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The Middle East, North Africa, and Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next President

Luis Durani

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2016 will be a pivotal year for the US as it chooses a new president. It is an election year with no incumbent running. With candidates on both sides vying for the highest office in the land, major challenges exist for the next president of the US. One of the more turbulent areas the next president will have to deal with is foreign policy.

With global affairs being tempestuous and capricious, the next president will have many challenges abroad to confront especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

ISIS

The US campaign against ISIS began with airstrikes in 2014. Despite the coalition air campaign against them, ISIS still managed to increase their territorial holdings in Syria and Iraq. As they acquired more territories, they managed to increase and build a steady flow of revenue from the oil wells they captured. They expanded their recruiting campaign by going global and becoming social media savvy. They have further escalated their operations by going after targets abroad such at the attacks in Paris as well as the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt. ISIS feeds on anarchy and anywhere instability erupts, the group moves in. Aside from originating in the chaotic regions of Syria and Iraq, ISIS has managed to get its tentacles into other anarchical war zones such as Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, and the North Caucasus.

While defeating ISIS has become a complicated matter due to the regional and international web of involvement, the issue goes beyond defeating a terror organization. In order to prevent playing a game of whack a mole with terror organizations, the next president needs to tackle the root of the issue that led to the rise of ISIS. The invasion of Iraq was a major catalyst behind the regional battle for influence. The regional tug of war between Iran and Saudi Arabia that emerged after the fall of Iraq has helped further enflame the issue. With Sunnis being ostracized in Iraq during the tenure of Prime Minister Maliki, ISIS became the outlet for their frustrations as well as a means to security.

The next president not only has to be able to defeat and contain ISIS but also has to be able to reduce the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Defeating ISIS will not be an easy feat, sending in ground troops can lead to a potential quagmire while airstrikes so far have only managed to slow but not stop the group . It will require diplomatic finesse in order to put together an international coalition of troops, mainly comprised of regional nations, to lead the fight against ISIS. Simultaneously, the question of Assad poses a further complication for any coalition . Defusing the Saudi-Iranian tension will help remove the possibility of another ISIS-like group rearing its head again. This may be the one of the most difficult and complex military/diplomatic agenda the next president will face.

Afghanistan

The longest war in US history continues to go largely ignored by the media for the past 15 years. This war will span over 3 different presidencies before it might end. While the initial intervention can be justifiably argued due to the 9/11 attacks, the continuation and execution of the campaign has sparked a different debate.

Aside from removing a misogynistic regime that supported a terror organization, the US also decided to partake in nation building. The goal was to remake this war-torn nation into a vibrant democracy. But the whole campaign was born in original sin. The US inst alled warlords instead of technocrats. It was these same warlords that led the brutal massacre of Afghans during the civil war that erupted after the withdrawal of the Soviets. With corruption and other crimes taking place under the auspices of the Afghan government, the Afghan people lost hope. They began to look to the insurgency as an alternative government to provide them with security and justice. While the US became focused on Iraq, the Taliban built on the American diversion to create a momentum that is allowing them to win today. President Obama decided to prematurely imitate an Iraqi-style surge, which led to no real perturbations to the Taliban movement. With a raging insurgency, ISIS managed to establish a foothold in the country. As the deadline passed for the US withdrawal, President Obama has decided to retain a small contingent of US troops to ensure the survivability of the Afghan government.

The next president will have to come to terms with the somber reality that an ideal withdrawal and resolution will not happen. He/she will need to decide either to stay the course and further waste money into a black hole that will end the same whether there is a withdrawal now or later. The only element that has changed in the political calculus is the presence of ISIS. If a negotiated peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government is not formulated, which it most likely won’t, the US needs to make a pseudo-peace deal with the Taliban and work with both the Afghan government and Taliban to eliminate the threat of ISIS. While the Taliban may be a short-term regional nuisance, ISIS is a long-term strategic threat to the US globally. Time and momentum are on the side of the Taliban, so it might not hurt for channels to be opened with the group   on defeating ISIS.

