18 August 2013

An insecurity trap of India’s making


We can no longer evade the question why countries inimical to our national interest treat us with impunity
First Published: Wed, Aug 14 2013.  Is it any surprise that personal and not professional characteristics have shaped foreign policy for almost 15 years now? This trend marks goodbye to institutionalized policymaking.  Photo: HT
Is it any surprise that personal and not professional characteristics have shaped foreign policy for almost 15 years now? This trend marks goodbye to institutionalized policymaking. Photo: HT

Have you thought of why India faces unending cross-border acts of aggression while persisting with a process of dialogue and peace building? Is it merely because India has scofflaw neighbours? Or, can at least part of the blame be pinned on India’s pursuit of a foreign policy driven by neither pragmatism nor statecraft?
Take the challenge from Pakistan, a country 1/13th India’s size economically: After suffering each attack since the late 1990s, India has had the same debate, largely centred on the merit of staying put in the process of talks with Islamabad. Few ask the real questions: How many more attacks is India willing to bear? Is there no limit to India’s patience? What has outraged the country over the two recent back-to-back Pakistani acts of aggression—the suicide raid on the Indian consulate in Jalalabad and the ambush-killing of five soldiers along the Line of Control (LoC)—is more the government’s meek response and prevarications than the attacks themselves.
A key plank of Pakistan’s jihad strategy is deniability. Carry out an attack, deny involvement, keep India engaged in talks to serve as a continuing cover, and execute the next attack. This strategy can fool no one. But India’s political class is so corrupt and compromised that it has little time to look beyond self-interest.
Indian leaders are very protective of their own interests. Indeed they have an over-inflated view of themselves. Their hard-headedness in serving personal interests contrasts with their faint-heartedness in shielding national interests. If they had spent just a quarter of their time on their primary duty—protection of national interest—the country wouldn’t be in the mess it is today, with the economy sinking, national security under siege, and pessimism reigning.
The foundation of India’s weak-kneed foreign policy was actually laid between 1999 and 2004 by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who executed more policy U-turns than probably any other prime minister since independence. Vajpayee’s roller coaster policy on Pakistan exacted a major toll on institutionalized policymaking, exposing India’s inadequacy to set and unwaveringly pursue clear goals.
Under Vajpayee—who also surrendered India’s Tibet card in a 2003 Beijing visit—personal rather than professional characteristics defined foreign policy. His shifting Pakistan stance traversed through Lahore, Kargil, Kandahar, Agra, and Parliament, before culminating in Islamabad on his second trip to Pakistan as prime minister. It was Vajpayee’s 2001 Agra invitation that helped Pervez Musharraf to come out of the international doghouse for staging a coup.
In an operation with no parallel in modern history, the Indian military was kept in war-ready position for 10 months, ostensibly to force Pakistan to dismantle its terrorist infrastructure. Yet, without accomplishing any objective, Vajpayee called off the costly, self-debilitating operation, which the then Navy chief later labelled the “most punishing mistake”. Worse still, Vajpayee during his 2004 Islamabad visit hailed as a big gain Pakistan’s commitment on paper to not let its territory to be used for cross-border terrorism—the very assurance Musharraf had given before Operation Parakram began.
Vajpayee’s swinging policy pendulum emboldened his successor, Manmohan Singh—a foreign policy greenhorn—to pursue a blinkered approach that blended naiveté with appeasement, thereby inviting greater acts of aggression against India. Mistaking tactics for strategy, he has treated the process of engagement with Pakistan (and China) as an end in itself, losing sight of the purpose—putting an end to acts of aggression.
Singh’s fixation on quasi-failed Pakistan has paralleled Vajpayee’s quest to make peace with that implacable enemy. The Vajpayee and Singh eras will also be remembered for the corruption in public life, with scandals at times sought to be deflected through peace-building with Pakistan. A famous son-in-law in each of the two eras came to symbolize unbridled corruption.
Is it any surprise that personal and not professional characteristics have shaped foreign policy for almost 15 years now? This trend marks goodbye to institutionalized policymaking.
Singh, of course, has taken appeasement to unmatched levels. In 2006 at Havana, he equated the exporter of terrorism with the victim of its terrorism, setting up the infamous and now-defunct joint anti-terror mechanism. Three years later at Sharm el-Sheikh, Singh included Baluchistan in the agenda—grist for the Pakistani propaganda mill that India was fomenting the insurrection there. This blunder also allowed Pakistan to externalize the Baluch problem by turning its terrorism target, India, into the principal accused.
Even the savagery last January, when Pakistani troops chopped two Indian soldiers and took away one severed head as a trophy, failed to stop Singh from returning to business as usual with Pakistan, in spite of his own promise to the nation that it won’t be business as usual. The result is that Singh’s constant engagement of Pakistan has yielded uninterrupted Pakistani acts of military brutality and terror. In fact, the worst acts of cross-border aggression have occurred during Singh’s stint as Prime Minister.
Instead of dictating terms to Pakistan, India allows it to retain initiative. Each time India is caught by surprise, it does little more than react passively. Whereas Pakistan’s India policy has remained consistent for long, India’s ad hoc Pakistan policy continues to inflict self-injury.
Make no mistake: India has fashioned its own insecurity trap. To break out of it, it must pursue a clearheaded, goal-oriented foreign policy focused on an assertive promotion of national interests. That process can begin only if India stops looking at inter-country relations through rose-coloured glasses and establishes professional policymaking.
Brahma Chellaney is a professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

Indians fear for their future now

Sunday, 18 August 2013 | 

The Finance Minister spent the afternoon of Independence Day watching shuttlecocks rising to the air and come crashing to the ground. I am sure he enjoyed himself, as we all did, witnessing the advent of badminton as a spectator sport. The question is, did he detect the eerie similarities between the game he was watching and the Indian economy whose volatility resembled the journey of the shuttlecock?

