Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Wall Street Journal

Which World Leader Has the Toughest Job? 
The news is so awful everywhere these days that I’ve been pondering which world leader has the worst job–or has done the worst job. Some deserve pity for woes not of their making. Others are sadly pathetic for tragedies they helped trigger. Below are my top 10. In the comments section, tell us who’s on your list.
President of Ukraine: In office less than two months, Petro Poroshenko inherited a country that had already lost Crimea and was on the brink of civil war, with the army fighting separatists aided and abetted by Russia. With the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, President Poroshenko faces an escalation of Ukraine’s conflict in tactics, targets and human costs. Two fighter jets were shot down Wednesday. I wonder if he has had any second thoughts about seeking office.
President of Russia: Not for the first time, Vladimir Putin has displayed utter disregard for basic human dignity, as well as international norms, in dealing with Ukraine and MH17. U.S. and European sanctions haven’t phased him either. The former KGB agent is a political bully at home yet his approval rating in Russia is 83%–a 29-point jump over last year, according to Gallup. That’s hard to reconcile, even after the bump from theSochi OlympicsOlympicsOlympics.
United Nations high commissioner for refugees: The numbers grow worse daily forAntonio Guterres, the former Portuguese prime minister who is charged with aiding the world’s displaced. For the first time since World War II, the total exceeds 50 million. Over the past two months 1.1 million Iraqis have been added to the list as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) swept across a third of Iraq. If displaced people had their own country, it would be the world’s 24th-largest state. Is there a more heart-breaking, or little-noticed, job?
Prime minister of Iraq: The increasingly autocratic Nouri al-Maliki is clinging to power in a country that has lost one-third of its territory, in less than two months, to the world’s most virulent Islamic movement. His military has crumbled, with four divisions abandoning their posts rather than fight ISIS. Meanwhile, Kurds in another big chunk of territory are making noises about a referendum on breaking off from Iraq. But Mr. Maliki seems more obsessed with his own status than his nation’s fate.
Head of Afghanistan’s Elections Commission: Forget hanging chads. Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani is managing the recount of all 8 million votes for a new Afghan president. Last month’s runoff between front-runner Ashraf Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah had so many accusations and counter-accusations of fraud that Mr. Abdullahthreatened to form his own parallel government. The recount may yet be contested. As if Afghanistan doesn’t have enough problems containing the Taliban as NATO troops withdraw later this year.
Prime minister of Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu hasn’t been able to make peace but also can’t decisively win a war. He has rallied support at home during Operation Protective Edge, even though more Israelis have died in this conflict than in the 2012 and 2008-09 conflicts with Hamas militants in Gaza. How to get beyond the deadly status quo?
Hamas leaders: Pew recently found Hamas’s standing deteriorating among Palestinians and in the broader Arab world. A poll last month found that support for former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Maashal totaled less than 15%. Among Gazans, 70% favored a cease-fire even as Hamas started firing rockets. Since fighting erupted, the numbers have shifted somewhat in another poll, but a majority still favors an end to this showdown and the broader conflict. The rapidly rising death toll–already more than 700 Palestinians–and destruction may also erode long-term support for Hamas.
President of Syria: With world attention focused elsewhere, Bashar al-Assad was sworn in recently for his third seven-year term, perpetuating a dynasty that has ruled Damascus since 1970–at great cost in Syrian lives. Deaths in Syria’s three-year civil war are estimated to exceed 170,000, most of them civilians. Mr. Assad’s refusal to negotiate a reconciliation government has allowed extremists to consume what started out as a peaceful protest movement and to take over territory. The region is being shaken by his self-absorption.
Prime minister of Libya: Don’t know his name, do you? The sad reality is that no one really runs Libya today. Abdullah al-Thani is the notional prime minister, but few Libyans pay attention to him or his government. Libya is so riven by militias competing for power, turf and spoilsthat Tripoli doesn’t even control its airport, which was turned into a battlefield last week. Three years after Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster, the oil-rich nation still doesn’t have a constitution—and is edging into failed-state status.

President of the United States: One way or another, Barack Obama has to deal with all these foreign policy crises–and such domestic issues as Republicans in Congress threatening to sue him. Last week Pew reported that Mr. Obama’s job approval rating had sunk to 44% (which might give him the lone reason to envy Vladimir Putin). His party faces a tough election in November: Democrats may lost control of the Senate, his last vestige of support in Congress. And next year he becomes a lame duck. All in all, not so ducky.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Wall Street Journal

Little Girls Mutilated: 

