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14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

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30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

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30 July 2019  

The December 2018 revolution and Sudanese professionals in the diaspora

on Sudan

WE LEFT SUDAN In drovesIn the late 80’s and 90’sIndeed, my generation of educated Sudanese professionals are scattered around the globe(Out of 200 medical graduates from Khartoum ...

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29 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

By Zeenat Adam 17 July 2019 Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts per...

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08 July 2019  

A new cold war in Africa

on General Topics

By Mehari Taddele Maru Last month, the twelfth US-Africa Business Summit, a high-level event attended by eleven African heads of state and government and some 1 000 busi...

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23 June 2019  

Strategic implications of the 'deal of the century' and the…

on Palestine-Israel

Aisling Byrne interviews Abdel Bari Atwan Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ (DoC) - whether in its actual or conceptual form - is ushering in a new strategic era, providing cov...

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14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

Read more

30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

Read more

30 July 2019  

The December 2018 revolution and Sudanese professionals in the diaspora

on Sudan

WE LEFT SUDAN In drovesIn the late 80’s and 90’sIndeed, my generation of educated Sudanese professionals are scattered around the globe(Out of 200 medical graduates from Khartoum ...

Read more

29 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

By Zeenat Adam 17 July 2019 Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts per...

Read more

23 June 2019  

Strategic implications of the 'deal of the century' and the…

on Palestine-Israel

Aisling Byrne interviews Abdel Bari Atwan Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ (DoC) - whether in its actual or conceptual form - is ushering in a new strategic era, providing cov...

Read more

14 June 2019  

Postponed: Unveiling of Trump's 'deal of the century' frozen as…

on Palestine-Israel

Touted by its architects as the ‘deal of the century’, US president Donald Trump’s plan for Palestine and Israel has had to again be kept hidden as Israel heads back to elections a...

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14 August 2019  

Syria's security reshuffle highlights Russia's consolidation of power

on Syria

July began with a major shake-up in the Syrian military and intelligence apparatus. In an attempt to consolidate power after regaining territorial control over most of the country...

Read more

23 June 2019  

Strategic implications of the 'deal of the century' and the…

on Palestine-Israel

Aisling Byrne interviews Abdel Bari Atwan Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ (DoC) - whether in its actual or conceptual form - is ushering in a new strategic era, providing cov...

Read more

14 June 2019  

Postponed: Unveiling of Trump's 'deal of the century' frozen as…

on Palestine-Israel

Touted by its architects as the ‘deal of the century’, US president Donald Trump’s plan for Palestine and Israel has had to again be kept hidden as Israel heads back to elections a...

Read more

10 June 2019  

Teaching Palestine in South Africa

on Palestine

By Diana Block Reaffirming Internationalism in the Twenty-first Century In March 2019 I traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa to attend a conference – Teaching Palestine: P...

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08 April 2019  

Turkish local election outcome signals disillusionment with Erdogan

on Turkey

Turkey’s local election concluded with the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) incurring heavy losses in major cities, and the opposition Republican People’s ...

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10 February 2019  

As Abbas Ages, Fatah Moves to Consolidate Power

on Palestine

By Ramzy Baroud Five years after spearheading what is inaptly referred to as a ‘government of national reconciliation’, Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, has finally&nbs...

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23 October 2018  

Jamal Khashoggi, small spark for a large fire

on Saudi Arabia

By Hassan Aourid Until last Saturday, I was hopeful that the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Istanbul was not more than a case of c...

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19 October 2018  

Khashoggi murder: Killing dissent even from within

on Saudi Arabia

The gruesome murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was designed to be a clear and firm message for Saudi dissidents, and reflected th...

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08 July 2018  

As Hudaida falls to Saudi-Emirati coalition, peace for Yemen seems…

on Yemen

The recent and ongoing Saudi-Emirati offensive on the Yemeni port city of Hudaida will render UN special envoy Martin Griffiths’s ‘new’ solution to the five-year-long Yemeni crisis...

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18 May 2018  

Beyond Tradition and Modernity: Dilemmas of Transformation in Saudi Arabia

on Saudi Arabia

By Madawi Al-Rasheed Introduction The dominant narrative through which many observers understand Saudi Arabia depicts a progressive and modernist leadership struggling to gra...

