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Thread: Syria under Bashir Assad (closed end 2014)

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    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    How much effort is actually placed in building a "common vision" between different internal actors? This kind of facilitation/mediation does work when applied appropriately but it's the kind of work that is often difficult and long-term; not exactly the kind of thing that succeeds in when passions are high and elections are near. I think the U.S. can do a much better job in this part of it's soft-power / smart-power tool kit.
    AP,

    Another approach that briefs well because it sounds logical, but in practice it rarely works. I think we go to great lengths to assist opposing groups identify common interests and a common vision, but we can't force them to do so. How many years has the U.S. been trying this with Israel and the Palestinians? We have assisted the UN throughout much of the world seeking peace agreements, sometimes it works (at least temporarily) other times it doesn't based on the number of obstacles/issues to reaching an agreement. I know we tried to negotiate such agreements between the various ethnic groups in Iraq, and sat in some of those discussions. Gen Zinni was probably right when he wrote that sometimes we need to sit back and wait until the fighting is over either due to one side winning, or both sides reaching a state of exhaustion and a desire for the fighting to end.

    I don't think attempting to arrange peace between warring parties is what is meant by soft power, but I get your point. I have spent a lot of time reading theories on war, theories that are grounded in history and still prove to be generally true today. I haven't seen any peace theories that are grounded in reality as of yet, but would love to study them if you are aware of any. I'm not talking about visions of unicorns and rainbows, but theories that have been proven to work over time.

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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill
    I haven't seen any peace theories that are grounded in reality as of yet, but would love to study them if you are aware of any. I'm not talking about visions of unicorns and rainbows, but theories that have been proven to work over time.
    'Peace theory' is actually a relatively new development in academic study - the theories of war go back into ancient history as you know, but this '[grounding] in history' in and of itself does not necessarily make them relevant for modern problems. That we as a species are still quick and prone to violence says more about our lack of development than advanced weapons says about our progress. Now 'peace theory' or 'conflict resolution' or whatever else you want to call it - just because the theory is young does not mean the practice is also young. I'd start with Contemporary Conflict Resolution by Ramsbotham, et al since they provide a good once-over-the-world view of the emerging field.

    I wouldn't call 'peace theory' new insofar its inventing something novel, but instead a reframing of the same problems that theories of war investigated. How do wars end? How are wars prevented? These are things that have been well practiced in history but not studied in the same depth as actually fighting wars. Why should war be the anchor in conflict studies and not peace since peace is in one way or another the desired outcome. If we accept Clausewitz's premise that war is fundamentally 'politics by other means', then what are the political means other than war? And there are 'means' - negotiation, mediation, facilitation, peacebuilding, etc. Not all are applicable in every situation just like not every military tactic is relevant in every war. And just like war is not guaranteed to succeed every time, neither is 'peace theory' - so we shouldn't hold it to impossible standards.

    We also shouldn't assume that means other war also aren't confrontational, dangerous, or even sometimes fatal in themselves - labor actions, political agitation, etc all fall within the range of activities short of war but also aim to compel an adversary to change their behavior and to gain leverage at any subsequent negotiation. This isn't about 'raindows' and 'unicorns' - not sure why any discussion of 'peace' by military professionals should be seen with skepticism since doesn't the 'soldier above all pray for peace'? - but about limiting the costs of violent conflict and resolving political problems in a way that it is sustainable and hopefully just. And of course, there's a significant difference in process between emerging and on-going conflicts - there's alot of complexities to be untangled before people can even 'reason' together.

    Implementing these practices in a deliberate, targeted, and sustained way is fairly new and it's mostly the work of international organizations and NGOs, with some but not all governments participating. Much of it is done through a social process although sometimes with official political sanction or oversight. Although states do practice these things in their own unique ways - the Congress of Vienna, the United Nations, the European Union, etc; these were/are all mechanisms in resolving disputes short of war. So there's alot of momentum in that direction and of course as evidenced by events this year, there's also many challenges and setbacks. That's not surprising but it's also no an indicator that it's impossible or undesirable for states, particularly the U.S., to pursue activist policies through means other than war.

    EDIT: I also tend to sympathize with Crowbat's line of argument that it's not so much what the U.S. can and cannot do but what it wants to and does not want to do. If the State budget was at all comparable to the DoD budget, there would probably be a significant change of direction in U.S. policies and strategies vis-a-vis conflict. What are U.S. priorities and who makes (and how do they make) those determinations? So the U.S. can definitely do more to influence and/or facilitate pluralistic reform and I would also argue that in the long-term, pluralist governance is good both for the U.S. and for international security.
    Last edited by AmericanPride; 09-13-2014 at 04:02 PM.
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    AP,

    I'll take a look at the recommended reading, thanks.