Pakistan

On the border with Afghanistan, Pakistan represents the ultimate balancing act for US foreign policy. The fragile country possesses both nuclear warheads and radical fundamentalist groups. Pakistan’s alliance with the US is shaky at best. Despite a strong alliance during the Cold War especially during both nations’ covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the relationship went somewhat sour shortly after. The relationship was renewed once again after 9/11 but was circumstantial at best. To the chagrin of the Pakistanis, the newly installed Afghan government of Karzai was much friendlier to India, Pakistan’s mortal enemy. As the US became entangled in Iraq, the Pakistanis renewed their covert alliance with the Afghan Taliban to help secure an allied government on their northern border. The control of Islamic fundamentalist organizations to carry out the Pakistani foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan, India and other places has metastasized into a whirlwind of trouble for them. At one point, their native insurgents came within miles of taking over the capital and perhaps the nuclear arms. Pakistan has been in a low-level civil war ever since. While the US has larger threats, it has to watch the developments in Pakistan closely because the situation can become the primary concern for the US overnight.

Syria

Syria represents a Great Game within a Great Game. It is the battleground for two proxy wars; a regional war between the Saudis and Iranians as well as the emerging global competition between the US and Russia. Ever since the protests against Assad’s government in 2011, the country has descended into civil war. In the wake of this bloodshed, ISIS used the chance to expand its territories and establish a foothold in both Syria and Iraq. Now the conflict has foreign militaries that include the US, EU, Russia, Iran, Turkey, the Gulf States, the Kurds and others. The situation is a powder keg that can explode at any moment into a larger regional conflict. The next president has to find a way to wade through the turbulent seas of the Syrian conflict. Despite what the next president decides to do in Syria, ISIS will force them to be actively involved in the battle. The future of Syria is bleak at best.

Libya

President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s intervention in the Libyan civil war to remove Gaddafi has proven unwise to say the least. The once quiet North African nation has been in turmoil ever since. Despite the lack of media coverage, Libya has descended into civil war with a tribal twist. In the wake of the anarchical state that Libya has become, ISIS has expanded its tentacles and created a stronghold in the North African nation. This strategic location allows ISIS a pivotal base at the southern gate of Europe as well as access to another oil-rich country. The next US president has to decide on whether to get involved in a civil conflict that was mostly instigated by its initial intervention or try to limit any type of involvement to solely eliminating ISIS.  

Yemen

Yemen represents another venue in the continuing proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional supremacy. While Iranian troops have been bogged down in Syria, Yemen has become Saudi Arabia’s quagmire. Yemen has long been simmering with tribal and sectarian conflicts. The Cold War witnessed the nation bifurcating along US/Soviet lines while reunification in the early 1990s helped to temporarily heal the divide. The long authoritarian rule of Saleh came to an end when the Arab Spring swept the region. Shortly thereafter, the country devolved into civil discord. When the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels appeared to be ascending into power, the Saudis decided to intervene and restore their allies back into power. Saudi Arabia could not afford to have an Iranian-allied nation on its southern border. The Saudi intervention has turned into a quagmire. In the midst of the civil strife, Al Qaeda found havens in the mountain region of the country. But now Al Qaeda has been eclipsed by ISIS. With Saudi Arabia bogged down in its own imbroglio and ISIS at its border, the entire US strategic calculus for the Middle East can fundamentally change if ISIS creates upheaval in the Saudi kingdom itself and establishes a foothold there.  

Somalia

Ever since the early 1990s, Somalia has been a failed anarchical state. Different factions have been vying for power but to no avail. The US has stayed clear of the region since its failed 1993 intervention in an incident that became renowned as Black Hawk Down. But since 9/11 and the rise of the Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist organization Al Shabaab, the region once again has popped onto the US radar. To make matters worse, the group began piracy operations, which eventually culminated in an international effort to stop their raids. Despite not posing the direst threat against US interest at the moment relative to other issues, the organization has been successful in recruiting Somalis from the West especially the US. In addition, ISIS has begun a campaign to have the Al Shabaab turn against Al Qaeda and join its ranks. The next president will need to ensure that not only Al Shabaab is isolated but also find a way to help the provisional Somali government establish authority over the entire country. If that happens, then Horn of Africa will not be a potential breeding ground and emanating source for terrorism.

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

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Macron, Trump and Iran’s future

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The incident of the city of Strasbourg in France was a very primitive scenario for facing the deep social and political crisis that the Macron government is facing.

