Thursday, August 6, 2015

The New Yorker

My Interview: 
Obama on War and Peace 
By Robin Wright

President Obama was in a reflective mood when he met with a small group of journalists at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after he delivered a combative speech defending the Iran deal. He is, in private meetings, a congenial stoic, even as he chews Nicorette gum to stay ahead of an old vice. But Obama's frustration—that the bigger message of his foreign policy is being lost in the political furies over Iran—was conspicuous. He made clear that the proposed deal, the most ambitious foreign-policy initiative of his Presidency, is less about Iran than about getting America off its war track; Obama believes that Washington, almost by default, too often unwisely deploys the military as the quickest solution to international crises.
Obama makes many of his pitches in the Roosevelt Room, a modest, windowless chamber with a conference table. When the West Wing was built, in 1902, it was originally the President’s office. A portrait of Franklin Roosevelt is on one wall; a picture of Teddy Roosevelt, as a Rough Rider on horseback, hangs over the fireplace. The most striking piece in the room is the smallest: The 1906 Nobel Prize, the first won by an American and the first by a U.S. President, is encased behind glass. It went to Teddy Roosevelt for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese war. Only two other Presidents–Woodrow Wilson, for the League of Nations, and Jimmy Carter, after leaving office, for promoting human rights—had won it before Obama was named, just months after his election, more for his spirit than any specific achievement. As he enters the final eighteen months of his Presidency, he seems to want to prove that he deserves it.
Obama chose to give the Iran speech on the American University campus, where John F. Kennedy told the 1963 graduating class, “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough—more than enough—of war and hate and oppression.”
Obama echoed a similar message....Read on.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The New Yorker

Obama's Hard Sell on Iran
By Robin Wright
With the most important foreign-policy initiative of his Presidency at stake, President Obama has gone on the offensive to salvage his controversial Iran nuclear deal, amid a blitz of television ads and opposition, both at home and abroad. On Wednesday, Obama chose American University—the campus where John F. Kennedy outlined his vision for peace, in 1963, during the early age of nuclear threats—to make his strongest pitch to date. He framed the deal as the latest step in a half century of American policy to avert nuclear confrontation, invoking Kennedy’s diplomacy during the Cuban missile crisis and the arms negotiations with the Soviet Union launched by Ronald Reagan. Under both Democratic and Republican Presidents, he said, the historic Non-Proliferation Treaty and the SALT and START treaties introduced arms control.

“The world avoided nuclear catastrophe, and we created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets,” he said. The deal with Iran, reached after twenty months of negotiations, “builds on this tradition of strong, principled policy diplomacy.” 
After the speech, in an afternoon session with ten journalists, Obama acknowledged that the vote could be close. “Everything in this Congress squeaks by,” he said. “If I presented a cure for cancer, getting legislation passed to move that forward would be a nail-biter.” Read on: 
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/obamas-hard-sell-on-iran?intcid=mod-latest



Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The New Yorker

Who Would Kill a Giraffe?
Several years ago, I arranged for Neil Armstrong and his wife, Carol, to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Zoo. We stopped first to commune with Jana, the newborn giraffe. The zoo showed us a video of her being born. Giraffes give birth standing up, and Jana dropped some six feet to the ground as she slipped from her mother’s womb. The mother licked her calf, and in minutes the newborn got up on wobbly legs. Neil Armstrong was enthralled. You’d think he’d never seen anything interesting before.
Whatever the conservation merits, I’ve always hated to think of any animal confined behind the bars or walls of zoos, the equivalent of jail cells for animals. It seems particularly unfair for the world’s tallest creatures, the gentle vegetarians with flirty lashes and cinnamon spots. I lived in Africa for seven years, and few sights were as magnificent, or calming, as a herd of giraffes loping gracefully across the savannah. Giraffes seem the most harmless of beasts.

But giraffes are increasingly vulnerable in the wild. The world’s giraffe population has plummeted, by more than forty per cent, over the past fifteen years. “It’s a silent extinction,” Julian Fennessy, the executive director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, told me this week. “Already, giraffes have become extinct in more than seven African countries. Unfortunately, it’s not fully hit the attention of the world, including many governments and major conservation organizations.” Read on ...