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27 April 2018  

Chaotic Yemen: The deconstruction of a failed state and regional…

on Yemen

by Helen Lackner Yemen remains in the grip of its most severe crisis ever: the civil war between forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of President Abd Rabbuh ...

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12 December 2017  

How the Saudis Escalated Yemen Struggle Beyond All Control

on Yemen

By Justin Podur Yemen is a small, poor country in a region empires have plundered for centuries. This civil war is a local struggle that has been escalated out of control by the a...

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30 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts perpetuated by post-colonial vest...

Read more

30 July 2019  

The December 2018 revolution and Sudanese professionals in the diaspora

on Sudan

WE LEFT SUDAN In drovesIn the late 80’s and 90’sIndeed, my generation of educated Sudanese professionals are scattered around the globe(Out of 200 medical graduates from Khartoum ...

Read more

29 July 2019  

Geopolitics of Sudan Revolution - Presentation to AMEC

on Sudan

By Zeenat Adam 17 July 2019 Sudan lies in the hotbed of the Horn of Africa, a region that has been plagued by decades of instability and ruin as a result of intense conflicts per...

Read more

17 April 2019  

Bashir falls but the security apparatus maintains control

on Sudan

Since the military ouster of Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir, early on Thursday, 11 April, after three months of protests, different military factions have been jos...

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16 April 2019  

Haftar's march on Tripoli

on Libya

Khalifa Haftar’s 4 April announcement declaring his march on Tripoli, and the subsequent attack on the Libyan capital by his forces, threaten to gravely impact the a...

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16 February 2019  

Uncertainty follows Moroccan-Saudi spat

on Morocco

By Hassan Aourid Moroccan-Saudi relations have never been as cool and strained as they have become in the past week, following a report on the Western Sahara disputebroa...

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12 October 2018  

Ethiopia, Eritrea: An unlikely peace deal in a fractious region

on Ethiopia

The recent peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea, signed 16 September 2018, is set to have lasting consequences for both countries and for the Horn of Africa ...

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06 April 2017  

Ensuring Somalia remains in conflict: Trump’s expanded ‘war on terror’

on Somalia

By Afro-Middle East Centre The 29 March decision by the administration of US president Donald Trump declaring Somalia an ‘area of active hostility’ will likely ensure an escalatio...

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10 October 2016  

South Sudan: Beyond the logjam of UNSC Resolution 2304

on South Sudan

By Majak D’Agoôt and Remember Miamingi No country is entirely self-contained or lacking in interdependencies. These interlocking interests form the critical part of any country’s ...

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28 April 2015  

Nigeria’s elections and future challenges

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle East Centre The election of General Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president will see a renewed focus by the government on domestic challenges posed by endemic...

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26 September 2013  

Kenyan hostage crisis: The desperation of al-Shabab

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle East Centre The hostage drama at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi over the past week has raised a number of questions about the Somali organisation al-Shabab. After the...

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23 January 2013  

French military intervention will add to Mali’s problems

on Sub-Saharan Africa

By Afro-Middle east Centre   The north of Africa was plunged into yet another international conflict with France’s invasion of Mali on Friday, 11 January. Without im...

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23 April 2019  

India in Kashmir: Risking peace as an antidote to war

on South Asia

By Ranjan Solomon On 14 February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber ...

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28 August 2015  

Does Pakistan’s refusal to join Saudi Arabia in Yemen indicate…

on Pakistan

By Afro-Middle East Centre Allegedly, the current Saudi-led onslaught on Yemen has already caused destruction that resembles the destruction wrought in Syria over the la...

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31 March 2012  

The feasibility of a continued United States presence in Afghanistan

on South Asia

By Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn Recent events in Afghanistan have fuelled speculation over the ability of international forces to continue their presence in the coun...

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28 February 2012  

Dangerous uncertainty in Pakistan

on South Asia

By Junaid S. Ahmed With relations between Pakistan's civilian government and military incredibly tense, speculation is rife in the Pakistani and international media of a looming m...

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30 May 2011  

Pakistan-USA relations in the post-Usama era

on South Asia

By Junaid S. Ahmad The assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US Special Forces was supposed to have been a landmark triumph that would bring peace and stability to the r...

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13 December 2010  

Kashmir and Obama's Indian appeasement

on South Asia

By Mohammad Abdullah Gul Obama's recent jive with school children in Delhi symbolises the nature of the new relationship that is emerging between India and the United States of Am...

