Category Archives: Iraq

Turkey, the Unhelpful Ally


AMERICA’S stated goal is to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria. The United States also insists that any solution to the Syrian crisis should guarantee religious and ethnic pluralism. However, this rosy vision of a moderate and secular Syria after Mr. Assad’s downfall will not be achieved if the United States continues to depend on regional allies that have little interest in such an outcome.

President Obama has relied heavily on Turkey in seeking to oust Mr. Assad and Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to visit the Turkish capital, Ankara, later this week. But Turkey is part of the problem. It is exacerbating Syria’s sectarian strife, rather than contributing to a peaceful and pluralistic solution.

While the Obama administration has encouraged a broad Syrian opposition coalition, in which the influence of Islamists would be circumscribed, Turkey has not been of any assistance whatsoever. Instead, the Turkish government has continued to throw its weight behind the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood dominated the Syrian National Council, which is headquartered in Istanbul, and has succeeded in eclipsing other groups within the new opposition coalition, effectively thwarting the American effort to empower non-Islamists.

Moreover, while sponsoring the Sunni cause in Syria, the Turkish government has made no attempt to show sympathy for the fears of the country’s Alawite, Christian and Kurdish minorities. The Alawites and the Christians have backed the government in large numbers and fear retribution if Mr. Assad is toppled.

Turkey has provided a crucial sanctuary for the Sunni rebels fighting Mr. Assad and has helped to arm and train them. Even more ominously, Turkey is turning a blind eye to the presence of jihadists on its territory, and has even used them to suppress the aspirations of Kurds in Syria. Last November, Islamist rebels from Jabhet al-Nusra, which has reputed links to Al Qaeda in Iraq, entered the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain from Turkey and attacked fighters from the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, known as the P.Y.D., which had wrested control of parts of northeastern Syria. The Nusra fighters were initially repelled, but have continued to cross into Syria from their safe haven in Turkey.

Mr. Obama has invested considerable political capital in Turkey, cultivating a close relationship with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. American and Turkish officials have held regular operational planning meetings since last summer, aimed at hastening the downfall of Mr. Assad. In a recent interview with the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, Mr. Obama thanked “the Turkish government for the leadership they have provided in the efforts to end the violence in Syria and start the political transition process.”

But this praise is undeserved. America can’t expect the Sunni Arab autocracies that have financed the Syrian uprising, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to help empower secular and moderate leaders in Syria. However, Turkey, a NATO ally, should be expected to promote a pluralistic, post-Assad Syria. It has not.

The Obama administration must therefore reassess the assumption that Turkey is playing a constructive role in ending the violence in Syria; it must also take a hard look at its own role in contributing to religious strife.

America’s policy of punitive sanctions and not-so-veiled military threats toward Iran has encouraged Turkey to assert itself as a Sunni power. The perception that Turkey enjoys American “cover” for a foreign policy that directly confronts Iranian interests emboldened the Turkish government to throw its weight behind the armed Sunni rebellion against Mr. Assad, Iran’s main regional ally.

Turkey quickly abandoned its stated ambition to have “zero problems with neighbors” and decided to join the United States in confronting Iran. It agreed to the deployment of parts of NATO’s antimissile shield, which is meant to neutralize a supposed Iranian missile threat.

Turkey’s shift flowed from the belief that it would gain power and stature and reap the benefits if America succeeded in rolling back Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

All of this suited the United States. Washington no longer had to fear that Turkey might be “drifting eastward,” as it did during the short-lived Turkish-Iranian rapprochement a few years ago, when Turkey broke ranks with its Western partners over the Iranian nuclear issue. Turkey also appeared to be an American asset insofar as it could potentially offset the influence of more conservative Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia.

But the Syrian crisis has had a radicalizing effect on all parties, including Turkey’s more moderate Islamist government. Under more peaceful circumstances, Mr. Erdogan might be able to live up to American expectations and promote a pluralistic vision for the Middle East. That won’t happen if the region is increasingly torn apart by violent religious conflict and its leaders believe that playing the sectarian card will enhance their power.

Removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq in 2003 had the undesirable consequence of empowering Iran. A decade later, America’s effort to remove Mr. Assad is partly an attempt to remedy this geopolitical setback. But, as in Iraq, it has had unwelcome consequences. Moreover, American policy toward Iran is encouraging opportunistic Sunni assertiveness that threatens to trigger Shiite retaliation.

The United States must beware of doing the bidding of Sunni powers — especially Turkey — that are advancing sectarian agendas that run counter to America’s interest of promoting pluralism and tolerance. Left unchecked, rising sectarianism could lead to a dangerous regional war.

Halil M. Karaveli is a senior fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program, which are affiliated with the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, in Washington, and with the Institute for Security and Development Policy, in Stockholm.

This Is Not a Revolution

The New-york review of books|

November 8, 2012
Hussein Agha
and Robert Malley|

All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

—Paul Simon

Darkness descends upon the Arab world. Waste, death, and destruction attend a fight for a better life. Outsiders compete for influence and settle accounts. The peaceful demonstrations with which this began, the lofty values that inspired them, become distant memories. Elections are festive occasions where political visions are an afterthought. The only consistent program is religious and is stirred by the past. A scramble for power is unleashed, without clear rules, values, or endpoint. It will not stop with regime change or survival. History does not move forward. It slips sideways.

Games occur within games: battles against autocratic regimes, a Sunni–Shiite confessional clash, a regional power struggle, a newly minted cold war. Nations divide, minorities awaken, sensing a chance to step out of the state’s confining restrictions. The picture is blurred. These are but fleeting fragments of a landscape still coming into its own, with only scrappy hints of an ultimate destination. The changes that are now believed to be essential are liable to be disregarded as mere anecdotes on an extended journey.

New or newly invigorated actors rush to the fore: the ill-defined “street,” prompt to mobilize, just as quick to disband; young protesters, central activists during the uprising, roadkill in its wake. The Muslim Brothers yesterday dismissed by the West as dangerous extremists are now embraced and feted as sensible, businesslike pragmatists. The more traditionalist Salafis, once allergic to all forms of politics, are now eager to compete in elections. There are shadowy armed groups and militias of dubious allegiance and unknown benefactors as well as gangs, criminals, highwaymen, and kidnappers.

Alliances are topsy-turvy, defy logic, are unfamiliar and shifting. Theocratic regimes back secularists; tyrannies promote democracy; the US forms partnerships with Islamists; Islamists support Western military intervention. Arab nationalists side with regimes they have long combated; liberals side with Islamists with whom they then come to blows. Saudi Arabia backs secularists against the Muslim Brothers and Salafis against secularists. The US is allied with Iraq, which is allied with Iran, which supports the Syrian regime, which the US hopes to help topple. The US is also allied with Qatar, which subsidizes Hamas, and with Saudi Arabia, which funds the Salafis who inspire jihadists who kill Americans wherever they can.

In record time, Turkey evolved from having zero problems with its neighbors to nothing but problems with them. It has alienated Iran, angered Iraq, and had a row with Israel. It virtually is at war with Syria. Iraqi Kurds are now Ankara’s allies, even as it wages war against its own Kurds and even as its policies in Iraq and Syria embolden secessionist tendencies in Turkey itself.

For years, Iran opposed Arab regimes, cultivating ties with Islamists with whose religious outlook it felt it could make common cause. As soon as they take power, the Islamists seek to reassure their former Saudi and Western foes and distance themselves from Tehran despite Iran’s courting. The Iranian regime will feel obliged to diversify its alliances, reach out to non-Islamists who feel abandoned by the nascent order and appalled by the budding partnership between Islamists and the US. Iran has experience in such matters: for the past three decades, it has allied itself with secular Syria even as Damascus suppressed its Islamists.

When goals converge, motivations differ. The US cooperated with Gulf Arab monarchies and sheikhdoms in deposing Qaddafi yesterday and in opposing Assad today. It says it must be on the right side of history. Yet those regimes do not respect at home the rights they piously pursue abroad. Their purpose is neither democracy nor open societies. They are engaged in a struggle for regional domination. What, other than treasure, can proponents of a self-styled democratic uprising find in countries whose own system of governance is anathema to the democratic project they allegedly promote?

The new system of alliances hinges on too many false assumptions and masks too many deep incongruities. It is not healthy because it cannot be real. Something is wrong. Something is unnatural. It cannot end well.

A media war that started in Egypt reaches its zenith in Syria. Each side shows only its own, amplifies the numbers, disregards the rest. In Bahrain, the opposite is true. No matter how many opponents of the regime turn up, few take notice. It does not register on the attention scale. Not long ago, footage from Libya glorified motley fighters with colorful bandanas and triumphant spiel. The real battles, bloody and often from the skies, raged elsewhere. Casualties were invisible.

Throngs gather in Tahrir Square. The camera zooms in on protesters. What about the unseen millions who stayed at home? Did they rejoice at Mubarak’s overthrow or quietly lament his departure? How do Egyptians feel about the current disorder, unrest, economic collapse, and political uncertainty? In the elections that ensued, 50 percent did not vote. Of those who did, half voted for the representative of the old order. Who will look after those who lie on the other side of the right side of history?

Most Syrians fight neither to defend the regime nor to support the opposition. They are at the receiving end of this vicious confrontation, their wishes unnoticed, their voices unheard, their fates forgotten. The camera becomes an integral part of the unrest, a tool of mobilization, propaganda, and incitement. The military imbalance favors the old regimes but is often more than compensated for by the media imbalance that favors the new forces. The former Libyan regime had Qaddafi’s bizarre rhetoric; Assad’s Syria relies on its discredited state-run media. It’s hardly a contest. In the battle for public sympathy, in the age of news-laundering, the old orders never stood a chance.

In Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Bahrain, no unifying figure of stature has emerged with the capacity to shape a new path. There is scant leadership. Where there is leadership, it tends to be by committee. Where there are committees, they emerge mysteriously to assume authority no one has granted them. More often than not, legitimacy is bestowed from abroad: the West provides respectability and exposure; Gulf Arab states supply resources and support; international organizations offer validity and succor.

Those in charge often lack the strength that comes from a clear and loyal domestic constituency; they need foreign approval and so they must be cautious, adjust their positions to what outsiders accept. Past revolutionary leaders were not driven by such considerations. For better or for worse, they were stubbornly independent and took pride in rebuffing foreign interference.

Not unlike the rulers they helped depose, Islamists placate the West. Not unlike those they replaced, who used the Islamists as scarecrows to keep the West by their side, the Muslim Brotherhood waves the specter of what might come next should it fail now: the Salafis who, for their part and not unlike the Brothers of yore, are torn between fealty to their traditions and the taste of power.

It’s a game of musical chairs. In Egypt, Salafis play the part once played by the Muslim Brotherhood; the Brotherhood plays the part once played by the Mubarak regime. In Palestine, Islamic Jihad is the new Hamas, firing rockets to embarrass Gaza’s rulers; Hamas, the new Fatah, claiming to be a resistance movement while clamping down on those who dare resist; Fatah, a version of the old Arab autocracies it once lambasted. How far off is the day when Salafis present themselves to the world as the preferable alternative to jihadists?

Egyptian politics are wedged between the triumphant mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, more hard-line Salafis, anxious non-Islamists, and remnants of the old order. As the victorious Brotherhood tries to reach an arrangement with the rest, the political future is a blur. The speed and elegance with which the new president, Mohamed Morsi, retired or sidelined the old military leaders and the quiet with which this daring move was greeted suggest that the Islamists’ confidence has grown, that they are willing to move at a faster pace.

