17 August 2014

Modi likely to meet China’s Xi Jinping, Japan’s Shinzo Abe in September While Xi Jinping will visit India

Modi will go to Japan to meet Shinzo Abe

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Japan and China have been trying to woo India amid tensions between Asia’s two top economies. Photo: Mint New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in early September— just weeks before China’s president Xi Jinping travels to India for talks, amid sharpening rivalries between Asia’s two biggest economies. Officially, neither visit has been announced but foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said on Wednesday that Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to visit India in the third week of September and that both the countries are working to ensure a substantive outcome from the trip. “This will be perhaps in the third week of September. Exact dates will be announced when both the countries are ready,” Akbaruddin said.

On Modi’s visit to Japan, Akbaruddin said India and Japan will simultaneously announce the dates on Friday. Japanese media reports have, however, been speculating that Modi will travel to Japan on 31 August with the meeting with Prime Minister Abe scheduled for 1 September. Other visits expected in September include an incoming one by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Modi’s visit to the US, with a bilateral summit with US President Barack Obama on 30 September. Given that Modi postponed a visit to Tokyo in July and met Chinese president Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) meeting in Brazil in the middle of July for double the time allotted for the meeting, some analysts said China has scored over Japan in the race to establish contact with the new government.

“I think the Chinese have seized the initiative” from the Japanese, said Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi was in New Delhi in June, one of the first foreign dignitaries to visit New Delhi after the new government took office on 26 May. Japan and China have been trying to woo India amid tensions between Asia’s two top economies. Japan’s political tensions with China, dating back to World War II, have risen recently over competing claims over a group of islands in the East China Sea that the Japanese call the Senkaku and the Chinese call the Diaoyu. China redoubled efforts to reach out to India after a souring of ties with several of its other neighbours, including the Philippines and Vietnam, in recent years over competing claims over some islands in the South China Sea, Kondapalli said. 

For India, the biggest irritant in ties is the unresolved border issue and though the border has been largely calm, thanks to pacts signed in 1993, 1996 and 2005, both sides frequently accuse the other of incursions. The new government has signalled that it is going to be more assertive towards China, said Kondapalli, citing the invitation to Tibetan “Prime Minister-in-exile” Lobsang Sangay for Modi’s swearing-in and the inclusion of Kiren Rijiju, a member of Parliament (MP) from Arunachal Pradesh as junior home minister in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. In terms of content, Modi’s visit to Japan was likely to yield higher returns, Kondapalli said predicting a possible agreement in civil nuclear energy. Both sides would talk about investments in infrastructure especially high-speed railways. Japan is keen on a train link between Bengaluru and Chennai and Ahmedabad and Mumbai. India’s imports from China in 2012-13 stood at $52 billion while exports were at $13.5 billion. Both sides have set a bilateral trade target of $100 billion by 2015. India-Japan trade in 2013-14 was $16.31 billion and Japanese companies made an investment of $15.35 billion in India between April 2000 and December 2013.

****Obama's Foreign Policy Record: TBD

August 14, 2014

The establishment media has declared U.S. President Barack Obama a failure in foreign policy. He is worse than George W. Bush, say some journalists; he is worse than Jimmy Carter, say others. In much of this criticism there is a phenomenon operating in the background that goes unmentioned: The opinion pages of the large circulation dailies in New York and Washington are either liberal internationalist or neoconservative, meaning they all have a bias for action, for doing dramatic things to make the world a better place. Realism, which has a sturdier pedigree -- going all the way back to Thucydides' "The History of the Peloponnesian War" -- encapsulates how most people in government and business actually think, but it has relatively few followers in the major media. And realism counsels caution, because a bias for action can often lead to disaster. Because Obama has had until this recent Iraq crisis the opposite -- a bias for inaction -- the major media simply hate him.

So let's see how he is doing.

Though the defense budget has been cut rather dramatically, the United States under Obama still deploys its Navy and Air Force in the four corners of the world, protecting sea lines of communication as well as the balance of power in the major geographical theaters. This is doing something on an imperial scale. Nevertheless, passively accepting America's worldwide military armature is a far cry from trying to shape events, which a president is expected to do and which Obama is not doing. You can shape events without military intervention, but Obama is not even doing that.

Though Obama has not put troops in harm's way in any significant measure, he has been unusually aggressive in the use of drone warfare to hunt down and kill terrorists, in Yemen, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and elsewhere. This, too, constitutes doing something, and dramatically so. One could easily argue that Obama has been more successful in hunting down senior al Qaeda leadership than his predecessor. And don't forget, it was Obama's decision to kill Osama Bin Laden in a risky special operations forces attack.

Obama is likely doing more in Ukraine than meets the eye. Putting troops on the ground would be irresponsible given that Ukraine matters much less to the United States or even to Western Europe than it does to Russia. But how many people have noticed how much more disciplined, efficient, and methodical the Ukrainian military has become in recent months, evinced by its recent offensive? It is as though its officer corps suddenly got a crash course at Fort Leavenworth. That, I would be willing to bet, is the upshot of American military advisers dispatched to Kiev by Obama. Obama prefers quiet, lethal action -- witness the drones -- while the media often prefers noise.

In China, Climate Change Is Already Here

August 14, 2014

China is already feeling the effects of climate change, and the results could be devastating.

Northern China is currently experiencing a severe drought. Xinhua reports that Henan Province, one of China’s top grain producers, has suffered economic losses of 7.3 billion renminbi ($1.2 billion) due to the drought, with agriculture representing 97 percent of those losses. Neighboring Hebei Province is also suffering, with rainfall levels in some areas at less than 50 percent of yearly averages. Liaoning Province, meanwhile, is in the midst of its worst drought since the province began keeping meteorological records in 1951.