The analogy is hardly far-fetched. On the morning of August 15, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh celebrated his tenth speech from the Red Fort by proclaiming his pride in India’s achievements over the past decade. It was a boast that may have got lost amid the contrived indignation over the cheek of a mere Chief Minister to shift the gaze from Mughal grandeur to a humble school in Kutch. But the markets reacted the next day by battering the Indian Rupee to a new low against the Dollar and hammering the stock market index down by nearly 2.5 per cent-both suggesting a crisis of investor confidence in the state of the Indian economy.

Indeed, the joyous occasion of India’s 67th Independence Day was marked by an unending series of grumbles: Grumbles over unaffordable vegetables, grumbles over soaring electricity bills, grumbles over the rising EMI of home loans and grumbles over the fact that job opportunities have shrunk alarmingly. In fact, it is more than grumbling, there is widespread fear and alarm over what the future holds for ordinary Indians. And this is a fear shared by both the proverbial aam aadmi and the corporates. True, the Finance Minister has made a series of announcements over the past few days aimed at controlling the fires that are raging throughout the country. But the only people who appear to have cheered these new regulations are the gold smugglers and the hawala traders who now believe that they are back in business. India, it would seem, is regressing to the bad old days of the 1970s when the only viable alternative to the gloom and doom was a one-way ticket to another country. The alarming extent to which India has squandered its achievements should be a matter of collective shame. Instead, if you turn on the TV or turn the pages of newspapers, you are likely to be confronted with images of smiling people in colourful ethnic dress celebrating the success of Bharat Nirman. You are likely to see a kindly Ashok Gehlot patting a child on the head and watching her scrawl Happy Independence Day on a slate.

 The first thing professional communicators tell you is that the claims of a product must correspond to facets of actual reality. The advertisements tell us of a Golden India whereas the reality is collective despondency. The spin doctors of the Government should seriously ask whether the quantum of money that is being expended on giving the UPA-2 a pre-election boost is actually proving counter-productive? But why worry about responsible spending when it is the money of ordinary people that is involved? In other countries which are faced with a dizzying national debt, the endeavour is to regulate Government spending, cut wastage and improve efficiencies. In pre-election India, the Government has gone on a spending spree without any concern for how the money is being spent and whether the country can afford it. Underlying this profligacy is the belief that an election victory can actually be bought by emptying the treasury. The media can be placated by subsidies in the form of advertisements; the anger of students can be tempered by doling out free computers; and the poor can be placated by waving a piece of legislation that may or may not accord them food security but is calculated to make life impossible for whoever assumes the reins of power in Delhi after the general election.

U.S. Troop Pullout Affects India-Pakistan Rivalry

Mukesh Gupta/Reuters
Indian soldiers stood near the coffins of colleagues during a wreath-laying ceremony in the Poonch district of Kashmir this month.
Published: August 16, 2013  
LONDON — A weary familiarity hangs over the latest clashes between India and Pakistan, whose armies have traded artillery and accusations in recent days, jeopardizing new efforts to normalize relations between the two countries.  
Still, though the escalation and excoriation may fit an old pattern, analysts believe something important has changed this time. The military exchanges have been more serious, and they point to a new brittleness in the rivalry: one that is being exacerbated by the impending American troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, analysts say.

It started in the disputed territory of Kashmir, with the deadliest episode of the past decade.
On Aug. 6, the Indian Army accused Pakistan of orchestrating a cross-border ambush in which five Indian soldiers were killed. Pakistan angrily rejected that claim, then accused India of killing two civilians during a bout of tit-for-tat cross-border shellfire.

Politicians issued heated warnings, the Parliaments in both countries passed condemnatory resolutions, and speculation grew that a meeting between the leaders of the two countries, set to take place at a United Nations summit meeting in New York next month, would be canceled.
The military exchanges continued on Friday. Each side claimed the other had fired first.
In some ways, this is nothing new. The two nuclear-armed countries have fought over the mountainous territory of Kashmir — which both claim in its entirety — since Pakistan was carved from British India in 1947. Border flare-ups have occurred many times before, and once tempers have calmed, diplomats on both sides resume the sputtering effort to normalize relations.

But the latest violence comes after an unrivaled stretch of eased tensions over Kashmir, mostly thanks to a 2003 cease-fire that has suited both sides. Pakistan’s military has been preoccupied with the war in Afghanistan and, more recently, the threat from Taliban insurgents in the northwest. India, meanwhile, learned the limits of armed confrontation after the last major standoff, in 2002, and has concentrated on building its economy.

But hard-liners in both countries remain firmly entrenched. And few doubt that the departure of American combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 will change the strategic calculus of circling hawks.
Some Indians fear that, as the Americans leave Afghanistan, Pakistan’s military will use the moment to draw international attention back onto Kashmir, either by bargaining with the United States or by diverting jihadi fighters to the territory, as it did for much of the 1990s.

