Something quite extraordinary -- perhaps even historic -- is afoot in Turkey. The country's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is engaged in a colossal roll of the political dice, an act of statesmanship, ambition, and hubris largely without parallel on the current world stage. At one and the same time, Erdogan appears set on a course that could result not only in redefining the very nature of the modern Turkish nation-state, but in a radical revision of the Turkish Republic's core national security tenets as well. How the gambit plays out could have momentous implications for the future of Turkey, for sure, but also for the broader Middle East region and even the United States.
At the center of Erdogan's play is an effort to resolve Turkey's "Kurdish problem" -- the chronic, often bloody conflict that has torn at the fabric of the Turkish state since its founding 90 years ago. On one side: the highly exclusive Kemalist conception of Turkish citizenship that all but denied the existence of Kurdish ethnicity (no Kurds here, only "mountain Turks") and effectively banned Kurdish language, history, and culture from the nation's public life. On the other: a fiercely proud and distinct people, the Kurds, whose decades-long struggle for recognition and self-determination has -- not surprisingly -- regularly found expression in demands for independent nationhood, an ever-present separatist dagger pointed at the heart of Turkey's territorial integrity and unity. Since 1984, this clash of competing nationalisms has manifested itself most virulently in the brutal war waged against the Turkish state by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Leninist organization that both the United States and the European Union have officially designated as a terrorist group.
Now, in a bold and risky effort to cut through this Gordian knot, Erdogan has launched a new peace process in which his main partner is none other than Abdullah Ocalan, the infamous PKK leader who has been imprisoned on the Turkish island of Imrali since 1999. Revered by many (though by no means all) Kurds, Ocalan is reviled by the majority of ethnic Turks, condemned as a murderous enemy of the republic, a master terrorist whose hands are covered in the blood of innocents.
After months of secret negotiations with Erdogan's intelligence chief, Ocalan issued a dramatic cease-fire declaration from his jail cell on March 21, the Kurdish new year. The statement was presented publicly in Diyarbakir, a Kurdish-majority city in southeastern Turkey, where it was read out by Kurdish parliamentarians to a massive crowd waving Kurdish flags and portraits of the PKK leader. According to Ocalan, "A new era is beginning; arms are silencing; politics are gaining momentum. It is time for our [PKK] armed entities to withdraw [from Turkey]." Ocalan condemned as "an inhuman invention" past efforts to form states "on a single ethnicity and nation." Today, he stated, "everybody is responsible for the creation of a free, democratic, and egalitarian country that suits well with the history of Kurdistan and Anatolia."
This Saturday, Iraqis head to the polls to vote for provincial councils -- the country's first elections since U.S. troops withdrew sixteen months ago. The balloting comes at a time of growing peril for Iraq. Violence is escalating, as are tensions pitting the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki against the country's Sunni and Kurdish communities -- all exacerbated by the raging civil war in neighboring Syria. While posing a stern test to the viability of Iraq's democratic system, the elections will also serve as an important indicator of the relative strength of Iraq's competing coalitions -- especially Maliki's -- in advance of national elections scheduled for 2014.
At stake are nearly 450 seats on local governing bodies. More than 8100 candidates from some 265 political entities are competing. The elections cover 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. The three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government will vote later this year, while elections in oil-rich and ethnically disputed Kirkuk have (by tacit agreement among the competing communities) not been held since 2005.
But in a highly controversial move, Maliki's cabinet decreed in March that balloting would be delayed by up to six months in Iraq's two most influential Sunni-majority provinces, Anbar and Nineveh -- both of which border Syria and have for months been the locus of large-scale (but mostly peaceful) anti-Maliki protests. Maliki claimed -- not entirely without justification, especially in Anbar -- that he was simply responding to the petition of local leaders worried that voters could not be adequately protected from growing collaboration between al Qaeda affiliates on either sides of the Iraq-Syria border.
His opponents charge that the prime minister's real agenda is avoiding a massive anti-Maliki turnout that would further escalate opposition to his government. They correctly note that previous elections were conducted under far more threatening conditions. Both the U.S. and U.N. urged Maliki to reverse course, worried about the appearance of disenfranchising millions of Sunnis already agitated by claims that Maliki has been systematically moving to marginalize their community in the interests of establishing an Iranian-backed Shiite dictatorship. Maliki turned aside these criticisms, while suggesting the delayed elections might occur as early as May.
The reality is that violence threatens voting throughout Iraq. A series of more than 20 terror attacks on Monday hit targets across the country, including prospective polling places, killing Sunnis and Shiites alike. These were but the latest in a string of al Qaeda-linked assaults that have occurred at increasingly regular intervals. The campaign has also been marred by at least 15 candidate assassinations, all of them Sunnis and many believed to have been killed not by Al Qaeda but by political rivals within their own community.
Whether Iraqi security forces can successfully protect the elections without the support previously provided by tens of thousands of U.S. troops is a major question mark. The fact that close to 700,000 army and police officers went to the polls in early voting last Saturday without incident was encouraging. Also of concern, however, is the possibility that the mere threat of violence could significantly depress turnout, stoking doubts about the legitimacy and future of Iraq's shaky democracy. An especially important indicator could be the participation of Sunnis -- a potential barometer of that disgruntled community's continued commitment to the post-2003 political order or, alternatively, a troubling sign that, perhaps inspired by co-religionists in neighboring Syria, they are looking to more confrontational methods to redress their grievances.
Beyond violence, ensuring the integrity of the electoral process has to be a real worry. There is no doubt that America's heavy involvement during past elections helped deter fraud to a minimum. Absence that involvement, the risk of widespread wrongdoing -- or simply the perception of wrongdoing -- increases dramatically, even with the presence of a few hundred international observers and several thousand domestic monitors. The danger that significant swaths of the public may simply reject the legitimacy of the results cannot be discounted.
Assuming a relatively free and fair vote, the outcome of Saturday's elections is hard to predict. No reliable polling is publicly available. Maliki has confidently claimed that his coalition will win big. In recent weeks, he has shrewdly sought to divide his Sunni opposition (including through a surprising set of proposals to ease de-Baathifcation laws), successfully co-opting stalwart nationalists like Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq. The Iraqiya bloc of his main rival, former prime minister Ayad Allawi (a secular Shiite), has splintered, with the current speaker of parliament, Osama Nujaifi, and the former finance minister, Rafi Issawi, forming their own Sunni-based coalition.