Even as northern Chinese provinces dry up, southern China is experiencing devastating floods. In southwestern China, July flooding due to extreme rainfall killed at least 34 and caused 5.21 billion RMB ($839.8 million) in damages. In mid-July, Typhoon Rammasun, the largest to make landfall on China in 40 years, brought more rains and flooding. More recently, heavy rains have complicated efforts to rebuild after the August 3 Yunnan earthquake, and just this week more flooding in Guizhou province killed at least 12 people.

The droughts in the north and floods in the south may not be a coincidence, but part of a future trend caused by global climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fourth Assessment Report(issued in 2007) predicted an increase in extreme rains in western and southern China and a decrease in rainfall in the north. And changes in rainfall patterns are only one small part of the challenges climate change poses for China.

The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, issued last year, predicts possible threats to both water and food security in China (and Asia in general) as well as more potential for natural disasters. Water supplies are threatened by glacial melting at the sources of both the Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers. With supplies dwindling even as water usage continues to increase, a water shortage is a real possibility. In turn, water scarcity will naturally affect the agricultural sector, which may see water shortages as early as the 2020s. Further threatening food security, IPCC predicts decreased grain yields as temperatures shift (although some regions in China may actually be able to increase their production).

Meanwhile, the IPCC warns that flooding will continue to pose a problem for China, and it’s not only rural villages that are at risk: the mega-cities of Guangdong, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Hong Kong are all listed as at-risk for coastal flooding. As for drought, IPCC predicts that annual economic losses due to drought will be between $1.1 and 1.7 billion in northeast China and cost around $900 million in north China — right in line with the $1.2 billion in losses Henan has experienced this year.

China’s Model for Africa

August 14, 2014

Western criticism of China’s approach to Africa is misplaced, but Beijing should place more emphasis on labor relations. 

China is now Africa’s largest trading partner, yet not an uncontroversial one from the perspective of foreign observers and African citizens. China has built up infrastructure and industry on the continent, but it has extracted many of the region’s natural resources. At the same time, China and Africa have become important political allies, and China recently sent $5 million in aid to West African nations to combat the Ebola outbreak. Is China’s relationship with Africa an overall positive or negative one?

First, the positives. China has invested extensively in Africa. Foreign direct investment in Africa has been carried out in the mining, manufacturing, infrastructure and construction, and finance industries. Much of the funding for China’s investment in Africa comes from China’s policy banks, with the Export-Import Bank of China leading the way. The Export-Import Bank of China specializes in extending investment loans to the energy, mining, and industrial sectors, as well as lending for infrastructure construction. Trade between China and Africa has flourished, with China importing from Africa minerals, petroleum and other natural goods, and exporting to Africa machinery, textiles, and synthetic materials.

China has strong political relations with African nations. China is generally accepted in Africa as an economic and political ally, since it is viewed as a fellow “southern” region, offering more than business for profit alone. By contrast to Western nations, many of whom were former colonial powers, China is viewed by African political leaders as an equal, not an imperialist, partner. China established the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation to promote cooperation between China and African political and civil institutions. Diplomatic relations are genial, since African leaders are interested in building up their domestic economies.

However, China has made strong political connections because it has been willing to do things that some nations may consider unethical, including selling weapons to countries run by autocratic regimes with poor humanitarian records. China has sold arms to the Zimbabwean and Sudanese governments, which helped the African leaders maintain power and even kill civilians. This has been viewed by many onlookers as heinously unscrupulous.

Further, many economists view natural resource extraction as a means of oppressing populations. Even though the extraction is carried out with willing African counterparts, it is argued that supporting commodity dependence and reducing the supply of natural resources for domestic use will, in the long run, impoverish African countries. This is because the resource extraction is performed in order to export the goods to China, to benefit China’s growth, rather than Africa’s.

Chinese Say in Territorial Claims

14th August 2014 

Just weeks before Xi Jinping is to visit India for the first time as president of China, Beijing has reaffirmed its claims on Indian territory and signalled there will be no concessions. During his visit to India on July 8-9, foreign minister Wang Yi had stated China’s unyielding position on the border issue.

In late July, General Xu Qiliang, vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) and former commander of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), visited Ali Military Sub District (MSD) in the Lanzhou Military Region, which exercises operational jurisdiction over the areas across India’s Ladakh. He was accompanied by Admiral Sun Jianguo, PLA deputy chief of General Staff and General Miao Hua, political commissar of the Lanzhou Military Region. Xu Qiliang, a “princeling” and close associate of Xi Jinping, is an advocate of military modernisation and has for long pushed for improvement of joint operations capability and digital capacity in the PLA’s war preparations.

During his tour of the Ali MSD, he visited the Shenwenxian Frontier Post located on the Karakoram and jurisdiction of which includes the Depsang Plains in Ladakh where the protracted stand-off between India and China took place last April. He also visited Khurnak Fort situated on the northern slopes of the hills opposite Chushul in Ladakh and inspected the PLA’s “water squadron” deployed nearby on the northern side of the disputed Pangong Lake. This is the first time in decades that such a high-ranking Chinese military official has inspected these areas and his visit would have boosted the morale of the troops posted there. Xu Qiliang’s visit follows through on CMC chairman Xi Jinping’s directions that the PLA must enhance war preparedness. The PLA has just days ago concluded what Chinese military analysts describe as its “most intense”, largest and longest trans-regional military exercises. These exercises disrupted civilian flights at several airports across China.

Reports in circulation since last November mention that plans have been drawn up for a reorganisation of the PLA and the existing military regions. There was also noticeable emphasis, in the latest round of promotions of officers in July, on promoting those with experience of war or “military operations other than war”. For example, Xu Yong and Diao Guoxin, commander and political commissar of the Tibet Military District respectively, who were promoted to the rank of lieutenant general have experience of the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979.