Tunisia is a mixed tale. The transition has been largely peaceful; the an-Nahda party, which won the elections last October, offers a pragmatic, moderate face of Islamism. But its efforts to consolidate power are a source of nervousness. Mistrust between secularists and Islamists is growing; socioeconomic protests at times become violent. Salafis lurk in the wings, assailing symbols of modern society, free speech, and gender equality.

In Yemen, former president Saleh is out of power but not offstage. One war brews in the north, another in the south. Jihadists flex their muscles. The young revolutionaries who dreamed of a complete change can only watch as different factions of the same old elite rearrange the deck. Saudis, Iranians, and Qataris sponsor their own factions. Minor clashes could escalate into major confrontations. Meanwhile, US drones eliminate al-Qaeda operatives and whoever happens to be in their vicinity.

Day by day, the civil war in Syria takes on an uglier, more sectarian hue. The country has become an arena for a regional proxy war. The opposition is an eclectic assortment of Muslim Brothers, Salafis, peaceful protesters, armed militants, Kurds, soldiers who have defected, tribal elements, and foreign fighters. There is little that either the regime or the opposition won’t contemplate in their desperation to triumph. The state, society, and an ancient culture collapse. The conflict engulfs the region.

The battle in Syria also is a battle for Iraq. Sunni Arab states have not accepted the loss of Baghdad to Shiites and, in their eyes, to Safavid Iranians. A Sunni takeover in Syria will revive their colleagues’ fortunes in Iraq. Militant Iraqi Sunnis are emboldened and al-Qaeda is revitalized. A war for Iraq’s reconquest will be joined by its neighbors. The region cares about Syria. It obsesses about Iraq.

Islamists in the region await the outcome in Syria. They do not wish to bite off more than they can chew. If patience is the Islamist first principle, consolidation of gains is the second. Should Syria fall, Jordan could be next. Its peculiar demography—a Palestinian majority ruled over by a trans-Jordanian minority—has been a boon to the regime: the two communities bear deep grievances against the Hashemite rulers yet distrust each other more. That could change in the face of the unifying power of Islam for which ethnicity, in theory at least, is of little consequence.

Weaker entities may follow. In northern Lebanon, Islamist and Salafi groups actively support the Syrian opposition, with whom they may have more in common than with Lebanese Shiites and Christians. From the outset a fragile contraption, Lebanon is pulled in competing directions: some would look to a new Sunni-dominated Syria with envy, perhaps a yearning to join. Others would look to it with fright and despair.

In Bahrain, a Sunni monarchy intent on retaining power and privilege violently suppresses the majority Shiites. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states come to their ally’s rescue. The West, so loud elsewhere, is mute. When Libya holds elections, Islamists do not fare well; their opponents believe they finally achieved their one victory in a country that has no tradition of political openness, lacks a state, and is sated with armed militias that regularly engage in deadly clashes. An octogenarian leadership in Saudi Arabia struggles with a looming transition, lives in fear of Iran and its own population, doles out cash to fend off dissatisfaction. How long can all this last?

Mohamed Morsi; drawing by John Springs

In some countries, regimes will be toppled, in others they will survive. Forces that have been defeated are unlikely to have been crushed. They will regroup and try to fight back. The balance of power is not clear-cut. Victory does not necessarily strengthen the victor.

Those in power occupy the state, but it is an asset that might prove of limited value. Inherently weak and with meager legitimacy, Arab states tend to be viewed by their citizens with suspicion, extraneous bodies superimposed on more deeply rooted, familiar social structures with long, continuous histories. They enjoy neither the acceptability nor the authority of their counterparts elsewhere. Where uprisings occur, the ability of these states to function weakens further as their coercive power erodes.

To be in the seat of power need not mean to exercise power. In Lebanon, the pro-West March 14 coalition, invigorated while in opposition, was deflated after it formed the cabinet in 2005. Hezbollah has never been more on the defensive or enjoyed less moral authority than since it became the major force behind the government. Those out of power face fewer constraints. They have the luxury to denounce their rulers’ failings, the freedom that comes with the absence of responsibility. In a porous, polarized Middle East, they enjoy access to readily available outside support.

To be in charge, to operate along formal, official, state channels, can encumber as much as empower. Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005 did not curb its influence; Damascus simply exerted it more surreptitiously, without public glare and accountability. Tomorrow, a similar pattern might hold in Syria itself. The regime’s collapse would be a significant blow to Iran and Hezbollah, but one can wonder how devastating. The day after such a long and violent conflict is more likely to witness chaos than stability, a scramble for power rather than a strong central government. Defeated and excluded political forces will seek help from any source and solicit foreign patrons regardless of their identity. To exploit disorder is a practice in which Iran and Hezbollah are far better versed than their foes. Without a Syrian regime whose interests they need to take into account and whose constraints they need to abide by, they might be able to act more freely.

The Muslim Brotherhood prevails. The newly elected Egyptian president comes from their ranks. They rule in Tunisia. They control Gaza. They have gained in Morocco. In Syria and Jordan too, their time might come.

The Muslim Brotherhood prevails: those are weighty and, not long ago, unthinkable, unutterable words. The Brothers survived eighty years in the underground and the trenches, hounded, tortured, and killed, forced to compromise and bide their time. The fight between Islamism and Arab nationalism has been long, tortuous, and bloody. Might the end be near?

World War I and the ensuing European imperial ascent halted four centuries of Islamic Ottoman rule. With fits and starts, the next century would be that of Arab nationalism. To many, this was an alien, unnatural, inauthentic Western import—a deviation that begged to be rectified. Forced to adjust their views, the Islamists acknowledged the confines of the nation-state and irreligious rule. But their targets remained the nationalist leaders and their disfigured successors.

Last year, they helped topple the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, the pale successors of the original nationalists. The Islamists had more worthy and dangerous adversaries in mind. They struck at Ben Ali and Mubarak, but the founding fathers—Habib Bourguiba and Gamal Abdel Nasser—were in their sights. They reckon they have corrected history. They have revived the era of musulmans sans frontières.

What will all this mean? The Islamists are loath either to share power achieved at high cost or to squander gains so patiently acquired. They must balance among their own restive rank-and-file, a nervous larger society, and an undecided international community. The temptation to strike fast pulls in one direction; the desire to reassure tugs in another. In general, they will prefer to eschew coercion, awaken the people to their dormant Islamic nature rather than foist it upon them. They will try to do it all: rule, enact social transformations incrementally, and be true to themselves without becoming a menace to others.

The Islamists propose a bargain. In exchange for economic aid and political support, they will not threaten what they believe are core Western interests: regional stability, Israel, the fight against terror, energy flow. No danger to Western security. No commercial war. The showdown with the Jewish state can wait. The focus will be on the slow, steady shaping of Islamic societies. The US and Europe may voice concern, even indignation at such a domestic makeover. But they’ll get over it. Just as they got over the austere fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia. Bartering—as in, we’ll take care of your needs, let us take care of ours—Islamists feel, will do the trick. Looking at history, who can blame them?

Mubarak was toppled in part because he was viewed as excessively subservient to the West, yet the Islamists who succeed him might offer the West a sweeter because more sustainable deal. They think they can get away with what he could not. Stripped of his nationalist mantle, Mubarak had little to fall back on; he was a naked autocrat. The Muslim Brothers by comparison have a much broader program—moral, social, cultural. Islamists feel they can still follow their convictions, even if they are not faithfully anti-Western. They can moderate, dilute, defer.

Unlike the close allies of the West they have replaced, Islamists are heard calling for NATO military intervention in Libya yesterday, Syria today, wherever they entertain the hope to take over tomorrow. One can use the distant infidels, who will not stay around for long, to jettison local infidels, who have hounded them for decades. Rejection of foreign interference, once a centerpiece of the post-independence outlook, is no longer the order of the day. It is castigated as counterrevolutionary.

What the US sought to obtain over decades through meddling and imposition, it might now obtain via acquiescence: Arab regimes that will not challenge Western interests. Little wonder that many in the region are persuaded that America was complicit in the Islamists’ rise, a quiet partner in what has been happening.

Everywhere, Israel faces the rise of Islam, of militancy, of radicalism. Former allies are gone; erstwhile foes reign supreme. But the Islamists have different and broader objectives. They wish to promote their Islamic project, which means consolidating their rule where they can, refraining from alienating the West, and avoiding perilous and precocious clashes with Israel. In this scheme, the presence of a Jewish state is and will remain intolerable, but it is probably the last piece of a larger puzzle that may never be fully assembled.

The quest to establish an independent, sovereign Palestinian state was never at the heart of the Islamist project. Hamas, the Palestinian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, harbors grander, less territorially confined but also less immediately achievable designs. Despite Hamas’s circumlocutions and notwithstanding its political evolution, it never truly deviated from its original view—the Jewish state is illegitimate and all the land of historic Palestine is inherently Islamic. If the current balance of power is not in your favor, wait and do what you can to take care of the disparity. The rest is tactics.

The Palestinian question has been the preserve of the Palestinian national movement. As of the late 1980s, its declared goal became a sovereign state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Alternatives, whether interim or temporary, have been flatly rejected. The Islamists’ plan may be more ambitious and grandiose but more flexible and elastic. For them, a diminutive, amputated state, hemmed in by Israel, dependent on its goodwill, predicated on its recognition, and entailing an end to the conflict, is not worth fighting for.

They can live with a range of transient arrangements: an interim agreement; a long-term truce, or hudna; a possible West Bank confederation with Jordan, with Gaza moving toward Egypt. All will advance the further Islamization of Palestinian society. All permit Hamas to turn to its social, cultural, and religious agenda, its true calling. All allow Hamas to maintain the conflict with Israel without having to wage it. None violates Hamas’s core tenets. It can put its ultimate goal on hold. Someday, the time for Palestine, for Jerusalem may come. Not now.

In the age of Arab Islamism, Israel may find Hamas’s purported intransigence more malleable than Fatah’s ostensible moderation. Israel fears the Islamic awakening. But the more immediate threat could be to the Palestinian national movement. There is no energy left in the independence project; associated with the old politics and long-worn-out leaderships, it has expended itself. Fatah and the PLO will have no place in the new world. The two-state solution is no one’s primary concern. It might expire not because of violence, settlements, or America’s inexpert role. It might perish of indifference…..

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Conversations on Diplomacy Moderated by Charlie Rose

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Secretary of StateFormer Secretary of State James A. Baker III
Washington, DC
June 20, 2012

MR. ROSE: I’m Charlie Rose. Thank you very much for coming this afternoon. This is, as many of you know, a second in a series of conversations with Secretary Clinton and previous secretaries of State. We hope that we will have a chance to do as many secretaries as we can here. And the point of this series is to look at foreign policy in the context of present challenges and options, but also historical lessons and experiences. Our intent is not to create some huge fight. However crafty I am, I am not that good. (Laughter.) But I do believe that two heads are better than one, and especially these two heads.

Secretary Clinton, it has been said that this Administration looks at the Bush 41 model in terms of some of their foreign policy. I think the President has said that publicly, and certainly, I’ve heard him say that. I think that Secretary Baker has said to me that he has found much to admire in this Administration’s foreign policy. He has some quarrels with economic policy, but this is about foreign policy. I hope that we will be able to be – to talk about the idea of diplomacy today. Clearly, we will because I’ll ask the questions. (Laughter.) A little bit like Churchill saying, “Yes, you’ll be good to him because he’ll write that history.”