Nevertheless, surprises remain possible. In local elections, a voter's familiarity with a hometown candidate can often trump allegiance to a national party. In provincial balloting four years ago, Iraqis voted to punish incumbents -- an inclination that if repeated on Saturday could well work against Maliki and to the benefit of his major Shiite rivals in the Islamic Supreme Council and Sadrist camp -- both of which are fielding their own candidates. For all his troubles, Allawi's bloc is the only one competing in all Iraq's provinces, both Sunni and Shiite, a nationalist vocation that could well accrue to his benefit. And even if Maliki's State of Law emerges as the top vote getter, post-election coalitions among his opponents could emerge that deny him the degree of local domination that he seeks.
Should Maliki nevertheless secure an overwhelming victory, it will likely fuel fears that his most worrisome authoritarian tendencies will be emboldened: more consolidation of control over key state institutions, particularly the means of coercion and the courts; more targeting and exclusion of political opponents; an intensified effort to resolve disputes with Iraq's Kurdish and Sunni minorities through confrontation; and increased dependence on Iran. Maliki's chances of winning next year's national elections, another four years in office, and increasingly unconstrained powers would increase significantly. Should such fears be realized, the results for Iraqi stability and unity could be dire indeed -- especially in a regional context of dramatically heightened sectarian and ethnic tensions, perhaps leading to all-out state collapse in next-door Syria.
From that standpoint, Iraq's future may be best served if Saturday's elections see not only minimal violence, maximum participation, and limited irregularities, but also no clear winners and losers -- a triumph not only of the democratic process, but a therapeutic re-balancing of Iraq's political landscape that reminds all parties of the continued imperative of negotiation, compromise, and political partnership.
SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
For national security conservatives, last week's State of the Union address was something of a wasteland. On the most pressing challenges facing the nation -- Iranian and North Korean nukes, Syria's meltdown, the war in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda's metastasization, the looming disaster of defense sequestration -- we were treated to a heaping portion of presidential mush, platitudes, and happy talk largely detached from the urgency of the historical moment. The overall effect will surely reinforce a dangerous perception that has increasingly taken root among friend and foe alike: America is waning. The world may be unraveling, but as far as President Obama is concerned, it's really not our problem. U.S. leadership is closed for the season. We're busy nation building at home.
Dismal as it was, there was a section of the president's address that may hold unexpected promise. Though wrapped in a bright green bow of climate change, Obama's discussion of energy could have important national security consequences. Of particular note was his embrace of an energy security trust fund. The proposal is the brainchild of an organization called Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE) and its Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC) -- the "nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals" that the president highlighted in his speech.
In a report issued last December, SAFE and the ESLC called for the establishment of an energy security trust that would be funded by royalties derived from expanded drilling for oil and gas on federal lands. The trust would have one purpose only: supporting R&D on technologies designed to break oil's stranglehold over America's transportation sector, which accounts for about 70 percent of overall U.S. consumption.
Importantly, the underlying motive behind the SAFE/ESLC proposal had nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with national security and the country's economic health. Its authors properly see America's dependence on oil as a major strategic vulnerability. Even taking into account today's revolution in North American energy production, the United States for the foreseeable future will remain mired in a global petroleum market characterized by high and volatile prices, domination by an oftentimes hostile cartel, and the constant threat of disruption by geopolitical events in the world's most unstable regions. While convinced that America's current oil and gas boom must be fully exploited for the huge economic benefits it promises, SAFE and the ESLC also believe it must be leveraged for the long-term objective of breaking our dependence on oil once and for all -- thereby achieving true energy security and a measure of strategic flexibility that U.S. foreign policy has not known for decades.
National security conservatives should be sympathetic to the effort. As I've recounted elsewhere, while the idea of targeting Iranian oil sales as a means of pressuring its nuclear program has been around since at least 2007, the trigger on such sanctions wasn't pulled until 2012. For almost five years, both the Bush and Obama administrations were deterred from taking aggressive action due to fears that removing large quantities of Iranian crude from the market might produce a devastating price shock that would inflict major harm on the global economy.
That's five crucial years that were largely frittered away while Iran was allowed to earn hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, dramatically enhance its enrichment capacity, and accumulate a stockpile of enriched uranium that with further processing could be used to build a handful of nuclear bombs. Five crucial years during which the pursuit of America's most pressing national security priority -- stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons -- was dangerously constrained by our vulnerability to global oil markets. If that's not an intolerable situation for the world's leading nation to be in, I'm not sure what is. If there's a realistic strategy for doing something to mitigate it, we damn well should get started.
Equally worth noting, however, is the fact that when oil sanctions were finally imposed on Iran last year -- cutting Iranian exports by up to a million barrels per day -- a major disruption to global markets was successfully avoided in no small measure because of corresponding increases in oil production from the United States. As the race to stop Iran's nuclear program intensifies in coming months and further steps to curtail Iranian exports are contemplated -- perhaps removing as much as another 1.5 million barrels per day from the world market -- continued growth in U.S. production will only become more vital.
Now that President Obama has sought to co-opt the ESLC's CEOs, generals, and admirals for his purposes, it's vital to keep in mind the details of what exactly their energy security trust entails. Perhaps most importantly, the ESLC proposed that money for the Trust should come from new drilling in currently inaccessible federal lands and waters -- specifically to include the Pacific, Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico areas of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Moreover, the funds should be drawn from royalties that oil companies already pay as a matter of standard operating procedure when granted drilling rights in areas owned by the federal government. More pointedly, the trust as envisioned by SAFE and ESLC, explicitly ruled out the leveling of any new fees or taxes -- carbon or otherwise -- on oil and gas production. Finally, it's important to note that the money that would be diverted to the trust represents but a small fraction -- much less than 10 percent -- of the total new royalties that would fill federal coffers by opening the designated areas to drilling.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this isn't quite the Obama administration's vision for the Trust -- at least not yet. Most importantly, the administration is proposing that the money should be raised from royalties on existing production rather than from new production in the OCS and ANWR.
While Republicans should see the trust as an idea worth exploring and engage with Obama accordingly, they should hold fast to the ESLC's actual recommendation that explicitly links the trust to the opening of federal areas that were previously off limits. If the president wants to cloak himself in a proposal that "a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind," Republicans should insist that he at least remain faithful to that proposal's core content.