Monday, August 3, 2015

The New Yorker

Cecil the Lion & Robert Mugabe
By Robin Wright
    I interviewed Robert Mugabe the day after he was elected in 1980. He's now the world's oldest leader--and maybe the oldest hypocrite. He feasted on baby elephant at his 91st birthday in February. Zimbabwe only demands justice for foreign poachers, not its own. Read on...
 http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/cecil-the-lion-and-robert-mugabe

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The New Yorker

"Death to America" & the Iran Deal
By Robin Wright 
The fate of the Iran nuclear deal may be determined less by details in a weighty document, drawn up by the world’s six major powers, than by a three-word chant still shouted  thirty-six years after Iran’s revolution. “Death to America!” hangs heavy, and maybe decisively, over the debate in Washington.

Read on....
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/death-to-america-and-the-iran-deal?intcid=mod-latest

Monday, July 20, 2015

The New Yorker

"Letter from Iran: Tehran's Promise" 

My piece about the Iranian revolution's mid-life crisis, the inside story of how the nuclear negotiations played out behind closed doors (and the five close-calls), plus what it all means for Iran's future. I had a riveting trip to Tehran. I even went to see Huck Finn--in Farsi!

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/27/tehrans-promise


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The New Yorker

Iran's Post-Deal Future
By Robin Wright
The long slog of diplomacy with Iran—a pariah nation since its 1979 revolution—was always about more than the bomb. It was about the return of the world’s eighteenth-largest country—and its vast military, population, and consumer base—at a time when the Middle East is crumbling. A nuclear deal could alter the regional dynamics. The chaos in the Middle East and the rise of the Islamic State, which has come within twenty-five miles of Iran’s borders, have redefined the dangers to Iran, as well as its priorities. During the nuclear talks in Vienna, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, released a YouTube message to the West, in English, about how a deal could “pen new horizons to address important, common challenges.” Even Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, amid his customary anti-American bombast, offered a tantalizing remark. “If the other side gives up its usual diversionary tactics,” he told a group of poets, in April, “this will become an experience for us that, very well, we can negotiate with them on other issues.” Throughout the spring, Tehran was abuzz over the prospect of co√∂peration with the United States. During the final weeks of negotiations, I spoke to Zarif in Tehran about Khamenei’s statement and how a deal might impact other conflicts in the world’s most volatile region.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The New Yorker

An Iran Deal, At Last 
By Robin Wright 
After nineteen days of marathon negotiations and four missed deadlines, Iran and the world’s six major powers announced a nuclear deal in Vienna this morning. The exhaustive and elusive diplomacy—sustained by an unsettling combination of Twizzlers, gelato, string cheese, and Rice Krispies treats—was dicey to the end. Secretary of State John Kerry wasn’t sure that the often volatile talks would succeed, until Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, showed up at Kerry’s working quarters, in Room 103 of the opulent Palais Coburg, just before midnight Monday.

“This has always been a Rubik’s Cube,” a senior U.S. negotiator told me. “In the early morning hours of July 14th, the last cubes clicked into place. It was an incredibly arduous and incredibly complex process.”

It was also the longest mission of a Secretary of State in more than three decades. Since October, 2013, Kerry has flown some four hundred thousand miles—the equivalent of circling the world sixteen times—to prevent a tenth country from getting the bomb. Read on....

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The New Yorker

Nuclear Deal's Adversaries Await
By Robin Wright
For the world’s six major powers, getting to a nuclear deal with Iran has been torturous. The talks, led by Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, have repeatedly been extended by months, then weeks, and, now, in the opulent Palais Coburg, in Vienna, almost day by day. Today, they were extended to July 10th. Deadlines, Iran’s senior negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, said (after missing today’s), are not holy. Marie Harf, the State Department senior adviser, said, “We’re frankly more concerned about the quality of the deal than we are about the clock, though we also know that difficult decisions won’t get any easier with time.”

