Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category


He’s Made It Worse: Obama’s Middle East

June 17, 2014

By Abe Greenwald


Obama's Middle East

I. From Bush to Obama

In the last days of George W. Bush’s presidency, the Economist delivered a damning assessment: “Abroad, George Bush has presided over the most catastrophic collapse in America’s reputation since the second world war.” In the view of the magazine’s editors, “a president who believed that America’s global supremacy was guaranteed by America’s unrivalled military power ended up demonstrating the limits of both.”

Without question, the United States paid a large price for Bush’s policies outside the United States. There were two unresolved wars, thousands of American dead, and the lingering castigations of assorted parties around the globe.

Of course all policy decisions are trade-offs, and Bush’s demonstrated not only the limits of American power but also its possibilities. In return for our sacrifices we saw al-Qaeda decimated and the American homeland secured against attack. By the time the 43rd president left office, an American-led coalition had established a flawed but democratic ally in the heart of the Muslim world. Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, moreover, had given up his weapons of mass destruction, a development whose full benefit would be appreciated a decade later when Qaddafi’s regime fell and his conventional arms were dispersed to jihadists in North Africa.

By the end of Bush’s presidency, some saw the United States as fearless, others saw us as stumbling, and still others as dangerously belligerent. But for all the outrage about unilateralism and cowboy diplomacy, American relations in the larger Middle East functioned within long-standing diplomatic boundaries. Bush promoted freedom in the region but never jeopardized pragmatic relations with the most important autocracies and monarchies, for better or worse. Some European capitals were upset with Washington, but this caused no long-term rift in transatlantic relations.

The most tangible change brought on by Bush’s foreign policy was its domestic impact. By 2008, Americans were sick of war and tired of the Middle East
altogether. Thus, one of Barack Obama’s biggest selling points was his promise to end the war in Iraq, extricate the country from the region, and pursue a more contrite foreign policy. Once elected, President Obama set out to honor his campaign pledge. The question of his ideological disposition can be debated endlessly, but whatever its precise contours, it translated into policies that largely reversed Bush positions in the Middle East. Where Bush was particularly supportive of our closest regional ally, Obama pressured Israel for concessions. Where Bush reached out to the Iranian people in solidarity against the regime that was our chief antagonist, Obama rebuffed ordinary Iranians and offered an “open hand” to the regime itself.

Between the two poles of Israel and Iran, Obama made clear to other Middle East leaders that his main concern was staying out of their affairs. As he told the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news station soon after taking office: “Too often the United States starts by dictating.” Unlike Bush, Obama implied, he would stand back and “listen.” And he has made good on his word to shrink American influence and undo the disruptive excesses of the Bush years.


What have we gotten in return for our more humble posture in the Middle East? The answer, as a case-by-case examination of the most important examples reveals, is this: a new age of great peril. Under Barack Obama’s leadership, in almost every square inch of the Middle East, the strategic position of the United States has decayed. And the region itself is far worse off than it was when he took office.

II.  The  Egypt  Reversals

Barack Obama chose Egypt as the site of his opening gesture to the Muslim world. The address he delivered on June 4, 2009, at Cairo University is known as the Cairo speech, but its actual title, “A New Beginning,” offers a better sense of his ambition. The president filled the hour-long speech with blandishments aimed at easing tensions between the United States and the world’s Muslims. Among his noteworthy comments was his stated approval of observant women who choose to cover their heads—a signal to those he considered moderate Islamists that the United States would treat them as political equals. Although the address was broad in scope, Obama’s words about democracy would prove to be directly relevant to Egypt itself. He expressed a commitment “to governments that reflect the will of the people” and vowed that the United States “will welcome all elected, peaceful governments—provided they govern with respect for all their people…because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others.”

Less than two years later, a quarter-million Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to end the 30-year reign of autocratic president Hosni Mubarak. Despite Obama’s earlier focus on “the will of the people,” the White House was initially supportive of Mubarak. Vice President Joseph Biden denied that Mubarak was a dictator and recommended he not step down. Similarly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described him as a close family friend. Days later, Obama praised Mubarak as a valued American ally who should begin the process of democratic reform rather than leave office. But as protests grew, it became clear that there was no sense in fighting Egyptian popular will. Within days of his initial vote of confidence in Mubarak, Obama declared that it was time for the Egyptian leader to go and that “an orderly transition must begin now.” By this time, however, protestors in Cairo were carrying signs that read, “Shame on you, Obama.” If there had been a window of opportunity for the administration to back up the freedom rhetoric of the Cairo speech, it had passed. The White House zigzag alienated Egyptians who were trying to steer their country’s politics in the wake of Mubarak’s departure.

The administration had good reason to support Mubarak. He was a secular leader who honored his peace treaties with Israel, supported the United States in opposing Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon, and provided what stability the region had enjoyed. But the United States misread the state of affairs inside Egypt and looked flummoxed responding to real-time events. Diplomatic cables made public by the group WikiLeaks reveal that the Obama administration had earlier assessed Mubarak as a “tried and true realist” whose record of survival boded well for his staying in power. On the matter of human rights, the State Department had ceased the Bush-era practice of calling out Mubarak for his abuses, and the administration decreased funding for civil-society programs in Egypt. In other words, Obama was cozying up to the dictator just as the legitimacy of his three-decade reign was falling apart.

Obama’s habit of misreading Egypt was only getting started. When the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi was elected president, the United States wasted no time in pronouncing him a legitimate democrat. Morsi, for his part, turned at once to theocratic authoritarianism. He bypassed the judiciary, wrote up an oppressive Islamist constitution, and prayed publicly for the destruction of the Jews. If anyone fit Obama’s Cairo-speech description of the elected anti-democrat, it was the fanatical Egyptian president. This was not lost on Egyptians, who, within a year, were once again out on the streets calling for the ouster of an incompetent oppressor. And once again, the oppressor was supported by the Obama administration. Behind the scenes, Secretary of State John Kerry was trying to convince Morsi to call for elections, while other administration officials attempted to prevent the Egyptian military from launching a coup.

Neither side listened.

The United States managed to make an enemy of every party in the course of two Egyptian revolutions. What’s worse, Obama failed to support and exploit an Egyptian public ferociously determined to rid itself of Brotherhood rule.

In October 2013, when the military took over the country, it initiated a harsh crackdown on the Brotherhood. This time, most Egyptians seemed to support their government’s extreme measures—yet this time the Obama administration decided to punish the repressive government by withholding a significant portion of America’s $1.3 billion in annual aid. Perhaps Obama hoped this shift in policy would finally give him some leverage over Cairo.

But if so, it’s hard to explain why the administration then decided to reestablish the flow of aid in January. After all this, Egypt has signaled a further drift out of the American orbit and toward Russia, with whom it is negotiating a $2 billion arms deal. In modern Egypt, rulers come and go. Only American incoherence endures.

III.  Leading  from  Behind  in  Libya

The great Arab upheaval hit Libya on February 15, 2011, when protestors took to the streets of Benghazi. Muammar Qaddafi, a bona fide madman, offered no palliative speeches about reform. He described the protestors as “cockroaches” who were “serving the devil” and vowed to “cleanse Libya house by house.” Within the first few days, Qaddafi’s forces killed hundreds of Libyans, which provoked protestors to take up arms. A full-scale civil war was soon under way as rebels fought Qaddafi for control of city after city. Libya’s tattered army gained the upper hand, and by the first week of March, the poorly armed rebels were asking the West to help prevent a grand-scale massacre.

After scolding the United States for its foreign adventures during the Bush years, France (with Great Britain in tow) now took the lead in formally recognizing the Libyan opposition and laying out a case for intervention. France got a significant percentage of its oil from Libya and has deep, historic ties to its former colonies in Northern Africa. Also, the proximity of the two countries meant that a flood of war refugees could become a French problem. But there seemed to be virtually no compelling American interests in Qaddafi’s country. And for Obama, whose fundamental foreign-policy concern was keeping America’s nose out of the Muslim world, intervention was especially unappealing.

And yet the United States doesn’t have the luxury of looking at the globe through the narrow lens of national interests alone. Our power and credibility derive from our singular willingness and capacity to protect a relatively peaceful world order. When the specter of mass atrocities arises, America has to determine whether it can do anything about it. In the 1990s, we twice led the effort to halt large-scale killing in the Balkans, although our national interests there were nil. The atrocity we didn’t stop—the Rwandan slaughter—continues to haunt our national conscience. With uprisings suddenly rampant in dictatorships around the Arab world, the refusal to prevent one bloodbath could give a green light to other embattled dictators. For these reasons, leaders in Europe and some members of Obama’s administration expected us to intervene.

At a G8 foreign ministers’ meeting in Paris, Hillary Clinton, who personally favored intervention, responded to European calls for action (now supported by the Arab League as well) with noncommittal language meant to stall any effort. European leaders were baffled by the uncharacteristic American indifference and incoherence. “Frankly we are just completely puzzled,” said one diplomat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Clinton to urge the United States to take the case for action to the United Nations. He, too, was stonewalled.

Obama, who had lambasted Bush for disregarding the wishes of allies, had created his own “go it alone” crisis.

Eventually, the cry for action both in and out of the administration became so great as to shame Obama into following the Europeans’ lead. The United Nations Security Council authorized military force on March 17, and the first bombs were dropped on regime-related targets two days later. Reluctant and regretful, Obama repeatedly professed that the United States was playing only a peripheral support role. In truth, the American role was large and the five-month campaign that ousted Qaddafi wouldn’t have been as successful without our unparalleled military might.

When the dust settled, administration supporters began to tout the Libya episode as a “new model” for American intervention. Unlike the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, it had been low-risk and required no boots on the ground. The approval of the Arab League lent it regional legitimacy, and the approval of the French somehow translated into global legitimacy (even though the Germans, Russians, Chinese, and others disapproved).

But in the hubristic aftermath, things unraveled. As there was no sufficient presence on the ground to look after the dictator’s abandoned arsenal, a terrorist weapons bazaar sprouted up that not only armed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Hamas in Gaza, but also changed the course of a rebel war in Mali (ironically prompting French intervention there as well). A UN report documented internationally smuggled Libyan weapons, including “rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns with antiaircraft visors, automatic rifles, ammunition, grenades, explosives (Semtex), and light antiaircraft artillery (light-caliber bi-tubes) mounted on vehicles.”

“Leading from behind,” as one administration official notoriously characterized the Obama approach in Libya, didn’t turn out to be so low-risk. Insufficient post-Qaddafi planning had made sitting ducks of the four American officials at a diplomatic mission in Benghazi who came under terrorist assault on September 11, 2012. All four were killed. The details surrounding the attack ignited an enormous controversy that still rages on.

Unsurprisingly, Libya remains a land of chaos and tribalism. In no way is that Barack Obama’s fault. But a genuine commitment to action instead of a grudging and pusillanimous cave-in to other powers would have gone some way toward making things safer after Qaddafi was gone. Neither in nor out, neither leading nor following, in Libya America sounded an uncertain note to allies and offered a new model of superpower ambivalence.

IV.  The  Iran  Trap

Having pledged on the campaign trail to talk to Tehran without preconditions, Barack Obama telegraphed his position on Iran far in advance. He wanted solicitous, gesture-heavy diplomacy aimed at erasing the ill will between the United States and the Islamic Republic. Obama believed that mutual misconceptions had piled up and had made constructive engagement on the Iranian nuclear question unnecessarily difficult. Yes, the mullahs are deeply religious, so the thinking went, but they are not suicidal. Persians are a proud people with a great history and want respect from the international community. Treat Iran like a reasonable country acting on its own set of logical interests, and you will break out of the unproductive cycle of fantastic demonization.

If only any of it were true. The Islamic Republic was founded in 1979 on a theocratic and apocalyptic strain of Shia Islam. The regime is suicidal. “For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn,” said its founding visionary, Ayatollah Khomeini. “I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.” It is also exterminationist, having adopted as its sustaining myth the divinely ordained destruction of both Israel and the United States. In pursuit of its aims, Iran has been building a nuclear-weapons program complete with uranium mines, enrichment plants, hidden facilities, advanced centrifuges, and research-and-development sites devoted to perfecting a delivery system. The prospect of Iran’s using such a weapon on Israel is unthinkable only to those who are wholly unfamiliar with the Islamic Republic or the abominations of modern history. And the current Sunni-Shia tensions mean that a nuclear-armed Iran is certain to spark an atomic arms race in the region. Since 1979, successive American administrations have made extensive diplomatic overtures in hopes of negotiating away the Iranian threat, and they have all failed. Obama objected to an understanding of Iran that had been hard-earned, from experience—not fashioned to fit a prejudice.

Obama came into office extending an “open hand” to Tehran, and offered gesture after gesture to establish good faith. In his first video-recorded Nowruz (Persian New Year) message of March 2009, he appealed directly to Iranian leaders for mutual cooperation. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei responded with public insults. In his Cairo speech, Obama became the first serving American president to admit to American involvement in the 1953 ouster of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. This seemed a direct response to Ahmadinejad’s public demand, made months earlier, that Obama apologize for America’s role in the coup.

As he would do with Egypt, the president picked the wrong moment to ingratiate himself with the leadership of Iran. Following the June 12, 2009, reelection of Ahmadinejad, Iranians flooded the streets to protest what they saw as a rigged vote. The Green Movement, an unmistakable precursor to the Arab Spring, became the dominant global spectacle of the summer. The sea of green-clad Iranian protestors enraged by the Khomeinists captured the world’s attention. And so the world was watching when the brutal Khomeinist crackdown began a week into the demonstrations. Police and intelligence officers tortured, raped, and killed innocents. The gruesome murder of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan went viral and became an emblem of the regime’s inhumanity.

Although Iranians in enormous numbers rose up against a government that was our single most devoted enemy, Obama would not stand squarely with them. He stuck to tepid remarks about dignity and violence and proclaimed that his pursuit of constructive diplomacy with the regime was undeterred. His disregard for popular will in Iran was not lost on the Iranian public, who chanted, “Obama, are you with us or with the regime?”

He had made his choice.

The administration spent Obama’s first term using third parties and back channels to approach Iran with various schemes that would give it access to enriched uranium if its purely civilian use could be verified. These sagas followed a familiar pattern: newspaper headlines about hopeful officials and fresh starts, negotiations with little detail offered to the public, a new round of stories about the very brink of a breakthrough, and then word of Iran’s refusal to cooperate. Throughout the course of these failed attempts, the White House assured Americans and Israelis that “all options are on the table” for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. But little else indicated that this was so. The United States and Israel collaborated on the 2010 Stuxnet cyberattack that temporarily set back Iran’s nuclear program, but the Obama administration quickly leaked the details for political benefit, thus putting Israel at greater risk. In addition, Obama repeatedly insisted that Israel not launch a military strike against Iranian nuclear sites.

While the administration pursued its “open-hand” policy, the Iranian regime stepped up its provocations. The threats against the Jewish state and the United States were constant. In 2011, American officials revealed a foiled Iranian plot to kill a Saudi Arabian ambassador with a bomb in a Washington restaurant. Even that planned, state-sponsored terrorist attack did nothing to knock the administration off its course.

But all first-term negotiation efforts were mere prologue to the diplomatic push that began in June 2013, when Iranians elected a new president, Hassan Rouhani. Obama believed Rouhani to be a moderate and thus more receptive to American outreach than his predecessor. The administration clandestinely eased the bite of American sanctions by citing fewer violators than usual. The White House then opposed bipartisan legislation pushing for new sanctions. In September, days after Rouhani rejected a direct meeting with Obama in New York, the two spoke by telephone, constituting the highest-level contact between the countries since the shuttering of the American Embassy after the Iranian Revolution 34 years earlier. On November 22, the lopsided courtship came to its culmination. “Iran, world powers reach historic nuclear deal,” read theWashington Post headline atop the story about an agreement reached in Geneva that would supposedly freeze “key parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for temporary relief on some economic sanctions.”

The events leading up to and including the Geneva deal were certainly historic. They also constitute the single most dangerous shift in American foreign policy since the height of the Cold War.

For starters, Rouhani is not a moderate. He is a faux-moderate, hand-picked by Khamenei—the country’s actual ruler—to get exactly the kind of sanctions relief that Obama provided. During the Revolution, Rouhani was a close confidant of Ayatollah Khomeini. In 1999, he was behind a crackdown intended, in his words, to “crush mercilessly and monumentally” a student uprising. In 2004, he bragged of his Machiavellian moderation to the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council. “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the [uranium-conversion] facility in Isfahan,” he said. “In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.” The man’s sole purpose is to charm the West while Iran gets the bomb.

As it happens, the deal he has facilitated will probably achieve that aim. From disagreements on missile capabilities to the definition of “freeze” to inspections and the right to enrich uranium, the terms of the “framework” for a deal seem more like a season of geopolitical improvisational theater, with an ever shifting storyline made up on the fly. The framework is supposed to be concluded on July 20, at which point a final agreement may be negotiated. Meanwhile, sanctions have been lifted and centrifuges continue to spin. The administration has successfully fought congressional efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran aimed at getting it to honor its side of the deal. But the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) estimates that even if Iran lives up to our current conditions, its ability to “break out” with a completed nuclear weapon would be slowed by only two to three weeks. Little wonder that Rouhani bragged that the deal “means the surrender of the big powers before the great Iranian nation.” To make matters worse, the Obama administration laid the economic and diplomatic groundwork for the deal away from the eyes of the American public and behind Israel’s back. The Obama administration betrayed its closest Middle East allies to meet its most fanatical enemy all the way on a deal that might very well give the latter the means of mass destruction.

V.  The  Syrian  Disaster

Syria is best understood as part of the Iranian threat. The Alawite dictator Bashar al-Assad is Iran’s closest ally and only link to the Mediterranean Sea, making his regime vital to the mullahs’ bid for Middle East dominance. When the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, Tehran jumped to Assad’s aid in waging war on the country’s mostly Sunni population. Hezbollah, a terrorist statelet loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei, was dispatched to fight alongside Assad’s men, and Assad was grateful for the help.

Here again, Barack Obama suffered from an unfortunate sense of timing. He began his presidency hoping to engage Syria and peel it away from Iran (a perpetually popular realist notion), as a means of putting pressure on the Islamic Republic to negotiate. Before Assad’s country erupted, the administration undertook high-level diplomatic discussions with Damascus, relaxed export licensing for Syria, tried to smooth its path to the World Trade Organization, established warmer ties with the Syrian foreign minister, and nominated Robert Ford to be the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since 2005, when the Syrian government was implicated in the killing of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Obama’s plan was undone by the events of March 2011, because Syria and Iran now needed each other more than ever. For this reason alone, the administration would have been wise to consider intervening on behalf of the Syrian rebels. A toppled Assad would have dealt a massive blow to Iran. What’s more, in the early days of the civil war, the rebels weren’t dominated by Sunni terrorist organizations.

But there were also good reasons to stay out of the Syrian conflict. For one, U.S. intelligence on the rebellion was shoddy. Those opposing Assad comprised a confusion of organizations, some radical, some not, many with ties outside the country. Even early on, helping to topple Assad would have probably boosted the standing of some extremists. Additionally, no proponents of intervention were calling for a significant post-Assad American presence. This meant Washington would have scant ability to shape events in a new Syria. With all those caveats in play, however, it’s hard to think of a situation in which ridding Iran of its most important friend wouldn’t have been a net gain. And if Obama’s strategic thinking about Iran were different, he might have seen in Assad’s troubles an important opportunity.

Not only did the American president eschew support for the rebels; he didn’t publicly call on Assad to step down until five months after the initial uprising. During that time the White House had instituted some sanctions on Syria. But as Assad was fighting for his life, it was unlikely that he would hold back for the sake of a blip in oil revenue. What nonlethal aid Washington had promised to the rebels was slow and spotty in coming.

The president made his first allusion to using force in Syria at a press conference in August 2012. “A red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized,” he said. “That would change my calculus.” Obama used this tough line as his reelection contest with Mitt Romney was heating up. He did not want to appear weak and give his rival room to run at him as a weak-kneed Democrat. Obama won, of course, but he had set the stage for the most bizarre and damaging geopolitical blunder of his presidency.

Assad crossed the American red line on August 21, 2013, with a chemical attack that killed 1,400 of his own people. A week later, Secretary of State John Kerry gave a bold speech that pointed toward an American military response. The president then declared on television that he would hit Syria. And then, in the same speech, he punted to an out-of-session Congress, demanding he first be given authorization to act—even though he also said he was within his rights and powers as president to do so without Congressional approval.

Before members of Congress could vote, before Obama would be forced either to act without them or act with them, he was suddenly rescued altogether by an ad-libbed Russian-American deal to put Moscow—a Syrian ally—in charge of removing Assad’s chemical weapons.

The Russia deal is a great boon to the governments in Damascus, Tehran, and Moscow. It has effectively kept Assad in power as an American partner in the weapons-removal process. Iran has kept its key ally, and Russia’s profile has been elevated once more on the world stage. As for the rebels, they have been predictably overtaken by Sunni jihadist groups during the three long years of civil war. The non-radicals among them, like the liberals of Iran’s Green Movement and of the Tahrir Square protests, have no illusions about the American president’s lack of commitment to their cause. To the rest of the world, the American administration seems weak, wavering, and in over its head.

Meanwhile, the Russian deal is failing on its own terms. Deadlines for removing Assad’s weapons have come and gone and left Assad holding significant amounts—by some accounts, nearly 96 percent—of the proscribed items. Russian-American tensions over Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will probably add further delays.

The United States also shepherded two rounds of UN talks in Geneva aimed at bringing together the Assad regime and the rebels to form a transitional government. The talks failed on the most fundamental level. Syrian rebels are fractured among themselves and completely uninterested in sharing a transitional government with Assad. And the Assad regime is uninterested in talks with a party whose primary goal is the end of Assad’s rule.

Bashar al-Assad, perpetrator of a chemical-weapons attack, has gone unpunished. Three American antagonists have gained ground. And the Syrian civil war, with its death toll at 150,000, rages on. In March, the New York Times reported that al-Qaeda members are now setting up training operations inside Syria and that intelligence officials have reason to believe they are planning attacks on Europe and the United States.

VI.  The  Turkish  Model  Collapses

President Obama has praised Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan more effusively than any other leader on the world stage. “I think it’s fair to say that over the last several years, the relationship between Turkey and the United States has continued to grow across every dimension,” said Obama in 2012. “And I find Prime Minister Erdogan to be an outstanding partner and an outstanding friend on a wide range of issues.”

Chief among these issues was Turkey’s supposed standing as a powerful model for intertwining Islam, democracy, and economic growth. When he became prime minister in 2003, Erdogan seemed to strike a much-needed balance. His avowedly Muslim Justice and Development Party (AKP) attracted Islamists without taking a punitive line on non-radicals. As prime minister, he got off to a fine start. Turkey greatly improved relations with its Arab neighbors, achieved significant economic growth, and enjoyed an overall boost in quality of life. For Obama, who believed that working with “moderate” Islamists was key to more agreeable relations in the Middle East, courting Erdogan was a given. It was clear from his comments that the president sought to make his relationship with Erdogan the centerpiece of his Middle East diplomacy.

In late 2009, Obama lunched with Erdogan at the White House and proclaimed that Turkey would be an “important player in trying to move” Iran away from a bomb using diplomacy. There were already signs, however, that Ankara was moving closer to Tehran. In 2009, Erdogan took private meetings in Tehran with his “good friend” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and with Ali Khamenei. Turkey also abstained from an International Atomic Energy Agency board vote condemning Iran’s nuclear activity, and Erdogan claimed that Iran wasn’t pursuing a nuclear weapon at all.

At the same time, Erdogan was stoking tension between Turkey and Israel. He stormed out of a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres over Gaza; Turkish leaders announced the country’s first joint military exercises with Syria; and Turkey asked Israel to bow out of hosting a scheduled NATO exercise.

On May 31, 2010, a flotilla of six boats left Turkey with the express goal of breaking Israel’s blockade on Gaza. After the boats ignored repeated warnings, members of the Israel Defense Forces boarded the biggest of them, the Mavi Marmara, and were attacked by armed jihadists ready for battle. The IDF opened fire, killing nine, and the incident came under international scrutiny. Erdogan flew into a permanent outrage, ratcheting up regional anti-Israel sentiment, and demanding that the Jewish state pay for having used lethal force.

But by this point, it had already become clear that the Turkish model was disintegrating. Erdogan’s government has taken a steady path toward increased state suppression, borrowing policies from both the Islamist and secular autocratic playbooks. He has restricted alcohol sales and the use of sidewalk cafés, cracked down on press freedoms and citizens’ access to the Internet, nullified the independence of the Turkish judiciary, and abused his power in myriad ways.