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26 April 2017  

IS reorganising to face new challenges

on Political Islam

Reports in January 2017 that the leader of the Islamic State group (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been killed, reports that he had been captured by Russian troops in Syria, and th...

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07 March 2017  

IS in Africa: Containment and fragmentation

on Political Islam

By Afro-Middle East Centre With the Islamic State group (IS) losing territory in Syria and Iraq, many believe that the group will use the territory it controls in Africa as a fall...

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14 May 2016  

The Paradox of Survival and Expansion: How the Islamic State…

on Political Islam

Omar Ashour This paper examines the reasons for the military steadfastness of the Islamic State group (IS) in the face of local and international forces that are larger in numbers...

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19 December 2015  

ISIS in Africa: Reality far different from IS propaganda

on Political Islam

By Afro-Middle East Centre The revelation that the alleged mastermind of the 13 November Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State group (IS) was of Moroccan descent, the tur...

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20 July 2015  

Remaining and expanding: Measuring the Islamic State group’s success in…

on Political Islam

By Afro-Middle East Centre Since its declaration of a ‘caliphate’ on 29 June 2014, the Islamic State group (IS), the brutal successor to al-Qa'ida, has gone from stren...

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31 January 2012  

The rise of 'Ikhwanophobia': Fear of the Muslim Brotherhood

on Political Islam

By Dr. Mohsen Saleh Introduction Fear of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwanal-Muslimoon), the leading Islamist movement, has gained unprecedented international prominence since the b...

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18 February 2018  

Africa and the problem of foreign military bases

on 'War on terror'

At the establishment of the African Union (AU) in May 2001, discourses about human security and counter terrorism were ubiquitous both globally and on the continent. In Africa, the...

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21 November 2015  

The Paris attacks: Aftermath and the Islamic State group’s future

on 'War on terror'

By Afro-Middle East Centre The terror unleashed on Paris streets on 13 November reverberated throughout the world. From the G20 summit in Antalya to social media debates about how...

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28 May 2010  

Al-Qaeda in the New National Security Strategy

on 'War on terror'

By Mark Lynch The Obama administration's new National Security Strategy has been released today. It goes a long way towards providing a coherent framework for American foreign pol...

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16 February 2010  

Pakistan’s attitude towards Obama’s plan to negotiate with the Taliban

on 'War on terror'

By Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gilani U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan has generally been welcomed in Pakistan. It is being seen as a vindication...

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07 February 2010  

Mission Absolute: American hegemony in space

on 'War on terror'

By Sourav Roy Come April 2010, officials from the sleepy Polish municipality of Morag will be gearing up for perhaps their most critical assignment in the new decade. Their job wi...

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Giving ‘engagement’ a bad name: Obama’s Iran policy at one year

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

The first anniversary of Barack Obama's inauguration as President of the United States came this week. The sharpest criticism of Obama's first-year record on domestic and economic affairs came from the Nobel prize-winning economist, New York Times columnist, and Princeton professor Paul Krugman.

This line from Krugman encapsulates the concern many of us have:

"I'm pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt that I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in."

Unfortunately, this assessment applies just as well to Obama's approach to foreign policy. For us, Obama was an attractive candidate, first of all, because of his campaign commitment to end not just the war in Iraq but also "to end the mindset" that led the United States into that war. We and others hoped that Obama's courageous pledge to make "engagement" a pillar of his foreign policy, especially with countries like Iran, would be seriously pursued. In his inaugural address, his first television interview with Al-Arabiyya, and his Nowruz message to "the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran", Obama's early references to engaging Iran on the basis of "mutual interests" and in an atmosphere of "mutual respect" seemed promising to many.

But Obama's decision to appoint prominent supporters of the Iraq war to key positions in his administration—Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, Middle East super-adviser Dennis Ross—was an early and disturbing sign that the new President might not be serious about his pledge to "change the mindset" that guides much of America's Middle East policy and pursue purposive, strategically-grounded diplomacy with Iran. Obama's team has done little or nothing to help him develop a genuine strategy for realigning US-Iranian relations, in the way that President Nixon and Henry Kissinger had a serious strategy to guide their "engagement" with China.