China, incidentally, as if to affirm sovereignty over these areas has established civilian border police inspection posts at nine places in the western sector. These are subordinate to the Civil Affairs Bureau of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government and three of them are located at Bangongluo (Pangong Lake), Kena (Khurnak Fort) and Shenwenxian.

Coinciding with Xu Qiliang’s visit to the Ali MSD, China also announced it was beginning work to renovate and expand three airfields in Tibet. The Bangda and Nyingchi airports are opposite Arunachal Pradesh while the third is Lhasa’s Gonggar airport.

The spokesman of China’s ministry of national defence, Geng Yansheng’s comment on the Sino-Indian border issue, made during a routine press conference on July 31, is interesting. He said “the Sino-India border dispute is an issue left by history, and the border between the two countries is not yet demarcated. The governments of both nations reached an important consensus on resolving the border dispute. In October 2013, China and India have signed an agreement on ‘Border Defense Cooperation Agreement’. The Chinese border troops always abide by the relevant agreements reached by the governments of both countries. We are willing to work together with the Indian counterpart to maintain peace and tranquility along the Sino-Indian border areas. There is a difference in understanding about the line of actual control for China and India. Last year, some incidents occurred on the border area and the two sides resolved it properly through dialogue and consultations”. Geng Yansheng added that following the exchange of visits by PLA deputy chief of General Staff Qi Jianguo and Indian Army Chief General Bikram Singh, both sides “have maintained a close communication”.

China: Economic war and the humbling of multinationals

14 August 2014 

'I really worry about China. I am not sure that in the end they want any of us to win', confided GE boss Jeff Immelt to a group of fellow multinational business-people dining in Shanghai in 2010.

So far, GE has mostly stayed out of trouble in China. But many other Fortune 500 companies have been whacked by the Chinese authorities: for corruption (GSK), food safety problems (KFC and MacDonalds), security concerns (Cisco, IBM and others), quality problems (Samsung), forced upgrades (Microsoft), monopolistic behaviour (Qualcomm), and 'unparalleled arrogance' (Apple).

Offshore deals have been postponed or even forbidden by Beijing. And recently, foreign carmakers have been hit for excessive pricing on the mainland (more on this later), an accusation which has also been directed at Starbucks, milk suppliers, luxury goods companies and drugs firms. The list is practically endless.

Beijing uses three agencies to prosecute foreign firms, depending on their sin: the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) reviews pricing, the Commerce Ministry approves mergers and acquisitions, and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) probes anti-trust matters. It is a formidable trio, and the Chinese state rarely loses cases on its home turf. Multinationals can also find themselves simultaneously brutalised in the Chinese press; almost all succumb meekly to the charges, correct their mistakes and apologise for hurting the feelings of the people.

To be fair, the Chinese authorities usually do have good grounds for complaint. Foreign companies often behave badly in China. But it seems that successful foreign companies are targeted, as if Beijing deliberately wants them humbled. Immelt appears surprised by this possibility. He shouldn't be.

China is, first and foremost, a state capitalist. Like all nations, it covets the mercantilist objective of commercial success. Countries don't fight economic war like they fight militarily, but sometimes it feels that way. The AFR's Angus Grigg, in an intriguing short piece on the deteriorating business climate for multinationals earlier this week, reported a Chinese official acknowledging this point forthrightly: 'It's an economic war'.

Twenty years ago, John Fialka's superb War by Other Means described in scary detail how nations conduct underground conflict in the commercial realm; Japan then was America's most feared rival, although China was charging up the list. The Japanese, led by the masterly bureaucrats at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, had achieved global success based on a level of chauvinism in their home market that China has never approached. The Japanese were much too polite to say what the Shanghai official told Grigg, but no doubt embraced 'economic war.'

The fantasy of Middle Eastern moderates

Syrians gather at the site of a reported barrel-bomb attack by government forces on August 13, 2014, in the rebel-held Qadi Askar neighbourhood in Aleppo. More than 170,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began there in March 2011. (Zein Al-Rifai/AFP/Getty Images)
By Fareed Zakaria  August 14

Hillary Clinton was expressing what has become Washington’s new conventional wisdom when she implied, in her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, that “moderates” might have prevented the rise of the Islamic State. In fact, the United States has provided massive and sustained aid to the moderates in the region.

Remember, the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was created in Iraq and grew out of that country’s internal dynamics. Over the past decade, the United States helped organize Iraq’s “moderates” — the Shiite-dominated government — giving them tens of billions of dollars in aid and supplying and training their army. But, it turned out, the moderates weren’t that moderate. As they became authoritarian and sectarian, Sunni opposition movements grew and jihadi opposition groups such as ISIS gained tacit or active support. This has been a familiar pattern throughout the region.

For decades, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has been to support “moderates.” The problem is that there are actually very few of them. The Arab world is going through a bitter, sectarian struggle that is “carrying the Islamic world back to the Dark Ages,”said Turkish President Abdullah Gul. In these circumstances, moderates either become extremists or they lose out in the brutal power struggles of the day. Look at Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and the Palestinian territories.

The Middle East has been trapped for decades between repressive dictatorships and illiberal opposition groups — between Hosni Mubarak and al-Qaeda — leaving little space in between. The dictators try to shut down all opposition movements, and the ones that survive are vengeful, religious and violent. There was an opening for moderates after the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, but it rapidly closed. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood had a chance to govern inclusively, but it refused. Without waiting for vindication at the polls, Egypt’s old dictatorship rose up and banned and jailed the Brotherhood and other opposition forces. In Bahrain, the old ruling class is following the example of the Egyptian regime, while the Saudi monarchy funds the return to repression throughout the region. All of this leads to an underground and violent opposition. “Because of the culture of impunity [from the government], there is a new culture of revenge” on the street, Said Yousif al-Muhafda, head of documentation at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told Al-Monitor, a news and analysis Web site.

