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Entries in Middle East (102)

12:01AM

Wikistrat's "The World According to Tom Barnett" 2011 brief, Part 2 (Flow of People)

Part two of the Sept 2011 briefing to international military audience in Washington DC area. This section focused on the flow of people as captured in Wikistrat's GLOMOD (online, wiki-based "global model" of globalization), then moves on to the inevitabilities surrounding demographic aging, then explores how demography drives the Arab Spring, and then offers a regional evolution projection for the Middle East.

8:00AM

Being realistic on Iran's long-term influence in Iraq: it will lose out to Turkey and China and Kuwait

Story in WAPO gets the Iran-is-winning crowd all jacked up: Iraq is condemned for not siding with the anti-Assad movement in Syria and actually offering support to the regime! This is spun as clear evidence of Iran's influence, when there are a host of pragmatic reasons why Baghdad isn't so interested in having the Arab Spring topple the dictator Assad.

Some analysis that's far more nuanced and realistic is found in the NYT Sunday ("Vacuum Is Feared as U.S. Quits Iraq, but Iran's Deep Influence May Not Fill It," by Tim Arango).

The best bits:

As the United States draws down its forces in Iraq, fears abound that Iran will simply move into the vacuum and extend its already substantial political influence more deeply through the soft powers of culture and commerce. But here, in this region that is a center of Shiite Islam, some officials say that Iran wore out its welcome long ago.

Surely, Iran has emerged empowered in Iraq over the last eight years, and it has a sympathetic Shiite-dominated government to show for it, as well as close ties to the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr. But for what so far are rather obscure reasons — perhaps the struggling Iranian economy and mistrust toward Iranians that has been nurtured for centuries — it has been unable to extend its reach.

In fact, a host of countries led by Turkey — but not including the United States — have made the biggest inroads, much to the chagrin of people here in Najaf like the governor.

“Before 2003, 90 percent of Najaf people liked Iranians,” said the governor, Adnan al-Zurufi, who has lived in Chicago and Michigan and holds American citizenship. “Now, 90 percent hate them. Iran likes to take, not give” . . .

So big surprise: those who deliver economically achieve real standing. Iran simply cannot do this, because it's economy is broken - just like its "revolution."

Now to address the conventional wisdom: 

A standard narrative has it that the Iraq war opened up a chessboard for the United States and Iran to tussle for power. One of the enduring outcomes has been an emboldened Iran that is politically close to Iraq’s leaders, many of whom escaped to Iran during Saddam Hussein’s government, and that is a large trading partner.

Yet the story is more nuanced, particularly in the Shiite-dominated south that became politically empowered after the American invasion upended Sunni rule. It has been other countries — most powerfully Turkey, but also China, Lebanon and Kuwait — that have cemented influence through economic ties.

The patterns were established soon after the American invasion. Shoddy Iranian goods — particularly low-quality cheese, fruit and yogurt — flooded markets in the south, often at exorbitant prices, said Mahdi Najat Nei, a diplomat who heads the Trade Promotion Organization of Iran office in Baghdad. This sullied Iran’s reputation, even though prices have since plummeted, creating an aversion to Iranian goods that lasts to this day, Mr. Nei said.

This has made it difficult for Iranian businesspeople to make investments in southern Iraq, said Ali Rhida, who is from Iran and is building an iron factory on the outskirts of Najaf. “The real problem is with the mangers of the economy in Iran,” he said. “After the fall of the regime, many Iranian companies came here but they screwed it all up.”

As always, the real winners are the ones who deliver opportunity. Iran makes demands and delivers burdens.

“Investment from Iran has almost stopped,” said Zuheir Sharba, the chairman of Najaf’s provincial council, referring to a phenomenon that has more to do with Iran’s anemic state-run economy than it does to Iranian ambitions. Speaking about Americans, he said, “They were coming, but they’ve stopped.”