As predicted, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced that the “terrorist”, who “apparently” was responsible for the shooting in Strasbourg, at 9 p.m. on Thursday, December 13th was killed in a street clash with three policemen. Shortly thereafter, ISIS released a statement, claiming responsibility for the shooting and killing of Strasbourg.

The extent and depth of the crisis in France is such that it does not allow the creation of a tense security and repression under the pretext of “terrorism”. Contrary, the scenario of Macron and Castaner, which, regardless of its tragic human dimensions, resembles Louis de Funès comedies, adds to the severity of the crisis.

On the other hand, on Thursday, the United States Senate unanimously condemned Mohamed bin Salman for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and called on Trump to end support for the Saudi war in Yemen.

This is a major change in the US policy that occurred in the final days of the 115th Congress, a congress that is run by both the Senate and the House of Representatives under the control of the Republican Party. The incident shows that Trump will be greatly affected by the start of the 116th Congressional Congress on January 3, 2019, where the House of Representatives will be controlled by the Democratic Party.

Robert Muller’s investigation on Russia’s role in the 2016 US presidential election is also underway.

In addition, there is concern over the US stock market. The current Inverted Yield Curve shows that the number of short-term bank deposits is more than long-term deposits. Financial analysts consider the Inverted Yield Curve a serious indication of the probability of a recession and a financial crisis because it reflects lack of confidence of Americans in the future of their bank savings.

Accordingly, some conservative analysts, such as Michael Wilson, senior strategist at Morgan Stanley Bank, predicted a 50 percent market downturn in 2019. If so, the “golden age”, which began in the second semester of 2009, with the first year of the Obama Administration, ended in the first two years of the Trump Administration. Such conditions will have serious implications for US foreign policy.

In the turn of events, this incident will once again provide Iran with a historic opportunity to work alongside its dynamic and tactful foreign policy, with the advent of fundamental domestic reforms, to modernize the economic system that was launched forty years ago.

First published in our partner MNA

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American (And Global) Oligarchy Rapidly Moving Towards Monarchy

Rahul D. Manchanda, Esq.

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Many people do not realize that the proverbial “noose” of civil rights, civil liberties and property rights are rapidly coming to an end, in large part because of the unholy alliance by and between government and the global oligarchs (international banks and major corporations).

For example, people don’t realize that current U.S. federal law permits all banks and credit unions (such as Chase Bank owned by CEO Jamie Dimon) to close any account, at any time, and for any reason, even when their own employees commit fraud, make mistakes, commit unethical acts or otherwise screw the banking customer over for personal or political reasons, and that customer then files a legitimate complaint.

The financial institution is not required to divulge the reason(s) for account closure to the customer.

Now, when a business account is closed by a bank, the bank can (and will) retain the funds in the account for 90 to 180 days in order for checks, debits, chargebacks, etc. to post to the business account before the bank will mail the business customer the remaining proceeds from the account.

However the account holder is of course not allowed access to their own hard-earned funds at all.

What this means is that these banks and credit unions have been given a universal right to steal any and all monies placed within their coffers by anyone at all, which can then be “confiscated” for any reason.

It is even so absurd that these banks and credit unions, even after they have seized or stolen your money/property, do not even have to give you a reason, and can then ban you for life from ever getting your money/property back.

This same reasoning applies to nearly all of the major businesses and corporations, wherein due process has gone the way of the extinct “dodo bird.”

This is what it means, when an administration (in this case Republican) talks about “bank deregulation.”

In many ways, Democrats had the right idea over Republicans when they created and enacted such banking regulatory agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), recently gutted and decapitated by the Trump Administration and his coterie of bought and paid for Republican conservatives.

The problem is that the same global Oligarchs and International Banking Cartels that controlled the Democrats, and enacted even more stifling Communist type regulation to further control, cull, and choke off the American (and global) population (think Obama’s “Operation Chokepoint”), simply use Republican “deregulation” as another mechanism to screw over, steal from, and rob the working and middle class, by allowing these international banking cartels, credit unions, and corporations to completely do whatever they want, to anyone, for any reason, in the absence of any regulation.

Herein lies the rub, and there has to be a middle ground, but only if the American people (and their global population counterparts) push back and vociferously tell their elected leaders to take legal and equitable action against these global thieves and criminals.