The weight of the argument certainly favors Republicans. Economically, expanding oil production will serve as a huge boon to a still faltering U.S. economy. Strategically, it can play a vital role in stabilizing nervous global markets, especially in light of the looming showdown over Iran's nuclear weapons program. And politically, the reality is that no deal on an energy security trust is likely to get done unless Republicans get something significant on expanded drilling. Addressing that central pillar in the GOP's energy platform is probably an essential trade-off if Republicans are expected to overcome their deep-seated skepticism and go along with yet more funding for the Democrats' favorite hobby horse of green energy research.
Of course, it was the prospect of a win-win compromise that represented the genius of the SAFE/ESLC proposal in the first place. Republicans get expanded drilling. Democrats get more money for green energy. And in a single package, the sometimes competing goals of economic growth, reducing oil dependence, and lowering carbon emissions could all be addressed in a reasonable way. Something for everyone. That's the basis for broad consensus on a bipartisan energy deal that might actually do the country considerable good. If President Obama turns out to be truly serious about it, Republicans should be prepared to meet him half way.
One final note: For any Washington think tank, having the president of the United States specifically reference your organization in a State of the Union address and endorse one of its policy recommendations is the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. Major kudos to SAFE, an organization that I work with in an advisory capacity. Its success is a great reminder of the extraordinarily important contribution that privately funded non-profit research institutions can make to U.S. policy and the advancement of American interests.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Danielle Pletka's thought-provoking piece on the future of foreign policy in the Republican Party deserves more systematic and fulsome treatment than time and space currently allow. Some random reactions will have to suffice for now. That said, I very much look forward to the debate that Pletka invites. It's indeed an important one. The intra-GOP divisions to which she alludes are in some cases deep and wide. Moreover, they frequently appear to touch on matters of first principle that not long ago seemed largely settled -- an apparent shattering of the Reagan-era consensus, the long-term consequences of which I sense may trouble me somewhat more than they do her.
Pletka suggests that the GOP must be a party that believes there are things worth fighting for. Agreed. But what, exactly? Elsewhere, she makes the case for America's "obligation (not merely the occasional inclination) to help others attain the benefits of a free society." What's the connection, if any, between those two important thoughts? And doesn't that go to the heart of the larger problem that seems to be bothering a lot of Americans when it comes to the Republican Party? Not that they don't think we'll use force, but that we've been all too eager to pull the trigger? What's the limiting principle? Where won't we fight and why?
Pletka of course understands this well. She notes the importance of Republicans explaining to the American people "how much can be done consistent with America's deepest principles but without the use of force, without threats, without protectionism, and without breaking the bank." That seems to me an essential task going forward: to restore the public's faith that the GOP is not only the party most willing to stand up and defend America's vital interests in a dangerous world, but also the one that will do so employing the most creative, competent, and forward-looking strategies -- a national security policy that makes the use of force not just the last resort, but almost always unnecessary because of what Pletka calls the exercise of "genuine American leadership that meets challenges before they become threats."
In this regard, perhaps more than Pletka, I tend to think that the GOP will need to engage in a more thorough-going reckoning with the Bush-Cheney years, particularly the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences. Not, as she correctly warns, for the purposes of "killing" that legacy, but rather for an honest accounting of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and the lessons learned. It's necessary for its own sake of course. But it's also important, I think, as part of the task of rebuilding the public's overall confidence in the Republican foreign policy brand.
A few odds and ends. I don't think Pletka mentions free trade and energy policy. The Republicans should own these issues, especially the impending American oil and gas boom. The impact on America's economic strength at home and strategic flexibility abroad promise to be revolutionary if properly and comprehensively exploited.
Finally, it's worth noting that the speed of the GOP comeback will at least in part be determined by what happens in the world between now and 2016. Pletka is harshly critical of President Obama's foreign-policy record. I generally don't disagree. But the fact is that Obama has not suffered some of the mega-disasters that so obviously plagued the administration of Jimmy Carter and made Reagan's critique so innately compelling for the American people. No Iranian hostage crisis. No Desert One fiasco. No hollow military on display. No Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While it's clear to Pletka and me that Obama's policies are sowing the seeds of expanding international instability, chaos and violence, the fact is that the day of reckoning has not yet come -- when the price for "leading from behind" will really come due in much higher sacrifices of American blood, treasure, and honor. Benghazi was but the canary in the coal mine, a foreshadowing of the super storm yet to hit.
But for now, it must be said that Obama has largely succeeded in avoiding the worst, in kicking the can down the road. Can it go on for another four years? I would guess not. But I could be wrong. If I am, if Obama's luck continues to hold, if the world is such in 2016 that a plausible case can still be made that the Democrats have been responsible stewards of America's national security, then whatever the Republicans do in opposition to get their foreign policy house in order (as necessary and essential a task as that no doubt is) may not be enough to make an electoral difference.
John Hannah, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, served as national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney from 2005 to 2009.
Watching the nightmare in Syria unfold, you have to ask yourself: Could the Obama administration have made a worse hash out of the situation if it had tried?
Short of an outright Iranian victory that saw the Assad regime's power fully restored, it's hard to imagine a more dire set of circumstances for U.S. interests. The Syrian state is well on its way to imploding. A multiplicity of increasingly well-armed militias are rushing to fill the vacuum. At the forefront of the fight are a growing number of radical Islamist groups, including some affiliated with al Qaeda. The prospect that Assad' s demise will be accompanied by the use (and/or proliferation) of chemical weapons and massive communal bloodletting gets higher by the day. Libya on steroids is what we're looking at, only this time not on the distant periphery of the Middle East but in its heartland, a gaping strategic wound that is likely to threaten the stability and wellbeing of Syria's five neighbors -- critical American partners all -- for years to come.
Does it require saying that it need not have been this way? That with sustained American leadership over the past 21 months the most threatening aspects of this crisis could not only have been seriously mitigated, but U.S. interests significantly advanced?
This isn't simply a case of Monday-morning quarterbacking. The number of articles written since March 2011 urging the administration to action to hasten Assad's end -- short of ground troops, but including a wide menu of coordinated diplomatic, economic, security, and intelligence steps -- would fill volumes. Ditto the number of analysts who repeatedly warned that left to its own internal logic, the Syrian crisis would veer increasingly toward disaster. Abandoned to face Assad's slaughterhouse alone, it was entirely predictable that those masses of average Syrians who week after week, month after month, literally begged for Western intervention to help topple the tyrant and shape a post-Assad future would eventually be eclipsed by jihadism's black flag.