Mr. Sharba continued: “We wish that American companies would come here. I wish the American relationship was that, instead of troops, it would be companies.” Mr. Sharba is a cleric, and he spent 14 years in Iran in exile during Mr. Hussein’s government.

Our failure at economy-building staring us in the face.  Why? We became obsessed with the notion that government-building equates to state-building, when it's economy-building that triggers the locals to make their own state happen. We acted like the Gorbachev here: imagining politics determines economics, when we should have played it like Deng, understanding that you start with the economics and let the politics slowly evolve.

Yes, Iran can make trouble, but who cuts the deals?

While Iran may be flagging in the battle for hearts and minds, it is still able to create trouble. A rise this summer in American troop deaths in southern Iraq at the hands of Iranian-backed militias raised alarms in diplomatic circles and became the core of the argument put forth by those who want a longer-lasting American military presence to counter Iran’s clout.

But the troublemaking does not extend to the more important arena of commerce, officials say. “Because of the political sensitivities of Iran, many people say Iran is controlling the economy of Iraq,” said Sami al-Askari, a member of Parliament and a close confidant to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. “No, the Turks are.”

Mr. Maliki once lived in Iran, and he surrounds himself with aides who have close ties to Tehran. Yet even these relationships have not translated into economic or cultural influence that could endear Iran to the Iraqi public at large. “I’ve yet to meet an Iraqi who trusts the Iranians,” said Joost Hiltermann, the International Crisis Group’s deputy program director for the Middle East.

But the mythology dies hard in Washington, so eager are we to crap on ourselves and see "loss" in everything right now. It's silly and it's childish, but that's what we are right now.

Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East analyst at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, said that because of numerous small projects — particularly related to religious tourism in Najaf, including a large underground toilet facility, and some construction projects in Basra — “a lot of these myths get perpetrated” about Iran’s influence in the south. “In the aggregate, it doesn’t add up to much,” he said.

Atmospherics trumping reality. Iran is a master at spewing this nonsense and we are adept at swallowing it, much like Ahmadinejad's diatribes and threats against Israel.

The Saudis know better and so do the Turks.  Given the choice, I choose Turkey, which, BTW, is really "winning" in Iraq - and that's just fine by me.

Will we Americans ever grow past this pathetic need to view all interventions in such black-and-white terms? I have great faith in the Millennials. The Boomers were raised in a Manichean childhood, and it permanently ruined their strategic thinking.

9:03AM

WPR's The New Rules: Turkey's Long Game in the Cyprus Gas Dispute

"Resource wars" enthusiasts worldwide have a new -- and unexpected -- poster child:"zero problems with neighbors" Turkey. The Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is beside itself over Israel's recent moves to cooperate with Cyprus on surveying its Eastern Mediterranean seabed for possible natural gas deposits thought to be lying adjacent to the reserves discovered last year off the coast of Haifa.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

9:09AM

Time's Battleland: Arab Spring with same impact as "big bang strategy": Islam at war with self - not West

 

Nice piece in the NYT at the end of September pointing out that the primary impact of the Arab Spring is that, in giving people chances to rule themselves and not be subject to dictators, Islamic activists find themselves splintering from within . . .

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

10:04AM

Time's Battleland: An explosive glimpse of the future of the long war in Africa

The militant Islamic group of north Nigeria, known as Boko Harum, takes credit for the deadly car-bomb attack on a police station in the capital city of Abuja yesterday.

You might not think of West Africa as a likely site for radical Muslim violence, but the map on the left, which I use in my current "global futures" brief, may clear things up a bit when you hear about this, the recent north-south election standoff in Ivory Coast, or al-Shabaab violence extending over to Uganda.

Read more at Time's Battleland blog.

1:21PM

Time's Battleland: Global arms exports track global economy's double dip

Couldn't afford the upkeep, so it's yours now, kid!

