RT Crossfire Advanced Questions and Talking Points

We filmed an episode of Crosstalk today, so I thought I would share my talking points in advance of the show being aired on Monday.  Not everything here was said, but the questions they sent in advance will give you a broad sense of what was said on the show.

Is the term Arab Spring or Arab Awakening appropriate anymore? Do we
need to invent a new and different term to describe what is happening
in the Arab Middle East today?
 
It was never appropriate in the beginning.  When you spoke to protesters in the individual countries they would always refer to their countries “revolutions”.  I think our best method of looking at the phenomenon in the region, is to keep referring to them in this manner.  This helps us keep on track of the fact that whilst there was a “demonstration” effect that helped them spread across the region, all the revolutions were country specific.  It is safer to refer to the “revolutions” occurring through the region.  This is also particularly the case, as we don’t, and have never known, the directions these revolutions will take.  Spring and Awakening suggests a transition process to democracy, and it is far from guaranteed that this will be the case.
 
What to the countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria have in
common today (if any thing beyond being Arab Muslim countries)?
 
These countries still have a lot in common beyond being Arab Muslim countries. They have deeply troubled economies, high youth unemployment, a disproportionately high youth demographic, deep troubles with rule of law and security.  These are in fact the same conditions that led to the uprisings in the first place.  They differ in many of the problems they face, but broadly speaking the underlined causes of the revolutions are still there.  
 
Over two years ago many in the west (and their proxies on the ground
in the Arab Middle East) talked of democracy and western values in a
region in the hands of dictators for decades. Where does democracy
stand today in the region?
 
Any one who has studied democracy in the Arab world over decades will tell you that the region always takes one step forward, and two steps back.  But the Arab spring demonstrates that there is popular demand for rights, dignity and freedom.  The revolutions are a major leap forward for democracy in the region, and the genie has been let out of the bottle.  There is less willingness to accept the security guarantee of dictators, as the people in the region see that this hasn’t provided them with the basic things they need in their daily lives.  Of course, the situation on the ground differs across each of the countries, and some are moving forward more rapidly with what look like basic democratic institutions than others.  But overall, democratisation is a long process, and we certainly stand in a place where democracy looks more plausible today than it did in 2010.
To what degree have events in Syria been a “game changer” for the region?
 
Events in Syria are very important, and have important regional repercussions.  But overall, what happens in Syria is going to have little effect on the domestic revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.  We also have an important example of a more successful transition in Yemen, which shouldn’t be forgotten.  The problem with Syria has to do with the nature of the state structure.  The security forces are tied to the regime itself, which wasn’t the case in Tunisia and Egypt, and NATO intervention in Libya cancelled that particular dynamic out.  Are there going to be serious security problems in Syria for the forceable future, that will impact Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon?  They certainly will, but alternative trajectories are in place for the countries already undergoing revolutions.
 
Has western overt and/or covert involvement been a plus or minus in
the region over the past two years?
 
There was a period when US and EU involvement in the region was particularly high – throughout 2011-2012.  There was a greater emphasis on trying to promote democracy, and on helping successful democratic transitions to take place.  The September 11 embassy attacks, however, have lowered the willingness of the US to focus on this, and return to a more traditional “security and interests” focus.  So post-2012 the US has pulled back its presence in the region, and missed important opportunities.  Because of the problems with the way EU foreign policy is conducted and made, they have followed in the US foot steps.  

The show airs on Monday, so any feed back is welcome on here or twitter @ozhassan.

Postscript:  Link to Youtube show

Terrorism in North Africa

I was asked to provide comments for Sanlian LifeWeek Magazine in China today, and thought I would blog my responses in English …
Q:With regards to the two operations in Africa, does this demonstrate that the US is shifting its counter-terriorism battlefield from the Middle East to North Africa, while others argue that US is just sending a strong message to the world that the they will spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable, no matter where they hide or how long they evade justice?

A: It would be wrong to suggest that the US is shifting its counterterrorism policy from the Middle East to North Africa, as the US has always regarded the two areas as interlinked through its Near East Department and associated policies.  Indeed, lets not forget that some of the 9/11 attackers were from Egypt – in North Africa.  What is interesting about the two operations the US undertook was that it returned to a rendition policy that was highly unpopular under President George W. Bush.  At one level it sends a strong message that the US is willing to “hunt down” these terrorists no matter what time frame has passed, but it also signals a move away from using “Drones” to carryout extrajudicial killings.  This extrajudicial killing policy has been the most controversial dimension of the Obama foreign policy, as it goes against current human rights conventions and demonstrates a duplicity on the part of the US.

Q. As far as you’re concerned, in recent years, has terrorism in North Africa gotten  so much rampant that it disattracts US’ attention from other issues?