Kuril Islands Dispute: Back to Gridlock?

August 14, 2014

It looks like the Kuril Islands dispute will head back to gridlock. 

If Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s territorial dispute strategy was to thwart China in the south as he spoke to Russia in the north, it’ll need some re-thinking. As The Diplomat reported yesterday, Russia began conducting a military drill on the disputed Kuril Islands. The drill is hugely provocative and has deeply upset the Japanese government, which says that it will “strongly protest” Russia’s audacity in the Kurils. The drill is not a small operation either–it involved 1,000 troops, a handful of attack helicopters, and other military hardware. This incident formally puts a stop to whatever progress Tokyo and Moscow had attained towards a peaceful resolution of the long-standing dispute between the two countries.

Recently, Tokyo sanctioned Moscow over its actions in Ukraine following the controversial downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, likely by Russian-armed Ukrainian separatists. At that time, I speculated that Japan would side with Europe and the United States on Russia, even if Abe had incentives to move ahead with talks on the final status of the Kuril Islands. With this week’s military drill, Russia signaled to Japan that progress on the dispute will be impossible unless Japan considers taking an independent path from the West on its relations with Russia. Tokyo, in the meantime, is highly unlikely to do this.

Geopolitically, this development in Russo-Japanese relations is a reminder of how far-flung crises can spread their contagion to remote disputes. Additionally, it emphasizes the extent to which Japan’s hands are tied in its ability to conduct foreign policy independently from its alliance with the United States and overall alignment with the West. Even if Tokyo would gain in the long-term by easing its reaction to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, doing so would have short-term costs for Tokyo’s relations with the West and possibly alienate it within Asia.

For the moment, it appears as if the Kuril Islands dispute–which once appeared as one of the more promising high-profile Asian territorial disputes that was heading towards resolution–will be gridlocked, caught up in the geopolitical shockwaves of the Ukrainian crisis. Until that crisis is resolved, Japan and Russia will likely make scant progress on the Kuril Islands issue. Even if the Ukrainian crisis heads towards a resolution, what will be necessary on top of that is for Russia to normalize its relations with the West, which will include the lifting of sanctions. As long as Vladimir Putin remains in charge in Moscow, it is highly unlikely that Japan–no matter how badly it wants to–will be able to move forward with the dispute.

Kurds — Good Guys in a Bad Neighborhood Wherein I ask Robert Caruso about the crisis in Iraq

Steve Weintz 
Aug 12, 2014

With American jets and drones flying top cover, Kurdish Peshmerga forceshave launched counter-attacks aimed at retaking territory they lost to Islamic State militants in northern Iraq in June, July and August.

I spoke with Robert Caruso—a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who has worked in the Pentagon, with the Army and at the State Department—about the Kurds’ future, American strategy and Iranian schemes.

SW: The Kurds have been de-facto U.S. allies since 1991. Will current events lead to a formal alliance if Iraq splinters and a sovereign Kurdistan emerges?

RC: An “arc of instability” now stretches from Southeast Asia through Southwest Asia, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Sahel and even up into Europe. Jihadiextremists will remain a threat for the next 50 to 60 years and there is no short-term solution.

You now see why the U.S. will continue the Long War [sic] against jihadis for the foreseeable future, despite the American public’s repugnance. It may not come to more boots on the ground but look for permanent advisory missions and lots of U.S. air support. We will supply the air power to fight jihadis.

The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command maintains assets specifically for this purpose. The 6th Special Operations Wing does nothing but train pilots and shoot stuff—they don’t even have their own ground techs.

The United States cannot let [the Kurdish capitol] Irbil fall—for two key reasons. First, the Peshmerga can keep Iranian proxies—the Iraqi army and Shiite militias—from gaining territory. But second and more important for us, Irbil is America’s only fallback point in case Baghdad falls.

The White House cannot—cannot—allow a second embassy to burn on its watch, after Benghazi. There is no other place for U.S. personnel to go if Baghdad falls and the embassy must be evacuated.

And such an evacuation can’t come by air. If U.S. planes land now in Shi’a-controlled areas, there’s no guarantee that they or their crews would be allowed to leave. Why? I’ll get to that, but it’s because Iraqi forces can no longer be trusted.

SW: What might Turkey ask for in exchange for recognizing and facilitating a sovereign Kurdistan?

RC: Turkey has little say in the matter. It’s already compromised its territorial integrity and got caught several times funneling arms and money to radical groups. Modern Turkey wouldn’t even exist but for America’s decision in 1946 to back the Turks against Communist destabilization and bring Turkey into NATO.

The Turks complain a lot about U.S. bases and influence but their burden ranks well below those of other U.S. allies such as Japan. America need not antagonize Turkey but neither should it kowtow to it.

SW: What roles might a U.S.-allied Kurdistan play in containing Iran? In containing Russia?

RC: A great many issues we have with Russia could be addressed by a U.S.-allied independent Kurdistan. We can combat Russia with sanctions and Kurdish oil. The “oil argument” for backing Iraq is laughable—most of Iraq’s oil lies under Kurdish territory.

No one’s allowed to import Iranian oil—though many do, nevertheless. It makes much more sense to bond with an ally whose oil we can import, who needs no nation-building or reconstruction. Kurdistan offers the West a staunch ally in a bad neighborhood, economic opportunity, lots of oil and a smart, energetic diaspora.

Iraq’s Commandos Fight Back Against Militants Special forces could help Baghdad repulse Islamic State

Jassem Al Salami 
Aug 13, 2014

Two months after Islamic State militants swept through northwestern Iraq all the way to the gates of Baghdad, there are signs that the ramshackle Iraqi army finally is finding its resolve. In Tikrit, the birthplace of late dictator Saddam Hussein and now an Islamic State stronghold, Iraqi special forces are on the attack.