It's interesting to think back to the start of the global economic crisis, when there were a lot of assumptions voiced about how a rising quotient of international tension would inevitably morph into more conflicts and thus more traditionally focused defense spending – i.e., great powers hedging against one another versus, say, non-state actors or state failure. If we were on the verge of the second Great Depression, then certainly we'd find ourselves in a 1930s-like march toward significant great-power struggles, yes? With the Arab Spring providing the tinder for a great-power free-for-all?

So what have we found so far?  

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

12:04PM

On "Arab unrest" in Esquire's "Answer Fella" column

August 2011 issue, the question being:

Are all these uprisings in Muslim countries a good or bad thing?

Response starts with bit from Fareed Zakaria and then Hani Bawardi, a U Michigan assistant prof, then turns to me (based on phone interview I gave A.J. Jacobs a while back.

As for the bumpy road ahead, take it from the Rihanna of realpolitik, Esquire's own Thomas P.M. Barnett, perhaps the planet's wisest geostrategist: "It's like passing a kidney stone: It's going to be a painful process, but the sooner you start, the sooner you get it over with. I don't think it damages the U.S. interests at all; that's just a lot of stale assumptions. Would you rather solve the problem or continue with the difficulty? This incentivizes a lot more people to get off their asses and get a lot more involved.

(The "P.M.," by the way, is Tom's homage to the late, great Pigmeat Markham.)

Clearly, Jacobs took the most visceral bit, but I stick with my larger point: nobody is happy with the status quo in the Arab world, even as we got used to our dictators and Israel preferred their stable cohort of regional enemies (and yes, everybody would rather fight than switch, as the old cig advertisement goes).  We all know it has to change and we've all complained toward that end.  But now that we have something big in motion, we fret about losing our "stable" past (much like we idiotically pined for the "stability" of the Cold War). Sure, it will be messy and it will seem like we're "losing," but better to process the pain and get that stone out!

All the expert analysis of how this is turning against America is premature nonsense, like calling the game on the first play from scrimmage.  Think Zhou Enlai talking about the French Revolution and simply relax.  Getting all sphincter-like in the early going blinds us to the real flexibility we have here, as does the equally idiotic finger-pointing.

The pathways here are clear: either the Middle East opens up and that connectivity serves our interests, or it closes off and the world is forced to rethink its dependency on the region's resources.  Either way is good for us. The only variables are pain level and time, but progress is assured for the system as a whole.

Same can be said for Libya and Syria: more short-term pain the better.  Whatever emerges, no matter how long it takes, will either open those countries up (good for us) or shut them down severely (also good if the bad leadership remains).  All the junk about US "standing" and "interests" (almost always a bullshit term) is meaningless.  Think global and long term.  We are winning.  Our exception continues to become the norm. Nobody else leads this process like we do.

All the rest is the usual name-calling.  Go volunteer at a charity if you want everybody to like you.

10:33AM

WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Counterterror Stance Ain't Broke, So Don't Fix It  

Despite the rush right now to declare important milestones or turning points in the fight against terrorism, the best handle we can get on the situation seems to be that al-Qaida is near dead, but its franchises have quite a bit of life in them. The implied situational uncertainty is to be expected following Osama Bin Laden's assassination, as he was our familiar "handle" on the issue for more than a decade. But although it is normal that we now seek a new, widely accepted paradigm, it is also misguided: In global terms we are, for lack of a better term, in a good place right now on terrorism, meaning we don't need to unduly demote or elevate it in our collective threat priorities. Instead, we need to recognize the "sine wave" we're riding right now and seek no profound rebalancing in our security capabilities -- other than to continue protecting the "small wars" assets that we spent the last decade redeveloping.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

10:49AM

WPR's The New Rules: Making Syria's Assad Next Domino to Fall

Recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans and Europeans don't want NATO to widen its war against embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. So long as the West's low-and-slow approach to regime change continues to weaken the dictator, there is good reason to stick with President Barack Obama's strategy of limited intervention. Yet as international cameras focus in on Libya, a prospective tipping point for the future of the Middle East becomes all the more visible in Syria, despite that country's ban on international journalists. And although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken an admirably tough line regarding the Baath regime's "continued brutality," the White House still expresses more concern over Israel's policies in the West Bank and Gaza than over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's increasingly bloody crackdown against protesters there. 