The administration dismissed it all with so much disdain. Reckless. Simplistic. Pouring fuel on the fire, they charged. Down that way, they insisted, was only a parade of horribles: sectarian conflict, civil war, al Qaeda's empowerment, a failed state, loose WMD, and international spillover. Sound familiar? Indeed. Virtually every risk the administration warned might be triggered by U.S. intervention has been made all-too-real in the absence of U.S. intervention.
This was abdication masquerading as serious foreign policy; a flight from leadership gussied up to appear as thoughtful restraint, prudence, realism.
How else to characterize a strategy that repeatedly put its faith in Vladimir Putin of all people -- the arsenal of Syria's dictatorship -- to deliver an acceptable political solution just as Assad's savagery was getting into gear, and after the U.S. had sworn up and down that it had no intention of providing meaningful assistance to the regime's foes? Likewise the subsequent indulgence for months on end of Kofi Annan's well-meaning, but quintessentially toothless diplomacy on behalf of the UN.
Again, there was no shortage of observers at the time highlighting the fact that absent American leadership to help Syria's opposition alter the correlation of forces on the ground, these maneuvers were doomed to fail, and even worse to provide international cover for Assad to massacre thousands more. It would be an insult to their intelligence to say U.S. officials were not cognizant of this reality. This was something more cynical, something more calculated. Not diplomacy as solution, but diplomacy as excuse, a rationale for avoiding the kind of muscular action that the administration was loathe to take -- especially in an election year, especially in a benighted Middle East that in the eyes of most Americans long ago exceeded its allotment of U.S. attention, treasure and sacrifice.
All of which has left us here, confronting an oncoming train wreck of well-armed Islamists, battle-hardened and thirsty for power and revenge on the one hand, and a crumbling, desperate dictatorship on the other, its hands drenched in the blood of its own people and sitting on top of the Middle East's largest arsenal of chemical weapons.
Belatedly, it seems to have dawned on the administration that simply sitting on the sidelines, allowing events to play out while hoping for the best might not accrue to U.S. interests, and could well prove catastrophic. But having waited so long to act, the window of opportunity that was once available for shaping an outcome consistent with U.S. concerns has narrowed considerably, if not closed. A popular movement whose core once clamored for Western leadership and intervention has grown increasingly embittered and resentful at what they perceive to be their near total abandonment by Washington. With more than 40,000 corpses underfoot, frantic 11th-hour moves by the U.S. to mobilize a coherent political opposition, establish influence with armed groups, and marginalize extremist militias like Jabhat al-Nusra that have carried a major brunt of the fighting are widely viewed with a mixture of suspicion and contempt -- not just too little too late, but part of some larger conspiracy to abort the revolution's victory over Assad just as it comes into view.
What to do when no good options remain? If rebel advances have finally convinced the Russians that Assad's days are indeed numbered, a very slim chance may still exist for some form of last-ditch diplomacy that salvages the core structures of a functioning state and averts the black hole of uncontrolled collapse and chaos. The starting point would have to be the rapid exit from power of Assad and his immediate clique, either via voluntary exile abroad or some version of a palace coup. A UN-brokered negotiation on a political transition would then ensue between a remnant of the Alawite regime and the internationally-backed opposition, leading hopefully to a ceasefire, some form of national unity government, and eventually a new constitution with credible guarantees for Syria's minority communities, followed by free and fair elections.
No doubt this is a very tall order. What the Russians could actually deliver with respect to Assad, even if they wanted to, is a major question mark. More importantly, why the armed opposition, especially its most radical elements, would ever agree at this point to stop short of an outright military victory that ended with the storming of Assad's palace is not at all apparent. Convincing them and the Syrian people otherwise would require a unified, full-court diplomatic press by all Syria's major outside stakeholders, equipped with a powerful panoply of both pressures and inducements.
Short of that kind of diplomatic miracle, the outlook is extremely bleak. Battening down the hatches and riding out the storm as Syria fractures may be the best we can do. Working as closely as we can with our key partners in the region and internationally, we should identify those armed groups that are prepared to work with us and have no truck with the most extreme Islamists. Strengthen political and military alliances between them. Provide the humanitarian aid and resources they need to consolidate and expand their popular support, as well as defensive weaponry and training to provide local security and fend off both the jihadists and Iran in the post-Assad era. Critically, we need a viable plan for securing and/or neutralizing Syria's chemical weapons, either in conjunction with these local forces or on our own.
Also vital will be a concerted strategy to buttress our key regional allies and contain the dangerous spillover effects of Syria's implosion. Jordan in particular is under enormous internal strain and requires urgent international support that the U.S. should immediately help mobilize, especially financially from the Persian Gulf states.
It was less than two years ago that the uprising in Syria presented the United States with a historic opportunity to weaken Iran and advance our own regional interests. Today, Syria looms as a potential strategic disaster, where America's options for positively shaping outcomes have all but vanished, and frantic efforts at damage limitation are all that remain. In the arc of that transformation from hope to despair lies the tale of a colossal policy blunder, perhaps the Obama administration's most serious to date, one whose consequences will almost surely haunt us long after the president leaves office.
FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images
A hard-fought election behind us, hope springs eternal that President Obama and congressional Republicans will come together and find a way to address the most acute challenges confronting the nation. At home, the Constitution makes that kind of cooperation more or less essential if we're to resolve our most serious problems. Abroad, of course, presidents enjoy much greater leeway to act unilaterally. That said, it remains the case that -- all other things being equal -- the more bipartisan America's approach to key national security issues, the more credible, sustainable, and, ultimately, successful those policies are likely to be.
Admittedly, bipartisanship was hardly a hallmark of President Obama's first-term foreign policy. Republicans found ample cause for complaint. Early on, the president went out of his way -- especially, it seemed, in high-profile speeches on foreign soil -- to denigrate his predecessor's efforts to prosecute the war on terror. An inflated sense of his own ability to single-handedly transform world politics led to serial missteps indulging hostile regimes in Tehran and Damascus, while gratuitously alienating key allies like Israel. CIA officers responsible for interrogating terrorists were needlessly re-targeted for investigation. Congress was all but ignored in the controversial decision to attack Libya. Highly sensitive national security information was systematically leaked in a transparent effort to burnish the president's warrior credentials in an election year.