But this is an interesting time, clearly, for diplomacy. And it is worth noting that there are 337 museums for the military and none for diplomacy. And it is time that we understand – and these two people understand it well and practice it brilliantly – the power and the need for diplomacy. It is soft power, but it is also powerful policy and powerful power that can be used. We have seen this most recently with Secretary Clinton in China, the possibilities in a very difficult and challenging time of diplomacy.

I want to begin with this notion: You both came to this building, to State Department, from politics. Is that a good background?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I certainly think so. That may not be surprising for Jim to hear, but it might be for some. There are lots of different routes to this job. And we can look back at our predecessors, the 66 that came before me, and see such accomplished men and then finally women. But I think bringing a political experience to the job, particularly in recent times, has been very beneficial, because everybody has politics. Even authoritarian regimes have their own brand of politics. And understanding what motivates people, what moves them, how to create coalitions, especially in the time that I find myself serving, has been extremely helpful.

MR. ROSE: Now, Secretary Baker, as I say, you were chief of staff, you ran political campaigns, but you also served in a number of positions, including Secretary of Treasury. But you know politics. Is that beneficial?

SECRETARY BAKER: Politics, you say?

MR. ROSE: Yes, sir.

SECRETARY BAKER: Yeah. It’s very beneficial. I agree wholeheartedly with what the Secretary said. In fact, I entitled my memoirs about my three and a half years as Secretary of State – I called it the “Politics of Diplomacy.” And in there, I said my experience, both as a lawyer, yes, but then in politics, I found grounded me very well for this job, because the job of Secretary of State is quite political. It’s very substantive. And I don’t mean to suggest that there’s a difference there, but it’s international politics. It’s politics, but it’s international politics.

MR. ROSE: You both also – it should be said, you had a very close relationship with President Bush. You had been his campaign manager; you’d been his friend from Texas. You couldn’t be closer than the two of you. Your relationship with President Obama was different. They use the term “team of rivals” to describe it. Talk about the notion of the relationship between the Secretary of State and the President.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jim has eloquently written about this. You have to have the President’s confidence. You have to have a sense of a shared mission, an understanding of what’s important to the President and the principles and values that he – or someday she – is fighting for. So it is in a different context where someone like Secretary Baker had a very long, close relationship with the first President Bush.

I was a Senate colleague of President Obama’s. We ran against each other. I was very surprised when he asked me to be Secretary of State. But it was interesting that the last time this happened, team of rivals, was a senator from New York by the name of Seward who President Lincoln asked to be Secretary of State. And I’ve spent a lot of time reading about Secretary Seward. And there was a meeting of the minds and a melding of purpose and vision that I feel very comfortable in representing this President and his foreign policy agenda.

SECRETARY BAKER: I agree with all of that. To succeed, I think, as Secretary of State, you need a President that will support you and protect you and defend you, even when you’re wrong. (Laughter.) And I had such a President. And it’s very important, because everybody in Washington wants a little piece of the foreign policy turf – everybody. And you need a President, when the stories come out in The Washington Post that the NSC is running foreign policy, who will pick up the phone and phone you and say, “Hey, Bake. I want you and Susan to come up to Camp David tonight, and we’re going to spend the weekend up there.” That ends all that kind of stuff. And you need that.

MR. ROSE: Yes. It’s (inaudible).

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. That’s exactly right.

SECRETARY BAKER: And so it’s very – that relationship is critical in my view to the success of a Secretary of State.

SECRETARY CLINTON: In listening to Jim talk, I mean, the more things change, the more they remain the same. There are story themes, there is an appetite for conflict. Henry Kissinger, as he and I discussed when you interviewed us, said he couldn’t get over the fact that I wasn’t fighting with the National Security Advisor or the Secretary of Defense or you name it. And so you do have to not only work hard to make sure that the relationship with the President is positive and strong and perceived as such, but also to make sure that the whole team functions because you don’t want a lot of wasted time and energy.

I mean, the world is moving too fast. There is so much going on, and you have to be given the level of trust and confidence that enable you to go out there and make these decision. We were talking before we came out about what I had to do in China a month ago with negotiating once, negotiating twice, on the blind lawyer dissident. And you have to have people back in Washington who, when the inevitable second guessing and all the rest of it goes on, can say, “Look, we’re going to see this through, and it’s going to be okay. We’re just going to make sure that we’re on the same path together.” And that happens in every Administration, and the quality of that relationship is determined whether you stay focused and effective or not.

SECRETARY BAKER: And the President can stop all that sniping and second guessing. And that’s, of course, what you want. I’m reminded of the fact that in the first few months of our administration way back in 1989, we had a Chinese dissident who came to the U.S. Embassy and sought refuge and asylum, and we had to deal with a guy named Fang Lizhi. And it was almost the same kind of experience that Secretary Clinton had.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And every President says, “Oh, I don’t need this.” (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BAKER: That’s right.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And you just have to navigate through it and make it turn out okay.

SECRETARY BAKER: That’s right. (Laughter.)

MR. ROSE: How was it that it turned out okay?

SECRETARY CLINTON: On that particular – well, I think in the case of Chen Guangcheng it was in part because we did the right thing. I mean, it always helps if you believe you’re doing the right thing. We did the right thing by giving refuge and medical care to this man who had escaped from a brutal house arrest after an unjust imprisonment. It was something that was in accordance with our values, even though we knew that it was going to be a difficult diplomatic follow-through with the Chinese.

The fact that we have this Strategic and Economic Dialogue that had become very important to us both, both the United States and China, that I was on my way there for our fourth meeting, had everybody invested in trying to work through whatever the difficulties were. And I had also worked very well and on a lot of challenging issues, not all of which we agreed on, with my counterparts in the Chinese Government, most particularly State Councilor Dai Bingguo.

And so we were very frank. I mean, they didn’t like it that this man ended up in our Embassy. We stood our ground and said, “Look, this is who we are as Americans. We have a chance to make this better than it would be otherwise; let’s work together,” which we had to do not once but twice. But at the end, I think it showed a level of confidence and even trust in the good faith of each side that enabled us to work it through.

MR. ROSE: What ought to be our policy towards China today?

SECRETARY BAKER: I think the policy that we should be pursuing is pretty much the policy we are pursuing. I come, of course – I came over here with a Treasury hat on. I’d been Secretary of the Treasury for four years, interrupted by a political campaign. (Laughter.) But one of our big gripes today with China is that they manipulate their currency, and they do. Now, should we call them a manipulator or not? Or would we be better off trying to get over that hurdle quietly through quiet diplomacy and serious diplomacy and strength – strong diplomacy? That’s my view of the way we ought to be approaching that.

But with respect to China generally, Charlie, we’ve – we have a big interest in having the best possible relationship we can with China, and they have a big interest in having the best possible relationship they can with us. There are many areas of common interest: trade, regional security, energy, you name it, a lot of areas where our interests converge. And we should seek to magnify those and emphasize those. But we have areas of differences, too. We got Tibet. We got Taiwan. We got the currency problem. We got some – we got the Iranian —

MR. ROSE: (Inaudible) as opposed to China.

SECRETARY BAKER: — nuclear issue.

MR. ROSE: Right.

SECRETARY BAKER: No, where we differ, we have to manage those differences and – but continue to work with them. And that’s what diplomacy is all about, frankly. I mean, you don’t – you have to find a way to manage the differences and magnify the common areas of agreement.

MR. ROSE: Are you hopeful that you’ll be able to get them on board with respect to Iran and with respect to Syria?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, with respect to Iran, they are on board. One of the real successes of our diplomatic strategy toward Iran, which was to be willing to engage with them but to keep a very clear pressure track going, is that the Chinese and the Russians are part of a unified negotiating stance that we have presented to the Iranians, most recently in Moscow. I think the Iranians have been surprised. They have expended a certain amount of effort to try to break apart this so-called P-5+1, and they haven’t been successful. The Russians and the Chinese have been absolutely clear they don’t want to see Iran with a nuclear weapon. They have to see concrete steps taken by Iran that are in line with Iran’s international obligations. And we have said we’ll do action for action, but we have to see some willingness on the part of the Iranians to act first.

So I think it took three-plus years, because one of the efforts that we’ve been engaged in is to make the case that as difficult as it is to put these sanctions on Iran, and particularly to ask countries like China to decrease their crude oil purchases from Iran, the alternatives are much worse. And we’ve seen China slowly but surely take actions, along with some other countries for whom it was quite difficult – Japan, South Korea, India, et cetera. So on Iran, they are very much with us in the international arena.

MR. ROSE: Will they support an oil embargo?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, absent some action by Iran between now and July 1st, the oil embargo is going into effect. And that’s been very clear from the beginning, that we were on this track. I have to certify under American laws whether or not countries are reducing their purchases of crude oil from Iran, and I was able to certify that India was, Japan was, South Korea was. And we think, based on the latest data, that China is also moving in that direction. And thankfully, there’s been enough supply in the market that countries have been able to change suppliers.

On Syria, so far they’ve taken Russia’s lead on Syria. But we’re working on that every single day as well.

MR. ROSE: Why did they do that? Why do they take Russia’s lead?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think both Russia and China have a very strong aversion to interference in internal affairs.

MR. ROSE: Sovereignty issue.



SECRETARY CLINTON: And so for the Russians, we – I was with President Obama in Mexico two days ago. We had a two-hour meeting with President Putin. They’re just – they don’t want anything to do with it. They find it quite threatening, and basically they reject it out of hand. So anything that smacks of interference for the Russians and for the Chinese, they presume against. There are other reasons, but that’s the principal objection that they make.

MR. ROSE: Would coming – both different countries and different points, but they somehow come together on these issues – Syria and with respect to Russia and the role they are playing.


MR. ROSE: And the role that the United States is playing and the role that the region can play. What should we be doing and what is the risk of not doing?

SECRETARY BAKER: Well, I’ll answer that in just a minute. But first let me say if we’re going to have differences with Russia – and we do have some differences with Russia – it seems to me the most important difference we might have is with respect to Iran. And we don’t have that now, and that’s really important. And I don’t think we ought to create a problem with Russia vis-a-vis what we want to do in Iran about their nuclear ambitions as a result of something we might do in Syria. I just think the Iranian issue there is far more important really than how we resolve the Syrian issue.

How should we resolve the Syrian issue? I think we should continue to support a political transition in the government in Syria. But I don’t – but I think we ought to support it diplomatically, politically, and economically in every way that we can, but we should be very leery, extremely leery, about being drawn in to any kind of a military confrontation or exercise.

MR. ROSE: Does that include supplying them with arms?

SECRETARY BAKER: That – well, that’s a slippery slope. The fact of the matter is a lot of our allies are already supplying them with arms. Okay? It’s not something –

MR. ROSE: And our friends in the region.

SECRETARY BAKER: Well, I say our allies in the region. Yeah, they’re doing it. And it’s not something we have to do. I look at Syria and I think why are we not calling for something that we – this is – it may not be the right comparison, but in 1989, when we came into office, the wars in Central America were the holy grail of the left, political left in this country, and the holy grail of the political right in this country. We said if we can take these wars out of domestic politics, we can cure the foreign policy problem, and we did.

How did we do it? We put it to both parties – Daniel Ortega, the hardline, authoritarian dictator, if you will, in Nicaragua, and to Violeta Chamorro, the opposition candidate. We said if you’ll hold an election and both agree to abide by the results, that’s the way we’ll get out of this conundrum. That’s what happened. And both of them did agree, finally, to abide by the results. Ortega lost. President Carter was very instrumental in getting him to leave office. Why don’t we try something like that in Syria, I mean, and say look, political transition is what we’re looking for. Everybody – even the Russians, I think – would have difficulty saying no, we’re not going to go for an election, particularly if you let Bashar run. Let him run. Make sure you have a lot of observers in there. Make sure they can’t fix the election. Why not try that?