A Global Travesty
ByRobin Wright
The numbers are really sickening. Last year, 3.6 million little girls were “cut” – or had their genitals mutilated. The crude cultural ritual involves the removal, usually with a knife or razor, of a girl’s clitoris and labia—and not always with anesthesia. The extent of the procedure varies, but the trauma and pain can last a lifetime.
The practice is still “almost universal” in Egypt, Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti, and common in more than 25 other countries, according to a report out today from UNICEF. It is even practiced in “pockets” of North America and Europe, UNICEF says.
When you read the numbers, think not of the many zeroes at the end, which can make any of us glaze over, but of the individual tales of each life one, by one, by one, and what each girl had to endure. Cutting is always done before puberty—sometimes when the girls are still tots, often between the ages of five and 14, but always when a girl is most vulnerable and unable to protect herself.
Worldwide, an estimated 125 million women alive today have been mutilated, primarily in Africa and the Middle East, even though the practice has been outlawed in many of the countries where families still force their girls to go through it. Cutting is the ultimate global barometer of gender inequality.
If the trend is not stemmed, another 30 million girls may be mutilated in the next decade, the UNICEF report predicts. The practice is all the more common in countries with high population rates, which means more girls, proportionately, will be liable to genital mutilation.
The practice survives for various reasons. It is usually related to age-old custom rather than religion. In many countries, the practice is common among Christians, Muslims and animists. It’s viewed as a means of preserving virginity or preventing promiscuity after marriage.
The dangers can last a life-time. Girls who are cut “are at risk of prolonged bleeding, infection including HIV, infertility and death,” reports UNICEF.
Some countries have made progress, UNICEF reports. Thirty years ago, half of all adolescent girls in Kenya were cut. At the current rate, it could decline to 10% by 2020, although even one girl mutilated is too much.
In another telling trend, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children—and over 250 million of them before they turned 15, UNICEF says. The highest rates are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In the West Africa country of Niger, 77% of women between the ages of 20 and 49 were married as children.
One of three child brides lives in India. In many countries, child marriage mirrors class, poverty and societal problems.
“A girl who is married as a child is more likely to be out of school, experience domestic abuse and contract sexually transmitted infections,” UNICEF reports. “She will have children when she herself is still a child, and is far more likely to die from complications during pregnancy.”
And this is the 21st century!

Friday, July 18, 2014

The New Yorker



I snuck into Kurdistan, in 2002, on an old smugglers’ route. There was no legal way to get there, so I’d flown to Iran, taken a second flight to its western border, driven a couple hours, signed a log book in a hut acknowledging that I’d left Iran, then walked across a dirt road into the raw wilderness of northern Iraq. There were no buildings in sight, let alone border security, immigration, or even road signs—just vistas of craggy mountains.
The Kurds, who make up nearly twenty per cent of Iraq’s population, had been isolated from the world for more than a decade, since the United Nations imposed sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1991. They had also been isolated from the rest of Iraq, as punishment for challenging Saddam’s rule. He squeezed them even harder than the world squeezed him. The Kurds’ regional governments suddenly had to fend for themselves.
The Kurds are a resourceful people. One of my early stops on that trip was at a little oil refinery built from cannibalized parts of a sugar refinery, a soft-drink plant, and a cement factory; it pumped three thousand barrels a day. Its slogan was “Where there’s a well, there’s a way.” Stranded without passports, Kurds had begged and borrowed from countries where they had been educated or had relatives. The prime minister had become a Brit, the minister of education a Swede, and the minister of human rights a German. I met others who had Belgian, French, Italian, Spanish, Austrian, and Swiss papers.
With no access to Iraq’s postal system, Kurdish entrepreneurs launched Internet cafés with unrestricted access to the Web, then forbidden in Saddam’s Iraq. Newspapers proliferated; satellite-television stations (also banned in the rest of Iraq) brought in the outside world. I watched the U.S. election returns at the prime minister’s home, as he switched between CNN and Fox.
During the ten days of that trip, Kurdish leaders repeatedly claimed that they didn’t favor forging their own country, despite their hatred for Saddam, distrust of Baghdad, and deepening Kurdish nationalism. They had learned in the previous decade how hard it was, as a landlocked territory twice the size of New Jersey, to go it alone. They had become utterly beholden—at a high price—to the political preferences and economic priorities of their neighbors Iran and Turkey.
“There is a desire and will to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of this country within the state of Iraq,” Massoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdish Democratic Party, explained when I visited his mountaintop headquarters in Salahuddin, near Irbil. “We never asked for an independent Kurdish state.” Barzani, who still wore the baggy trousers and elaborate, layered turban of tribal Kurds, is the son of the dagger-wielding warrior who led the Kurdish resistance movement in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, was just as adamant. “What we have is not stable or permanent,” he told me in Sulaymaniyah. “We need to reunite with Iraq for a permanent democratic life.” Talabani later became Iraq’s President, after Saddam was ousted and Baghdad launched its rocky democratic experiment.
But even in 2002 the Kurds were drifting into an autonomous statelet. The Kurdish language was making a comeback in government offices and workplaces, displacing Arabic. The school curriculum was Kurdicized; the younger generation barely identified with Iraq. Levies from smuggling and illicit trade produced revenues of a million dollars a day; even trucks exporting goods from Saddam-land to Turkey had to pay bribes to win passage. The Kurds had their own flag, too—a big sun emblazoned over red, white, and green stripes.
So, a dozen years later, it isn’t surprising that the Kurds now increasingly appear to be decoupling from Iraq, whether formally or de facto. When I returned, four months ago, this time on a direct flight from Istanbul to Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan had evolved from the least developed part of Iraq to its most stable and prosperous region. I stayed at a new five-star hotel and attended a conference at the new American University of Sulaymaniyah, which brought together panellists from around the world. The Kurds also have a new pipeline for transporting oil to Turkey, which could result in exports of up to four hundred thousand barrels a year, with an estimated forty-five billion barrels of crude in reserve.
The Kurds have many reasons to split off. They’re furious with Baghdad, which since January has refused to fork over the Kurds’ share of the national kitty. They’re terrified of the sweeping territorial conquests by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an Al Qaeda offshoot, which is now poised along a six-hundred-mile border with Kurdistan that the Iraqi Army abruptly abandoned last month. And they’re engaged in a war of words with Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, about stepping aside to let a new government salvage the nation. Last week, Maliki accused the Kurds of aiding ISIS militants. He fired all the Kurds in his cabinet, including the stalwart Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
“He has become hysterical and has lost his balance,” Barzani, who is now Kurdistan’s President, said in an unusually peppery statement on July 10th. “He is doing everything he can to justify his failures and put the blame on others.” Barzani noted that Maliki himself had once taken refuge from Saddam’s dictatorship in Kurdistan—and that others were now taking refuge from Maliki. Barzani also told the BBC, “Iraq is effectively partitioned now. Are we supposed to stay in this tragic situation?”
Barzani has demanded a referendum, so that Kurds can vote on breaking with Baghdad. It may be a risky ploy, perhaps as leverage to retain control of oil-rich Kirkuk, a disputed city that Kurdish Peshmerga fighters seized in mid-June after the Iraqi Army fled. Kurds have long claimed Kirkuk, as have the Arabs. Under Saddam, Baghdad went to bizarre lengths to Arabize the city, threatening Kurds until they quit their jobs, turned over housing, and fled to nearby Kurdistan. Arabs were even offered rewards for reburying ancestors in Kirkuk, to create historic claims to the land.
A unified Iraq is still salvageable, but barely—and only if Baghdad accommodates the Kurds’ long-ignored demands, including control and sales of oil resources, greater political autonomy, a greater say in Iraqi politics, and freedom to arm and use their Peshmerga security forces. “Kurdistan could be part of Iraq if Iraq can become a decent, stable country,” a leading Kurd, who has held positions in both the regional and national governments, told me on Monday. “But, if Iraq is torn apart by sectarian strife, the Kurds will go on their own journey. To be fair, this is the dynamic of the Kurdish reality since 1991. It’s a dual-track policy of working on self-government while developing attributes of a stable region where Kurds rule but remain part of Iraq.”
Most of the outside world opposes Kurdish independence, because of the precedent it would set and the potential instability it would create. It’s one issue about which the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, and China—despite their profound differences over Syria—all agree.
If the Kurds do hold a poll, the outcome is predictable. In 2005, they voted in an informalreferendum that coincided with Iraq’s first democratic parliamentary elections. Ninety-eight per cent favored independence.
If Kurdistan secedes, it could become the hundred and ninety-fourth member of the United Nations, finally achieving the statehood promised (and reneged on) by the Allied Powers after the First World War. The Kurds, now split up in strategic corners of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran (with smatterings extending from Lebanon to Russia), would no longer be the world’s largest minority without a state.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The New Yorker

