We've detected an outdated browser.

You may want to consider updating your browser. International Policy Digest requires a modern browser in order to view the website properly.

Click here for information on how to update your browser.

Continue Anyways
Syrian Civil War

Tag Archives | Syrian Civil War

Regime Change Will Not Diminish the Al-Qaeda Threat

|
freedomhouse/flickr
freedomhouse/flickr

freedomhouse/flickr

The overriding question is how will the U.S. clearly define moderate opposition groups operating in Syria? That has become a major difficulty as well in Libya. Rebel groups break down into tribes, clans, and broader religious factions—some with fundamentalist beliefs, while others have a more radical interpretation of Islam which includes armed jihad. In any event we do not know their ultimate goals. A Muslim diplomat once told me it is difficult to know the mission of a person carrying a weapon: “When they come, they also bring their behavior with them. There is one baggage that doesn’t weigh much–it is the behavior that is inside of them–the behavior in their mind–the attitude that they have. We can search their pockets for weapons–and see the one’s on their shoulders–but we cannot search their mind.”

Syria over the last three years has been in a chaotic civil war in which no one has clearly defined the “moderate” opposition that could rule democratically, if we take out President Bashar al-Assad. I have written articles suggesting, “regime change without an endgame plan is fraught with disaster,” as we witnessed in Libya after the U.S.-NATO incursion in 2011 that led to the downfall of the ruler Col. Muammar Gadhafi. Armed Islamist militias have since taken over large swaths of the country.

Continue Reading →

Is the TPPA an Extension of U.S. Foreign Policy?

|
Ryan Lim/Malacañang Photo Bureau
Ryan Lim/Malacañang Photo Bureau

Ryan Lim/Malacañang Photo Bureau

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend an insightful talk by Professor Richard Tanter, a leading analyst on East Asia. In talking about the recent American “pivot” to East Asia and its imminent desire to consolidate an East Asian alliance, Tanter was emphasizing US’s ailing economy and its limited capacity for outreach as a challenge for US foreign policy.

Faced with severe and ongoing budget limitations, Tanter’s analysis struck an accurate chord in underscoring a qualitative change in US foreign policy abroad. Indeed, moving away from a neorealist practice of conducting international affairs, post-crisis economic hurdles are reflective of the current US government’s Liberalist turn. To put it into non-IR terminology: the US is increasingly shifting its focus to building and strengthening economic alliances, rather than military ones.

Continue Reading →

How to Rein in Putin

|
Sebastian Derungs
Sebastian Derungs

Sebastian Derungs

Last week, the Obama administration yet again imposed fresh sanctions on Russia. This time it targeted seventeen Russian institutions and seven individuals, two of whom are known to be from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Nonetheless, many Russia-watchers believe this latest round of punitive measures fails to match the escalating rhetoric of the White House. President Obama, however, signaled that there is room to maneuver should the Putin regime fall short of the universal expectation to leave Ukraine alone. Yet, the question remains: will this sanction regime effectively deter Putin?

It does not appear promising. Rather, it can backfire and therefore put U.S. President Barack Obama in a conundrum. Vladimir V. Putin, a former KGB agent who is obsessed with reclaiming Russia’s rightful niche in the post-Soviet unipolar world, has pursued a revisionist policy since he assumed power on New Year’s Eve, 2000. As a result, Putin has been able to solidify mother Russia’s image, in the global political landscape. Syria, for example, is a latest success of team Putin’s relentless effort in this regard. At the eleventh hour, Moscow’s chief diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, tabled the proposal to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons in order to bypass an imminent American air strike on Syrian military installations. Putin checkmated Obama’s war plan so deftly that its ripple effects soured the U.S. friendship with Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration is still trying to mend the troubled relationship with the Saudis.

Continue Reading →

News Quiz, Erdoğan Soma Edition

|
Reuters
Reuters

Reuters

Since Prime Minister Erdoğan is once again in the news for all the wrong reasons and since my previous Erdoğan news quiz was one of my all-time favorite posts to write, it’s time for another news quiz centered around everyone’s favorite opinionated world leader.

Unlike the last one, where readers were asked to identify which absurd story was in fact true, this one is a straight old-fashioned multiple question game.