MR. ROSE: Why not try that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, actually, that is the path that we are trying. And I spoke with Kofi Annan again today. He is working on a political transition roadmap. We are somewhat disadvantaged by the fact that I think Assad still believes he can crush what he considers to be an illegitimate rebellion against his authority and characterizes everyone who opposes him as a terrorist who is supported by foreign interests. He’s not yet at the point where he understands his legitimacy is gone and he is on a downward slope.

The other problem we have is that the opposition has not yet congealed around a figure or even a group that can command the respect and attention internally within Syria as well as internationally. So what we’re doing is, number one, putting more economic pressure, because that is important, and the sanctions and trying to cut off the Syrian regime, and send a message to the Syrian business class, which so far has stuck with Assad.

We’re also working very hard to try to prop up and better organize the opposition. We’ve spent a lot of time on that. It still is a work in progress. We are also pushing hard on having Kofi Annan lay down a political transition roadmap and then getting a group of nations, that would include Russia, in a working group to try to sell that to both the Assad regime and to the opposition.

So, I mean, the path forward is exactly as Jim has described it. Getting the people and the interests on that path has been what we’ve been working on now for several months.

MR. ROSE: Who would be in that group other than the United States, Russia? Who else?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you would have to have the Arab League because Kofi Annan is a joint envoy of both the UN and the Arab League. You would have to have the permanent members of the Security Council because that’s who he represents in his UN role. And you’d have to have the neighbors. You’ve got to have Turkey involved because of their long border and their very clear interests. But when I spoke with him today, he’s going to be making another proposal to the Russians, the Turks, and other interested groups to try to get them to agree on this roadmap and then a meeting, in effect to go public with it, so that we can increase the pressure not only on the Assad regime but on the opposition as well.

MR. ROSE: Is there a role for Iran?

SECRETARY CLINTON: At this point, it would be very difficult for Iran to be initially involved. I mean, I’m a big believer in talking to people when you can and trying to solve problems when you can. But right now, we’re focused on dealing with Iran and the nuclear portfolio. That has to be our focus. Iran’s always trying to get us to talk about anything else except their nuclear program.

And then we also have the added problem that Iran is not just supporting Assad, they are helping him to devise and execute the very plans that he is following to suppress, oppress the opposition.

SECRETARY BAKER: If you get the – you’re going to get the attention of the Russians and the Chinese, in my view, in the Security Council if you come with some sort of a proposal for a political transition that might involve an election, if you’re willing to say anybody and everybody can run. That means, of course, you got to make sure that the election is not fixed. But that would put a lot of pressure – the only reason I mention this, it seems to be that would put a lot of pressure on the Russians to support this idea.

With respect to Iran, I agree with the Secretary. This is not the place to involve them. However, I would think there might be a place for them in a group with respect to Afghanistan. They helped us when we first went in there. We talked to them. They were helpful. I’ve never understood myself why we are doing all the laboring, pulling all the – doing all the labor in Iran, treasure, blood —

MR. ROSE: In Afghanistan.

SECRETARY BAKER: I’m sorry – in Afghanistan – treasure, blood. And yet, every country who’s surrounding Afghanistan has a huge interest in a stable Afghanistan. Why don’t we see if we – everyone needs to – we’re leaving now, and we’ve said that, and I agree with that. So why don’t we say, “Hey, look it here. You all want a stable Afghanistan? Come on in here and help us. Everybody contribute.” In that instance, I think we ought to have Iran at the table.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And we agree with that. We are part of a large group of nations, as well as a smaller segment of that. Just last week, my deputy, Bill Burns, was in Kabul. Iran was there. Other countries in the region and further afield were there. Because Jim is absolutely right. I mean, part of what the problem, as we look forward in Central and South Asia, is that, once again, Afghanistan is so strategically located. And in the neighborhood in which it finds itself, there’s a lot of interest at work that have to be in some way brought to the table in order to try to have as much stability going forward.

And Iran is at the table. Now, Iran oftentimes is not a constructive player, but we’re going to keep them at the table and try to do what we can on behalf of Afghanistan for them to be a more positive force.

MR. ROSE: This question about Iran: My understanding of the Administration’s position on containment is that dog will not hunt. Right?


MR. ROSE: Do you agree with that?

SECRETARY BAKER: I agree with that.

MR. ROSE: Containment will not work.

SECRETARY BAKER: I agree with that. My personal position on that is this: We ought to try every possible avenue we can to see if we can get them to correct their desire and goal of acquiring a nuclear weapon, but we cannot let them acquire that weapon. We are the only country in the world that can stop that. The Israelis, in my opinion, do not have the capability of stopping it. They can delay it. There will also be many, many side effects, all of them adverse, from an Israeli strike. But at the end of the day, if we don’t get it done the way the Administration’s working on it now – which I totally agree with – then we ought to take them out.

MR. ROSE: Secretary Clinton. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’re working hard. We’re working hard.

SECRETARY BAKER: And that’s a Republican. I said at the end of the day. The end of the day may be next year. (Laughter.) It will be next year.

MR. ROSE: I’m waiting.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. Look, I think the President has been very clear on this. He has always said all options are on the table. And he means it. He addressed this when he spoke to it earlier in the year.

MR. ROSE: Meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. And also in public speeches that he’s given. Look, I mean, I think Jim and I both would agree that everybody needs to know – most particularly the Iranians – that we are serious that they cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. It’s not only about Iran and about Iran’s intentions, however once tries to discern them. It’s about the arms race that would take place in the region with such unforeseen consequences. Because you name any country with the means, anywhere near Iran that is an Arab country, if Iran has a nuclear weapon – I can absolutely bet on it and know I will win – they will be in the market within hours. And that is going to create a cascade of difficult challenges for us and for Israel and for all of our friends and partners.

So this has such broad consequences. And that’s why we’ve invested an enormous amount in trying to persuade Iran that if – as the Supreme Leader says and issued a fatwa about – it is un-Islamic to have a nuclear weapon, then act upon that edict and demonstrate clearly that Iran will not pursue a nuclear weapon. And we are pushing them in these negotiations to do just that.

MR. ROSE: But as you know, the question is not whether they will have a nuclear weapon, but whether they will have the capacity to quickly have a nuclear weapon.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that is obviously the question, and that is why Jim said at the end of the day, maybe a year. I mean, these kinds of calculations are –

SECRETARY BAKER: It may be more than that.

SECRETARY CLINTON: It may be more than that. They are difficult to make. A lot of countries around the world have what’s called breakout capacity.

MR. ROSE: Right.

SECRETARY CLINTON: They have stopped short of it. They have not pursued it. They have found it not to be in their interests or in the interests of regional stability.

MR. ROSE: But do you think that’s what they mean and that’s what they intend?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s what we’re testing. That’s what every meeting with them is about, to try to really probe and see what kinds of commitments we can get out of them. Now, at this point we don’t have them, so I can’t speak to what they might be if they are ever to be presented. But that’s why we have to take this meeting by meeting and pursue it as hard as we can.

SECRETARY BAKER: And the problem is not so much the threat they would represent to us or to Israel or to our allies somewhere in the region. It’s the proliferation problem, because it would really then be out of control. And that’s the real thing you have to guard, and that’s why I would say at the end of the day you just cannot let them have the weapon.

Now, what is – is that breakout time or is that after they make one or after they make three or four, or after you’re convinced they have the delivery vehicles? That’s all for the military to decide. But at some point you have to say that’s simply not going to happen.

MR. ROSE: I think I heard that loud and clear. But you’ve also suggested that the United States should do it rather than Israel.

SECRETARY BAKER: Absolutely. And the reason I say that is if you look at what Martin Dempsey said not long ago, he said if Israel —

MR. ROSE: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of —

SECRETARY BAKER: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said if Israel hits the Iranian nuclear facilities, we’re going to lose a lot of American lives in the region. Many people in the Israeli national security establishment have come out publicly now and questioned their leadership’s view that maybe Israel ought to do it. And they say no, Israel shouldn’t do it. There are a lot of unanticipated consequences that could follow from that, not least of which is strengthening the hand of the hardliners in Iran. I mean, you don’t want to do that. They’re having troubles now. The sanctions are not complete yet. We want to squeeze them down more. But they’re having an effect. And the government is having some problems, and you don’t want to lose all that.

SECRETARY CLINTON: In fact, I mean, what Jim is saying is a really important point, because we know that there is a vigorous debate going on within the leadership decision-making group in Iran. There are those who say look, these sanctions are really biting, we’re not making the kind of economic progress we should be making, we don’t give up that much by saying we’re not going to do a nuclear weapon and having a verifiable regime to demonstrate that.

And then frankly, there are those who are saying the best thing that could happen to us is be attacked by somebody, just bring it on, because that would unify us, it would legitimize the regime. You feel sometimes when you hear analysts and knowledgeable people talking about Iran that they fear so much about the survival of the regime, because deep down it’s not a legitimate regime, it doesn’t represent the will of the people, it’s kind of morphed into kind of a military theocracy. And therefore an argument is made constantly on the hardline side of the Iranian Government that we’re not going to give anything up, and in fact we’re going to provoke an attack because then we will be in power for as long as anyone can imagine.

SECRETARY BAKER: And Charlie, let me just explain why I said I don’t think the Israelis can do it but we can. The reason I say that is the Israeli Government came to the prior administration, the Bush 43 Administration, and then they asked for overflight rights, they asked for bunker-busting bombs, they asked for in-flight refueling capabilities. And the administration said no, that’s not in the national interest of the United States today for you to strike Iran’s nuclear facility. My understanding is they made the same request of this Administration. I don’t know the answer to that for sure. The Secretary would. But whether they did or not, that’s the reason I say if anybody’s going to do it, we ought to do it because we have the capability of doing it.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And hopefully we won’t get to that. (Laughter.) I mean, that would be, I think —

MR. ROSE: Because you believe there’ll be a change of behavior or a change of regime?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, there’s – I’m not going to talk about a change of regime. I see no evidence of that. I think the Iranian people deserve better, but that’s for them to try to determine.

MR. ROSE: But there is this question too about Iran, and I want to move to some other issues. Looking back at the time of the protest over the election, do you wish you’d done more? Do you wish you’d been more public, more supportive?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, look, at the time there was a very strong, consistent message coming from within Iran that anything we said would undermine the legitimacy of their opposition. Now —

MR. ROSE: This is from the opposition?

SECRETARY CLINTON: This is from the opposition coming out to us. And one can argue, were they right, were they not right, but at the time it seemed like they had some momentum, they did not want to look like they were acting on behalf of the United States or anybody else. This was indigenous to Iran and to Iranians’ discontents. And that made a lot of sense at the time, because the last thing anybody wanted was to give the regime the excuse that they didn’t have to respond to the legitimate concerns arising out of that election.

And what we did do, which I think was very value-added, was to work overtime to keep lines of communication open. We found out that social media tools, one in particular, was going to shut down for a long-scheduled rebooting of some sort, and we intervened and said no, because the opposition uses you to communicate, to say where they’re going to have demonstrations, to warn people. So we were deeply involved in a lot of public messaging that we thought did not cross the line that the opposition didn’t want us to cross. That was our assessment.