Killing the Kids 
In 1994, on the eve of Rwanda’s genocide, Radio Mille Collines, in Kigali, incited listeners with a venomous message: “To kill the big rats, you have to kill the little rats.” It was a veiled command to murder the youngest generation of Tutsis, the country’s minority tribe. In less than four months, an estimated three hundred thousand children were slashed, hacked, gunned, or burned to death, according to the United Nations. Among the dead were newborns.
The Rwandan slaughter was not unique. The specific targeting of children is one of the grimmest new developments in the way conflicts have been waged over the past fifty years. In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, roughly half of all deaths in conflict zones were civilian, according to the U.N. During the Second World War, civilians accounted for two-thirds of the fatalities. By the twentieth century’s end, almost ninety per cent were civilian.
Children have accounted for increasingly large chunks of those deaths. In 1995, UNICEFreported that roughly two million kids had been killed in wars over the previous decade—more children than soldiers. “Children are not just getting caught in the crossfire, they are also likely to be specific targets,” Graça Machel, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, declared in the first U.N. “Children in War” report, in 1996. She went on:
When ethnic loyalties prevail, a perilous logic clicks in. The escalation from ethnic superiority to ethnic cleansing to genocide, as we have seen, can become an irresistible process. Killing adults is then not enough; future generations of the enemy—their children—must also be eliminated.
In the twenty-first century, the escalating dangers to children in conflict zones are often overlooked amid the terrible dramas of individual loss, such as the recent killing of three Israeli teen-agers and a young Palestinian. But the worldwide numbers are unprecedented. “We’re seeing everywhere that violence against children is an epidemic, amplified in conflict situations,” Susan Bissell, UNICEF’s chief of child protection, told me this week. “One billion children are today living in countries and territories affected by war or conflict—and it’s fair to conclude that large numbers suffer violent injuries and death.”
According to the Secretary-General’s latest “Children and Armed Conflict” report, issued on Tuesday, one of the most dangerous places to be a child is Syria. To take a single example: in the spring of 2011, Hamza al-Khateeb, a pudgy thirteen-year-old, got separated from his parents during a protest against the government of Bashar al-Assad. His mutilated corpse—with gunshot wounds, cigarette burns, a shattered jaw and kneecaps, and a severed penis—was returned to the family a month later. A government medical examiner reportedly claimed that the boy had been shot during the protest, and that the disfigurement was either normal decay or faked. Pictures of the body circulated on the Internet and in Syrian media, perhaps as a warning to dissidents and parents.
Since then, at least eleven thousand Syrian children—and probably thousands more—are estimated to have died in the vicious civil war. Almost eight hundred were summarily executed, with dozens killed by chemical weapons, according to the Oxford Research Group. One of the most memorable pictures from the Syrian regime’s use of sarin nerve gas last August was the long row of little corpses, wrapped in white shrouds that exposed innocent faces, as they awaited burial.
Other kids have become collateral for combatants. As Israel searched for the three abducted teenagers, UNICEFissued a statement of “grave concern” about the May 29th kidnapping of a hundred and forty Kurdish schoolboys in northern Syria. As they were returning to their hometown from junior-high-school exams in Aleppo, they were seized and taken hostage by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Four managed to escape; the rest are still missing.
Technology, ranging from nuclear weapons to small cluster bombs, has made non-combatants, especially the young, particularly vulnerable. I lived in Lebanon during its civil war. After the Israeli invasion in the nineteen-eighties, dozens of Lebanese kids were killed by cluster bombs, either in direct hits or by stepping on them or after mistaking them for toys.
When it comes to the use of insidious weaponry, nearly all sides have something to answer for. In Afghanistan, at least thirty-five thousand children have been victims of land mines since 1979, according to the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. When I visited the orphanage in Kabul in 1999, during the Taliban’s rule, a turbaned official lamented losing orphans who wandered into neighborhoods where land mines or explosives had been deposited by assorted domestic and foreign militaries over the previous two decades. Fifteen years later, Afghan children are still dying from the weaponry of conflicts both old and new.
Death tolls for kids are sometimes fuzzy and often not final, even long after wars end. In Bosnia, more than a thousand children are reportedly missing from a war that ended a generation ago. Aid groups also point out that politicians, militias, and interest groups exploit child deaths—both their numbers and circumstances—for propaganda value, a recurrent controversy in counting the death toll in Iraq’s various conflicts.
Regardless of public revulsion, U.N. officials told me this week, the rising number of child casualties is unlikely to subside anytime soon. Today’s wars are increasingly within countries rather than between them; the fighting has moved to city streets, invading the playrooms of homes and kindergartens.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The New York Times

