14 September 2013

Syria, America and Putin's Bluff

By George Friedman
SEPTEMBER 10, 2013 

Stratfor
In recent weeks I've written about U.S. President Barack Obama's bluff on Syria and the tightrope he is now walking on military intervention. There is another bluff going on that has to be understood, this one from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin is bluffing that Russia has emerged as a major world power. In reality, Russia is merely a regional power, but mainly because its periphery is in shambles. He has tried to project a strength that he doesn't have, and he has done it well. For him, Syria poses a problem because the United States is about to call his bluff, and he is not holding strong cards. To understand his game we need to start with the recent G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Putin and Obama held a 20-minute meeting there that appeared to be cold and inconclusive. The United States seems to be committed to some undefined military action in Syria, and the Russians are vehemently opposed. The tensions showcased at the G-20 between Washington and Moscow rekindled memories of the Cold War, a time when Russia was a global power. And that is precisely the mood Putin wanted to create. That's where Putin's bluff begins.
A Humbled Global Power

The United States and Russia have had tense relations for quite a while. Early in the Obama administration, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed up in Moscow carrying a box with a red button, calling it the reset button. She said that it was meant to symbolize the desire for restarting U.S.-Russian relations. The gesture had little impact, and relations have deteriorated since then. With China focused on its domestic issues and with Europe in disarray, the United States and Russia are the two major -- if not comparable -- global players, and the deterioration in relations can be significant. We need to understand what is going on here before we think about Syria.

Twenty years ago, the United States had little interest in relations with Russia, and certainly not with resetting them. The Soviet Union had collapsed, the Russian Federation was in ruins and it was not taken seriously by the United States -- or anywhere else for that matter. The Russians recall this period with bitterness. In their view, under the guise of teaching the Russians how to create a constitutional democracy and fostering human rights, the United States and Europe had engaged in exploitative business practices and supported non-governmental organizations that wanted to destabilize Russia.

The breaking point came during the Kosovo crisis. Slobodan Milosevic, leader of what was left of Yugoslavia, was a Russian ally. Russia had a historic relationship with Serbia, and it did not want to see Serbia dismembered, with Kosovo made independent.

There were three reasons for this. First, the Russians denied that there was a massacre of Albanians in Kosovo. There had been a massacre by Serbians in Bosnia; the evidence of a massacre in Kosovo was not clear and is still far from clear. Second, the Russians did not want European borders to change. There had been a general agreement that forced changes in borders should not happen in Europe, given its history, and the Russians were concerned that restive parts of the Russian Federation, from Chechnya to Karelia to Pacific Russia, might use the forced separation of Serbia and Kosovo as a precedent for dismembering Russia. In fact, they suspected that was the point of Kosovo. Third, and most important, they felt that an attack without U.N. approval and without Russian support should not be undertaken both under international law and out of respect for Russia.

How Syria Is Like Iraq

September 12, 2013

I supported the war in Iraq. It was an agonizing mistake. I made the mistake because I did something a serious foreign policy thinker should never do: I allowed my emotions to affect my thinking. My emotions were stirred by several visits to Iraq I had made as a reporter in the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq with the machinal, totalitarian intensity employed by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union and Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania. Iraq under Saddam was like a vast prison yard lit by high wattage lamps, in which everyone was watched all the time, and everyone lived in absolute fear. I had my American passport taken away from me by Saddam's secret police for ten days in 1986 while I was reporting on the Kurds in the north of the country. I had tasted the fear with which Iraqis themselves lived.

I thus assumed for years thereafter that nothing could be worse than Saddam's rule. Following 9/11, I did not want to forcibly spread democracy in the Arab world like others did; nor did I want to topple dictators per se. I wanted only one dictator gone -- Saddam -- because he was so much worse than a mere dictator. He was a tyrant straight out of Mesopotamian antiquity.

I was wrong.

I was wrong because of the following reasons:

- I did not adequately consider that even in the case of Iraq, things could be worse. Though, in 1994, I had written extensively and in depth about the dangers of anarchy in the Third World, I did not fully consider how dangerously close to anarchy Iraq actually was, and that Saddam was the Hobbesian nemesis keeping it at bay. Saddam was cruel beyond imagining because the ethnic and sectarian differences in Iraqi society were themselves cruel and bloodthirsty beyond imagining.

- I was insufficiently cold-blooded in my thinking. I did not fully consider whether it was in the American interest to remove this tyrant. After all, President Ronald Reagan had found Saddam useful in trying to contain neighboring Iran. Perhaps Saddam might still be useful in containing al Qaeda? That is how I should have been thinking.

Robert Kaplan Syria
Iraq

- I was thinking only two steps ahead, not the five or six steps ahead required of serious analysis when the question concerns going to war. I wanted to remove Saddam (step one) and replace him with another general (step two). As I said, I had serious misgivings, in print, back then about democracy in the Arab world. But I should have been thinking even more about the consequences of such a newly empowered general not gaining control of the Kurds in the north, or of the Shia in the south. I should have been thinking more of how Iran would intervene on the ground with its intelligence services. I should have been thinking more about how once Saddam were toppled, simply replacing him might be a very complex affair. I should have been overwhelmed by the complexities of a post-Saddam Iraq. I wasn't sufficiently.

