Tag Archives: Middle East

Looking ahead to President Obama’s Bully Pulpit

Preliminary thoughts about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The elimination of Osama bin Laden warranted jubilation, public demonstrations and cheers, dampened by somber reminders of Sept. 11, 2001. Americans recognized the obvious – This was a historic victory. President Obama said it well:

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies.  The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.
Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort.  There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us.  We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.
As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam.  I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam.  Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.  Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.  So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Bin Laden leaves the stage in May 2011, but his operational capacity was limited if not eliminated years before his death. He existed as a symbol of terror. It is hard to think that anyone could rise to the same level, anytime soon.

His death now is as strong a blow to international terror as it would have been years earlier. Striking down the symbol will be accompanied by newly energized pursuit of his number two – Ayman al-Zawahiri – and the estimated several hundred al Qaeda fighters along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

Questions and Answers


How could bin Laden have lived in plain site for so long, one kilometer from a Pakistani military post?

We don’t know yet, but U.S. officials won’t want to beat up on the Pakistanis. The civil government in Islamabad is a weak enterprise, and its stability depends on domestic public perception. The Pakistani military and intelligence service – ISI – are a power unto themselves and comprise a complicated, rivalry-ridden command structure. U.S. officials are giving the Pakistanis a chance to save face. The Obama administration will keep working with Pakistani officials on future operations of joint interest – decreasing violence, enhancing political and economic stability.


What about increased vigilance and retaliation?

Intelligence and police forces have been doing a fine job over the last decade to counteract, block and limit the scope of terror attacks. The system isn’t fool-proof, but there has never been a reason to live in fear. [Fortunately, Tom Ridge’s foolish color-coded alert warnings have gone the way of the Edsel.]

Will the death of bin Laden accelerate demands for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?
Probably so. However, the Obama administration will take some time, looking for a changes in the wind–the flagging ability and will of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters to pursue their goals.

What policies should be on the agenda?

–Israel and the Palestinians–Seizing the moment to push the Israelis and the Palestinians toward an equitable peace. Presidential persuasion is a key—a successful compromise is needed. A resolution for the West Bank and Gaza has always been a major recipe toward drying up the seedbeds of future terrorism.
The U.S. Abroad–—pursuing further efforts to improve the U.S. image abroad. That image could hardly have been worse when President Obama took office after the multiple failures of the Bush administration. Obama can use the moment and the bully pulpit to push recalcitrant players toward real mediation and compromise for peace in the Middle East.
–Middle East Uprisings–Hard work to land fairly in each of the civil uprisings burning in the Middle East. And taking care that Yemen evolves peacefully, and with a future government that continues to fight al Qaeda cells there with U.S. support.
–Kashmir — Push for peace talks and negotiations between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, supported by the United States and Europe. Success feeds world peace and creates the prospects for a more friendly relationship with Pakistan.

The bill of particulars is long, but President Obama has checked off one of the greatest action items he may ever face.

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Filed under 1, Afghanistan, Middle East, Obama, Politics

Voting for Democracy, Often with Lip Service

Is democracy the official U.S. goal in the Middle East and around the world? Not necessarily. Not always, certainly not now. U.S presidents may talk about democratic

King Abdullah II and President Obama meeting in Washington

aspirations everywhere – but the record is a matter of relativity. (Remember the Shah of Iran, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and the South African minority apartheid regime, to name a few cases.)

The U.S. conundrum, no matter how thoughtful and sincere the president of the moment, could hardly be worse than in the case of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. (Saudi Arabia is a more complicated, different order of magnitude) What would the United States prefer: King Abdullah II and his pro-American constancy or the shaky possibilities of the ballot box? About one third of Jordan’s 6.5 million people are Palestinian refugees and most of them are Jordanian citizens. Open elections might move in an unscripted direction.

Historically, U.S. officials fear Palestinian voters going to the polls. In 2006, when Hamas won a majority in Palestinian parliamentary elections, it would have been hard to deny this was the people’s legitimate choice. Yet the Bush administration reacted with anger and halted financial aid to the Palestinian government – so did the European community. So much for democratic elections.

The United States has taken a couple of quick turns of policy in the recent popular uprisings around the Levant – Mubarak gone to seed, Yemen sinking fast, Libya bombing runs. But U.S. officials would be stuck if things turned very bad in Jordan. So far protests for political reform in Jordan have been rather mild.

King Abdullah has his American side. He is a graduate of the Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. More than once, an attentive shopper might have bumped elbows with him on a on Saturday morning when Abdullah—jean-clad and unnoticed–browsed the bookshelves at Barnes and Noble in Georgetown.

The king is likely staying home for a while. He’s engaged in what he calls a “national dialogue,” which in some ways is more open, more prosperous than Arab neighbors.

The king, quoted by the Jordan information bureau, said this week that “We are moving ahead with the reform endeavor to build upon achievements, bring about development and realize Jordanians’ aspirations for a better future.”

Abdullah even insinuates he’s thinking about bigger changes. The Information Bureau also said this: “During a meeting with representatives of the professional associations, the King called for supporting all forms of constructive dialogue and standing firm against non-democratic moves that threaten the country’s national unity.”

The king would be a democrat, lower and probably upper case, if he took out U.S. citizenship. But in Jordan, it is likely that he will hold the prerogatives of the throne as long as he can–with steadfast support from the United States.

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Libyan Protests — Low Priority So Far

By all scant news available, Libya is undergoing serious protests and disruptions, very little making its way into the news technosphere. There is some material on Youtube, such as this one from Al Jazeera

and reports from Human Rights Watch and Christian Science Monitor on protests, arrests, deaths and injuries.

This email was relayed by a reliable source overnight, with more detail than seen elsewhere and includes a plea for news coverage. A late check shows very little tweeting from and about Libya:

Juma Abdel majid, the brother of the head of the National front for the liberation
of the Tebu self immolated in the city of Kufra inside the offices of the Libyan Revolutionary
guards. He was protesting the taking of young school kids by the Rev
Guards in demonstrations for Qaddafi. He is at the hospital now. I have
confirmed this news with his brother Issa , who lives in Norway.

At the moment we have reports of 13 dead in the city of Al-Bida, over 50
dead in the city of Benghazi, 5 dead in the city of Ajdabi 2 dead in the
city of Rajban. The Libyan uprising is spreading all over the country,
and calling for Qaddafi’s removal. I urge you to do more coverage on
Libya and tell the world of the Massacres that are taking place in Libya
now.

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Filed under Intelligence, Journalism, Libya, Middle East