Yet amidst the overall discord, important areas of agreement still proved possible. When the president took difficult decisions with which Republicans concurred -- the surge in Afghanistan, expanding drone strikes, the Bin Laden raid -- they overwhelmingly backed him. And when harsh Middle Eastern realities eventually laid waste to his naive outreach with Iran, and the president belatedly turned to a strategy of escalating sanctions, congressional Republicans enthusiastically joined Democratic colleagues in providing unqualified support -- indeed, even imposing measures beyond what the administration initially sought, whose end result has been a dramatic strengthening of the U.S. position.
Is there an expanded basis for bipartisanship in the second term? Just maybe. After four years in office, the Bush-bashing has lost its utility. The fantasy that the president could transform the world through sheer force of personality lies in tatters. Iran won't be charmed out of its nuclear ambitions. Syria's tyrant isn't a reformer, he's a mass murderer. Strong-arming Israel doesn't win friends and bring peace.
In short, many of the president's most fanciful initiatives have come a cropper. Several have been quietly abandoned. There's at least a prospect, then, that safely re-elected, facing an increasingly treacherous set of international challenges, President Obama may be ready to turn the page and pursue a more hard-nosed, bipartisan approach to secure America's vital interests. With the whip hand in foreign policy, the president of course has the primary responsibility to reach across the aisle to try and forge such a consensus and partnership. But if he does, Republicans should be prepared to reciprocate.
There's a growing danger, however, that the opportunity presented by the fresh start of a new term could be de-railed even before inauguration day. The president badly needs to end the stone-walling and come clean as soon as possible on the Benghazi fiasco. The longer this drags on, and the more the administration appears to bob and weave to avoid accountability, the more corrosive and long-lasting the effects on the president's credibility and the overall political environment in Washington.
And for goodness sake, Mr. President, don't exponentially compound the problem by putting forward the one person who, fairly or not, has become the face of this disaster to be your next Secretary of State. Talk about a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. It's an open-invitation to a bitter, partisan nomination battle that would unnecessarily poison the chances for greater cooperation on national security issues.
Assuming the Benghazi tragedy doesn't turn into a full-blown scandal and political tsunami, where should the focus be for building foreign policy bipartisanship? Everyone will have their own list, but I'd highlight four priority areas where I think it's most urgently needed and could do considerable good.
Averting the fiscal cliff and shoring up America's long-term economic and military power. It's by now a truism, but failing to deal with the systemic problems that now threaten the nation's basic economic health could spell doom for U.S. global leadership and power -- and with it the liberal international order that has underwritten American peace and prosperity for decades. This is foundational. Begin to right the ship at home and all our other challenges can be managed. Fail to do so and we're screwed. On this one, ending the political dysfunction that is sapping our national strength, confidence, will and credibility is impossible without bipartisan compromise and partnership. If the President and the Republican leadership get one thing right, this has to be it.
Iran strategy. All signs are that the showdown over Iran's nuclear program will likely come to a head in 2013. President Obama has been clear that his policy is prevention, not containment. In the third debate with Mitt Romney, he further specified that Iran's program must be stopped before it achieves "breakout capacity." While indicating that he's fully prepared to use force to achieve that objective, the president believes that he first needs to show that every chance for resolving the crisis diplomatically has been exhausted -- including via direct bilateral negotiations. That is where we are now headed and it would be good indeed if the president and Congress could present a united front to Tehran and the world.
In theory, there should be ample common ground: the imperative of achieving a verifiable end to Iran's nuclear weapons program; the importance of maintaining (and increasing) crippling sanctions until a deal is secured through actions, not just words; not allowing the Iranians to use negotiations as a stalling tactic; working in lock-step with our Israeli ally; and avoiding a costly war if at all possible, while being fully prepared to employ force decisively should our good-faith efforts to reach a negotiated solution fail. Whether the denouement with Iran comes via jaw-jaw or war-war, President Obama should want Republicans fully on board for what is likely to be the defining national security issue of his presidency.
Syria. Thanks in no small measure to the administration's refusal to lead for 20 months, the situation is now truly disastrous. Forty thousand dead. Hundreds of thousands of refugees. A failing state whose violent implosion threatens to spread conflict, instability and extremism across a vital region of the world, endangering the security and wellbeing of several key U.S. allies. Options for protecting and advancing U.S. interests have grown narrower and narrower, while the risks and dangers of intervention have escalated dramatically. Getting more involved looks highly undesirable, it's true; but doing nothing and allowing the strategic situation to deteriorate further -- as it surely will -- to the advantage of Al Qaeda, Iran or both, looks even worse.
What's needed is a strategy that, while setting clear limits on any direct U.S. military role, brings America's diplomatic, security, and intelligence assets to bear, along with those of our allies, in a far more decisive manner with the aim of: defeating the Assad regime, building leverage with secular-minded rebel groups, marginalizing the jihadis, supporting an internationally-backed political transition, and inflicting a painful defeat on Iran and its ally, Hezbollah. The critical role U.S. diplomats played last week in brokering the emergence of a new opposition coalition (and the sidelining of the ineffective, Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council) was an important first step, proof of the significant influence that America can still wield when it puts its mind to it. But it quickly needs to be coupled to a broader strategy that links up with the political and military situation on the ground where Syria's future will be determined.
Should the administration decide that U.S. interests necessitate playing a more assertive role, President Obama should actively reach out to key members of Congress. Admittedly, neither the American people nor their elected representatives in Washington have shown any desire whatsoever to become more involved in the Syrian quagmire. But it's also true that the administration has done nothing to explain why they should care, what's at stake for the United States, and how we can still act to protect our interests without putting our own troops in harm's way. No doubt, there are influential Republicans in both the House and Senate who recognize the dangers posed by simply standing by as the Syrian catastrophe descends into full-blown chaos, and would be open to a discussion of what additional steps the United States might prudently take to protect and preserve our strategic interests.
