Monday, July 25, 2016

The New Yorker

Tom Sutherland, the Magnanimous Hostage
By Robin Wright
In 1984, I used to visit Tom Sutherland and his wife, Jean, after running on the track at the American University of Beirut. They had dared to join the faculty at a time when Lebanon was a rough place to live. The civil war was in its ninth year; the Israeli invasion was in its second year. Hezbollah, the emerging Shiite militia, was taking control of West Beirut, including the scenic seafront area around the university. Fighting disrupted daily life—you often didn’t know which war was playing out around you—and made sleep difficult. Electricity was erratic; shops often had food shortages. That was the year the American University president was assassinated and a professor taken hostage. The Sutherlands and I would sit on their terrace, sipping cool drinks in the Beirut heat, and ponder the latest chaos around us.

Tom, who died on Saturday, was a loquacious man, with a slightly receding hairline and a subtle sense of humor. He had grown up in Scotland before moving to the United States for graduate work in animal science. He spent more than a quarter century teaching animal husbandry and genetics at Colorado State University, and became a naturalized American citizen, but he spoke with the lilting Scottish burr of his early years. He still had a kilt, and loved to find a reason to quote Robert Burns. In 1983, he took a leave from Colorado State to become the dean of agriculture at American University, which was known as the Harvard of the Middle East until the civil war broke out. Jean, an earthy Midwesterner who loved to laugh at her husband’s humor, taught English. They still believed in the innate goodness of people; I didn’t.

 Read on....

Friday, July 22, 2016

The New Yorker

What Does NATO Do Anyway?
By Robin Wright 
Since 2013, Douglas Lute, a former three-star general and graduate of West Point, has been the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, whose headquarters are in Brussels. In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed Lute to be deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, a position nicknamed the “war czar” during the U.S. surge in Iraq. He was one of three senior officials retained by President Obama, who later appointed him to be the top envoy to NATO. Lute talked to me  about the role and history of NATO. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What role does NATO play in global security today?

After the Second World War, the U.S. and a set of eleven other countries joined together and said essentially, “We’re not doing that again. There’s got to be a better way forward. We can work together to prevent aggression against us and to insure we don’t aggress against each other.” The Washington Treaty was signed in 1949. The foundation of it is the “mutual defense” clause, Article Five, that says an attack on one nation is considered an attack on all of them.

And it’s worked. NATO has kept the peace in Europe and bound together the U.S., Canada, and European allies in a way that has been fundamentally stabilizing for the world order. It has had an outsized influence beyond that territory. It’s really served as the anchor for world security over the last sixty-seven years.

Where has NATO been deployed, and why? How has it evolved?

I’d break down the history of NATO into three parts. For the first forty years, NATO focused on its greatest risk—the threat that the Soviet Union posed to Western European security. When the Berlin Wall fell, in 1989, and, two years later, the Soviet Union broke apart, NATO took a few years to find itself. Its raison d’ĂȘtre had been removed. It became clear not long after 1991 that Europe faced new instability along its borders that could infect Europe itself, so NATO adapted. The earliest and most prominent case was the breakup of Yugoslavia. NATO was drawn in to stop the fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1995. Sixty thousand NATO troops left the central front and moved into the Balkans. Four years later, in 1999, NATO stopped the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo and then stabilized the security situation. NATO still has five thousand troops in Kosovo keeping watch on a fragile security situation.

Then, in 2001, 9/11 takes place and NATO launches into its largest ever and longest ever combat operation in Afghanistan. NATO has over twelve thousand troops still stabilizing Afghanistan, training Afghan forces, and making sure that Afghanistan does not revert to a terrorist safe haven. So there’s a period of about the last twenty-five years where NATO has tried to promote stability beyond its territories and taken its military capacity beyond its periphery.

Today we may be on the edge of the next phase of NATO. We have now a very different Russia than the Russia we were dealing with in the past two decades. It’s aggressed against a neighbor. It’s seized parts of Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula, and destabilized other parts of Ukraine. It’s increased its military budget. It’s promoted more aggressive conventional- and nuclear-war-fighting doctrines. It has fundamentally torn up the rule book that has stabilized Europe since the end of World War II. It’s a very dramatic geostrategic shift of the security situation in Europe.