Chinese Non-Lethal Weapons On The Indian Border

August 15, 2013:

China and India are fighting a low level border war that is largely defined by Chinese aggressiveness and innovative tactics. This is all about a decades old border dispute between India and China. India accuses Chinese troops of being caught on the Indian side of the LAC (Line of Actual Control) in Kashmir (northwest India) much more frequently this year and blocking Indian troops from using Indian built trails and roads that Indians have patrolled for decades. In the Kashmir area the terrain is largely high plains that are semi-desert. That means all-terrain trucks can travel cross country in many areas, although there are many key chokepoints (that often have a road built through them). There are few roads up there, but there are many more trails, used by herders, travelers (on foot or horseback) and infantry patrols. China has exploited this geography by ordering its foot or mounted (in vehicles or on horses) patrols to go boldly into disputed territory and only back off when a Chinese commander tells them to. India fears that this will lead to a shooting incident because all these troops along the LAC are armed and these incidents infuriate the Indian troops.

When pressed about these crossings of the LAC, China says all these incidents were misunderstandings, but in the GPS age this is not as convincing as it used to be. India is accusing China of violating a March agreement that was supposed to halt the Chinese practice of sending troops to follow each other’s infantry patrols along the LAC and also sending troops into Indian territory. China and India are negotiating a new agreement, but that is going slowly and, in the meantime, Chinese troops along the LAC remain aggressive. Indian officers familiar with Chinese military history recognize what it going on here. The Chinese are playing mind games and seeking a bloodless victory, as Chinese military theorists have long preached, and seeking to win the border war via intimidation and demoralization.

The LAC is also known as the MacCartney-MacDonald Line and is the unofficial border between India and China. The LAC is 4,057 kilometers long and is found in the Indian States of Ladakh, Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal, and Arunachal. On the Chinese side it is mostly Tibet. China claims a lot of territory that is now considered part of India. The practice of monitoring each other’s patrols has led to hundreds of armed confrontations over the last few years as one side or the other accuses “foreign troops” of crossing the LAC. China has become less vocal about its claims on Indian territory recently but has not abandoned these assertions nor its aggressive infantry tactics. The Chinese troops, when confronted by Indian soldiers or border guards, will claim they are really in Chinese territory but back off rather than open fire over the issue.

 This is a big relief to India, which has a defense budget one third that of China’s. India fears that the Chinese troops are becoming bolder and more stubborn and that this could lead to a war India would probably lose.
For the last decade China has been increasing military training in Tibet. The high altitude there can cause problems for non-Tibetan personnel. Altitude sickness afflicts over 90 percent of lowland Chinese but hardly any native born Tibetans. Equipment also has problems, as many mechanical and hydraulic items operate differently at the higher altitudes of Tibet. The pilots and maintenance personnel gain valuable experience each time they spend a week or two in Tibet for training. If the border dispute with nearby India ever got hot, China would have to rapidly fly in additional warplanes and operate them from Tibet. India has, in contrast, neglected preparations to fight another war on the high altitude LAC. That has changed over the last few years, but China still has an edge and will continue to do so for at least another five years.

One of the few Chinese military victories in the last 60 years was against India in 1962. That was a high altitude skirmish in the mountains on the Tibetan border. Last year, for the first time, India officially recognized the 1,383 soldiers killed during that 1962 war. This conflict, over a border dispute high in the Himalayan Mountains, was a victory for China (suffering 2,500 casualties) over India (suffering 8,300 casualties). It was a massive surprise attack by the Chinese that tore through Indian defenses and overran a lot of Indian territory. But after a month, the Chinese declared a ceasefire, withdrew from most of the land they had captured, and a peace was quickly negotiated. India lost 38,000 hectares (95,000 acres) of territory and China continued to claim another 90,000 hectares. The Chinese now had better military positions on the border. China has loudly renewed its claims on Indian territory over the last few years.


Democracy in Egypt Can Wait


Published: August 16, 2013 
WASHINGTON — THE Egyptian military’s bloody crackdown on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood is yet another sign of the dark side of the Arab awakening. Across the Middle East, glimmerings of democracy are being snuffed out by political turmoil and violence.   

That reality requires a sobering course correction in American policy. Rather than viewing the end of autocracy’s monopoly as a ripe moment to spread democracy in the region, Washington should downsize its ambition and work with transitional governments to establish the foundations of responsible, even if not democratic, rule.

Ever since the Egyptian military seized power last month, the United States government, backed by much of the country’s foreign policy elite, has demanded the restoration of democratic rule. President Obama instructed Egypt’s generals “to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government.” The Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina visited Cairo to press the new government to restore democratic rule and have called for cutting off aid if it doesn’t.

But while Washington must unequivocally condemn the violence unleashed by the Egyptian military, clamoring for a rapid return to democracy is misguided.

To be sure, the American creed favors the promotion of democracy, and democracies do have a track record of better behavior than autocracies. But the penchant for rushing transitional states to the ballot box often does more harm than good, producing dysfunctional and illiberal regimes. Egypt’s recently deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, may have been fairly elected, but he presided over the near collapse of the Egyptian state and ran roughshod over his political opponents.