Energy. Unlike most national security issues, this one promises huge upside opportunity. This week the International Energy Agency reported that thanks to the revolution in energy-recovery technology (hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling), the United States is poised by 2020 to pass Saudi Arabia as the world's leading oil producer. By 2035 we could achieve net energy self-sufficiency, producing as much as we consume. Imports from the Middle East, Venezuela or any other unstable, despotic part of the world could be zeroed out. The economic benefits are potentially staggering in terms of investment, jobs, overall growth, and the balance of payments. Of course, since oil is traded on a global market, we'd still be highly vulnerable to price shocks triggered by war, revolution, and instability in the Middle East -- unless, that is, we also got serious about moving our transportation sector (responsible for 70 percent of U.S. oil consumption) off of gasoline and onto alternative fuel sources, such as natural gas and electricity. Developing a comprehensive energy strategy that fully exploits the economic windfall of America's oil and gas boom while enhancing national security, investing in new technologies, and protecting the environment should be a tailor-made proposition for bipartisan cooperation and compromise. It's a win-win opportunity, more than capable of sensibly addressing many of the legitimate priorities of Republicans and Democrats alike, while making a major contribution to the nation's long-term wellbeing and strength.
On the eve of a second Obama administration, the country faces immense problems at home and abroad. With the president's re-election, a window has opened to forge a new, more productive partnership with congressional Republicans, one that can significantly strengthen his hand to deal with the most difficult challenges ahead. He should seize the opportunity that now exists. If he does, Republicans should be ready and willing to respond in kind.
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Energy issues have figured prominently in Governor Romney's campaign. Achieving "North American energy independence" has been a central pillar of the 5-point economic plan that he's been touting -- including at last week's first presidential debate. A bit surprising, then, that in the governor's October 8th foreign policy speech, with its heavy emphasis on the Middle East, energy didn't even merit a mention.
Let's face it. Ensuring the free flow of oil has been the main driver of American strategy in the Middle East for decades. Our nation's economic wellbeing depends on a well-supplied global oil market, and countries in the Middle East account for a significant portion of the world's production. The cartel they dominate, OPEC, today controls between 30 and 40 percent of the international market while possessing the vast majority of the world's proven reserves.
As a result, America and the global economy are incredibly vulnerable to what happens in the region. Every U.S. recession but one since World War II has been preceded by an oil price shock. And in the majority of cases, those shocks have been triggered by events originating in the Middle East. Think the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the 1979 Iranian revolution, or Saddam's 1991 invasion of Kuwait.
But you don't have to go back that far to appreciate the problem we face. Last year's revolution in Libya, along with broader unrest across the Arab world, sent oil prices skyrocketing. Ditto Iran's threats in January to blockade the Straits of Hormuz. And concern about an eventual war with Iran continue to impose a significant risk premium on global prices, a reality Americans confront every day at the gas pump. Even short of tipping the economy back into recession, the effects of this kind of price volatility are highly negative: our trade deficit rises; disposable income and consumer spending decline; and economic growth takes a significant hit.
Concerns about oil prices have often badly distorted U.S. policy toward the Middle East. The most acute example is the effort to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions. U.S. policymakers have long known that the most effective step we could take against the mullahs is to cut off Iran's oil sales and starve them of the enormous revenues they need to keep their repressive regime afloat. Yet for years, first President Bush and then President Obama fiercely resisted sanctioning the Islamic Republic's petroleum sector. The reason? Because they quite legitimately feared that removing Iranian crude from the market would disrupt global supplies and trigger a devastating price shock. Only in late 2011, with Iran rapidly approaching the nuclear threshold, did Congress finally steamroll the administration by forcing through legislation that targeted Iranian oil.
Even then, implementation of the sanctions was watered down. The administration was given a six-month grace period to assess the possible impact that sanctions would have on the global oil market. And rather than demanding that customers of Iranian oil end their purchases entirely, countries were granted waivers from U.S. sanctions if they only "significantly reduced" their buy -- which in practice required them to cut back between 15 and 20 percent. While the U.S. effort, together with complimentary EU sanctions, have no doubt had a major effect on Iran's economy -- reducing its oil exports by as much as 50 percent -- a full embargo would have been far more impactful and the obvious course of action for Washington to pursue if not for the countervailing concern about oil markets. In the meantime, the Iranian regime continues to pocket perhaps $3 billion per month from the million or so barrels of oil that it still exports daily, all the while pressing ahead with its nuclear program.
America doesn't have a higher national security priority than stopping the world's most dangerous regime from going nuclear. And yet the sad reality is that our dependence on oil has for years, and to our great peril, systematically deterred us from fully deploying the most powerful tool in our arsenal -- all-out sanctions on Iran's petroleum sector -- for resolving the crisis peacefully. Not surprisingly, that underlying logic applies in spades when it comes to any discussion about the possible use of force against Iran, where predictions of oil spiking to an economy-crippling $200 per barrel are commonplace.
The fact that our oil vulnerability has put such severe constraints on our freedom-of-maneuver to address the most pressing national security threat we face is deeply troubling. The big question is whether we can do anything about it. Admittedly, history doesn't offer much reason for optimism. For almost 40 years, successive U.S. presidents have promised to tackle the problem with very little to show for it.
Of course, what's different today is that the United States is experiencing an oil and gas boom that promises to transform our energy landscape in very fundamental ways. Thanks to American ingenuity and technology, U.S. production is poised to increase dramatically over the next decade, after years of steep decline. As Governor Romney has correctly emphasized, through close cooperation with democratic allies in Canada and Mexico, the goal of energy self-sufficiency for North America may well be within reach -- an unthinkable prospect just a few years ago, and one whose benefits in terms of job creation and economic growth could be quite profound.
In addition to the potential economic windfall, however, we also need to be thinking hard about how we can best exploit the coming energy boom to really enhance U.S. national security. That's a much more difficult task. The fact is that because there's a global market for oil, Middle East crises are likely to threaten the U.S. economy with major price spikes no matter how much of our own crude we produce. Just look at Canada and England. While both are oil independent, they remain exposed to the same price volatility that currently afflicts the United States. Their economies will be no more insulated than ours if a war with Iran sends the cost of oil through the roof.
It seems that what really needs to be part of the mix is a viable, bipartisan, market-driven strategy for reducing the monopoly that oil has over our transportation sector. If a sensible way could be found to begin moving some significant portion of U.S. cars and trucks to run on cheaper, domestically produced alternative fuels -- natural gas, methanol, electric -- it would largely eliminate the sword of Damocles that Middle Eastern tyrannies like Iran now hold over the West's economic wellbeing and its strategic decision-making. That would put us on the path toward true energy independence, and restore to the United States a degree of flexibility, leverage, and strength to pursue its interests and values abroad, especially in the Middle East, that we have not known for at least a generation.