In the end, Obama and his advisers have spent their entire first year—and much of their political capital—trying to game the Iranian system (by ignoring President Ahmadinejad's letter to Obama and instead trying to go over Ahmadinejad's head by communicating directly with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and issue ultimatums (e.g., ship most of your current stockpile of low-enriched uranium out of Iran before the end of 2009 or face "crippling" sanctions) that they now pass off as attempts to "engage" the Islamic Republic. And if those attempts did not succeed, that is attributed to internal Iranian "paralysis", not to any substantive deficiencies in US policy.

But, even as his initial rhetorical pretensions about "engaging" Iran are deflated, the President and his team want to claim that their "engagement" policy has been successful after all. As we predicted in a New York Times Op Ed in May—before Iran's June 12 presidential election and subsequent controversy surrounding its outcome provided an "excuse" to back away from serious diplomacy with Tehran—Obama's professed interest in "engagement" is being used to build support for more coercive measures against Iran, not to recast fundamentally the US-Iranian relationship. To demonstrate this, one has to look no further than what Obama himself told Time's Joe Klein this week:

"On Iran, one of our trickiest foreign policy challenges. We have held the international community together. Both in our engagement strategy, but also now as we move into the other track of a dual-track approach. Which is if they don't accept the open hand, we've got to make sure they understand there are consequences for breaking international rules. It's going to be tough, but I think the relationship we've developed with Russia will be very helpful. The outreach we've done to our traditional NATO allies will be very helpful. The work that we've done with China—including the work we've done with China to enforce sanctions against North Korea—will help us in dealing more effectively with Iran."

This proposition—that, because of Obama's half hearted efforts at "engagement", the United States is now in a stronger position to persuade Russia and China of the case for sanctions—is now being echoed by many of the same foreign policy elites and institutions in Washington that helped cheerlead the Bush Administration as it launched the Iraq war .

Against this, our fundamental criticism of Obama's Iran policy is not that engagement has failed but that it has yet to be tried in any serious, strategically-grounded fashion. Yes, Obama offered some nice words and wrote a couple of letters to the Supreme Leader (while, as noted, declining to respond to a letter sent to him by Ahmadinejad). But he has shown no strategic understanding of the imperative of managing Iran's rise and accommodating it in a new regional order in the Middle East—certainly, Obama has displayed nothing comparable to Nixon's keen awareness of the importance of a diplomatic opening with China in the early 1970s.

Lacking such insight, Obama has never seen fit to address the Iranians' longstanding interest in defining a "comprehensive framework" for US-Iranian negotiations, aimed at a fundamental change in the character of US-Iranian relations. Tehran has come to view the definition of such a framework as essential for serious US-Iranian engagement, given that repeated efforts over 20 years to cooperate with the United States on particular issues (Lebanese hostages, arming Bosnian Muslims, Afghanistan after 9/11) have produced no significant strategic benefits for the Islamic Republic. Obama also declined to take concrete steps to show Tehran that he was serious about forging a different sort of US-Iranian relationship. In particular, he refused to stop overt and covert initiatives to destabilize the Islamic Republic that he had inherited from his predecessor.

Under those circumstances, there was little chance that Obama's half hearted—or, half baked—efforts at "engagement" would be seen in Tehran as serious and credible. In a year, Obama has succeeded only at giving engagement a bad name.

Obama's failure to pursue engagement with Tehran in a substantive and strategically serious way has not been limited to the nuclear issue. The Obama Administration has not even tried to look like it is seeking to engage Iran on the range of daunting regional challenges facing the United States. During his first year in office, for example, President Obama has rolled out two high-profile policy announcements regarding Afghanistan. Neither offered any substance (and the second offered hardly any mention at all) regarding a regional strategy for engaging Afghanistan's neighbors—including, perhaps most importantly, the Islamic Republic of Iran—in collective efforts to stabilize the security environment there and promote a political settlement.

This is strategically short sighted, in the extreme. In anticipation of the "Friends of Afghanistan" conference to be held in London at the end of this month, Karl Inderfurth and Chinmaya Gharekan have published an Op Ed, "Afghanistan Needs a Surge of Diplomacy", in The New York Times in which they quote a statement issued recently by 20 former foreign ministers—"there needs to be a regional solution to Afghanistan's problems". Amplifying on this point, the Op Ed argues specifically that, "to reach the goal of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, the country must have better relations with its powerful neighbors, including Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and Russia".

