The Truth behind Military Intervention in Qatar

Only 48 hours into Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt putting their boycott with Qatar into effect, Doha straightaway announced resorting to Turkish army troops.

The move shocked all Gulf States and even other foreign forces. Neither was the rift with Qatar a newly found dilemma, nor was the list of demands put forth by the quartet unexpected. Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had already signed onto them, but without fully falling through with implementation.

Political disputes and crises– among Arab Gulf countries in particular– have long been known to be settled through diplomacy and never military interventions.

In a nutshell, the four countries practiced rights dictated by sovereignty and have shut down all vents that could allow for evil or terror to come through the Qatari peninsula. On the other hand, Qatar’s response was to open up all ports and airspace to military troops—although it paradoxically made claims of being put under a brutal siege. The move presented a disastrous escalation for the region.

Doha, without previous warning, decided on militarizing a diplomatic crisis, unaware of the grave tensions it brought along by inviting foreign troops into the region.

Even though boycotting countries made it clear on many occasions that the row with Qatar goes beyond independent perceptions and is based on views shared by many other Arab and Islamic countries, Qatar’s reactions were shocking, nonsensical and quite rebellious–anyone could see that.

Many times, Doha’s policy-making decisions went against the interests of the Qatari people. Its confused stance and promotion of delusional claims on military threats, counteractively verifies the truth behind the quartet’s position and reasons for distancing itself up until this very moment.

Qatar’s escalatory stances sent a dangerous message it fails to see the aftermath entailed, given they compromise regional security and stability. Despite the Saudi-led bloc of four not going after a military option itself, the boycotting countries –like any other country in the world- are obliged to uphold their national security.

It is only natural that they do not allow for Doha to bring about impending threats to the security and stability of their people, which inviting foreign troops into the Gulf region exactly does. All the more, Qatar’s move was based on invalid justifications.

Absurdly, a state coming from a politically, socially and military weak position would still take on the risk of provoking mightier neighboring states which itself accuses of attempting to impose a regime change within its territory.

The matter of the fact is that regime change in Qatar was never an option, and that the goal was clearly defined by forcing the peninsula to reconsider its aggressive behavior.

It is worth noting that by Qatar turning to loud rhetoric, political cries, and foreign military intervention to escape its diplomatic crisis evidently proves that Doha policies weren’t strong enough to preserve the stability of its ruling regime in the first place. A thought-provoking scene of political adolescence?!
 
 US President Donald Trump summarized the whole feeble Qatari cry on it being under the threat of military intervention by telling the Emir of Qatar himself “no,” when he asked Trump on whether he had warned the Saudis against taking up military action against Qatar.

Qatar’s position was embarrassing as the president of a world super power snubs its narrative which was the product of a grievances-based policy. The same cry it used to justify allowing foreign forces to set foot in the region. Qatar wrongly employed a strategy to incite the four countries, but it only backfired as it proved Doha’s regime fragile and a volatile threat to both Gulf state and regional security.

Doha’s credibility before the world has been compromised by its own lies. The Qatari regime has emerged with no cover to confront the boycott’s effects. Promoting military intervention only shows how fear-struck the peninsula regime is.

Day by day, the crisis deepens as Doha turns a blind eye.  What Qatar truly fears is not ‘military intervention’, but its revolutionary policies proving a costly failure which the regime cannot easily dodge.  

Arrest the American ISIS Fighter

President Donald Trump has to decide what to do with an American who was fighting for ISIS, captured by Kurdish forces in Syria and handed over this week to the US military. The best solution is also the simplest: Charge him with material support for terrorism, convict him and lock him up in an appropriate US prison for many, many years.
In any sane, nonpartisan world, this decision would be a no-brainer. The other options are all flawed — practically, or legally, or both.

An ISIS combatant could likely be detained as a prisoner of war, assuming we are at war with ISIS. That’s probably the case, although it’s worth noting that Congress has authorized war against those who planned the Sept. 11 attacks and against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, but not specifically ISIS.

The trouble is that prisoners of war aren’t supposed to be punished for taking up arms. They’re entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions and to be freed when the war is over. They cannot be mistreated or interrogated by violent means.

The only prisoners of war who need not be freed at war’s end are war criminals. The captured American is almost certainly an unlawful combatant under US definitions of war crimes, because he presumably hasn’t been wearing a uniform. Beyond that technical violation, we don’t know what acts he might have committed in fighting for ISIS.
In any event, a war criminal needs to be charged with a war crime by a military tribunal. And there isn’t one in place.

True, the tribunals are up and running at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to try the Sept. 11 planners. But they almost certainly wouldn’t work for the American.

If there is one lesson of the Guantanamo military tribunals, it’s that they are stunningly slow.