Nonetheless, Obama’s original approach to Turkey remained intact. This once again impressed upon a Muslim country that the United States, for all its lofty pronouncements on freedom, was unconcerned about the threatened liberties of a real-world population. In March 2013, Obama took credit for organizing a phone call between Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in which the latter expressed regret over the deaths of those shot on the Mavi Marmara. The White House hailed this as a great leap toward normalizing relations between Israel and Turkey, yet the very next day Erdogan announced that he would not drop his case against the IDF, as he had apparently promised before the phone call had been made.

Two months later, Erdogan’s continued strangulation of freedoms inspired Arab Spring-style protests across Turkey, putting the lie to the Turkish model once and for all.

Obama had tried to get Erdogan to play a conciliatory role in Syria, but the Turkish leader took up support for the hard-core Sunnis among the rebels. This was in keeping with his strong and stated preference for Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt. Yet Turkey’s destabilizing role in Syria is overshadowed by its underhanded support for the regime in Iran. Erdogan has been anything but the diplomatic go-between Obama envisioned. In 2012 and 2013, Turkey helped Iran evade international sanctions through a “gold for oil” scheme involving the Turkish state-owned Halkbank, which made approximately $13 billion of gold available to Tehran during that time. This has now become part of a larger corruption and abuse scandal. Obama, hoping to maintain his relationship with Erdogan and to stick to his diplomatic course with Iran, did nothing to punish the Turkish bank. And in 2012, Turkish officials, with Erdogan’s express approval, exposed the identities of Iranians who were meeting with Mossad agents inside Turkey.

Obama’s own Iran policies are partially to blame for Turkey’s now overt move toward Iran’s sphere. First, with Assad now ruling Syria for the foreseeable future, Erdogan figured that warm relations with Tehran might mitigate some of the effects of that conflict’s impact on neighboring Sunni-majority Turkey. Second, Obama’s general enabling of Iran’s rise makes it a power that no regional leader can afford to snub. Not least of all in deference to an unsure American power.

VII.  Losing  Iraq, Leaving  Afghanistan

In Barack Obama’s own words, he “was elected to end wars, not start them.” What’s most interesting about that formulation is that he offered it in 2013. Obama promised something different when he was first elected: He would end the war in Iraq “responsibly,” so that he might better fight the war in Afghanistan. “For six years, Afghanistan has been denied the resources that it demands because of the war in Iraq,” he said soon after taking office. “Now we must make a commitment that can accomplish our goals.”

Let’s take the two parts of this twin promise in turn. In 2009, Iraq was no longer the nucleus of regional chaos. It had, in fact, become a kind of shining light. The government of Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, had legitimacy and was a functioning, if young, parliamentary democracy. What’s more, Maliki proved willing to take on both Sunni jihadists and Iranian-backed Shiite radicals in order to deliver to the long-suffering Iraqis some modicum of peace. In June, the United States ceased to handle security for cities and the Iraqis were managing the job reasonably well. American casualties in Iraq for 2009 hit a wartime low.

This relative calm allowed the Obama administration to pursue its plan of disengagement. If the previous administration had been fixated on Iraq, Obama’s would catch up on all the other things the war had pushed out of view. The president announced his plan to withdraw most troops from the country by the end of 2010, and the rest by the end of 2011. And then never looked back.

With a disengaged Washington, the democratic project in Iraq began to drift. In March 2010, Maliki refused to honor election results that had handed a partial victory to Ayad Allawi’s moderate Iraqi National Movement. The ensuing crisis birthed an open-ended power struggle in the Iraqi Parliament. For a country so recently liberated from tyrannical rule, the instability proved to be too much. Bit by bit, Maliki’s government began to resemble a typical strongman regime, trading legitimacy for power.

At the time, the United States had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq, extensive security contracts with Baghdad, and leftover working relationships from the Bush years. Nudging the country back on its democratic course would have required exercising some of this formidable American leverage, not any further military commitment. But Obama was determined to keep America out of Iraqi affairs, no matter how serious the circumstances or how light the demands.

In 2011, American neglect was made formal and permanent when the Obama administration failed to negotiate a renewed status-of-forces agreement with Baghdad that would have left behind much-needed U.S. troops. The popular explanation is that Maliki would not countenance immunity for American troops accused of breaking Iraqi law. But the Bush administration had overcome the same sticking point in 2008 when the first status-of-forces agreement was negotiated. The truth is that the Obama administration made an 11th-hour, perfunctory effort at negotiations and Iraqi leaders calculated that risking popular disapproval to maintain such a weakened relationship was not worth the trouble.

In December 2011, the last U.S. troops left the country. Predictably, things spiraled out of control. Maliki never pivoted back toward less oppressive rule, and the uprising in neighboring Syria fueled anti-Maliki sentiment in Iraq. Maliki then sidled up closer to Iran and committed himself to more heavy-handed anti-Sunni measures.

This sent the country’s Sunnis into the embrace of al-Qaedaaffiliated organizations. By 2012, a terrorist group named the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) was killing more civilians with greater frequency than were its al-Qaeda brethren in Yemen and Somalia. Things steadily fell apart as the Syrian civil war spilled over that country’s eastern border. In 2013, more Iraqi civilians were killed than in any year since 2007. In early 2014, militants took the city of Fallujah and brought it under Sunni control. Al-Qaeda raised its flag over the city that American soldiers and their Iraqi partners had died fighting for 10 years earlier. America’s bloody 2004 fight for Fallujah had facilitated the emergence of a pacified, democratic Iraq. That real and precious American achievement is now history.

In a nod to the severity of the circumstances in Iraq, the United States recently agreed to supply the Maliki government with Hellfire missiles. Too little, too late? Certainly. And given the saga of looted Libyan weapons, probably risky to boot.

When the entire Muslim Middle East was set aflame, it would have been no small prize to have a real ally in the best-governed Muslim-majority state in the region. As American influence is at an all-time low, a grateful and malleable Baghdad might have been the friend Obama never found in Ankara. Perhaps more important, a flourishing, stable, and democratic Iraq would have stood as a true regional model for a post-autocracy Middle East. It’s hard to think of another American achievement at once so important and hard-won that was so unnecessarily thrown away.

Regarding the war in Afghanistan, Obama initially supported a surge of 33,000 troops in 2009. The results of this surge were mixed, owing mostly to the president’s simultaneous announcement of a troop drawdown 18 months later. America’s enemies knew exactly how long they’d have to wait us out. As former Defense Secretary Robert Gates details in his recent memoir, Duty, Obama “eventually lost faith in the troop increase he ordered in Afghanistan, his doubts fed by top White House civilian advisers opposed to the strategy, who continually brought him negative news reports suggesting it was failing.” And so the war in Afghanistan became another war that needed ending, not winning.

As he did with Iraq, the president expended little energy on Afghanistan. His relationship with the highly erratic Afghan President Hamid Karzai drifted into near nonexistence. Thus, the administration began to reach out to the Taliban in hopes of securing a peace agreement. This approach made matters worse. Since it was clear the United States wanted out of Afghanistan, the Taliban saw no reason to negotiate with a party in retreat. Karzai, for his part, recognized that in a post-American Afghanistan, his best hope for survival was not to get on the Taliban’s bad side by doing too much American bidding. Having communicated every move to all sides in advance, the United States saw its influence fizzle everywhere. American troops are scheduled to leave at the end of 2014 with few hopes of a bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government. This means no troops will stay behind, and the Taliban will probably stage a massive comeback largely unopposed. By the end of Obama’s second term, Afghanistan could come to recall its pre-9/11 days once again.

VIII.  The  Lebanon  Tinderbox

Lebanon, like Turkey and Iraq, has the great misfortune of bordering Syria. But unlike Turkey and Iraq, it was dominated by Syria for three decades, until 2005, and the two countries remain firmly intertwined. Roughly 1 million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon since the start of the Syrian uprising. Gebran Bassil, the Lebanese foreign minister, has described the refugee crisis rightly as “threatening the existence of Lebanon.” And because the country is a perpetually unstable patchwork of religious enclaves, it is particularly hospitable to spillover battles from the neighboring war. The Sunni majority naturally support the Syrian rebels, but the Shiite group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the Assad regime, is a strong force inside Lebanon. The divide between the two sides is sharp and deep, owing in part to likely Syrian involvement in the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Like so many other spots in the region, the tinderbox of Lebanon has now been made especially flammable by American neglect. When Obama reduced U.S. influence, he opened up a power vacuum that sucked in all comers. “I think we are witnessing a turning point, and it could be one of the worst in all our history,” Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury told the New York Times. “The West is not there, and we are in the hands of two regional powers, the Saudis and Iranians, each of which is fanatical in its own way. I don’t see how they can reach any entente, any rational solution.”

Indeed, without American involvement, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia has taken it upon itself to blunt Iranian influence in Lebanon. In January, it pledged $3 billion to the Lebanese army, hoping to counter Hezbollah’s power. But Assad’s all but certain victory in Syria means that Iran will continue to exert great cultural and political force in Lebanon.

Just as bad, the Obama administration’s early refusal to back non-radical Sunni Syrian rebels resulted in a greater al-Qaeda presence not only in Syria but in Lebanon as well. As Assad continues to drive the rebels from their strongholds, they have been fleeing to Lebanese border towns. Today, Lebanon’s two largest al-Qaeda-associated groups, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and Jabhat al-Nusra (which took its name from the Syrian group), constitute a growing and deadly threat. They are stepping up suicide attacks on Shiite targets, and Hezbollah is countering with roadblocks and attacks of its own. It wouldn’t take much for ongoing reprisals to lead to civil war. Jabhat al-Nusra has additionally declared the nonsectarian Lebanese army a legitimate target of attack, accusing it of aiding Hezbollah.

The pervasive sectarian strife is maiming Lebanese politics. For nearly a year, reverberations from the Syrian war had deadlocked the parliament’s two main factions. In late March, the parliament finally approved Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government. His mandate is over on May 25, and there’s little reason to doubt that the country’s leadership will once again be at an impasse. After Salam’s government was approved, Obama spoke with him by phone. The president urged upcoming elections to be held on time and “emphasized the importance of all parties observing Lebanon’s policy of disassociation.” This bit of phoned-in encouragement, divorced entirely from Lebanese reality, makes it clear that the policy of disassociation is an American one.

IX.  The  Jordan  Weather  Vane

Of all the Arab countries, Jordan has the strongest and longest record—stretching back four decades—of pro-American sentiment and policy; the Jordanians also have a uniquely close working relationship with the Israelis (“cousins,” as King Abdullah II refers to them). So the fate of Jordan is of supreme importance to the United States. The king is a reform-minded and modern monarch, and this largely accounts for the monarchy’s ability to survive (so far) the Arab Spring. Protestors in Jordan were not, by and large, subjected to the degree of police-state brutality that took place in neighboring countries. What’s more, Abdullah II quickly enacted electoral reforms that went some way in satisfying Jordanians.

But Jordan is hardly inoculated from the new Middle East upheaval. An influx of some 600,000 Syrian refugees is just one of the Hashemite kingdom’s recent challenges, and it’s proving to be a formidable one. Most of the refugees are making their way to cities, where they are putting unmanageable strain on the country’s already ailing economy and infrastructure. That strain, in turn, is igniting broader unrest that could potentially spark, in the words of one Jordanian official, “a new Arab Spring.” King Abdullah II has recently asked for $4.1 billion in aid to ease the plight of the refugees and mitigate the impact on the country.

Naturally, there’s the challenge of Iran. During the presidency of the fanatical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the majority-Sunni Jordan recalled its ambassador from Tehran. But today, with the U.S.-led rehabilitation of the Khomeinist regime, there are indications that Jordan has found it prudent to draw closer to the Persians. In February, Haaretzreported that Jordan and Iran would be exchanging ambassadors once again.

And the Muslim Brotherhood is at work there, too. Abdullah II’s father, King Hussein, managed to subdue the Brotherhood and even gain their support for his rule. But the younger, more liberal king has denounced them to the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg as a “Masonic cult” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” confiding that “behind closed doors, the Muslim Brotherhood here wants to overthrow [the government].”

It must have come as quite a surprise, then, when the king heard from “some of his Western interlocutors,” as Goldberg put it, that “the only way you can have democracy is through the Muslim Brotherhood.” One can only speculate about the identities of these interlocutors, but if they were from Washington, the formulation would fit in with the Obama administration’s belief that the Brotherhood plays a vital role in forging a democratic Middle East. This also jibes with the larger disconnect between observers of the Middle East over here and our most dependable allies in the region. In 2011, Abdullah II told the Washington Post:

I think everybody is wary of dealing with the West…Looking at how quickly people turned their backs on [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, I would say that most people are going to try and go their own way. I think there is going to be less coordination with the West and therefore a chance of more misunderstandings.

In no way does this mean that the Obama administration was wrong to endorse finally Mubarak’s ouster. But Abdullah II’s complaint is further evidence of how the administration’s aimless handling of Egypt failed to earn influence anywhere or gain the respect of any interested party, including our close friends. And his prediction of less coordination and more misunderstanding is proving true. Jordanians, however, are not quite “going their own way.” They’re looking to the Saudis and other Sunni Gulf states for some of the monetary support they used to get from America. In America’s absence, regional influence can be fought for or bought outright. One way or another, the power vacuum will be filled.

As for Jordan’s Syria problem, Obama recently announced that he’d renew a five-year aid package to Jordan and guarantee $1 billion in loans to go toward handling the flood of refugees. These are perfectly fine decisions, but they are small-bore measures compared with the early actions the United States might have taken in trying to prevent the widening gyre of
Syrian chaos.

X.  See-Saw  in  the  Gulf

Saudi Arabia has a long history of funding and fomenting radical Sunni Wahhabism. It played an essential role in creating the jihadism that now threatens the United States and the entire world. But statecraft is about choosing among bad options and frustrating trade-offs, and the world’s largest oil producer is also a tremendously important American ally. For the better part of a century, Saudi Arabia and the United States have been locked into an energy-for-security pact that has proved to be remarkably solid.

The post-9/11 years, paradoxically, have created additional reasons for maintaining the American-Saudi connection. First, the kingdom has come grudgingly to realize that the fundamentalism it fueled now poses a threat to the existence of Saudi Arabia itself. Al-Qaeda attacked the United States foremost because of the American military’s presence in Saudi Arabia during and after the first Gulf War in 1991. The partnership between the two countries has been mutually beneficial, and enemies of the American-Saudi relationship are enemies of the Saudi Royals. Second, the United States and Saudi Arabia share a dangerous and determined enemy in Iran. Khomeinist Shiism is predicated not only on anti-Americanism, but also on an ancient animosity toward Sunni Islam. (Remember, the United States foiled an Iranian plot to kill a Saudi ambassador in Washington D.C.) An Iranian rise necessarily means a Saudi decline. And an Iranian nuclear bomb would be a horrifying reality for Riyadh.

Barack Obama has, in several related ways, jeopardized the Saudis’ standing in the Middle East. First, the United States has failed to back the region’s more moderate Sunnis against the more radical Sunnis. After Mubarak fell in Egypt, the Obama administration endorsed the democratic legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood, while Saudi Arabia (and the United Arab Emirates) put up billions of dollars in support of the secular Egyptian Army. As noted above, Jordan’s moderate Sunnis are now looking to Saudi Arabia for the support that the United States no longer gives. In Syria, the United States failed not only to support the non-radical Sunni rebels early on but also to carry out its threatened strike on Iranian ally Assad. After the American mishandling of Syria, Saudi Arabia saw little choice but to support whatever enemies of Assad they could find. Thus the Saudis, who are combating the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda elsewhere in the region, are now supporting al-Qaeda franchises such as the Nusra Front in Syria.

Of even greater concern is what the Saudis see as Obama’s diplomatic folly with Tehran. Along with many skeptics in Israel and the United States, Saudi Iran-watchers are convinced that the Obama diplomacy track is leading straight to an Iranian nuclear weapon. To demonstrate its seriousness on the matter, Riyadh has all but promised to get a nuclear bomb of its own in the event of Iranian nukes. Naturally, this concern over a rising nuclear Iran has brought the Saudis and the Israelis closer. Saudi Royal Prince Alwaleed bin Talal told Bloomberg News, “The threat is from Persia, not from Israel.” He added: “There’s no confidence in the Obama administration doing the right thing with Iran.” Both the Saudis and Israelis also feel burned by the Obama administration for keeping its diplomatic machinations with Iran largely secret. The Jewish state, in fact, first learned of Obama’s recent deal with Iran from an equally distressed Saudi Arabia. In October, Saudi Arabia took the unprecedented step of walking away from a seat on the UN Security Council in protest of the new global leadership void.

If Saudi Arabia is the big Gulf-Arab loser, then the winner is clearly Qatar. This smaller gas-exporting Sunni monarchy has brilliantly exploited the power vacuum the Saudis abhor. And it’s done so by backing radicals at every step of the way. In Doha, Qatar hosts the extremist Muslim Brotherhood preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi. And Qatari money is behind the Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Qaedalinked groups in Syria. Last year Qatar pledged $400 million in aid to Hamas in Gaza. Recently, the U.S. Treasury tracked big sums going from Qatari and Kuwaiti charities to extremists in Iraq as well. But Qatar isn’t merely throwing money at Islamists. It uses its global broadcasting company Al Jazeera to promote Brotherhood views and criticize its
Gulf rivals.

By deepening ties with ascendant radicals in other countries, Doha hopes to exercise leverage with foreign heads of state. So far the tactic has brought tremendous strain on relations in the Gulf. Obama was supposed to attend a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council this March, but Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain pulled their ambassadors from Qatar in protest over its courting and funding of radicals, and the summit fell apart. The United States is in a difficult position with Qatar because of important military and commercial ties. But the larger point is that the Obama administration’s withdrawal from the region left an enormous space open for energy-funded bad actors to advance their cause.

XI.  The  Tilt Against  Israel

Barack Obama came to office determined to take U.S.Israel relations in a new direction. Where his predecessor had seen Palestinian intransigence as the main obstacle to Middle East peace, Obama saw Israeli rigidity as the culprit. And while American administrations traditionally understood that Israel was most willing to take risks when it felt its relationship with the United States was secure, Obama’s administration would make historically close AmericanIsraeli ties partially contingent upon Israeli concessions to Palestinians. As he told a group of Jewish leaders at the White House, according to the New York Times, “For eight years [during the Bush administration], there was no light between the United States and Israel, and nothing got accomplished.” On a personal level, Obama considered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a true partner for peace and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu an atavistic nationalist who would soon be replaced by the more liberal Tzipi Livni.

As he said in his Cairo speech, Obama believed that peace between Israel and the Palestinians “would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa.” In other words, he saw an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal as the key to a more pacified Muslim world. So he quickly set about enacting his policy changes. In his first face-to-face talk with Netanyahu in May 2009, Obama told the prime minister that “settlements [on the West Bank] have to be stopped in order for us to move forward.” The theme of stopping settlements was repeated and echoed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who specified that this meant all such settlements, “not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.”

In November 2009, Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze in order to kick-start new U.S.led peace negotiations. But if the American approach had changed, the Palestinian one had not. For nine months, Abbas refused to talk. With one month to go, he sat through two meetings before once again walking away from
the process.

And thus the template for Obama-era Israel policy was set. The president would publicly pressure Netanyahu into taking some action (freezing settlements, apologizing to Turkey, releasing Palestinian prisoners), and the Palestinian leadership would brazenly fail to step up to negotiations. As the failures built up, the administration took a heavier line with Israel. In March 2010, Hillary Clinton berated Netanyahu by phone for 43 minutes over settlements. That same month Obama snubbed Netanyahu at the White House. And so a personal animosity would steadily become another unhelpful feature in the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem.

In Obama’s second term, with John Kerry as secretary of state, American disapproval morphed into something closer to American threat. Kerry organized a new round of peace talks (predicated on Israel’s release of dangerous Palestinian prisoners), and those talks stalled due to the Palestinians’ inability to meet the most preliminary demands. In Kerry’s frustration, he wondered aloud last November on Palestinian television, “Does Israel want a third intifada?” In February, he wondered aloud once again, this time in Germany: “There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things,” he said. “Are we all going to be better with all of that?” These were barely veiled threats that Israel would face boycotts and violence if it didn’t sign on to his “Framework Agreement” for peace.

But when talks resumed, it was Abbas who would not comply with three key details of the Framework: He refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, refused to give up the “right of return” for millions of Palestinians and generations of their descendents, and refused an “end of conflict” with Israel, which is, more or less, the essence of peace itself. In response, Kerry began to downplay the importance of Israel’s being recognized as a Jewish state in the hope that he could get one yes on the board.

The administration’s miscalculations on Israeli-Palestinian peace are multiple and have been self-reinforcing. First, Obama simply inverted the positions of the Palestinians and the Israelis. It is the Palestinian leadership that remains unable to agree to peace with Israel. After decades of making anti-Semitism a foundation of Palestinian culture, Palestinian leaders who would now dare make peace with the Jewish state would live in fear for their lives. Public-opinion polls demonstrated that Israel’s electorate, on the other hand, wants nothing so badly as it wants peace with its neighbors.

Second, while the public criticism of Israel brought about a great many Israeli concessions, it reinforced Palestinian intransigence. What Palestinian leader could take steps toward peace with Israel while Israel’s closest ally is calling the Jewish state stubborn and unreasonable? The disapproval from America also made Netanyahu stronger domestically, as Israelis began to understand just how strong he had to be under these unprecedented circumstances. Finally, as events from 2011 on have demonstrated, the Israel-Palestinian problem has played no role whatsoever in the chain reaction of instability and violence set off by the Arab Spring.

On the matter of stopping Iran’s nuclear quest, the administration has repeatedly reassured Israel that “we’re not going to have talks [with Iran] forever” and that “all options are on the table.” All along, Obama has seen the specter of an Israeli strike on Iranian targets as a potential spoiler of his diplomatic plan to disarm the mullahs. And, now, with the advent of direct negotiations between Washington and Tehran, an Israeli attack would be widely condemned as an act of war on the eve of diplomatic success.

In truth, such an attack has become more likely and more necessary owing to the lengthy and mistaken diplomacy of the Obama administration. In March, Israel Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told a crowd at Tel Aviv University, “We have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us [on Iran] but ourselves.” And so they must.

It would be the height of unfairness to blame the Obama administration outright for everything that’s happened in the Middle East in the past five years. The region’s bad actors and cultural disorders are often well beyond the reach of the United States, regardless of who’s in office. But limitations are one thing—ineptitude another. It’s simply hard to find a single instance of President Obama responding to recent regional events in a way that has paid off either for the United States or its allies. At the same time, America’s antagonists—chiefly Iran and its enablers—have been emboldened and are now ascendant.

If this is what the Obama administration has gotten in return for a more humble American posture, then it’s time to drop that posture. Dangers like rolling civil wars, a near-nuclear Iran, a re-Talibanized Afghanistan, and a resurgent al-Qaeda will not vanish on their own. This administration has three years to reduce the damage that’s been done. The challenge is enormous, but, despite all these setbacks, the United States remains the strongest power in world history. And, as we’ve seen, a lot can happen in a short amount of time.




US Intelligence view on Global Threats

February 2, 2014

Statement for the Record

  Worldwide Threat Assessment

of the  US Intelligence Community

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

  James Clapper Director of US National Intelligencce

James Clapper
Director of US National Intelligencce

  James R. Clapper Director of National Intelligence January 29, 2014



January 29, 2014


Chairman Feinstein, Vice Chairman Chambliss, Members of the Committee, thank you for the invitation to offer the United States Intelligence Community’s 2014 assessment of threats to US national security. My statement reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community’s extraordinary men and women, whom I am privileged and honored to lead. We in the Intelligence Community are committed every day to provide the nuanced, multidisciplinary intelligence that policymakers, warfighters, and domestic law enforcement personnel need to protect American lives and America’s interests anywhere in the world.


 Critical Trends Converging


Several critical governmental, commercial, and societal changes are converging that will threaten a safe and secure online environment. In the past several years, many aspects of life have migrated to the Internet and digital networks. These include essential government functions, industry and commerce, health care, social communication, and personal information. The foreign threats discussed below pose growing risks to these functions as the public continues to increase its use of and trust in digital infrastructures and technologies.