Iraq, In the Shadow of Lebanon
Iraq is now peering into the abyss that Lebanon witnessed during the darkest days of its civil war, the first and longest sectarian conflict in the post-colonial Arab world. The conflict dragged on for 15 deadly years. The human costs, in a country smaller than Connecticut, were staggering: 150,000 killed and a million people — one-fourth of the population — displaced. The economy collapsed and destruction totaled $25 billion. Along the way, Lebanon’s militias introduced tactics, most notably the suicide bomb, that have defined asymmetric warfare worldwide ever since.
Over those years, from 1975 to 1990, the entire Middle East shook, as Lebanon’s war ignited a rippling series of other conflicts, big and small, including an Israeli invasion in 1982 that turned into its own messy 18-year occupation. I lived through five years of Lebanon’s multifaceted war. I spent plenty of time in basements-cum-bomb-shelters, waiting for incoming artillery or thunderous battles on the streets above to stop, debating with Lebanese about whether their little country could endure the venom consuming its 18 recognized Muslim, Christian, Druse and other sects.
The civil war ended in 1990. The state barely survived. And nearly a quarter century later, the war’s effects linger on, in political form, as Lebanon struggles to find a president amid sectarian turmoil. Hezbollah, a Shiite militia born during the war that later organized as a political party as well, is now powerful enough to say yea or nay to a president. Lebanon still offers many lessons for the region.
Unfortunately, the scope of events over the past three weeks in Iraq, born of the same kinds of power-sharing disputes that ripped Lebanon apart, is bigger physically, politically, economically, militarily and regionally. Just for starters, Iraq is the size of California. The territory seized with astonishing speed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is the size of Indiana.
Over all, Iraq is a geostrategic property of far greater value, not to mention the second-largest oil producer in OPEC. The weaponry on all sides is bigger and badder than in Lebanon. The hatreds may actually be deeper, the regional impact wider. The consequences — intended and unintended — could well have global import.
The two countries have their own dynamics and flash points. But Iraq is more like Lebanon than Syria, where ISIS began its territorial sweep, because both Iraq and Lebanon are nascent democracies. The principle of power sharing is publicly embraced and politically enshrined, even if not adequately practiced. In contrast, Syria’s three-year-old war has become intractable because President Bashar al-Assad clings to authoritarian power.
The fractured communities in Lebanon and Iraq have been charting a course, albeit fitfully and bloodily, into a future quite different from the region’s past. It’s the struggle to move beyond primordial identities of clan, tribe, race and sect in the name of a wider national good. It’s a challenge every democracy faces, including the United States in its own past Civil War and its current internal politicking. It’s hard to get beyond self.
Finding a new political formula that is equitable and just is the fundamental challenge across the Middle East, as activists and the huge population of young people demand a fairer share of power. This is the last bloc of countries to hold out against the democratic tide that has ended odious ideologies like apartheid and Communism over the past half century elsewhere. The stakes for the Middle East are historic.
Iraqis from all sects and ethnicities will be stupidly self-destructive if they don’t come to terms with one another quickly. They still have a chance to reverse course, reallocate power and repair political rifts in a way that Syria almost certainly cannot if Mr. Assad stays in power. They also have international interest in helping make it happen, as controversial as any form of outside diplomatic or military assistance may be.
The alternative is the Lebanon situation, in which politics was hijacked by warlords, security forces were marginalized by law-defying militias, the economy survived off smuggling, and daily life was Darwinian. I once had to clean bits of body and car parts off my little balcony when a suicide bomber set himself off prematurely — one of many bizarre memories of life in Beirut. Fighting was never predictable. I had a chart on my wall of the constantly proliferating militias — four dozen or so by the time I left in 1985 — and their constantly shifting alliances and enmities. Allies one day could be trying to kill one another the next, even within sects, over issues that had digressed far from their common cause. It was not unusual to see Shiites fighting Shiites, Christians fighting Christians, and Sunnis fighting Sunnis. Iraq is already witnessing its own internecine clashes.
The lessons of Lebanon apply to the United States as well. For all its wars elsewhere, one of the largest losses of American military life in a single incident since World War II was the loss of 241 peacekeepers in Beirut in 1983 — after Washington was seen to take sides in Lebanon’s civil war.
As Lebanon proved, the ultimate solution is political — and the solutions are often simple to the point of banality. Lebanon’s war finally ended with only minor changes to the internal balance of power. The original formula at independence from France in 1943 — in an unwritten agreement, based on a dubious 1932 census — allocated six seats in the Parliament to Christians for every five seats given to Muslims. Under the peace accord in 1990, the ratio became parity. The presidency, reserved for a Christian, was weakened and the prime ministership, reserved for a Sunni, was strengthened. Shiites retained the post of parliamentary speaker. None of the positions were given to another sect.