    What I meant by historically grounded, is that there is some evidence this theory will work, versus just being another good idea that isn't feasible. Obviously new ideas have to be tested, and I'm not opposed to that, but it isn't a theory by my definition until it has been tested and proven to be effective. It is an idea or concept, and while being open to new ideas we should probably go in with the assumption that is only an idea, so we should be prepared for it to fail and have contingencies in our hip pocket.

    If the State budget was at all comparable to the DoD budget, there would probably be a significant change of direction in U.S. policies and strategies vis-a-vis conflict. What are U.S. priorities and who makes (and how do they make) those determinations?
    It is unrealistic to think that DOS's budget should be comparable to DODs based simply on the amount of money it costs us to purchase and maintain our various systems, conduct major exercises, daily training, etc., but your point is taken. By interaction with the State Department has been mixed. There are some true heroes who have strategies for promoting peace and economic development over time in their particular countries, and there are a fair amount of bubble heads who have no clue how the world works, as demonstrated by the State Department rep who foolishly posted a twitter photo stating the U.S. stands behind the opposition with the Syrian Resistance. Giving bubble heads more money to promote bad policy approaches will probably result in more conflicts. The problem from the outside looking in is it doesn't appear leaders in the State Department are held accountable, unlike a General or Admiral who does something stupid or has demonstrated incompetence is likely to be relieved.

    Finally, when DOS took over the security assistance mission from DOD and used it more as a form of diplomacy than building real capacity the U.S. has wasted billions of dollar pursuing inept efforts to build partner nation capacity because it is led by State reps who have limited expertise in the field. I understand why it went under State, but they need to be augmented with sufficient DOD and law enforcement expertise to put together effective capacity building efforts that will more likely ensure that Americans will see a return on their investment of tax dollars. These are areas State out of necessity, or by choice, under resources, so if more money could help address some of these shortfalls.

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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill
    What I meant by historically grounded, is that there is some evidence this theory will work, versus just being another good idea that isn't feasible.
    I agree - my point is that whereas military study has many decades (and centuries) behind it, the field of 'peace studies' has existed for only the last several decades. That we are just now coming around to investigating the nuances of conflict resolution and peace-building, however, does not mean that there are not numerous historical examples of this in practice. As far as developing working theory, you're right, that takes time and there's been a significant amount of work done in that regard. But how many years was it between Sun Tzu and Thucydides, and Thucydides and Machiavelli, and Machiavelli and Clausewitz? And how many more years before someone brought all of their thoughts together in a cohesive 'theory' (and there are still numerous competing theories)? And at the end of the day, I'm sure you'll agree, whether the theory is about war or peace, it's just an idea and events have a way of overtaking them at the ground level.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill
    By interaction with the State Department has been mixed. There are some true heroes who have strategies for promoting peace and economic development over time in their particular countries, and there are a fair amount of bubble heads who have no clue how the world works, as demonstrated by the State Department rep who foolishly posted a twitter photo stating the U.S. stands behind the opposition with the Syrian Resistance. Giving bubble heads more money to promote bad policy approaches will probably result in more conflicts. The problem from the outside looking in is it doesn't appear leaders in the State Department are held accountable, unlike a General or Admiral who does something stupid or has demonstrated incompetence is likely to be relieved.
    My experiences have been mixed too - and I would say there are 'true heroes' and 'bubble heads who have no clue' in the military as well. And I would dispute your last statement if we are to use the outcomes of Iraq and Afghanistan as measurements of competence. Anyway, I think a significant problem for the U.S. is the the process of inter-agency cooperation. Each department is fairly effective at their own tasks, but not so much at understanding the tasks of others. In some fields - like joint military operations and interagency cooperation on counter-terrorism - there have been significant improvements but this isn't true across the whole of the government or the full range of its responsibilities. Maybe there needs to be some bureaucratic reform as well as emphasis on 'jointness' at the department level. But I think the U.S. sub-par performance is less an indicator that 'peacebuilding' doesn't work and more that the U.S. is just a bad practitioner of politics other than war.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    By interaction with the State Department has been mixed. There are some true heroes who have strategies for promoting peace and economic development over time in their particular countries, and there are a fair amount of bubble heads who have no clue how the world works, as demonstrated by the State Department rep who foolishly posted a twitter photo stating the U.S. stands behind the opposition with the Syrian Resistance. Giving bubble heads more money to promote bad policy approaches will probably result in more conflicts.
    Very few DoS people spend enough time in one country (let alone enough time outside the embassy/bubble) to offer realistic "strategies for promoting peace and economic development over time in their particular countries".