Some of Iraq’s special troops are depicted in the photo above, taken by the AP’s Hadi Mizban in 2013.

On Aug. 6 in Tikrit, one of Iraq’s special Golden Brigades recaptured Hussein’s tomb, a highly symbolic monument for radical Sunnis including Islamic State. No less significantly, the Iraqi commandos also liberated the city’s water desalination complex. Water plays a central role in Iraq’s fighting.

For months, Iraqi soldiers mostly have retreated from militants’ attacks. Reforming around the commando units, Baghdad’s army now is pushing back. The situation is the same farther north. After steadily losing groundto Islamic State, the Kurdish Peshmerga militia is counter-attacking as U.S. Navy jet fighters and Air Force drones fly top cover.

The Iraqi army’s resurgence has occurred in fits and starts. Iraqi army and special counter-terrorism units first launched an offensive against Islamic State in the western city of Fallujah back in March. At the same time, Iraqi special operations troops embedded within regular army units as advisers and supervisors.

But that was a piecemeal effort—and insufficient to halt the militants’ momentum. Hundreds of Golden Brigades commandos were in Mosul helping to supervise regular army units when Islamic State attacked the city on June 10 and routed the army.

A destroyed Golden Brigades armored vehicle. Islamic State photo

Iraq has three major special forces units—two Golden Brigades and the Wolf Brigade. Together they number probably fewer than 10,000 front-line troops.

The two Golden Brigades, which trained in the U.S. and Jordan, formally are part of the army. They wear distinctive black uniforms and ride in black-painted vehicles. The public refers to them as “SWAT,” a reference to America’s police Special Weapons Assault Teams.

The Wolf Brigade, by contrast, is part of the Interior Ministry. It pointedly did not train in the U.S. or Jordan. Instead, it recruited its fighters from Iraq’s Shia majority and includes not a few former members of the insurgent Badr Brigades. The Wolf Brigade largely falls under Iranian influence and has a reputation for human-rights abuses.

The Wolf Brigade also seems to have ties to pro-regime militias in Syria—hardly surprising, considering Tehran and Baghdad’s support for the Syrian regime. There have been sightings of Iraqi commandos inside Syria. Some Wold Brigade soldiers even have died fighting Sunni rebels in that country. Islamic State began as a Syrian rebel group.

How America lost the Middle East

August 13, 2014

EVery Friday, the people of Kafranbel, Syria, send a message to the world. The notes and artwork are hand-drawn onto posters, but savvy Kafranbel residents have, through media outreach and social media, made the signs famous around the globe. The messages have inspired long pieces in the New York Times and Foreign Policy. Today, the Kafranbel signs are some of the most recognizably human symbols of Syria's brutal, inhumane civil war.

The messages demand the world do something about the war. And because he won't listen to them, Kafranbel's protestors deeply, truly despise President Barack Obama. "Happy July 4, America!," one sign reads. "Who wants to protect the war criminal Assad and ignore his crimes against humanity? Do you, President Obama?" Another sign compares him unfavorably to Bush: "Obama's procrastination kills us: we miss Bush's audacity," it reads. "The world is better with America's Republicans." A third is simply a drawing of the White House covered in Syrian blood.

The theme, in case it isn't obvious, is that America could end the bloodshed in Syria. But, whether out of cowardice or indifference, it chooses to let Syrians die.

The problem isn't that America has gotten weaker. It's that the Middle East has changed.

Once upon a time, the Kafranbel protestors were right. During the latter half of the 20th century, the United States was able to alter the course of events in the Middle East, to fundamentally reshape the region, for better and worse, along America's preferred lines. The US severely limited Soviet influence in the Middle East, brokered a historic peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, and successfully contained Saddam Hussein's regional ambitions.

But today's America can't solve the region's still-huge problems. The United States can't stop the Syrian civil war any more than it can end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, halt the Egyptian military's brutal repression of political dissidents, or prevent Iraq from becoming a bloody sectarian nightmare. American policymakers will likely never admit this, but they've lost the Middle East.

The problem isn't that America has gotten weaker. It's that the Middle East has changed. When the Middle East's biggest problems were about conflict between formal governments, the United States had a lot more influence. But today, the Middle East is defined by a shifting, impossibly complicated web of ethno-religious tension, weak and failed states, and ascendant terrorist organizations. The collapse of central governments and rise of powerful non-state actors breed problems that foreign powers, even the world's only superpower, simply cannot address.

The United States can't arrest the region's transformation. The best America can hope to do is manage its consequences. And the sooner American policymakers realize that, the better the US's Middle East policy will be.

America's influence in the Middle East peaked before the 21st century

By October 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower was furious. That July, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser had seized control of the Suez Canal, a critical trade passageway, from the British-French owned Suez Canal Company. In response, the two European powers, in a joint operation with Israel, took the canal by force. Eisenhower was blindsided by the European move. The Soviet Union leaped to the defense of its Egyptian client, even going so far as issue a thinly veiled threat to nuke Britain and France.

The American president forced Britain, France, and Israel to back down. The next year, he announced a new American strategy in the Middle East, now called the Eisenhower Doctrine. "If the Middle East is to continue its geographic role of uniting rather than separating East and West," Eisenhower said, "then the United States must make more evident its willingness to support the independence of the freedom-loving nations of the area." It was now officially America's job to police the Middle East.

In Iraq and Israel, British foreign policy has died

August 13th, 2014

Yesterday, British foreign policy died. The concept of constructing a structured, strategic method of engaging with our global partners and allies (and even our potential enemies) – one that has existed in its modern incarnation since the formal establishment of the Foreign Office in 1782 – was formally suspended.

