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May 2011 Archives
The regime of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad has resorted to escalating levels of violence and intimidation in order to weather mass street protests, reportedly having already killed more than 1,100 and arrested more than 10,000 Syrians. Given that a fall of the Assad regime could break the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, and thus prove a potential game changer in the Middle East, we would like National Journal experts to weigh in on the Assad regime's chances for surviving the crisis, and the most likely scenario if he does not.
Given support and encouragement from Iran, can Assad actually hang on to power and return to something like the previous status quo, as Iran did after its 2009 protests? Is there still a chance that Assad will introduce democratic reforms that mollify the protesters? Facing an ever-tightening noose of international sanctions, might Syrian security forces abandon Assad and cut a deal with opposition figures, as happened in Egypt? What are the chances that the protests devolve into outright civil war, as has happened in Libya recently, and Iraq and Lebanon in the past? How do you rate Syria's chances of transitioning to a functioning democracy in a post-Assad period? Finally, what if anything should and could the Obama administration do to try and facilitate Assad's ouster?
Last Thursday's address on the Middle East was President Obama's moment of opportunity to stake out his positions in the wake of the protest movements that swept through the region. Now that the so-called Arab Spring is fading into summer, significant parts of the region are beginning a shaky political transitions in their post-dictatorial era--or still struggling in the throes of protests or civil war. Did Obama's address do the job? Are we seeing a "reset" of his Mideast policy, or finally, an "Obama Doctrine"? If so, what is it? National Journal asks the experts to weigh in on any, or all, of the following questions:
Middle East 'Marshall Plan':
Obama says that OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region and the U.S. will work with allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe. Tunisia and Egypt, two nations that President Obama held up as examples of having successfully ousted their strongman leaders, will see U.S. economic aid--and Cairo was offered $2 billion in debt relief and loan guarantees. What do you think about this Mideast version of a Marshall Plan? Is it enough to make a difference? Or is it too much, in these tight-fisted economic times?
Straddling the Line:
Dictators cracking down on protesters in Yemen and Syria were essentially told that their time in power is coming to an end. But Obama, who has sanctioned and pressured Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, stopped short of calling publicly for him to step down immediately. Should Obama have gone further in his rhetoric here? What about in Bahrain, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and a key strategic ally in the Gulf? If Washington mutes its criticism of certain countries, it will be open to familiar charges of hypocrisy and double standards. How aggressively should the Obama administration work to advance the cause of democratic movements in reforms in other countries--and where is the line? Has that changed now that the U.S. entered the fray in Libya to protect civilians?
It's the first time that Israel heard from an American president that its decades-long occupation of Palestinian territory has become unsustainable, and that Washington's vision of a two-state solution is based generally on the 1967 borders and a full withdrawal of Israeli military forces from a demilitarized Palestine. This already drew a cold response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said these lines would leave Israel "indefensible." Now that Netanyahu is slated to give an important speech before a joint session of Congress this week, how will the speech impact U.S.-Israel relations? How will he react?
Obama took a tough stand with the Israelis early on by pushing for a settlement freeze in the West Bank. What are you expecting Obama to say this week, and do in the future to carry out these goals for a peace deal? If Obama gets reelected, he'll have four more years to strike a deal--is he on the right track? How are his chances, with Netanyahu as his negotiating partner?
The raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is a great symbolic victory for the United States and its allies. His death also raises a myriad of new questions. For this week's question, National Journal asks the experts to weigh in on any, or all, of the following topics:
What does it mean for al-Qaida?
Bin Laden may have been the leader of al-Qaida, but what does his death really mean for the terrorist network? Many intelligence experts believe that bin Laden had not been in direct control of al-Qaida's operations for some time, and in recent years, the terrorist network has become a far less centralized movement. It has relied on freelance radicals who have become adept at using the Internet; meanwhile, anti-U.S. sentiment continues to grow in Pakistan. How significant was bin Laden's role in recent years? In a statement this week, al-Qaida's "general leadership" has called for retaliatory attacks on the U.S.
How will it affect the "war on terror"?
Now that bin Laden is dead, has his dream of endless legions of jihadists waging a constant holy war against the West died with him? Let's not forget the pro-democracy demonstrations and political shake-ups across the region--some would argue that the "Arab Spring" offers an opposing and far more popular model for the empowerment of Arabs and Muslims. What do you think? Is the "war on terror" as we know it winding down?
What will be the effect on the war in Afghanistan?
Some lawmakers are taking bin Laden's death as a sign that the U.S. has accomplished its mission and should begin scaling back the increasingly unpopular conflict. What does the al-Qaida leader's demise mean for the war in Afghanistan? How will it affect public support for the war? Should it influence the size and scope of U.S. troop withdrawals that are scheduled to begin in July?
How will the raid impact U.S.-Pakistan relations?
The raid was conducted without the knowledge of Pakistani authorities. In his first public reaction since the killing, Pakistan's military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, demanded that Washington withdraw many of the U.S. military personnel now stationed inside Pakistan. He also warned that any future forays into the country would prompt a far-reaching reevaluation of Islamabad's ties with Washington. Kayani later added that he would order Pakistani forces to engage any U.S. troops who enter the country in pursuit of other wanted militants. The Pentagon, for its part, said it has not yet been notified of any official decisions to reduce the size of the U.S. military presence in Pakistan. Where do you see the already-strained relationship going? Is it possible that the Pakistanis did not know where bin Laden was hiding, or were some official elements harboring the world's most wanted man?
Was killing bin Laden better than capturing him? Who is ultimately responsible for the success of the operation--President Obama or his predecessor, George W. Bush? How well do you think the administration conducted the raid? What should it have done differently?
13 responses: Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., Wayne White, Michael Brenner, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., Brian Michael Jenkins, Paul Sullivan, Larry Korb, Paul Sullivan, Wayne White, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., James Jay Carafano, Michael Brenner, Ron Marks
President Obama's national security team shuffle is the talk of the town. CIA Director Leon Panetta will replace outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Afghan war commander Gen. David Petraeus will run the CIA; and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen will take command in Afghanistan, where he will be joined in Kabul by former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. What do you think about Obama's choices?
As we discussed earlier this month, Gates's successor will face the grim realities of shrinking budgets and a White House desperate to end America's wars. The 72-year-old Panetta (soon-to-be-oldest Defense secretary in American history) is an expert on budgets-- and should arrive at the Pentagon just in time to start slashing hundreds of billions of dollars. How will he fare in Gates's shoes?
Petraeus's move to Langley, Va., will mark the decorated general's retirement from the military. Petraeus will no doubt ramp up the CIA's already substantial role in providing intelligence support for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. How will his post impact America's engagements in these countries and in others? What challenges face the military man who will soon be mired in civilian bureaucracy?
Though he's had considerable success in Iraq, Petraeus's handpicked successor John Allen has never served in Afghanistan. Not to mention his communications skills will be especially important to sell the war message to an increasingly war-weary Congress and public. Should we be worried?
Crocker will inherit the difficult job of improving the strained diplomatic relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and serving as point-man for the war's civilian mission. Petraeus has fondly described Crocker as his "diplomatic wingman" during Iraq's pivotal years. Will the respected diplomat be able to work his magic in Afghanistan?
Are Obama's choices are in any way surprising? They're all familiar players, but in different roles. What does the team's continuity say about the direction of Obama's national security policies?