A. The US is capable of pursuing more than one issue at a time, so I don’t think its counter-terrorism policy in North Africa is a distraction.  However, the way the policy is framed does distract the US from paying attention to the domestic nature of the problems.  Terrorism in North Africa should be seen like a business as much as a political phenomenon.  For example, terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) make millions of dollars through drug trafficking and kidnaps.  Dealing with these local and regional problems requires a local and regional strategy.  However, with the Arab Spring and the removal of Gaddafi, the West has lost an ally, albeit brutally authoritarian, that was willing to take more regional responsibility for countering terrorism.  That is to say that fighting organisations like Al Qaeda in the Maghreb was in Gaddafi’s interest, which is why in 2009 Libyan security leaders met with their counter-parts from Algeria, Mali, Nigeria and Mauritania in the Algerian city Tamanrasset to formulate a regional terrorism strategy.  When Gaddafi was removed, the Tamanrasset agreement fell apart, removing the regional ability to deal with a growing counter-terrorism threat.  This however, is more of an issue for Europe than for the US. 

 For my other thoughts on Extremism in North Africa see mine and Elizabeth Iskander’s submission to the UK House of Lord Select Committee looking into the issue (here).

Transatlantic Interests sponsored Conference

On September 16-18 2013, The University of Warwick hosted the Globalisation and American Grand Strategy in a Time of Austerity Conference organized by Oz Hassan, who runs this blogs Transatlantic Interests Project.   Over the three days the conference had 120 delegates from around the world, making it the largest US foreign policy focused conference in Europe.  The conference was funded by the University of Warwick’s Institute for Advanced Studies, Warwick’s Politics and International Studies department, the US Embassy London, the ESRC, the Institute for the Study of the Americas, and BISA.

It began with an exclusive early career day where a number of high profile international guests exchanged feedback with MA, PhD and Post-Doctoral members about their work.  This was followed by a master-class on US policymaking and the creation of the national economic council, delivered by Robert F. Wescott.  Dr Wescott is the founder and President of Keybridge Research LLC in Washington D.C.  From 1993-94 he was Chief Economist at the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, and from 1999-2001 he served as Special Assistant to the U.S. President for Economic Policy at the White House.  As senior economic advisor to President Clinton, he helped to develop the Administration’s policies towards the G-7, other key emerging markets, and the international financial system.

The following day began with discussions about American Leadership, dealing with nuclear proliferation, the European relationship, issues of American exceptionalism, and the looming crisis in Syria.  This was followed by discussions over whether America was in decline, and how this related to China’s rise.  Evident from the panel was a sense that America should not be written off yet, and China is a potential super power, but isn’t there yet.  The following roundtable picked up on these issues discussing the nature of globalization and American power.  What became clear is that, unlike over the last five years, the prospects of America’s decline on the international stage are fading.  It was agreed that America is less likely to want to act in the future, because of a wide range of issues, but America’s economic and military power is far from fading.

Ambassador John D. Negroponte then picked up these factors in his keynote speech, introduced by the Vice Chancellor Nigel Thrift.  Ambassador Negroponte has been US ambassador to Honduras, Mexico, the Philippines, the United Nations and Iraq.  He has served twice on the National Security Council staff, first as director for Vietnam in the Nixon Administration and then as deputy national security advisor under President Reagan.  He has also held a cabinet level position as the first director of national intelligence under President George W. Bush. His most recent position in government was as deputy secretary of state, where he served as the State Department’s chief operating officer. In 2009 he began a part-time position at Yale University, as a distinguished senior research fellow in grand strategy and lecturer in international affairs.  The ambassador provided a highly stimulating discussion and an invigorating question and answer session.  He talked about how President Bush was miss sold intelligence that led to the Iraq War (which he believe Bush now regrets), and how the Bush administration believed oil was important – much more so than it actually is.  If there was a slow intelligence day, then intelligence reports on oil would be given to VP Cheney to keep his office interested.  In what was an open and candid talk, there were a lot of reveals about the way the intelligence community now works, and about the last few decades of American Foreign Policy.  The evening was topped off by a speech by Liz Dibble the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in London.  Delivering her speech in the Great Hall at Warwick Castle, she reminded the audience of the special relationship between the US and the UK, and the dangers that remain in the world – what’s more she was kind enough to go beyond the “standardised version” of such a speech and give real detail about the future of US policy.