    DoS is set up to manage relationships between and among states, not to deal with the internal problems of other countries: even AID is less about promoting development than about using aid as a lever to advance perceived US interests. It's tempting to say that the US should have more capacity to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, but I have doubts: not really our business, we don't do it well, and the potential for adverse unintended consequences is high.

    I understand that some people find pleasure in imagining that the US has the capacity to dictate policy to other countries and then castigating the US for failing to use that imaginary capacity, but it doesn't seem a particularly productive pastime to me.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Dayuhan,

    I agree with your overall assessment, so where does that leave us when we state our means to project national power include diplomacy, information, military and economic power? What other credible tools do we have in the toolbox beyond the military?

    A lot of folks tend to believe if we just threw more money at State and AID a lot of our issues would magically disappear. I see little evidence of that being true. On the other hand, I think we're over militarizing a number of issues, so we're between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    I agree with your overall assessment, so where does that leave us when we state our means to project national power include diplomacy, information, military and economic power? What other credible tools do we have in the toolbox beyond the military?
    The tools are pretty much what they've always been, we just have to be more realistic about what we can expect to accomplish with them, particularly when it comes to meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. The illusion that we can settle another countrys internal disputes or persuade people to accept a government they detest just by spreading aid money around may be attractive, but it's illusory. The idea that we can persuade or compel bitter enemies to sit down and accept "inclusive government" because we want them to is attractive, but illusory. The idea that we can compel governments of other countries to govern as we think they should is attractive, but illusory, as is the idea that we know best how other countries should be governed.

    There's a tendency among disengaged observers to overrate American influence and assume that the US has more ability to control others than it actually does. The world is a much more multipolar place than it once was, and whatever another country needs, be it arms, technology, or credit, the US is not the only place to get it. That limits the carrots, just as domestic politics limits the sticks: using threats to force others to do our will is always an appealing prospect to those fond of bluster, but there's no assurance at all that it will work, especially when the electorate is in no mood to back the threats up.

    It's easy to claim that, for example, the Saudis depend on the US for their survival, but saying it doesn't make it so. They don't depend on us for their survival, and they have as much leverage over us as we have over them, as they rather pointedly made clear recently by pushing a $3 billion arms deal with France, a deal that the US defense industry would have much rather seen on US shores. File that under mild reprimands, but the point is that we don't just dictate any more, if we ever did.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    I think we're over militarizing a number of issues, so we're between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
    That's true, and I think it often comes down to taking on goals that we have no realistic or practical means to accomplish ("nation building", among others), then dumping them on the military for want of other options. Hopefully we've learned a thing or two about that.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    ...Giving bubble heads more money to promote bad policy approaches will probably result in more conflicts....
    Come on, Bill: as if it is the DOS that's determining US foreign policy...

    The DOS neither has the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 55th, 99th, nor the last word in this regards - and there is rarely such a brilliant example for this fact, but Syria.

    Especially when it comes to the Middle East, if you demand - and expect - specific type of actions from the DOS, the US should better follow my advice (see one of posts some 4-5 pages back), and save plenty of tax-payer's money by disbanding it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CrowBat View Post
    Come on, Bill: as if it is the DOS that's determining US foreign policy...

    The DOS neither has the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 55th, 99th, nor the last word in this regards - and there is rarely such a brilliant example for this fact, but Syria.

    Especially when it comes to the Middle East, if you demand - and expect - specific type of actions from the DOS, the US should better follow my advice (see one of posts some 4-5 pages back), and save plenty of tax-payer's money by disbanding it.
    The Department of State is the principal producer of most foreign policies, many of which are rubber stamped. Not all foreign policies are rubber stamped and there will be a number of actors involved.

    http://www.state.gov/s/p/

    The Policy Planning Staff''s mission is to take a longer term, strategic view of global trends and frame recommendations for the Secretary of State to advance U.S. interests and American values.
    http://careers.state.gov/learn/what-we-do

    The Secretary of State, the ranking member of the Cabinet and fourth in line of presidential succession, is the President's principal advisor on foreign policy and the person chiefly responsible for representing the United States abroad.
    Recommended reading

    http://americasotherarmy.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    The Department of State is the principal producer of most foreign policies, many of which are rubber stamped. Not all foreign policies are rubber stamped and there will be a number of actors involved.
    ...but crucial ones - like Syria - are, and that's what eventually matters.

    If, for example, Obama convinces himself 'Syrian insurgents are a bunch of doctors, farmers etc., with whom one can't cooperate', then that's it and the DOS could turn upside down and walk on its hair - but it's not going to change his opinion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CrowBat View Post
    ...but crucial ones - like Syria - are, and that's what eventually matters.