Read the entire column, co-authored with Michael S. Smith II, at World Politics Review.

11:20AM

Tom on Backbone radio (Colorado talk) - 2 segments

Did two segments with Ross Kaminsky last Sunday night.

First one on Pakistan, second one on Israel.

Find them both here.

10:03AM

WPR's The New Rules: Obama's Israel-Palestine Red Herring

Much of the reaction to President Barack Obama's speech on U.S. Middle East policy last Thursday focused on his reference to Israel's pre-1967 borders as the basis for a future two-state solution with Palestine. But Obama's speech was far more focused on long-term realities, suggesting that he is not really willing to push for some historic Israeli-Palestinian peace plan against the background of the Arab Spring. In fact, it's fair to wonder why he chose to expend any of his political capital on this deadlocked issue, especially since he had to know that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would reject the 1967 boundaries proposal as a starting point for negotiations, as Netanyahu had already protested that point's inclusion in the speech prior to its delivery.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

4:28PM

Esquire's The Politics Blog: Obama's Middle East Speech Text, Decoded Line-by-Line

Expectations couldn't have been lower for President Obama's Middle East speech on Thursday, and yet it was a work of "realist" beauty that recognized: a) how little influence America actually has over these types of events, and b) where we stand at the beginning of what is likely to be a long process of political upheaval and — hopefully — economic reform that addresses the underlying issues driving the entire region. Yes, Obama took a pass on Palestine and Israel (his historic referencing of Israel's pre-'67 borders is the Mideast equivalent of a "world without nuclear weapons"), but he's got several touch points in the coming days (the Netanyahu meeting, another speech, Netanyahu's speech to Congress) with which to address that, so this was more of a broad-strokes laying out as to what America stands for, and what it's willing to do amidst its current fiscal realities. And — again — it was a great mix of stated idealism, expressed in long-haul terms, and political pragmatism that recognizes the here-and-now realities that must temper any sense of America coming to anybody else's immediate rescue.

Obama's was a well-crafted message — one that reassured both the world and Americans that this administration knows its limits and its responsibilities to history. It was, in a word, presidential.

And now, so you don't have to sit through it again, a little deconstruction of the most compelling sections excerpted (from the prepared remarks) at length....

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


1:05PM

WPR's The New Rules: For U.S., Abandoning the Middle East not a Solution

America's successful assassination of Osama bin Laden, long overdue, naturally renews talk across the country about ending the nation's military involvement in Afghanistan-Pakistan. Coupled with the ongoing tumult unleashed by the Arab Spring, Washington is once again being encouraged to reconsider its strategic relationship with the troubled Middle East. The underlying current to this debate has always been the widely held perception that America's "oil addiction" tethers it to the unstable region. Achieve "energy independence," we are told, and America would free itself of this terrible burden.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

11:05AM

The piece too dangerous to publish

You can download the article I wrote for Esquire's Middle East edition, which isn't owned by Hearst.

It's called, "The Anti-Conspiracist’s Guide to Revolution in the Arab World."  

It was just an observation that came to me before falling asleep one night, so I quickly wrote it down in a list form and planned to use it as a column.  Then Esquire Middle East contacted me and asked me to write something big picture about events there, so I did.  We went through all the pre-production and it was set for the April issue when it was cut by the magazine at the last second out of the fear of offending local authorities. The mag is based in the UAE.

Personally, I saw nothing in the piece that was all that scary.

You can download it here.

10:53AM

Saleh agrees to step down in Yemen - we think

Good and smart deal, if it holds.  Immunity for himself and family.  In the grand scheme of things, this is a good give on the part of the opposition.  From the WAPO story:

Under a proposal by neighboring Arab states, Saleh would resign from office 30 days after a formal agreement has been signed. If Saleh, a vital U.S. counterterrorism ally, keeps his pledge, it would mark a rare negotiated transfer of power in a region where autocrats are increasingly resisting calls for their ouster by using violence and repression to suppress populist rebellions that are transforming the Middle East and North Africa.