Continue Reading →

Obama’s Incredibly Shrinking Foreign Policy Vision

|
Bill Ingalls
Bill Ingalls

Bill Ingalls

President Obama’s trip to East Asia last month was all about shoring up America’s position in a region where a resurgent China is steadily engaged in revising the status quo. But the most memorable part of the visit ended up being the diminished vision Mr. Obama projected of his own foreign policy. Speaking at a press conference in Manila, Obama defended his conduct of foreign affairs in a way that was at once impassioned and uninspiring. His approach, he argued, “may not always be sexy. [It] may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows. But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.”

The minimalist vision Mr. Obama articulated was incongruous coming amid a tour designed to impress upon U.S. allies that the strategic shift to Asia, his signature foreign policy initiative, was still very much on track. All the more so at a gathering alongside Philippine President Benigno Aquino, whom he ostensibly wanted to reassure about U.S. steadfastness in the face of China’s revanchist behavior. Indeed, his words were a far cry from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strong rebuke of Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea four years earlier.

Continue Reading →

Navigating Syria: The Impossible, Indispensable Mission

|
Syrian rebels evacuating Homs's old city by buss. Source: Twitter

I unfriended another Facebook friend this week. It may seem to be a trivial matter, but for me, it is not.

Syrian rebels evacuating Homs's old city by buss. Source: Twitter

Syrian rebels evacuating Homs’s old city by buss. Source: Twitter

The reason behind my action was Syria. As in Egypt, Syria has instigated many social media breakups with people whom, until then, were regarded with a degree of respect and admiration. But this is not a social media affair. The problems lie at the core of the Syrian conflict, with all of its manifestations, be they political, sectarian, ideological, cultural, or intellectual. While on the left (not the establishment left of course) Palestine has brought many likeminded people together, Egypt has fragmented that unity, and Syria has crushed and pulverized it to bits.

Those who cried over the victims of Israeli wars on Gaza, did not seem very concerned about Palestinians starving to death in the Yarmouk refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus. Some squarely blamed the Syrian government for the siege that killed hundreds, while others blamed the rebels. Some writers even went further, blaming the residents of the camp. Somehow, the refugees were implicated in their own misery and needed to be collectively punished for showing sympathy to the Syrian opposition.

Continue Reading →

Why Obama has Foreign Policy about Right

|
Chuck Kennedy/White House
Chuck Kennedy/White House

Chuck Kennedy/White House

A plethora of pundits, lawmakers and think tanks continue to criticize the Obama administration for presiding over what appear to be persistent failures in the foreign policy arena. Whether it is Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Russia, or China, the administrations’ opponents are quick to attack the perceived lack of meaningful progress. What they tend to forget, of course, is that most of what they are criticizing the administration for is either partly, or completely, outside its control, that much of what is happening today has its roots in pre-Obama history, and that no single country or leader calls the shots in our G-zero world. The world no longer snaps to attention when America acts.

To no one’s surprise, the Israel/Palestine peace talks collapsed – just like all the bilateral talks that came before them. At least unlike during his first term, Obama made the issue a priority in his second term and John Kerry gave it a shot. Given the twists and turns of the Syrian conflict, one has to wonder where the U.S. would be today if the Administration had listened to the inside the conservative lawmakers who wanted to jump into the fray at the outset. Obama wisely refused to fall into that trap.

Continue Reading →

Is the Clinton Coterie Pushing Obama Further into Lame Duck Territory?

|
President Barack Obama arriving in Manila, Philippines

Uh-oh. Looks like things are getting somewhat Ides-of-Marchy within the Obama administration. I think the coterie of Hillary Clinton supporters and enthusiasts have something to do with it.

President Barack Obama arriving in Manila, Philippines

President Barack Obama arriving in Manila, Philippines

From today’s LA Times: “Those who want him to act more forcefully include not only Republicans but also liberal internationalists and some members of his staff [emphasis added].” I should say I’m pretty much on board with President Obama’s hesitations about using military force, which I would gloss as “Don’t use stupid actions to follow up on stupid policies.”

The US foreign policy establishment has come up with a series of stupid policies that it would like to get bailed out of with some showy military action. Case in point: the anti-Russian enthusiasts (Victoria, I’m lookin’ at you) in the State Department overreached with the Kyev coup, now Obama won’t back them up by threatening to employ the U.S. military to buck up the government and deter Russia.