    If, for example, Obama convinces himself 'Syrian insurgents are a bunch of doctors, farmers etc., with whom one can't cooperate', then that's it and the DOS could turn upside down and walk on its hair - but it's not going to change his opinion.
    More likley CIA, DoD, DoS and a few others did a detailed breakdown on the opposition groups, what might be done to help them, and what the probable and possible consequences would be, and the conclusion at the end of the process was that there were no suitable candidates for proxy war and that the risk/reward balance on a proxy war was not attractive.

    Believe it or not, they aren't stupid... and your disagreement with their decision doesn't make it wrong.
    Last edited by Dayuhan; 09-15-2014 at 12:19 PM.
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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    Bill,

    This article discusses in some more detail the problem that Crowbat and I raised.

    What does this mean for the progressive forces in the Arab World? It seems to me that the current dynamic will only serve to sideline those demanding genuine change. The security narrative of the conservative regimes is overpowering the demand for greater freedoms as the call for democracy is becoming smothered under the need to “combat terrorism”. There is also deliberate mixing of moderate and radical forms of Islamism. In other words, in the minds of many Arabs the Muslim Brotherhood has become synonymous with ISIS, and the opposition to the current regimes has become equivalent to the support of terrorism. This naturally feeds into the hands of Islamists, who are becoming radicalised due to severe repression.

    But as living conditions deteriorate and the level of suppression increases, radicalism is becoming more attractive to the millions of disenfranchised Arab youth, leading to a cycle of suppression and radicalism that seems to have no end in sight. It seems that this cycle can only come to an end in the long term, when the failures of both parties leave space for a well-organised, ideologically motivated revolutionary movement capable of exploiting both forces, namely Islamism and conservatism.
    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan
    The illusion that we can settle another countrys internal disputes or persuade people to accept a government they detest just by spreading aid money around may be attractive, but it's illusory. The idea that we can persuade or compel bitter enemies to sit down and accept "inclusive government" because we want them to is attractive, but illusory.
    It's not an either/or proposition. Depending on the context (the country, the U.S. relationship with said country, the principal actors involved on both sides, the issue, etc) the U.S. exercises a range of influence over other countries. The American ability to influence regime decisions in North Korea, in Mexico, and in Saudi Arabia are unique to the conditions around those relationships. The U.S. has and will influence countries on behalf of priviate commercial interests, strategic political aims, and other reasons - some substantial, some trivial. The U.S. simply does not prioritize developing and exercising this kind of influence for the purposes of facilitating pluralist government.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan
    That's true, and I think it often comes down to taking on goals that we have no realistic or practical means to accomplish ("nation building", among others), then dumping them on the military for want of other options. Hopefully we've learned a thing or two about that.
    Pluralist reform and "nation-building" are two distinct activities. The U.S. had no problems in 'facilitating' changes in 'communist' regimes for 50 years - why is the U.S. suddenly powerless in influencing positive reform in authoritarian regimes? I don't think it's a question of what's possible; it's one of preference and willingness.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan
    The world is a much more multipolar place than it once was, and whatever another country needs, be it arms, technology, or credit, the US is not the only place to get it. That limits the carrots, just as domestic politics limits the sticks: using threats to force others to do our will is always an appealing prospect to those fond of bluster, but there's no assurance at all that it will work, especially when the electorate is in no mood to back the threats up.
    This is true, but only to an extent - and we witnessed that during the Cold War when the national liberation movements flocked to the 'communist' banner after the U.S. refused to support their bids for independence and in many cases, democracy. When the U.S. does not strengthen democratic governance, what and who remains in power? It's not helped by the total absence of any long-term strategy for U.S. foreign policy. An interesting case study is Yemen's Saleh's exploitation of U.S. desperation for Arab counter-terrorism allies to fund and arm his government - which ended with predictable results when his regime imploded, leaving the Yemen terrorism problem unresolved. Ditto Somalia since 2001.
    Last edited by AmericanPride; 09-15-2014 at 08:34 PM.
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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    This going well off topic and probably should be moved elsewhere, but I'll leave that to David...

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    It's not an either/or proposition. Depending on the context (the country, the U.S. relationship with said country, the principal actors involved on both sides, the issue, etc) the U.S. exercises a range of influence over other countries. The American ability to influence regime decisions in North Korea, in Mexico, and in Saudi Arabia are unique to the conditions around those relationships. The U.S. has and will influence countries on behalf of priviate commercial interests, strategic political aims, and other reasons - some substantial, some trivial.
    Influence in any given case depends on the extent and credibility of the incentives and penalties that the influencing power can deploy, and extent of resistance in the target of the influence. The second factor is key. Commercial concessions are generally not difficult, especially if there's something in it for those who rule. When we start talking about applying influence to force reforms that many ruling elites will see as immediate threats to their own positions, prerogatives, and even survival, resistance is very high. The response may be an outright refusal or an attempt to feign compliance with a charade of pseudo-reforms, but ruling elites in other countries are not going to simply surrender their power and perks because we want them to.