So little, for so many dead. Iraq beware.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Wall Street Journal

Libya's Make-or-Break Point
By Robin Wright 
I’m not convinced anyone will read this blogpost–Libya is that forgotten.
Yet the North African nation is at a make-or-break point. With its oil riches and small population, Libya is the only Arab country in transition that can afford to reconstruct politically and physically from the turmoil of 2011, when an eight-month uprising ousted longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Instead, Libya is facing implosion. The tragedy of a nation was illustrated Wednesday in twin events: the assassination of a dedicated human rights activist and the apathetic election for a new government.
Salwa Bugaighis was a major player in creating a new Libya. A lawyer and a feisty woman of imaginative courage, she had dared to campaign against Gadhafi’s autocratic rule. During the uprising, she was a member of the National Transitional Council formed by dissidents in Benghazi, the epicenter of the revolt. After Gadhafi’s demise, she became deputy head of the national dialogue panel tasked with facilitating reconciliation among Libya’s rival clans, tribes and militias.
Over the past two years, she again dared to speak out, this time against Islamic militants. She was a friend of Chris Stevens, the slain U.S. ambassador, and after his murder in September 2012 she carried a wreath with his picture and a personal note as people in Benghazi gathered to protest his death. But she paid for her bravery.
On Wednesday, masked gunmen broke into her Benghazi home and opened fire, killing her. Her husband is missing, presumed kidnapped. National security adviser Susan Rice, who met with Ms. Bugaighis shortly after Gadhafi’s ouster, said in a statement Thursday: “I was deeply impressed by her courage, leadership and dedication to building a peaceful, democratic Libya where the rights and freedoms of all Libyan women and men are respected and protected.”
Ms. Bugaighis was shot just hours after voting in Libya’s election for a new 200-seat parliament. She was sufficiently proud that she posted pictures of herself on Facebook.  The United Nations called the election a critical step in Libya’s increasingly bloody transition to democracy.
But most of Libya’s eligible voters opted not to cast ballots. Only about half as many registered to vote than did for Libya’s first democratic election, in 2012; about 630,000 reportedly went to the polls Wednesday. Many Libyans, riven by regional disputes and threatened by militias, appear too disillusioned or too frightened to vote.
Meanwhile, the outside world doesn’t appear all that interested in helping them either.
Robin Wright is a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She is on Twitter: @wrightr.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Wall Street Journal