In contrast, a criminal trial could be fast. If the defendant pleads guilty, it could be almost instantaneous. And the American would have good reason to cut a deal in order to reduce his sentence or improve the conditions of his incarceration. After all, he is sure to be found guilty of materially supporting terrorism if he was captured on the battlefield fighting for ISIS. That crime calls for a long sentence, which could easily be served in the miseries of a Supermax prison unit.

That brings us to the issue that has moved some Republicans in the past to criticize the option of criminally charging terrorists: reading them their rights. If charged, the American must be told he has a right to an attorney and a right to remain silent.

Yet that advice likely wouldn’t stop the American from providing intelligence. The incentive to talk comes from the threat of decades in Supermax.

True, he can’t be tortured or mistreated. But that would be unlawful even if he weren’t an American, or weren’t going to prison.

In the past, the government has used a questionable two-step on some detainees. First, it held them incommunicado as prisoners of war aboard US ships for months, subjecting the detainees to questioning by CIA personnel. Then, when they had told what they knew, the government arrested them and read them their rights.

The Trump administration may try this same two-step. But it raises serious constitutional questions about whether anything the detainee might say could ever be used in court.

What’s more, the two-step shows contempt for the independence of the judicial process.

If Trump is worried about being criticized from the right for arresting the ISIS fighter, he can always explain (on Twitter if he chooses) that prison is the only place for an American who takes up arms against innocent people and his country.

The public accepted the criminal prosecution of the so-called American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, who remains in prison. And he was involved in the death of a CIA officer.

All over the world, countries are struggling to find the right way to treat returning ISIS fighters. In the US, the tools and solution are clear. This fighter committed the crime. Now he should do the time.

Bloomberg View

Bring Back the Ombudsman

Members of the media raise their hands for questions.

How can news organizations avoid the trap that President Trump has laid for them in his attacks on the media as a one-sided “opposition party” that caters to anti-Trump elites and purveys “fake news” to readers and viewers?

Part of the answer is simply for journalists to keep doing their jobs, aggressively and fairly. We’re not in the business of making friends, but of holding powerful people and institutions accountable. And ultimately, it’s only this feisty, independent voice that will preserve public support for our role under the First Amendment.

But something is misfiring. For fans of the mainstream media, this may look like a golden age, with scoops every day about Trump and his alleged misdeeds. But liberal adulation masks a broader mistrust: A disturbingly large 72 percent of Americans think news organizations tend to favor one side in covering political or social issues, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. And Democrats are 47 points more likely than Republicans to back the media’s accountability role.

Robert Kaiser, for years The Post’s managing editor, liked to say that “readers deserve one clear shot at the facts” so they can make up their own minds about who the good guys and bad guys are. Sorry, colleagues, but even on our best days, we aren’t always meeting that test.

How do we broaden public trust? One approach that news organizations embraced a few decades ago, when they had more money to spend and fewer freelance critics, was to create an in-house ombudsman or public editor to represent readers and viewers. Most big news organizations, including The Post and the New York Times, have dropped their ombudsmen over the past decade. That was a mistake, I think.

Ombudsmen can be a pain in the neck. They second-guess reporters and editors. They advocate ideas of fairness that some people think are outmoded. They undermine coverage. (“Even the Washington Post’s ombudsman admitted that . . . ”) But they’re needed as never before. Critics see media bigshots as arrogant, unaccountable elitists pursuing their own agendas. A good ombudsman changes that balance, in favor of readers and viewers — and fairness.

Margaret Sullivan, a New York Times public editor for four years and now a media columnist for The Post, favors the restoration of the ombudsman role at the Times. Though she has argued against a tepid “balance” (termed “false equivalency” by liberal critics), she says that shouldn’t excuse tendentious or one-sided coverage. “There is nothing more important to what we do than fairness. Fairness doesn’t mean down the middle, fifty-fifty. . . . Fairness doesn’t equal false equivalency.”

A model ombudsman was The Post’s Michael Getler, who held the role from 2000 to 2005. He wrote about two dozen columns criticizing The Post for not covering the run-up to the Iraq War adequately. Getler was one of the paper’s most experienced reporters and editors, and his criticism stung. He represented angry readers who felt The Post had allowed the country to sleepwalk into a disastrous conflict.

Yet Getler was attacked. Slate argued in 2001 that he “subscribes to the old-school view that journalistic credibility rises whenever a writer suppresses what he thinks about the subject at hand and falls whenever he abandons that pure stenography of who, what, why, where, and when.” This derisive critique of traditional, fact-based reporting has become surprisingly widespread on the left.

Another tough in-house critic who got roughed up for her trouble was Liz Spayd, a former Post managing editor who became public editor for the Times last year. She cautioned in a column last September that journalists shouldn’t be so worried about avoiding on-the-one-hand, on-the-other versions of balance that they become partisan.