Analytic Guidance: The Syria Crisis

SEPTEMBER 12, 2013 

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama on Sept. 5 ahead of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. (ALEXEY KUDENKO/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images)

Analysis

Editor's note: Periodically, Stratfor publishes guidance produced for its analysis team and shares it with readers. This guidance sets the parameters used in our own ongoing examination and assessment of events surrounding Syria's use of chemical weapons as the crisis evolves into a confrontation between the United States and Russia. Given the importance we ascribe to this fast-evolving standoff, we believe it important that readers have access to this additional insight.

In the wake of President Barack Obama's change of tack from a strike on Syria, the threat of war has not dissolved. It has, however, been pushed off beyond this round of negotiations. 

The president's minimalist claims are in place, but they are under serious debate. There is no chance of an attack on chemical weapons stockpiles. Therefore, the attack, if any, will be on command and control and political targets. Obama has options on the table and there will be force in place for any contingency he selects. Nothing is locked in despite public statements and rhetoric in Washington, London, Paris or Moscow.

Remember that all public statements now are meant to obscure real plans and intentions. They are intended to shape the environment. Read them, but do not look at them as anything more than tactics.

The issue has morphed into a U.S.-Russian confrontation. Russia's goal is to be seen as an equal of the United States. It wins if it can be seen as a protagonist of the United States. If it can appear that Washington has refrained from an attack because of Russian maneuvers, Moscow's weight increases dramatically. This is particularly the case along Russia's periphery, where doubts of American power abound and concern over Russian power abides.

This is not merely appearance. After all that has been said, if the United States buys into some Russian framework, it will not be seen as a triumph of diplomacy; it will be seen as the United States lacking the will to act and being pushed away out of concern for the Russians.

The Russian ploy on weapons controls was followed by the brilliant move of abandoning strike options. Obama's speech the night of Sept. 10 was addressed to the U.S. public and Obama's highly fractured base; some of his support base opposes and some -- a particular audience -- demands action.

Clinging to a discredited dogma

By David Pais

The new RBI governor should be wary of replicating the Anglophone model which has spread so much devastation across the world

Raghuram Rajan’s opening statement on taking office as governor of Reserve Bank of India left no room for doubt. He intends to open up the capital account and replicate the United States financial system in India with all its bells and whistles. Given recent global economic and financial history, this is a shockingly disastrous set of objectives to be setting. That Mr. Rajan would do so even as the Indian economy is being buffeted by the vagaries of the global financial system is noteworthy. It suggests that as governor, he will not so much be setting out policy but dogma. By clinging to the thoroughly discredited dogma that “arm’s length” financial markets always know best, Mr. Rajan risks putting the RBI on the wrong side of economic history.
‘Casino banking’

To be clear, this is not an argument against markets, nor is it an argument against finance. We need finance to provide as much credit as possible to every productive nook and cranny of the Indian economy in much the same way as banks in America financed a massive increase in output after World War II and as the German banking system continues to fund its mittelstand of small and medium enterprises. What we don’t need, however, is the ‘casino banking’ which was developed first in the Anglophone countries in the early 1980s and has since spread around the world causing so much devastation in its wake and which Mr. Rajan seems hell-bent on replicating in India.

Reading our English-language press over the last few weeks, one could easily be forgiven for thinking that the last 15 years of global financial and economic history simply didn’t happen. Latin America’s assorted tequila crises apparently didn’t happen, nor did the East Asian crisis in 1997-98 which soon pulled in Russia, Brazil and Turkey, nor did Argentina in 2001. All these of course were labelled as crises of ‘crony capitalism’ as the ‘natives in their grass skirts’ didn’t know how to run a financial system. But then Lehman Bros. went bankrupt and we soon saw that the U.S. and other ‘advanced’ economy emperors whom we previously believed to be fully clothed in their pinstripe suits were actually stark naked and didn’t know how to run a financial system either.

There is simply no getting away from the fact that the Anglophone model of running a financial system is broken. As former Fed chairman Greenspan admitted in a rare moment of unguarded honesty, “the entire intellectual edifice has collapsed.” The Anglophone model is based on increased debt creation and financial intensification both of which are facilitated by ‘light touch’ regulation. Before too long the financial industry starts to run amok. It soon runs out of productive outlets for its debt and ends up creating a real estate bubble instead. Inevitably, the bubble bursts, the banking system becomes insolvent and the taxpayer is left to pick up the pieces in a shattered economy. We’ve seen this happen time and again from Japan in 1989 (from which it has still not managed to extricate itself) to all the crises mentioned above and many more which haven’t.

It’s the same movie with the same ending.

THE FORGOTTEN JAWAN





The army counts for little on the electoral battlefield

Brijesh D Jayal

On the eve of yet another general election, it is but natural for observers to crystal-gaze into what the future portends by looking towards those strategizing in political war-rooms towards formulating party battle-lines. Post-elections, both in 2004 and 2009, one had reflected in these columns on the hopes and expectations that the winners of those elections had aroused in the minds of those of our uniformed sons and daughters who, through thick and thin, continue to put their lives on line to keep our nation-state secure. With the benefit of hindsight, one rues the optimism then reflected. Far from expectations being addressed, even promises remain unfulfilled. The inevitable conclusion is that national security, except in times of full-blown crises, is so taken for granted by the people that it does not stir the political conscience to become either an electoral issue or one of delivering change. The armed forces and the veterans, not being vote-banks, count for little on the electoral battlefield and hence do not merit even minimal political capital. Paying lip service in the form of homilies from the ramparts of Red Fort or other ceremonial occasions is capital enough to keep the cockles of our uniformed fraternity warm.