MR. ROSE: Let me move to Egypt and I’ll come back to some of these other points. What’s happening there today, and what is your understanding – and I’ll begin with Secretary Baker and then come back – of what’s the risk for the United States and what’s the risk for the Middle East in terms of where the army is, where the people who created the Arab Spring is, and where the Muslim Brotherhood is?

SECRETARY BAKER: Well, I think the risks are quite large, because for some time we’ve been looking at Egypt as perhaps a textbook success case of how —

MR. ROSE: Of the Arab Spring?

SECRETARY BAKER: Of the Arab Spring. Yeah. Now, people say not an Arab Spring, it’s also an Arab Winter, because of what’s happening. And there’s some, in my view, potential for that to happen.

It is not, as we sit here today, not an unalloyed success, because the military have come in, they’ve taken power back, and it looks like they’re going to keep it. And then we have a question of whether the results of the election are going to be confirmed or observed. There are all these questions coming forward within the last, frankly, last week – week or ten days. So it’s a real problem, because if Egypt goes the wrong way, if we lose the Arab – if we lose the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty – and that’s possible if the more radical elements in Egypt end up on top after all that’s happening now – that would be a very destructive and destabilizing event.

MR. ROSE: That’s not, by definition, what necessarily will happen if Morsi becomes the president.

SECRETARY BAKER: No. Not just – not Morsi, but there could be – we don’t know who’s going – and we don’t know whether the president’s going to have power or whether the military is going to keep the power.

MR. ROSE: Well, the military suggested it might very well keep it, haven’t they?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I mean, Jim is right. We are concerned and we have expressed those concerns. We think that it is imperative that the military fulfill its promise to the Egyptian people to turn power over to the legitimate winner. We don’t know yet who’s going to be named the winner of the election, but we think that the military has to proceed with its commitments to do so.

And so the actions that they’ve taken in the last week are clearly troubling. And it’s been a fast-moving situation, because we’ve had Mubarak’s serious illness intervene; we don’t yet have vote totals coming out; we don’t yet know what the military really has meant by these statements and decrees. They’ve said one set of things publicly, then they’ve been backtracking to a certain extent.

But our message has been very consistent, that, look, we think, number one, they have to follow through on the democratic process. And by that, we mean, yes, elections that are free and fair and legitimate, whose winner gets to assume the position of authority in the country, but who recognizes that democracy is not about one election, one time. And we have very clear expectations about what we are looking to see from whoever is declared the winner, that it has to be an inclusive democratic process, the rights of all Egyptians – women and men, Muslim and Christian, everyone – has to be respected. They have to have a stake in the future of the democratic experiment in Egypt. The military has to assume an appropriate role, which is not to try to interfere with, dominate, or subvert the constitutional authority. They have to get a constitution written. There’s a lot of work ahead of them.

We also believe it is very much in Egypt’s interest, while they’re facing political turmoil and economic difficulties, to honor the peace treaty with Israel. The last thing they need is to make a decision that would undermine their stability. And furthermore, we think it’s important that they reassert law and order over the Sinai, which is becoming a large, lawless area, and that they take seriously the internal threats from extremists and terrorists. So they have a lot ahead of them.

SECRETARY BAKER: Plus, the dissolution of the parliament.


SECRETARY BAKER: I mean, they’ve just come in and dissolved the elected parliament. How do you put that humpty dumpty back together?

MR. ROSE: But the impression – (laughter) – hard. The impression is that during the time of the revolution that was taking place that the lines between the American and the military was very good and very strong. And does that still exist?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there certainly is a continuing effort to reach out. And in fact, I know that there are ongoing conversations between our military leaders and their counterparts in Egypt. But the message is the one that I just said. We expect you to support the democratic transition, to recede by turning over authority. And we are watching this unfold, but with some really clear redlines about what we think should occur, based on what the people of Egypt thought they were getting.

One of the stories that will emerge even more in the months ahead is that the people who started the revolution in Tahrir Square decided they wouldn’t really get involved in politics. And I remember being there – and this kind of goes back to your very first question – going to Cairo shortly after the success of the revolution, meeting with a large group of these mostly young people. And when I said, “So are you going to form a political party? Are you going to be working on behalf of political change?” They said, “Oh no. We’re revolutionaries. We don’t do politics.”

And I —

MR. ROSE: Exactly.

SECRETARY CLINTON: — I sat there and I thought that’s how revolutions get totally derailed, taken over, undermined. And they now are expressing all kinds of disappointment at the choices they had and the results. But the energy that went in to creating this participatory revolution, giving people a sense of being citizens in a modern Egypt, has to be rekindled because this – as hard as this has been, this is just the beginning. They are facing so many problems that we could list for an hour that they’re going to have deal with. And they have to somehow paint a picture for the Egyptian people about what it’s going to take to get the result of this hard-fought change that they’ve experienced.

MR. ROSE: That’s true about every country, isn’t it? Whether it’s Libya —

SECRETARY CLINTON: It is. Absolutely.

MR. ROSE: — or Tunisia or Egypt or whatever happens in Syria.

SECRETARY BAKER: Absolutely. We do not know.


MR. ROSE: We will not know how it shakes out and who the leaders that will come to power will be —


MR. ROSE: — and what they’re ambitions will be to play what role in the world scene.


SECRETARY BAKER: That’s correct.

SECRETARY CLINTON: In fact, Charlie, we have here what’s called the A-100 class. These are our new, up and coming, rising Foreign Service officers who are here taking stock of Jim and me. (Laughter.) And probably a lot of the work that —

MR. ROSE: Those are the ones that look like teenagers?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. They do, don’t they? (Laughter.) They do.

SECRETARY BAKER: They’re the ones that are teenagers. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. But a lot of the work that is going to have to happen – because this is a generational project. This is not something that’s going to be done in a year or one American administration. This is a generational project. And preparing these young Foreign Service officers for the aftermath of these revolutions, how we manage it, how we try to exercise influence, as hard as it is because we have to be so sensitive about it, that’s really what diplomacy is about. And we’re going to be doing that for a long time.

MR. ROSE: I once read where you said it’ll take 25 years before we will really know how this thing will shake out and the influence it’ll have over the long term.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Right. But we shouldn’t be surprised by that. I do think it’s important, as Americans, that we kind of remember our own beginnings. And shaping our country did not happen overnight. We had a constitution written that didn’t include me, didn’t include African American slaves. It didn’t include men – white men who didn’t own property. I mean, we had a lot of changes that we had to do for ourselves to realize the vision of our founders. But we had a vision. And that is what is so often lacking in a lot of these countries. They know what they’re against, but they can’t quite agree on what they’re for.

And so part of the challenge that they face, which we try to set an example for, is what does democracy really mean? How do you really institutionalize it? How do you protect human rights? How do you build an independent judiciary? All of those pieces which, frankly, took us a while. So we need a little humility as we approach this.

MR. ROSE: How would you like to see the United States over the next decade or two play a role in the region? And how can it play a role that will be positive, leading to the kinds of governments that we would hope would be —

SECRETARY BAKER: Well, I would hope that the United States —

MR. ROSE: — new but different?

SECRETARY BAKER: — would continue to play a leadership role not just in that region but in the world as a whole because I believe that when the United States is involved abroad, we are involved for good. We don’t look – we’re not looking to get into anybody’s sandbox or take anybody’s stuff. We have been – when we involve ourselves internationally, for the most part we have been a force for good. So I think the United States needs to lead. We need to be involved.

I totally agree with the Secretary, we’re not going to know how these things turn out in the Arab Spring for a long time. And some of them may turn out very badly, actually. It’s possible. You might get militant, radical Islamists taking over in some of these countries. On the other hand, you may – some of them may very well succeed. And I hope they will, and think they will. But I think it’s really important that the United States involved in the world. And part of that involvement is diplomacy. We’re here today to support the Diplomacy Center because, as you said in your opening, we’ve got a military museums and centers; we don’t have but – we only have one diplomacy. Diplomacy is a very important part of our international relationship.

MR. ROSE: But some – two things. Number one, first on the idea of diplomacy versus military, I mean, some people – and the late Richard Holbrooke used to make this point; he worried that the military was shaping the world, especially in Afghanistan, and to the exclusion of diplomacy. Do you have some concerns about that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I wouldn’t say to the exclusion, but certainly —

MR. ROSE: An imbalance, perhaps.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that by most definitions, the power, the presence, the resources of the military are quite disproportionate to what we can field through the State Department and USAID. But what has happened in the last decade in Iraq and in Afghanistan has been quite important. The growing appreciation and cooperation between our military, our diplomats, and our development experts – I call it the three Ds of foreign policy – and both Bob Gates and Leon Panetta were real champions of this because they recognized that if we weren’t working as an American team, we were going to get out of balance. And it’s not been an easy relationship because there are different cultures, different expectations, about what we’re working for, what kind of result we’re seeking. But we’ve learned to not just coexist but cooperate in the field, on the ground.

I give out heroism awards. I’ve given out about 30 of them the last three and a half years. They’ve gone to diplomats who’ve saved soldiers’ lives in PRTs in Iraq, diplomats and development experts who literally have been on the front lines in Afghanistan. So we’re shaping an expeditionary diplomacy for the 21st century that has to work hand-in-hand with the military.

SECRETARY BAKER: Your foreign policy has got to be supported strongly by the military, but it’s got to have a diplomatic component, a very important diplomatic component. I’ve always said that diplomacy is best practiced with a male fist. That’s where the military comes in. But you said something about the last 10 years. Well, the last 10 years we’ve fought two very long and expensive wars. So it’s natural, I think, that the military side of the equation would be emphasized.

I happen to believe – maybe I’m wearing my Treasury hat now – I happen to believe the American people are tired of wars. I know one thing: We’re broke. We can’t afford them anymore. We can’t afford a lot of things. And the biggest threat facing this country today is not some threat from outside. It’s not Iran. It’s not nuclear weapons or anything else. It’s our economic —

MR. ROSE: We’ve got to get our economic house in order.

SECRETARY BAKER: We’d better damn well get our economic house in order because the strength of our nation has always depended upon our economy. You can’t be strong politically, militarily, or diplomatically if you’re not strong economically.

SECREARY CLINTON: Well, amen to that because – (laughter) – I’ve had to go around the world the last three and a half years reassuring many leaders, both in the governments and business sectors of a lot of countries, that the United States was moving forward economically, that we were not ceding our leadership position; we were as present and as powerful as ever, but we recognized that we had to put our economic house in order.

I was in Hong Kong during the debt ceiling debate, and all of these billionaire moguls were at this event lining up and with real anxiety in their faces, asking me whether the United States of America was going to default on its debt. And I said oh, no. Then – (laughter) – had to hope that people were listening.

So yes, I mean, if we don’t get our economic house in order – and obviously, there are perhaps some differences about how to do it. But when Secretary Baker was Secretary of the Treasury, when President Bush 41 were in office, when my husband was in office, we actually compromised. I know that some believe that’s a word that has been banished from the Washington vocabulary, but I’m also spending a lot of time explaining to people in new democracies that democracy is about compromise. By definition, you don’t think you have all the truth all the time. And people of good faith of different perspectives or different parties have to come together and hammer out these compromises. And so, of course we’ve got to get back into the political work of rolling our sleeves up and solving these problems.

MR. ROSE: She’s singing your hymn.

SECRETARY BAKER: I don’t disagree with that at all. (Laughter.) No, you know that. No, siree.

MR. ROSE: Go ahead.

SECRETARY BAKER: On the other hand, I hate to tell you this, but based on my political experience and my public service experience, it ain’t going to happen till after November. (Laughter.)

MR. ROSE: All right.