Rather than cajoling Cairo to hold elections and threatening to suspend aid if it does not, Washington should press the current leadership to adhere to clear standards of responsible governance, including ending the violence and political repression, restoring the basic functions of the state, facilitating economic recovery, countering militant extremists and keeping the peace with Israel. At this fragile moment in Egypt’s political awakening, the performance of its government will be a more important determinant of its legitimacy and durability than whether it won an election.
More generally, Washington should back off from its zealous promotion of democracy in Egypt and the broader Middle East for three main reasons.

The Realist Prism: Russia Sends Trial Balloons on Iran Sanctions Regime

By Nikolas Gvosdev

 on 16 Aug 2013,  

Russia has been sending some confusing signals on Iran in recent weeks. Rumors began to circulate that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be heading to Tehran to meet with newly inaugurated President Hasan Rouhani—with some even predicting that Putin would "drop in" on Iran this week after completing his visit to Azerbaijan to confer with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. Stories were also released that Russia was reconsidering its unilaterally imposed boycott on selling advanced S-300 air defense systems to Tehran, or at least replacing them with another variant, the Antei-2500 system, as a way to get Iran to drop its legal action at the International Court of Arbitration in Geneva that charges Moscow with breach of contract over the S-300s.

So, was there a method to the madness of these leaks? They appeared to be test balloons—reminders that the unprecedented international sanctions that have exacted a toll on the Iranian economy over the past few years are fragile and that Russia could be prepared to reverse course on Iran. At a time when U.S. policymakers are worried that Iran is close to mastering the technologies needed to fabricate an atomic weapon, it would be a real setback for the Obama administration for Moscow to defect from the U.S.-led sanctions process. And supplying Tehran with sophisticated weapons systems would make a U.S. or Israeli air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities much more difficult to carry out. Perhaps the intent was to show a U.S. foreign policy establishment increasingly skeptical of the value of U.S.-Russia relations—and increasingly critical of Putin’s domestic policies—what some of the costs of a rupture might be.

Of course, Putin made no such surprise visit to Tehran or even to any of Iran's Caspian port cities, and Rosoboronexport—the Russian firm that handles arms exports—is as of this writing denying that there are any plans to reactivate the S-300 contract. However, Putin is set to meet Rouhani next month on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. An interesting question to pose is whether Rouhani would journey to Central Asia in an effort to break Iran out of its current isolation—and what he might do in the meantime to change the current dynamic.

Upon taking office in early August, Rouhani announced his intent to engage in "serious and substantive" talks with the international community about Iran's nuclear program. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared, "We absolutely agree with what he said" in terms of the importance of restarting talks, and Russia has since called for the P5+1 talks to resume in mid-September.

What would happen if the Islamic Republic, over the next several weeks, were to qualify those statements with a series of concrete actions, such as temporarily halting enrichment activities and offering an unprecedented degree of transparency and access to Iran's nuclear facilities to international observers? Doing so might bolster Rouhani's claims that Iran is merely seeking to exercise its rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to a "peaceful" atomic program as well as his calls for a temporary relaxation of international sanctions. If sanctions relief were granted, it would strengthen his position at home by validating his more conciliatory approach vis-a-vis the hard-line skeptics within the leadership who see no value to diplomacy.

Would Russia, in turn, be prepared to champion Rouhani's diplomatic engagement? It would certainly change the narrative for the forthcoming G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, which right now is focused on Putin's canceled bilateral meeting with President Barack Obama, and divert attention from Russia's domestic policies, particularly its recent legislation banning pro-gay "propaganda." Instead, Putin could present this opening to his fellow world leaders as an opportunity for a decisive diplomatic breakthrough.

Hezbollah Under Fire

Could the Bombing in Beirut Spell the End of the Shia Group?

August 16, 2013 
A Supporter of Hezbollah gestures as he stands at the site of a car bomb in Beirut's southern suburbs, August 15, 2013.

A Supporter of Hezbollah gestures as he stands at the site of a car bomb in Beirut's southern suburbs, August 15, 2013. (Hasan Shaaban / Courtesy Reuters)

With the bloodbath in Egypt, ongoing carnage in Syria, and gruesome bombings in Iraq, another explosion in the Middle East might hardly seem like news. But the importance of the blast that rocked Beirut’s southern Shia-dominated suburbs on August 15, killing around 20 people and wounding hundreds more, should not be diminished. It could spell the beginning of the end for Hezbollah, the dominant political-military actor in Lebanon and one of the United States’ most powerful nemeses in the region.

Reports of Hezbollah’s death have abounded in the past eight years. In 2008, only two years after a devastating war with Israel, Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s most senior military commander, was killed in a car bombing in Damascus. Analysts claimed that Hezbollah had lost its military and strategic edge. They also claimed that Israeli intelligence services had infiltrated the organization and that it was only a matter of time before spies within sewed chaos. In fact, Hezbollah was doing just fine. Despite Mughniyeh’s unique skill-set and accomplishments, he was only one part (albeit an important one) of a much larger institution. The group has an organizational structure that would be envied by the most sophisticated corporations, and it was fully capable of replacing Mughniyeh. In fact, it did so less than a week after his funeral.