Personal belief that this prescription may have outlived its utility makes this writer reflect on some of the issues that our political war-room strategists would do well to ponder while formulating battle plans for 2014. Four broad areas of direct concern to the armed forces, from which flow many other weaknesses, are hence worth flagging.

The first, and by far the most vital, is the total disconnect between the people represented by our lawmakers and national security — more specifically, as it relates to the armed forces of the republic. Since we never tire of claiming to being the largest democracy in the world, this disconnect does little credit to the substance of our democratic credentials. Can we, for example, recollect when our Parliament last invested time in a meaningful debate on an issue concerning the armed forces? When the nation was witness to the unholy spectacle of a serving chief taking his government to the Supreme Court, why was the legislature unmoved? When the issue of a soldier’s suicide was raised in Parliament, against the backdrop of an alarming increase in suicides in the armed forces (1,028 between 2008 and 2012, as earlier mentioned by the defence minister in Parliament), our legislators were silenced by the prime minister’s statement that it was a small incident being blown out of all proportion and not good for the morale of the armed forces. Which democracy would be silent witness to two of its soldiers’ bodies being mutilated by a hostile neighbour, with one head being taken away as trophy, and the Parliament not holding the minister of defence accountable and the government of the day answerable? Perhaps the indifference is best exemplified by contrasting the superficial pro forma debate that accompanies our defence budget to the oldest democracy where the budget is subject to item-wise scrutiny before being debated threadbare.

When thousands of veterans have been compelled to hold dharnas and rallies in just demand of their dues, and when an equal number have returned the medals earned through sweat and blood to the president who is their Supreme Commander, the conscience keepers of the nation have remained unmoved. If today the profession of arms does not feature in the wish list of our younger generation as amply reflected in the gross shortage of the officer cadre in each service, should not our legislators be clamouring for answers?

Why China is making a big play to control Africa's media


NAIROBI — The Globe and Mail

Sep. 11 2013

When one of South Africa’s biggest newspaper chains was sold last month, an odd name was buried in the list of new owners: China International Television Corp.

A major stake in a South African newspaper group might seem an unusual acquisition for Chinese state television, but it was no mystery to anyone who has watched the rapid expansion of China’s media empire across Africa.

From newspapers and magazines to satellite television and radio stations, China is investing heavily in African media. It’s part of a long-term campaign to bolster Beijing’s “soft power” – not just through diplomacy, but also through foreign aid, business links, scholarships, training programs, academic institutes and the media.

Its investments have allowed China to promote its own media agenda in Africa, using a formula of upbeat business and cultural stories and a deferential pro-government tone, while ignoring human-rights issues and the backlash against China’s own growing power.

The formula is a familiar one used widely in China’s domestic media. It leads to a tightly controlled pro-China message, according to journalists and ex-journalists at the Africa branch of CCTV, the Chinese state television monopoly that owns China International Television and launched a new headquarters in Nairobi last year.

“It was ‘our way or the highway,’” recalls a journalist who worked in Ethiopia for CCTV. He said he was ordered to focus primarily on diplomatic negotiations over Sudan, with his bosses citing “China’s interest in the region” – a reference to China’s state oil companies and their heavy investments in Sudan.

Other CCTV Africa journalists say they were told to provide positive news on China, to omit negative words such as “regime,” and to ignore countries such as Swaziland that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Chinese demand for ivory could not be mentioned in stories about Africa’s poaching crisis, one journalist said. Another recalled how human-rights questions had to be avoided in an interview with an authoritarian African leader. “I knew it would be cut out of my story, so I self-censored,” he said.

The journalists asked not to be named for fear of repercussions.

If there is an “information war” between China and the United States on an African battleground, as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested at a Congressional committee hearing in 2011, it appears that China is beginning to win the war.

In South Africa, Chinese investors have teamed up with allies of the ruling African National Congress to purchase Independent News and Media, one of the most powerful media groups in the country, which owns daily newspapers in all of the major cities.

The deal was spearheaded by Iqbal Surve, a businessman with close African National Congress connections who says he wants the media to report more “positive aspects” of the country. Financing was provided by state investment groups from China and South Africa, along with Mr. Surve’s consortium. Top leaders of the ANC helped put together the Chinese investors with Mr. Surve’s group, analysts said.

Under the deal, China International Television and the China-Africa Development Fund, both controlled by Beijing, will end up with 20 per cent of the newspaper chain – a stake that will allow them to materially influence the company, according to South Africa’s Competition Commission.

An Update on America’s Forgotten War in Afghanistan

By: Michael E. O'Hanlon and Ian Livingston
September 5, 2013

With August over, and Ramadan complete, we are now most of the way through the so-called fighting season in Afghanistan. Although it will continue another couple months, and although violence won’t stop come winter, it is still a good moment to ask how things are going in the war. The overall assessment that we reach here gives grounds for guarded optimism, though of course we are a long ways from the finish line.

Our focus here on combat does not imply that the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan is only a military struggle. But there has been much talk about politics and diplomacy of late, understandably so, and less attention to what is happening as the Afghan army and police take the lead — for the first time — in the actual conflict on the ground against the Taliban.

This year is the first time that Afghan forces have been leading the way on the battlefield. NATO troops have been downsizing and are now about one-third smaller than at their peak strength some 18 to 24 months ago. The United States now has 60,000 troops in country, down from 100,000 when previous commanders, Gen. David Petraeus and then Gen, John Allen, had the full resources of the Afghan surge at their disposal. Other foreign forces have also scaled back, from their peak level of about 42,000 in all to something like 27,000 today.

