as their chances dim, they are preparing to push a rash of new legislation for the fall to increase sanctions on Tehran for its role in supporting terrorist organizations and militant groups active across the Mideast, which could cause Iran to back out of the deal. These politicians also are devising new ways to target the finances of Tehran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“Iran has a long rap sheet, and I want to continue to prosecute Iran for its bad behavior,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

The administration has vowed to continue challenging Iran’s terrorist activities and support of militancy, even after a nuclear deal is completed.

But the fresh sanctions push has the potential to put the White House and leading Democrats, such as the party’s presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, in a quandary. Those supporters of the deal could later face a tough decision over whether to back increased sanctions against Iran.

There is growing concern in the White House that any steps viewed as imposing new sanctions could be seized on by the Iranian government to charge the U.S. with violating the nuclear agreement. Already, Iranian officials have argued Congress is seeking to simply reimpose these financial restrictions under the guise of fighting terrorism and human-rights abuses. Tehran’s position could be backed by Russia, China and the European Union—the other parties to the nuclear deal.

 

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http://www.wsj.com/articles/foes-try-new-ways-to-attack-obamas-iran-nuclear-deal-1440802995

How the Iran Deal Will Pass—and Why It Should – By Fred Kaplan AUG. 27 2015


Benjamin Netanyahu should have held his tongue. Above, the Israeli prime minister speaks during a press conference on Nov. 18, 2014, in Jerusalem. Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Benjamin Netanyahu should have held his tongue. Above, the Israeli prime minister speaks during a press conference on Nov. 18, 2014, in Jerusalem.
Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

It’s looking more and more like Benjamin Netanyahu committed a strategic blunder in so ferociously opposing the Iran nuclear deal and in rallying his American allies to spend all their resources on a campaign to kill the deal in Congress.

If current trends hold, the Israeli prime minister and his stateside lobbyists—mainly AIPAC—are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.

It would have been better for Netanyahu—and for Israel—had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality. Not that Obama, or any other American president, will cut Israel off; but relations will remain more strained, and requests for other favors (for more or bigger weapons, or for certain votes in international forums) will be scrutinized more warily, than they would have been.

If the House and Senate do vote down the deal next month, Obama will impose a veto. To override the veto, his opponents would need to muster a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress. As even many of these opponents admit, they are unlikely to do so. There is even a fair chance that they’ll fall short of the 60 votes needed to block the threat of a Democratic filibuster.

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