Spayd was publicly flayed over the next year for this and other apostasies before the Times abolished her position in May. New York magazine called her false-balance column “a logical train wreck.” Politico Magazine headlined: “Good riddance.”

The pursuit of evenhanded reporting may have led the Times to overdo its coverage of the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s email controversies, both hyped out of proportion in my view. But it was Spayd, the advocate of fairness, who skewered the Times for not being aggressive enough in covering the FBI investigation of Trump and Russia before the election. Executive Editor Dean Baquet termed that a “bad column,” but it looks pretty good in retrospect.

The debates that swirled around Sullivan, Getler, Spayd and others are part of a healthy (if painful) process of holding the watchdogs accountable. Bring back the ombudsman!

(The Washington Post)

Qatar Under Pressure

Qatar

The way things are going and the measures taken by the four countries to end the Qatari situation means that expectations are high that they will succeed no matter how strongly the government in Doha resisted.

This week’s political meetings in New York had shed a light on the crisis and where it is heading.

If Qatar agreed to proposed concessions, it will finally be able to get from underneath the pressure it had been experiencing. However, if it chose to bargain by accepting some conditions and stalling others, the crisis will last another year.

The entire world benefits from confronting Qatar. This small state with massive financial surpluses and immense desire to create chaos in the region has caused a lot of destruction.

The Middle East managed to almost rid itself of all regimes financing and supporting chaos except two: Qatar and Iran.

By eliminating the role of Qatar, problems will reduce and religious extremists will lose power. Iran will remain alone.

For two decades, Qatar was responsible for all the chaos and extremism and it was even partially responsible for terrorism. At the beginning, belittling its influence and effects, no one stopped Qatar. But, when crises backed by Qatar grew and became numerous, Doha hid behind its alliances.

The agreement between four Arab countries capable of thwarting Qatar turned the tables and beseiged Qatar.

When not monitored, Qatar is a dangerous state. It owns a surplus of gas and oil revenues enabling it to fund extremist organizations across the world and plan to topple regimes opposing it. This makes Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE adamant to end Qatar’s practices and confront its policies.

When asked to choose between the four boycotting countries and Qatar, most countries choose the former considering their influence, significance, and interests.

Prior to meetings held this month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s session, Qatar sought to convince superpowers to support it against the four boycotting countries but it failed.

Germany’s chancellor advised Qatar’s Emir to secretly negotiate with the four countries, meaning he has to make concessions.

This is a crucial week for Qataris. They will try to convince the US to mediate once again and seal an appropriate political deal with the quartet.

Qatar leadership might not succeed because of what happened when Trump mediated following Emir of Kuwait’s initiative. However, Emir of Qatar failed the mediation on its onset.

One might wonder why would Qatar want a mediation then thwart it. The secret is that Qatar is controlled by two rulers. Emir Tamim who only approves decisions but has no authority to execute and the former Emir, his father, and his former foreign minister, who still rule the country’s institutions.

If all solutions failed to be launched within these two weeks, the crisis can prolong for a year or two
and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the anti-terror quarter has nothing to lose from boycotting Qatar.

Doha, however, has a lot to lose as it cannot live with all these pressures. The country’s port and airport are open, still, Qatar’s authorities are suffocating because of this boycott.

Qatar is under enormous pressure and that is not just limited to its only land border of 60 kilometers with Saudi Arabia as it exceeds to pursuit from international and regional institutions.

As time passes Qataris and foreigners will realize that the crisis will not be resolved soon with compromise and surrender. It will take longer and the state will weaken.

Syria, Iraq and the Hurricane

A Syrian Kurdish refugee comforts her child after they crossed into Turkey, fleeing fighting around Kobani, Syria,

An Arab man is glued to his television. The scenes are spectacular and unprecedented. The most powerful country in the world stands alarmed and tries to salvage what can be saved. Nature’s anger is a beast that cannot be detained.

The hurricane speed exceeded 200 kilometers per hour. It uprooted everything: roofs, houses, power poles and advertising boards. The rain is cold and ruthless. Heavy floods have swept trucks and cars away. Public squares have turned into swamps with pieces from smashed houses floating over. Authorities declared a state of emergency. All state bodies were put on alert. Millions of people were evacuated.

Television stations broadcast images of families leaving their homes, wrapped only with tears, fleeing to safe shelters… Men grieving for their houses, which they put too much effort to build… As if enormous tusks had pounced onto a wide area and implanted into its depths… Blood, mud and horror poured. It is Hurricane Irma, which has quickly occupied a prominent place in world record books. Losses were estimated at USD 150 billion. Many houses will suffer from darkness, waiting for the start of reconstruction.