But overall coalition troop strength has hardly declined, because as Americans have stood down, Afghans have stood up. The combined strength of the Afghan army and police is now 335,000, almost the goal set more than three years ago by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his Afghan counterparts. Moreover, this is a force that has now been trained and equipped — and advised in the field — over a period of years. The quality of its leadership, of its planning cells, of its logistics systems, and of course its fighting units has improved greatly over that time.

Even more significant is the fact that Afghan forces are now in charge of the fight. According to the Pentagon, they are now leading 99 percent of all operations. Of course, U.S. and other ISAF forces may still be leading the toughest operations in certain specific cases, and Afghan forces may require backstopping by foreign troops in a large number of operations that they lead, but the progress here is extraordinary.

Indeed, when the enemy attacks, it now recognizes that Afghan forces are its main enemy, and hits at them 65 percent of the time, striking NATO units only 35 percent of the time, according to the Pentagon. Just two years ago, the enemy attacked NATO/ISAF troops 90 percent of the time when it initiated violence.

Naturally, these trends show up in the casualty figures. Afghan forces have suffered substantial casualties throughout this war, especially over the last few years, but the relative proportion is even more lopsided now. Two years ago, foreign troops suffered on average about 50 fatalities a month and Afghan forces overall between 100 and 200 depending on the season. In 2013, foreign losses are down to an average of roughly 15 a month while Afghan army and police fatalities often exceed 250 to 300.

Citing these statistics reveals the less happy side of the war effort, of course. While willingness to tolerate high losses is a sign of strength at one level, the increased casualties also reveal a resilient enemy that is carrying out just as many attacks in 2013 as it did in 2012. They also signal, in some cases, an Afghan security force not yet well enough able to protect its own forces or treat them medically when they are injured.

Another consequence of these heavy losses is high AWOL rates for the Afghan army — roughly 2.5 to 4 percent a month, meaning that more than a third of all soldiers turn over every year. This reduces the army’s ability to develop experience and skill in military operations. On the other hand, it is only fair to note that most militaries around the world have turnover rates that are not much lower than these; it is partly in the nature of how armed forces fill their ranks with young and temporary recruits. And thankfully, police AWOL rates are closer to 1 or 1.5 percent a month, a more tolerable figure.

Pakistan, Taliban and the Afghan Quagmire


With American and NATO combat troops scheduled to depart Afghanistan next year, the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan has become more important than ever. It is a complex and complicated nexus. Without doubt, Pakistan and its intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate of the army (ISI), have more influence over the Taliban than any other country or intelligence service. It provides critical safe haven and sanctuary to the groups’ leadership, advice on military and diplomatic issues, and assistance with fund raising. But its influence is not complete, and whether it could persuade the Taliban to settle for a political settlement in Afghanistan, is unclear at best.

Pakistan’s Support for Survival and Revival of the Taliban

Pakistan has been intimately associated with the Taliban since its birth in the mid-1990s. The ISI provided support to Mullah Omar when he founded the organisation in Kandahar. It had trained Omar even earlier in the 1980s at one of its training camps for the mujahedin that fought the Soviet occupation of the country. Pakistan was one of only three countries that recognised the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in the late 1990s (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the other two). By 2001, Pakistan was providing the Taliban regime in Kabul with hundreds of advisers and experts to run its tanks, aircraft and artillery, thousands of Pakistani Pashtuns to man its infantry and small units of its Special Services Group commandoes to help in combat with the Northern Alliance. Pakistan provided the oil needed to run the Taliban’s war machine. All of this despite a half dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on all countries to cease aid to the Taliban because it was hosting al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. According to the 9/11 Commission, the ISI had mid-wifed the alliance between Mullah Omar and bin Laden, so it was no surprise that Pakistan ignored the UN.

After 9/11, American and allied forces intervened in Afghanistan with a UN mandate and toppled the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The defeated Taliban fighters were ordered by Mullah Omar to scatter and avoid further direct confrontation with the enemy while they regrouped. Many just went home. The leadership and the hard core fled south from Kandahar into Pakistan. Most relocated in Baluchistan around the city of Quetta, where Omar himself settled. He began rebuilding his Taliban in exile. By 2004, it resumed the war inside Afghanistan. Pakistan gave it critical help and assistance. Without it, the Taliban would never have recovered. A NATO study published in 2012 based on the interrogations of 4000 captured Taliban, al-Qaeda and other fighters in Afghanistan in over 27,000 interrogations concluded that ISI support was critical to the survival and revival of the Taliban after 2001 just as it was critical to its conquest of Afghanistan in the 1990s. It provides sanctuary, training camps, expertise and help with fund raising. Pakistani officers have been killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan operating under cover with Taliban forces. The NATO report concluded “the ISI is thoroughly aware of Taliban activities and the whereabouts of all senior Taliban personnel.”

Mullah Omar, who calls himself the Commander of the Faithful, is believed by most experts to be in Quetta and Karachi under the protection of the ISI. He has not appeared in public in years, however, and issues only occasional statements. He continues to be portrayed by the group as fully in command and the ultimate decision maker for the organisation. He has never broken publicly with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and after the American commando mission killed bin Laden in 2011, Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership openly mourned the loss of the mastermind of 9/11. For its part, al-Qaeda continues to recognise Mullah Omar as the commander of the faithful and pledge allegiance to him.

China’s Challenge to the United States

By RICHARD BUSH

Recent trends suggest that world history is approaching another pivot period – one where a big shift in the balance of power destabilizes and even destroys the existing international order. 