Russia and China continue to hold views substantially divergent from the United States on the meaning and intent of international cyber security. These divergences center mostly on the nature of state sovereignty in the global information environment states’ rights to control the dissemination of content online, which have long forestalled major agreements. Despite these challenges, the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts concluded in a June 2013 report that international law and the UN Charter apply to cyberspace. This conclusion represents a substantive step forward in developing a legal framework and norms for cyber security.

Threat Environment

Many instances of major cyber attacks manifested themselves at home and abroad in 2013 as illustrated by the following examples.

  • In March 2013, South Korea suffered a sizeable cyber attack against its commercial and media networks, damaging tens of thousands of computer workstations. The attack also disrupted online banking and automated teller machine services. Although likely unrelated to the 2012 network attack against Saudi Aramco, these attacks illustrate an alarming trend in mass data-deletion and system- damaging attacks.
  • In early 2013, the US financial sector faced wide-scale network denial-of-service attacks that became increasingly difficult and costly to mitigate.

In response to these and similar developments, many countries are creating cyber defense institutions within their national security establishments. We estimate that several of these will likely be responsible for offensive cyber operations as well.

Russia presents a range of challenges to US cyber policy and network security. Russia seeks changes to the international system for Internet governance that would compromise US interests and values. Its Ministry of Defense (MOD) is establishing its own cyber command, according to senior MOD officials, which will seek to perform many of the functions similar to those of the US Cyber Command. Russian intelligence services continue to target US and allied personnel with access to sensitive computer network information. In 2013, a Canadian naval officer confessed to betraying information from shared top secret-level computer networks to Russian agents for five years.

China’s cyber operations reflect its leadership’s priorities of economic growth, domestic political stability, and military preparedness. Chinese leaders continue to pursue dual tracks of facilitating Internet access for economic development and commerce and policing online behaviors deemed threatening to social order and regime survival. Internationally, China also seeks to revise the multi-stakeholder model Internet governance while continuing its expansive worldwide program of network exploitation and intellectual property theft.

Iran and North Korea are unpredictable actors in the international arena. Their development of cyber espionage or attack capabilities might be used in an attempt to either provoke or destabilize the United States or its partners.

Terrorist organizations have expressed interest in developing offensive cyber capabilities. They continue to use cyberspace for propaganda and influence operations, financial activities, and personnel recruitment.

Cyber criminal organizations are as ubiquitous as they are problematic on digital networks. Motivated by profit rather than ideology, cyber criminals play a major role in the international development, modification, and proliferation of malicious software and illicit networks designed to steal data and money. They will continue to pose substantial threats to the trust and integrity of global financial institutions and personal financial transactions.

Other Potential Cyber Issues

Critical infrastructure, particularly the Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems used in water management, oil and gas pipelines, electrical power distribution, and mass transit, provides an enticing target to malicious actors. Although newer architectures provide flexibility, functionality, and resilience, large segments of legacy architecture remain vulnerable to attack, which might cause significant economic or human impact.

Physical objects such as vehicles, industrial components, and home appliances, are increasingly being integrated into the information network and are becoming active participants in generating information. These “smart objects” will share information directly with Internet-enabled services, creating efficiencies in inventory supervision, service-life tracking, and maintenance management. This so-called “Internet of Things” will further transform the role of information technology in the global economy and create even further dependencies on it.  The complexity and nature of these systems means that security and safety assurance are not guaranteed and that threat actors can easily cause security and/or safety problems in these systems.

The US health care sector, in particular, is rapidly becoming networked in ways never before imagined. As health care services become increasingly reliant on the cross-networking of personal data devices, medical devices, and hospital networks, cyber vulnerabilities might play unanticipated roles in patient outcomes.

Virtual currencies—most notably Bitcoin—are fast becoming a medium for criminal financial transfers through online payment companies. In May 2013, Costa Rica-registered Liberty Reserve—

—processed $6 billion in suspect transactions and sought to evade enforcement action by moving funds into shell companies worldwide prior to being indicted by US authorities.

Emerging technologies, such as three-dimensional printing, have uncertain economic and social impacts and can revolutionize the manufacturing sector by drastically reducing the costs of research, development, and prototyping. Similarly, they might also revolutionize aspects of underground criminal activity.



Threats posed by foreign intelligence entities through 2014 will continue to evolve in terms of scope and complexity. The capabilities and activities through which foreign entities—both state and nonstate actors—seek to obtain US national security information are new, more diverse, and more technically sophisticated.

Insider Threat/Unauthorized Disclosures

In addition to threats by foreign intelligence entities, insider threats will also pose a persistent challenge. Trusted insiders with the intent to do harm can exploit their access to compromise vast amounts of sensitive and classified information as part of a personal ideology or at the direction of a foreign government. The unauthorized disclosure of this information to state adversaries, nonstate activists, or other entities will continue to pose a critical threat.

Priority Foreign Intelligence Threats

Attempts to penetrate the US national decisionmaking apparatus, defense industrial base, and US research establishments will persist. We assess that the leading state intelligence threats to US interests in 2014 will continue to be Russia and China, based on their capabilities, intent, and broad operational scope. Sophisticated foreign intelligence entities will continue to employ human and cyber means to collect national security information. They seek data on advanced weapons systems and proprietary information from US companies and research institutions that deal with energy, finance, the media, defense, and dual-use technology.



 Terrorist threats emanate from a diverse array of terrorist actors, ranging from formal groups to homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) and ad hoc, foreign-based actors. The threat environment continues to transition to a more diverse array of actors, reinforcing the positive developments of previous years. The threat complex, sophisticated, and large-scale attacks from core al-Qa’ida against the US Homeland is significantly degraded. Instability in the Middle East and North Africa has accelerated the decentralization of the movement, which is increasingly influenced by local and regional issues.  However, diffusion has led to the emergence of new power centers and an increase in threats by networks of like-minded extremists with allegiances to multiple groups.  The potential of global events to instantaneously spark grievances around the world hinders advance warning, disruption, and attribution of plots.

Homeland Plotting

Homegrown Violent Extremists. US-based extremists will likely continue to pose the most frequent threat to the US Homeland. As the tragic attack in Boston in April 2013 indicates, insular HVEs who act alone or in small groups and mask the extent of their ideological radicalization can represent challenging and lethal threats.

Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula. Operating from its safe haven in Yemen, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has attempted several times to attack the US Homeland. We judge that the group poses a significant threat and remains intent on targeting the United States and US interests overseas.

Core al-Qa’ida. Sustained counterterrorism (CT) pressure, key organizational setbacks, and the emergence of other power centers of the global violent extremist movement have put core al-Qa’ida on a downward trajectory since 2008. They have degraded the group’s ability to carry out a catastrophic attack against the US Homeland and eroded its position as leader of the global violent extremist movement. It probably hopes for a resurgence following the drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan in 2014.

Terrorist Activities Overseas

Persistent Threats to US Interests Overseas. We face an enduring threat to US interests overseas. Most Sunni extremist groups will prioritize local and regional agendas, but US embassies, military facilities, and individuals will be at particular risk in parts of South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Syria’s Impact. Syria has become a significant location for independent or al-Qa’ida-aligned groups to recruit, train, and equip a growing number of extremists, some of whom might conduct external attacks. Hostilities between Sunni and Shia are also intensifying in Syria and spilling into neighboring countries, which is increasing the likelihood of a protracted conflict.

Iran and Hizballah are committed to defending the Asad regime and have provided support toward this end, including sending billions of dollars in military and economic aid, training pro-regime and Iraqi Shia militants, and deploying their own personnel into the country. Iran and Hizballah view the Asad regime as a key partner in the “axis of resistance” against Israel and are prepared to take major risks to preserve the regime as well as their critical transshipment routes.

Iran and Hizballah

Outside of the Syrian theater, Iran and Lebanese Hizballah continue to directly threaten the interests of US allies. Hizballah has increased its global terrorist activity in recent years to a level that we have not seen since the 1990s.

Counterterrorism Cooperation

As the terrorist threat is becoming more diffuse and harder to detect, cooperation with CT partners will take on even greater importance. The fluid environment in the Middle East and North Africa will likely further complicate already challenging circumstances as we partner with governments to stem the spread of terrorism.



Nation-state efforts to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery systems constitute a major threat to the security of the United States, deployed troops, and allies. We are focused on the threat and destabilizing effects of nuclear proliferation, proliferation of chemical and biological warfare (CBW)-related materials, and development of WMD delivery systems. The time when only a few states had access to the most dangerous technologies is past.  Biological and chemical materials and technologies, almost always dual use, move easily in the globalized economy, as do personnel with scientific expertise to design and use them. The latest discoveries in the life sciences also diffuse globally and rapidly.

Iran and North Korea Developing WMD-Applicable Capabilities

We continue to assess that Iran’s overarching strategic goals of enhancing its security, prestige, and regional influence have led it to pursue capabilities to meet its civilian goals and give it the ability to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so. At the same time, Iran’s perceived need for economic relief has led it to make concessions on its nuclear program through the 24 November 2013

Joint Plan of Action with the P5+1 countries and the European Union (EU). In this context, we judge that Iran is trying to balance conflicting objectives. It wants to improve its nuclear and missile capabilities while avoiding severe repercussions—such as a military strike or regime-threatening sanctions. We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.

Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas—including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors, and ballistic missiles—from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons. These technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.

Of particular note, Iran has made progress during the past year by installing additional centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant, developing advanced centrifuge designs, and stockpiling more low-enriched uranium hexafluoride (LEUF6). These improvements have better positioned Iran to produce weapons- grade uranium (WGU) using its declared facilities and uranium stockpiles, if it chooses to do so. Despite this progress, we assess that Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded material and produce enough WGU for a weapon before such activity would be discovered. Iran has also continued to work toward starting up the IR-40 Heavy Water Research Reactor near Arak.

We judge that Iran would choose a ballistic missile as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if Iran ever builds these weapons. Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD, and Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East.  Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles—along with its desire to deter the United States and its allies—provides Tehran with the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

We assess that if Iran fully implements the Joint Plan, it will temporarily halt the expansion of its enrichment program, eliminate its production and stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium in a form suitable for further enrichment, and provide additional transparency into its existing and planned nuclear facilities. This transparency would provide earlier warning of a breakout using these facilities.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the United States and to the security environment in East Asia, a region with some of the world’s largest populations, militaries, and economies. North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria’s construction of a nuclear reactor, destroyed in 2007, illustrate the reach of its proliferation activities. Despite the reaffirmation of its commitment in the Second- Phase Actions for the Implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how, North Korea might again export nuclear technology.

In addition to conducting its third nuclear test on 12 February 2013, North Korea announced its intention to “adjust and alter” the uses of existing nuclear facilities, to include the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon, and restart its graphite moderated reactor that was shut down in 2007. We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding the size of its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the reactor that was previously used for plutonium production. North Korea has publicly displayed its KN08 road-mobile ICBM twice. We assess that North Korea has already taken initial steps towards fielding this system, although it remains untested. North Korea is committed to developing long-range missile technology that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States. Its efforts to produce and market ballistic missiles raise broader regional and global security concerns.

Because of deficiencies in their conventional military forces, North Korean leaders are focused on deterrence and defense. We have long assessed that, in Pyongyang’s view, its nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy. We do not know Pyongyang’s nuclear doctrine or employment concepts.

WMD Security in Syria


Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on 14 October 2013 and is in the preliminary phases of dismantling its offensive CW program. Previously, we had assessed that Syria had a highly active chemical warfare (CW) program and maintained a stockpile of sulfur mustard, sarin, VX, and a stockpile of munitions—including missiles, aerial bombs, and artillery rockets—that can be used to deliver CW agents. Until the CW materials are completely destroyed or removed from country, groups or individuals in Syria might gain access to CW-related materials. The United States and its allies are monitoring Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile through the inspection and destruction process of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

We judge that some elements of Syria’s biological warfare (BW) program might have advanced beyond the research and development stage and might be capable of limited agent production, based on the duration of its longstanding program. To the best of our knowledge, Syria has not successfully weaponized biological agents in an effective delivery system, but it possesses conventional weapon systems that could be modified for biological-agent delivery.



Threats to US space services will increase during 2014 and beyond as potential adversaries pursue disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities. Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and are developing capabilities to disrupt US use of space in a conflict. For example, Chinese military writings highlight the need to interfere with, damage, and destroy reconnaissance, navigation, and communication satellites. China has satellite jamming capabilities and is pursuing antisatellite systems. In 2007, China conducted a destructive antisatellite test against its own satellite. Russia’s 2010 military doctrine emphasizes space defense as a vital component of its national defense. Russian leaders openly maintain that the Russian armed forces have antisatellite weapons and conduct antisatellite research. Russia has satellite jammers and is also pursuing anti satellite systems.



Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) is an abiding threat to US economic and national security. Criminals can play a significant role in weakening stability and undermining the rule of law in some emerging democracies and areas of strategic importance to the United States.

Drug trafficking will remain a major TOC threat to the United States. Mexican drug cartels are responsible for high levels of violence and corruption in Mexico. Drugs contribute to instability in Central America, erode stability in West and North Africa, and remain a significant source of revenue for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

  • Synthetic drugs, notably new psychoactive substances (NPS), pose an emerging and rapidly growing global public health threat. NPS were first reported in the United States in 2008 and have emerged in

70 of 80 countries that report to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Although most global markets for drugs such as cocaine and heroin are stable or declining, the use and manufacture of synthetic drugs are rapidly rising.

The Department of State’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report notes that an estimated 27 million men, women, and children are trafficking victims. Virtually every country in the world is a source, transit point, and/or destination for individuals being trafficked.

Worldwide, money laundering totals more than a trillion dollars annually. Criminals’ reliance on the US dollar exposes the US financial system to these illicit financial flows.  Financial transfers and vehicles designed to obscure beneficial ownership, inadequate and uneven anti-money laundering enforcement and regulations, and new forms of digital financial services have the potential to undermine the international financial system.

Illicit trade in wildlife, timber, and marine resources constitutes an estimated $8-10 billion industry annually, endangers the environment, threatens rule of law and border security in fragile regions, and destabilizes communities that depend on wildlife for biodiversity and ecotourism.


Global economic growth rates entered a marked slowdown with the global financial crisis that began in 2008. From 2008 to 2013, the global growth rate averaged less than 3.0 percent, well below its 30-year average of 3.6 percent.  The lengthy global slowdown has meant lower job creation, income growth, and standards of living that many came to expect before 2008. Although worldwide economic growth will likely strengthen in 2014 to 3.7 percent, it will fall well short of its 2004-2007 peak when it averaged 5.1 percent.

Although emerging and developing economies will continue to grow faster than advanced economies, the gap between their respective growth rates will probably narrow to 3 percentage points in 2014, its lowest level since the cascade of emerging-market financial crises in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Combined with faster population growth in the emerging and developing economies, the pace at which per capita incomes in that group converges to those in developed countries is slowing considerably, potentially fueling resentment of Western leadership on global issues. Growth will probably be particularly slow among some of the emerging economies of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean.

Stronger economic growth in certain advanced economies might mean a general tightening of global monetary conditions in 2014. Although such growth will benefit the global economy broadly, higher interest rates might pose new challenges to countries that rely heavily on global capital markets to service existing debt. Destabilizing outflows of international capital from emerging markets to advanced ones are possible in response to rising US interest rates and sustained recoveries in the United States and Europe. Tighter monetary conditions might also increase the risk of deflation in economies with slow growth, high unemployment, and low aggregate demand. Numerous European countries, in particular, have seen annual inflation rates fall below 1.0 percent and even intermittent periods of deflation. Such deflation might worsen the fragile finances of indebted households, corporations, and governments.

Declines in many commodity prices will probably continue through 2014. Although the moderation in prices is welcome from the perspective of major commodity importers, such as China, India, and Japan, and from the humanitarian perspective related to food security, it can pose balance-of-payments problems for commodity exporters, such as Brazil, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, and Venezuela, especially those that depend on commodity export revenue to finance their governments. Forecasts in the past year project global trade volume to grow moderately in 2014 at roughly 5 percent; the World Trade Organization (WTO) notes that its growth projections are down from earlier in 2013, however.


Competition for and secure access to natural resources (e.g. food, water, and energy) are growing security threats. Rapidly increasing unconventional energy production and ample water and agricultural resources mitigate the impact of global scarcity on the United States. However, many countries important to the United States are vulnerable to natural-resource shocks that degrade economic development, frustrate attempts to democratize, raise the risk of regime-threatening instability, and aggravate regional tensions. Demographic trends, especially increasing global population and urbanization, will also aggravate the outlook for resources, putting intense pressure on food, water, and energy. Extreme weather will increasingly disrupt food and energy markets, exacerbating state weakness, forcing human migrations, and triggering riots, civil disobedience, and vandalism. Criminal or terrorist elements can exploit these weaknesses to conduct illicit activity, recruit, and train. Social disruptions are magnified in growing urban areas where information technology quickly transmits grievances to larger, often youthful and unemployed audiences. Relatively small events can generate significant effects across regions of  the world.


Increased global supplies of grain have pushed global food prices downward in recent months, easing the risk of a price spike in the coming year. However, natural food-supply disruptions, due to weather, disease, and government policies, will stress the global food system and exacerbate price volatility. Policy choices can include export bans, diversions of arable lands for other uses, and land leases to and acquisitions by foreigners. Lack of adequate food will be a destabilizing factor in countries important to US national security that do not have the financial or technical abilities to solve their internal food security problems. In other cases, important countries to US interests will experience food-related, social disruptions, but are capable of addressing them without political upheaval.

Although food-related, state-on-state conflict is unlikely in the next year, the risk of conflict between farmers and livestock owners—often in separate states—will increase as population growth, desertification, and crop expansion infringe on livestock grazing areas, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. Shrinking marine fisheries—for example, in the South China Sea—will continue to spark diplomatic disputes as fishermen are forced to travel farther from shore. Terrorists, militants, and international criminals can use local food insecurity to promote their own legitimacy and undermine government authority. Food and nutrition insecurity in weakly governed countries might also provide opportunities for insurgent groups to capitalize on poor conditions, exploit international food aid, and discredit governments for their inability to address basic needs.


Risks to freshwater supplies—due to shortages, poor quality, floods, and climate change—are growing. These forces will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, potentially undermining global food markets and hobbling economic growth. As a result of demographic and economic development pressures, North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia particularly will particularly face difficulty coping with water problems. Lack of adequate water is a destabilizing factor in developing countries that do not have the management mechanisms, financial resources, or technical ability to solve their internal water problems. Other states are further stressed by heavy dependence on river water controlled by upstream nations with unresolved water-sharing issues. Wealthier developing countries will probably face increasing water-related, social disruptions, although they are capable of addressing water problems without risk of state failure.

Historically, water tensions have led to more water-sharing agreements than to violent conflicts. However, where water-sharing agreements are ignored or when infrastructure development for electric power generation or agriculture is seen as a threat to water resources, states tend to exert leverage over their neighbors to preserve their water interests. This leverage has been applied in international forums and has included pressuring investors, nongovernmental organizations, and donor countries to support or halt water infrastructure projects. In addition, some local, nonstate terrorists or extremists will almost certainly target vulnerable water infrastructure in places to achieve their objectives and use water-related grievances as recruiting and fundraising tools.


Increasing US production of shale gas and tight oil in combination with ongoing energy efficiency gains will almost certainly provide the United States with a more secure energy future. Decreasing reliance on energy imports will reduce the economic impact on the United States of disruptions in global energy markets but will not insulate the United States from market forces. With a shrinking reliance on energy imports, an oil disruption will have a diminished impact on the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the current account deficit, and value of the dollar.  The greater availability and lower price of natural gas and natural gas liquids will sustain the country’s competitive edge in petrochemicals and energy-intensive production processes. However, some key energy-producing and consuming countries, which link US policy interests and energy imports, are concerned that greater US oil production will reduce US engagement in the Middle East and diminish US protection of critical oil supply routes.

Oil from deepwater deposits, tight oil, and oil sands will be the principal sources of new global oil supplies in 2014 and beyond. Oil extraction is trending toward production that is farther offshore in deeper waters, which might lead to increasing competition for desirable areas. Conventional oil production will continue to supply the majority of the world’s oil, although discoveries are slowing and prospects for new sources are diminishing. However, conventional oil reservoirs also have the potential to supply significant increases in oil with the improvement of extraction methods. The exploitation of unconventional oil resources in the Western Hemisphere has the potential to reduce US, European, and Asian reliance on imports that pass through vulnerable choke points, such as the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca, or originate from less stable regions in the Middle East and Africa.

Extreme Weather Events

Empirical evidence alone—without reference to climate models—suggests that a general warming trend is probably affecting weather and ecosystems, exacerbating the impact on humans. This warmer atmosphere, wetter in some areas, drier in others, is consistent with increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. In recent years, local food, water, energy, health, and economic security have been episodically degraded worldwide by severe weather conditions. These include more frequent or intense floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, cyclones, coastal high water, and heat waves. Rising temperatures, although greater in the Arctic, are not solely a high-latitude phenomenon. Scientific work in the past few years has shown that temperature anomalies during growing seasons and persistent droughts have hampered agricultural productivity and extended wildfire seasons. In addition, intense storms—including typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, and derechos—when exposed to growing human infrastructure, contribute to greater damage and threaten ever-increasing urban populations and economic development. This trend will likely continue to place stress on first responders, nongovernment organizations, and militaries that are often called to provide humanitarian assistance.

The Arctic

Harsh weather and relatively low economic stakes have enabled the countries bordering the Arctic to cooperate in pursuit of their interests in the region.  However, as polar ice recedes, economic and security concerns will increase competition over access to sea routes and natural resources. Some states see the Arctic as a strategic security issue that has the potential to give other countries an advantage in positioning in their military forces.


Health security threats arise unpredictably from at least five sources: the emergence and spread of new or reemerging microbes; the globalization of travel and the food supply; the rise of drug-resistant pathogens; the acceleration of biological science capabilities and the risk that these capabilities might cause inadvertent or intentional release of pathogens; and adversaries’ acquisition, development, and use of weaponized agents. Infectious diseases, whether naturally caused, intentionally produced, or accidentally released, are still among the foremost health security threats. A more crowded and interconnected world is increasing the opportunities for human, animal, or zoonotic diseases to emerge and spread globally. Antibiotic drug resistance is an increasing threat to global health security. Seventy percent of known bacteria have now acquired resistance to at least one antibiotic, threatening a return to the pre-antibiotic era.

In addition to the growing threat from resistant bacteria, previously unknown pathogens in humans are emerging and spreading primarily from animals. Human and livestock population growth results in increased human and animal intermingling and hastens crossover of diseases from one population to the other. No one can predict which pathogen will be the next to spread to humans or when or where this will occur. However, humans remain vulnerable, especially when a pathogen with the potential to cause a pandemic emerges. For example, we judge that the H7N9 influenza in China that emerged from birds in early 2013 is not yet easily transmissible from person to person. However, it bears watching for its extreme severity, high death rates, and potential to mutate and become more transmissible. Between late March 2013, when the virus was first recognized, and the following May, when it was brought under control, H7N9 influenza killed over 20 percent of those infected and caused severe disease with long- term hospitalization in nearly all other cases. If H7N9 influenza or any other novel respiratory pathogen that kills or incapacitates more than 1 percent of its victims were to become easily transmissible, the outcome would be among the most disruptive events possible. Uncontrolled, such an outbreak would result in a global pandemic with suffering and death spreading globally in fewer than six months and would persist for approximately two years.


The overall risk of mass atrocities worldwide will probably increase in 2014 and beyond. Trends driving this increase include more social mobilization, violent conflict, including communal violence, and other forms of instability that spill over borders and exacerbate ethnic and religious tensions; diminished or stagnant quality of governance; and widespread impunity for past abuses. Many countries at risk of mass atrocities will likely be open to influence to prevent or mitigate them.  This is because they are dependent on Western assistance or multilateral missions in their countries, have the political will to prevent mass atrocities, or would be responsive to international scrutiny. Overall international will and capability to prevent or mitigate mass atrocities will likely diminish in 2014 and beyond, although support for human rights norms to prevent atrocities will almost certainly deepen among some non-government organizations. Much of the world will almost certainly turn to the United States for leadership to prevent and respond to mass atrocities.



Arab Spring


In the three years since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, a few states have made halting progress in their transitions away from authoritarian rule. Nevertheless, political uncertainty and violence will probably increase across the region in 2014 as the toppling of leaders and weakening of regimes have unleashed ethnic and sectarian rivalries that are propagating destabilizing violence.