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    The U.S. simply does not prioritize developing and exercising this kind of influence for the purposes of facilitating pluralist government.
    What's the basis for that statement? I think the US has placed a fairly high priority on efforts like "democracy promotion", reducing corruption, etc. The efforts just haven't been very productive, largely because nobody has any clear or convincing idea of how to do it.

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    The U.S. had no problems in 'facilitating' changes in 'communist' regimes for 50 years - why is the U.S. suddenly powerless in influencing positive reform in authoritarian regimes? I don't think it's a question of what's possible; it's one of preference and willingness.
    When did the US ever effectively facilitate reform in Communist countries, up until the point where Communism collapsed from the inside? To put it simply, the US is generally powerless to force reform in authoritarian regimes because the penalties and incentives we are effectively able to deploy are not sufficient to overcome the very high level of resistance to reform in the target countries.

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    This is true, but only to an extent - and we witnessed that during the Cold War when the national liberation movements flocked to the 'communist' banner after the U.S. refused to support their bids for independence and in many cases, democracy.
    I agree that this was a huge mistake and one that greatly strengthened our opponents in the Cold War. The extent to which that's analogous to current circumstances is very debatable.

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    When the U.S. does not strengthen democratic governance, what and who remains in power?
    You can't strengthen something that isn't there, and outside attempts to create democratic governance have generally not been very successful.

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    It's not helped by the total absence of any long-term strategy for U.S. foreign policy. An interesting case study is Yemen's Saleh's exploitation of U.S. desperation for Arab counter-terrorism allies to fund and arm his government - which ended with predictable results when his regime imploded, leaving the Yemen terrorism problem unresolved. Ditto Somalia since 2001.
    What were the alternatives in Yemen or Somalia? Certainly strengthening democratic governance wasn't an option, as there wasn't any to strengthen.

    A better example might be the US effort to get Bahrain to respond to its Arab Spring with accommodation and reform, which clearly demonstrates the limits of US influence.

    This debate tends to come back to the debate between realism and idealism: do you deal with what exists and try to make the most of it, or do you try to replace it, with a huge variety of potential unintended consequences, many of them very unattractive?

    Since the unspoken focus of these generic discussions is so often Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies, it might be useful to look specifically at the elephant in the drawing room. What specific policy reforms would we want to promote, what means could we adopt to promote them, and what would the probable outcomes be?
    Last edited by Dayuhan; 09-16-2014 at 01:48 AM.
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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan
    Since the unspoken focus of these generic discussions is so often Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies, it might be useful to look specifically at the elephant in the drawing room. What specific policy reforms would we want to promote, what means could we adopt to promote them, and what would the probable outcomes be?
    First let it be said without reservation that Saudi Arabia is a police state. There are some exemptions depending on one's proximity to the royal family, but at the end of the day, everything is subordinated to the security of the House of Saud. Saudi Arabia actually has a fairly rich and active underground democratic movement that enjoys both popular support and a measure of patronage from some leading families of the country that are not content with the country's policies. The kingdom has on and off implemented incremental and sometimes only symbolic reforms but there is a recognition from the royal family that there is a strong democratic opposition (at least in sentiment if not in organization). The problem in Saudi Arabia (and Egypt, and other security-obessed states) is that in the havoc of the War on Terrorism, these movements are marginalized to the extent that the only alternative to the clearly repressive status quo is Islamic fundamentalism.

    The U.S. plays a significant role in this because it's the U.S. that often reinforces the status quo. The U.S. has a special deference towards the political stability of the House of Saud that it does not show elsewhere - i.e. Yanukovych's Ukraine. Unfortunately, our policies have placed us in a position to choose between economic security and national security. Islamic fundamentalism is a response to the repressive conditions in these states, the perception that the U.S. is a major patron of these states, and the marginalization and violence inflicted upon the general populations by these regimes (and at times by the U.S.). Fifty years ago when it took an army to do any serious damage that was not a major problem. But now that one man can become a walking weapon of mass destruction, that changes the calculus.

    The first step in reform is loosening the controls of the police state. For Saudi Arabia, that means disbanding the vice police, marginalizing the National Guard, and constraining domestic intelligence. It also means challenging who controls the mechanisms of power, namely the management and distribution of the country's oil wealth. Gradual political agitation and reform is preferable - the dilemma is that when authoritarian regime's recognize they're not as popular as they believed, they cease the reforms out of fear of losing power. The consequence is an escalation in the opposition's radicalism. At this point, the spigot that produces Islamic fundamentalism won't be turned off any time soon so that will be a problem for many years.