SECRETARY BAKER: Why haven’t you asked us about Pakistan?

MR. ROSE: I’m coming to Pakistan. (Laughter.) As fast as I can.

SECRETARY BAKER: Well, you ask her. Ask her that. (Laughter.)

MR. ROSE: Let me ask, before I get to Pakistan, this point. She has said before that America cannot solve all the world’s problems.


MR. ROSE: But no problem can be solved without American involvement. Do you share that?

SECRETARY BAKER: Well, I think – I said a minute ago I think America has to lead, because when we lead, we usually see good results. And we’re a force for good when we’re out there leading. I wouldn’t say that no problem can be solved without American participation, but it’s hard to think of one. (Laughter.) It really is.

MR. ROSE: All right. So how do you assess what the state of our relationship with Pakistan, before I come back to the Secretary?

SECRETARY BAKER: I think it’s terrible. And I think it’s really sad, because for the duration of the Cold War they were our ally, and India was the ally of the Soviet Union, and now all of that is changed. But the relationship is very problematic in my view. It’s a tough job. I’m glad I’m not sitting there trying to deal with the Pakistani relationship. And I think we need to maintain a relationship with them. A lot of people are saying cut of all their aid, fire them and so forth. I think we need to maintain a relationship with them because they’re a nuclear power and because it’s really important that we not see nuclear conflagration in the subcontinent. And we don’t want to see any more proliferation than we’ve seen from Pakistan.

MR. ROSE: A lot of bad people –

SECRETARY BAKER: But guess what? They’ve been a very problematic ally. They really have. And we need to —

MR. ROSE: You mean by things like ISI and their activities?

SECRETARY BAKER: Yeah. And the proliferation that took place under Khan and the fact the Obama – Osama was living there in Abbottabad for all that time. And don’t tell me they didn’t know that. And the fact that they’ve now thrown this doctor in jail for 33 years who helped us find him. All of these – and they want to charge us $5,000 per truck. I mean, come on —

MR. ROSE: I’ll make this easy for you. What would a President Jim Baker do?

SECRETARY BAKER: I think I might do what I did when I was Secretary of State sitting in this office one floor down. The first month I was here, one of the assistant secretaries came in and said, “Mr. Secretary, you need to sign this.” I said, “What is it?” He said, “It’s a certification that Pakistan is not developing a nuclear weapon.” I said, “Well, they are, aren’t they?” And they said, “Yes.” (Laughter.) And like the greenhorn I was, I signed it. (Laughter.)

And the next year, at the same week, same guy came in. “Mr. Secretary, you need to sign this.” I said, “What is it?” “It’s the certification required under the Pressler Amendment that Pakistan is not developing a nuclear weapon.” I said, “ Well, they are, aren’t they?” He said, “ Yes, they are.” And I said, “Well, why do I have to sign it?” He said, “Because the White House wants it.” And I said, “Well, you take it over to the White House and tell them to sign it.” (Laughter.) And I didn’t sign it. And guess what, we cut off our aid.

Okay. Now, at some point we need to seriously think about doing that. We need to get their attention.

MR. ROSE: But I thought you just said you would not cut off their aid. Are you now saying that we —

SECRETARY BAKER: I said we need to maintain a relationship with them, but we need to get their attention. Okay? We shouldn’t break the relationship right now and sever the relationship totally, but we need to get their attention. And I’m very sympathetic to the people on the Hill who are saying wait a minute, we’re funneling – we’re broke, we’re giving taxpayer money to this country which is not treating us right.

MR. ROSE: So there. (Laughter.)


SECRETARY BAKER: That’s not fair to ask her that. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, look, I think that our relationship with Pakistan has been challenging for a long time. Some of it is of our own making. There’s a lot of concern looking back. We did a great job in getting rid of the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. But I think a lot of us – and Bob Gates has said this – looking back now, perhaps we should have been more involved in the aftermath of what was going to happen to the Pakistanis. They had embraced a kind of jihadi mentality in part to stimulate fighters both from the outside and within Afghanistan.

So we are living with a country that has a lot of difficult issues both for themselves and then for us and others. But here’s what I would say. First of all, I completely agree it is not in our interests to cut off our relationship. It is in our interest to try to better direct and manage that relationship, and there are several things that we’re asking the Pakistanis to do more of and better. Number one, they’ve got to do more about the safe havens inside their own country. I mean, everybody knows that the Taliban’s momentum has been reversed, territory has been taken back, the Afghan Security Forces are performing much better, but the extremists have an ace in the hole. They just cross the border; they get direction and funding and fighters, and they go back across the border.

And what we’ve said to the Pakistanis is look, if there were ever an argument in the past for your policy of hedging against Afghanistan by supporting the Haqqani Network or the Afghan Taliban or the LET against India, those days are over. Because that’s like the guy who keeps poisonous snakes in his backyard convinced they’ll only attack his neighbors. That is not what is happening inside Pakistan. They are losing sovereignty. They have large areas that are ungoverned. They’ve had a rash of terrible attacks. More than 30,000 Pakistanis have been killed in the last decade. They talk a lot about sovereignty. Well, the first job of any sovereign nation is to protect your own people and secure your own borders. And therefore that’s what they should be doing, and by doing so they would help themselves first and foremost, help the Afghans, help us, and others.

Secondly, they have to be willing to recognize that as we withdraw from Afghanistan, it is in their interest to have a strong, stable Afghan Government that only can come from being part of the solution, being at that table, as we were discussing earlier, to try to help with Afghanistan’s economic and political and security development, rather than doing everything possible to try to undermine it.

So these are big issues that they have to come to grips with, and that’s not even mentioning the need to prevent nuclear proliferation or a nuclear incident that could occur because of the problems within their own system.

MR. ROSE: For the historical record, you believe they knew that Usama bin Ladin was there?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We have never been able to prove that anyone at the upper levels knew that. I said when I first went to Pakistan as Secretary in 2009 that I found it impossible to believe that somebody in their government didn’t know where he was – I still believe that – and that he took up residence and built this huge compound in a military garrison town. But we – to be fair, we have no evidence that anybody at the upper levels – and certainly if you talk about the civilian government, because the other goal that we have is to try to strengthen democracy and a civilian government inside Pakistan. And I have no reason to believe that the civilian government knew anything. So whether – who was in what level of responsibility in the military or the ISI, whether they were active or retired, because we do know that there are links to retired members, we’ve never been able to close that loop.

SECRETARY BAKER: And at the very least, they ought to stop double-dealing us.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, at the very least. And —

MR. ROSE: And you ought to threaten them with removing aid in order to use that leverage to get them to stop?

SECRETARY BAKER: Well, I’m not sure we give them enough that that’s going to make them stop. But they need to know that we’re upset about this. They ought to stop double-dealing.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. And they should release Dr. Afridi.

SECRETARY BAKER: Absolutely, they ought to release him.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Which is something that is so unnecessary and gratuitous on their part. This man was an international terrorist. The Pakistanis for years claimed he was their enemy as well as ours. And my argument to them is that this man contributed to ending the al-Qaida leadership that was in their country, and they shouldn’t treat him like a criminal.

MR. ROSE: There are so many issues that we could have talked about – international terrorism and how it’s moving, where it’s moving, whether it’s Yemen or other kinds of places. It just suggests that the role of Secretary of State in this country continues to be one in which you are just juggling a thousand balls all at the same time.

I want to thank Secretary Baker for coming up from Texas and sharing your ideas and your opinions with us, as we have done today.


MR. ROSE: We hope that other Secretaries will be here, and to hear people at the top of American Government who’ve had important roles and to take advantage of their own experience, their history, and to funnel that through a consideration of the challenge that faces Secretary Clinton every day. So thank both of you for this time. (Applause.)


Towards a new Arab cultural revolution

By Alastair Crooke-
Jun 13, 2012 –

The “Awakening” is taking a turn, very different to the excitement and promise with which it was hailed at the outset. Sired from an initial, broad popular impulse, it is becoming increasingly understood, and feared, as a nascent counter-revolutionary “cultural revolution” – a re-culturation of the region in the direction of a prescriptive canon that is emptying out those early high expectations, and which makes a mockery of the West’s continuing characterization of it as somehow a project of reform and democracy.

Instead of yielding hope, its subsequent metamorphosis now gives rise to a mood of uncertainty and desperation – particularly among what are increasingly termed “‘the minorities” – the non-Sunnis, in other words. This chill of apprehension takes its grip from certain Gulf States’ fervor for the restitution of a Sunni

regional primacy – even, perhaps, of hegemony – to be attained through fanning rising Sunni militancy [1] and Salafist acculturation.

At least seven Middle Eastern states are now beset by bitter, and increasingly violent, power struggles; states such as Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen are dismantling. Western states no longer trouble to conceal their aim of regime change in Syria, following Libya and the “non-regime-change” change in Yemen.

The region already exists in a state of low intensity war: Saudi Arabia and Qatar, bolstered by Turkey and the West, seem ready to stop at nothing to violently overthrow a fellow Arab head of state, President Bashar al-Assad – and to do whatever they can to hurt Iran.

Iranians increasingly interpret Saudi Arabia’s mood as a hungering for war; and Gulf statements do often have that edge of hysteria and aggression: a recent editorial in the Saudi-owned al-Hayat stated: “The climate in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] indicates that matters are heading towards a GCC-Iranian-Russian confrontation on Syrian soil, similar to what took place in Afghanistan during the Cold War. To be sure, the decision has been taken to overthrow the Syrian regime, seeing as it is vital to the regional influence and hegemony of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” [2]

What genuine popular impulse there was at the outset of the “Awakening” has now been subsumed and absorbed into three major political projects associated with this push to reassert primacy: a Muslim Brotherhood project, a Saudi-Qatari-Salafist project, and a militant Salafist project. No one really knows the nature of the Brotherhood project, whether it is that of a sect, or if it is truly mainstream [3]; and this opacity is giving rise to real fears.

At times, the Brotherhood presents a pragmatic, even an uncomfortably accomodationist, face to the world, but other voices from the movement, more discretely evoke the air of something akin to the rhetoric of literal, intolerant and hegemonic Salafism. What is clear however is that the Brotherhood tone everywhere is increasingly one of militant sectarian grievance. And the shrill of this is heard plainly from Syria.

The joint Saudi-Salafist project was conceived as a direct counter to the Brotherhood project: the Saudi aim in liberally funding and supporting Saudi-orientated Salafists throughout the region has been precisely to contain and counter the influence of the Brotherhood [4] (eg in Egypt) and to undermine this strand of reformist Islamism, which is seen to constitute an existential threat to Gulf state autocracy: a reformism that precisely threatens the authority of those absolute monarchs.

Qatar pursues a somewhat different line to Saudi Arabia. Whilst it too is firing-up, arming and funding militant Sunni movements [5], it is not so much attempting to contain and circumscribe the Brotherhood, Saudi-style, but rather to co-opt it with money; and to align it into the Saudi-Qatari aspiration for a Sunni power block that can contain Iran.

Plainly the Brotherhood needs Gulf funding to pursue its aim of acquiring the prime seat at the region’s table of power; and therefore the more explicitly sectarian, aggrieved discourse from the Brotherhood perhaps is a case of “he who pays the piper” … Qatar and Saudi Arabia are both Wahhabi Salafist states.

The third “project”, also highly funded and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar – uncompromising Sunni radicalism – forms the vanguard of this new “Cultural Revolution”: It aims however not to contain, but simply to displace traditional Sunnism with the culture of Salafism. Unlike the Brotherhood, this element, whose influence is growing exponentially – thanks to a flood of Gulf dollars – has no political ambitions within the nation-state, per se.