  • In Syria, the ongoing civil war will probably heighten regional and sectarian tensions. Syria has become a proxy battle between Iran and Lebanese Hizballah on one side and Sunni Arab states on the other. Fear of spillover has exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq and Lebanon and will add to the unrest. The influx of over two million Syrian refugees into neighboring countries will continue to impose hardships, particularly on Jordan and Lebanon.
  • The turmoil associated with government transitions has prompted political backsliding in some cases, most notably Egypt, where the military ousted the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood- dominated government in summer 2013.
  • Public support for the governments that came to power across the region in 2011 is dissipating, a dynamic which will likely invite renewed unrest, increase the appeal of authoritarian or extremist solutions among Arab publics, and reduce the likelihood of the implementation of needed but unpopular economic reforms.

The following three regional trends will pose a challenge to US interests in the Middle East in 2014 and beyond.

  • Ungoverned Spaces. The ongoing struggles for new governments in places like Tripoli and Cairo to extend their writ countrywide and worsening internal conflict in Syria have created opportunities for extremist groups to find ungoverned spaces from where they can try to destabilize new governments and prepare attacks against Western interests.
  • Economic Hardships. Many states in the region are facing economic distress that will not likely be alleviated by current levels of Western aid. The failure of governments in the region to meet heightened popular expectations for economic improvement might prove destabilizing in vulnerable regimes.   Gulf States provide assistance only incrementally and are wary of new governments’ foreign policies as well as their ability to effectively use outside funds.
  • Negative Views of the United States. Some of the transitioning governments are more skeptical than before the Arab Spring about cooperating with the United States. They are concerned about protecting sovereignty and resisting foreign interference, which has the potential to hamper US counterterrorism and other efforts to engage transitioning governments. Additionally, the unhappiness of some Arab Gulf States with US policies on Iran, Syria, and Egypt might lead these countries to reduce cooperation with the United States on regional issues and act unilaterally in ways that run counter to US interests.
The interim Egyptian Government has for the most part completed transition tasks on time, but Cairo’s crackdown on dissent, including designating the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as a terrorist group, has dampened prospects for stability and an inclusive government. Egypt faces a persistent threat of militant violence that is directed primarily at the state and exploits the interim government’s lack of control over the Sinai Peninsula. Since 2011, the Sinai has emerged as a growing staging ground for militants— including terrorists—to plan, facilitate, and launch attacks. The level of protests and militant violence probably will not delay Egypt’s progress toward legislative and presidential elections.


We assess that the Syrian regime and many insurgents believe that they can achieve a military victory in the ongoing conflict. However, given their respective capabilities and levels of external support, decisively altering the course of the conflict in the next six months will prove difficult for either side.

President Asad remains unwilling to negotiate himself out of power. Asad almost certainly intends to remain the ruler of Syria and plans to win a new seven-year term in presidential elections that might occur as early as mid-2014.

Humanitarian conditions in Syria in the next year will almost certainly continue to deteriorate. Ongoing fighting is driving internal displacement as well as flows of refugees into neighboring countries.  The UN, as of January 2014, estimated that 9.3 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance in the country—including 6.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs)—and that at least 2.4 million Syrian registered refugees are in the region out of a July 2012 population estimate of 22.5 million. International aid agencies consistently face challenges accessing parts of Syria because of checkpoints, road closures, Syrian Government restrictions, and violence.


President Ruhani has heralded a shift in political momentum in Iran toward the center, but we do not know whether he heralds a reversal of the authoritarian trend in Iranian politics during the past many years. Iran’s economy will continue to struggle without comprehensive sanctions relief, which drives Ruhani and his team of technocrats to pursue nuclear negotiations. Since his election, Ruhani has had the support of the Supreme Leader, which has silenced some conservative critics. Hardliners, however, have consistently argued that sanctions fatigue will eventually break the international sanctions coalition and are wary of Ruhani’s engagement with the West, as well as his promises of social and political moderation. Ruhani must maintain the backing of the Supreme Leader in order to continue to advance his political agenda. (Information on Iran’s nuclear weapons program and intentions can be found above in the section on WMD and Proliferation.)

Iran will continue to act assertively abroad in ways that run counter to US interests and worsen regional conflicts. Iranian officials almost certainly believe that their support has been instrumental in sustaining Asad’s regime in Syria and will probably continue support during 2014 to bolster the regime. In the broader Middle East, Iran will continue to provide arms and other aid to Palestinian groups, Huthi rebels in Yemen, and Shia militants in Bahrain to expand Iranian influence and to counter perceived foreign

threats. Tehran, which strives for a stable Shia-led, pro-Iran government in Baghdad, is concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. Tehran is probably struggling to find the balance between protecting Shia equities in Iraq and avoiding overt actions that would precipitate greater anti-Shia violence.  In Afghanistan, Tehran will probably seek its own additional security agreements with Kabul, promote pro-Iranian candidates in the 2014 presidential election to increase its influence at the expense of the United States, and maintain its clandestine aid to Afghan insurgent groups. Iran sees rising sectarianism as a dangerous regional development, but we assess that Iran’s perceived responsibility to protect and empower Shia communities will increasingly trump its desire to avoid sectarian violence. Hence, Iran’s actions will likely do more to fuel rather than dampen increasing sectarianism.


Iraq’s trajectory in 2014 will depend heavily on how Baghdad confronts the rising challenge from al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) and manages relations with the country’s disenfranchised Sunni population. A pivotal event will be the national elections slated for 30 April. The Sunni population in particular must be convinced that the elections will be fair in order to keep them committed to the political process and help check Iraq’s rising violence.

Iraq is experiencing an increase in the total number of attacks countrywide to levels not observed since the departure of US forces in 2011. Although overall level of violence remains far lower than in 2007, high-profile suicide and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks initiated by al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) in 2013 returned to 2007-2008 levels, roughly 68 to 80 per month.

The protracted civil war in Syria is destabilizing Iraq, hardening ethno-sectarian attitudes, and raising concerns about the spillover of violence. The Syrian conflict has also facilitated a greater two-way flow of Sunni extremists between Syria and Iraq that has contributed to AQI’s increased level of high-profile attacks.


We judge that Yemen has achieved provisional success in the early stages of its transition from the regime of Ali Abdallah Salih. However, it still faces threats to its stability from a resurging al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and disputes over the future structure of the state. The government of Abd Rabbih Mansur al-Hadi has completed an inclusive National Dialogue (ND) Conference, but the parties have not reached an agreement on how to implement the federal state structure called for by the Dialogue.

  • The Yemeni military’s willingness to sustain pressure on AQAP will be critical to preventing its resurgence.
  • Yemen’s economy has stabilized since Hadi took office in 2012, but substantial foreign assistance will remain important to alleviate the country’s serious economic and humanitarian problems.


Lebanon in 2014 probably will continue to experience sectarian violence among Lebanese and terrorist attacks by Sunni extremists and Hizballah, which are targeting each others’ interests. The conflict in neighboring Syria is the primary driver of the sectarian unrest and terrorist attacks in Lebanon; already this year, sectarian fighting and political assassinations in Tripoli, Beirut, and Sidon have killed more than

a hundred Lebanese. Increased frequency and lethality of violence in Lebanon could erupt into sustained and widespread fighting.

  • Hizballah’s secretary general, Hasan Nasrallah, has framed the conflict as an act of self-defense against Western-backed Sunni extremists who he claimed would target all Lebanese if the Asad regime fell.
  • Sunni extremists have conducted multiple bombings in Beirut in 2013 and early 2014 in the Shia- dominated areas of southern Beirut that killed 75 and injured more than 500 people. Sunni extremists claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings in November 2013 against the Iranian Embassy in Beirut.
  • Sunni Salafist leaders are calling for supporters to back the Syrian opposition, which threatens to escalate sectarian tensions.

Lebanon is facing increased challenges in coping with the continuing influx of numerous Syrian refugees. As of early January 2014, over 800,000 Syrian refuges were residing in Lebanon—roughly 25 percent of Lebanon’s population prior to the Syrian conflict. Syrian refugees are straining Lebanon’s fragile economy and burdening its weak healthcare and education systems. Refugees almost certainly will not return to Syria, given the continued violence and lack of economic prospects.


Nearly three years since the revolution that toppled Qadhafi, Libya’s political, economic, and security landscape is fragmented and its institutions are weak, posing an ongoing threat to stability and cohesion of the Libyan state. Libya’s democratically elected government struggles to address the many competing challenges that threaten to undermine the transition.

  • Efforts by various regional, minority, and tribal groups to seek redress of grievances through violence and disruption of oil facilities are weakening national cohesion.
  • Since the end of the revolution, federalist groups have declared autonomy for the east or south at least four times. The federalist-led takeover of eastern oil facilities in July 2013 has been the most sustained and aggressive pursuit of self-rule.
  • Libya’s numerous quasi-governmental militias often demonstrate little loyalty to Tripoli and challenge central government authority.
  • The terrorist threat to Western and Libyan Government interests remains acute, especially in the east of the country, where attacks against government officials and facilities occur nearly daily.  Regional terrorist organizations exploit Libya’s porous borders and massive amounts of loose conventional weapons, further destabilizing the country and the Maghreb and Sahel region.
  • To the benefit of the government, most Libyans oppose violence by federalists, militias, and extremists and generally support government efforts to usher in a successful democratic transition, including the drafting of a constitution and holding elections for Libya’s first post-revolution permanent government.


Tunisia’s long-suppressed societal cleavages and security and economic challenges will remain impediments to the country’s political transition in 2014. The political environment since the ouster of President Ben Ali in 2011 has exposed sharp divisions over the role of religion in the state and the separation of powers. However, the Constituent Assembly’s late January 2014 passage of a new constitution by a wide majority suggests an increased willingness among the parties to compromise.



The status of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) remains unresolved despite its endorsement by Afghan leaders during the mid-November 2013 Loya Jirga. Regardless of the status of the BSA, the bilateral relationship still might be strained if Afghan officials believe that US commitments to Afghanistan fall short of their expectations.

  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that Afghanistan’s GDP growth rate fell from 12 percent in 2012 to 3.1 percent in 2013. It forecasts 4 to 6 percent growth in 2014 and beyond, largely because of reduced ISAF spending.

Afghan elections in 2014 will be an important step in Afghanistan’s democratic development. President Karzai has stated that he will step down after the election; eleven candidates are currently competing to succeed him.

The Taliban, confident in its ability to outlast ISAF and committed to returning to power, will challenge government control over some of the Pashtun countryside, especially in the south and east. The Taliban senior leadership will maintain a structured and resilient leadership system. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), however, will probably maintain control of most major cities as long as external financial support continues.


Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s primary focus will be on improving the economy, including the energy sector, and countering security threats. Sharif probably won the May 2013 election primarily because the previous government failed to improve either the economy or the generation of electricity.

Islamabad secured an IMF program in September 2013. Pakistan satisfied IMF conditions for fiscal and energy reforms under its three-year, $6.7 billion Extended Fund Facility, paving the way for a second disbursement of $550 million in December. However, continued use of scarce foreign exchange reserves by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to prop up the Pakistani rupee might make future disbursements difficult.

Sharif seeks to acquire a more central policymaking role for civilians in areas that the Army has traditionally dominated. His push for an increased role in foreign policy and national security will probably test his relationship with the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS), particularly if the Army believes that the civilian government’s position impinges on Army interests. However, Sharif has publically stated that the Army and the civilian government are “on the same page.”

Islamabad wants good relations with the United States, but cooperation with Washington will continue to be vulnerable to strains, particularly due to Pakistani sensitivities toward perceived violations of sovereignty.

  • Prime Minister Sharif entered office seeking to establish good relations with the United States, especially in areas that support his primary domestic focus of improving the economy. Sharif and his advisers were pleased with his late October 2013 visit to Washington. Pakistan was eager to restart a “strategic dialogue” and its officials and press have touted results of the initial meetings of several of the five working groups that comprise the dialogue.
  • Sharif also seeks rapprochement with New Delhi in part in anticipation of increased trade, which would be beneficial to Pakistan’s economic growth. Sharif will probably move cautiously to improve relations, however, and India also will probably not take any bold steps, particularly not before the Indian elections in spring 2014.


In this election year in particular, coalition politics and institutional challenges will remain the primary drivers of India’s economic and foreign policy decisionmaking. Any future government installed after the 2014 election will probably have a positive view of the United States, but future legislation or policy changes that are consistent with US interests is not assured.

  • Coalition politics will almost certainly dominate Indian governance. Since the 1984 national elections, no party has won a clear majority in the lower house of Parliament. We judge that this trend will continue with the 2014 election, and the proliferation of political parties will further complicate political consensus building.
  • In 2014, India will probably attain a 5 percent average annual growth rate, significantly less than the 8 percent growth that it achieved from 2005 to 2012 and that is needed to achieve its policy goals.

India shares US objectives for a stable and democratic Pakistan that can encourage trade and economic integration between South and Central Asia. We judge that India and Pakistan will seek modest progress in minimally controversial areas, such as trade, while probably deferring serious discussion on territorial disagreements and terrorism.

India will continue to cooperate with the United States on the future of Afghanistan following the drawdown of international forces. India also shares concerns about a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, seeing it as a long-term security threat and source of regional instability.

India and China have attempted to reduce long-standing border tensions through confidence-building measures, such as holding the first bilateral military exercise in five years in November 2013 and signing a Border Defense Cooperation Agreement during Prime Minister Singh’s visit to China in October 2013. However, mutual suspicions will likely persist.


Sub-Saharan Africa will almost certainly see political and related security turmoil in 2014. The continent has become a hothouse for the emergence of extremist and rebel groups, which increasingly launch deadly asymmetric attacks, and which government forces often cannot effectively counter due to a lack of capability and sometimes will. Additionally, a youth bulge will grow with unfulfilled economic expectations and political frustrations; conflict will increase for land and water resources; and strengthening transnational criminal networks will disrupt political and economic stability.

The Sahel

Governments in Africa’s Sahel region—particularly Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania—are at risk of terrorist attacks, primarily as retribution for these countries’ support to the January 2013 French-led international military intervention in Mali. Additionally, this region faces pressure from growing youth populations and marginalized ethnic groups frustrated with a lack of government services, few employment opportunities, and poor living standards. Limited government capabilities, corruption, illicit economies, smuggling, and poor governance undercut development and the region’s ability to absorb international assistance and improve stability and security, which would impede terrorists’ freedom of movement.


In Somalia, al-Shabaab is conducting asymmetric attacks against government facilities and Western targets in and around Mogadishu. The credibility and effectiveness of the young Somali government will be further threatened by persistent political infighting, weak leadership from President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, ill-equipped government institutions, and pervasive technical, political, and administrative shortfalls.

East Africa

Security has increased and ongoing counterterrorism and policing partnerships with Western nations have strengthened in the wake of the September 2013 attack by al-Shabaab-affiliated extremists at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Nevertheless, East African governments will have difficulty protecting the wide range of potential targets. Al-Shabaab-associated networks might be planning additional attacks in Kenya and throughout East Africa, including in Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Uganda, to punish those countries that deployed troops to Somalia in support of its government.

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan’s President Bashir and the National Congress Party (NCP) will almost certainly confront a range of challenges, including public dissatisfaction over economic decline and insurgencies on Sudan’s periphery. Sudanese economic conditions since South Sudan’s independence in 2011 continue to deteriorate, including rising prices on staple goods, which fuel opposition to Bashir and the NCP. Khartoum will likely resort to heavy-handed tactics to prevent resulting protests from escalating and to contain domestic insurgencies. The conflicts in the Darfur region and in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states (the “Two Areas”) will likely continue. Sudan will likely continue an offensive military campaign in the Two Areas that will lead to increased displacement and the continued denial of humanitarian access in the area. Darfur will likely remain unstable as militia forces and the government continue to skirmish, and as internal fighting among local armed groups, general banditry, and insecurity rise.

South Sudan will almost certainly continue to face ethnic conflict, resource constraints, and rampant corruption in 2014. Widespread clashes across South Sudan in late 2013 will make economic recovery difficult. Without a cessation of hostilities and a stable peace process, Juba will also struggle to rebound in 2014 because international partners will be more reluctant to invest after the emergency evacuation of foreign diplomats in December of 2013 and an increasingly precarious security environment across the country. Additionally, President Kiir will likely continue his authoritarian approach to running the country and dealing with opposition groups; any peace process will likely be slow and continue despite continued attacks by anti-government forces. Ethnic conflict in Jonglei will likely continue as the South Sudanese military faces internal divisions and threats from multiple rebel groups. We assess that Juba will continue to rely on assistance from the international community, but might lose donor funding following its heavy- handed approach to suppressing political opposition groups in late 2013 and it might be conditioned on any peace process. The oil fields, South Sudan’s main source of revenue, might be threatened by anti- government forces, thereby decreasing or halting production. The South Sudanese government will also struggle to govern regions outside of the capital and provide basic public goods.  South Sudan’s economy suffered significant setbacks after Juba shut down oil production early in 2012.


Rising political tensions and violent internal conflict are likely in the leadup to Nigeria’s 2015 election. Nigeria faces critical terrorism threats from Boko Haram and persistent extremism in the north, simmering ethno-religious conflict in communities in central Nigeria’s “Middle Belt,” and militants who are capable of remobilizing in the Niger Delta and attacking the oil industry. Abuja is in a reactive security posture, and its limited capability will hinder its ability to anticipate and preempt threats. Southern Nigeria’s economy, centered in Lagos, is among the fastest growing in the world but presents a sharp contrast to northern Nigeria, where stagnation and endemic poverty prevail amid insecurity and neglect. Given these domestic challenges, Nigeria’s ability to project leadership across Africa and deploy peacekeepers will probably wane.

Central African Republic

Civilian casualties and humanitarian needs in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been severe since the overthrow of former President Bozize in early 2013 by rebel forces from the largely Muslim northeast. Communal conflict—largely along Muslim-Christian lines—has included formation of Christian militias, reprisal killings, atrocities, burning of homes, and destruction of religious sites across the country. The former rebels have used their de facto political authority to violently monopolize the country’s most lucrative resources and territory, eroding CAR’s historically peaceful Muslim-Christian relations. New interim President Samba Panza is a more unifying figure, but the government has almost no presence outside the capital and much of the country has devolved into lawlessness. In December 2013, the UN Security Council authorized an African Union peacekeeping force, supported by French forces, to restore security and public order and stabilize the country.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Conflict in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has abated somewhat since the Rwandan-backed M23 rebels suffered a series of setbacks in 2013, gradually losing materiel support from Rwanda and control of its territorial strongholds. The conflict ended with M23’s military defeat and the signing of an agreement with the DRC government in December 2013. We judge that M23 will probably not reconstitute and pose a significant threat to stability in Congo in 2014 without a substantial influx of troops and other military support from an external partner. However, Rwanda will probably consider supporting other armed groups in Congo to secure areas along the border, threatening attempts by the Congolese Government and UN forces to consolidate control of the territory. Other armed groups, such as the Allied Democratic Forces and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, continue to pose significant risks to civilians and contribute to instability and violence.

Lord’s Resistance Army

Pursuit operations of the African Union Regional Task Force in central Africa, enabled by US military assistance, has the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on the run and in survival mode, hindering LRA’s recruiting and training. Increased cooperation between partners has facilitated information sharing and, combined with other efforts, enabled an increased operational tempo, leading to a significant number of defections. LRA still raids settlements in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and CAR and periodically abducts civilians. LRA leader Joseph Kony is often on the move and has long been able to elude capture. Getting a “fix” on his location will remain difficult in this very remote part of the world.



Chinese leaders will try to focus primarily on domestic priorities during 2014 while leveraging China’s growing influence in the region. A new generation led by Xi Jinping is in place and its ambitious policy agenda is coming into focus: accelerate economic reforms, make governance more efficient and accountable, and tighten Communist Party discipline.

China will probably continue its increasingly proactive approach to maritime disputes, including a hardline stance toward Japan over the Senkaku Islands. More broadly, China’s growing confidence, new capabilities, and other perceived challenges to China’s interests or security will drive Beijing to pursue a more active foreign policy.

  • Growing regional competition in territorial disputes and competing nationalist fervor increase the risk of escalation and constrain regional cooperation. Sovereignty concerns and resurgent historical resentments will generate friction and occasional incidents between claimants in the East and South China Seas and slow or stall bilateral or multilateral efforts to resolve the disputes.

Beijing has highlighted its pursuit of a “new type of major power relations” with Washington, but China is simultaneously working at least indirectly to counterbalance US influence. Within East Asia, Beijing seeks to fuel doubts about the sustainability of the US “rebalance” and Washington’s willingness to support its allies and partners in the region.

China is pursuing a long-term comprehensive military modernization designed to enable its armed forces to achieve success on a 21st century battlefield. China’s military investments favor capabilities designed to strengthen its nuclear deterrent and strategic strike options, counter foreign military intervention in a regional crisis, and provide limited, albeit growing, capability for power projection. During 2013, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) introduced advanced weapons into its inventory and reached milestones in the development of key systems. China’s first domestically developed heavy transport plane, the Y-20, successfully conducted its initial test flight. Additionally, China has continued to develop multiple advanced ballistic and cruise missiles.

  • Developments in PLA capabilities support an expansion of operations to secure Chinese interests beyond territorial issues. For example, China is pursuing more effective logistical support arrangements with countries in the Indian Ocean region.
  • Elements from China’s army, navy, air force, and strategic missile forces from multiple military regions participated in Mission Action 2013 in September and October 2013. The exercise included two large-scale amphibious landings and coordinated long-range air force and naval air operations in a maritime environment.

North Korea

Two years after taking the helm of North Korea, Kim Jong Un has further solidified his position as unitary leader and final decision authority. He has solidified his control and enforced loyalty through personnel changes and purges. The most prominent was the ouster and execution of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek in December 2013. Kim has elevated the profile of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) through appointments of party operatives to key leadership positions and the convening of party conferences and plenums. Kim and the regime have publicly emphasized his focus on improving the country’s troubled economy and the livelihood of the North Korean people while maintaining the tenets of a command economy. He has codified this approach via his dual-track policy of economic development and advancement of nuclear weapons. (Information on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and intentions can be found above in the section on WMD and Proliferation.)



Putin’s 2012-2013 crackdown on the opposition defused the popular challenge to his hold on power; however, the Kremlin confronts a growing trend of opposition politicians taking their fight to the local ballot box. This trend was illustrated by the consolidation of support in Moscow around a single opposition leader—Aleksey Navalnyy—who finished second in Moscow’s mayoral election in September 2013.

The Kremlin also faces a rise in ethno-religious tensions—as underscored by the October 2013 riot in the outskirts of Moscow—which will probably grow as the Muslim population in Russia increases. Moscow must balance an increasing immigrant Muslim population needed to offset its shrinking labor pool against growing nationalist sentiment among the ethnic Russian population.

In February 2014, Russia will host the Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi—an area bordering the turbulent North Caucasus region where Russian security forces have battled a local insurgency for the past 20 years. We have seen an increase in threat reporting just prior to the Olympics, which is not unusual for a major international event, and have offered assistance to the Russian Government.

Putin’s claim to popular support and legitimacy as head of the Russian state has rested in part on a record of economic growth and the promise of stability, increasing prosperity, and relative personal freedom. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) projects that the Russian economy will grow by 2.3 percent in 2014, putting at risk a number of ambitious Kremlin projects—including the $700 billion defense modernization plan, the 2018 World Cup, and social welfare enhancements pledged by Putin during his 2012 election campaign.

Moscow has hailed its CW initiative in Syria as a major foreign policy accomplishment. It positions Russia to play a major role in any future settlement of the Syrian conflict and adds legitimacy to the Syrian regime. Russia also will almost certainly continue to seek to fill the vacuum it believes is developing between the United States and Egypt.

The campaign to keep Ukraine from signing an Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union (EU) underscores the importance the Kremlin continues to attach to its goal of Eurasian integration. Russia will have to compete for influence with the EU in the West and increasingly with China in Central Asia; both will pose challenges to its pursuit of Eurasian integration.

The bilateral relationship with the United States will remain a priority for Russian foreign policy. We assess that Russia will continue its engagement with the United States on issues that address its priorities—Syrian CW as well as Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea.

The Russian military remains a symbol of Russia’s national power. Following measured improvements to its capabilities in the past year, it is setting its sights on the long-term challenges of professionalization

and rearmament. The new leadership that assumed command of the military last November has made many tactical adjustments to the sweeping reforms the military enacted in 2008, but has largely kept the military on the same strategic trajectory.