Ambassador Negroponte, Keynote, the University of Warwick

Ambassador Negroponte, Keynote, the University of Warwick

Amb Negroponte, Oz Hassan and Chris Hughes in Discussion

Amb Negroponte, Oz Hassan and Chris Hughes in Discussion

In order left to right: Oz Hassan; Michael Cox; Xenia Dormandy; Robert Wescott; Jeffery Laurenti

In order left to right: Oz Hassan; Michael Cox; Xenia Dormandy; Robert Wescott; Jeffery Laurenti

Amb Negroponte meets Warwick University Vice Chancellor Nigel Thrift

Amb Negroponte meets Warwick University Vice Chancellor Nigel Thrift

This years Conference drinks reception and meal was held in Warwick Castle's Great Hall

This years Conference drinks reception and meal was held in Warwick Castle’s Great Hall

Formal Conference Meal at Warwick Castle

Formal Conference Meal at Warwick Castle

 

US Cuts Aid to Egypt – Holding Back the Toys

The reaction to the Obama administration cutting aid to Egypt has been mixed.  Israel has talked of its strategic necessity for peace and the Egyptian government has talked of how they regard it as the “wrong decision” and interference in domestic affairs, whilst Tamarod has welcomed the suspension of aid.  Reading twitter as the news began to break showed a level of strategic confusion over why the administration had chosen to act now.  Indeed, @slaugtherAM commented how odd it was given the current talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Nevertheless, the devil here is in the detail.  The symbolic and temporary suspension of 12 F16 fighters, Apache Helicopters, 4 tanks, harpoon missiles, a $260 cash transfer and $300 loan guarantee is not a complete and permanent suspension of aid.  The US is continuing to fund education health, counter-terror and military training programmes.  In that sense the timing reflects what President Obama eluded to in his speech to the UN general assembly, and ideas about how to react to the coup since July (the current Presidential style is contemplative and slow to say the least – as we witnessed over the troop surge decision in Afghanistan).  This is in effect a package that is symbolic and will make very little substantive difference to the US-Egyptian relationship.  Yes, the Egyptian’s want the technology – they are good “toys” – but this is not a serious attempt to influence the future political path of Egypt and does not cut deep into the heart of the relationship.  What is significant however, is that it reflects the first practical experiment of the Obama administration’s  report on US-MENA relations issued just before the Arab Spring began that conclued that peace between Egypt and Israel was no longer premised on the 1978 Camp David agreement, but by the fact that war was not in Egypt’s interest (read more in my book).  Is this a significant moment in US-Egypt’s relationship?  Maybe – it could turn into an interesting episode but ultimately the stability agenda continues; but it could also be the start of the Obama administration starting to slowly enact some of the strategic thinking about how to develop a grand strategy for the MENA region that it developed at the end of 2010 and throughout the Arab revolutions.  Yet, given the strategic importance of Egypt, the former is more likely.

Conversation on Twitter

Conversation on Twitter

What does the Kidnap and release of Ali Zeidan tells us about Libya?

The kidnap and release of Ali Zeidan tells us what we already knew about the current situation in Libya.  The security situation in the country is deeply precarious and “revolutionary” militias are ultimately in power.  They out number, by size and firepower, the official police and army, and have a limited and tenuous loyalty to the countries institutions. This is a serious problem, which combined with the presence of terrorist organisations like AQIM in the country, raises serious challenges for North African, European, and the American government.

The revolutionary group that kidnapped Zeidan argued that because the Libyan government agreed to the US violation of sovereignty, when they captured Abu Anas al-Liby on Saturday, they were acting as an “Anti-crime agency” against a PM they regard as violating the law.  The fact that they could take him from the Corinthia Hotel, which is supposed to be one of the most secure locations in the country is deeply problematic and tells us who really has power.  This is not a government capable of protecting itself, never mind maintaing security and law and order across the country.

I was asked earlier today to comment on Channel NewsAsia, about what this means for foreigners in the country, who Zeidan is now seeking to reassure.  This is deeply problematic as it sends a clear signal that the security situation post-Bengazi attacks has not improved.  (I’ve been told foreigners can get around the country for the most part, but low profile is the way forward).  For details on how to build Libya’s security sector, people should see Frederic Wehrey and Peter Cole’s policy outlook here.

I’ve also been asked by a lot of media outlets about the prospects for democracy in the country.  The thing people need to have in mind is that; when a revolution and international intervention remove a government they leave a political and security space open within that country.  As a new government fills this space the international community asks them to do two opposing things 1) centralise power to form a new state; 2) move towards democracy.  This is asking them to centralise and decentralise power at the same time, and this is all in a scenario where there is no security.  Therefore to move to democracy, first steps need to be centralising state power and the maintenance of security across the country.  This should be done in conjunction with a truth and reconciliation dialogue initiative.  It is only by both securing and reconstructing the state and coming to terms with the past and forming a consensus on the future that progress on deepening democratic institutions can be made.