In July 2011, when an international tribunal investigating the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri formally accused four Hezbollah members of the crime, commentators again rushed to say that the Shia group was doomed, since it had lost legitimacy in the eyes of most non-Shia Lebanese. Yet Hezbollah weathered the storm with a mix of political strategy, violence, and defiance. The group hardly loses any sleep over its deteriorating popularity among non-Shia. As long as it has the guns and the support of its social base, it is business as usual for Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s prospects truly started looking grim about a year ago, months into the conflict between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah’s staunch ally, and the Sunni rebels attempting to depose him. The Assad regime seemed on the verge of collapse. About to lose its ally (and the arms and intelligence he passed along), the thinking went, Hezbollah would become politically isolated at home. Those assertions had the ring of truth, but it was never clear that isolation would lead to the group’s demise and, in any event, Assad survived. Even if he is toppled down the road, there is a high probability that Hezbollah and Iran have plan Bs. For example, Iran already seems to be reaching out to Sudan, which, although not a perfect alternative to Syria, has a friendly government with viable Shia connections in Iraq.

Since Hezbollah has survived war, the death of Mughniyeh, the international tribunal’s powerful verdict, its loss of popular legitimacy, and the near loss of its strategic alliance with Syria, it might seem like there isn’t much that could touch it.

But there is: the deterioration of its relationship with its Shia supporters. Throughout Hezbollah’s 31 years of existence, the organization has made cultivating good relations with Lebanese Shia a top priority, knowing full well that such ties would serve as its first and last lines of defense. It is the one source of support that the organization simply cannot live without or replace.

For the first time in Hezbollah’s history, this special bond is in danger. By entering the fray in Syria earlier this year or last to come to Assad’s aid, Hezbollah has flirted with open conflict with the region’s Sunnis -- both moderate and extremist. Regional demographics have always worked against the Shia -- and they know it. Even the staunchest Lebanese Shia supporters of Hezbollah would prefer peace with their fellow Sunni Lebanese and the region to agitation.

Egypt’s identity crisis

By Shibley Telhami,

Shibley Telhami is the Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. He is the author of “The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East.”

From millions in Cairo’s Tahrir Square two years ago, revolting against Hosni Mubarak’s repressive rule and chanting “Silmiyya, silmiyya” (peaceful, peaceful), to a bloody Wednesday, with hundreds dead and many more wounded as security forces stormed sit-ins by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. From a mostly peaceful transition to a violent crackdown. From calls for democracy to a state of emergency.
How did Egypt turn so dark?    

Much of Egypt’s crisis comes down to a battle over identity. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood overestimated the extent to which Egyptians identify with Islam. And now, with their violent repression of the Brotherhood, the generals who ousted Morsi risk underestimating it.
Over the past decade, I’ve conducted opinion polls in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and have found two consistent trends. First, citizens identify less and less with their countries and identify more and more with Islam and as Arabs. Second, Egyptians see themselves as the most religious people in the world.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which began the post-Mubarak era with justified confidence in its superior political organization, surely must have interpreted such trends as great support for its cause. (This belief was expressed by the group’s former murshed, or guide, as early as 2006 when he said, “Tuz fi Misr,” roughly, “To hell with Egypt.”) But the group drew the wrong lessons from these trends.
Arabs, like most people, have many contending collective identities, and the weight of each shifts over time; there is rarely a lasting equilibrium. Over the past decade, the rise in people identifying primarily as Muslim was not all or even mostly due to expanding Islamist aspirations. Instead, it resulted mainly from declining identification with the state, thanks to government failings on domestic and foreign policy. Also, the extraordinarily long tenures of individual leaders — Moammar Gaddafi ruled for 42 years and Mubarak for 30 — made it difficult for people to separate state from unpopular ruler. But a vote against something is not the same as a vote in favor of something else.

Moreover, when Islam itself appears under assault from external forces — as Muslims overwhelmingly perceived it to be in the decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — it becomes especially difficult to separate religious identity from popular defiance. You are what you have to defend. For some Egyptians, claiming Islamic identity is about faith, but for many others it is merely about asserting the right to be Muslim and to accept sharia law in the face of Western assault. Muslims do not want to apologize for who they are, for their faith and for all it entails.

Even attitudes about sharia are easily misunderstood. In my May 2012 poll, two-thirds of respondents said they supported making sharia the basis of Egyptian law. But when I probed more deeply, things became less clear: Of those who supported sharia as the basis of law, only 17 percent said they preferred applying it literally, while 83 percent said they favored applying the spirit of sharia but adapted to modern times. Little surprise that Egyptian commentator Muhammad Hassanein Heikal describes Egypt as a “civil-secular country that loves religion.”

A bad day for four leading Arab cities

August 17, 2013

By Rami G. Khouri

The Daily Star

Thursday of this week was a bad day in modern Arab history. The four leading Arab cities of recent eras – Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Cairo – were simultaneously engulfed in bombings or urban warfare, mostly carried out with brutal savagery and cruelty against civilians in urban settings. Even more problematic is that the carnage was predominantly the work of Arabs, not foreign invaders. Our four greatest modern Arab cities are now routinely depicted around the world with scenes of bomb craters, flames and rows of dead bodies. Other Arab lands, such as Libya, Yemen, Palestine, Tunisia, Bahrain, Algeria and Sudan, are only slightly less chaotic. This is a dramatic and telling moment, but a moment that tells us what, exactly? Have we collectively failed the test of statehood? Modernity? Civility? Democracy? Independence? Sovereignty? Secularism?

It is important at this moment of reckoning to avoid the temptation that engulfs so many analysts and writers around the world, which is to make definitive and cosmic historical judgments about the meaning of this moment, like The End of History, the End of Islamism, the End of Arab Liberalism, or the End of the Arab Spring.