The next day, the Arab man skims through an issue of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. It is the issue of this Thursday, September 14th. The source of the story is the National Agenda for the Future of Syria, which is supervised by Syrian and international experts under the umbrella of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

According to the report, the cost of the Syrian war amounted to USD 327 billion; including USD 227 billion due to lost opportunities and USD 100 billion due to destruction.

The Arab man delved into the details of the report. The housing sector was the most vulnerable to destruction as it incurred 30 percent of losses or about USD 30 billion. The proportion of destruction in the industrial sector reached nearly 18 percent, 9 percent for the electricity and water sector, and 7 percent for the agricultural sector. Statistics do not include destruction in the cities of Raqqa and Deir al-Zour.

The Arab man read the Syrian numbers as someone rubbing salt into his wounds. He was eager to search the Internet to know the cost of Iraqi storms, the tornado of Kuwait’s invasion, that of the invasion of Iraq and its consequences, the Sunni-Shiite strife and its aftermath… the fall of Mosul into the hands of ISIS, the hurricane of corruption, which is not less destructive than the blood hurricanes.

It is enough to hear an Iraqi politician say: “We have spent more than one hundred billion dollars to resolve the problem of electricity and the problem still exists”.

The Arab man disregarded the figures. He remembered that the Iraqi and Syrian hurricanes have produced more than one million deaths and much more wounded and disabled. The loss of lives is much more painful than that of walls.

He felt the enormous difference between hurricanes. As soon as Irma recedes, reconstruction works will begin to remove its effects. There is a state there. There are institutions; a public opinion that monitors, judges and holds accountable. Our hurricanes are different.

At the beginning of the hurricane that hit Florida, normal questions were raised: Are the rescue and civil defense bodies ready for their duty? What lessons can be learned to limit the losses when nature gets angry after years or decades?

Our hurricanes are different. They are more severe and terrifying: winds coming from outside clash with the internal gaps. The state is decomposed and the map is broken. The components are fragmented. The national fabric is torn down. The army is disintegrated and militias are in a state of war.

The national flag is isolated and a forest of foreign flags surrounds the country. Flags from distant and nearby states, with conflicting stories and differing grudges. A Chechen man comes to kill a Syrian in favor of the regime, or an Afghan comes to kill a Syrian in favor of the opposition…

The hurricane exposes us. Countries that used to boast about their cohesion are divided and fragmented. A country, which used to have a powerful role, has become very frail to the extent that seeing its population getting killed is no longer a shock.

The country, which used to be a main player on the regional map, has become a playground for small armies, which are drawing with Syrian blood tiny maps protected by international or regional powers… areas of influence… and a decision that is lost in nearby and distant capitals…

Hurricanes expose us. They reveal that we are futile countries, lost peoples, and wasted institutions. No army saves the country from outer dangers. Security does not save the citizen from criminals. The Constitution does not protect people’s rights. The courts do not dare harass the perpetrators.

The hurricane shakes us. Our country becomes a platform for all kinds of newcomers, as if we were a testing ground for bombs and knives, for those seeking alternative wars, and those carrying ideas that are more treacherous than daggers, for the promoters of policies of revenge, for those wanting to change the balance of powers by using people’s blood, for the promoters of injustice and darkness, and for cruelty in all its forms.

The fury of nature can uproot a roof, smash cars and break columns, but it cannot dismantle a state and fragment a map. The absence of a real state is what triggers hurricanes. Outside storms cannot uproot a nation that is built on the values citizenship and justice; a state with a constitution that guarantees the rights of citizens and defines mechanisms for the rotation of power and for improvement.

Internal gaps are the first ally for the poisonous wind coming from outside. Feelings of marginalization tempt some people to jump out of the train and plant bombs to blow it up or change its trajectory.

I am an Arab and I only want Iraq to be a stable, prosperous and natural country that plays its role in its surrounding environment and leads its citizens to the future. Who governs Iraq is a matter that must be left to the Iraqis on the basis of citizenship and democracy that guarantees rights of minorities before those of the majority.

I am an Arab and I only want Syria to be a stable and prosperous country that plays its natural role in its surrounding environment… A country, which does not live in the shadow of a forest of flags that have infiltrated from conflicting locations to deepen the wounds of the Syrian components… A state, which poses no danger to itself or to its neighbors…

The issue of who governs Syria must be resolved by the Syrian people under a constitution based on citizenship and justice.

The absence of a fair, modern state transforms minorities into buried mines. The absence of an actual state makes the land favorable to hurricanes. The first lesson learned from hurricanes is to re-install the idea of the state, which applies its constitution and practices on all citizens, as citizens of one nation; not guns to be used by the leaders at the moment of collapse.