Campaigns against a deal are already in full swing in both Washington and Tehran. If an agreement eventually emerges, both parties will have to sell it to constituencies that remain skeptical because of the even more tortured history between the two countries—spanning six decades and including a coup, terrorist attacks, assassinations, the shooting down of a passenger aircraft, covert operations, nuclear sabotage, and hostage dramas. Privately, the American and Iranian delegations have mused, more than once, over which government was taking the bigger risk, or was going to pay a bigger price, for the nuclear diplomacy. Read on....



Thursday, July 2, 2015

The New Yorker

The War that Haunts Iran
By Robin Wright 
The historic nuclear diplomacy taking place in Vienna’s elegant Coburg Palace has roots in a gritty war between Iran and Iraq that ended more than a quarter of a century ago. Iran suffered more than a hundred and fifty thousand dead between 1980 and 1988. In Tehran, it’s called the Sacred Defense. In the final stages, U.S. aid to Iraq contributed to Iran’s decision to pursue nuclear capability—the very program that six world powers are now negotiating to contain.... 
Read on: 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

TIME

Iran's Dealmaker
By Robin Wright 
    The new TIME profiles the world's 100 most influential people in 2015. I was asked to write about one of them: Iran's Dealmaker Javad Zarif, the diplomatic pivot on the most important deal in over a quarter century to prevent a 10th country from getting the world's deadliest weapon. Here's the link: 
http://time.com/3822829/mohammad-javad-zarif-2015-time-100/




Monday, April 6, 2015

The New Yorker

Rouhani's Bet on an Iran Deal
By Robin Wright 
My piece in The New Yorker on the Iran deal -- from the Iranian side. President Rouhani faces a bigger risk than President Obama. In a speech to the nation, he said the nuke agreement would begin a “new chapter” for Iran. If he fails, though, it could be the last chapter for yet another Iranian President. Read on...
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/rouhanis-bet-on-the-iran-deal

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The New Yorker

It's a Deal, Almost 

By Robin Wright
History may have been made today. 
It's not just the potential that will prevent Iran from getting the bomb. It's also the potential to end 36 years of hostilities with Iran. 
As John Limbert, a former hostage told me, “Symbolically, it is enormously important, because it means that we can move to something other than just spitting at each other. When the ‘bomb, bomb Iran’ crowd says we can’t trust Iran, I say, ‘So what?’ Throughout history, we’ve made deals with people we don’t trust. I support whatever gets us out of this morass.”
Read on...My piece in The New Yorker.
http://www.newyorker.com/n…/news-desk/iran-its-a-deal-almost