    The issue for the U.S. is that it's going 'mainstream' and becoming better organized as a consequence of war and the lack of alternatives. Where the tipping point is, and what will trigger it, remains to be seen at least in Saudi Arabia. I think in Iraq and in some extent Syria that tipping point has been crossed with ISIS, which will make such movements far more difficult to uproot. This is no longer a simple counter-terrorism program where the aim is to dismantle an organization. We can destroy the organizations but now more will appear to replace them. The U.S. needs to start attacking the root of the problem - and that's the repressive and elitist political economies of Arab states (where are the Turkish, Indonesian, and other terrorist groups in Muslim-majority democratic states?).

    And just a thought - it might be worthwhile to consider a transition period that includes a reform-minded strong-man to be followed by the implementation of democratic governance. The strong-man could provide the stability necessary to actually implement reforms and challenge the old guard while also preventing the mob from essentially wrecking the whole project. There are a couple of post-Cold War examples of something similar occurring.
    Last edited by AmericanPride; 09-16-2014 at 04:28 PM.
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Dayuhan posted:
    This (thread is) going well off topic and probably should be moved elsewhere, but I'll leave that to David...
    Agreed. I shall see if there is a suitable thread or create one.

    The dilemma for the USA (and others) has always been akin to "draining the swamp by reform" or "suppression is best for stability".
    davidbfpo

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    Further to following post by AP:

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    ...
    This article discusses in some more detail the problem that Crowbat and I raised.
    ...
    ...In other words, in the minds of many Arabs the Muslim Brotherhood has become synonymous with ISIS, and the opposition to the current regimes has become equivalent to the support of terrorism. This naturally feeds into the hands of Islamists, who are becoming radicalised due to severe repression.
    ...
    The same can be said for a mass of observers in the West, who are liberally bunching all Syrian insurgents, no matter what group, under 'extremist Islamists' and 'ISIS' - which they are not. ISIS is not 'Syrian', and except in Dayr az-Zawr area where it forced all of insurgents into submission through cutting off their supply links and connections to the outside world and sandwiching them between itself and regime-held areas, it contains actually very few Syrians (and most of these were forced into submission too).

    Another extremist group, the JAN - and which is predominantly Salafist, not Wahabist - ended at the list of terrorist organizations because it declared itself allied with AQ, and some of its bosses are maintaining corresponding ties (no doubt about this), but despite clearly stating it does not intend to launch a 'Jihad' against anybody outside Syria (i.e. against anybody except the regime).

    ...and the entire conflict is seen completely through the prism of 'that's an uprising of Islamist extremists', and 'if it's interesting then only because of the ISIS' - which is why that topic is discussed most of the time on this forum, and why this thread is going off topic.

    Anyway, against better advice from its IRGC-QF advisers, and against increasing resistance from within its own military, instead of rushing it to support its counteroffensive against the IF and FSyA north of Hama, or into counterattacks on insurgents advancing in southern Syria, the regime is dispatching the SyAAF (it's air force) into more show attacks on Raqqa, Tabqa and Dayr az-Zawr. It's claiming scores of ISIS as KIA and hundreds of its vehicles as destroyed. Even one of 'Scuds' paraded by the ISIS through Raqqa recently should have been destroyed.

    Nothing of this can be independently verified, except the following:

    - even MiG-21s are deployed for this purpose, although they are hopelessly useless for this purpose and operating at the very edge of their endurance when flying missions against targets in Raqqa area, as can be seen from this video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHWMDrJkcpQ

    - and they get shot down by the ISIS, then this has better air defences than most of insurgents, as can be seen from this video and the still attached below (the MiG in question was hit earlier today and crashed into a house, killing eight civilians in Raqqa, fate of pilot remains unknown):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWcon4di26s

    So, it seems the regime is very eager to catch as much attention as possible in performing the role of 'good' one in the anti-ISIS campaign...

    The photo below is showing the upper side of the left stabilizer of the MiG-21 shot down by the ISIS over Raqqa today.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 09-17-2014 at 11:41 AM. Reason: fix 1st quote

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    Quote Originally Posted by CrowBat View Post
    The same can be said for a mass of observers in the West, who are liberally bunching all Syrian insurgents, no matter what group, under 'extremist Islamists' and 'ISIS'
    Who exactly is saying this, and where?
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    First let it be said without reservation that Saudi Arabia is a police state.
    I don't think anyone seriously disputes that.