Continue Reading →

Syria’s Civil War, Assad and the Palestinians

and |
Following heavy fighting in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Palestinian refugees line up to receive food aid from UN workers. Photo: ONU Brasil

The three-year old Syrian crisis presents dire dilemmas for Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and in refugee camps across the Middle East.

Following heavy fighting in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Palestinian refugees line up to receive food aid from UN workers. Photo: ONU Brasil

Given Syria’s traditional role as a sponsor of Palestinian resistance movements and a home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, Palestinian leaders are understandably torn between loyalties to President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies. Palestinians have fought in Syria on behalf of both the regime and the rebels. The conflict has deepened ideological and political wedges between Palestinians and complicated their patchwork of international alliances. Moreover, as various proxy battles are waged within Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, the Palestinian refugees there are now enduring an underreported humanitarian crisis.

Syria’s Role in the Palestinian Resistance

Historical bonds between Palestinian resistance movements, refugees, and the Syrian government have complicated Palestinian attitudes toward the grinding civil war in Syria. In 1948, 90,000 Palestinians fled to Syria as refugees. Since then, several hundred thousand more have arrived and settled in large refugee camps, such as Yarmouk in Damascus.

Continue Reading →

Armenian Insecurity and the #SaveKessab Campaign

|
UNRWA
UNRWA

UNRWA

In what was an inadvertent statement on the sad state of news, it took a tweet from Kim Kardashian (no intro needed) for the #SaveKessab movement to garner some real attention. The hashtag is in reference to Kessab, Syria where on March 21 rebel groups took over and forced the majority of the city’s 2,000 Armenians living in the city to flee to Latakia city, some 57 km away. Early on, there were reports of Armenians being killed and Armenian churches being vandalized.

Continue Reading →

Syrian UN Aid Resolution a Step Forward

|
The Syrian civil war has left millions displaced and seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, often in camps in a dire condition. EPA

On Saturday, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution that demands access for humanitarian aid organisations in Syria.

The Syrian civil war has left millions displaced and seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, often in camps in a dire condition. EPA

This is an important step forward. It follows a Presidential Statement last October, which had made similar requests. But why is access for humanitarian organisations such an important issue in this crisis? Part of the issue is the sheer number of civilians who have been affected by the Syrian civil war. Some 2.3 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries; 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria. A further three million civilians within Syria are in need of assistance, including an estimated 240,000 civilians who are under siege by government and opposition forces.

Combined, these figures represent half of Syria’s population. This has led to a massive assistance operation on the part of the international community. The UN has requested US$2.3 billion for assistance operations within the country and a further US$4.2 billion for operations in the region. To give an idea of the scope of these requests, the worldwide contributions to humanitarian assistance in 2012 totalled only $17.9 billion USD. Despite the crisis enveloping the country, the Syrian government has blocked significant assistance efforts within Syria. Most aid organisations are guided by four key principles derived from the Geneva Conventions:

Continue Reading →

Analysis of Turkey and Iran’s Growing Alliance

and |
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani. Source:  Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

“The terrorist groups that are operating under the cover of Islam are in no way related to Islam. We will widen our cooperation shoulder-to-shoulder with Iran in combating terrorist groups.” – Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. Source: Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan’s visit to Iran last month symbolized a pivot toward Tehran and a shift in Ankara’s Middle East foreign policy. Declaring a desire to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Iran in combating terrorism, and driven by Turkey’s evolving policy toward Syria, Erdoğan’s trip highlighted Ankara and Tehran’s tendency to pursue mutual interests when their paths cross. This is significant in terms of its implications for the Syrian conflict and for the region’s landscape, as both countries have the ability to influence the course of future events throughout the Middle East.

History of Turkish-Iranian Ties

Turkish-Persian history was characterized by centuries of rivalry, which remains the case today as both powers seek to shape the Middle East consistent with their respective visions. The Turkish Republic oriented itself toward the West (and away from the Middle East) throughout the 20th century; Iran was therefore not a central focus of Turkey’s Cold War foreign policy. However, the Iranian revolution of 1979 did create tension, as Turkey’s ruling secular elite viewed Iran’s post-revolutionary regime as a menace. This perception was in part fueled by Ankara’s belief that Tehran sponsored terrorist groups in Turkey with the intention of exporting the Islamic revolution to neighboring countries. In turn, Iran’s post-1979 political order viewed Turkey as a threat to Iran’s post-revolutionary objectives, given its membership in NATO and secular ideology.