The military in the past year has taken an increasingly prominent role in out-of-area operations, most notably in the eastern Mediterranean but also in Latin America, the Arctic, and other regions, a trend that will probably continue. Moscow is negotiating a series of agreements that would give it access to military infrastructure across the globe. These bases are generally intended to support “show the flag” and “presence” operations that do not reflect wartime missions or a significant power projection capability.

The Caucasus and Central Asia

Georgia’s new political leaders have inherited pressing domestic and foreign policy problems amid high public expectations for progress. The economy, which has slowed since the Georgian Dream Coalition was elected in October 2012, will be an area of greatest immediate concern.  The new government will also continue to balance a series of high-profile legal cases against former government officials for past abuses. The cases, while popular inside Georgia, have generated concerns of political retribution abroad and risk polarizing Georgian politics. Tensions with Russia have eased over the past year, decreasing the risk of renewed conflict. Progress nonetheless remains unlikely on the core disputes between Tbilisi and Moscow.

The standoff between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories will remain a potential flashpoint. Neither side will see advantages in deliberately renewing hostilities, but prospects for peaceful resolution are also dim. Azerbaijan is willing to bide its time and wait for stronger economic growth to enable increased military spending to give it a decisive advantage. Armenia has a strong interest in maintaining the status quo because ethnic Armenians already control the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh and much of the surrounding territory. Nevertheless, the close proximity of opposing military forces and recurring ceasefire violations along the Line of Contact (LOC) continue to pose a risk of miscalculation.

Central Asia continues to host US supply lines that support operations in Afghanistan, and its leaders remain concerned about regional instability after the Coalition drawdown in 2014. Central Asian militants fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan will likely continue to pose a threat, but sources of potential internal instability in Central Asia will probably remain more acute than external threats. Unclear political succession plans, endemic corruption, weak economies, ethnic tensions, and political repression are

long-term sources of instability in Central Asia. Relations among the Central Asian states remain tense due to personal rivalries and disputes over water, borders, and energy. However, Central Asian leaders’ focus on internal control reduces the risk of interstate conflict in the region.

Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus

As Ukraine heads toward the presidential election scheduled to take place in 2015, political developments in Ukraine probably will continue to be shaped by opposition and public anger over the Yanukovych administration’s abuse of power, the need for Yanukovych to maintain the loyalty of key elites, and his efforts to balance Ukraine’s relationship with Russia and the West. Political developments in Ukraine will increasingly be shaped by public protests over Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement (AA) and the presidential election scheduled to take place in 2015.  Yanukovych backed away from signing the AA with the EU at the Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2013, probably because Moscow offered the only option for immediate financial support to avert a financial crisis that would threaten his reelection bid. Firmly intent on maintaining his hold on power, Yanukovych will probably resort to coercion, extralegal means, and other tactics to tilt the playing field in his favor and ensure his reelection, threatening a further erosion of democratic norms.

The first tranche of Russia’s $15 billion aid package that Kyiv and Moscow signed in December will allow Kyiv to stave off a fiscal crisis in the short term but risks increasing Ukraine’s economic dependence on Moscow. Russia’s aid package removes incentives for Kyiv to enact painful economic reforms necessary to spur growth, and the ambiguous terms of the bailout leave Kyiv more vulnerable to Russian pressure, particularly on energy issues.

Moldova will continue to try to deepen its integration with the EU.  Chisinau initialed an Association Agreement with the EU at the EU Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2013.  It is working to formalize the AA, its associated free trade agreement, and an EU visa liberalization agreement before the scheduled November 2014 parliamentary election. However, both the EU and Moldova still need to sign the AA for it to come into full force. Moldova’s pro-European coalition government suffers from low approval ratings after a series of political scandals and coalition infighting; its loss to the opposition Communist Party in the upcoming parliamentary election could delay or derail the country’s EU

integration course. A settlement of Moldova’s conflict with its separatist region of Transnistria is highly unlikely during 2014 as they remain far apart on key issues and show no real willingness to compromise. Transnistria and its primary political and financial backer Russia oppose Moldova’s EU integration; they also have little interest in resolving the ongoing conflict because that would remove a key obstacle to Moldova’s European integration and risk reducing the influence Russia retains over Moldova.

In Belarus, the Lukashenko regime has managed to obtain the acquiescence of the Belarusian public, thanks largely to his regime’s clampdown on civil society and also to Russian largesse which has enabled relatively stable standards of living. Lukashenko has done so despite a structurally flawed, centralized economy that leaves Minsk perpetually on the edge of economic crisis and in need of foreign financial assistance to stay afloat. Lukashenko’s economic model has become increasingly unsustainable since

his regime’s crackdown on mass protests following the presidential election in December 2010. Continued repression of civil society has left him increasingly isolated from the West and with decreased leverage to resist Moscow’s economic conditions.



Stability in Haiti will remain fragile due to extreme poverty and weak governing institutions. Meaningful long-term reconstruction and development in Haiti will need to continue for many years. Haiti remains vulnerable to setbacks in its reconstruction and development goals due to the possibility of natural disasters. Food insecurity, although improving, also has the potential to be a destabilizing factor.  Periods of political gridlock have resulted due to distrust between President Michel Martelly, in office since May

2011, and opponents in Parliament. Martelly is generally still popular, but politically organized protests, possibly violent, might occur before the elections, scheduled for 2014.

During the next decade, Haiti will remain highly dependent on assistance from the international community for security, in particular during elections. Donor fatigue among contributors to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), however, will likely lead to reductions in force, evident by the

2013 mandate which calls for consolidating and downsizing forces. Although the Haitian National Police is making progress on its plans to increase force size from 10,000 in 2011 to 15,000 by 2016, the larger force will probably still need support from MINUSTAH to provide for its own security.

Central America

Central America’s northern tier countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—will likely struggle to overcome the economic and security problems that plague the region.  All three countries are facing debt crises and falling government revenues because of slow economic growth, widespread tax evasion, and large informal economies. Entrenched political, economic, and public-sector interests resist reforms. Domestic criminal gangs and transnational organized crime groups, as well as Central America’s status as a major transit area for cocaine from source countries in South America, are fueling record levels of violence in the region. Regional governments have worked to improve citizen security but with little-to- moderate success.

  • The gang truce in effect in El Salvador since March 2012 has reduced the homicide rate there, mostly among gang members. However, other crimes such as kidnappings, robberies, and extortion are undermining security for many citizens.
  • Guatemala still has one of the world’s highest murder rates despite lessened impunity for violent crimes during the past several years. Many areas of the country, particularly along the borders, are under the direct influence of drug traffickers.
  • The homicide rate in Honduras remains the highest in the world. New Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez will likely prioritize security policy and seek to build a coalition within the divided legislature to push his economic reform agenda. However, weak governance, widespread corruption, and debt problems will limit prospects for a turnaround.


Key Partnerships

Ongoing US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, European Parliament (EP) elections, the withdrawal of Allied forces from Afghanistan, and new leadership in the EU and NATO will create new dynamics in the transatlantic partnership in 2014.

  •  Europeans likely recognize the need to isolate the TTIP negotiations from the other issue areas. The

TTIP has high potential for generating economic growth for both the United States and Europe and for reinforcing the transatlantic link. However, data privacy will probably become a political issue in the runup to the May 2014 EP elections; some opponents of TTIP might use the unauthorized disclosures of NSA information as political cover for their opposition to the TTIP.

  • The NATO Summit in September 2014 will be an opportunity to reinforce NATO’s purpose, as well as announce a new Secretary General.

Imbalances in the euro zone and slow economic growth in Europe are changing the political economy in Europe, potentially spurring support for nationalist and populist political parties.

  • Radical nationalist and populist political parties are gaining ground in several western and central European countries and will probably do well in the May 2014 EP elections. In November 2013, two far-right parties—the Dutch Freedom Party and France’s Front National—announced that they would cooperate in the EP elections and hope to form a new Euroskeptic bloc, probably linking up with similar parties in Central Europe. Public fears over immigration and Islam, alienation from EU policies, and perceptions that centrist parties are unable to deal with high unemployment and income inequalities will increase the resonance of the rhetoric of far-right and far-left radical parties.


Turkey’s foreign and security policy will be shaped by domestic events, especially the ongoing corruption scandal. Furthermore, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Prime Minister Erdogan, will be in election mode for municipal and presidential elections in 2014 and parliamentary elections in early 2015. The corruption allegations initiated in December 2013, allegedly by elements within the AKP associated with Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, represent the greatest challenge to Erdogan. Ankara will continue to pursue foreign policy objectives that maximize economic advantage for Turkey while proceeding with caution on issues that could alienate Turkey’s nationalist voters. Erdogan’s pursuit of a peace deal with the Turkish-Kurdish terrorist group Kurdistan People’s Congress (KGK, formerly PKK) also risks antagonizing Turkish nationalists and neighboring governments. Erdogan is pursuing a multifaceted strategy of promoting domestic reforms and engaging the Kurds to end the armed KGK insurgency in Turkey. The protracted Syrian conflict is generating an increased extremist presence in Turkey, the primary transit country for foreign militants seeking to join the fight in Syria. It is also raising the potential for unsanctioned or opportunistic attacks by supporters of the Bashir al-Asad regime.

The Western Balkans

Despite many positivedevelopments in the Western Balkans in 2013, the region in 2014 will continue to be characterized by deep ethnic and political divisions. The situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) and ethnic cleavages in Macedonia are particularly volatile.

  • In Bosnia-Herzegovina, different interpretations of the political framework, based on the 1995 Dayton Accords, as well as efforts by Bosniak, Croat, and Serb leaders to maintain control over their political and ethnic fiefdoms will continue to undermine BiH’s central state institutions. Elections in 2014 will not likely bridge these differences, diminishing hopes for BiH’s Euro-Atlantic integration that its neighbors have achieved.
  • The Macedonian Government continues to push programs geared to promote ethnic Macedonian nationalism at the expense of the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration. The longer that Macedonia’s EU and NATO membership paths remain stalled over the country’s constitutional name dispute with Greece and poor bilateral relations with Bulgaria, the greater the risk that ethnic tensions will increase.

An Authoritarian Future

January 7, 2014

Why The West Slowly Abandons Its Civil Liberties

By Werner de Gruijter of Global Research





Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic who construct an image of toughness – tough on crime, on terrorism, on humanistic-inspired idealism etc. – are tapping into a sensitive spot that blocks critical thought among the public. Obama’s brute and harsh reaction on Edward Snowden’s revelations is just another example. Somehow it seems like  “We, the people…”  lost track of ourselves. Four main reasons why we abandon our once hard fought civil rights.

Many countries in the West, like Britain, France, Spain the US and the Netherlands have experienced in recent years an exponential increase in technological surveillance and a resolute decline in parliamentary and judicial control over state police and secret service.

Issues like the ban on torture, the possibility of detention without charge, privacy and freedom of speech were in the public debate reframed in favour of state control. And everybody accepted it. To be fair, there was some opposition – but it lacked intensity. Why is this happening?

To give an example, under former British Prime Minister Tony Blair 45 criminal laws were approved creating 3000 new criminal offences. British writer John Kampfer argues that in the past ten years more criminal offences were made in his country than in a hundred years before. All this was legitimized by the idea that a ‘terroristic’ virus attacked Western civilization. Of course, there is some truth in it – but these risks were grossly exaggerated. Still, we fearfully went along with the proposed measures.

This cultural shift towards perhaps a more authoritarian future for the West is no coincidence of nature. It is manmade. If the opportunity is there, top down induced shifts happen only if politicians, corporations, media pundits and other cultural icons are able to find the right symbols and techniques to get a new message across.

 But first, besides these techniques, famous American psychologist Abraham Maslow is probably aware that there is also something else which stimulates our apathy in this respect. He signified the importance of leisure time for our own personal well being as well as for the well being of the community as a whole – it creates so to speak the possibility to make well informed decisions. Currently our leisure time is under assault. Thirty years of income stagnation in the midst of rising prices – people have to struggle to earn a living – meant that for most of us there is less time for critical thought.

 But it has even been made harder to reflect on important issues since politicians and opinions leaders use marketing tools in order to seduce. Remember that soon after the 2008 banking bailout the discussion was reframed in such a way that government spending instead of the unregulated financial sector itself, was the root cause of all ‘evil’ – this message was repeated like a commercial, over and over again. This technique of repetition effectively neutralizes critical thinking. Hence, Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebels, was on to something when he famously stated:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Long after Goebbels died, psychologists experimentally discovered that it is a natural tendency of human beings to react more receptive to whatever kind of message the more they are exposed to it. They call this “the law of mere exposure”. We should question ourselves if this habit is healthy for our general welfare.

 Furthermore, psychologists discovered that our ability to think critically is severely limited when we act under stress. Frightened people tend to perceive reality through a prism of simple right and wrong answers, leaving the complexities aside. Scared, we are easily fooled. Politicians and corporations can’t resist the temptation to manipulate this animal instinct – like when we started a war without having been shown any serious proof of its legitimacy.

 One could expect that the mainstream media in its role as guard dog was attacking those politicians that create black & white polemics. However, currently most (privately owned) media echo the voice of corporations, which these days doesn’t differ much in substance from that of the government. As a result alternative and more nuanced voices are underrepresented in cultural discourse which, again, makes it harder to produce well informed decisions.

And, when considering the information that is filtered thru to a broad audience – one also notes the slow, but steady disappearing of the separation line between news media and entertainment. American academic Daniel Hallin argues that the average time for sound bites politicians are given in media performances has shrunk from forty seconds in the 1960s to ten seconds in 1988. Hallin’s crucial point is that he believes that the biggest victim of this still on going process is the careful scrutinizing of social problems. This results in so called ‘horse race’ news – news about politics presented as a game of  “who’s the most witty” in which politicians try to be popular instead of reasonable. The blur of catchy one-liners reaching the audience creates a further alienation from reality.

Taken together an assault on leisure, repetition of information, fear policies and the transformation of our media outlets from guard dogs to lap dogs create a situation wherein our spirit for the common good slowly dissolves into an ocean of noise, distraction and misinformation.

Meanwhile, the social environment which politicians, corporations and media gurus are constructing produces anxieties and illusions in order to make profits or political gains. Together these social forces act as a gravitational pull for government and corporate empowerment. That is to say, they pull away strength from the people to participate in the maintenance of a mentally healthy, meaningful democratic environment.

Thomas Jefferson once argued that a government should fear the power of the people. In that respect the apathy with which the audience in general responds to the revelations of Snowden is a cynical demonstration of our time frame. Although, however little, a message this confronting does still stir society a tiny bit. We are not completely brain-dead – and there is some hope in that.

Probably the best question contemporary Westerners can ask themselves is: will today’s power structure be able to obscure these clear violations of human civil rights or is this message too loud to ignore?

Or to say it more bluntly than that: will there be a transition to a meaningful democracy in the West or to an advanced form of authoritarianism? What’s your point of view…




War is a racket – It always has been. By USMG Smedly Butler

September 13, 2013
USMC Major General Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940)

Smedley Darlington Butler was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps, the highest rank authorized at that time, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history


It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the [First] World War, a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns, no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war, nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few – the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

Again they are choosing sides. France and Russia met and agreed to stand side by side. Italy and Austria hurried to make a similar agreement. Poland and Germany cast sheep’s eyes at each other, forgetting for the nonce [one unique occasion], their dispute over the Polish Corridor.

The assassination of King Alexander of Jugoslavia [Yugoslavia] complicated matters. Jugoslavia and Hungary, long bitter enemies, were almost at each other’s throats. Italy was ready to jump in. But France was waiting. So was Czechoslovakia. All of them are looking ahead to war. Not the people – not those who fight and pay and die – only those who foment wars and remain safely at home to profit.

There are 40,000,000 men under arms in the world today, and our statesmen and diplomats have the temerity to say that war is not in the making.

Hell’s bells! Are these 40,000,000 men being trained to be dancers?

Not in Italy, to be sure. Premier Mussolini knows what they are being trained for. He, at least, is frank enough to speak out. Only the other day, Il Duce in “International Conciliation,” the publication of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said:

“And above all, Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace… War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people who have the courage to meet it.”

Undoubtedly Mussolini means exactly what he says. His well-trained army, his great fleet of planes, and even his navy are ready for war – anxious for it, apparently. His recent stand at the side of Hungary in the latter’s dispute with Jugoslavia showed that. And the hurried mobilization of his troops on the Austrian border after the assassination of Dollfuss showed it too. There are others in Europe too whose sabre rattling presages war, sooner or later.

Herr Hitler, with his rearming Germany and his constant demands for more and more arms, is an equal if not greater menace to peace. France only recently increased the term of military service for its youth from a year to eighteen months.

Yes, all over, nations are camping in their arms. The mad dogs of Europe are on the loose. In the Orient the maneuvering is more adroit. Back in 1904, when Russia and Japan fought, we kicked out our old friends the Russians and backed Japan. Then our very generous international bankers were financing Japan. Now the trend is to poison us against the Japanese. What does the “open door” policy to China mean to us? Our trade with China is about $90,000,000 a year. Or the Philippine Islands? We have spent about $600,000,000 in the Philippines in thirty-five years and we (our bankers and industrialists and speculators) have private investments there of less than $200,000,000.

Then, to save that China trade of about $90,000,000, or to protect these private investments of less than $200,000,000 in the Philippines, we would be all stirred up to hate Japan and go to war – a war that might well cost us tens of billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives of Americans, and many more hundreds of thousands of physically maimed and mentally unbalanced men.

Of course, for this loss, there would be a compensating profit – fortunes would be made. Millions and billions of dollars would be piled up. By a few. Munitions makers. Bankers. Ship builders. Manufacturers. Meat packers. Speculators. They would fare well.

Yes, they are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn’t they? It pays high dividends.

But what does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit their mothers and sisters, their wives and their sweethearts? What does it profit their children?

What does it profit anyone except the very few to whom war means huge profits?

Yes, and what does it profit the nation?

Take our own case. Until 1898 we didn’t own a bit of territory outside the mainland of North America. At that time our national debt was a little more than $1,000,000,000. Then we became “internationally minded.” We forgot, or shunted aside, the advice of the Father of our country. We forgot George Washington’s warning about “entangling alliances.” We went to war. We acquired outside territory. At the end of the World War period, as a direct result of our fiddling in international affairs, our national debt had jumped to over $25,000,000,000. Our total favorable trade balance during the twenty-five-year period was about $24,000,000,000. Therefore, on a purely bookkeeping basis, we ran a little behind year for year, and that foreign trade might well have been ours without the wars.

It would have been far cheaper (not to say safer) for the average American who pays the bills to stay out of foreign entanglements. For a very few this racket, like bootlegging and other underworld rackets, brings fancy profits, but the cost of operations is always transferred to the people – who do not profit.


The World War, rather our brief participation in it, has cost the United States some $52,000,000,000. Figure it out. That means $400 to every American man, woman, and child. And we haven’t paid the debt yet. We are paying it, our children will pay it, and our children’s children probably still will be paying the cost of that war.

The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits – ah! that is another matter – twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent – the sky is the limit. All that traffic will bear. Uncle Sam has the money. Let’s get it.

Of course, it isn’t put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and “we must all put our shoulders to the wheel,” but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket – and are safely pocketed. Let’s just take a few examples:

Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people – didn’t one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war? Or saved the world for democracy? Or something? How did they do in the war? They were a patriotic corporation. Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn’t much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let’s look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find! Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.

Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials. Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump – or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain? Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!

Or, let’s take United States Steel. The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240,000,000. Not bad.

There you have some of the steel and powder earnings. Let’s look at something else. A little copper, perhaps. That always does well in war times.

Anaconda, for instance. Average yearly earnings during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10,000,000. During the war years 1914-1918 profits leaped to $34,000,000 per year.

Or Utah Copper. Average of $5,000,000 per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average of $21,000,000 yearly profits for the war period.

Let’s group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137,480,000. Then along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed to $408,300,000.

A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per cent.

Does war pay? It paid them. But they aren’t the only ones. There are still others. Let’s take leather.

For the three-year period before the war the total profits of Central Leather Company were $3,500,000. That was approximately $1,167,000 a year. Well, in 1916 Central Leather returned a profit of $15,000,000, a small increase of 1,100 per cent. That’s all. The General Chemical Company averaged a profit for the three years before the war of a little over $800,000 a year. Came the war, and the profits jumped to $12,000,000. a leap of 1,400 per cent.

International Nickel Company – and you can’t have a war without nickel – showed an increase in profits from a mere average of $4,000,000 a year to $73,000,000 yearly. Not bad? An increase of more than 1,700 per cent.

American Sugar Refining Company averaged $2,000,000 a year for the three years before the war. In 1916 a profit of $6,000,000 was recorded.

Listen to Senate Document No. 259. The Sixty-Fifth Congress, reporting on corporate earnings and government revenues. Considering the profits of 122 meat packers, 153 cotton manufacturers, 299 garment makers, 49 steel plants, and 340 coal producers during the war. Profits under 25 per cent were exceptional. For instance the coal companies made between 100 per cent and 7,856 per cent on their capital stock during the war. The Chicago packers doubled and tripled their earnings.

And let us not forget the bankers who financed the great war. If anyone had the cream of the profits it was the bankers. Being partnerships rather than incorporated organizations, they do not have to report to stockholders. And their profits were as secret as they were immense. How the bankers made their millions and their billions I do not know, because those little secrets never become public – even before a Senate investigatory body.

But here’s how some of the other patriotic industrialists and speculators chiseled their way into war profits.

Take the shoe people. They like war. It brings business with abnormal profits. They made huge profits on sales abroad to our allies. Perhaps, like the munitions manufacturers and armament makers, they also sold to the enemy. For a dollar is a dollar whether it comes from Germany or from France. But they did well by Uncle Sam too. For instance, they sold Uncle Sam 35,000,000 pairs of hobnailed service shoes. There were 4,000,000 soldiers. Eight pairs, and more, to a soldier. My regiment during the war had only one pair to a soldier. Some of these shoes probably are still in existence. They were good shoes. But when the war was over Uncle Sam has a matter of 25,000,000 pairs left over. Bought – and paid for. Profits recorded and pocketed.

There was still lots of leather left. So the leather people sold your Uncle Sam hundreds of thousands of McClellan saddles for the cavalry. But there wasn’t any American cavalry overseas! Somebody had to get rid of this leather, however. Somebody had to make a profit in it – so we had a lot of McClellan saddles. And we probably have those yet.

Also somebody had a lot of mosquito netting. They sold your Uncle Sam 20,000,000 mosquito nets for the use of the soldiers overseas. I suppose the boys were expected to put it over them as they tried to sleep in muddy trenches – one hand scratching cooties on their backs and the other making passes at scurrying rats. Well, not one of these mosquito nets ever got to France!

Anyhow, these thoughtful manufacturers wanted to make sure that no soldier would be without his mosquito net, so 40,000,000 additional yards of mosquito netting were sold to Uncle Sam.

There were pretty good profits in mosquito netting in those days, even if there were no mosquitoes in France. I suppose, if the war had lasted just a little longer, the enterprising mosquito netting manufacturers would have sold your Uncle Sam a couple of consignments of mosquitoes to plant in France so that more mosquito netting would be in order.

Airplane and engine manufacturers felt they, too, should get their just profits out of this war. Why not? Everybody else was getting theirs. So $1,000,000,000 – count them if you live long enough – was spent by Uncle Sam in building airplane engines that never left the ground! Not one plane, or motor, out of the billion dollars worth ordered, ever got into a battle in France. Just the same the manufacturers made their little profit of 30, 100, or perhaps 300 per cent.

Undershirts for soldiers cost 14¢ [cents] to make and uncle Sam paid 30¢ to 40¢ each for them – a nice little profit for the undershirt manufacturer. And the stocking manufacturer and the uniform manufacturers and the cap manufacturers and the steel helmet manufacturers – all got theirs.

Why, when the war was over some 4,000,000 sets of equipment – knapsacks and the things that go to fill them – crammed warehouses on this side. Now they are being scrapped because the regulations have changed the contents. But the manufacturers collected their wartime profits on them – and they will do it all over again the next time.

There were lots of brilliant ideas for profit making during the war.

One very versatile patriot sold Uncle Sam twelve dozen 48-inch wrenches. Oh, they were very nice wrenches. The only trouble was that there was only one nut ever made that was large enough for these wrenches. That is the one that holds the turbines at Niagara Falls. Well, after Uncle Sam had bought them and the manufacturer had pocketed the profit, the wrenches were put on freight cars and shunted all around the United States in an effort to find a use for them. When the Armistice was signed it was indeed a sad blow to the wrench manufacturer. He was just about to make some nuts to fit the wrenches. Then he planned to sell these, too, to your Uncle Sam.