So my humble suggestion is that when you run into a phrase or headline describing the current Arab situation that starts with “the end of ... ,” you should not bother to finish reading it, because it will probably tell you more about the psychology of the writer than about any significant trends within the Arab region. We have had few real endings in this region in the past 6,000 years of urban life, but only perpetual transformations and reconfigurations of how identity, power and governance mesh together and evolve slowly year after year.

For those who do like neat historical markers, though, Thursday could easily be seen as a symbolic moment that marked a serious pause, a slight shift and a momentary regression in the uprisings and transformations that began in December 2010 in Tunisia, but really had started a generation earlier. The old autocratic Arab order that had prevailed since the mid-20th century started to fray at the edges and atrophy in its center in the 1970s, as ruling elites turned into security regimes, and nationalist and developmental states turned into showcases of consumerism and corruption.

The overthrow or challenge of former regimes have not led to smooth transitions to democratic and pluralistic societies governed by the rule of law in any Arab country – yet. The moment of hope for a series of simultaneous Arab democratic transformations remains unfulfilled, due to different conditions in each country. This transitional phase will give way in due course to renewed efforts to build stable constitutional democracies that will reflect local values; but this will only happen after we get through this nation-building rite of passage.

Russians Are Seeping In, America Is Pivoting Out and Germany Is Moving Up

August 17, 2013

By Jakub Grygiel

The objective of much of US foreign policy toward Europe of the past century was, to use Lord Ismay's phrase, to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down. The pithy saying sounds blunt and undiplomatic, but it is still true. It is in the interest of the US to maintain an equilibrium in Europe where no power can reign supreme, to contain Russian imperialist nostalgia, and to maintain a deep level of engagement in the region - all in order to avoid another D-Day, a forceful and costly reengagement in European politics. Liberal and post-modern rhetoric about "global architecture of partners" or about the end of the 19th century balance of power notwithstanding, the nutshell of US grand strategy toward Europe continues to be this.

While NATO was and is the military component of the strategy to achieve these goals, European integration was its political and economic element. The latter is still doing fine, and continued interest by all parties in the maintenance of military interoperability and of security assurances makes NATO an indispensable tool. It certainly has its own problems, especially those stemming from the inability and unwillingness of most of its European members to maintain an adequate level of defense expenditures. But it has a clear mission accepted by all members, responding to a continued need for security. It also makes the US a European power, maintaining a firm American foothold across the Atlantic.

But the other component of US strategy - one of open encouragement for the EU - no longer matches the goal. Washington continues to push in favor of greater EU centralization even though this no longer supports our goal of a harmonious and powerful Europe. By supporting EU's drive to an "ever closer union" at all costs, Washington mistakes the tactical process for the strategic objective. The goal is a balanced, stable and prosperous Europe; the means has been, in part, European integration. But it is becoming clear that the former is not being achieved by the latter.

A readjustment of the policy is particularly important given that the reality on the ground seems to indicate that the Russians are seeping in, the Americans are pivoting out, and the Germans are moving up.
The Russians have been buying their way back into Europe over the past years. It is to a degree a mirror image of the end of the Cold War, when the US approach was, in Robert Gates's words, to "bribe the Soviets out" using the wealth of the West. Now, the Russians are bribing themselves in, using the deep pockets of their natural resources. It is a combination of buying political access by hiring influential political names as lobbyists, of exercising a heavy hand in the energy markets, and of lining up strategic allies as EU candidates (Serbia and Montenegro).

The Americans are pivoting out, moving military resources and political attention to the Asian theater. The Atlantic is losing strategic relevance to the Pacific and the US Navy is sailing to Asia while the remnants of American armored forces have been removed this year from Europe. Moreover, Washington has little, if any, influence over internal EU dynamics, becoming a mere spectator at a time of an economic crisis and collapse of political legitimacy.

Obama's Shredded Foreign-Policy Playbook

 James Jay Carafano

August 17, 2013
Our president has lost his playbook.
Mr. Obama came into office with a foreign-policy vision more clear and focused than most expected. It quickly became apparent that, on the international stage, he would be his own man. But now he is a different man.
The problem is that every pillar upon which the Obama Doctrine rested seems unable to bear any weight. No longer confident in his approach, the leader of the free world has become intensely risk-averse in his second term. Meanwhile, his foreign-policy and national-security teams are left floundering.

Our President's World
Apparently, the Nobel Peace Prize committee was on to something when it bestowed an award on Obama even before he had finished decorating the Oval Office. They anticipated he would try to put his mark on the world in a positive way, and they were right.
When it came time to decide the scope of the surge in Afghanistan, Obama made clear that he was the one in charge. It was no one-off moment. It soon became clear that all the big decisions—from resetting with Russia to getting bin Laden—were being made in the White House. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton never had to sweat the big stuff. Her term of office wasn't quite as bad as those secretaries relegated to attending funerals and coronations, but she mostly made due with busy work—like an internet-freedom initiative.
Obama was not only in charge; he had a playbook—an underlying doctrine that guided his approach to foreign affairs everywhere.