Appropriately enough, the announcement was made not by the Foreign Secretary, but the Business Secretary, Vince Cable. If hostilities in Gaza resumed, he said, the United Kingdom would impose an arms embargo on Israel.

To some people that may have come as a welcome announcement. But there is a problem. Cable’s statement does not represent British foreign policy.

British foreign policy is unambiguous. Israel has a right to defend itself from attack. Indeed, that is a fundamental principle of international law. In particular, British foreign policy is that Israel has a right to defend herself from the terrorists of Hamas. Throughout the month-long conflict the Prime Minister and his government have been clear. Israel is within its rights to respond to the Hamas rocket assault and the tunnel incursions.

There is a second strand to British foreign policy in the region. Britain has called on Israel – and Hamas – to introduce an unconditional ceasefire. And Israel has done so (as have Hamas, though Hamas keep threatening to resume attacks if the blockade of Gaza isn’t lifted). As far as I’m aware, there is no precedent in British foreign policy for threatening to penalise an ally with sanctions precisely at they moment they accede to your foreign policy request.

Cable, in his announcement, identified combat aircraft, tanks and radar systems as weapons that would be denied export licenses if hostilities were renewed. The rationale being that these were not weapons that could justifiably be used in a “proportionate” anti-terrorism role, and could only be used in this context for “internal repression”.

Except again, it is not the view of the British government that such systems cannot, or should not, be used by states to protect their citizens from terrorists. We ourselves have deployed tanks in an anti-terrorist capacity at Heathrow. Since 9/11, British combat aircraft are on a permanent state of readiness against the threat of terror. During the Olympics I had a Rapier missile battery and radar system deployed outside my bedroom window. An aircraft carrier was positioned on the Thames. Vince Cable, and his colleagues who attended the Games, no doubt welcomed the protection they provided.

But the main problem with Cable’s announcement is this. When he talks of “the resumption of hostilities” what he means, of course, is the resumption of attacks on Israel by Hamas. No one, except perhaps Israel’s most blinkered critics, seriously expects the IDF to unilaterally resume its assault without some form of significant provocation from that terrorist group or its allies. So what Cable – and Her Majesty’s government – are literally saying is “If Hamas renews its rocket attacks we will penalise Israel by imposing an arms embargo”. Think about that. If a sovereign state is attacked, the British government’s position is that it will punish the state being attacked, and reward its attacker.

That, by any rational definition of the term, is not a foreign policy. Morally, logically. It’s not a policy at all. It’s utter insanity. A foreign affairs doctrine right out of Dr Strangelove.

But at least the Cable Doctrine has some perverse clarity to it. Unlike Britain’s stance on intervention in Iraq.

Here there is not even a black hole. A black hole at least has a delineable boundary. A semblance of structure.

Will US Airstrikes Empower ISIS?

August 14, 2014

U.S. airstrikes in Iraq could strengthen the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and make it a greater threat to the West. 

As Ankit noted last week, President Barack Obama has ordered airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) targets in northern Iraq. Besides preventing genocide, the purpose of these airstrikes are to contain and eventually defeat ISIS in Iraq. To that end, Obama has said the airstrikes may go on for many months.

Paradoxically, however, the airstrikes may empower ISIS and make it a greater threat to the West.

To begin with, prolonged airstrikes greatly increase the risk of ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks against Western homelands in two ways. First, they make it more likely that ISIS will target the West. Although they ultimately split over leadership of the jihad in Syria, ISIS and al-Qaeda’s longest running dispute is over whether to target the near or far enemy. While both groups ultimately seek to establish the caliphate, they differ over the best means to achieve that goal.

Al-Qaeda has long argued that in order to establish the caliphate, the U.S. must first be ejected from the Middle East. Consequentially, it has targeted the United States in its attacks. By contrast, ISIS has viewed sparking sectarian conflict as the best means in achieving the Caliphate. Thus, it has targeted Shiite targets to get Shiites to overreact in retaliating, which would allow the group to portray itself as the protector of the Sunni people.

Prolonged U.S. airstrikes threaten to change ISIS’s calculus. If the U.S. is perceived to be blocking its ambitions in the Middle East, the group is likely to turn its sights on the far enemy.

Of greater concern to the West, prolonged airstrikes threaten to increase lone wolf terrorist attacks against the West. One of the more disconcerting aspects of ISIS’s rise for Western governments has been the large number of Westerners who have been traveling to the Middle East to fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. This has greatly alarmed Western governments who fear these citizens will one day return to their homelands and put their newfound fighting skills to use.

Prolonged airstrikes create a new kind of threat from these Western Jihadists. Specifically, these Westerners are motivated by a desire to aid ISIS in its cause to establish the caliphate. Since the U.S. has at least been tactically aligned with ISIS in Syria, these Westerners have had to travel to the Middle East to assist ISIS. However, with the U.S. now fighting ISIS directly in Iraq, Western Jihadists who might have otherwise traveled to the Middle East may now decide that they can best aid ISIS’s cause by attacking the U.S. or Western targets at home.

Besides raising the threat of terrorist attacks at home, prolonged U.S. airstrikes against ISIS threaten to empower ISIS both regionally and in Iraq. Despite managing to escape the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001,terrorism experts generally agree that al-Qaeda was nearly a spent force by the end of 2002. The group was rejuvenated, at least temporarily, by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which led thousands of young Sunni men across the Arab world to join al-Qaeda in what they perceived to be a more traditional defensive jihad.

Hitting ISIS Where It Hurts Disrupt ISIS’s Cash Flow in Iraq

AUG. 13, 2014 

Washington — When the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria poured out from the eastern deserts of Syria into Iraq’s second-largest city last month, it was an image out of the eighth century: bearded Islamist marauders summarily executing unbelievers, pillaging as they went. But underneath that grisly exterior lurks something more modern and more insidious. As ISIS’s most recent annual report shows, the group is sophisticated, strategic, financially savvy and building structures that could survive for years to come. ISIS currently brings in more than $1 million a day in revenue and is now therichest terrorist group on the planet.