Still another had the brilliant idea that colonels shouldn’t ride in automobiles, nor should they even ride on horseback. One has probably seen a picture of Andy Jackson riding in a buckboard. Well, some 6,000 buckboards were sold to Uncle Sam for the use of colonels! Not one of them was used. But the buckboard manufacturer got his war profit.

The shipbuilders felt they should come in on some of it, too. They built a lot of ships that made a lot of profit. More than $3,000,000,000 worth. Some of the ships were all right. But $635,000,000 worth of them were made of wood and wouldn’t float! The seams opened up – and they sank. We paid for them, though. And somebody pocketed the profits.

It has been estimated by statisticians and economists and researchers that the war cost your Uncle Sam $52,000,000,000. Of this sum, $39,000,000,000 was expended in the actual war itself. This expenditure yielded $16,000,000,000 in profits. That is how the 21,000 billionaires and millionaires got that way. This $16,000,000,000 profits is not to be sneezed at. It is quite a tidy sum. And it went to a very few.

The Senate (Nye) committee probe of the munitions industry and its wartime profits, despite its sensational disclosures, hardly has scratched the surface.

Even so, it has had some effect. The State Department has been studying “for some time” methods of keeping out of war. The War Department suddenly decides it has a wonderful plan to spring. The Administration names a committee – with the War and Navy Departments ably represented under the chairmanship of a Wall Street speculator – to limit profits in war time. To what extent isn’t suggested. Hmmm. Possibly the profits of 300 and 600 and 1,600 per cent of those who turned blood into gold in the World War would be limited to some smaller figure.

Apparently, however, the plan does not call for any limitation of losses – that is, the losses of those who fight the war. As far as I have been able to ascertain there is nothing in the scheme to limit a soldier to the loss of but one eye, or one arm, or to limit his wounds to one or two or three. Or to limit the loss of life.

There is nothing in this scheme, apparently, that says not more than 12 per cent of a regiment shall be wounded in battle, or that not more than 7 per cent in a division shall be killed.

Of course, the committee cannot be bothered with such trifling matters.


Who provides the profits – these nice little profits of 20, 100, 300, 1,500 and 1,800 per cent? We all pay them – in taxation. We paid the bankers their profits when we bought Liberty Bonds at $100.00 and sold them back at $84 or $86 to the bankers. These bankers collected $100 plus. It was a simple manipulation. The bankers control the security marts. It was easy for them to depress the price of these bonds. Then all of us – the people – got frightened and sold the bonds at $84 or $86. The bankers bought them. Then these same bankers stimulated a boom and government bonds went to par – and above. Then the bankers collected their profits.

But the soldier pays the biggest part of the bill.

If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit any of the veteran’s hospitals in the United States. On a tour of the country, in the midst of which I am at the time of this writing, I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are a total of about 50,000 destroyed men – men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital; at Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed at home.

Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. There they were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and, through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all of killing or of being killed.

Then, suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another “about face” ! This time they had to do their own readjustment, sans [without] mass psychology, sans officers’ aid and advice and sans nation-wide propaganda. We didn’t need them any more. So we scattered them about without any “three-minute” or “Liberty Loan” speeches or parades. Many, too many, of these fine young boys are eventually destroyed, mentally, because they could not make that final “about face” alone.

In the government hospital in Marion, Indiana, 1,800 of these boys are in pens! Five hundred of them in a barracks with steel bars and wires all around outside the buildings and on the porches. These already have been mentally destroyed. These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically, they are in good shape; mentally, they are gone.

There are thousands and thousands of these cases, and more and more are coming in all the time. The tremendous excitement of the war, the sudden cutting off of that excitement – the young boys couldn’t stand it.

That’s a part of the bill. So much for the dead – they have paid their part of the war profits. So much for the mentally and physically wounded – they are paying now their share of the war profits. But the others paid, too – they paid with heartbreaks when they tore themselves away from their firesides and their families to don the uniform of Uncle Sam – on which a profit had been made. They paid another part in the training camps where they were regimented and drilled while others took their jobs and their places in the lives of their communities. The paid for it in the trenches where they shot and were shot; where they were hungry for days at a time; where they slept in the mud and the cold and in the rain – with the moans and shrieks of the dying for a horrible lullaby.

But don’t forget – the soldier paid part of the dollars and cents bill too.

Up to and including the Spanish-American War, we had a prize system, and soldiers and sailors fought for money. During the Civil War they were paid bonuses, in many instances, before they went into service. The government, or states, paid as high as $1,200 for an enlistment. In the Spanish-American War they gave prize money. When we captured any vessels, the soldiers all got their share – at least, they were supposed to. Then it was found that we could reduce the cost of wars by taking all the prize money and keeping it, but conscripting [drafting] the soldier anyway. Then soldiers couldn’t bargain for their labor, Everyone else could bargain, but the soldier couldn’t.

Napoleon once said,

“All men are enamored of decorations…they positively hunger for them.”

So by developing the Napoleonic system – the medal business – the government learned it could get soldiers for less money, because the boys liked to be decorated. Until the Civil War there were no medals. Then the Congressional Medal of Honor was handed out. It made enlistments easier. After the Civil War no new medals were issued until the Spanish-American War.

In the World War, we used propaganda to make the boys accept conscription. They were made to feel ashamed if they didn’t join the army.

So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill the Germans. God is on our side…it is His will that the Germans be killed.

And in Germany, the good pastors called upon the Germans to kill the allies…to please the same God. That was a part of the general propaganda, built up to make people war conscious and murder conscious.

Beautiful ideals were painted for our boys who were sent out to die. This was the “war to end all wars.” This was the “war to make the world safe for democracy.” No one mentioned to them, as they marched away, that their going and their dying would mean huge war profits. No one told these American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their own brothers here. No one told them that the ships on which they were going to cross might be torpedoed by submarines built with United States patents. They were just told it was to be a “glorious adventure.”

Thus, having stuffed patriotism down their throats, it was decided to make them help pay for the war, too. So, we gave them the large salary of $30 a month.

All they had to do for this munificent sum was to leave their dear ones behind, give up their jobs, lie in swampy trenches, eat canned willy (when they could get it) and kill and kill and kill…and be killed.

But wait!

Half of that wage (just a little more than a riveter in a shipyard or a laborer in a munitions factory safe at home made in a day) was promptly taken from him to support his dependents, so that they would not become a charge upon his community. Then we made him pay what amounted to accident insurance – something the employer pays for in an enlightened state – and that cost him $6 a month. He had less than $9 a month left.

Then, the most crowning insolence of all – he was virtually blackjacked into paying for his own ammunition, clothing, and food by being made to buy Liberty Bonds. Most soldiers got no money at all on pay days.

We made them buy Liberty Bonds at $100 and then we bought them back – when they came back from the war and couldn’t find work – at $84 and $86. And the soldiers bought about $2,000,000,000 worth of these bonds!

Yes, the soldier pays the greater part of the bill. His family pays too. They pay it in the same heart-break that he does. As he suffers, they suffer. At nights, as he lay in the trenches and watched shrapnel burst about him, they lay home in their beds and tossed sleeplessly – his father, his mother, his wife, his sisters, his brothers, his sons, and his daughters.

When he returned home minus an eye, or minus a leg or with his mind broken, they suffered too – as much as and even sometimes more than he. Yes, and they, too, contributed their dollars to the profits of the munitions makers and bankers and shipbuilders and the manufacturers and the speculators made. They, too, bought Liberty Bonds and contributed to the profit of the bankers after the Armistice in the hocus-pocus of manipulated Liberty Bond prices.

And even now the families of the wounded men and of the mentally broken and those who never were able to readjust themselves are still suffering and still paying.


WELL, it’s a racket, all right.

A few profit – and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can’t end it by disarmament conferences. You can’t eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can’t wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.

The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nations manhood can be conscripted. One month before the Government can conscript the young men of the nation – it must conscript capital and industry and labor. Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted – to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.

Let the workers in these plants get the same wages – all the workers, all presidents, all executives, all directors, all managers, all bankers –

yes, and all generals and all admirals and all officers and all politicians and all government office holders – everyone in the nation be restricted to a total monthly income not to exceed that paid to the soldier in the trenches!

Let all these kings and tycoons and masters of business and all those workers in industry and all our senators and governors and majors pay half of their monthly $30 wage to their families and pay war risk insurance and buy Liberty Bonds.

Why shouldn’t they?

They aren’t running any risk of being killed or of having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered. They aren’t sleeping in muddy trenches. They aren’t hungry. The soldiers are!

Give capital and industry and labor thirty days to think it over and you will find, by that time, there will be no war. That will smash the war racket – that and nothing else.

Maybe I am a little too optimistic. Capital still has some say. So capital won’t permit the taking of the profit out of war until the people – those who do the suffering and still pay the price – make up their minds that those they elect to office shall do their bidding, and not that of the profiteers.

Another step necessary in this fight to smash the war racket is the limited plebiscite to determine whether a war should be declared. A plebiscite not of all the voters but merely of those who would be called upon to do the fighting and dying. There wouldn’t be very much sense in having a 76-year-old president of a munitions factory or the flat-footed head of an international banking firm or the cross-eyed manager of a uniform manufacturing plant – all of whom see visions of tremendous profits in the event of war – voting on whether the nation should go to war or not. They never would be called upon to shoulder arms – to sleep in a trench and to be shot. Only those who would be called upon to risk their lives for their country should have the privilege of voting to determine whether the nation should go to war.

There is ample precedent for restricting the voting to those affected. Many of our states have restrictions on those permitted to vote. In most, it is necessary to be able to read and write before you may vote. In some, you must own property. It would be a simple matter each year for the men coming of military age to register in their communities as they did in the draft during the World War and be examined physically. Those who could pass and who would therefore be called upon to bear arms in the event of war would be eligible to vote in a limited plebiscite. They should be the ones to have the power to decide – and not a Congress few of whose members are within the age limit and fewer still of whom are in physical condition to bear arms. Only those who must suffer should have the right to vote.

A third step in this business of smashing the war racket is to make certain that our military forces are truly forces for defense only.

At each session of Congress the question of further naval appropriations comes up. The swivel-chair admirals of Washington (and there are always a lot of them) are very adroit lobbyists. And they are smart. They don’t shout that “We need a lot of battleships to war on this nation or that nation.” Oh no. First of all, they let it be known that America is menaced by a great naval power. Almost any day, these admirals will tell you, the great fleet of this supposed enemy will strike suddenly and annihilate 125,000,000 people. Just like that. Then they begin to cry for a larger navy. For what? To fight the enemy? Oh my, no. Oh, no. For defense purposes only.

Then, incidentally, they announce maneuvers in the Pacific. For defense. Uh, huh.

The Pacific is a great big ocean. We have a tremendous coastline on the Pacific. Will the maneuvers be off the coast, two or three hundred miles? Oh, no. The maneuvers will be two thousand, yes, perhaps even thirty-five hundred miles, off the coast.

The Japanese, a proud people, of course will be pleased beyond expression to see the united States fleet so close to Nippon’s shores. Even as pleased as would be the residents of California were they to dimly discern through the morning mist, the Japanese fleet playing at war games off Los Angeles.

The ships of our navy, it can be seen, should be specifically limited, by law, to within 200 miles of our coastline. Had that been the law in 1898 the Maine would never have gone to Havana Harbor. She never would have been blown up. There would have been no war with Spain with its attendant loss of life. Two hundred miles is ample, in the opinion of experts, for defense purposes. Our nation cannot start an offensive war if its ships can’t go further than 200 miles from the coastline. Planes might be permitted to go as far as 500 miles from the coast for purposes of reconnaissance. And the army should never leave the territorial limits of our nation.

To summarize:

Three steps must be taken to smash the war racket.

We must take the profit out of war.

We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war.

We must limit our military forces to home defense purposes.


I am not a fool as to believe that war is a thing of the past. I know the people do not want war, but there is no use in saying we cannot be pushed into another war.

Looking back, Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president in 1916 on a platform that he had “kept us out of war” and on the implied promise that he would “keep us out of war.” Yet, five months later he asked Congress to declare war on Germany.

In that five-month interval the people had not been asked whether they had changed their minds. The 4,000,000 young men who put on uniforms and marched or sailed away were not asked whether they wanted to go forth to suffer and die.

Then what caused our government to change its mind so suddenly?


An allied commission, it may be recalled, came over shortly before the war declaration and called on the President. The President summoned a group of advisers. The head of the commission spoke. Stripped of its diplomatic language, this is what he told the President and his group:

“There is no use kidding ourselves any longer. The cause of the allies is lost. We now owe you (American bankers, American munitions makers, American manufacturers, American speculators, American exporters) five or six billion dollars.

If we lose (and without the help of the United States we must lose) we, England, France and Italy, cannot pay back this money…and Germany won’t. So…

“Had secrecy been outlawed as far as war negotiations were concerned, and had the press been invited to be present at that conference, or had radio been available to broadcast the proceedings, America never would have entered the World War. But this conference, like all war discussions, was shrouded in utmost secrecy. When our boys were sent off to war they were told it was a “war to make the world safe for democracy” and a “war to end all wars.”

Well, eighteen years after, the world has less of democracy than it had then. Besides, what business is it of ours whether Russia or Germany or England or France or Italy or Austria live under democracies or monarchies? Whether they are Fascists or Communists? Our problem is to preserve our own democracy.

And very little, if anything, has been accomplished to assure us that the World War was really the war to end all wars.

Yes, we have had disarmament conferences and limitations of arms conferences. They don’t mean a thing. One has just failed; the results of another have been nullified. We send our professional soldiers and our sailors and our politicians and our diplomats to these conferences. And what happens?

The professional soldiers and sailors don’t want to disarm. No admiral wants to be without a ship. No general wants to be without a command. Both mean men without jobs. They are not for disarmament. They cannot be for limitations of arms. And at all these conferences, lurking in the background but all-powerful, just the same, are the sinister agents of those who profit by war. They see to it that these conferences do not disarm or seriously limit armaments.

The chief aim of any power at any of these conferences has not been to achieve disarmament to prevent war but rather to get more armament for itself and less for any potential foe.

There is only one way to disarm with any semblance of practicability. That is for all nations to get together and scrap every ship, every gun, every rifle, every tank, every war plane. Even this, if it were possible, would not be enough.

The next war, according to experts, will be fought not with battleships, not by artillery, not with rifles and not with machine guns. It will be fought with deadly chemicals and gases.

Secretly each nation is studying and perfecting newer and ghastlier means of annihilating its foes wholesale. Yes, ships will continue to be built, for the shipbuilders must make their profits. And guns still will be manufactured and powder and rifles will be made, for the munitions makers must make their huge profits. And the soldiers, of course, must wear uniforms, for the manufacturer must make their war profits too.

But victory or defeat will be determined by the skill and ingenuity of our scientists.

If we put them to work making poison gas and more and more fiendish mechanical and explosive instruments of destruction, they will have no time for the constructive job of building greater prosperity for all peoples. By putting them to this useful job, we can all make more money out of peace than we can out of war – even the munitions makers.

So…I say,



Foreign policy veteran on Syria C/W crisis

September 9, 2013
William R Polk: US Foreign policy expert providing a sound analysis on Syria crisis

William R Polk: US Foreign policy expert providing a sound analysis on the Syria crisis

Essay by William R Polk

Probably like you, I have spent many hours this last week trying to put together the scraps of information reported in the media on the horrible attack with chemical weapons on a suburb of Damascus on Wednesday, August 21.  Despite the jump to conclusions by reporters, commentators and government officials, I find as of this writing that  the events are still unclear. Worse, the bits and pieces we have been told are often out of context and usually have not been subjected either to verification or logical analysis.  So I ask you to join me in thinking them through to try to get a complete picture on what has happened, is now happening and about to happen.  I apologize for both the length of this analysis and its detail, but the issue is so important to all of us that it must be approached with care.

Because, as you will see, this is germane in examining the evidence, I should tell you that during my years as a member of the Policy Planning Council, I was “cleared” for all the information the US Government had on weapons of mass destruction, including poison gas, and for what was then called “Special Intelligence,”  that is, telecommunications interception and code breaking.

I will try to put in context 1) what actually happened;  2) what has been reported; 3) who has told us what we think we know; 4) who are the possible culprits and what would be their motivations; 5)  who are the insurgents?  6)  what is the context in which the attack took place;  7) what are chemical weapons and who has used them; 8)  what the law on the use of chemical weapons holds; 9) pro and con on attack;  10)  the role of the UN; 11) what is likely to happen now;  12) what would be the probable consequences of an attack and (13) what could we possibly gain from an attack.

1:         What Actually Happened

On Wednesday, August 21 canisters of gas opened in several suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus and within a short time approximately a thousand people were dead.  That is the only indisputable fact we know.

2:         What Has Been Reported

Drawing primarily on Western government and Israeli sources, the media has reported that canisters of what is believed to be the lethal nerve gas Sarin were delivered by surface-to-surface rockets to a number of locations in territory disputed by the Syrian government and insurgents.  The locations were first reported to be to the southwest, about 10 miles from the center of Damascus,   and later reported also to be to the east of the city in other suburbs.  The following Voice of America map shows the sites  where bodies were found.

3:         Who Told Us What We Think We Know

A UN inspection team that visited the site of the massacre on Monday, August 26, almost 5 days after the event.

Why was the inspection so late? As a spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed out (Gareth Porter in IPS, August 27), the request to the Syrian government to authorize an inspection was not made until August 24 and was granted the next day. In any event, according to the spokesman, the delay was not of fundamental importance because “Sarin can be detected for up to months after its use.”

What was the American government position on inspection? Secretary of State John Kerry initially demanded that the Syrian government make access to the suspected site or sites possible.  Then it charged that the Syrian government purposefully delayed permission so that such evidence as existed might be “corrupted”  or destroyed.   On the basis of this charge, he reversed his position and urged UN Secretary General Ban to stop the inquiry.  According to The Wall Street Journal of August 26, Secretary Kerry told Mr. Ban that  “the inspection mission was pointless and no longer safe…”  To emphasize the American position, according to the same Wall Street Journal report,“Administration officials made clear Mr. Obama would make his decision based on the U.S. assessment and not the findings brought back by the U.N. inspectors.”

IPS’s Gareth Porter concluded after talks with chemical weapons experts and government officials that “The administration’s effort to discredit the investigation recalls the George W. Bush administration’s rejection of the position of U.N. inspectors in 2002 after they found no evidence of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the administration’s refusal to give inspectors more time to fully rule out the existence of an active Iraqi WMD programme.  In both cases, the administration had made up its mind to go to war and wanted no information that could contradict that policy to arise.”  Is this a fair assessment?

Why was the first UN inspection so limited?   The only publicly known reason is that it came under sniper fire while on the way to the first identified site.  Who fired on it or for what reason are, as of this writing, unknown.  The area was contested by one or more rebel groups and under only limited or sporadic control by the Syrian government. Indeed, as photographs published by The New York Times on August 29, show the UN inspectors in one area (Zamaka) guarded by armed men identified as “rebel fighters.”  So the sniper could have been almost anyone.

How limited was the first phase of inspection? According to a report in The Guardian (Monday, August 26, 2013), the small team of UN Inspectors investigating the poison gas attack in Syria spent only an hour and a half at the site.  So far, we have not been given any report by the UN team, but the doctor in charge of the local hospital was apparently surprised by how brief and limited was their investigation.  According toThe Guardian reporter, he said,

“The committee did not visit any house in the district. We asked the committee to exhume the bodies for checking them. But they refused. They say that there was no need to do that.

‘We had prepared samples for the committee from some bodies and video documentation. There were urine and blood samples as well as clothes. But they refused to take them.

‘After an hour and a half, they got an order from the regime to leave ASAP. The security force told the committee if they did not leave now, they could not guarantee their security. They could not visit the main six sites where the chemical rockets had fallen and lots of people were killed.’ ”

Why did the investigators not do a more thorough job?  The doctor at the site told the Guardian reporter that the Assad regime warned the investigators that they should leave because it could not guarantee their safety   but the newspaper’s headline says that the Syrian government authorities  ordered them out.  Which is true? Is there another explanation?   And why did the inspection team not have the means to retrieve parts of the delivery equipment, presumably rockets?   Were they told by the UN or other authorities not to retrieve them or were they refused permission by the Syrian government?  We simply do not know.

To say the least, the inspection was incomplete. The best that the State Department spokesman could say about such evidence as was gathered is that there is “’little doubt’ [Vice President Biden later raised the certainty from the same limited evidence to “no doubt”] that forces loyal to Mr. Assad were responsible for using the chemical weapons.” (“’Little Doubt’ Syria Gassed Opposition,” The Wall Street Journal,August 26, 2013).

Much was made of the belief that the gas had been delivered by rocket.  However, as The New York Times correspondent Ben Hubbard reported (April 27, 2013) “”Near the attack sites, activists found spent rockets that appeared to have been homemade and suspected that they delivered the gas.”    Would the regular army’s chemical warfare command have used “homemade” rockets?  That report seemed to point to some faction within the opposition rather than to the government.

Several days into the crisis, we have been given a different source of information.  This is from Israel.  For many years, Israel is known to have directed a major communications effort against Syria.  Its program, known as Unit 8200 is Mossad’s equivalent of NSA. It chose to share what it claimed was a key intercept with outsiders.   First, a former officer told the German news magazine Focus (according to The Guardian,August 28, 2013) that Israel had intercepted a conversation between Syrian officers discussing the attack.  The same Information was given to Israeli press (see “American Operation, Israeli Intelligence” in the August 27 Yediot Ahronoth,)   It also shared this information with the American government. Three Israeli senior officers were reported to have been sent to Washington to brief NSC Director Susan Rice.  What was said was picked up by some observers.  Foreign Policy magazine reported (August 28, “Intercepted Calls Prove Syrian Army Used Nerve Gas, U.S. Spies Say”) that “in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Minister of Defense exchanged what Israeli intelligence described as “panicked phone calls” with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answer for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people.”

But, as more information emerged, doubts began to be expressed. As Matt Apuzzo reported (AP, August 29, “AP sources: Intelligence on weapons no ‘slam dunk.’”), according to a senior US intelligence official, the intercept “discussing the strike was among low level staff, with no direct evidence tying the attack to an Assad insider or even a senior commander.” Reminding his readers of the famous saying by the then head of the CIA, George Tenet, in 2002 that the intelligence against Saddam Husain was “slam dunk,” when in fact it was completely erroneous, the AP correspondent  warned that the Syrian attack of last week “could be tied to al-Qaida-backed rebels later.”

Two things should be borne in mind on these reports: the first is that Israel has had a long-standing goal of the break-up or weakening of Syria which is the last remaining firmly anti-Israeli Arab state. (the rationale behind this policy was laid out by Edward Luttwak in the OpEd section of the August 24, 2013 New York Times).  It also explains why Israel  actively had sought “regime change” in Iraq.  The second consideration is that Israeli intelligence has also been known to fabricate intercepts as, for example, it did during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

So, unless or until more conclusive evidence is available, the request by Mr. Ban (“U.N. seeks more time for its inspectors,”International Herald Tribune, August 29, 2013) for more time appears to be prudent.   Despite what Messrs Biden and Kerry have said, I believe a court would conclude that the case  against the Syrian government was “not proven.”

4:         Who Are the Possible Culprits and What Would be Their Motivations?

Since such information as we have is sketchy and questionable, we should seek to understand motives.  As a historian, dealing as one always does, with incomplete information, I have made it a rule when trying to get at the “truth” in any contentious issue to ask a series of questions among which are who benefits from a given action and what would I have done in a given situation?   Look briefly at what we think we now know in light of these questions:

First, who gains by the action.  I do not see what Assad could have gained from this gas attack.  It is evident that while the area in which it took place is generally held to be “disputed” territory, the government was able to arrange for the UN inspection team to visit it but not, apparently, to guarantee their safety there. If Assad were to initiate an attack, it would be more logical for him to pick a target under the control of the rebels.

Second, to have taken the enormous risk of retaliation or at least loss of support by some of his allies (notably the Russians) by using this horrible weapon, he must have thought of it either as a last ditch stand or as a knockout blow to the insurgents.  Neither appears to have been the case.  Reports in recent weeks suggest that the Syrian government was making significant gains against the rebels.  No observer has suggested that its forces were losing.   All indications are that the government’s command and control system not only remains intact but that it still includes among its senior commanders and private soldiers a high proportion of Sunni Muslims. Were the regime in decline, it would presumably have purged those whose loyalties were becoming suspect (i.e. the Sunni Muslims) or they would have bolted for cover.  Neither happened.