Obama's Doctrine
Obama’s foreign-policy doctrine rested on three tenets.
Demonstrate a willingness to engage directly with those countries that disagreed with America. If the United States eschewed the more muscular and aggressive foreign policy practiced by the Bush administration, Obama was convinced he could focus on addressing legitimate differences and finding common ground for consensus solutions.
Play a more restrained role in the world, substituting "smart" power like diplomacy and economic aid for the "hard" power of military force. This practice, he believed, would both reduce global tensions and free up resources for "a little nation building right here at home."
Manage more issues through international organizations and agreements. Working through forums like the United Nations, he would join in treaties and conventions to help establish legitimate “rules of the road” for the conduct of international affairs. These structures would, in turn, help mobilize efforts to deal with global challenges from global warming to freedom of the seas.
No one could accuse the Oval Office of not following this playbook. Throughout the first term, Obama seemed willing to chew the fat with the head of any adversarial state. Overtures were made, repeatedly, to Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Russia and China. The administration even mused about holding talks with the Taliban.

America’s Great Asian Dawdle

Brahma Chellaney, The Economic Times, Aug 15, 2013
The more power China has accumulated and the more assertive it has become, the more reluctant the US appears to be to take sides in Asian territorial disputes, although they are between its strategic allies or partners and a combative China that is seeking to change the territorial status quo by force.  This has only helped to deepen the security dilemma of several of China’s neighbours.
America has a major stake in maintaining beneficial relationships both with China and with its neighbours, some of which, like Japan, are under the US security umbrella. However, China — as a permanent UN Security Council member, an emerging great power, and the biggest buyer of US Treasuries — matters more to US interest now than possibly any other Asian country. America’s economic interests are so closely intertwined with China’s that they virtually preclude a policy that seeks to isolate or confront Beijing.
The US has made it amply clear that despite its “pivot” towards Asia, it will be neither willing to put Americans at risk to defend its allies’ territorial claims against China nor act in ways that could damage its close political and economic engagement with Beijing. After all, the “pivot” is intended not to contain China but to assert US’s primacy in the Asian theatre and undergird the permanence of America’s role as Asia’s balancing power — an objective that has led Washington to tread a course of tacit neutrality on territorial disputes between China and its neighbours. The US has been willing to speak up only when Chinese actions threaten to impinge on its interests, such as ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
For example, even as China calculatedly has sought to badger India on multiple fronts, President Barack Obama’s administration — far from coming to India’s support — has shied away from even cautioning Beijing against any attempt to forcibly change the territorial status quo. Indeed, on a host of issues, including Arunachal Pradesh, Washington has chosen not to antagonize Beijing by staying neutral. That, in effect, has left India on its own.
Similarly, Washington has become increasingly reluctant to get drawn into Sino-Japanese territorial disputes.  To help undergird its longstanding role in Asia, the US has an important stake in maintaining forward military deployments in Japan, especially in Okinawa. Yet Tokyo has legitimate reasons to worry that the US might hesitate to militarily defend Japan if it were attacked by China over the Senkaku Islands’ dispute. If anything, the US seems concerned that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may view US treaty guarantees as a shield for Japan to confront an increasingly combative China in the East China Sea.
Hillary Clinton’s declaration as secretary of state that the US-Japan Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands does not mean that if China employs military force in the dispute, the US would take all necessary actions, including the use of its military capability, to repulse the Chinese action. After the staggering cost in blood and treasure exacted by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the US has no desire to get involved in another war, especially one where its interests are not directly at stake. Tellingly, the US has taken no position on the Senkaku sovereignty issue: It has advised Tokyo and Beijing to sort out their dispute peacefully, just as it wants India and China to resolve their Himalayan territorial feuds diplomatically.
Even when China has forcibly changed the status quo in the South China Sea — by taking effective control since last year of the Scarborough Shoal, shutting out Filipinos from their traditional fishing preserve — Washington has done little more than counsel restraint and talks. The lesson the Philippines has learned is that might remains right in international relations. The paradox is thatChina’s increasing assertiveness with its neighbours has helped the US to return to Asia’s centre-stage, yet Washington is chary of taking sides in the Asian territorial disputes. It is because of the fears kindled by a combative China that the US has been able to reinforce its existing military relationships and find new strategic partners, including roping in states like Vietnam, India and Indonesia.
America’s tightrope walk, however, has seemingly encouraged China to up the ante against Japan, India, Vietnam and the PhilippinesIn this light, China’s more aggressive stance poses difficult challenges for America’s allies and partners, underscoring the limits of a security relationship with Washington. The logical response to their security predicament is for these countries to bolster defences, build partnerships with each other, and deepen their engagement with Washington but without expecting the US to come to their aid in a military contingency.
The value of their security relationships with Washington, in any case, is being undercut by China’sclever strategy of making furtive, incremental encroachments into their borderlands. China is subverting the status quo in the South and East China Seas, its border with India, and even the flows of international rivers — all without firing a single shot. In this scenario of stealth war, designed to slowly change facts on the ground and create a fait accompli, the relevance of US security assurances to China’s neighbours risks becoming largely symbolic.
The writer is a geostrategist.

The War over War with China

August 15, 2013
In his article, “Sorry, AirSea Battle is no Strategy,” T.X. Hammes offers a detailed counterargument to my initial article defending the Pentagon’s AirSea Battle (ASB) and related endeavors, “Don’t Sweat AirSea Battle.” While Colonel Hammes and I differ on many points, we are in full agreement that the issues surrounding ASB deserve a full-throated debate. The American people should know and, to the extent possible, influence the shaping of perhaps the most important U.S. military-doctrinal development of recent decades, one with the most serious potential implications.