Despite the recent calls from hawks in Congress for a broader offensive, there are few meaningful options available to the United States. There’s no political appetite for a ground operation in Iraq. A narrower intervention, like the airstrikes and humanitarian assistance President Obama authorized last week, may be able to limit ISIS expansion, but will not defeat it.

Only the Iraqis and the Kurds will be able to reclaim territory. But there are some options for noncombat assistance that would help degrade the group’s finances, which are strongly linked to the group’s violence. For one, America could send expert teams to assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces in developing the financial intelligence needed to plan military operations against key ISIS elements. Targeting the terrorist group’s bookkeepers, its oil business and its cash holdings could both disrupt ISIS’s financing and provide additional intelligence on its inner workings.

Others have called for traditional counterterrorist methods to target ISIS’s wealth — by disrupting international financial flows that support terrorism. But this view misreads how ISIS makes its money. The group has always raised and spent most of its money locally, inside Iraq and Syria. ISIS wants to create its own state, and has long raised funds like many nascent states do, through coercion and co-optation.

ISIS has long been financially self-sustaining. We have analyzed hundreds of ISIS financial documents captured by American and Iraqi forces since 2005, and we’ve found no evidence that ISIS has ever relied on foreign patrons for funding. Contrary to the common myth that the group relies on wealthy donors abroad, ISIS’s meticulous records show that its money came mostly from protection rackets that extorted the commercial, reconstruction, and oil sectors of northern Iraq’s economy. The group also made considerable money through war itself, plundering millions of dollars from local Christians and Shiites, whom ISIS views as apostates.

We believe that ISIS will remain financially solvent for the foreseeable future. A conservative calculation suggests that ISIS may generate a surplus of $100 million to $200 million this year that it could reinvest in state-building.

So how can America disrupt ISIS’s financing? Since 9/11, the United States has focused mainly on international financiers sending money to Al Qaedaand its affiliates. The goal is to cut off terrorists’ foreign sources of wealth. These policies are designed to encourage proper banking practices and bolster international customs enforcement, as well as to place terrorists and their associates on designation lists that block their travel and freeze their bank accounts.

What Iraq's Kurdish Peshmerga Really Need

August 7, 2014 

While the Kurds could use more ammunition and weapons, they also need coordination, air support, and logistical help -- all of which the United States can provide on short notice.

Prior to August 1, the Iraqi Kurds had not felt the full brunt of attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, which now styles itself "the Islamic State"). Yet after a string of powerful ISIS strikes on Kurdish peshmerga units between Mosul and the Syrian border, the Kurdistan Regional Government's forces are fully engaged. On August 5, KRG president Masoud Barzani stated, "We have decided to go on the offensive and fight the terrorists to the last breath."

The United States should certainly support its historic allies, the Iraqi Kurds, in this fight. However, amid a clamor of voices calling for Washington to arm the peshmerga, it is important to draw lessons from the recent fighting that highlight the Kurdish military's more pressing needs.


On August 1-3, ISIS launched a phased offensive in western Ninawa province, in the triangle encompassing the Mosul Dam area, the Rabiyah border crossing with Syria, and the Sinjar district, a Kurdish-controlled salient populated mainly by Iraq's Yazidi minority. The attacks caused a number of peshmerga units to fall back toward the KRG or even into Syrian Kurdistan to escape ISIS forces. Simultaneously, on the eastern side of the KRG in Diyala province, Kurdish forces are stuck in an attritional see-saw battle against ISIS in the twin towns of Jalula and Saadiya.

In a bid to explain the peshmerga setbacks in these battles, Kurdish media have focused on the need for more and newer weapons. Another key theme has been ammunition shortages -- a traditional face-saver for Middle Eastern armies, based on the premise that even the bravest troops have to give way temporarily if they lack the means to fight.

While these explanations may be partially true, the battles in Ninawa and Diyala highlight a range of other weaknesses among the peshmerga that can and should be reduced through U.S. security cooperation. These weaknesses include: 

Poor disposition of forces. Perhaps the main reason why western Ninawa fell to ISIS is because the disposition of Kurdish forces made it very difficult to defend that territory. The Sinjar and Rabiyah areas encompass a large strip of land along the Syrian border that extends deep into ISIS-held territory. Adequately garrisoning these areas requires significant forces, but only two small peshmerga brigades were stationed there on August 1. Likewise, ISIS was able to develop advanced outposts on either side of the Tigris River approaching Mosul Dam and in the Christian areas east of Mosul due to the paucity of peshmerga forces in those areas. This is not because the KRG has insufficient forces -- rather, peshmerga units are overconcentrated around Kirkuk, where the two main Kurdish factions, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), are competing for influence. 

Trapped in an ISIS Prison, And There May Be No U.S. Rescue


The siege on Iraq’s Mt. Sinjar may have broken. But ISIS has taken hundreds, if not thousands, of Iraq’s ethnic minorities prisoner. They’re begging for help before it’s too late. 

The Pentagon says the U.S. military is now unlikely to attempt a rescue mission for the Yezidi minorities trapped on Iraq’s Sinjar Mountain, because so few are left. One reason why: ISIS has taken hundreds, if not thousands, of Yezidis prisoner, and threatened them with slavery and rape. But a few of the prisoners have smuggled in cellphones and are reaching out—pleading for help. 

In desperate phone calls to relatives in Iraq and in the U.S., they’re begging for rescue from the prisons, schools or mosques across northern Iraq, where they are being held by ISIS militants. 