Germany’s rise prior to World War I is an oft-cited case of a prior pivot. A century later, the “rising power” is China, and some fear for the future of the East Asian order that the United States created after World War II and sustained ever since. 

Of course, history does not follow mechanistic formulas, and past power transitions were highly complex and contingent. This one will be no exception. But if China and America are to find a mutually acceptable accommodation, it will require wisdom, skill, and luck. 

Several factors give this power transition its own character. 

First of all, we should speak of China’s “revival” rather than its rise, since centuries ago it was the dominant power of East Asia.

…we should speak of China’s “revival” rather than its rise, since centuries ago it was the dominant power of East Asia.

Second, China has restored lost power by accepting interdependence with the international system. By now, China is so embedded in that international system that the United States and its allies don’t have the option of containing it. 

Third, the fact that China will soon have the largest gross domestic product does not mean that it will automatically become the dominant political and military power at American expense. China’s large GDP is an artifact of a large population and how production is measured (China gets credit for the total value of its export products even though it adds relatively little value to them). 

Fourth, as Chinese society evolves after three decades of rapid change, its leaders face a series of policy challenges if they are to sustain economic growth, ensure social stability, and restore the tarnished legitimacy of the communist party. The default response to domestic pressures has been to stabilize the external environment rather than to disrupt it, which reduces pressure on the United States.

Finally, the trajectory of China’s military modernization is so gradual that it will not have the ability to challenge the United States on aglobal basis for a long, long time. It simply lacks the ability to project power the way the U.S. military has done for decades. 

Indeed, a rising power usually seeks to dominate its home region first before going global. But this is easier said than done for China in its home region of East Asia. The United States has been that region’s dominant power since 1950, based on the belief that the best way to protect our national interest is to deploy our multi-faceted power across the Pacific and into East Asia’s littoral periphery (particularly through the alliances with Japan and Korea). That forward deployment created a benign environment that increased the incentives of Asian nations to focus on economic development and reduced their temptation to go to war.

…the trajectory of China’s military modernization is so gradual that it will not have the ability to challenge the United States on a global basis for a long, long time.

China’s Developing World Edge

September 13, 2013
By Richard Ghiasy, Stephan Mothe, and Frances Pontemayor

The IMF and World Bank should take a leaf from China’s focus on developing world infrastructure.

Since Deng Xiaoping’s administration launched its Reform and Opening Up policies in the late 1970s, China has integrated hundreds of millions of its citizens into the global economy, resulting in poverty alleviation on an unprecedented scale. This is in no small part due to sustained investment in both physical and social infrastructure. By focusing on upgrading its water, energy, transport and telecommunications systems, China has shown an intrinsic understanding of an indispensable developmental building block.

Expanding on its domestic successes, China has since been replicating this approach in the developing world, filling a public good vacuum that global development institutions, namely the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, have not tackled with the necessary intensity. In the process, China has been underwriting global poverty reduction in steel and cement; gaining not only access to the developing world’s resources and markets, but also stronger partnerships on many levels. Two regions – Central Asia and especially Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) – stand out for the breadth and depth of Chinese involvement. Is China helping to pave their path to modernity?

Development via Infrastructure?

China’s modern leaders took note of the role that large infrastructure projects played in the development of the world’s two largest economic hubs, the United States and Europe. Investing as much as 9 percent of GDP in infrastructure in the 1990s and 2000s, China laid the foundations for its current success. At its peak, in the years between 2001 and 2006, more was spent on roads, tracks, airports and other fixed assets than had been spent in the previous fifty years put together. Nearly every corner of the country is being linked, regardless of soil, latitude or climate conditions; high-speed train lines already connect most of the major urban hubs and highways will connect more than 90 percent of cities with a population of more than 200,000 by the end of 2015. In that same year, China’s total highway length is expected to surpass that of the U.S. As of this year, China’s mobile phone users reached a staggering 1.11 billion; and it has achieved an Internet penetration rate of 42.1%, giving it the world’s largest online population. Allocation of public resources to infrastructure has allowed China to maximize and exploit its competitive advantages and has made it a magnet for foreign enterprises and investors. Infrastructure both embodies and catalyzes development.

China’s social infrastructure, its hospitals and schools, are not too far behind. Although significant deficiencies persist, both the health and education systems have made great strides despite the challenges of managing such a vast population. Life expectancies have risen steadily over the past thirty years, while maternal and infant mortality have plummeted. The country’s top universities are pumping out graduates with the knowledge and attitudes necessary to compete on the global stage, and are increasingly attracting top foreign talent as well. According to a McKinsey study, by 2030, China will account for 30% of the world’s new college‐educated workers. With the Chinese government spending over US$250 billion a year on education, it would not be surprising to see Tsinghua, Peking or Fudan universities begin to challenge the best of the West over the next few decades. Thanks to their lower fees as well as grants and scholarships from the Chinese government, many of these schools’ international students are from developing nations. Upon visiting six African nations on his first international trip as China’s president, Xi Jinping announced 18,000 new scholarships for African students to study in Chinese universities over the next three years. Many of the recipients will return home with honed skills and fresh ideas on how to jumpstart their countries’ economies. Increasingly, they will arrive to find their governments on honeymoon with Beijing – not Washington.