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War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered the Second World War.  A war of horrors, it normalized the intensive, barbaric bombing of civilian populations.  If the Spanish Civil War gave us Guernica and Picasso’s wrenching painting, WW2 offered up worse:  London, Berlin, Dresden to name a few, the latter eloquently described in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughter House Five.”  Against Japan, the firebombing of Tokyo, and above all the revulsion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki radiated a foretaste of ending life on the planet.

Reparations demanded from Germany had led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and a thirst for revenge.  Thus Hitler demanded France’s 1940 surrender in the same railway carriage where the humiliating armistice was signed in 1918.

If the war to end all wars — its centenary remembrance a month ago — killed 20 million plus, the successor tripled the score.  Disrupted agriculture, severed supply chains, fleeing civilians, starvation and misery; civilian deaths constituting  an inordinate majority in our supposedly civilized world.

One of the young men baling out of a burning bomber was George H. W. Bush.  He was rescued but his crew who also baled out were never found, a thought that is said to have haunted him for the rest of his life.  He went on to serve eight years as vice-president under Ronald Reagan and then four more as president.  Last week he passed away and was honored with a state funeral service in Washington National Cathedral.

His legacy includes the first Iraq war and the liberation of Kuwait.  While he avoided the hornet’s nest of ethnic and religious divisions in Iraq itself, the war’s repercussions led to the Clinton sanctions and the deaths of half a million children.  The UN representative overseeing the limited oil-for-food program, Irishman Denis Halliday, resigned in disgust.  Not to forget the infamous answer by Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.  Asked by Leslie Stahl if it was worth the lives of 500,000 children … more than that died in Hiroshima, she answered:  “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”  (CBS 60 Minutes program, May 12, 1996).

Note the “we” in her answer.  Who else does that include but our “I-feel-your-pain” Bill Clinton.  Hypocrisy, arm-twisted donations to the Clinton Foundation while wife Hillary was Secretary of State in the Obama administration; her shunning of the official and secure State Department email server in favor of a personal server installed at her request and the subsequent selective release of emails.  Well who cares about verifiable history these days anyway as the following demonstrates.

Yes, there was another anniversary this week for a different kind of war.  This time in India.  After securing freedom from the British, a secular tradition was proudly espoused by the patrician Nehru and the epitome of nonviolence, Gandhi.  It is now in the process of being trampled in a war against minorities.  The communal war includes the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat for which Narendra Modi was barred from the U.S., a ban lifted only when he became prime minister.  He, his party and his allies have been also responsible for the destruction of the Babri Mosque.  An organized Hindu mob tore it down on December 6, 1992; hence the shameful anniversary.  Built on the orders of the first Mughal emperor Babur, its purpose was to cement relations with Hindu rajas by also sanctifying for Muslims a place holy to Hindus and held traditionally to be the birthplace of Rama — famous from Hindu epics for fighting evil with the assistance of a monkey god’s army … although one is advised to avoid close contact with temple monkeys when visiting.

As the first Mughal, Babur’s hold on India was tenuous and he actively sought alliances with Hindu rulers of small states against the pathans whose sultan he had just defeated.  That affinity continued during the entirety of Mughal rule and one manifestation was frequent intermarriage with Rajputs.  Several emperors had Hindu mothers including Shah Jahan the builder of the Taj Mahal.  In the end, Babur’s fears were warranted because Sher Shah Suri did marshal those pathan forces and throw out his son Humayun, the second Mughal ruler.  It was only Sher Shah’s untimely death during the capture of Kalinjar (a Hindu fort then held by Raja Kirat Singh) that made Humayun’s return possible.

The destruction of the mosque was a historical wrong if ever there was one, but then Mr. Modi has never been bothered by history.  He is also not bothered that his party’s fairy tale revision of school history books is a scandal.  For similar reasons, Indian history on Wikipedia is too frequently tarnished, requiring verification from other sources to be properly informed.

The wrongs of communities, just as the wrongs of war, can lead to repercussions unanticipated and cataclysmic.  Yugoslavia is an example in living memory.  Clearly, any ruler of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country contemplating a path of communal dominance must take note before he is hoisted with his own petard.

Author’s Note:  This article first appeared on Counterpunch.org  

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