They all tell a similar tale of horror: families fleeing on foot caught by militants in trucks and cars. The men are then dragged away at gunpoint from their wives and children, never to be seen again. The younger unmarried women are being told they will be forcibly married to ISIS fighters. Some are taken away and raped and a few have even been sold at Mosul’s main market. 

The married women aren’t sure what will happen to them and their children—they fear they will be sold into slavery. 

“My sister and her children are terrified,” said Iraqi Yezidi Faisal Fhaqooli, speaking from Lincoln, Nebraska, on Wednesday. 

His sister was able to hide her cellphone when ISIS fighters in trucks captured her family and hundreds of others when they were trying to flee the Sinjar area on foot. 

She said militants dragged her husband away, and took her and her children to a prison in Mosul over the weekend. On Tuesday, they were moved to a school in a nearby Iraqi city. (The Daily Beast is withholding certain specifics of their capture because of concerns for the prisoners’ safety.) She estimated there were up to a 1,000 women and children with her. 

The Daily Beast could not independently verify her story, but it matches accounts given by other Yezidis fleeing the fighting, and was grimly confirmed by an unnamed ISIS commander who told CNN on Wednesday that his forces seized families, capturing the women and children, and killing the men. (He put the numbers at roughly 100 captives, not a thousand, however.) 

When the group reached the Mosul prison, she said the ISIS fighters separated them into three groups: old women, younger women and girls, and then boys. She described the old women being taken away, their fate unknown, but said the mothers nearly rioted first when the fighters tried to take the boys. 

Their plight shows the scope both of what Islamic State militants are willing to do to a civilian population that refuses to convert to their firebrand version of Islam, and also the breadth of the security problem faced by President Barack Obama as he weighs how many U.S. resources to commit to a new conflict in Iraq. 

Obama had already authorized air drops of food and water for thousands of Yezidis who were trapped by ISIS fighters on Sinjar Mountain, while launching drone and jet missile strikes against the fighters below. 

U.S. halts missile transfer requested by Israel

Aug. 14, 2014

Wall Street Journal reports supply of Hellfire missiles canceled, U.S. officials demanding to review Israeli requests on individual basis.

An Israeli Air Force Apache helicopter firing flares in the sky above the Israel-Gaza border July 30, 2014.

The White House has instructed the Pentagon and the U.S. military to put on hold a transfer of Hellfire missiles that Israel had requested during its recent operation in the Gaza Strip, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the report, during Israel's Operation Protective Edge, White House officials were dismayed to discover how little influence they wield over the topic of Israeli arms shipments, against the backdrop of the U.S. government's unhappiness with the widespread damage inflicted upon Palestinian civilians.

During the Gaza war, the report said, White House officials came to realize that large amounts of weaponry are being passed to Israel via direct channels to the Pentagon, with little oversight by the political arena.

In light of that, and against the backdrop of American displeasure over IDF tactics used in the Gaza fighting and the high number of civilian casualties caused by Israel's massive use of artillery fire rather than more precise weapons, officials in the White House and the State Department are now demanding to review every Israeli request for American arms individually, rather than let them move relatively unchecked through a direct military-to-military channel, a fact that slows down the process.

According to a senior U.S. official, the decision to tighten oversight and require approval of higher-ranking officials over shipments, was intended to make clear to Israel that there is no "blank check" from Washington in regards to the U.S.-made weapons the IDF makes use of in its Gaza operations.

The United States is Israel's strongest friend, a senior official in the Obama administration told the Wall Street Journal, but "[t]he notion that they are playing the United States, or that they're manipulating us publicly, completely miscalculates their place in the world."

Why Obama's Iraq War Will Be a Disaster


When it comes to our latest foray into Mesopotamia, don’t expect the sequel to end better than the original. 

Why the hell is the United States going back into Iraq? And to what end? 

Americans famously don’t know much about history, but the willingness to ignore the immediate decade-plus of failure and plunge back into the fog of war without any clear articulation of national interests, exit strategy, or even obvious battle plan borders on the criminally insane. 

In last week’s official notification to Congress, President Obama invoked immediate, limited humanitarian aims as the trigger for action— who doesn’t feel for the the Yazidis, who are already suffering under the lunatic vision of a Caliphate propounded by the Islamic State? 

But as The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reported, he’s using that aspect of the mission to provide cover for a far more expansive “military campaign [that] would last months and not weeks.” Our goal, the president said at a press conference, is to make sure the Islamic State “is not engaging in actions that could cripple a country.” How’s that for an open-ended statement of purpose? 

We’ve seen this before. Although Obama didn’t bother notifying Congress about American involvement in Libya, the president also used humanitarian motives (a possible genocide) to justify military action against Qaddafi. It’s an understatement to say that it didn’t work out well, in Libya and in nearby countries). 

The early reports of U.S. bombing runs in Iraq are not reassuring, with the military’s director of operations, Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, flatly declaring this week, “I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained, or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of [the Islamic State].” That can change, of course, but it’s already leading to increased numbers of military personnel pouring into Iraq. The White House is already talking about how “American ground troops” might be used in rescue missions for the Yazidi and told The New York Times that “the troops would have the ability to defend themselves if they came under fire.” What comes next if that happens? 

The goal of American foreign policy should first and foremost be the defense of American lives and goals. There’s no more reason to go back into Iraq now than there was to invade back in 2003. 

Invading Iraq in 2003 was a mistake (57 percent of Americans concede as much). It was a blatant non sequitur in the Global War on Terror, a way for the Bush administration to divert attention from the stalled hunt for Osama bin Laden and the failure to immediately and publicly destroy al Qaeda’s capabilities. To the extent that the Iraq War was an exercise in “nation building” it failed massively, even as it destabilized the region and increased animosity toward the United States. 

But this time we’re told that we’ll get it right,mmkay? And in short order (well, months and not weeks). And despite it not even being fully clear who, exactly, is the legal prime minister of Iraq