Tehran's iconic Azadi tower

Marcia Underwood

By SUZANNE MALONEY
09/11/2013

Suzanne Maloney is an expert on Iranian politics, energy and economic reform in the Middle East, and U.S. policy toward the region. Prior to her position as a senior fellow with the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, she was a member of the State Department’s policy planning staff; a Middle East advisor at ExxonMobil Corporation; and director of a Council on Foreign Relations task force on America’s Iran policy. Author of Iran’s Long Reach and contributor to such works as Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran, she is also founder and editor of Iran@Saban, an insightful blog about politics in and policy concerning Iran.

The sycamore trees that line the northern stretches of Vali Asr Avenue in Tehran arch overhead like a canopy. In the winter, their snowy branches frame a view of the Alborz Mountains where Tehranis escape to hike or ski. On a summer day, the leaves filter the sun and smog in the affluent northern neighborhoods, and you can watch the temperature rise by ten degrees as you inch your way southward in the city's infamous traffic toward the heart of old Tehran.
Tehran’s historic Vali Asr Avenue on a snowy day.

Vali Asr is said to be the longest street in the Middle East; and sometimes it feels like the only straight path in a nation whose course has been highly unpredictable and intensely complicated ever since the 1979 revolution which ousted the secular, pro-American shah and installed a theocracy led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It was on Vali Asr, 18 years later, that young Iranians erupted in joy in the largest spontaneous public demonstrations the capital had seen since the revolution. The immediate cause for celebration in 1997 was the national team's World Cup qualification, but for many it was a belated response to the recent election of a president who promised reform. Mohammad Khatami's victory represented a moment when the country appeared on the cusp of change again. His promises went largely unfulfilled, however, doomed by the intractability of the defenders of Iran's religious orthodoxy—among them the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

For Shi'a Muslims, the phrase 'Vali Asr' symbolizes hope in a just future; for Iranians, the revolution has brought anything but.

mini bio



HASSAN ROUHANI

Yet, on the eve of another election in 2009, Iranians returned to Vali Asr in another powerful display of the will of the people. Tens of thousands of Iranians linked arms in a human chain that stretched the full 12 miles of Vali Asr to express their support of reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Less than a week later, however, huge crowds gathered there again, this time to denounce the apparently rigged victory of the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man infamous for his bigotry and provocative policies. The protestors' initial chants of "where is my vote?" met with police batons and bullets. The violence that ended the demonstrations, and the show trials and other Stalinist tactics that followed, suggested that the theocracy no longer saw the need for even the fig leaf of semi-orchestrated elections, and instead had devolved to a more naked authoritarianism. With the rapid smashing of the opposition, Iran became more of a pariah state than ever, its streets gone silent.
Tehran, June 9, 2009: Supporters of Iranian presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, dressed in his signature color green, attend a campaign rally. Mousavi ran as a reformist and challenged the official tally, sparking massive protests. He has been held under house arrest since February 2011. 
Getty Images

This episode appeared to extinguish the Islamic Republic's copious capacity for reinvention. But something happened along the way to the latest election, in June 2013: Iran's political narrative once again defied expectations. A brief and unprecedentedly outspoken campaign gave voice to criticisms of the regime that might once have landed some of the candidates in jail. In the end, it was the candidate who appealed most forcefully for a new path who won the presidency, with a resounding majority.

The Haunting: Why the Syria Crisis Will Torment Obama for the Rest of His Presidency

September 12, 2013

Just as President Barack Obama was losing the debate in Congress for launching a military strike against the Syrian regime, his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, offered him an escape hatch. Moscow's proposal that Bashar al-Assad relinquish control of his chemical weapons has given everyone a convenient diplomatic pause to do "something else" -- even at the risk of accomplishing nothing of value.

Nobody should be under the illusion that the Russian initiative means that the Syrian crisis is solved. It should be clear to all now that Assad is willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power -- his regime and his international backers will block, obfuscate, and delay for all they are worth, while launching a brutal assault to crush their domestic opponents. And when it comes to the political process, they are focused on Syria's presidential election in mid-2014, which will once again anoint Assad as the "legitimate" president of Syria.

Obama's pursuit of a diplomatic solution is the path of least resistance right now, both at home and abroad. He has made the issue all about chemical weapons and not about the removal of Assad -- a point the Syrian dictator would have clearly noted in listening to Obama's presidential address on Tuesday night. But all the words and diplomatic initiatives cannot hide one basic truth: The Syrian crisis will not go away -- in fact, it will continue to haunt Obama's presidency for the rest of its days.

Nevertheless, this latest sorry episode contains a lesson for the Obama administration about how to deal with the Assad regime. In order to bring real change in Syria, the White House must state clear goals, isolate the regime diplomatically, and be prepared to enforce these mandates through the use of force, if necessary.

It is this strategy that allowed U.N. inspectors to reach the site of the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in five days -- not the five months it took them to get into Syria in the first place. It has also forced Russia to scramble to extract concessions from Assad -- namely, admitting for the first time he has chemical weapons and opening the possibility of putting them under international control.

Given the history of Russian obstructionism at the U.N. Security Council since the beginning of the Syria crisis, there is every reason to be skeptical of a return to Turtle Bay. But there is a chance that Washington and Moscow's interests could finally align: In early December, the Russians warned Assad not to put them in an awkward position by conducting a large-scale chemical weapons attack. Now that the Assad regime has done just that, Moscow should be pushed to deliver in order to protect its own credibility.