Fans of Iran Nuke Deal Start to Acknowledge its Flaws

Iran

The public line from the supporters of the Iran nuclear deal in the last two years has been clear. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the core agreement is known, is wonderful. As Barack Obama said after its negotiations were completed in 2015: “There’s a reason why 99 percent of the world thinks that this is a good deal: It’s because it’s a good deal.”

All of this is reminiscent of what journalist David Samuels described in 2015 as an echo chamber of prominent arms-control experts, sympathetic journalists and Obama administration staffers deployed to sell the nuclear bargain to the public and Congress. Their party line is that the deal is the best possible way to limit Iran’s nuclear rise.

Nonetheless, many of these experts and former officials are also beginning to acknowledge that the nuclear deal they sold in 2015 is flawed. Next month, the Brookings Institution will host an off-the-record meeting of policy experts — some who favored the deal, some who oppose it — to discuss how to address the nuclear agreement’s flaws.

The State Department’s former special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, Bob Einhorn, invited these nonproliferation experts to “one or more workshops to address the nuclear deal’s ‘sunset’ problem,” which he said was the risk that, “when key nuclear restrictions of the JCPOA expire, Iran will be free to build up its nuclear capabilities, especially its enrichment capacity, and drastically reduce the time it would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.”

This was a key objection voiced by Israel in 2015 when it publicly opposed Obama’s deal with Iran. Between 2025 and 2030, the agreement to limit Iran’s stocks of low-enriched uranium and the number of centrifuge cascades it can operate will expire, allowing Iran to erect an industrial-scale nuclear program if it chooses.

At the time, Israel’s objections were dismissed and derided by the White House. Obama called the deal’s critics warmongers.

Today, former Obama officials are singing a different song. Einhorn, who served from 2009 to 2013 in the Obama administration, told me: “Everyone recognizes that the deal is not ideal. I think President Obama would say the deal is not ideal.” He added: “There have been all kinds of ideas for how it can be strengthened. Strong supporters of the deal would acknowledge that. Let’s think of a strategy for how some of its shortcomings can be remedied.”

Iran has continued to test ballistic missiles and has warned it won’t allow inspections of military sites — highlighting ambiguities in the agreement. Einhorn’s quiet effort coincides with a new Trump administration strategy that looks to use the president’s de-certification of Iranian compliance with the deal as leverage to negotiate additional restrictions that address the sunset provisions.

So far, the echo chamber has opposed this strategy. The fear is that Trump’s de-certification, which would not automatically reinstate the crippling sanctions that were lifted as a condition of the deal, would potentially unravel the nuclear agreement and leave the international community with even less transparency about Iran’s nuclear program. Congress would have 60 days to debate whether to reimpose those sanctions.

Colin Kahl, who served as Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser in Obama’s second term, told me in an email this week that it was worthwhile to begin looking at the flaws of the agreement, but he opposed any strategy in which Trump would de-certify Iran’s compliance.

“There is no need to force a crisis over it at this very moment — as Trump and some deal opponents seem inclined to do — given that elements of the JCPOA don’t begin to sunset until 2026-2031,” he wrote. “And, as we engage in this conversation about possible arrangements to supplement the JCPOA, we should do so in a way that protects and stabilizes the current deal rather than threatening steps that would blow it up.” He added that any negotiations to further restrict Iran ought to include “possible positive inducements” for Iran.

*Bloomberg

Will September be Decisive for the Nuclear Agreement?

Iran

Two frustrating years out of ten have passed since the nuclear agreement was signed. The world is stepping into the third year of an agreement described by US President Donald Trump as the worst in ages. It is obvious that September will be decisive for the nuclear agreement as the US administration is considering a comprehensive strategy for all noxious Iranian acts – a strategy that calls for more strictness against Iranian forces and its agents of extremist Shi’ite groups in Iraq and Syria.

Through its new strategy, Washington aims to increase pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missiles program and its support to extremists. It also targets cyber-spying and possibly, nuclear proliferation.

According to Reuters, the new US strategy “could be agreed and made public before the end of September.” Once agreement is reached on this comprehensive strategy, then we will face a new phase of a serious attempt to downsize Iranian expansion after it lasted eight years (during the term of Obama) and, ironically, reached its zenith after signing the nuclear agreement.

Most importantly, the strategy will be the first practical step by Trump’s administration towards a stricter supervision of the nuclear agreement without letting it be an advantageous award to Tehran’s arms and militias in the region.

The real catastrophe is that Iran has already received all it had to gain from the nuclear deal, which serves its interest and doesn’t terminate uranium enrichment. Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, said it is likely that Iran has already accumulated enough reactors to produce a nuclear bomb.

The problem with the agreement was and still is that it does not stand against Iran’s aspirations to expand aggressively in the region. Furthermore, it does not effectively tackle Iran’s previous efforts for nuclear armament at a time when it still continued to the violate the agreement.