It abhors conventional politics, but it is nonetheless radically political: Its aim, no less, is to displace traditional Sunnism, with the narrow, black and white, right and wrong, certitude embedded in Wahhabi Salafism – including its particular emphasis on fealty to established authority and Sharia. More radical elements go further, and envision a subsequent stage of seizing and holding of territory for the establishment of true Islamic Emirates [6] and ultimately a Kalifa.

A huge cultural and political shift is underway: the “Salafisation” of traditional Sunni Islam: the sheering-away of traditional Islam from heterogeneity, and its old established co-habitation with other sects and ethnicities. It is a narrowing-down, an introversion into a more rigid clutching to the certainties of right and wrong, and to the imposition of these “truths” on society: it is no coincidence that those movements which do seek political office, at this time, are demanding the culture and education portfolios, rather than those of justice or security. [7]

These Gulf States’ motives are plain: Qatari and Saudi dollars, coupled with the Saudi claim to be the legitimate successors to the Quraiysh (the Prophet’s tribe), is intended to steer the Sunni “stirrings” in such a way that the absolute monarchies of the Gulf acquire their “re-legitimisation”‘ and can reassert a leadership through the spread of Salafist culture – with its obeisance towards established authority: specifically the Saudi king.

Historically some of the radical Sunni recipients of Saudi financial largesse however have also proved to be some of the most violent, literalist, intolerant and dangerous groups – both to other Muslims, as well as to all those who do not hold to their particular ‘truth’. The last such substantive firing-up of such auxiliaries occurred at the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan – the consequences of which are still with us decades later today.

But all these projects, whilst they may overlap in some parts, are in a fundamental way, competitors with each other. And they are all essentially “power” projects – projects intended to take power. Ultimately they will clash: Sunni on Sunni. This has already begun in the Levant – violently.

Continued 1 2

Fears of extremism taking hold in Syria as violence continues

By , Published: April 22-

BEIRUT — As Syria’s revolution drags into its second year amid few signs that a U.N.-mandated cease-fire plan will end the violence, evidence is mounting that Islamist extremists are seeking to commandeer what began as a non-ideological uprising aimed at securing greater political freedom.

Activists and rebel soldiers based inside Syria say a small but growing number of Islamist radicals affiliated with global jihadi movements have been arriving in opposition strongholds in recent weeks and attempting to rally support among disaffected residents.

Western diplomats say they have tracked a steady trickle of jihadists flowing into Syria from Iraq, and Jordan’s government last week detained at least four alleged Jordanian militants accused of trying to sneak into Syria to join the revolutionaries.

A previously unknown group calling itself the al-Nusra Front has asserted responsibility for bombings in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo using language and imagery reminiscent of the statements and videos put out by al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations in Iraq, although no evidence of the group’s existence has surfaced other than the videos and statements it has posted on the Internet.

Syrian activists and Western officials say the militants appear to be making little headway in recruiting supporters within the ranks of the still largely secular protest movement, whose unifying goal is the ouster of the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad.

But if the United Nations’ peace plan fails to end the government’s bloody crackdown and promises of Western and Arab help for the rebel Free Syrian Army do not materialize, activists and analysts say, there is a real risk that frustrated members of the opposition will be driven toward extremism, adding a dangerous dimension to a revolt that is threatening to destabilize a wide arc of territory across the Middle East.

“The world doing nothing opens the door for jihadis,” said Lt. Abdullah al-Awdi, a Free Syrian Army commander who defected from the regular army in the summer and was interviewed during a visit he made to Turkey. He says that he has rebuffed several offers of help from militant groups in the form of arms and money and that he fears the extremists’ influence will grow.

“This is not a reason for the international community to be silent about Syria. It should be a reason for them to do something,” Awdi said.

Flow of jihadis reported

U.S. officials and Western diplomats in the region, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, say they have seen several indications that al-Qaeda-like groups are trying to inject themselves into the Syrian revolution, although they stress that the Islamist radicals’ impact has been limited. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on “mujaheddin” to head to Syria in support of the rebels earlier this year, and Western diplomats are convinced that operatives affiliated with al-Qaeda carried out a string of bombings in Damascus and Aleppo between December and March.

The diplomats say dozens of jihadis have been detected crossing the border from Iraq into Syria, some of them Syrians who had previously volunteered to fight in Iraq and others Iraqi. There may also be other foreign nationals among them, reversing the journey they took into Iraq years ago when jihadis flowed across the border to fight the now-departed Americans.

The Syrian government facilitated the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq for many years, and there are widespread suspicions that it may be covertly reactivating some of those networks to discredit the revolutionaries, deter international support for the opposition and create conditions under which the harsh crackdown by authorities will appear justified.

The regime portrayed the uprising as the work of radical Islamists in its earliest days, and the reports that extremists are surfacing in Syria only play into the official narrative, said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.

“This drip, drip, drip of extremists across the border . . . there are signs the regime is aiding and abetting it,” Shaikh said. “And it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

It is also plausible that these groups, adherents of a radicalized form of Sunni Islam, have turned against their former benefactors and are making their way back to Syria motivated by religious and sectarian zeal. Although many Syrian opposition activists insist that their revolution is not sectarian, a majority of Syrians are Sunnis, while Assad, along with most leading figures in the regime and in the security forces, belongs to the Shiite-affiliated Alawite minority, lending a sectarian dimension to the populist revolt.

Syrian activists and rebels insist that the extremists are not welcome in communities that have long prided themselves on their tolerance of the religious minorities in their midst, including Christians, Alawites, Druze, Kurds and Ismaili Shiites.

A rebel leader in northern Syria who asked to be identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Mustafa, described how he and his men drove out a group of about 15 radicals, all of them Syrian but none of them local, who arrived in a northern village in January. Led by a commander who identified himself as Abu Sulaiman, the group tried to recruit supporters for an assault on the nearby town of Jisr al-Shughour.

Abu Sulaiman “had money, he had weapons, and he sent a guy to negotiate with me, but I refused,” Abu Mustafa recalled in an interview in Turkey. “We asked him to leave, but he didn’t, so we attacked him. We killed two of them, and one of our men was injured. Then he left, but I don’t know where he went.”

“The good thing is that Syrians are against giving our country to radicals,” Abu Mustafa added. “But these groups have supporters who are very rich, and if our revolution continues like this, without hope and without result, they will gain influence on the ground.”

A largely secular revolt

There is a distinction between the naturally conservative religiosity of Syrians who come from traditional communities and the radicalism of those associated with the global jihadi movement, said Joseph Holliday, who is researching the Free Syrian Army at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington and believes extremists are a small minority.

“While there are elements [in the opposition] that are very conservative, they are not the driving force,” he said. “There is definitely an argument to be made that this will increase over time, because insurgencies often become more extremist over time, but for now the driving force behind this revolution is secular.”

Adherents of the strict Salafi school of Islam have emerged in many Syrian communities and are playing a role in the opposition, but they, too, are to be distinguished from the jihadis, said ­Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

“People who are local and pious and moving in an Islamist direction and are taking up guns don’t have the same organization and are not necessarily the same thing as jihadists, who are not necessarily al-Qaeda,” he said. “There’s a range of different directions and trends.”

Many activists fear, however, that the influence of the extremists is growing as Syrian rebels who have for months appealed in vain for Western military intervention look for help elsewhere.

“Of course it is growing, because no one is doing anything to stop it,” said a Syrian activist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he fears retribution from some of the radicals he has encountered while attempting to organize the opposition in many northern communities.

“They have rules,” he said. “They say: If we give you money, you have to obey our orders and accept our leadership. Some of my friends drink alcohol, and they aren’t like this. But when they find no other way to cover their expenses, they join these groups and then they follow them.”

Special correspondent Ranya Kadri in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

© The Washington Post Company

The new Crescenters: Turkey and Qatar


Qatar and Turkey are the new Crescenters ( in opposition to crusaders) of the Arab world. They are working to move the whole Arab world into becoming Sunni Islamic republic. They plan to  “moderate” these countries by injecting massive funds in economical investment.
For that, they have the full support of the USA and the western countries tired of fighting against extremists isla, supporting hopeless dictators and facing increased immigration of moslems to their countries.
As for Iran with which Turkey and Qatar enjoy good relationship, they consider that with a few adjustments, ultimately Iran would become another moderate Islamic republic.
Syria, Lebanon and Iraq  are most difficult countries to tackle because they are not homogeneous so the move to a ‘moderate’ Sunni or Shia islamic republic is not as straighforward as Egypt, Libya, Yemen or Tunisia where the religious or ethnic minorities are either unexistant or weak.
At first, Turkey and Qatar thought that Syria that has a majority of sunni will easily replace the alawite regime by a sunni islamic republic. After 10  months, that plan failed because the regime had the support of Iran who refuses to have its allies in Lebanon isolated.
The different strategies are the following 1) Let Lebanon, Syria and Iraq stay under the umbrella of Iran with the hope that Iran will move to a moderate Islamic republic, 2)Let these countries in limbo to find their own balance or 3) Use a military option make the necessary changes.
It seems that the solution 2) is the one being considered by Turkey and Qatar after many attempts to use solution 3)

Syria and the unfolding hegemonic game

Nima Khorrami Assl Last Modified: 25 Nov 2011 09:27

A new strategic alliance has formed, Ankara and Riyadh against Tehran, all trying to gain influence over Damascus.

London, UK – In spite of mounting international and regional pressure on Bashar al-Assad’s regime, there is still no real prospect of a quick end to the on-going instability and instead Syria is set to enter a long and bloody civil war. And as political stalemate continues, a genuinely regional hegemonic contest between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey over this small but strategically important nation has begun to unfold.

Since the fall of Mubarak, Saudis have decided to drastically reduce their reliance on the US for securing their foreign policy interests. Riyadh has not only begun to strengthen its armed forces, but it has also decided to use its petro-dollar more aggressively seeking to buy influence in return for the provision of generous financial assistance. Capitalising on Egypt’s weakness, moreover, Saudi has assumed the leading role in the Arab League to the extent that many Arab observers see the League today as “an extension of the GCC”. Finally, preferring evolution to revolution, Saudis have crushed revolutionary movements in Bahrain and Yemen albeit via different means.

Turkey’s continued economic growth in the face of the current global crisis, its remarkable success in achieving societal cohesion by needling the gap between secular and religious forces, and its boosted standing on the world stage as a role model for Arab revolutionaries, on the other hand, have enhanced her assertiveness. Today, Turkish leadership is keen to behave “as a kind of independent regional power similar to the democratic members of the BRICS”. To this end, Ankara has sought to expand ties with Egypt in order to defuse any potential Arab criticism of its hegemonic tendencies. According to the Turkish Foreign Minister, “a partnership between Turkey and Egypt could create a new, democratic axis of power”.

Lacking Turkey’s democratic appeal amongst the Arab public and Saudi’s money, Tehran has followed a different path seeking to strengthen its alliance system as opposed to trying to expand its influence into new theatres. And as American troops begin their withdrawal, Iran’s influence in Iraq is set to rise even further especially that Ankara is more interested in intra-Kurdish affairs and Saudi appears to have abandoned Shia Iraq altogether. Iran’s influence in Lebanon will also go unchallenged as Hezbollah continues to dominate the Lebanese politics. This leaves Syria as the first theatre in which this regional hegemonic game will begin to fold out.