Complaints from HR groups and youth movement reps, but getting him gone without substantially more violence is more important than prosecuting him for several dozen deaths.

The world should take note WRT Egypt, where Mubarak and family face a host of charges, and Libya, where negotiating the ultimate departure of the Qaddafis will invariably involve compromise.  I believe in the whole "truth commission" approach, but I think the information itself is more important than the defendants - especially in the Middle East where a zero-sum political mindset prevails.  You want to create a culture in which former leaders do okay, so better to establish the precedent - even at a loss - with current ones rather than make an example out of them.  Yes, exile them, but if we want to keep the ball rolling on this, better not to present the targeted leader with too dire a choice.

9:40AM

Failed states keep neighborhoods bad, allowing AQ sanctuary, while rising states allow connections, but it's civil strife that remains AQ's bread-and-butter dynamic

Trio of articles worth differentiating in their meaning. First via Chris Ridlon and other pair from WPR's Media Roundup today.

Underlying question is, Which states do we care about in the Gap?

Some argue that failed states are THE threat. The Patrick piece is clear enough on the record and it's right out of PNM: Yes, at any one time there are several dozen failed states, but, on average, only about a half-dozen fall into the transnational terrorism pool. Why? Only so many in the al-Qaeda network worth mentioning.  

The same dynamic was true in the 1990s, or what I cited in PNM: Usually about three-dozen failures out there, and, on average, the US gets involved in some short-to-medium duration intervention in about a half-dozen each year, mostly on humanitarian grounds.

Why tend to these states?  They are the crack house on the inner-city block:  they bring everybody down to their level on trust, criminality, bad investment climate, and the like.  Regions hook up to the Core in clumps, not individually.  A critical mass of improvement is needed in a region, and failed states prevent that critical mass.  They do, therefore, create conditions that encourage backwardness, disconnectedness, corrupt, smuggling, and civil strife.  These are where AQ do their real business.  Yes, we are concerned about their ability to strike inside the Core, but these are episodes and nothing more.  There is no real struggle to be had there, just good police work. The real struggles are in the Gap.  And so we deal with failed states when they get above the crap-line, otherwise we mostly ignore and hope they eventually present something the Chinese want so they'll come in and rehab the place a bit, like they did in Sudan.  I know, I know. China in Sudan is evil, except Sudan is much better now and the only big delta in experience is Chinese investment and purchasing of oil.  And China has gone along with the divorce - a very good precedent.

Patrick is also right that AQ prefers up-and-comers, or states with just enough connectivity and technology and corruption to give them access to the Core.  Pakistan is perfect in this regard, much better than Afghanistan (my column Monday).  Under the right conditions, we need to worry far more about Pakistan than Afghanistan, which is a solution for locals.  

But as the Yemen article shows, a certain amount of strife is necessary for a semi-connected state (Yemen is valuable for its close location in the Persian peninsula) to be truly useful.  If the state comes together and gets itself a decent government, then the Core security aid will flow and AQ will have its moments but no great advantage.

Better, as the third article suggests, to work a true civil war, where, in the heat of battle, sides get less picky about their allies.

It's been my argument for a while now (meaning about a decade), that AQ is doomed in the Middle East due to demographics - or the middle-aging of the youth bulge. That forces revolutionary change and job creation, because the alternative is too scary for the world, especially with the coming nuclearization of the PG.  In that overall dynamic, AQ becomes an element but a small player. It needs to go "back in time" a bit, like any revolutionary group that is seeing its moment pass (think Lenin looking at Germany and then recognizing the opportunity in Russia).