In the next few days, there will be a struggle between those who want effective U.N. action and those who are looking for another diplomatic time-waster to help Assad escape accountability. It is time to banish the duplicitous talk that has so far characterized the debate at the United Nations. If the world body fails again to affect meaningful change in Syria, its credibility will decline even further. In this regard, the U.N. Secretariat and the U.N. secretary general can play an important role in guiding its members toward an effective U.N. mandate. But the United Nations must also be in a position to move quickly if it is forced to do so.

The United States and its allies should be prepared to take their argument to key countries in the United Nations, including the powerful 120 member non-aligned movement and the non-Security Council BRICs -- India, South Africa, and Brazil. By building broader international support, Obama will pave the way for a U.N. Security Council resolution that lays out real consequences for Assad if he does not cooperate.

No Military Consensus on Syria

September 12, 2013

The Washington Post

Editor's Note: Michael O'Hanlon responds to the idea that Syria is a war the Pentagon doesn't want, noting he senses no overwhelming majority that believes President Obama is handling a difficult situation badly. O'Hanlon agrees it is unfortunate the United States has failed to persuade more international backing for military action, but that accusations of incompetence are off the mark.

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, in his Sept. 6 commentary, “A war the Pentagon doesn’t want” [Washington Forum], makes some valid points about the challenges the Obama administration has encountered — and, at times, created — in its approach to Syria. He may be right that this is a war that most officers in the military, like most Americans, don’t want. But greater scrutiny should be given to his suggestion of a widespread consensus within military ranks that the president’s handling of this crisis has been incompetent.

First, I do not share Scales’s impression of a prevalent view of Syria among military officers. In my own conversations with retired and serving Defense Department officers, I sense no overwhelming majority that believes President Obama is handling badly what all agree is a difficult situation.

Second, in any event, the generals and admirals have no exclusive claim to getting it right on the use of force. Historical examples include the Cuban missile crisis, in which key members of the Joint Chiefs unwisely recommended military preemption, and Vietnam, where military leaders often counseled and employed very poor counterinsurgency tactics (even if civilians may have made the larger errors).

More recently, in 1999, the Joint Chiefs and many other officers were largely against escalating in Kosovo after initial setbacks. If followed, their advice could well have led to a NATO defeat. In 2001, the Pentagon had no viable war plan for Afghanistan, and the CIA basically had to invent one on the fly. In 2002 and 2003, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld prevented the Pentagon from properly preparing for the post-Saddam Hussein phase of the Iraq war, far too many military officers acquiesced.

None of this is to blame the military for U.S. travails in war. Today’s military leaders get it right more often than they get it wrong — and probably get it right more often than have civilians. But the military is not axiomatically the source of received wisdom on how to handle any given national security crisis.

As to some of Scales’s other points, yes, it is too bad that Obama has generally failed to elicit greater international backing for a possible military response to Bashar al-Assad’s alleged brutal use of chemicals on Aug. 21. But this may say more about the world than about Obama; countries are being given ample opportunity to form their views, and a democracy, however powerful, cannot impose its preferred course of action on others.

Syria, America and Putin's Bluff

September 10, 2013

In recent weeks I've written about U.S. President Barack Obama's bluff on Syria and the tightrope he is now walking on military intervention. There is another bluff going on that has to be understood, this one from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin is bluffing that Russia has emerged as a major world power. In reality, Russia is merely a regional power, but mainly because its periphery is in shambles. He has tried to project a strength that that he doesn't have, and he has done it well. For him, Syria poses a problem because the United States is about to call his bluff, and he is not holding strong cards. To understand his game we need to start with the recent G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Putin and Obama held a 20-minute meeting there that appeared to be cold and inconclusive. The United States seems to be committed to some undefined military action in Syria, and the Russians are vehemently opposed. The tensions showcased at the G-20 between Washington and Moscow rekindled memories of the Cold War, a time when Russia was a global power. And that is precisely the mood Putin wanted to create. That's where Putin's bluff begins.

A Humbled Global Power

The United States and Russia have had tense relations for quite a while. Early in the Obama administration, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed up in Moscow carrying a box with a red button, calling it the reset button. She said that it was meant to symbolize the desire for restarting U.S.-Russian relations. The gesture had little impact, and relations have deteriorated since then. With China focused on its domestic issues and with Europe in disarray, the United States and Russia are the two major -- if not comparable -- global players, and the deterioration in relations can be significant. We need to understand what is going on here before we think about Syria.

Twenty years ago, the United States had little interest in relations with Russia, and certainly not with resetting them. The Soviet Union had collapsed, the Russian Federation was in ruins and it was not taken seriously by the United States -- or anywhere else for that matter. The Russians recall this period with bitterness. In their view, under the guise of teaching the Russians how to create a constitutional democracy and fostering human rights, the United States and Europe had engaged in exploitative business practices and supported non-governmental organizations that wanted to destabilize Russia.

The breaking point came during the Kosovo crisis. Slobodan Milosevic, leader of what was left of Yugoslavia, was a Russian ally. Russia had a historic relationship with Serbia, and it did not want to see Serbia dismembered, with Kosovo made independent.

There were three reasons for this. First, the Russians denied that there was a massacre of Albanians in Kosovo. There had been a massacre by Serbians in Bosnia; the evidence of a massacre in Kosovo was not clear and is still far from clear. Second, the Russians did not want European borders to change. There had been a general agreement that forced changes in borders should not happen in Europe, given its history, and the Russians were concerned that restive parts of the Russian Federation, from Chechnya to Karelia to Pacific Russia, might use the forced separation of Serbia and Kosovo as a precedent for dismembering Russia. In fact, they suspected that was the point of Kosovo. Third, and most important, they felt that an attack without U.N. approval and without Russian support should not be undertaken both under international law and out of respect for Russia.