The truth is, no one opposes a nuclear agreement that falls in the interest of the world. No one wishes to besiege Iran as long as it doesn’t violate international laws. It is in no one’s interest to call for abolishing the agreement, but the concerns that appeared when announcing the agreement in July 2015 seemed obvious after the deal was signed.

In short, Iran had violated the agreement in the first month and it continued to manipulate it under the pretext of “the spirit of the agreement”. But in fact it has been violating central details without being held accountable.

For example, the agreement stipulates that Iran be notified if it violates any of the articles, and in case it abides by it again later on then this wouldn’t be considered a breach. In this way, Iran continues to violate the agreement, and then it stops when being notified.

I think that this is the best agreement Iran has ever signed because it is benefiting from it in any way it wants, while the region is jeopardized by Iran’s use of its terrorist networks under the umbrella of the international agreement.

We can say that this is the first article that should be revised strictly so that Iran becomes aware of the consequences of its violations. Who would believe that the US navy can’t strongly respond when IRGC-affiliated armed ships provoke it (a thing that occurred several times in the past two years)? The desire not to give Iran an excuse to disrupt the nuclear agreement is the only thing stopping them. What better gift could be given to Iran?

In his famous interview with Atlantic magazine in 2015, Obama said that the long negotiations with the Iranians that led to the agreement would help restore respect to Iran and calm in the region. He pointed out that he has no excessive concerns over Iran’s corruption and that supporting the US allies against Tehran would trigger conflicts.

Two years of the agreement have proven that everything Obama said and believed in, and everyone who supported the agreement, was wrong. The region didn’t calm down, but the opposite. The agreement didn’t help Tehran respect its neighbors. The only thing that happened is that ignoring Tehran’s attitude led to an escalating threat to the world, not only the region.

Maybe it is time to call Iran to account for violating the nuclear agreement, even after two years of signing it.

North Korea’s Secret Weapon? Economic Growth.

North Korea

With the United Nations imposing yet another round of sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear provocations, it’s worth asking why such penalties have been failing for more than a decade. One reason is that the North Korean economy is improving more than is commonly understood — and that will make altering its behavior through trade barriers significantly harder.

The current approach to sanctions is partly based on the assumption that North Korea’s economy is a socialist nightmare, but that’s no longer really true. Although the country is still poor, its gross domestic product grew by an estimated 3.9 percent in 2016, to about $28.5 billion, the fastest pace in 17 years. Wages have risen quickly, and per-capita GDP is now on par with Rwanda, an African economic exemplar.

This progress is partly due to continued trade with China, which remains reluctant to crack down on its neighbor, despite calls for tighter sanctions. Although China agreed in February to ban North Korean coal imports, iron imports have surged and total trade increased by 10.5 percent in the first half of the year, to $2.55 billion.

At the same time, economic reforms made in 2011 have begun to take hold, allowing factory managers to set salaries, find their own suppliers, and hire and fire employees. Farming collectives have been replaced by a family-based management system, which has led to far greater harvests. The government has even come to tolerate private enterprise on a limited basis.

The results are striking. Street vendors, once rare, are now a common site in Pyongyang. Some neighborhoods have new luxury high-rises, modern supermarkets, fashionable shops, and streets busy with Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs. Although the government denies having abandoned the old socialist system, the evidence is undeniable: By some estimates, the private sector now accounts for up to half of GDP.

Meanwhile, given the country’s still-widespread impoverishment, simple improvements in agriculture and natural-disaster management are enough to yield significant new growth. Last year’s impressive GDP gains were due largely to recovery from a bad drought in 2015.

For North Koreans, rising living standards are obviously a good thing. The problem is that the economy still has plenty of room to grow before further progress will require the removal of trade barriers. That means it could be years before new sanctions would hurt enough to cause a significant change in behavior. Until then, the nation’s ideology of self-reliance, known as juche, seems almost plausible.

Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s dictator, looks to be fashioning himself after South Korea’s Park Chung-hee or China’s Deng Xiaoping — that is, as an iron-fisted economic reformist. Despite rampant human-rights violations, Park still stands tall in the memory of many South Koreans for bringing the country into economic maturity. Deng is largely responsible for turning China into the economic powerhouse that it is today. It’s easy to imagine that if Kim’s nuclear arsenal keeps the US military at bay long enough, he’s got a shot at a similar legacy.

Of course, he still faces some enormous challenges, not least being cut off from the global system of trade. Hidebound apparatchiks may object to further reforms, a wealthier public may question the legitimacy of Communist rule in an increasingly capitalist state, and market bubbles could prove destabilizing. But faced with excruciating pressure and scant resources, North Korea has nevertheless been steadily achieving its goals for years. Further economic growth is likely to only help.