All much easier said than done, I know -- especially in an environment where energy issues, like the national budget, have become so politically charged. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal. Perhaps once the upcoming election is over, a new administration will be prepared to look seriously at developing a bipartisan, comprehensive energy strategy that both fully exploits America's new oil and gas bonanza while taking meaningful steps to reduce our vulnerability to extortion by hostile, repressive dictatorships in unstable parts of the world.
If it is, one place that a new president should definitely look to mobilize ideas as well as political support is Securing America's Future Energy (an organization that I'm proud to advise), which has brought together an extraordinary group of American business and military leaders to highlight both the economic as well as national security dangers posed by our dependence on oil, and to recommend possible solutions. Co-chaired by Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx and General P.X. Kelley, former commandant of the Marine Corps, the group includes such luminaries as General Jack Keane, former vice chief of the Army; Admiral Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence; David Steiner, CEO of Waste Management; Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines; and John Lehman, former undersecretary of the Navy. A pretty hard-nosed bunch, to be sure, that has decades of experience operating on the front lines of the global economy and national security, and is convinced that America can and must get after this challenge as soon as possible.
For the country's sake, we should all hope that they're right.
I know. Foreign policy has been largely an afterthought in the presidential campaign. Iraq, for all intents and purposes, is off the radar screen entirely -- except as a Democratic talking point, Bush's misbegotten war that Obama allegedly "ended." So a post on the plight of a rather obscure Iraqi politician -- and the merits of the Kurdish region he now calls home -- amounts to so much spitting in the wind, right?
Probably. On the other hand, this week's news -- rampaging anti-American mobs across the Arab world, skyrocketing U.S.-Israeli tensions -- has brought into sharp relief one of the main critiques of the administration's foreign policy. Its sustained efforts to mollify enemies at the expense of longtime friends has fomented a dangerous perception of American weakness, irresolution, and retreat in the Middle East -- the slow-motion breakdown of a U.S.-led order that, unless reversed, will inexorably invite far more destabilizing and costly challenges down the road.
From that perspective, perhaps an appeal for greater solidarity with some true Iraqi friends will not fall totally on deaf ears.
Mithal Alusi is the leader of Iraq's Democratic Nation Party. Since his return to Iraq in late 2003, Mithal has been without question the country's most outspoken and courageous champion of liberal values, unwavering in his defense of free speech, free press, free markets, religious tolerance, and human rights -- especially full equality for women.
Mithal's foreign policy prescriptions have been no less bold. The enemy is clear: Fascists in all their guises -- Islamic or secular, Shiite or Sunni -- that systematically deploy terror, violence, and brutality against innocents at home and abroad in service to their own power, ambition, and ideologically-driven delusions of grandeur. Iran, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Bashar al Assad, and the miscreants that murdered Chris Stevens and his colleagues in Benghazi all fit the bill. Clear, too, is Mithal's prescription: an anti-fascist alliance dedicated to defending civilization against its enemies, led by those countries most victimized by totalitarian terror, the United States, Israel, and . . . Iraq.
And Mithal has walked the walk, at great personal sacrifice. In 2004, he attended a counter-terrorism conference in Israel. When he returned to Baghdad, Islamists called for his head. One-time political allies ran for cover, disavowing and abandoning him. In early 2005, Sunni extremists targeted him for assassination, in the process murdering his two sons -- Mithal's only children.
Alusi refused to bow. Instead, he started his own grass-roots political movement dedicated to building an independent, liberal, and unabashedly pro-Western Iraq. If anything, Mithal's denunciations of Saddamists, Al Qaeda, and the Iranian mullahs grew louder. Starved of cash, advertising, and foreign support, facing an electoral system heavily rigged in favor of large Islamist parties, and equipped solely with his own compelling message, Mithal defied overwhelming odds to win a seat in Iraq's December 2005 parliamentary elections.
From his legislative perch, Mithal ignored advice to trim his sails. In 2008, he repeated the heresy of visiting Israel. Again, he called for a U.S.-led alliance to combat terrorism. He mocked the Islamic world's boycott of Israel, asking why the likes of Abu Mazen or Ali Khamenei should be allowed to dictate the foreign policy of an independent Iraq, denying it the chance to serve as a bridge for Middle Eastern peace and benefit from relations with a prosperous and technologically advanced Israel.
Mithal's enemies responded with a vengeance. Islamists in Iraq's Council of Representatives moved to strip Mithal of his parliamentary immunity, demanding his arrest under a Saddam-era law that made travel to Israel a hanging offense. His government-funded security detail was withdrawn -- even as the threats against his life escalated exponentially.
True to form, Mithal didn't run. He fought back. He went on the offensive against his political opponents, branding them tools of Iran. He took his case to Iraq's Supreme Court, arguing that the law forbidding his travel to Israel violated Iraq's constitution. To people's amazement, the court agreed. Mithal returned to parliament, triumphant, but with his enemies more determined than ever to see him gone.
Their chance came in 2010 when Mithal lost his bid for re-election. Beset by all the same obstacles he faced four years earlier and more, Mithal insisted that his vote count had been suppressed through a combination of fraud, intimidation, and dirty tricks. Iraq's electoral authorities denied his claim.
Bereft of any official position, the state-sanctioned squeeze against Mithal intensified. His official security detail was again withdrawn. Then his personal bodyguards, comprised of supporters who often worked for no pay, were denied permits to carry weapons. Pretexts were found to shutter his party's headquarters in Baghdad. When badges expired that authorized Mithal and his wife to enter the heavily fortified Green Zone where their home was located, the Iraqi government refused to renew them. And just last month, on orders from the office of Prime Minister Maliki, Mithal received an eviction notice, informing him that his home -- assigned in the wake of the 2004 terrorist attack that took his sons -- was being re-claimed by the government.
Exposed and vulnerable, under constant threat of assassination by Iranian-backed militias and Al Qaeda terrorists, Mithal was forced to leave Baghdad in 2011. At the invitation of Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Mithal took up residence in northern Iraq, where his party had long maintained an active presence.