In his article, Hammes offers a spirited defense of his Offshore Control strategy. I tried to address many of his arguments for it in my initial article and so will not rehash the points here. I urge interested readers to review my arguments there and make their own judgments. I will focus here on issues Hammes raised in his rebuttal that appear to me to be new or especially requiring attention.

Hammes’ primary point in his rebuttal piece (captured in its title) is that neither ASB itself nor my article provides a strategy that ASB “is designed to support.” He argues that such a strategy “must deter China, reassure our allies, guide U.S. investment, and, if conflict comes, resolve it on terms favorable to the United States.” I agree with his requirements for an effective strategy vis a vis China; I just think his strategy fails his first, second, and fourth criteria, while I think an ASB-style approach fits into one that meets them.

I will pass over the extensive literature about just what a strategy is and how it should be formulated to say simply that, while ASB itself certainly does not constitute a strategy (and no Pentagon official I know of has ever claimed it does), it is a logical deduction from the well-established U.S. defense policy towards East Asia and the Western Pacific, a policy that in its central aspects dates back to 1945: namely, that the United States will protect its interests and its territories as well as those of its allies in the region by being the militarily dominant power in the Western Pacific, especially in its waters and its skies (and in space and now cyberspace). The logic of this posture is rooted in something like the “hegemonic stability” theory described by Robert Gilpin and others—that we are more likely to get peace, stability and economic growth if one basically benevolent power dominates a region and ensures these goods are established and preserved. In practical terms, through our strategy we have sought to protect our interests by turning our own admonition to ourselves not to get involved in a land war in Asia around into a warning to potential adversaries not to get involved in an air or sea war with the Americans in the Pacific. And we have pretty much succeeded. Indeed, the rise of the Asian Tigers—and ultimately of Asia as a whole—owes much to this U.S defense posture. (For those interested, I make a fuller argument for a reinvigoration of this approach in this op-ed, which I linked to in the original piece.)

A Cheaper, Stronger Army

Recently, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel held a somber press conference at the Pentagon in which he discussed the results of the Strategic Choices Management Review he ordered several months prior. In light of shrinking budgets, he said the so-called SCMR offered two choices: bad and worse. The ‘bad’ was reduced capacity; the ‘worse,’ reduced capability. In the former the Army would fall from its 2010 high of 570,000 to as low as 380,000 and in the latter the U.S. military “could find its equipment and weapons systems…less effective against more technologically advanced adversaries.” Fortunately, even in this era of constrained budgets, these two dire options are not the only ones available: there is a way to reform and reorganize the U.S. military within the constraints of smaller budgets that not only doesn’t put national security at risk, but actually increases combat power, especially that of the army.
It seems counterintuitive to suggest that the U.S. could produce a smaller force while increasing its fighting strength. Yet for the reasons outlined in this article that is precisely what we argue. In order to facilitate the most effective and efficient Department of Defense, we contend it is beneficial to first revise the National Military Strategy. This revision will more effectively support the president’s overall National Security Strategy. Reorienting the DoD into a set of forces that are actually joint in execution will strengthen the American military and thus enhance overall national security.
In support of the president’s four strategic objectives, we recommend a complimentary four-point military strategy:
· defend the American homeland, vital national interests, and friendly nations;
· maintain open access to the global lines of communication in the domains of air, land, sea, space and cyber;
· prevent any state, or combinations of states (or nonstate actors) from dominating by force of arms the European-Asian land mass or allied nations;
· support peaceful relations between nations and foster greater understanding among international militaries.
In combination with the standing powers given the executive and legislative branches of our government in the Constitution, this strategy provides great flexibility in ensuring the defense and security of the United States. There is a notable characteristic of this strategy, however, that distinguishes it from the current version: it does not advocate using military power to compel other peoples, races or religions to conform to Western views and governing structures.
To better advance American prosperity in the future, we must jettison the flawed notion that our nation’s security interests can be achieved by carrying out lengthy military occupations of foreign lands and attempting to transform their cultures into something palatable to Western tastes.
We contend the United States should respond with emphatic, even vicious military action when conditions warrant. But for the benefit of our nation and in pursuit of a more peaceful international order, we believe it is time to rebalance the application of military force to more closely align with American values and demonstrate appropriate strategic restraint. That means having a strategy that accepts war as a last resort and not a policy option of first choice. Such a reorientation is not a retreat from world affairs, but rather a return to the values and strengths that made us a great nation.
Towards True Joint Operations
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey is trying to use the influence of his office in constructive ways. On June 20 the Chairman wrote in Foreign Affairs that “we should leverage the services’ distinctive cultures and competencies to make the joint force even more networked and interoperable. This will be the best way to prepare for the full range of missions that the armed forces must perform today and will likely have to perform in the future.” We heartily agree with the Chairman.
But we must soberly recognize that the Joint Staff has existed in its current form for over sixty years. If in the second decade of the twenty-first century the U.S. military is still insufficiently joint in the execution of operations, the time has arrived to reform and reorganize the Department of Defense toward joint operations in both word and deed.
Each service needs its own unique doctrine to be sure, but must be expressly organized, trained, and equipped to conduct joint-force operations; the United States can no longer afford services that operate independently of each other and all too frequently compete against each other. A refined military strategy, accompanied by a reformation of the Department of Defense will help produce a true and effective set of forces that execute joint operations.