President Bill Clinton and some NATO allies went to war nevertheless. After two months of airstrikes that achieved little, they reached out to the Russians to help settle the conflict. The Russian emissary reached an agreement that accepted the informal separation of Kosovo from Serbia but would deploy Russian peacekeepers along with the U.S. and European ones, their mission being to protect the Serbians in Kosovo. The cease-fire was called, but the part about Russian peacekeepers was never fully implemented.

Russia felt it deserved more deference on Kosovo, but it couldn't have expected much more given its weak geopolitical position at the time. However, the incident served as a catalyst for Russia's leadership to try to halt the country's decline and regain its respect. Kosovo was one of the many reasons that Vladimir Putin became president, and with him, the full power of the intelligence services he rose from were restored to their former pre-eminence.

Washington's Weak Case for War in Syria


To listen to the Obama administration, or its hawkish supporters in the commentariat, one might think that countless reasons exist to go to war in Syria. Advocates for war regularly throw out three, or five or another number of justifications. The problem is that many of these reasons -- including those offered by the administration -- conflict with one another, or would at least call for very different military campaigns. When advocates for war can't agree on why a war is needed, there's a problem.

The Obama administration's position for more than two years has been that "Assad must go," but, apparently aware of reticence to replay Iraq or Afghanistan, they have insisted that a military attack against a man they say "must go" has nothing to do with regime change. Rather, they have outlined two main rationales: defending an international norm against the use of chemical weapons, and defending the president's credibility.

The norms argument holds that since more than 98 percent of countries have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the use of chemical weapons violates a norm against their use, and thus warrants an American bombing campaign.

This is a curious definition of "norm," and a dubious political rationale as well. The dictionary defines norm as "a principle of right action binding upon the members of a group and serving to guide, control or regulate proper and acceptable behavior," but says little about what punishment, if any, should be meted out for violation. And the CWC is a treaty, not a norm, that specifies only that redress of violations should be "in conformity with international law," which presumably would preclude a unilateral U.S. bombing campaign. Further, by not signing the CWC, Syria made clear that it was not part of the group bound by the convention.

The United States once again finds itself standing nearly alone in defense of a principle it swears is shared by a vast majority of the globe. If other nations cannot be roused in defense of the principle that chemical weapons should not be used, perhaps the norm is not so strongly held after all.

The administration has also argued that since the president laid out a "red line" insisting that Bashar al-Assad not use chemical weapons, the country's -- and, indeed, the world's -- reputation and credibility are on the line. More fanciful extensions of this argument have suggested that Iranwill conclude that Washington is not so concerned about its nuclear program. (The Israel lobby group AIPAC is reportedly preparing to push this argument on Capitol Hill.) Taking this argument to the extreme, leading GOP national security thinker Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) declared last week that "chemical weapons in Syria today means nuclear weapons in the U.S. tomorrow."

Justin Logan Barack Obama
Syria

President Obama's Syria Confusion

September 11, 2013

President Barack Obama's Tuesday evening speech explaining his plans for a military strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, though deftly delivered, will not put to rest the doubts that a large majority of Americans have about what the president aims to achieve with what he insisted would be a limited, targeted operation.

Mr. Obama depicted with graphic, moving words the agonizing ways in which the Syrians who were gassed died. His intent in doing so was to mobilize the nation behind his plan by appealing to our ideals and to our humanity.

But the president cannot escape the contradictions inherent in his case.

Motivated by the chemical attacks of August 21, President Obama now contemplates a momentous step -- one that could have many unintended and undesirable consequences, both in and around Syria. But Assad has so far killed over 100,000 people with other weapons that are no less indiscriminate and have, in consequence, led to horrific suffering and death among civilians.

Killing people with chemical weapons, the president asserted in his speech, falls into a different category altogether -- perhaps so. But he did not explain why, even though this distinction is the basis for the attack for which he seeks political support.

Not only has Mr. Obama not intervened militarily in Syria despite the massive death toll, but two years into the war he has yet to deliver meaningful quantities of arms to the Syrian rebels.

There are two main reasons for the president's caution.

The first is that war-weary Americans don't want to run the risk of entrapment in another protracted conflict a la Iraq and Afghanistan. In his speech Obama stressed that what he planned to do in Syria would not place the United States on a slippery slope.

But a limited military attack would still leave Assad with the capacity to kill large numbers of people using means other than chemical weapons.

The second reason for the president's cautious policy toward Syria over the past two years is that among Assad's strongest opponents are hardline Islamists, some with ties to al-Qaeda connections.

But a limited strike, one that Mr. Obama has said is not intended to change the military balance within Syria, won't boost the fortunes of the moderates the administration favors.

In other words, the sort of strike he has in mind won't end Syria's carnage or the dynamics of the war. So what about those ideals and the compassion that the president appealed to Tuesday evening? 

The truth is that the measures required to end the slaughter in Syria include, at minimum, establishing a no-fly zone, mounting sustained attacks on Assad's security infrastructure and creating secure enclaves for supplying and training the elements of the opposition the administration favors. These are not moves that the American public will support; nor are they ones that the president is disposed to resort to in any event.

The upshot is that even after the "targeted" strike Mr. Obama has in mind, the Assad regime will retain the advantage, the killing will continue and the least desirable elements of the anti-Syrian opposition will remain the alternative to Assad.