Friday, August 30, 2013

Los Angeles Times

The risk of taking on Syria
Quick strikes rarely achieve enduring political goals — and often produce more costs or unintended consequences than benefits.
By Robin Wright  August 28, 2013

     So the U.S. launches a military strike. Then what?
     As the Obama administration and the U.S. military plot military action against Syria, they should be spending just as much time — and arguably more — considering what happens next. Once Washington crosses the threshold of action, there's no retreating from blame for anything that follows, whether through action or inaction. And in the weeks and months to come, dangers will only deepen.
     First, quick hits rarely achieve enduring political goals — and often produce more costs or unintended consequences than benefits. I've seen it so often before.
     I lived in Lebanon in the fall of 1983 when the Reagan administration ordered the Marine peacekeepers deployed in Beirut to open fire on a Muslim militia. The commander bluntly warned Washington that a strike would have dire consequences for U.S. policy and his troops. "We'll get slaughtered down here," he predicted. Nonetheless, the cruiser Virginia stationed offshore fired 70 deafening rounds on the Lebanese fighters.
     It was supposed to be a quick hit. It was supposed to send a warning.
But 34 days later, on Oct. 23, a yellow Mercedes truck carrying the equivalent of 6 tons of explosives drove into the Marine barracks as the peacekeepers slept. In my head, I can still hear the thundering bomb blast. It was the single largest nonnuclear explosion anywhere since World War II. It produced the largest loss of American military life in a single incident since Iwo Jima.
     Four months later, the world's mightiest military was ordered to leave Lebanon, its mission incomplete. The embryo of what became Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, had forced the retreat of American, French, Italian and British troops.
     This time in Syria, Washington may again consider its action limited and specifically targeted. But Syria and its allies, notably Hezbollah, surely won't. And they can respond in many ways.
The last five presidents have tried limited strikes with specific messages in various crisis spots, many in the Middle East. The track record is pretty sorry for both Republican and Democratic administrations.
     Again during the Reagan administration, I reported on the 1986 U.S. airstrikes against Libya for bombing a Berlin disco, a hangout for American troops. Three had been killed and more than 200 injured in the blast, not all Americans. Ten days later, U.S. airstrikes sent a kinetic message to Moammar Kadafi about the costs of terrorism.
     Operation El Dorado Canyon hit Kadafi's military headquarters and other military targets in Tripoli and Benghazi, although several bombs missed their targets and hit civilian areas. The strikes did little to end the outrages. Two years later, Libya masterminded the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that killed 270 people. And Kadafi remained in power another quarter-century.
     In 1998, I covered Operation Desert Fox, when the Clinton administration launched four days of cruise missile and bombing strikes against Iraq. Saddam Hussein's regime had failed to comply with United Nations resolutions and weapons inspectors for a year. The goal was to "degrade" Baghdad's ability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction and to destabilize Hussein's hold on power.
     The impact was negligible. Hussein held on for five more years, until the George W. Bush administration launched a ground invasion that cost hundreds of billions of dollars and nearly 4,500 American lives over the next eight years.
And in the end, the United States discovered that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction anymore.
     I also covered Operation Infinite Reach, when the Clinton administration ordered cruise missile strikes on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan in 1998. It was a response to twin bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Twelve Americans had been among the 224 killed.
     But a year later, I was in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden's camps were still thriving. The U.S. strikes had made him even more popular and powerful on the terrorist circuit. And he skillfully adapted Al Qaeda's tactics. In 2000, a suicide dinghy struck the U.S. destroyer Cole docked in Yemen, killing 17 sailors. And then the 9/11 suicide planes, the most successful attack against the United States since Pearl Harbor. Bin Laden may be dead, but the franchises born of his movement are thriving from North Africa to the Persian Gulf.
     So the idea of quick hits or short campaigns is often an illusion. The one notable success was the 2011 air campaign that helped oust Kadafi. But it had the full endorsement of the Arab League, the United Nations and , NATO, which ran the international mission. Thousands of Libyans actually did the fighting, while the Transitional National Council provided a viable alternative government from inside the country. And still Operation Unified Protector lasted 222 days.
     In the case of Syria, a few days of strikes against military targets may assuage moral outrage over its heinous use of chemical weapons. But they also carry the danger of widening the war by legitimizing or deepening involvement by other foreign powers, notably Iranian and Russian support for Damascus.
     I lived in Beirut during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon to evict the Palestine Liberation Organization. It achieved the immediate goal, yet Operation Peace for Galilee also backfired: Iran deployed Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon and created Hezbollah, which ultimately drove out both Israeli troops and American peacekeepers. It was Israel's first retreat — made voluntarily due to inexorable costs — in the long Arab-Israeli dispute.