Syria is important to Iran for two broad reasons. Firstly, it is the link between Iran and Hizbullah. Assad’s fall will therefore be a massive blow to Iran’s foreign policy by greatly reducing Tehran geopolitical reach. Given the Iranian regime’s own unpopularity, secondly, Tehran fears that Assad’s fall could dangerously revitalize Iran’s own anti-government movement. Saudis, on the other hand, are eager to see an end to the Assad’s rule not least because he is an Alawi. Moreover, Assad’s demise will enable Saudi to challenge Tehran in Lebanon with greater ease. For its part, Turkey is mainly concerned with the Syrian situation because it shares a long border with Syria, and that on-going instability in Syria could have destabilising effects on Turkey’s own Kurdish population. Also, Ankara knows all too well that Assad’s hold on power could mean a near-total loss of its investment in Syria. This is not to mention that there has been a historical rivalry between Iran and Turkey over Syria dating back to the Ottoman-Safavid era.

Currently, Turkey and Saudi seem to have entered a tactical alliance against Iran by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and calling on Assad to resign. Yet it is not at all clear if this alliance will achieve its desired outcome. It could in fact crumble over time. Ankara and Riyadh have opposing interests in Egypt. Saudis prefer a strong presence of military and Mubarak-era personalities in the government, whereas Turkey favours a newly and democratically elected government in place as soon as possible. Given Cairo’s dire financial needs, Saudis are more likely to obtain the upper hand there which will almost certainly antagonise Ankara. More importantly, as US is preparing to leave Iraq, there are already reports of tension between Kurdish and Iraqi security forces along the trigger line. If the civil war in Syria and the US departure lead to the revival of independence discourses amongst the Kurds, Turkey should then be expected to join forces with Iran so to preserve Iraq and Syria’s unity even if that means supporting Bashar al-Assad.

Interestingly, as the United States reorients its foreign policy focus towards the Asia Pacific, this rivalry is the clearest indication of how the future regional order will look like: a multipolar system with Iran, Saudi, Turkey, and Egypt, once it stands on its feet again, as its poles. And as this new order takes shape, one can be certain that there will be more instability ahead, and the greatest challenge facing these would-be powers will be the regulation of their rivalries.

Nima Khorrami Assl is a security analyst at Transnational Crisis Project, London. His areas of interest and expertise include the Middle East, Political Islam and De-radicalisation, China, Caucuses, Energy Security and Geopolitics.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

US draws down in Iraq, and Baghdad takes the reins

Tony Karon

Nov 2, 2011 –

Washington’s neocons would have you believe that the US president, Barack Obama, will serve up Iraq on a plate to a hungry Iran when he withdraws all US troops at the end of this year.

And Mr Obama’s camp seems concerned to counter this charge, with an election a year away. Officials are warning Iran against “interference” in Iraq, and The New York Times reports that to counter Iran, the US will increase its troop numbers and naval strength in the Gulf after the Iraq withdrawal.

The posturing about Iran is, of course, largely for domestic consumption. Mr Obama’s critics are misguided in believing that the US troop presence limits Iranian influence in Iraq, and they are also directing their complaint to the wrong address: It was not President Obama who decided to leave Iraq; he is required to do so under the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by his predecessor in November 2008.

But if the Republicans are really looking for one man to blame for the US withdrawal it is neither President George W Bush nor Mr Obama, but Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric. He is the man who made sure key decisions about the country’s future were taken democratically, by Iraqis rather than by Americans.

Paul Bremer, the American viceroy best remembered for the epic blunder of summarily dissolving the Iraqi military, fell a foul of Ayatollah Sistani in 2003 when he proposed three years of government by Iraqis hand-picked by the US, who would also write the new constitution.


The cleric – who refused ever to meet US officials lest he be deemed to be sanctifying the occupation – issued a fatwa from Najaf, dismissing Mr Bremer’s plan as “fundamentally unacceptable” and insisting that Iraqis democratically elect the body that would draw up a new constitution.

Mr Bremer, seized by the heady arrogance of Bush-era empire-building, hoped to overrule Mr Sistani. But by the end of 2003, with tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrating in support of the Ayatollah’s decree, it became clear that even Mr Bremer’s hand-picked Iraqi Governing Council would buckle to the election demand.

The US couldn’t very well take to the streets to fight the same Iraqis it claimed to have liberated, and Mr Bremer was forced to back down. The US transferred sovereignty in 2004 and the first election was held the following January. It returned a Shiite-dominated government closer to Iran than to Washington, as did the second election, a year later (although Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki retains his independence from both Tehran and Washington).

The idea that US troops somehow diminish Iranian influence in Iraq is hard to take seriously. Iran certainly had an agenda in Iraq; it was determined to see a friendly government replace Saddam Hussein, its most reviled and dangerous enemy, and so avoid any repeat of the disastrous eight-year war waged by Saddam against the Iranians in the 1980s. And given Iran’s long-standing ties with Shiite parties in Iraq, the most effective means for achieving Iran’s objective may well have been Iraqi democracy – the Shiites, on whom it could count for friendly ties, were after all an electoral majority.


So, Iran deepened political, economic and religious ties with Iraq’s Shiites. It provided financial support to its political and religious allies, and military training and supplies to Shiite militias that were fighting the US and were also engaged in vicious sectarian warfare against Iraqi Sunnis.

Iran built this influence despite the presence of up to 170,000 American troops – and it used that influence to help press for the departure of US forces.

If anything, the departure of US forces removes the key pretext for Iran backing Shiite militia groups, of which Mr Maliki would like to be rid. But the possibility of escalating proxy warfare between Iran and Saudi Arabia might see such support maintained.

In the unlikely event that Iran invaded Iraq after the American withdrawal, it would find plenty of Arab Shiites ready to fight their Persian Shiite neighbours – as they did during the 1980s war. The interests of men like Mr Maliki and Muqtada Al Sadr may coincide with those of Iran at times but these men remain, at heart, fierce Iraqi nationalists.

Mr Bremer’s plan had implied that the Iraqis weren’t quite ready for democracy, but Ayatollah Sistani turned the question on its head, asking if the Americans were ready to abide by the election results.

To its credit, the US has done so. In 2008, when Mr Bush began negotiating a new Status of Forces Agreement, he envisaged an open- ended stay, and wanted the Iraqis to agree to 50 permanent US bases in the country. The Iraqis walked him back, setting the December 31, 2011 withdrawal deadline and rejecting permanent bases.

US officials still hoped that the Iraqis could be pressed to accept a couple of US divisions staying behind, but the Iraqis declined.

The US will certainly retain a substantial presence, with thousands of security contractors on the staff of its 17,000-person embassy in Baghdad and hundreds of soldiers in training capacities, to say nothing of covert operations.

Many perils lie ahead. Some of the Shiite militias may escalate attacks on US troops to make it look as if their military efforts drove the Americans out. But Iraqis know it was their government – Iraqi public opinion, as expressed through the democratic process – that forced the Americans to accept their terms. And if the Iraqis could prevail over the world’s last superpower, they’re unlikely to become a cat’s paw for the lesser regional hegemon next door.

American leaders like to tell their counterparts in newly democratic societies that the iron test of democracy is whether leaders accept defeat at the polls. That’s exactly what they’ve had to do in Iraq.

Tony Karon is an analyst based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @Tony Karon

The End of Iraq War: A complete neocon defeat

Jonathan Steele  Sunday 23 October 2011

Thanks to the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iran’s greatest enemy, Tehran’s influence in Iraq is stronger than America’s

The Iraq war is over. Buried by the news from Libya, Barack Obama announced late on Friday that all US troops will leave Iraq by 31 December.

The president put a brave face on it, claiming he was fulfilling an election promise to end the war, though he had actually been supporting the Pentagon’s effort to make a deal with Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to keep US bases and several thousand troops there indefinitely.

The talks broke down because Moqtada al-Sadr’s members of parliament and other Iraqi nationalists insisted that US troops be subject to Iraqi law. In every country where they are based the US insists on legal immunity and refuses to let troops be tried by foreigners. In Iraq the issue is especially sensitive after numerous US murders of civilians and the Abu Ghraib scandal in which Iraqi prisoners were sexually humiliated. In almost every case where US courts tried US troops, soldiers were acquitted or received relatively brief prison sentences.

The final troop withdrawal marks a complete defeat for Bush’s Iraq project. The neocons’ grand plan to use the 2003 invasion to turn the country into a secure pro-western democracy and a garrison for US bases that could put pressure on Syria and Iran lies in tatters.

Their hopes of making Iraq a democratic model for the Middle East have been tipped on their head. The instability and bloodshed which the US unleashed in Iraq were the example that Arabs sought to avoid, not emulate. This year’s autonomous surge for democracy in Egypt and Tunisia has done far more to galvanise the region and undermine its dictatorships than anything the US did in Iraq. And when the Arab spring dawned, the Iraqi government found itself on the defensive as demonstrators took to the streets of Baghdad and Basra to protest against Maliki’s authoritarianism and his government’s US-supported clampdown on trade union activity. Maliki hosted two Syrian government delegations this summer and has refused to criticise Bashar al-Assad’s shooting of protesters.

But the neocons’ biggest defeat is that, thanks to Bush’s toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iran’s greatest enemy, Tehran’s influence in Iraq is much stronger today than is America’s. Iran does not control Iraq but Tehran no longer has anything to fear from its western neighbour now that a Shia-dominated government sits in Baghdad, made up of parties whose leaders spent long years of exile in Iran under Saddam or, like Sadr, have lived there more recently.

The US Republicans are accusing Obama of giving in to Iran by pulling all US troops out. Their knee-jerk reaction is rich and only shows the bankruptcy of their slogans, since it was Bush who gave Tehran its strategic opening by invading Iraq, just as it was Bush in the dying weeks of his presidency who signed the agreement to withdraw all US troops by the end of 2011, which Obama was hoping to amend. But Senator John McCain was right when he said Obama’s announcement would be viewed “as a strategic victory for our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime, which has worked relentlessly to ensure a full withdrawal of US troops from Iraq”. A pity that he did not pin the blame on Bush (and Tony Blair) who made it all possible.

The two former leaders’ memoirs show they have learnt no lessons, even though their reputations in history will never be able to shake the disaster off.

Whether the lessons have been taken on board by the current US and British leaders is more important. Nato’s relative success in the Libyan campaign is already being used to draw a veil over the past. Indeed, the fortuitous timing of Gaddafi’s death has knocked the news of the US withdrawal from Iraq almost entirely off the media’s agenda.

But the past is still with us. A key lesson from Iraq is that putting western boots on the ground in a foreign war, particularly in a Muslim country, is madness. That point seemed to have been learnt when US, British and French officials asked the UN security council in March to authorise its campaign in Libya. They promised there would be no ground troops or occupation.

This should also apply to Afghanistan where Obama claims to be fighting a war of necessity, unlike the war in Iraq which he calls one of choice. The distinction is false, and the question now is whether he will pull all US troops out by 2014.

On the pattern of the aborted deal with Iraq, his officials are trying to negotiate an arrangement with the Karzai government which will authorise the indefinite basing of thousands of US troops, to be described as trainers and advisers, after combat forces leave. This would continue the folly of fuelling the country’s long-running civil war. Now that al-Qaida has been driven from Afghanistan, Washington should support negotiations for a government of national unity that includes the Taliban and ends the fighting among Afghans. Iraq is no haven of guaranteed stability but, without the presence of US combat troops for the last 15 months, it has achieved an uneasy peace. If talks in Afghanistan are seriously encouraged, it could go the same way once foreign troops at last withdraw.