As the Middle East middle-ages, AQ goes to either Central Asia or Africa.  I say Africa, because in Central Asia, there are too many great powers willing to kill and repress to keep it out (actually, all of them).  In reality, that was the dynamic that led to the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Africa, by way of contrast, is a looser and easier place to infiltrate.  Fortunately, for us, most of the Islam there is relatively mellow and not easily whipped into AQ shape, and yet, AQ must try, because here is the last gasp. What Africa provides is huge churn, a lot of globalization remapping and plenty of opportunities for civil strife - like Libya.  Central Asia will be a backwater by comparison.

No, I'm not worried about Africa.  Many great things happening there, but with the good comes the bad and the processing must occur along the way.  But not any "WWIII" or "perpetual war" or any of that nonsense. It's just what is left over with globalization's continued advance.

4:18AM

Syrian Regime Stability in Question - New Simulation at Wikistrat

"Over the long-term, the current structure of the regime is not sustainable. It will need massive reforms to improve the economy and to give representation to its restive minorities and the majority Sunni population. The government’s best prospect is for a flow of investment from the West or neighbors in the region to bring in enough revenue to alleviate domestic pressure. The uprisings in the region are emboldening the domestic opposition and will quicken the trend towards liberalization. The regime will have to play a delicate balancing act of incremental liberalization while preserving its ability to prevent the flow of information and attempts to organize by its opponents. The regime appears to have calculated that the widespread use of violence is an acceptable and credible strategy to achieve its stabilization."   From Wikistrat's "Syrian Regime Stability" Simulation

Wikistrat is launching yet another simulation in a series of collaborative simulations. Following the "Turkey's Rise" and "Death of Kim Jong Il" simulations, we are now exploring the various scenarios, impacts and policy options given the sensitive situation in Syria.

Some of the questions we ask ourselves in this interactive experience are:

  • How will the protests expected unfold? What would be the Tipping Point?
  • What would be the implications of a failure to remove Assad from office?
  • How can this affect the Radical Axis (Iran, North Korea) vs. the Moderate Axis?
  • What does instability in Syria mean for Israel?
  • How should the US respond to the current events in Syria?
  • Should the Arab World stand by president Assad, or support the protesters?

If you are a topic expert on Syria and wish to participate, contact us here.

Scenarios Explored:

To begin with, 5 generic scenarios, looking at how the protests may unfold, were mapped and are being developed by the expert community. More scenarios will be added as the simulation grows. Each scenario is examined through its regional and global implications, the risks and opportunities it possesses and its assessed probability. Analysts then shift to checking how the events impact the interests of various powers (US, Israel, Iran, Lebanon and more), and what policy options these actors can adopt to tackle the developments in Syria.

  1. Assad Survives and Quells Dissent - The Assad regime finds itself in a stronger position after violently crushing the uprising. The most influential activists are silenced through various means and the regime is able to identify its opponents and learn how to combat their strategies as a result of this victory. The opposition is demoralized and fractured and some opt to join the government as a minority voice following minor political reforms. The Muslim Brotherhood decides to officially endorse the Assad regime as an ally in the fight against the West.
  2. Assad Survives but is Unstable - Assad’s military stays intact and the uprising ultimately is contained and recedes. Visible signs of dissent remain but the opposition is unable to pose an organized, nationwide challenge to the regime. Assad changes his tone to sound more liberal and institutes minor economic and political reforms. The opposition vows to fight on but the West believes that they will not be successful for the foreseeable future absent a dramatic development. The West eliminates support the opposition as a viable policy option.
  3. Assad Survives Through Iranian Intervention - Iranian forces secure Assad's regime, while strengthening its grip on Syria. A brief civil war breaks out but is quickly ended through the deployment of Iranian Revolutionary Guards personnel and terrorists from Hezbollah and Hamas. The IRGC openly operates in Syria and becomes more intimately involved in the operations of the security services and government agencies. A series of agreements making Syria essentially a military base for Iran are signed and the West concludes that luring Syria away from Iran is no longer a viable policy option.
  4. Regime Change Brings Moderates to Power - Assad's regime does not survive the uprising, and is replaced by Moderates. The Assad regime is removed through a popular uprising and/or military coup. The opposition forces declare victory and the secular democratic opposition comes to the forefront of the transitional government. The Muslim Brotherhood performs well in the parliamentary elections but is a minority. The new government vows to bring Syria closer to the West and institute vast reforms.
  5. Regime Change Brings Muslim Brotherhood to Power - Assad's regime does not survive the uprising, and is replaced by Muslim Brotherhood leading the parliament. A series of defections from Assad’s government, including the military and intelligence services, leads to a civil war similar to the one in Libya. The Assad regime is removed from power and the Muslim Brotherhood declares victory. The Brotherhood and other Islamist parties hold a majority in the new parliament after elections are held and oversee the writing of a new constitution which makes Islam the primary source of legislation. The new government says it will maintain close ties to Iran and will continue to support Hamas and Hezbollah.