It wasn't the first time Barzani had come to Mithal's defense. In the middle of the furor over his 2008 trip to Israel, when Iraq's other political leaders were running for the hills, Barzani offered to dispatch Kurdish security guards to ensure Mithal's protection. Nor was Mithal the first Iraqi to seek internal exile in Kurdistan. Indeed, thousands have found refuge there, seeking to take advantage of the region's greater sense of security, prosperity, and personal freedom.
To my mind, standing up for Mithal Alusi and the Kurds should be an easy call for the United States. In a Middle East caught in transition between an autocratic past and a rising tide of Islamist fanaticism, true friends are hard to find. Mithal and the Kurds are the real deal -- unapologetically pro-American, determined to resist the Iranian threat, and aware that Iraq's fate ultimately depends on its ability to forge a genuinely civil state that fairly reflects the country's diversity and assures the rights of all its citizens.
Alusi, for sure, is but one individual, a solitary politician now deep in the political wilderness. Ignoring him might be the path of least resistance, but it would be a shortsighted calculation. Keeping faith with those in distant lands who -- against all odds and at great personal sacrifice -- have tirelessly stood vigil on behalf of our common values has almost always redounded to America's long-term benefit. Maintaining a sustained strategy toward democratic dissidents is no mere sentimentality, but an essential element of the ground game for building the kind of soft power that can help fell empires -- see Sakharov, Andrei; Sharansky, Natan; Walesa, Lech; or Havel, Vaclav. And the costs of doing so are relatively trivial. U.S. officials that travel to Kurdistan should call on Alusi. Vice President Biden could phone him. And when President Obama next speaks with Prime Minister Maliki, he might mention America's concern for the wellbeing of Alusi and others who have been forced to flee Baghdad on account of their beliefs.
Of course, the strategic case for bolstering relations with the KRG is much more straightforward. Even a casual observer of world affairs might have noticed that there is something of a Kurdish Awakening afoot across the region, one that has real potential over the next several years to transform not just the politics, but in some cases even the geography, of southwest Asia. And the epicenter for this movement is in Iraqi Kurdistan. The KRG is now without question an emerging power of substantial influence, whose policy decisions could have far-reaching consequences for the future of not only Iraq, but Syria, Turkey, and Iran as well -- all key regional powers where Kurdish minorities are large and U.S. interests run deep.
What else? The KRG is on the cusp of becoming a major producer of oil and gas, and has recently inked deals to partner with the world's most powerful energy companies, including Exxon, Chevron, Total, and Gazprom. It possesses hardened security and intelligence forces that have worked hand-in-glove with their U.S. counterparts for almost a decade to fight Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, while keeping tabs on the nefarious activities of the Iranian IRGC. The Kurds are building a strategic relationship with our NATO ally, Turkey, grounded in economics, but rapidly expanding to include coordinated efforts to address the crisis in Syria, deal with PKK terrorism, and contain the growing threat that Iran poses, not just to Iraq's independence, but across the broader region.
Building as much U.S. leverage and influence as possible with the KRG, as the centerpiece of what should be a broader strategy toward the overall Kurdish Awakening, seems like a no-brainer -- especially if done in close consultation with Turkey. All the more so since we are pushing on an open door, with the Kurds still hungry to knit as close a relationship with the United States as possible.
Some have argued that we should keep our distance from the KRG for fear of alienating Prime Minister Maliki. Others complain that the KRG itself is too marred by corruption, nepotism, and human rights shortcomings to warrant close relations with the U.S. In this debate, however, I'll take my counsel from Alusi. Mithal takes a back seat to no one in recognizing the need for continued KRG reform. He believes that it must be an essential part of the overall U.S. agenda with Erbil. But he -- perhaps better than most -- also understands the vital distinction between friends and enemies, and the imperative of dealing with the former much differently than you do the latter -- on the basis of trust, respect, appropriate humility, and quiet, but firm, pressure applied over time.
With a strong frame of comparison from his years in Baghad, Mithal puts an enormous premium on what President Barzani, Masrour Barzani (the KRG's intelligence chief and recently-appointed director of national security), and other Kurdish officials have achieved in maintaining a sustained sense of stability and safety in the north. The contrast with the rest of Iraq could not be greater. One remarkable statistic: Since 2003, Iraq on average has experienced more terrorist attacks per day than Kurdistan has suffered in two decades.
That's not an accident. It's not luck. It's a huge accomplishment that no one should take for granted. Terrorists of every stripe, including ones backed by Iran, are hard at work attempting to disrupt the region's tranquility. And they have consistently failed because of the success, competence, and professionalism of Kurdish forces in neutralizing them -- in strong cooperation with the United States.
And that achievement on security, of course, has underwritten every other positive development that the region has experienced: a rapidly growing economy, tens of billions of dollars in foreign investment, expanding interactions with the outside world, and a degree of normalcy and freedom in the personal lives of its inhabitants that is the envy of the rest of Iraq. There clearly remains much to do to address the legitimate political, economic, and social needs of the Kurdish people, but -- as Alusi strongly advises -- that task will be pursued most successfully in a spirit of deepening friendship, not animosity, that fully appreciates and jealously protects the enormous gains that have already been made.
As for Maliki's reaction, Alusi -- a staunch opponent of Kurdish separatism -- is convinced that the stronger the partnership between the U.S. and the KRG, the greater the leverage America will have in Baghdad. "Maliki currently pays no price for ignoring U.S. interests and catering to Iran," Mithal notes. "If he feels the United States can affect his political position by supporting parties in Baghdad that are resisting the most troublesome parts of his agenda, he will finally be forced to take American concerns seriously." Mithal is also certain that the stronger the KRG's position in Baghdad, the stronger the voice will be of all those, like himself, pushing on behalf of a unified, democratic, federal Iraq, with a government constrained by meaningful checks and balances.
As President Obama watches his much-trumpeted Muslim outreach literally crash and burn on streets across the Arab world this week, one hopes he's capable of adjusting an approach that many have long feared will eventually reap a bitter harvest of escalating contempt, instability, and chaos. Just as charity begins at home, diplomacy begins with reliable friends -- making them, keeping them, and standing by them when times get tough. A storm is surely brewing in the Middle East and the U.S. will need to rally all the allies it can get, and fast, to navigate the rough waters ahead. In Iraq, at least, Mithal Al-Alusi and the KRG are standing by, just waiting for America to call.
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.