Moreover, if it decided to make such an attack, I should have thought that it would have aimed at storage facilities, communications links, arms depots or places where commanders congregated.  The suburbs of Damascus offered none of these opportunities for a significant, much less a knockout, blow.

Third, as students of guerrilla warfare have learned guerrillas are dispersed but civilians are concentrated.  So weapons of mass destruction are more likely to create hostility to the user than harm to the opponent. The chronology of the Syrian civil war shows that the government must be aware of this lesson as it has generally held back its regular troops (which were trained and armed to fight foreign invasion) and fought its opponents with relatively small paramilitary groups backed up by air bombardment. Thus, a review of the fighting over the last two years suggests that its military commanders would not have seen a massive gas attack either as a “game changer” or an option valuable enough to outweigh the likely costs.

So, what about the enemies of the Assad regime?   How might such an attack have been to their advantage?

First, a terrorizing attack might have been thought advantageous because of the effect on people who are either supporting the regime or are passive.  There are indications, for example, that large numbers of the pathetic Palestinian refugees are pouring out their camps in yet another “displacement.”  The number of Syrian refugees is also increasing.  Terror is a powerful weapon and historically and everywhere was often used. Whoever initiated the attack might have thought, like those who initiated the attack on Guernica, the bombing of Rotterdam and the Blitz of London, that the population would be so terrorized that they might give up or at least cower.  Then as food shortages and disease spread, the economy would falter.  Thus the regime might collapse.

That is speculative, but the second benefit to the rebels of an attack is precisely what has happened: given the propensity to believe everything evil about the Assad regime,  daily emphasized by the foreign media, a consensus, at least in America, has been achieved  is that it must have been complicit.  This consensus should make it possible for outside powers to  take action against the regime and join in giving the insurgents the money, arms and training.

We know that the conservative Arab states, the United States, other Western powers and perhaps Israel have given assistance to the rebels for the last two years, but the outside aid has not been on a scale sufficient to enable them to defeat the government. They would need much more and probably would also need foreign military intervention as happened in Libya in April 2011 to overthrow Muamar Qaddafi.  The rebels must have pondered that situation.  We know that foreign military planners have. (See “Military Intervention in Syria” Wikileaks reprinted on August 25, 2013, memorandum of a meeting in the Pentagon in 2011.) Chillingly, the just cited Wikileaks memorandum notes that the assembled military and intelligence officers “don’t believe air intervention would happen unless there was enough media attention on a massacre, like the Ghadafi [sic] move against Benghazi.” (See Time, March 17, 2011.)  As in Libya,  evidence of an ugly suppression of inhabitants might justify and lead to foreign military intervention.

Clearly, Assad had much to lose and his enemies had much to gain.  That conclusion does not prove who did it, but it should give us pause to find conclusive evidence which we do not now have.

5:         Who are the insurgents?

We know little about them, but what we do know is that they are divided into hundreds – some say as many as 1,200 — of small, largely independent,  groups.  And we know that the groups range across the spectrum from those who think of themselves as members of the dispersed, not-centrally-governed but ideologically-driven association we call al-Qaida, through a variety of more conservative Muslims, to gatherings of angry, frightened or dissatisfied young men who are out of work and hungry,  to blackmarketeers who are trading in the tools of war, to what we have learned to call in Afghanistan and elsewhere “warlords.”

Each group marches to its own drumbeat and many are as much opposed to other insurgents as to the government; some are secular while others are jihadists; some are devout while others are opportunists; many are Syrians but several thousand are foreigners from all over the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia.   Recognition of the range of motivations, loyalties and aims is what, allegedly, has caused President Obama to hold back overt lethal-weapons assistance although it did not stop him from having the CIA and contractors covertly arm and train insurgents in Jordan and other places.

The main rebel armed force is known as the Free Syrian Army.  It was formed in the summer of 2011 by deserters from the regular army. Similar to other rebel armies (for example the “external” army of the Provisional Algerian Government in its campaign against the French and various “armies” that fought the Russians in Afghanistan) its commanders and logistical cadres are outside of Syria.  Its influence over the actual combatants inside of Syria derives from its ability to allocate money and arms and shared objectives; it does not command them.  So far as is known, the combatants are autonomous.  Some of these groups have become successful guerrillas and have not only killed several thousand government soldiers and paramilitaries but have seized large parts of the country and disrupted activities or destroyed property in others.

In competition with the Free Syrian Army is an Islamicist group known as Jabhat an-Nusra (roughly “sources of aid”) which is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States.  It is much more active and violent than groups associated with the Free Syrian Army.  It is determined to convert Syria totally into an Islamic state under Sharia law. Public statements attributed to some of its leaders threaten a blood bath of Alawis and Christians after it achieves the fall of the Assad regime.   Unlike the Free Syrian Army it is a highly centralized force and its 5-10 thousand guerrillas have been able to  engage in large-scale and coordinated operations.

Of uncertain and apparently shifting relations with Jabhat an-Nusra, are groups that seem to be increasing in size who think of themselves as members of al-Qaida.  They seem to be playing an increasing role in the underground and vie for influence and power with the Muslim Brotherhood and the dozens of other opposition groups.

Illustrating the complexity of the line-up of rebel forces, Kurdish separatists are seeking to use the war to promote their desire either to unite with other Kurdish groups in Turkey and/or Iraq or to achieve a larger degree of autonomy.  (See Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa, “The Civil War Within Syria’s Civil War,” Foreign Policy, August 28, 2013).  They are struggling against both the other opposition groups and against the government, and they too would presumably welcome a collapse of the government that would lead to the division of the country into ethnic-religious mini-states.

It seems reasonable to imagine that at least some and perhaps all of these diverse groups must be looking for action (such as a dramatic strike against the regime) that would tip the scale of military capacity. Listening to the world media and to the intelligence agents who circulate among them, they must hope that an ugly and large-scale event caused by or identified with the government might accomplish what they have so far been unable to do.

6:         What Is the Context in Which the Attack Took Place?

Syria is and has always been a complex society, composed of clusters of ancient colonies.  Generally speaking, throughout history they have lived adjacent to one another rather than mixing in shared locations as the following map suggests.

[Syrian ethnic and/or religious communities. The large white area is little-inhabited desert. Courtesy of Wikipedia]

The population before the outbreak of the war was roughly (in rounded numbers)   6 in 10 were Sunni Muslim, 1 in 7 Christian, 1 in 8 Alawi (an ethnic off-shoot of Shia Islam), 1 in 10 Kurdish Muslim, smaller groups of Druze and Ismailis (both off-shoots of Shia Islam) and a scattering of others.

Syria has been convulsed by civil war since climate change came to Syria with a vengeance. Drought devastated the country from 2006 to 2011.  Rainfall in most of the country fell below eight inches (20 cm) a year, the absolute minimum needed to sustain un-irrigated farming. Desperate for water, farmers began to tap aquifers with tens of thousands of new well.  But, as they did, the water table quickly dropped to a level below which their pumps could lift it.

[USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Commodity Intelligence Report, May 9, 2008]

In some areas, all agriculture ceased.  In others crop failures reached 75%.  And generally as much as 85% of livestock died of thirst or hunger.  Hundreds of thousands  of Syria’s farmers gave up, abandoned their farms and fled to the cities and towns in search of almost non-existent jobs and severely short food supplies.  Outside observers including UN experts estimated that between 2 and 3  million of Syria’s 10 million rural inhabitants were reduced to “extreme poverty.”

The domestic Syrian refugees immediately found that they had to compete not only with one another for scarce food, water and jobs, but also with the already existing foreign refugee population.  Syria already was a refuge for quarter of a million Palestinians and about a hundred thousand people who had fled the war and occupation of Iraq.  Formerly prosperous farmers were lucky to get jobs as hawkers or street sweepers.  And in the desperation of the times, hostilities erupted among groups that were competing just to survive.

Survival was the key issue.  The senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in Syria turned to the USAID program for help. Terming the situation “a perfect storm,” in November 2008, he warned  that Syria faced “social destruction.” He noted that the Syrian Minister of Agriculture had “stated publicly that [the]  economic and social fallout from the drought was ‘beyond our capacity as a country to deal with.’”  But, his appeal fell on deaf ears:  the USAID director commented that “we question whether limited USG resources should be directed toward this appeal at this time.”  (reported on November 26, 2008 in cable 08DAMASCUS847_a to Washington and “leaked” to Wikileaks )

Whether or not this was a wise decision, we now know that the Syrian government made the situation much worse by its next action. Lured by the high price of wheat on the world market, it sold its reserves. In 2006, according to the US Department of Agriculture, it sold 1,500,000 metric tons or twice as much as in the previous year.  The next year it had little left to export; in 2008 and for the rest of the drought years it had to import enough wheat to keep its citizens alive.

So tens of thousands of frightened, angry, hungry and impoverished former farmers flooded constituted a “tinder” that was ready to catch fire.  The spark was struck on March 15, 2011  when a relatively small group gathered in the town of Daraa to protest against government failure to help them.  Instead of meeting with the protestors and at least hearing their complaints, the government cracked down on them as subversives.  The Assads, who had ruled the country since 1971,  were not known for political openness or popular sensitivity.   And their action backfired.  Riots broke out all over the country,  As they did, the Assads attempted to quell them with military force.  They failed to do so and, as outside help – money from the Gulf states and Muslim “freedom fighters” from  the rest of the world – poured into the country, the government lost control over 30% of the country’s rural areas and perhaps half of its population.  By the spring of 2013, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), upwards of 100,000 people had been killed in the fighting, perhaps 2 million have lost their homes and upwards of 2 million have fled abroad.  Additionally, vast amounts of infrastructure, virtually whole cities like Aleppo, have been destroyed.

Despite these tragic losses, the war is now thought to be stalemated: the government cannot be destroyed and the rebels cannot be defeated.  The reasons are not only military: they are partly economic– there is little to which the rebels could return;  partly political – the government has managed to retain the loyalty of a large part of the majority Muslim community which comprises the bulk of its army and civil service whereas the rebels, as I have mentioned, are fractured into many mutually hostile groups;  and partly administrative  — by and large the government’s  structure has held together and functions satisfactorily whereas the rebels have no single government.

7:         What are Chemical Weapons and Who Has Used Them?

When I was a member of the Policy Planning Council and  was “cleared” for all information on weapons of mass destruction, I was given a detailed briefing at Fort Meade on the American poison gas program.  I was so revolted by what I learned that I wrote President Kennedy a memorandum arguing that we must absolutely end the program and agree never to use it.   Subsequently, the United States is said to have destroyed 90% of its chemical weapons.

My feelings aside, use of chemical weapons has been common. As the former head of the US Congress’s committee on foreign affairs and later president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, Lee Hamilton, told me, his experience was that when a weapon was available, the temptation to use it was almost irresistible.  History bears him out.  While most people were horror-stricken by the use of gas, governments continued to use it. In times of severe stress, it became acceptable.  As Winston Churchill wrote, use “was simply a question of fashion changing as it does between long and short skirts for women.”  Well, perhaps not quite, but having begun to use gas in the First World War, when about 100,000 people were killed by it, use continued.

After the war, the British, strongly urged by Churchill, then Colonial Secretary, used combinations of mustard gas, chlorine and other gases against tribesmen in Iraq in the 1920s.  As he said, “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.” In the same spirit, the Spaniards used gas against the Moroccan Rif Berbers in the late 1920s;  the Italians used it against Ethiopians in the 1930s; and  the Japanese used it against the Chinese in the 1940s.   Churchill again: during the Second World War, he wrote that if the Blitz threatened to work against England, he “may certainly have to ask you [his senior military staff] to support me in using poison gas.  We could drench the cities of the Ruhr and many  other cities in Germany…”  More recently in 1962, I was told by the then chief of the CIA’s Middle Eastern covert action office, James Critichfield that the Egyptians had used lethal concentrations of tear gas in their campaign against royalist guerrillas in Yemen.

America used various chemical agents including white phosphorus in Vietnam (where it was known as “Willie Pete”) and in Fallujah (Iraq) in 2005.  We encouraged or at least did not object to the use of chemical agents, although we later blamed him for so doing, by Saddam Husain. Just revealed documents show that the Reagan administration knew of the Iraqi use in the Iraq-Iran war of the same poison gas (Sarin) as was used a few days ago in Syria  and Tabun (also a nerve gas).  According to the US military attaché working with the Iraqi army  at the time, the US government either turned a blind eye or  approved its use (see the summary of the documents in Shane Harris and Matthew Aid, “Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran,” Foreign Policy, August 26, 2013)   We were horrified when Saddam Husain used poison gas against the Kurdish villagers of Halabja in 1988 (killing perhaps 4-5 thousand people) but by that time we had dropped our support for the Iraqi government.   Finally,  Israel is believed to have used poison gas in Lebanon and certainly used white phosphorus in Gaza in 2008.

I cite this history not to justify the use of gas – I agree with Secretary Kerry that use of gas is a “moral obscenity” —  but to show that its use is by no means uncommon.  It is stockpiled by most states in huge quantities and is constantly being produced in special factories almost everywhere despite having been legally banned since the Geneva Protocol of June 17, 1925.

8:         What Is Current Law on the Use of Chemical Weapons?

Use, production and storage of such weapons was again banned in the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (to which Syria it not a party). But nearly all the signatories to that convention reserved the right   legally to use such weapons if the weapons had been used against them (i.e. no first strike).  The Convention, unfortunately, contains no provision banning the use of weapons, as Saddam certainly did and as Assad is accused of doing, in civil war.   My understanding of the current law, as set out in the 1993 Convention, is that the United States and the other NATO members are legally entitled to take military action only when we – not their citizens — are actually threatened by overt military attack with chemical weapons.

9:         Pro and Con on Attack

Putting the legal issue aside, there is precedent.  A part of the rationale for the 2003 U.S. attack on Iraq was the charge that it had or was developing weapons of mass destruction including poison gas which it planned to use against us.  This was the essence of Secretary of State Collin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council on February 6, 2003.

Powell then realized that there was no evidence to back up his charge (and it was later shown to be false), but that did not stop or even delay the attack.  The determination to attack had already been made, regardless of evidence.  An attack was undoubtedly then generally approved by the American public and its elected representatives.  They, and our NATO allies, concluded on the basis of what the second Bush administration told them that there was a threat and, therefore, that action was not only necessary for defense but also legal.  It is the memory of this grave misleading of the public that haunts at least some government officials and elected representatives today.

Memory of the Iraqi deception and the subsequent disaster is apparently responsible for the Parliamentary rejection  of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s announced plan to take military action against the Syrian government.  “The vote was also a set back for Mr. Obama, who, having given up hope of getting United Nations Security Council authorization for the strike, is struggling to assemble a coalition of allies against Syria…

But administration officials made clear that eroding support would not deter Mr. Obama  in deciding to go ahead with a strike.”  (“Obama Set for Limited Strike on Syria as British Vote No,”  The New York Times, August 29, 2013)

The New York Times editorial board essentially joined with the British Parliament in arguing that “Despite the pumped-up threats and quickening military preparations, President Obama has yet to make a convincing legal or strategic case for military action against Syria.”  (Editorial of August 28, 2013)

“As he often so eloquently does, President Obama said on August 23, ‘…what I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective of, what is in our long-term national interests?…Sometimes what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff, that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.’ ”

However, as I point out below, his actions, as unfortunately also is typical of him, do not seem to mesh with his words.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations, Secretary General Ban urged the European heads of state and President Obama to “Give peace a chance…give diplomacy a chance.”

There has been a steady outpouring of informed non-governmental opposition to an attack.  Sir Andrew Green, the former British ambassador called it “poor foolishness…It beggars belief that we appear to be considering an armed attack on Syria with no clear purpose and no achievable objective.”  (Blundering into war in Syria would be pure foolishness.” The English Conservative Party  daily, Conservative Home, August 26, 2013).  This was from a member of the Prime Minister’s Conservative party; the Labour opposition was even more opposed to the adventure.

The Russian government was outspoken in opposition.  Many Western commentators regarded their opposition as a sort of echo of the  Cold War, but the Russians were acutely aware of the danger that their own large (16% of their population) and growing Muslim population might be affected by the “forces of extremism in country after country in the Middle East by [the US] forcing or advocating a change in leadership – from Iraq to Libya, Egypt to Syria.”  (Steven Lee Myers, “Putin stays quiet as his aides assail the West,”International Herald Tribune, August 29, 2013)  As I have mentioned, President Obama believed that the Russians would veto the resolution the British had submitted to the Security Council before the English Parliament voted down the Prime Minister’s plan to intervene.

10):     What is the role of the United Nations?

            Perhaps the most important role of the United Nations has not been in the highly publicized meetings and decisions of the Security Council, but in its specialized agencies, particularly the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in the attempt to mobilized food aid and the High Commission for Refugees (HCR) in attempting to ameliorate the conditions of the millions of people displaced by the fighting.  They have had little to work with.

But it is the UN in its more peace seeking role that is now in the forefront.  Weapons experts from the UN are conducting the investigation of the sites where the victims were killed.  There has been, as I mentioned above, an effort to end their work after their initial visit, but the UN Secretary General insisted that they continue for at least two more days.  The British, French and American governments have attempted also to limit the role of the UN to give them more latitude for whatever action they wish to take.  Indeed, the US State Department spokesman was quoted as saying  that whatever the inspectors reported would make no difference to the decisions of the Western powers.  Of course, the Western powers are concerned that whatever might be laid before the UN Security Council might be vetoed by Russia and perhaps also by China.

 11:      What is Likely to Happen Now

[This section written just before the president’s surprise announcement that he would go to Congress.]

While President Obama has spoken of caution and taking time to form a coalition, the gossip around the White House (The Wall Street Journal,August 26 and later accounts cited above) suggests that he is moving toward a cruise missile strike to “deter and degrade” the Syrian government even if this has to be a unilateral action.  (Paul Lewis and Spencer Ackerman, “White House forced to consider unilateral strikes against Assad after British PM unexpectedly loses key motion on intervention,” The Guardian, August 30, 2013)  The US Navy has moved 5 cruise missile armed destroyers into the Mediterranean off the Syrian coast and “all indications suggest that a strike could occur soon after United nations investigators charged with scrutinizing the Aug. 21 attack leave the country.   They are scheduled to depart Damascus on Saturday [August 31, 2013].”  (Mark Lander et al, “Obama Set for Limited Strike on Syria as British Vote No,”  The New York Times, August 29, 2013)

12:      What Would Be  the Probable Consequences of an Attack?

Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, who was head of the Central Command when missiles were launched against Iraqi and Afghan targets warned (Ernesto Londoño and Ed O’Keefe, “imminent U.S. strike on Syria could draw nation into civil war,” The Washington Post, August 28, 2013) that “The one thing we should learn is that you can’t get a little bit pregnant.”  Taking that first step would almost surely lead to other steps that in due course would put American troops on the ground in Syria as a similar process did in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Stopping at the first step would be almost impossible as it was in those campaigns.  As the former American ambassador to Syria commented “A couple of cruise missiles are not going to change their way of thinking.”  And, Zinni put it in more pointed terms, “You’ll knee-jerk into the first option, blowing something up, without thinking through what this could lead to.”

Why is this?  It is called “mission creep.”  When a powerful government takes a step in any direction, the step is almost certain to have long-term consequences.  But, it seldom that leaders consider the eventual consequences. What happens?  Inevitably,  having taken step “A,” it narrows its options.  It is embarked upon one  path and not another one.  At that point, step “B” often seems the logical thing to do whereas some other, quite different sort of action on a different path, seems inappropriate in the  context that step “A” has created.  At the same time, in our highly visual age with the forces of television coming to bear, governments, particularly in societies where public opinion or representation exist, come under pressure to do something as President Obama said in the remarks I have just quoted.  Where lobbies represent sectors of the economy and society with vested interests, the pressure to do something become immense.  We have often seen this in American history.  One political party stands ready to blame the other for failure to act.  And fear of that blame is often persuasive.  Thus, step “C” takes on a life of its own quite apart from what is suggested by a calm analysis of national interest, law or other considerations.  And with increasing speed further steps are apt to become almost inevitable and even automatic.  If you apply this model to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, you can see how modest first steps led to eventual massive involvement.

During this time, it is likely that the victims of the attacks or their allies would attempt to strike back.  Many observers believe that the Syrian government would be prepared to “absorb” a modest level of attack that stopped after a short period.  However, if the attacks were massive and continued, it might be impossible for that government or its close allies, the Iranian and Iraqi governments and the Hizbulllah partisans in Lebanon, to keep quiet.  Thus, both American installations, of which there are scores within missile or aircraft range, might be hit.  Israel also might be targeted and if it were,  it would surely respond.  So the consequences of a spreading, destabilizing war throughout the Middle East and perhaps into South Asia (where Pakistan is furious over American drone attacks) would be a clear and present danger.

Even if this scenario were not played out, it would be almost certain that affected groups or their allies would seek to carry the war back to America in the form of terrorist attacks.

 13:      So what could we possibly gain from an attack on Syria?

             Even if he wanted to, could Assad meet our demands?  He could, of course, abdicate, but this would probably not stop the war both because his likely successor would be someone in the inner circle of his regime and because the rebels form no cohesive group.  The likely result would be something like what happened after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, a vicious civil war among competing factions.

No one, of course, can know what would happen then.  My hunch is that Syria, like Afghanistan, would be torn apart not only into large chunks such as the Kurds in the northeast but even neighborhood by neighborhood as in the Iraqi cities.  Muslims would take revenge on Alawis and Christians who would be fighting for their lives.  More millions would be driven out of their homes.  Food would be desperately short, and disease probably rampant.  If we are worried about a haven for terrorists or drug traffickers, Syria would be hard to beat.  And if we are concerned about a sinkhole for American treasure, Syria would compete well with Iraq and Afghanistan.  It would probably be difficult or even impossible to avoid “boots on the ground” there.  So we are talking about casualties, wounded people, and perhaps wastage of another several trillion dollars which we don’t have to spend and which, if we had, we need to use in our own country for better heath, education, creation of jobs and rebuilding of our infrastructure.

Finally, if the missile attacks do succeed in “degrading” the Syrian government,  it may read the signs as indicating that fighting the war is acceptable so long as chemical weapons are not employed. They may regard it as a sort of license to go ahead in this wasting war.   Thus, the action will have accomplished little.  Thus,  as General Zinni points out, America will likely find itself saddled with another long-term, very expensive and perhaps unwinnable war.   We need to remind ourselves what Afghanistan did – bankrupting the Soviet Union  – and what Iraq cost us — about 4,500 American dead, over 100,000 wounded, many of whom will never recover, and perhaps $6 trillion.

Can we afford to repeat those mistakes?


The Unbearable Lightness of Being Tony Blair

June 4, 2013

By Matthew Carr / December 3rd, 2009

At some point in the New Year Tony Blair will appear before the Chilcot Inquiry established by the British government to assess the historical ‘lessons’ of the Iraq war. Few individuals bear more responsibility for the invasion and its calamitous aftermath than Blair. Not only was his single-minded determination crucial in bringing his own country into the war, but his close political relationship with the Bush administration, also helped US hawks present the case for war to a skeptical American public.

Tony Blair

The consequences of this intervention are well-known; hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths and four million refugees and internally displaced persons; thousands of British and American soldiers killed or wounded; an Iraqi society devastated by war and counterinsurgency, by criminal and terrorist violence, ethnic cleansing and death squads; a neo-colonial occupation marked by torture and brutality and barely-credible levels of financial corruption and incompetence.

All these consequences constitute one of the most extraordinary disasters – and one of the greatest crimes – in British political history. Yet the man who did so much to make this disaster possible has yet to be made accountable. The Chilcot Inquiry is unlikely to make much progress in this direction. Sir John Chilcot has already made it clear that his inquiry does not intend to ‘apportion blame’ and his commission contains two of Blair’s self-professed admirers. Blair himself will undoubtedly be at his slickest and most Teflon-like best, indignant at any suggestion of lowly motives behind his actions or slurs on his ‘reputation’. But accountability is necessary, and not only because of Iraq. As one of the most militaristic prime ministers in British history, Blair is an emblematic symbol of the new imperial violence of the 21st century. More than any other Western leader, he embodies the oxymoronic fantasy of ‘humanitarian’ warfare and the doctrine of liberal interventionism that makes such wars possible.