(Bloomberg)

Salameh’s Difficult Task in New York

UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salameh attends a news conference with prime minister of Libya's Government of National Accord Fayez Al Sarraj in Tripoli, Libya on August 5, 2017.

This summer has seen a flurry of summits and meetings on Libya. On 25 July, Paris hosted a meeting between Sarraj and Haftar. Last week, Brazzaville hosted a meeting of the African Union with Prime Minister Faiez Sarraj, Speaker of the House of Representatives Aghila Saleh and Chairman of the High State Council Abdul Rahman Swehli attending. This week, foreign ministers and top diplomats of the US, UK, France, Italy, Egypt and the UAE met in London to discuss Libya with the new UN Special Representative Ghassan Salameh.

The most important meeting will take place next week in New York, on the margins of the UN General Assembly. Salameh is expected to present his plan to move the political process forward to the ministers of the countries most interested in Libya, including many Arab countries. His main challenge will be to resist pressure from ministers and heads of government to produce results in the short term and instead focus on a solid strategy that includes both a political process and efforts at stabilization and de-escalation.

Since starting his work in late July, Salameh has approached the Libyan file with caution and an open mind. Rather than making grand statements, he has travelled throughout Libya meeting hundreds of Libyans apart from the big political and military names. He was already familiar with the country because of his academic activity but his recent tour and the meetings with Haftar and other important stakeholders have probably injected a further note of caution in his approach.

The agenda for him was set by the work of his predecessor Martin Kobler and most importantly by the negotiations conducted between Cairo and Abu Dhabi since December 2016. First, to include Haftar and his supporters in the existing Libyan Political Agreement (also known as the Skhirat agreement), he must help the House of Representatives and the High Council of State negotiate a number of amendments to the agreement. Once amended the agreement, the same parties will have to make the appointments in the main institutions. This should lead, according to the joint declaration agreed by Haftar and Sarraj in Paris in July, to elections in early 2018. Meanwhile, the Libyan Constitutional Drafting Assembly based in Bayda has approved a draft constitution in August and in theory this should be submitted to a referendum in the coming months.

Getting all these elements in the right sequence is the first challenge for Salameh but the biggest one is navigating the apparent agreement of all the major stakeholders on this plan and the reality of big divisions on its implementation. For example, while everyone agrees that the Agreement should be amended to create the figure of the Prime Minister and to reduce the Presidency Council from nine to three members, the different factions have radically different ideas on who should cover those positions and even on how they should be allocated.

Secondly, while paying lip service to reforming the agreement, some figures have all the interest in perpetuating the status quo. All changes should go through the House of Representatives headed by Aghila Saleh, but he has shown over and over that he has no interest in changing the current situation in which he has considerable power also vis-à-vis Haftar. So either Aghila stops the reform from moving forward in the House of Representatives or even if this is approved, it would take a long time to agree on the new names. And this would be temporary names in view of the elections.

Elections are a big question mark as it is unclear whether Aghila would quickly approve the law that is required to hold them. And of course, it is unclear if elections would be both for parliament and for president. Haftar has made it clear that he would like to run for president, but it is unclear how one could hold such elections without a constitution stating the powers of the new office. Since 2011, Libya has not had a President of the Republic, not even a temporary one.

To reduce Aghila’s veto power on any agreement, the process would need to take the reform of the House of Representatives seriously. This is crucial if any roadmap is to be approved and if the Libyan government is to work according to rules and institutions. Currently, the meetings of parliament with the highest attendance gather only half of the members and the House has been unable to approve anything significant in the last year. Brokering a compromise to reintegrate all members of parliament will have to be part of the plan, perhaps including the move to a more neutral location than Aghila’s “fiefdom” in Tobruk.

All of this will require time, much more than the few months from now until early 2018. Salameh, with the cooperation of concerned countries, must be empowered to work also on stabilization of Libya even in the absence of a big political agreement. This means having a government in charge of public services, a recognized Central Bank and an economic process to share the wealth of the country alongside mechanisms to avoid military escalation, rebuild Benghazi, ensure the return of the internally displaced and address the humanitarian crisis particularly in the south.

Ultimately, Ghassan Salameh can only do this if there is, from the side of Libyan leaders, willingness to compromise and focus on solutions. The Libyan social fabric made of activists, mayors, notables and tribal leaders has often demonstrated a more constructive behavior than military and political leaders. Choosing the right mix between these components will be key but before that Salameh will need to get the right support from international leaders in New York. The message should be to do well, not quickly on the political process while showing a commitment to address the humanitarian issues that affect the daily lives of Libyans.