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    Saudi Arabia actually has a fairly rich and active underground democratic movement that enjoys both popular support and a measure of patronage from some leading families of the country that are not content with the country's policies.
    There's also a great deal of skepticism and concern that a move toward democracy could result in chaos and collapse. A lot of the support for the regime is driven not by affection for the regime, but fear that a transition would become violent and that a weak successor would be unable to hold the country together. Saudis are acutely aware that they sit on top of something lots of people want, and concerned that political distuption could expose the country to dismemberment.

    Iraq hasn't helped: American neocons hoped to hold up Iraq as an example of what democracy can bring to the Middle East, and they have unfortunately succeeded, though not in the way they hoped to.

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    The U.S. plays a significant role in this because it's the U.S. that often reinforces the status quo. The U.S. has a special deference towards the political stability of the House of Saud that it does not show elsewhere - i.e. Yanukovych's Ukraine.
    I think you overrate the importance of the US in maintaining Saudi internal security. They are quite capable of doing that on their ownm, and American suggestions are generally ignored. They do not need our support to stay in power and they do not take instructions from us.

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    Islamic fundamentalism is a response to the repressive conditions in these states, the perception that the U.S. is a major patron of these states, and the marginalization and violence inflicted upon the general populations by these regimes (and at times by the U.S.).
    That seems considerably oversimplified

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    The first step in reform is loosening the controls of the police state. For Saudi Arabia, that means disbanding the vice police, marginalizing the National Guard, and constraining domestic intelligence. It also means challenging who controls the mechanisms of power, namely the management and distribution of the country's oil wealth.
    Possibly true, but do you expect Americans to be the ones to do this? If so, how, and how exactly is it our business?

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    The U.S. needs to start attacking the root of the problem - and that's the repressive and elitist political economies of Arab states (where are the Turkish, Indonesian, and other terrorist groups in Muslim-majority democratic states?).
    Again, how do you propose that the US do this? Do you really think we know best how other countries should be governed, and that we can simply wade into other countries trying to change governance without blowback and a heinous range of unintended consequences?

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericanPride View Post
    And just a thought - it might be worthwhile to consider a transition period that includes a reform-minded strong-man to be followed by the implementation of democratic governance. The strong-man could provide the stability necessary to actually implement reforms and challenge the old guard while also preventing the mob from essentially wrecking the whole project.
    I can't find the "bang head against wall" emoticon, so the will have to do. Or maybe just a big WTF?
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Council Member AmericanPride's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan
    There's also a great deal of skepticism and concern that a move toward democracy could result in chaos and collapse.
    That's also the common refrain from the autocrats in power.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan
    A lot of the support for the regime is driven not by affection for the regime, but fear that a transition would become violent and that a weak successor would be unable to hold the country together.
    This was true to an extent in Syria but is not as accurate in Saudi Arabia. It's probably more accurate in Wahhabist strongholds like the Nejd but regions like the Hijaz are probably more concerned with the confiscation of their wealth by the royal government. The peoples of the Hijaz have a history of autonomy and there is been long-standing tension betweem their leading families and the al-Saud family. There's also the question of the assumption that every element desires to "hold the country together" or that it's beneficial or necessary for democratic reformation. Saudi Arabia was formed by conquest less than one hundred years; it's borders are literally drawn in sand. It's formation as a state is dependent not on political institutions but the House of Saud. The same arguments made in favor of Iraq's partition (which I disagree with actually) could be made about Saudi Arabia. I don't necessarily think partitioning Saudi Arabia is ideal but it's territorial integrity is less important than its political reformation so perhaps it's something that should be considered.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan
    Saudis are acutely aware that they sit on top of something lots of people want, and concerned that political distuption could expose the country to dismemberment.
    Which Saudis are you referring to specifically?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan
    Iraq hasn't helped: American neocons hoped to hold up Iraq as an example of what democracy can bring to the Middle East, and they have unfortunately succeeded, though not in the way they hoped to.
    I agree. The Iraq was a disaster on many levels for the U.S. - not least of which is the credibility of the U.S. as a champion of democratic government and human rights.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan
    That seems considerably oversimplified
    What's your view?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan
    Possibly true, but do you expect Americans to be the ones to do this? If so, how, and how exactly is it our business?
    The U.S. cannot and should not attempt to do it directly. It can however prompt reforms through diplomatic and social pressure either at the government or grass-roots level. It is "our business" because (1) the U.S. has a moral obligation as the patron of the international system and the self-proclaimed defender of democratic governance and human rights; (2) pluralist governance will go a long ways in marginalizing extremism and terrorism, and the U.S. has a primary security interest in this regard; and (3) the U.S. has the political and economic means to compel change in other states.

    Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has transitioned from a challenger of the Old World status quo (imperialism, colonialism, autocracy, etc) to a defender of the current status quo, which is a half-completed project of an international order founded on the recognition of universal human rights. Unfortunately, from the point of view of hegemonic stability theory, this makes the U.S. reactionary and conservative since it aims to preserve its gains rather than risk making new ones (i.e. "unintended consequences"), which in the long term actually undermines its capabilities and credibility as other challengers emerge who are willing to take risks for their own gains (China, Russia, Islamists, et al). It is in the long-term interests of the U.S. to actively promote and agitate for pluralist governance around the world.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan
    Do you really think we know best how other countries should be governed, and that we can simply wade into other countries trying to change governance without blowback and a heinous range of unintended consequences?
    We don't know best how other countries 'should' be governed, but we do know that pluralist governance is the most stable and effective government in the long term. Pluralism does not define how a state should be ordered (i.e. is it a republic or a democracy? what kind of institutions will it have?) since there are a wide range of options and cultural characteristics that make governance different in every part of the world. However, we do know that government is made more effective the larger the number of stakeholders involved in its political processes and institutions, however organized. And we also know that pluralist states are not as aggressive towards one another as well as more effective in reducing radicalism.

    You make the inference that I am arguing the U.S. should put the Iraq War on repeat in a global campaign for democracy. That is not true. War is essentially a destructive and anti-humanist endeavor, even if necessary. We should be building political institutions, not tearing them down. You also make the inference that there is a inverse relationship between pluralist governance and stability. This is not true at all. There is certainly instability during transition between one form of government and another, but any kind of government with strong institutions is inherently stable. And that's where the U.S. should start: strengthening political institutions. War is not effective in that regard.

    This is why I also floated the idea of a transitional 'strong-man' government. A number of states have more or less peacefully transitioned from an autocratic government to a pluralist one: Spain, South Korea, Taiwan, etc. Yes - there are risks, such as a right-wing counter-revolution (i.e. fascist Italy, Japan, Nazi Germany) or foreign invasion prematurely ending the experiment of democratization. But in the majority of cases, a braod-based civic movement is capable of pushing through democratization. A reform-minded autocratic government is really a 'useful idiot' who can maintain sufficient stability and legitimacy to reform institutions until they are removed from power (preferably through an electoral process). So, that's the other action the U.S. can take: promoting the development of civic society.

    Pluralist sentiment exists in Saudi Arabia. There are reform-minded members of the royal family, though not many and none in key positions of power (yet). The challenges to democratization in Saudi Arabia is not some mythological Arab aversion to pluralism, but the autocratic nature of the state, as well as a political economy financed exclusively by oil wealth to expand royal patronage to the National Guard (security) and the clerical establishment (legitimacy). Democratizing the country's oil wealth would democratize the country - and that, in turn, would go a long way towards reducing the threat of terrorism. And of course, a caveat must be mentioned that reducing the long-term threat of insecurity does not affect the current threat (i.e. AQAP, etc) and security forces must remain available to combat them. The U.S. can't reform Saudi Arabia's political economy from the outside, but we can help shape the conditions to make this possible through a variety of political, social, and economic levers.
    Last edited by AmericanPride; 09-17-2014 at 04:25 PM.
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    This is remaining off topic, but about people with whom one could 'start':

    Interview with a Saudi atheist
    ...“I was shocked to meet older people in their forties and fifties who been hiding their atheism for decades. They said that only recently with the young generation in their twenties had they found other people who think like them and were able to find social group that they can talk and debate about their ideas in.” Jabir politely demurs when asked about the backgrounds of these people; confidentiality and secrecy run deep in the Saudi Arabian atheism milieu.
    ...
    When asked how this makes him feel to be Saudi, Jabir says: “The fact that Saudi is not a secular country, make one pessimistic for the future. But the fact that this country is a theist state, promoting one of the most extreme forms of Islam, horrifies me. I don’t see change from society, I don’t see change from the royal family, and as for the outside world, they don’t care how many people are killed for simply refusing to believe in the religion they were born into, as long as the oil keeps pumping.”

    Although Jabir’s vision is deeply depressing, it is undeniable that Saudi Arabia is changing. With a booming population, rising unemployment, falling revenue from oil sales, and the ever-growing Internet and social media expansion, the country faces times of change and possible instability. It could yield a society that is freer and more tolerant of differing views and ideas from within its communities.

    Yet, it may also, as the political system reacts to these new conditions, be a time of tightening and ever greater social and religious restrictions. The nightmare situation for Jabir is that when the relatively reform-minded King Abdullah dies it will bring about a new monarch who will let the religious police and certain segments of the Saudi community start an aggressive witch-hunt for ‘non-believers’.
    ...

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