The Liberal Crusader

Posterity will struggle to unravel the disconcerting combination of evangelical moral fervour, cynicism and narcissism, and duplicity that marks Blair’s trajectory on the world stage. Blair has always attributed his decisions as a leader to a principled determination to ‘do the right thing’. Like Margaret Thatcher before him, he has often presented himself as a conviction politician, but Blair has shown an almost plaintive desire to be admired as a noble and heroic figure, grappling with difficult decisions at the lonely summits of power. At a ‘National Prayer Breakfast’ for Barack Obama earlier this year, he told the incoming president:

When I was Prime Minister I had cause often to reflect on leadership. Courage in leadership is not simply about having the nerve to take difficult decisions or even in doing the right thing, since oftentimes God alone knows what the right thing is. It is to be in our natural state – which is one of nagging doubt, imperfect knowledge, and uncertain prediction – and to be prepared nonetheless to put on the mantle of responsibility and to stand up in full view of the world, to step out when others step back, to assume the loneliness of the final decision-maker, not sure of success but unsure of it.

The mixture of fake humility, narcissism and self-congratulation is vintage Blair. At no time in his premiership did he give any indication that the knowledge that informed his actions might be ‘imperfect’ or incomplete. His speeches and interviews are punctuated with expressions such as ‘I believe that…’ or ‘I have absolutely no doubt that…’ to presage even the most dubious or tendentious claims, as if the mere fact that he believed them was sufficient proof of their truthfulness.

Where George Bush cultivated a more folksy sincerity, Blair was always more eloquent, sure-footed and plausible, with an ability to appeal to very different audiences and constituencies. These qualities already evident during Blair’s first appearance as a principled liberal interventionist during the NATO bombing of Serbia in March 1999 – a war that Blair described in typically Manichean style as ‘a battle between good and evil, between civilisation and barbarism.’ In his famous ‘doctrine of international community’ speech delivered in Chicago in April 1999 he described the NATO campaign as a the product of a new concept of ‘international community’ in which states no longer pursued the selfish national interests of the past but were ‘guided by a more subtle blend of mutual self-interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish’. These principles ignored the fact that the war had been launched by NATO in order to bypass the United Nations that represented the ‘international community.’ When Blair evoked ‘the tear stained faces of the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming across the border’ from Kosovo as a justification for intervention, he did not mention that this exodus had taken place after the war had begun, when the Serbian president Slobodan Milosovic with characteristic ruthlessness ordered the mass expulsion of 800,000 Kosovars in retaliation for the NATO bombings.

Blair’s statement of principle also ignored the fact that the war was essentially a gamble – even a reckless one – that was relatively cost-free to those who launched it. Both Blair and Clinton had assumed that air power would force Milosovic into an early surrender without the need to commit troops on the ground. When this did not happen, NATO began to escalate its bombing raids and air strikes on Serbian cities and economic ‘infrastructure’. Had Milosovic not capitulated on 11 June, NATO would have been forced to intensify the bombing of Serbian cities and carry out a ground invasion, and the notion of a humanitarian war might have looked even more threadbare.

Coming at the end of a grim decade punctuated by bloody catastrophes in the Balkans and Rwanda, the war was nevertheless widely supported across the British political spectrum. Kosovo crystallised an emerging consensus amongst conservative and liberal writers alike, which argued that Western – and more specifically American – military power could be used for moral and humanitarian purposes.

Few people were more seduced by what he called the ‘imperfect instrument’ of military power than Blair. It was in this period that Blair’s self-belief began to mutate into something more messianic, and his sense of his own greatness was matched by equally grandiose aspirations for his country. In December 1999, he called for Britain to become a ‘beacon’ to the rest of the world that would ‘stand up for justice and carry the torch of freedom everywhere where there is injustice and conflict, whether in Kosovo or East Timor.’

Even then, there were contradictions in this agenda. In 1997, Blair overruled an attempt by his Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to ban the sale of Hawk fighter jets to Indonesia as part of an ‘ethical foreign policy’ limiting arms sales to regimes with poor human rights records. Few countries had records as bad as Indonesia, but Cook’s interpretation of ‘ethical’ was at odds with Blair’s commitment to British Aerospace (BAE) – a commitment that would later lead him to block an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into alleged malfeasance in the company’s dealings with Saudi Arabia. In 2000, BAE sold Hawks to Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. Two years later, Blair personally helped persuade India to buy sixty Hawk jets at a time when India and Pakistan were on the brink of full-scale war. Nor did Blair’s moral commitment to human rights prevent him from supporting Vladimir Putin’s brutal assault on Chechnya, as a quid pro quo for Russian acquiescence in NATO’s war in Kosovo.

Blair himself had always qualified the idealistic component of his ‘doctrine of international community’ by arguing that the decision over whether to take military action should be dependent not just on whether force was morally desirable, but on whether it was practically feasible and in the national interest. Both conditions appeared to be present in the fortuitous British intervention in the Sierra Leone civil war in May 2000, when a small contingent of 1,000 troops was sent to evacuate British nationals and inadvertently helped to stabilize the country and bring its deposed president back to power.

The Road to Iraq

Blair’s sense of what was possible and desirable was radically altered by the 11 September attacks on the United States. The attacks brought all Blair’s messianic instincts to the fore, so that he seemed to see himself as an indispensable figure in a world-historic drama. In the weeks after 9/11, he briefly became the Pied Piper of the war on terror, travelling back and forth across the world in an attempt to rally international support behind US military action against what he called the ‘new evil’ of ‘mass terrorism’.

This urgency was not accompanied by any evidence of original or independent insight into the phenomenon that he described. In a speech to the Labour Party conference on 2 October 2001, with NATO only days away from a military assault on Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, Blair raised the question of whether an attempt should be made to ‘understand the causes of terror’. He immediately rejected the ‘moral ambiguity’ that such an effort might involve, since ‘nothing could ever justify the events of September 11 and it is to turn justice on its head to pretend it could.’

Very few people were attempting to ‘justify’ the attacks, but not everyone was prepared to attribute them to metaphysical evil. Some of Blair’s own party had reservations about the impact of NATO bombings on Afghan civilians. Blair insisted, ‘The action we take will be proportionate; targeted; we will do all we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties.’ His rhetoric then reached visionary heights, with the promise that

The starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of North Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountains of Afghanistan: they too are our cause. This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us.

These pronouncements were partly intended to legitimize an American-led military operation whose objectives were not nearly as ambitious or utopian as he described. Blair’s invocation of a new 21st century white man’s burden was strongly influenced by the more hard-headed ‘defensive imperialism’ propounded by the Foreign Office intellectual Robert Cooper, one of the few British foreign office officials in Blair’s inner circle. Cooper first came to public attention in April 2002, when he published an article in The Observernewspaper in which he argued that ‘post imperial, postmodern states’ were obliged to use ‘double standards’ in dealing with rogue or failed states in ‘zones of chaos’ such as Afghanistan, which might require ‘the rougher methods of an earlier era – force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself.’

This was a fairly exact description of Blair’s own worldview. In a speech to the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London in November 2002, he argued that the war on terror was a ‘new kind of war’ that could be directed against specific states as well as terrorist groups, since ‘States which are failed, which repress their people brutally, in which notions of democracy and the rule of law are alien, share the same absence of rational boundaries to their actions as the terrorist.’ Stripped of its contemporary references to terrorists, rogue states and WMD, Blair was reprising an old trope from British imperial history – that of the ‘mad’ foreigner who can only be subdued by civilising violence. One of the states where Blair observed an ‘absence of rational boundaries’ was Iraq, in an early indication of his willingness to comply with the new agenda that was beginning to take shape in Washington.

There is no space here to analyse in detail the devious and duplicitous strategies through which Blair manoeuvred his country into the Iraq war, but it is worth recalling the broad contours of this process. Blair’s support for American military action in Iraq was already evident as early as March 2002, according to the leaked memo by his special foreign policy adviser David Manning on a recent visit to the White House. In it Manning informed Blair that he had assured the Bush administration that ‘you would not budge in your support for regime change, but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different from anything in the United States’.

These differences are crucial to understanding Blair’s political strategy in the long build-up to war. For more than a year, he repeatedly denied that military action in Iraq was inevitable and insisted that he was merely trying to get the United Nations to pressure Saddam to disarm. Subsequent leaked documents, such as the ‘Downing Street memo’ make it clear that the ‘UN route’ was not intended to avert war, but to create the conditions in which war became inevitable. To ensure this outcome, Iraq policy was directed by Blair and a small coterie of special advisers, who systematically and relentlessly set out to terrify the British public and present Iraqi as a clear and present danger to British national security. In the September 2003 ‘dodgy dossier’ entitled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: the Assessment of the British Government,” Blair declared:

What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued in his efforts to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to produce nuclear weapons, and that he has been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile programme… I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current.

It is impossible to know if Blair really believed these declarations, partly because it is difficult to disentangle what he actually believed from what was politically convenient, and also because his own slippery and often contradictory explanations often shifted once it became apparent that these claims were false. Carne Ross, a diplomat with the UN with long experience of Iraq who resigned in protest at the war, later told a parliamentary committee ‘I knew that evidence they were presenting for WMD was totally implausible… All my colleagues knew that too.’ Blair’s disenchanted Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short also claimed that she was told by Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) officials that any chemical or biological material that Iraq possessed ‘almost certainly wasn’t weaponised’. In his resignation speech in protest at the war, Robin Cook declared emphatically that no intelligence information he had ever seen had claimed that Saddam possessed WMD.

Why was Blair so certain when others so doubtful? Why was his government forced to draw on intelligence material of dubious and even laughable quality, from crude forgeries to an outdated Phd thesis plagiarised from the Internet to prove its case? Why did it control the flow of information to the point when Blair’s own cabinet was barely informed on a range of crucial issues, such as the 13-page opinion piece by the Attorney General on the legality of the war that was whittled down to a 300-word summary?

These questions have yet to be conclusively answered. On 30 September 2003, amid mounting criticism of the post-invasion chaos in Iraq, Blair attempted to explain his decision to support military action by asking the Labour Party conference to imagine the dilemma in which he found himself after 9/11:

I believe the security threat of the 21st century is not countries waging conventional war. I believe that in today’s interdependent world the threat is chaos. It is fanaticism defeating reason. Suppose the terrorists repeated September 11 or worse. Suppose they got hold of a chemical or nuclear dirty bomb; and if they could, they would. What then? And if this is the threat of the 21st century, Britain should be in there helping confront it, not because we are America’s poodle, but because dealing with it will make Britain safer.

It is impossible to know how much this explanation really described his state of mind before the war. But it did not explain why military action was necessary against a regime that did not have the weapons he described. Even as Blair’s inner circle talked up the threat of Iraq publicly, they often struggled to understand the urgency themselves. In a diary entry on 3 September 2002, Blair’s pugnacious press officer Alastair Campbell records a discussion about Iraq which raised the questions ‘Why now? What was it that we knew now that we didn’t before that made us believe we had to do it now?’ The answer comes from Blair, who says that ‘dealing with Saddam was the right thing to do’ and was ‘definitely worth doing.’

According to Campbell, Blair was convinced that ‘it would be folly for Britain to go against the US on a fundamental policy, and he really believed in getting rid of bad people like Saddam’. Blair may have been sincere in his detestation of Saddam’s regime. But such loathing was not matched by any awareness of the politics and history that made his regime possible – or the potential consequences of its downfall. The Guardian correspondent Jonathan Steele describes how Blair was visited at Downing Street shortly before the war by three leading British Middle East experts, who tried to impress on Blair that Iraq was a ‘very complicated country’ with ‘tremendous inter-communal resentments’ that might not be containable if Saddam was overthrown. According to Steele, these arguments made little impact on Blair, who merely replied, ‘But the man’s uniquely evil, isn’t he?’

The three academics were reportedly dumbfounded by this simplistic response. One later described Blair as ‘someone with a very shallow mind, who’s not interested in issues other than the personalities of the top people, no interest in social forces, political trends, etc’. Another recalled his ‘weird mixture of total cynicism and moral fervour.’ This was not the only occasion when Blair was warned of the potentially negative consequences of military intervention, but they did not affect his belief that regime change was ‘right’ or that it would be successful.


In The March of Folly, a collection of essays on disastrous historical decisions from the Trojan horse to the Vietnam war, the historian Barbara Tuchman noted a recurring tendency to ‘wooden-headedness’ on the part of governments and rulers – a phenomenon she defined as ‘assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs.’ These observations can certainly be applied to the Iraq war – and to Blair’s contribution to it. His diplomacy was partially successful in persuading the Bush administration to override its more unilateralist instincts and accept the return of the UN inspectors to Iraq. But things went awry when the other members of the security council refused to accept that Iraq was in breach of its resolutions and asked for the inspectors to be given more time – an objective that clashed with the US military timetable.

At this point Blair was forced at last to declare his hand. Blaming the pusillanimity of the French and Germans in not committing themselves to military action, he argued that Iraq was now in breach of the security council’s resolutions and that war had become unavoidable. While millions of people marched against the war worldwide, Blair prepared to ‘liberate’ a country he knew almost nothing about, a country that was not a real place but a fantasy onto which he and his acolytes projected their dim sense of moral purpose. In a speech in November 2002 announcing the beginning of NATO’s war in Afghanistan, he insisted that ‘no country lightly commits forces to military action and the inevitable risks involved.’

But few wars have ever been undertaken with such a serene and blissful disregard for the consequences than the Iraq invasion. Blair’s supporters have described the British participation in the war as a noble and principled intervention, but there is little evidence of nobility or principle amongst the coterie of special advisers and officials who made it possible. The Times editor Peter Stothard’s fly-on-the-wall portrait of Blair and his circle before and immediately after the war reveals men and women with no obvious motives at all, beyond an unquestioning loyalty to their superiors and to ‘Tony’ in particular. They are minions and war flies, floating in the slipstream of American military power, whose excitement at the drama of vicarious warfare is matched by a pervasive cynicism that reveals itself their own in-house jargon, such as the verb ‘to Kofi’ – a semantic device based on the UN Secretary-General which Stothard translates as meaning ‘we had better obscure this bit of military planning with a good coat of humanitarian waffle.’

For Blair and his acolytes the moral uplift of humanitarian war cannot be disturbed by dead and wounded bodies, destruction, grief and terror. Their war is a war of memos, emails, and press briefings by mobile phones fought by bureaucrats, spin doctors, and apparatchiks obsessed with avoiding negative newspaper headlines and dictating the news agenda. At the same time these carpeted combat zones are dominated by male officials intoxicated by the long-distance drama of bloodless telegenic conflict. Blair himself demonstrates an almost boyish enthusiasm for the war. When he asks for ‘bigger maps’ of Iraq to be pinned up in his Downing Street ‘den’, even the faithful Sally Morgan observes that ‘he would really have liked a sandpit with tanks.’ Asked by Stothard how he feels about the ‘deaths of children’ caused by the ‘avoidable act’ of the Iraq invasion, Blair once again manages to turn other peoples’ tragedies into a testament to his own moral grandeur:

He puts down the fountain pen. Behind his gaze there is a momentary blankness. Aides have spoken of how much he has felt the responsibility of shedding blood. He speaks of being ready ‘to meet my maker’ and answer for ‘those who have died or have been horribly maimed as a result of my decisions’. He accepts that others who share a belief in his maker, who believe in “the same God”, assess that the last judgement will be against him…. He talks of how he has to isolate himself when people are dying from what he has decided he must do. He talks of how he has to put barriers in his mind.

These ‘barriers’ were also evident in the aftermath of the invasion. In January 2004, with Iraq slipping into a vortex of chaotic violence and insurgency, the British ambassador to Iraq Jeremy Greenstock later recalled how Blair ‘didn’t want to understand the full horror of what he was hearing from us.’ When the horror became unavoidable, Blair refused to accept any responsibility for it and blamed anyone else, whether it was al Qaeda, local terrorists or neighbouring countries such as Syria and Iran. In April 2004 fifty-two former British ambassadors wrote an unprecedented open letter to the prime minister in April 2004, which pointed out that

The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the Coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful.

Blair has never accepted such criticisms. Year after year, he continued to reiterate the same refrain that ‘he was not sorry for getting rid of Saddam ’ while ignoring or downplaying the consequences that followed. He showed a similar dishonesty as the repercussions of the Iraq war began to reach Britain. In 2004, a Home Office and Foreign Office report concluded that the risk of terrorist attacks in the UK had significantly increased as a result of the Iraq war and that many British Muslims had become disillusioned by ‘a perceived “double standard” in the foreign policy of western governments, in particular Britain and the US’.

These conclusions were echoed by both mainstream security analysts and intelligence agencies – but routinely rejected by Blair himself. On 7 July 2005, these predictions were proven brutally accurate by the suicide bombings on the London Underground during the G8 Summit in Gleneagles. At a press conference that day, Blair delivered his ritual interpretation of such events:

Our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction to innocent people in a desire to impose extremism on the world. Whatever they do, it is our determination that they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear in this country and in other civilised nations throughout the world.

The ‘martyrdom videos’ released by the 7/7 attackers left no doubt that their actions were intended as a response to western military action in the Muslim world and Iraq in particular. Whatever else can be said about this ‘justification’, it had nothing to do with Blair’s sonorous platitudes. His refusal to accept that his own actions may not have made his country ‘safe’ may have been due to genuine conviction, but there was always a suggestion of something more cunning and devious behind Blair’s description of himself as ‘a pretty straight guy’.

Blair has always been an unwavering supporter of Israel. Throughout Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon in July-August 2006 he publicly deplored what he called the humanitarian ‘catastrophe’ caused by the war, while refusing to support a ceasefire that might have brought this catastrophe to an end, in order to give Israel more time to achieve its war aims and crush Hezbollah.

On 18 July 2006 a microphone at the G8 Summit inadvertently recorded a conversation between Blair and George Bush, in Lebanon, in which the two men criticized Kofi Annan’s attempts to broker a ceasefire. When Bush tells Blair that his Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will shortly be going to Lebanon to discuss ways of bringing the war to an end, Blair offers to go himself to ‘prepare the ground’ and argues that ‘if she goes she might have to succeed, as it were, whereas if I went I could just talk.’

It is worth pausing to consider the implications of this astounding statement Here is Blair the great humanitarian crusader, offering himself as a peace envoy, not to secure a peace agreement, but so that he can ‘just talk’ – and prolong the war. The same devious duplicity has been evident in his role as the Quartet Envoy to the Middle East. Though Blair has presented himself as an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has remained as supportive of Israeli interests as he was during his time in office.

Given the task of ‘strengthening Palestinian institutions’ he colluded in the American-Israeli-EU blockade imposed on Hamas in Gaza. The man who had once hailed the ‘slums of Gaza’ as ‘our cause’ often expressed his concern at the impact of Israeli restrictions on the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, but his few public pronouncements on this issue made it clear that he believed that Hamas, not Israel, was ultimately responsible for them. In December 2008 he gave an interview to the newspaper Ha’aretz which made it clear that he was aware that a major Israeli military action in Gaza was being planned. When Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in January the following year, his silence was broken only by the usual expressions of humanitarian concern, which studiously avoided any criticism of the military action itself.

Such behaviour may explain why Blair was awarded a £1million award from Israel’s Dan David Foundation in 2009 for ‘his exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict’. In January that same year, he received a presidential medal of freedom from the departing George Bush in recognition of his efforts to promote “democracy, human rights and peace abroad”, together with a Congressional Gold Medal bearing his own slogan ‘our real weapons are not our guns but our beliefs.’ Blair has also accrued less symbolic rewards for his advocacy of the former. Within months of leaving office he was recruited as an advisor to JP Morgan Chase, with an annual salary of £1m, followed by a similar appointment at the Zurich Financial Service that netted another £500,000. That same year he was appointed special envoy for the UN- US-Russian-EU Quartet to the Middle East. Today he is reportedly the highest-paid public speaker in the world, charging up to £400,000 for half hour speeches on the international lecture circuit.

In addition to appearing on tv chatshows and radio programs and delivering lectures on various continents, Blair has maintained a frenetic international schedule that at times seems to make him a ubiquitous presence. Blair also has a cyber-presence on MySpace and also on Facebook, where visitors can buy copies of an imprint of his hand to raise money for charity (‘an awesome item for fans of Tony’). His two charitable institutions, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and the Tony Blair Sports Foundation have been associated with a range of issues, from climate change and malaria to child obesity and interfaith dialogue.

Faith has become a dominant theme in the new career of a politician who famously did not ‘do God’ while in office. Shortly after his resignation, Blair converted to Catholicism – a conversion that has dovetailed seamlessly with his relentless acquisition of wealth. In April 2009, he explained the purpose of his Faith Foundation to the Toronto Star in the following terms:

It is true there are two faces of faith: one reactionary, extreme, occasionally violent; the other, compassion, love, fellowship and solidarity. So the task for the foundation is: first, to help people understand different faiths better so they can understand different cultures more fully; and, second, to promote faith as part of progress and reconciliation, not a focus for conflict and sectarian divisions.

Which of these two ‘faces’ belongs to Blair himself is open to question. In April 2009, he delivered an unrepentant speech in Chicago that revisited his ‘doctrine of international community’ and accused Iran of sponsoring or ideologically supporting terrorism across the world, from Mumbai to Somalia. Blair insisted that the West should continue to use hard and soft power against a terrorist enemy that ‘kills the innocent’ and ‘creates chaos in a world which increasingly works through confidence and stability.’ Nowhere in Blair’s speech was there any recognition of the chaos generated by the ‘interventions’ that he had promoted so avidly and continued to insist on. There were only the same simplistic binary formulations, the same sanctimonious paeans to ‘our’ values, the same ability to harness grand moral principles to current American propaganda tropes.

Blair’s sense of his own greatness is clearly impervious to self-doubt and he now appears to believe that he is God’s instrument on earth. Others appear to see him in the same way. In August 2009, he took time off from a holiday on the software millionaire Larry Ellison’s yacht to deliver a speech to the prestigious Communion and Liberation conference at Rimini in which he condemned ‘the restless search for short-term material gain in a globalised economic system’. Incredibly, in October 2009, Blair was proposed by the British government as a candidate for the first president of the European Council. His supporters claimed that Blair’s star quality would create a ‘motorcade effect’ that would be beneficial to Europe. Many of Blair’s compatriots breathed a sigh of relief when European leaders took a different view, but his supporters are clearly as besotted with their hero as they ever were. And whatever conclusions the Chilcot Inquiry reaches, the triumph of this vain, hollow and dangerous man is a bleak reflection of his times, in which as Yeats once wrote in a different context:

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


The Chilcot Inquiry



77% of UK young black men on the National Criminal DNA Database

May 21, 2013


If you are young and of black origin living in the UK, then the following applies to you:

“An estimated 135,000 black males aged 15 to 34 will be entered in the crime-fighting- database by April, equivalent to as many as 77 per cent of the young black male population in England and Wales. By contrast, only 22 per cent of young white males, and six per cent of the general population, will be on the database.”
African Caribbeans make up 2.9% of the national population, but Home Office figures showed that 27% of the entire black population are on the database, compared with just 9% of Asians and 6% of the white population.
Like stop and search, the issue of the DNA database is viewed as evidence of selective ‘indirect’ over-policing of people from black communities.

The question arises then as to how to these DNA samples get into the the hands of the police.  Well, that requires that you are arrested and taken into custody.   Once in custody and before you are interviewed about the offence you have been arrested for,  your DNA is taken and can be retained for 3 years.  Even if you are not charged or released with no further action, your DNA will remain on the database for 3 years.


Therefore if you are young and black, and congregate with other young black people when some sort of arrest-able incident occurs, and the group is arrested; you will need to submit your DNA regardless of whether you have done anything wrong yourself!

In order for there to be 77% of young black males on that database, suggests 77% of them are being arrested compared to 22% of young white men.  Ie they are 3 times more likely to be arrested.

If they are ‘cautioned’ by the police, then they will have a criminal caution against their name too.

Therefore, young black men are disproportionately affected by policing and disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of a caution or conviction in the UK.

And do you know what… !!  Nothing is being done!   Lots of fine words, but the police are now being used as an instrument for indirectly stratifying society and keeping young black men from getting on.

Young black men don’t make things easy for themselves!!   And the divided black community in the UK will always be victim to this sort of thing unless it can come together.

How does this happen? Lets look at the experience.

The media does not help – In fact it is part of the problem.

Can role models help … absolutely.    (See Executive Summary)

The importance of role models. Community talks:

Steve McKoy

Levi Roots

Kwami Kwei-Armah

Carl Hutchins

Anthony Henry

Presentation for black urban community.