Mattia Toaldo is a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London

Iraq’s Kurds, their Right to Independence

Consider the plight of an ethnic group seeking self-determination in the Middle East.

Its leaders have renounced terrorism. Their militias fight alongside US soldiers. While their neighbors built weapons of mass destruction, they built a parliament, universities and the infrastructure for an independent state. And they pursue independence through a recognized legal process, enshrined in their country’s constitution.

I am, of course, talking about Iraq’s Kurds. On Sept. 25, they will vote in a referendum to endorse a state of their own.

One might think the US government would see the Kurds as ideal candidates for statehood in a region where self-determination is often sought through violence. But the Trump administration so far has worked assiduously to dissuade the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq from giving its people the opportunity to vote for independence.

The US arguments against the statehood referendum revolve mainly around timing, according to both US and Kurdish officials. Next year, Iraqis themselves are supposed to have elections. A vote to break away from Iraq would weaken Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at a moment when he has been helpful in keeping Iraq together and leading the fight against ISIS.

What’s more, the Kurdish referendum will offer Iraqis in disputed areas like Sinjar, and most importantly the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the opportunity to choose between Iraq and an independent Kurdish state. Asking citizens to vote for independence in areas that are already disputed within Iraq is a recipe for trouble, US diplomats say. They want the Kurds to reconsider.

Michael Rubin, an expert on the Kurds at the American Enterprise Institute, told me the referendum “is being done for the wrong motives.” He said the decision to apply the referendum to people in Kirkuk and other disputed areas “will guarantee conflict.” “If they were to go independent, immediately Kurdistan would have a fight over its borders,” he said.

These objections, however well intentioned, have not deterred the initiative. The Iraqi constitution promised such a vote, and Kurdish leaders have delayed it for years. It is time for Iraq’s Kurds to at least formally convey what anyone who has followed this issue already knows: Kurds deserve their own country.

Aziz Ahmad, an adviser to Masrour Barzani, the national security adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government, told me senior delegations who traveled to Washington and Baghdad asked the US for some assurance in exchange for flexibility. “We told them, ‘If you have disagreements on the timing, give us formal guarantees of when we should hold the referendum.’ And they never did,” he said.

Instead of treating this like a problem, President Donald Trump should see the Kurdish referendum as an opportunity. Here we have an ethnic minority that has done — for the most part — everything we ask of groups seeking statehood. Compare this to the Palestinians, who have squandered billions in aid and years of exquisite international attention, yet still lack the kind of functioning institutions the world takes for granted in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region.

“We hear daily statements about the two-state solution and the right of self determination for the Palestinians, by the same officials who tell us we cannot have a vote to express the will of Kurds to have their own country,” Hoshyar Zebari, a former foreign minister for both the Kurdish region and Iraq, told me. “This is a double standard.”

There are of course important differences between the Palestinian and Kurdish cases for independence. Because the Kurds are not Arabs, their cause never got strong support from Arab states in the region, like the Palestinian cause has. And Israel never committed the kinds of large-scale war crimes against Palestinians that Saddam Hussein and Turkish governments have against Kurds. Also Kurds make no claim to Baghdad, the way both Palestinians and Israelis makes claims to Jerusalem. There is also still considerable support within Israel for a two-state solution, whereas there is no such support for Kurdish independence among Iraqi Arabs.

But the most consequential difference between the Palestinians’ case for statehood and the Kurds’ may end up being US national interests.

Ten years ago, the US needed to at least support a peace process for Israel and the Palestinians as a way to persuade Arab allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to join American efforts against Iran. The presidency of Barack Obama and the emboldened predations of Iran changed all of that. Today, America’s Arab allies in the region are frustrated at the lack of a more robust policy to counter Iran, peace process or not.

The Kurdistan regional government today is by no means perfect. Its politics are still dominated mainly by two families. They are three years past due for elections on a new government, though the region’s president, Masoud Barzani, today says there will be new elections in November, and he has pledged he will not stand for office. Corruption, like in all Middle Eastern governments, remains a problem.

But compared with its neighbors, the Kurdistan regional government is Switzerland. Kurdish leaders do not name parks and streets after suicide bombers. Kurdish leaders have implored their citizens to fight alongside the US against Iraq’s common enemies. The Kurdish people do not burn American flags. Most of them are not gulled by extremists. They have pursued statehood the way we hope the Palestinians would.

The Kurdish referendum this month closes a chapter that began 25 years ago, when President George H.W. Bush in the aftermath of the first Gulf War established a no-fly zone to protect Kurdish families driven into the mountains by Saddam Hussein’s storm troopers.

In the last quarter century the Kurdish people have built a state worthy of independence, under the protection of the US military. That should be a source of pride for all Americans. Our president shouldn’t quibble over timing. The administration should welcome Kurdish independence.

Bloomberg