     So, as the U.S. and its allies take on Syria, they need to ensure that the costs do not ultimately outweigh the benefits, and that another military mission doesn't backfire.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Meet the Press

Egypt's Crisis and America's Options

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Foreign Policy

 Iran’s Young “Determinators”
Robin Wright
They’re the determinators—the politically savvy, socially sassy, and media astute young of Iran. And they count, quite literally, as never before as a new president takes over.
President Hassan Rouhani owes his election to the young, who are Iran’s largest voting bloc. At the last minute, vast numbers opted to back him rather than boycott the poll. They’re also now the centrist cleric’s biggest headache, as he has to meet their expectations. Two-thirds of Iran’s 75 million people are under 35—and they vote again in four years.
But the Islamic Republic’s long-term survival may also be determined by the first post-revolution generation, born in the 1980s and now coming of age. For Iran’s baby boomers reflect the regime’s almost existential conundrum—and the nexus between economic and nuclear policies.
To be credible, the world’s only modern theocracy must better the lives of its struggling young majority. And to jumpstart the economy, Tehran will have to compromise with the outside world on its controversial nuclear program to get punitive international sanctions lifted. It’s a huge—but increasingly inescapable—price to pay for keeping the determinators on board.
The regime has limited time to act. Iran’s young are antsy because they are better educated and more skilled than any earlier generation. Literacy has almost doubled since the revolution—to over 95 percent, even among females. Iran won a U.N. award for closing the gender gap.
Yet one of the theocracy’s biggest successes has proven to be one of its greatest vulnerabilities.  It can’t absorb the post-revolution babies.
Iran’s young face rampant unemployment, estimated officially at up to 30 percent but unofficially at up to 50 percent. During his first appearance at parliament, Iran’s new president acknowledged in June that 4 million university graduates were jobless—and a mushrooming problem.
The core economic issue has had a rippling effect. In a country where the median age is 27, vast numbers can’t afford to marry or move out of their parents’ homes. One-third of females and one-half of all males between 20 and 34 are now unmarried, according to the Statistical Center of Iran.       
Frustration is reflected in soaring drug use. The State Welfare Organization reported this year that almost 72 percent of Iran’s drug addicts are between 18 and 25.
Born after both the monarchy and the revolution, the young often refer to themselves as the lost generation because they have little to do and even less to inspire them. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini died when they were in diapers. And most were tots during the traumatic eight-year war with Iraq, which produced more than 1 million casualties in the 1980s. The conflict shaped the goals, fears and nationalism of their parents and the current political leadership.
But for the young, the war is relegated to history--and the now fading public billboards of the previous generation’s war “martyrs.”
Sixty percent of Iran’s young now say the Islamic Republic needs to adopt new ways of thinking to secure its future, according to an Intermedia Young Publics survey released in May. One-third of those polled between the ages of 16 and 25 said they would abandon Iran if given the option.
The implications can’t be overstated. Iran’s post-revolution generation is the largest baby boom in Iran’s 5,000-year history. Its influence will only grow due to one of the world’s most unique population bumps.
Iran’s twenty-somethings were born during a decade-long blip in between two ambitious family planning programs. The shah promoted birth control during his final decade. By the end of the 1970s, 37 percent of women practiced family planning.
After the 1979 revolution, the ruling clerics reversed course and called on Iranian women to breed, breed, breed an Islamic generation. And they did. The population almost doubled from 34 to 62 million in about a decade.
But the theocracy soon realized that it couldn’t feed, cloth, house, educate or eventually employ those swelling numbers—and voters. So it launched a novel (and free) birth control program, including required family planning classes for newlyweds. By the 1990s, the average family fell from six children to less than two—lower than during the monarchy.
Iran's 70 percent drop was "one of the most rapid and pronounced fertility declines ever recorded in human history," according to Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. The birth rate plummeted so far that former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned in 2010 that Iran would be stuck with a “dangerous” aging population in another 30 years.
By actuarial standards, Iran’s baby boomers will have disproportionate clout for at least the next half century on most aspects of Iranian life.  Politically, their impact could even be more enduring than the current ruling theocrats. They’ve already shown demonstrated in many forms how far they’re willing to go.
In 2009, students led eight months of Green Movement protests after the disputed presidential reelection of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They mobilized millions in cities across Iran during the “Where My Vote?” campaign, the largest challenge to the regime since the 1979 revolution.
The determinators may no longer be able to protest on the streets. But can make or break politicians. Their interest and energy turned the 2013 presidential campaign around in the final days, boosting Rouhani to a surprise, come-from-behind victory over five other candidates.
Their voices resonate across Iran in other ways too. As the region’s largest network of bloggers, they boldly diss on their revolution, daring to post criticism, jibes, jokes and political cartoons on banned social media through circuitous routes.
They’re increasingly creating an alternative culture, pushing boundaries further than any time since the 1979 revolution. The stereotype of their parents’ generation was a black-shrouded woman or a young man sporting a headband that vowed martyrdom for Islam.
Images of the young today are more likely to be mall-hopping, increasingly in flashier fashions that defy conservative Islamic dress. Or they may be at play, including performing parkour, a holistic sport that combines running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping and rolling that resembles open-air gymnastics but in public places. 
In a telling sign of changing times, Iran’s young have even popularized rap as the rhythm of dissent in the world’s only modern theocracy. They hold back little in their warnings to the regime, as Yas, Iran’s leading hip-hop artist, rapped defiantly,
“Listen to my words and see the agonies I suffered
What my generation has seen, made our tears fall
Those without such pains—how they saw ours,
They became even more cruel, what a pity for our land!”