Continue Reading →

Turkey’s Competing Impulses On Israel

|
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Photo: Norbert Schiller

Almost one year after Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to patch up relations with Turkey with his phone call apology to Tayyip Erdoğan as Barack Obama stood by looking over his shoulder, Turkey is again talking about normalizing relations with its former ally.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Photo: Norbert Schiller

In the eleven months since the apology, Turkey and Israel have been negotiating over the terms of an agreement, with precisely how much compensation must be paid to the families of those killed aboard the Mavi Marmara the major sticking point. Turkey has seemed in no rush to get a deal done, and at various times has made noise about Israel having to admit fault or to pay more money than Israel is prepared to do. And of course, Erdoğan and others have wasted no opportunity to bash Israel whenever convenient, either directly such as blaming Israel for the Egyptian military coup, or indirectly in referring to “dark forces” and “foreign powers” seeking to bring Turkey down. Formal negotiations may be taking place, but Israel and Turkey haven’t seemed terribly close to actually burying the hatchet.

Last month, however, news leaked that Turkish and Israeli negotiating teams were getting close to a final deal over compensation, and last week Ahmet Davutoğlu publicly confirmed that an agreement to normalize ties was in the works. As usual when it comes to this subject, I have been skeptical that this will actually happen, which is why I have resisted the impulse to write about it. Right on cue, two days after Davutoğlu made his announcement, Erdoğan came out and said that normalization won’t happen until Israel agrees in writing to completely end the blockade of Gaza. Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said yesterday that Israel is ready to sign an agreement but that Erdoğan himself is the stumbling block holding up a deal.

Continue Reading →

Hollande, Obama and Monticello: When Empires Forgive

|
President Barack Obama and President François Hollande of France hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Feb. 11, 2014. Pete Souza/White House

It is true that French President François Hollande had been in a touch of bother back home – at least in the relationships department.

President Barack Obama and President François Hollande of France hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Feb. 11, 2014. Pete Souza/White House

France had been preoccupied with the President’s overactive libido, a petulant figure who was now freed of his First Lady’s presence. French leaders have, in recent years, taken the chance to travel to the New World freed of their spouses or partners – Nicolas Sarkozy did it in 2007 before heading to Washington; and Valérie Trierweiler is conspicuously absent on this visit. That libidinal atmosphere has even rubbed off on one French paparazzo, who claimed that President Barack Obama had also partaken in other affairs of state. On this occasion, the smut searching Pascal Rostain was convinced that Obama and Beyonce Knowles had gotten it on. The Washington Post did not bite, while Le Figaro had a tentative nibble.

The emotional baggage was not, in the state setting, as significant as the statements coming forth from the White House. The official visit has provided a good occasion to reminisce about power – France, faded yet still anxious to pull punches in Africa and the Middle East; the U.S., the gloss removed from its splendour, limping and tilting towards other areas of the globe, notably the Asia Pacific. The continuous theme to this gathering: that mutual trust had been restored between the countries.

Continue Reading →

U.S. Aid to Lebanon, a Delicate Balance

|
Outside Iran’s embassy in Beirut. The site of a car bomb explosion. Source: Mehr News Agency

In light of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and the spate of political bombings in Lebanon, contradictory objectives for US policy in Lebanon are reducing the stability of an already volatile region.

Outside Iran’s embassy in Beirut. The site of a car bomb explosion. Source: Mehr News Agency

Swinging from support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), to concern for Israeli security, to fear of Hezbollah, to worries over the Syrian refugee crisis, US foreign policy has rarely been more schizophrenic. “A comprehensive review of the Lebanese military aid program, along with acknowledgement of the fundamental inability of the LAF to uproot Hezbollah due to sectarian divisions, is necessary to restore consistency to the US-Lebanon relationship,” confirmed former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer in an interview for this article.

The US has in the past been the most influential consistent donor to Lebanon though a number of other nations provide it military aid such as Saudi Arabia, which recently announced an unprecedented $3 billion aid package. Aid to Lebanon is carefully balanced; too little and Hezbollah can reign freely in the southern border area adjacent to Israel, too much and Israel becomes concerned that the LAF itself will pose a threat. If Saudi aid is indeed provided to the LAF, it may tip the balance the US has been trying to maintain.

Continue Reading →