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

The Tragedy of Tunisia
By ROBIN WRIGHT

If ever there were an Arab country you want to work, it’s Tunisia.
Of the 22 Arab countries, Tunisia is the only one that has weathered the stormy Arab Spring and ended up with a viable democratic government. Its Islamist party has consistently worked with secular counterparts and not made the kind of power plays that doomed Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and its democratic transition. And Tunisia’s three national elections–held at unheated schoolrooms across the country–between October and December were practically pristine. (I was an international monitor at the December presidential vote.)
Tunisia is a sliver of North Africa nestled between disintegrating Libya and the military-backed government of Algeria. It is a stark contrast to those neighboring geographic giants, and to increasingly autocratic Egypt further east. Tunisia has represented a slice of hope.
Yet Tunisia has also provided more foreign fighters than any other country—in absolute numbers and proportionately—to Islamic State and other militant groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. More than 3,000 had joined by the end of 2014. Last fall the government said it had prevented an additional 9,000 from leaving the country. Just as alarming, an estimated 500 that have trained as killers have returned home.
The tragedy of Tunisia, which played out Wednesday in the terrorist attack at a Tunis museum that killed more than 20, is reflected in Sidi Bouzid.
The poor central city is a long way from the Mediterranean beaches and white-washed buildings with aqua trim that are more familiar to tourists. It was in remote Sidi Bouzid that a young fruit vendor set himself on fire in late 2010 to protest social inequality.Mohammed Bouazizi‘s grisly death sparked the wave of uprisings in 2011 that became known as the Arab Spring.
A large stone monument at the site where Mr. Bouazizi covered himself with paint thinner and lit a match honors his inspiration. It shows a fruit vendor’s cart pushing over several thrones. On the side, written in Arabic, English, and French: “For those who yearn to be free.”
Tunisia’s problem is that four years after Mr. Bouazizi’s self-immolation, flash points remain and many still face profound inequities. When I went to Sidi Bouzid in 2012, a vendor selling bulbous oranges at the street corner where Mr. Bouazizi had worked told me, “We have more freedoms now, but fewer jobs.”
Today, almost a third of Tunisia’s young people are unemployed. It’s not just the poor: More than 200,000 recent university graduates can’t find work. “Most of them have been waiting five, eight, even ten years for a job,” Karim Helali of Afek (“Horizons”), a progressive party favored by Tunisia’s young, told me in December.
Mr. Helali was not surprised by the appeal of militant groups. “Any time these people decide to go to their deaths, it’s because they don’t accept conditions of life. They believe they are rejected by society,” he said.
Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of Ennahda, Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party, told me: “The young are still waiting for the fruits of the revolution. So the poorest region is still in protest.”
On the eve of Tunisia’s first democratic election, for parliament, in October, a Pew pollfound that almost 90% of Tunisians described the economy as bad. More than half said the tumultuous transition had left Tunisia worse off than it had been under autocratic rule. Support for democracy had “declined steeply” since the Arab Spring, Pew found.
Three successful elections gave Tunisia a badly needed boost. Lack of jobs is only one of several issues that have disillusioned Tunisia’s young and enticed some of them to militancy. The fragile democracy faces tougher core issues, reflected in the fact that only 32% of eligible voters participated in the final presidential poll. The lowest turnout was among the young. And the lowest turnout in any town nationwide was in Sidi Bouzid.

Clearly, Tunisia has not yet produced enough to believe in.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Wall Street Journal

Global Arms Sales Soar
By ROBIN WRIGHT   March 16, 2015

If judged by arms sales, the world is getting deadlier. Much deadlier.
For decades, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has monitored the flows of weaponry. Its new report, which evaluates sales in periods of five years to account for multiyear deals and fluctuations in delivery, found that volume of arms exports rose 16% globally from 2010 through 2014, compared with the previous five years.
The United States, once again, was the largest exporter. Its export of major weapons–to 94 countries and territories–grew 23% in the same five-year period. But sales increasingly reflect the economics of the arms industry, not just policy or alliances.
“The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” Aude Fleurant, director of the institute’s Arms and Military Expenditure Program, said in a statement Sunday.
The next largest exporters were Russia, China, Germany, and France. Sixty countries export arms, but the top five account for almost three-quarters of all arms transfers worldwide.
China surpassed Germany for the first time. Its exports soared 143% between the two most recent five-year periods, though its share of global exports is still only 5%, the institute reports.
Russian exports of major weapons–to 56 countries and to rebel forces in Ukraine—increased 37%. But its largest sales were more concentrated, with India, China, and Algeria accounting for almost 60% of Moscow’s exports.
The most notable numbers may be arms imports by the six oil-rich Gulf sheikhdoms, which increased 71%. Saudi Arabia became the world’s second-largest importer of major weapons globally between 2010 and 2014, the report says. Saudi imports were four times larger than in the previous five-year period.
The five largest importers among 153 countries that bought arms were India, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan, according to the report.
Overall, Asia accounts for five of the 10 largest importers. “Enabled by continued economic growth and driven by high threat perceptions, Asian countries continue to expand their military capabilities with an emphasis on maritime assets,” said Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher with the institute. “Asian countries generally still depend on imports of major weapons, which have strongly increased and will remain high in the near future.”
Among other trends the report noted:
* To fight Islamic State, Iraq received arms from countries as diverse as Iran, Russia, and the U.S. in 2014;
* Cameroon and Nigeria received arms from several countries after an urgent appeal for more weapons to fight Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist movement;
* African arms imports rose 45% from 2010 through 2014, compared with the previous five-year period.
* Azerbaijan had the largest single-country increase in arms exports: 249%.
The report does not bode well for the prospects of peace almost any place in the early 21st century.