The Injustice in Egypt’s Courts
Egypt is, again, a dictatorship, proven by gross injustice and absurdly counterproductive behavior in the year since its latest military coup. Just weeks after sentencing some 1,200 people to death in mass trials, the judiciary has sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists to seven years in prison, allegedly for supporting terrorism and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood by interviewing its members. Evidence in the trial was flimsy to the point of laughable. The sentences were tragically ridiculous. One journalist received an additional three years for being in possession of a single spent bullet. As Amnesty International noted, journalism is not a crime.
The judicial decision was a defiant snub of the United States and a slap in the face to Secretary of State John Kerry just a day after he met with Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, in Cairo and promised that the flow of U.S. military equipment would resume. Some of the $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid and equipment has been frozen since shortly after then-Gen. Sisi led a coup last July against the democratically elected government of Mohammed Morsi.
Secretary Kerry was so angered by the announcement that, even in the midst of emergency diplomacy on Iraq, he called Egypt’s foreign minister to complain. In Baghdad on Monday, Mr. Kerry said at a press conference that Egypt’s move was “chilling” and “draconian.”
The White House later called on President Sisi to commute the journalists’ sentences or pardon the three—Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed—so they can be immediately released. It also called for clemency for “all politically motivated sentences,” an indirect reference to the widespread detention of critics and rights activists. National security adviser Susan Rice tweeted on Tuesday “Appalled by senseless verdicts against Al Jazeera English journalists in Egypt.” She added the hashtag being used worldwide by those pushing for the journalists’ release, #FreeAJStaff. Ms. Rice rarely uses social media, especially to publicly criticize a foreign government. The governments of Australia and Canada have also condemned the sentences.
Mr. Sisi would be wise to let the journalists go. But even if he frees those three, hundreds remain in detention and other trials await. Ultimately, Egypt’s conduct will be costly. It may be the most populous Arab country and the most strategic in North Africa. But Cairo needs credibility to deal with staggering economic problems, which will require foreign income from tourism and investment.
Showing utter disregard for basic rights is no way for Cairo to prove its claim of transitioning back to democratic rule—or convincing the outside world that Egypt is a safe place to travel or to invest.
Robin Wright is a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She is on Twitter: @wrightr.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The New Yorker

On Friday, a new report by the International Crisis Group, an independent research and policy institute, bluntly warned of both the political and military challenges in Iraq. Under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the report declared, “Parliament has been rendered toothless, independent state agencies shorn of their powers. Ministries, to an unprecedented extent, have become bastions of nepotism and other forms of corruption; the severely politicized judiciary represents anything but the ‘rule of law,’ with even the Supreme Court doing the government’s bidding.”
This week, as the jihadi juggernaut solidifies its control over almost a third of the country in a Sunni proto-state, a token American team of Special Forces will embed in Iraq to assess and advise Iraq’s disintegrating military. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is conferring with regional leaders about ways to prevent a geostrategic prize from imploding into a failed state. He, too, is expected in Baghdad.
The primary American mission is to help rebuild the house of cards that is the Iraqi government—a political challenge almost as daunting as devising a strategy to beat back the alienated Sunni forces in the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The goal is to prevent Iraq from becoming another Lebanon, where sectarian tensions over a power-sharing formula dragged on in a fifteen-year civil war, despite repeated American diplomatic interventions and attempts to rebuild the national army.
Iraq’s parliamentary elections, which were held at the end of April, may open the way to getting rid of Maliki and reconfiguring power in a new national-unity government. But the country’s squabbling politicians are obstinate. After the previous elections, in 2010, the parliament broke a world record for the longest time taken to form a new government, bickering for a full nine months until Maliki, whose alliance had come in second in popular votes, and his thirty-four-member cabinet were approved. Maliki prevailed by simply holding out longer than the others; the same intransigence has characterized his style of governance ever since.
In 2010, Baghdad had the luxury of time. Iraq was secured by more than eighty thousand American troops, and a joint mission, with Sunni tribal leaders in the “Sons of Iraq” militia, had decisively beaten back an Al Qaeda insurgency. Now there will only be the advisers—no more than three hundred in all, according to President Obama—and many of the Sons of Iraq, who felt betrayed by the Maliki’s Shiite favoritism, have turned their guns on Baghdad’s rule.
The momentum, both in Iraq and abroad, is increasingly against Maliki remaining in office. Iraqis tell me that even among Shiite politicians and clerics the new political cry is “A.B.M.”—”Anybody but Maliki.” Maliki, for his part, is digging in. He describes himself to Shiite brethren as a defender of the faith and warns that his ouster would be a victory for ISIS. He’s essentially copying Bashar Assad’s strategy for holding on to power in Syria. “Many of us thought Assad would not survive, yet he is still in Damascus,” a former Iraqi official told me. “Many of those early calculations were wrong. The same thing could happen here”—and in ways that could further fracture the country, he said.
Kerry is carrying a crisp message. Obama told CNN on June 20th, “There’s no amount of American firepower that’s going to be able to hold the country together, and I’ve made that very clear to Mr. Maliki and all the other leadership inside Iraq.” The President emphasized that “the terms in which we send any advisers” would be dependent on “a commitment to a unified and inclusive Iraqi government and armed forces”—by which he meant an arrangement that includes Kurds and Sunnis as well as Shiites.
Maliki’s role is not the only leadership issue; the Presidency is also up for grabs. President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, suffered a stroke eighteen months ago and has been hospitalized in Germany. Known as Mam Jalal, or Uncle Jalal, he is a keen negotiator, and his credibility and skills have been missed in Baghdad. The question to be sorted out is not just who will replace him but whether the next President will also be a Kurd. The Presidency has been one of the political incentives keeping the Kurds in the coalition. Giving the post to the Sunnis, in the hope of retaining their support, could cost Iraq Kurdistan.
Yet only with a new government can Iraq face its existential problem—how to preserve the country. Iraqis tell me that Baghdad may have to dismantle the current state to save it—that is, massively transfer power to the provinces: everything from security to schools, bureaucracy, and budgets. The result might be a kind of soft partition, with Baghdad in control of foreign policy and the national treasury but little else.
The Kurds, part of the world’s largest stateless minority, have been heading in that direction since 1991, when Saddam Hussein started to punish them by means of isolation and sanctions. The Kurds learned how to survive on their own. The ISIS onslaught has offered a new pretext, as the Kurdistan regional government deployed Peshmerga militia along its border. The Peshmerga also took control of Kirkuk, the oil center long disputed with Iraq’s Arabs, after the national army (largely Arabs) fled.
The government will have an even harder time bringing minority Sunnis, who ruled Iraq before the American invasion, back on board. One of the first acts under the American occupation, a decade ago, was the outlawing of the ruling Baath Party and the dismantling of the Army. Roughly one-sixth of Iraq’s population, including thousands of teachers, belonged to the Party, and many of them lost their jobs. It may be necessary to re-Baath-ify Iraq, allowing former members of the Party to participate in a new power-sharing formula and the old Army to be part of a reconstituted military.
“I prefer to call it reconciliation,” the former senior Iraqi official told me. “They can’t be prosecuted forever. The way to defeat ISIS is to empower moderate Sunnis. We can all help, but it has to be done by indigenous communities within the Sunni region.”
For the United States, these political challenges are formidable—and perhaps insuperable—but there’s no real alternative. Washington should beware “quick fixes,” the new International Crisis Group report cautions. “The U.S. can achieve little through air strikes, the insertion of special forces or other light-footprint tactics without, in its counter-insurgency jargon, an effective Iraqi army to ‘clear’; an accepted Iraqi police to ‘hold’; and a legitimate Iraqi political leadership to ‘build.’ ”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The New Yorker