 

 

 

10:41AM

How far this goes and what really matters

Obama remains smart not to commit too many resource or the appellation "America's war" to Libya, given everything else he has in play right now.

Easy thing to do to prioritize thinking:  Ask yourself what history will judge him on in 20 years.  

Now allowing globalization to head into a massive second dip is #1, hence not all Shiia aspirants to democracy are equal - right now. There he can push the Saudis to push the rest, but there isn't much else he can do.  Qatar and Bahrain, with their military installations, fall inside this notion.  The Carter Doctrine still makes sense, even if the only threat is Iran.

Egypt's evolution will come second, given its importance to the Sunni Arab world.  There he gets more than a passing grade - H.W. Bush-style - for not screwing it up.

Third comes managing Iran's achievement of nukes, which I describe in that manner because I think it is inevitable, given their needs and desires and our stand-off with them.  I see none of that changing any time soon, but we can hope.

Fourth would be to get Syria to fall next, because that would represent major rollback on Iran's influence, would lighten our load in Lebanon, and - by extension - would chill Israel considerably.  Plus, once Syria really in trouble/falls, then the whole contagion feels that much closer to resumption in Iran itself.

Unfortunately, Libya ranks about fifth - above Tunisia but nothing else on the list.  So our two carriers stay in the Arabian Sea and we do the Leviathan-lite in Libya.

And those are more than defensible choices.

So, again, for a prez given to reading histories of his predecessors, Obama offers us a Balkans-like role for US in Libya, and plays it very Baker-Bush on the 2.0/Facebooks.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."  Plenty of enemies out there making plenty of mistakes and suffering serious losses.

10:23AM

Esquire's Politics Blog: Battle: The Real Obama Doctrine Emerges

In 2008, Barack Obama ran against the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive, unilateralist war. His presidency, he assured us, would be different. And once he took office, it certainly was. One "apology tour" and Nobel Peace Prize later, the Obama Doctrine, such as it was, consisted of telling everyone and anyone that America was winding up its wars, pulling down its military tents, and going home — where it was going to be "renewed," "rebuilt" and so on. His National Security Strategy said it all: "Building at home, shaping abroad." Spot the focus; spot the window dressing. "Shaping" is a military term of art referring to anything other than actual warfare.

It was awfully darn close to Barack Obama promising never to do another Iraq, another Afghanistan — another anything.

And now we're bombing Libya.

So what happened?

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.

10:48AM

France engages, Qaddafi plows on

Sarkozy just on CNN confirming that French jets are engaged over Libya as Qaddafi's forces enter Benghazi.

This mustering seems to come just in time or just too late, as clearly now, Qaddafi's "cease-fire" was a time-gaining ploy. 

Sarkozy's statement left open the possibility that Qaddafi can negotiate his departure (turning the clock back a bit), but one assumes the colonel ain't interested at this point, thinking he can finish the job and then go into Saddam-like lockdown (a decent bet on his part).

Actually, his ploy on the cease-fire helps a bit.  Moves things along at a time when additional foot-dragging was possible.