More specifically, engaging Iran and other neighbors of Afghanistan is critical to any serious effort to broker a political settlement to what remains an ongoing civil war there. As Hillary Mann Leverett has attested from her own experience as a US official negotiating with senior Iranian diplomats regarding Afghanistan for almost two years during 2001-2003, Tehran's cooperation with Washington was critical to the initial success of international efforts to stand up a post-Taliban political order in Kabul. Iran has longstanding and influential ties with a wide range of powerful regional warlords. In many cases, Tehran was able to deliver its allies to the bargaining table to support the new Karzai government. In other cases, the Iranians kept some of their more recalcitrant Afghan partners on the sidelines, to prevent them from playing a "spoiler" role. The Iranians have important contributions to make in putting Afghanistan on a more stable trajectory. But this reality seems to be almost completely excluded from the Obama Administration's calculations about Afghanistan.

The Obama Administration has been just as negligent in its failure to engage Iran regarding post-conflict stabilization in Iraq. Recent discussion on Iraqi politics has focused on the disqualification of 500 or so potential candidates in Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections. Some commentators have suggested, without any particular evidence, that the disqualification reflects Iranian interference in Iraqi politics. For a more granular analysis of the disqualification, see the following pieces by Reidar Visser; click here and here.

Looking beyond the immediate issue of the disqualification, the bigger picture is this: Iran is and will be a hugely influential player in post-Saddam Iraq. Tehran believes that there are vital Iranian interests at stake there, and will pursue policies intended to protect those interests. Iran has cultivated deep ties to an extensive range of important political actors in Iraq. The Islamic Republic supported virtually all of the major Iraqi Shi'a parties and their associated militias in exile, while Saddam Husayn was in power. Iran also has longstanding ties to the major Iraqi Kurdish parties and political figures, going back to the time when these Kurdish groups were the backbone of opposition to Saddam's regime. Since Saddam's overthrow, Tehran has worked assiduously to bolster its ties to Iraq's new political elite and to reinforce its influence through burgeoning economic links. This strategy has given the Islamic Republic many cards to play to protect its interests in Iraq. As The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss pointed out this week , the trend in the relative balance of influence is clear: "the US has less and less leverage in Baghdad these days—and Iran has more and more".

Given this reality, Iraq's future should be one of several important regional issues included on a comprehensive agenda for US-Iranian strategic dialogue. At a minimum, the United States should not let Iraq become an arena for proxy conflict with Iran—as Lebanon became in the 1980s. More positively, the United States should be working to persuade Iran to use its considerable influence in Iraq in ways that support American goals in the region. The Obama Administration's failure to do this, as it seeks to position the United States to withdraw military forces from Iraq, is a profound dereliction.

President Obama's failure to engage Iran also has deeply negative consequences in the Arab-Israeli arena. The United States is not going to be able to pry Syria away from its alliance with the Islamic Republic simply by brokering an Israeli-Syrian peace that returns the Golan Heights to Syrian control (and this administration is not about to put serious pressure on the Netanyahu government over the Syria track anyway). Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been quite clear on this point with his increasingly regular calls for a "comprehensive" peace settlement in the region. Moreover, by refusing to engage with other Iranian allies—in particular, HAMAS—the Obama Administration condemns its diplomatic efforts on the Palestinian track to failure. To think that, somehow, the United States can "corner" Iran by mediating Arab-Israeli peace is severely misguided. At this point, it is necessary to acknowledge that the United States will not be able to broker negotiated settlements on the unresolved tracks of the Arab-Israeli conflict without a more productive relationship with Iran.

A year after President Obama's inauguration, America's Iran policy—and, therefore, the Obama Administration's "strategy" (to the extent there is one) for the Middle East as a whole—remains fundamentally incoherent.

Flynt Leverett directs the New America Foundation's geopolitics of energy initiative and teaches at Penn State's School of International Affairs. Hillary Mann Leverett is the president of a political risk consultancy. She is a former State Department and National Security Council official who participated in numerous rounds of secret negotiations with Iran. Both are former National Security Council staff members.

 

This article has been republished from the website "The Race for Iran" - www.raceforiran.com

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22 July 2019  

Sudan Seminar: Sudan struggling for democracy resisting…

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14 June 2019  

Conference on Migration that AMEC co-hosted with the…

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03 June 2019  

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16 April 2019  

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