A Third Iraq War? 

The United States now faces the possibility of its third intervention in Iraq. On paper, the two earlier wars quickly achieved their military goals. In 1991, a muscular alliance of thirty-four nations, led by the United States, forced Iraq to withdraw from the tiny city-state of Kuwait in a mere six weeks. In 2003, President Saddam Hussein, after twenty-four years in power, fled Baghdad just three weeks after a token “coalition of the willing” invaded. Yet both wars were ultimately political failures, and the new challenge in Iraq may prove to be even deadlier, with sweeping regional repercussions. Given its deepening sectarian and ethnic divisions—and the absence of a cohesive or effective military—the modern Iraqi state may not hold. Neighboring Syria is already shattered, and the Middle East map—defined by European powers a century ago—may be redrawn, either de facto or formally. Globally, the jihadist threat has never been greater.
The Obama Administration is debating options to salvage Iraq. In the first Iraq war—the Gulf War—the George H. W. Bush Administration deployed more than half a million troops; allies provided another two hundred thousand. Together, they easily overwhelmed the Iraqi military. Oil-rich Gulf states, along with Japan and Germany, picked up much of the tab—roughly sixty billion dollars.
At the height of the second Iraq war, the George W. Bush Administration sent more than a hundred and seventy thousand troops; a few other nations provided an additional eleven thousand. Washington paid its own bills—estimated at $1.7 trillion, plus almost five hundred billion dollars in benefits due to war veterans.
Neither approach would be feasible for a third Iraq war. Washington doesn’t have the same enthusiasm, or the will. The military may be capable, but it is fatigued. As the United States emerges from the Great Recession, its resources are limited; abundant foreign funding is unlikely. Public opinion is wary. The scope of the mission could expand out of control. Iraq might not be rescuable without the U.S. dealing with Syria, since the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has already erased part of the border between the two countries. If ISIS zealots were defeated in Iraq, they could simply retreat to their Syrian bases and come back another day. In addition, Iraq’s regional conflict has become deeply sectarian. The threat to the United States is barbaric jihadism, as both an ideology and a tactic, but for many in Iraq, and in neighboring countries, the dispute is quickly evolving into a fratricidal rivalry between Shiites and Sunnis. This time around, American intervention could get entangled with a fourteen-century-old schism between Islamic sects.
U.S. strategy will need to be more sophisticated. In Washington, drone strikes are the military option du jour, but they probably would not make enough of a difference, in this kind of war, to be decisive. A decade of drone warfare in Pakistan and Yemen has eliminated fanatics but not fanaticism. The core question is whether any military options can provide an enduring solution. In 2006, Iraq faced a microcosm of today’s broader threat: a Sunni insurgency, led by an Al Qaeda offshoot, threatened the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. The dangers of Iraq’s disintegration were so serious that then Senator Joseph Biden co-authored an op-ed in the Times with Leslie Gelb, of the Council on Foreign Relations, suggesting that Iraq should be divvied up into three autonomous zones, based on distinct Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish communities. A breakup is “already underway,” Biden and Gelb wrote. They went on:
The Sunnis, who until recently believed they would retake power in Iraq, are beginning to recognize that they won’t and don’t want to live in a Shiite-controlled, highly centralized state with laws enforced by sectarian militias. The Shiites know they can dominate the government, but they can’t defeat a Sunni insurrection. The Kurds will not give up their 15-year-old autonomy.