At the same time, just as this is happening, we’ve also seen the rise of ISIS—and ISIS borders Europe. Turkey has a fifteen-hundred-kilometre border with Syria and Iraq. And along much of that border we’re fighting, contesting ISIS.

Beyond that, all across the NATO periphery—east, southeast, and across the Mediterranean due south—you have a set of weak, failing, or failed states which further the instability for Europe. This is most prominently seen by returning foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq who have bombed European cities, but also from mass migration at a level which we haven’t seen since the Second World War. So the combination of Putin’s Russia and its aggressive actions, terrorism, and mass migration is causing nato to go back to the basics—to the importance of security of the twenty-eight nations themselves and then looking at how we can promote stability among its neighbors. Today NATO is adapting again to these new challenges.
Read on...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The New Yorker

Will the Iran Nuclear Deal Survive?
By Robin Wright 
Last month, Boeing signed a landmark agreement with Iran to sell or lease a hundred and nine passenger jets. The mega-deal, worth at least twenty billion dollars, would be the largest sale of American goods to the Islamic Republic since the seizure of the U.S. Embassy, shortly after the 1979 Revolution. Iran Air badly needs new planes to modernize its fleet, which dates back to the Shah’s era. Iranians alternately joke and agonize about mechanical problems that plague the country’s aging aircraft, essential for travel in a country two and a half times the size of Texas.

The Boeing sale would mark the next phase in developing a pragmatic and profitable—if still unofficial—relationship with Iran, after the nuclear deal completed a year ago today. The fates of both initiatives, however, still face turbulent rides. The nuclear deal—formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (J.C.P.O.A.)—is fragile, at best. The diplomatic flirtation during two years of tortuous negotiations has also soured, despite nine meetings between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the past year. The detention of more Iranian-Americans, who were formally indicted this week, hasn’t helped. Presidential elections in the United States and Iran complicate the prospects of both the nuclear deal and the Boeing sale.

In Iran, a new poll released on Wednesday finds growing disillusionment with the nuclear deal, the leaders who produced it, and the United States. President Hassan Rouhani, the charismatic centrist who initiated the diplomacy, is facing a backlash. He ran, in 2013, on the promise that nuclear diplomacy would lift sanctions and improve the economy. Almost three-quarters of Iranians polled now say they have felt no improvements from the deal—and have little or no confidence that Washington will fulfill its commitments, according to the University of Maryland and

“Iran paid a huge price,” Kayhan, the hard-line newspaper, wrote this week to mark the anniversary. “The public is asking: What has the nuclear deal accomplished for people’s livelihood and for the dignity of Islamic Iran?”
Read on...

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The New Yorker

Pity Elizabeth, the Brexit Queen
By Robin Wright 
In October of 1940, when she was still in curls and called Lilibet within the family, Princess Elizabeth made her first national radio broadcast. It was designed to calm the fears of Britain’s children, as London was being pounded by German bombers for fifty-seven consecutive nights. She was fourteen. “We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well,” she said, on the BBC’s “Children’s Hour.” Seventy-five years later, amid the increasingly chaotic aftermath of the Brexit vote, Queen Elizabeth II is trying to do it again.
“Retaining the ability to stay calm and collected can at times be hard,” she conceded, at the opening of Scotland’s Parliament, on Saturday. “One hallmark of leadership in such a fast-moving world is allowing sufficient room for quiet thinking and contemplation, which can enable deeper, cooler consideration of how challenges and opportunities can best be addressed.”
For Elizabeth, the Brexit vote marks an almost Shakespearean turn. In the nineteen-twenties, when she was born, the British Empire was the largest in history. It covered almost a quarter of the earth’s land mass; it held sway over more than four hundred and fifty million people, about a fifth of the world’s population. It was “the empire on which the sun never set.” In the past year, her reign, now the longest in British history, has twice been fĂȘted with imperial pomp and horsey parades—last fall, for setting the longevity record, and, this spring, as she reached the age of ninety. Even Washington celebrated. At the British Embassy, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer last month led the toasts at a lawn party honoring the Queen’s birthday. Big names from the White House and Congress also attended.

But Elizabeth’s lifetime has also seen the dismantling of her kingdom’s vast empire in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. Most of its former colonies, territories, and protectorates now govern themselves. The Brexit vote may now mean the demise of Great Britain, too.
Read on....