The Bush Administration instead opted for a military surge of thirty thousand troops—over unanimous challenges by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The generals and admirals were confident that their forces could beat back insurgents, but they feared that their diplomatic counterparts could not broker a formula for political power-sharing among rival sects and ethnicities. They warned the White House that a temporary mission, measured in months, might even give an edge down the road to Iraq’s many armed factions—including Al Qaeda’s foreign fighters, Sunni insurgents, and Shiite militias.
The Joint Chiefs were right. The military achieved its goal, with a lot of local help in the same areas that ISIS has swept over in the past two weeks. But a political solution has remained elusive. In the intervening eight years, divisions have only deepened under the rule of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has been acting on behalf of the long-oppressed Shiite majority, forcing Sunnis into the arms of extremists. And, as the Iraqi Army implodes, those armed factions are now taking control.
Any plan for stability—whether Iraq remains a single state or breaks into three—has to begin with the underlying political problem. Last week, President Obama called for a multiethnic governing council in Baghdad but, with insurgents less than fifty miles from the capital, that option is now too little, too late.
Iraqis must become invested in their own political order and risk putting their lives on the line to secure it. Unfortunately, Maliki may not be willing to either cede the powers required for a just resolution or to step aside. His intransigence has sabotaged Iraqi nationalism—though others share in the blame—and simply propping him up could eventually be costly. On Tuesday, Maliki defied international appeals for political outreach. Instead, he declared a boycott of a Sunni political bloc and put the blame for Iraq’s disintegration on Saudi Arabia. “We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that—which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites,” his government said in a statement. So Washington will have to be bold and blunt with him—and even consider withdrawing support. Leaving the political work undone a third time around only risks yet another failure—and who knows how many more.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The New Yorker

U.S. and Iran:The Enemy of My Enemy...
On Monday, Iran and the United States, along with envoys from Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia, will meet again in Vienna to work on specific terms for a nuclear agreement. The talks resume just as Washington and Tehran suddenly find that they have common cause in preventing Iraq’s abrupt disintegration. For both, their longtime strategies toward Iraq appear to be failing, as a few thousand thugs in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) burn their way across the country.
Washington and Tehran have started using the same language. President Obama, in his remarks on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday, said, “Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq, and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into chaos.” An hour later, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, told me, by telephone, from Tehran, “It is in the interest of everybody to stabilize the government of Iraq. If the U.S. has come to realize that these groups pose a threat to the security of the region, and if the U.S. truly wants to fight terrorism and extremism, then it’s a common global cause.”
Obama said that Washington is “going to pursue diplomacy” across the region. Zarif told me that he’d been working the phones with Iraq’s neighbors for the past two days. Obama warned of the dangers of the Sunni extremists trying to “overrun sacred Shia sites.” Iran is the world’s largest Shiite country, and its interests in Iraq are focussed on protecting the Shiite plurality that was long dominated by a Sunni minority.
Twitter pundits are already speculating about the potential for de facto coöperation between the countries. Among the scenarios: U.S. drones striking ISIS targets and, in effect, providing air cover for Iranian Revolutionary Guards dispatched to help hold back the ISIS jihadis, who have been pushing toward Baghdad. In our conversation, Zarif denied reports that Tehran has already dispatched battalions of Revolutionary Guards to aid and protect Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government, but its élite Quds Force has long had a presence—in various forms—inside Iraq.
Iran was America’s nemesis throughout the eight-year American war in Iraq. American officials regularly berated the Iranians for providing arms (including I.E.D.s) and strategic guidance to Iraqi militias. “They are responsible for providing the weapons, the training, the funding and, in some cases, the direction for operations that have indeed killed U.S. soldiers,” General David Petraeus told reporters in 2007.
Some forty-four hundred Americans died in Iraq. In 2010, James Jeffrey, the U.S. Ambassador there, estimated that Iran was linked, through its surrogates, to the deaths of more than a thousand American troops. “My own estimate, based just upon a gut feeling, is that up to a quarter of the American casualties and some of the more horrific incidents in which Americans were kidnapped … can be traced without doubt to these Iranian groups,” he said.
Even after Washington announced its intent to leave Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates charged that Iran’s support for Shiite militias was intent on “killing as many as possible in order to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that, in effect, they drove us out of Iraq at the end of the year.”
When the United States ended its combat mission, in 2011, it did not leave even a residual force behind, because Iraq—under Iran’s strong influence—refused to sign a Status of Forces Agreement granting immunity to U.S. troops for acts deemed criminal under Iraqi law. (In the nineteen-sixties, an identical controversy over giving U.S. troops immunity in Iran led to protests by Ayatollah Khomeini and, eventually, his expulsion by the Shah. From exile, in Iraq, Khomeini waged the campaign that ultimately led to the Shah’s overthrow.)
Today, Tehran, like Washington, seems preoccupied with the rise or return of Sunni militants, from Syria to Afghanistan. “Everybody is threatened by this extremism,” Zarif told me in March. “It has changed the strategic calculations and considerations for everybody who is interested in peace and stability in this region…. I think we all must take cognizance of the fact that this is a threat and work on it together—not against one another.”