Solving Syria

A real, disturbing picture emerged today for DCFR members about the state of Syria and its prospects. Syrian human rights pro-democracy activist and Founder and Director of Tharwa Foundation Ammar Abdulhamid has been speaking out for Syria since his exile in 2005. (It really began earlier than that when he voted against the Assad regime in the late 1990s, with only 290 or so other Syrians courageously saying, “No.”) In his comments this morning, he noted that there was a window of opportunity between March 2011 and August, where the international community could have aided the Syrian people by influencing the Assad regime and thereby deterring the shattering of Syria as we now know it. The scattered opposition parties, though little helped, are surviving on a heartbeat and an idea for a new Syria.

Abdulhamid believes the best solution now (obviously aside from stopping Assad’s air strikes on its citizens) is a political solution, which includes all stakeholder groups coming together with proper representation. Syria is a multicultural state, and minorities need assurances that they will be treated and represented fairly in a new Syrian order. Organized parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood need counterweights to reflect the diversity of Syria and the region’s ethnic groupings.

Importantly, the opposition needs the help of the U.S. and the international community to halt the violence and disintegration of Syria. If Syria devolves further, it will leave opportunities for more chaos and extremism, which was already allowed carte blanche by earlier lack of support and neglect. According to Abdulhamid, Syrian’s want what others in civil society’s have—development, education, peace and a properly governed country.

Importantly, the strife in Syria has spread to every country it borders—Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and more—allowing for opportunistic uprisings by those who wish to destabilize other countries through extremist means. Even Iraq has been a proxy for Iran, trying to keep Syria’s Assad as an ally for their ambitions and regional power play. Solving Syria gets a long way toward paving a path for Middle East stability.


The New York Times recognized Mr. Abdulhamid as “one of the important voices articulating the rising generation’s disenchantment” with the current Syrian Regime, while Newsweek magazine named him as one of the “most influential personalities” in the contemporary Arab World. See his blog about real time events in Syria.

Posted in Middle East, Peace, Security, Syria | Tagged , , ,

General Cartwright Q&A: Cyber, Middle East, and Nuclear

We were honored to receive General James Cartwright at DCFR this month. Recently, appointed a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center, he will divide his time on cybersecurity issues and the rivalry between the United States and China. General Cartwright is known to be one of the most tech-savvy leaders to have served at the Pentagon. He is widely respected as one of the boldest and most creative thinkers of his generation of American military leaders. The following brief dialogue occurred October 10th: 

Jennifer Warren: Regarding cyber security, what is the threat that we need to be planning for?

James Cartwright:  First the threat we face today falls into two classes.  The first is characterized as mischief and criminal.  Passive defenses, such as firewalls and virus protection, are used to defend our personal and commercial interests.  When that is insufficient, law enforcement is the appropriate authority to pursue violators.  The second threat set is characterized as acts of aggression and/or war.  The Department of Defense is generally used to address these threats.

Today there is no bright line defining when mischief and criminal acts rise to the level of aggression.  As a nation, in other venues we try to clearly separate those acts that are criminal from those that are aggression.  We should continue to layer our defenses so that the skills and resources necessary to attack our critical national interests cannot be obtained by less than a nation state.

JW:  What would some of the components of a grand China strategy be?

JC:  Historically, when a rising power and an established power collide the rising power eventually defeats the established power in battle.  The question for any grand strategy the U.S. may pursue, can it change the historical precedent.  Some of the elements a U.S. grand strategy should consider:

  • Avoidance of a containment strategy;
  • Avoidance of allowing treaties with third parties to drag the U.S. into conflict for the wrong reasons;
  • Avoidance of demonizing China for competition that is better handled by soft power tools;
  • Increasing economic interactions;
  • Increasing cultural interactions;
  • Increasing education interactions; and
  • Increasing partnered, global, humanitarian assistance operations.

JW:  In the Middle East, and given the unconventional warfare tactics inherent there, what concerns you most?

JC:  The underlying problems of male-distribution of resources, governments not addressing the needs of their people, ungoverned spaces and governments not accountable to their people, continue to drive conflict and breed extremist ideologies.  Solutions to these conflicts and extremist groups are likely to persist for several years into the foreseeable future.  Of these conflicts and threats, the one that is most dangerous is the possible nexus between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.

JW:  How long do you think it will take to make real progress on nuclear threats and proliferation?

JC:  To make progress in reducing the role of nuclear weapons we should move to change our cold war deterrence constructs of mutual assured destruction to strategic stability. The following three actions are recommended:

  • The U.S. and Russia should reduce their nuclear weapon inventories below 1,000 total weapons each.
  • Arms control should be approached on a multilateral basis versus a bilateral basis.
  • Increase soft power deterrence tools, and move defensive capabilities to alert with offensive capabilities requiring specific generation times.

General James E. Cartwright is the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Cartwright served as commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, before being nominated and appointed the eighth vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s second-highest military officer.




Posted in cyber security, Foreign policy, Middle East, United States | Tagged

Middle East’s Kingdom Explored

DCFR hosted Karen Elliott House,  author of the new book, “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines – and Future.” House noted in her presentation that the U.S. has a genuine strategic relationship with and interests in Saudi Arabia [compared to other Middle East countries]. Dissappointment with Arab leaders in general in the Middle East has led to the disenfranchisement of Arabs in various countries. Restless, frustrated youths are a Middle East-wide phenomenon. But as the citizens in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, and [possibly Syria] begin to run their own countries, the U.S. is no longer the ’empire’ to be blamed for the state of affairs in these countries. This is a good thing. But the U.S. should stay politically and diplomatically engaged with the Kingdom in a positive and constructive way.

A pillar of the Arab world, Saudi Arabia faces the cultural and political tensions that brought about multiple uprisings in its region little more than a year ago. As one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, a handful of elderly Al Saud princes and an extended family of some 7,000 princes rule over 60% of a population under the age of 20. Saudi Arabia’s future is potentially precarious, but there are measures the royal family can take to further stability. One pillar of strength for Saudi Arabia, its oil wealth, is on shaky ground explained House. Domestic oil consumption is rising, and the Saudis are themselves building nuclear power plants. She details her analysis in the book.

Karen Elliott House is an adjunct fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and member of the College of Communication’s advisory council. She served as the diplomatic correspondent and became the foreign editor in 1983. House received a Pulitzer Prize in international reporting for her coverage of the Middle East in 1984. In March of 1989, she was named vice president of Dow Jones’ international group and became president in 1995. House is a trustee of the Rand Corporation and of the Trilateral Commission. See a KERA “Think” interview.

Posted in Foreign policy, Middle East, United States | Tagged

Amb. Khalilzad on Syria

Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the UN, offered his insights into U.S. policy regarding Syria in a recent Foreign Policy article. Among his suggestions are organizing the opposition by elevating the moderates and assuring protection of Russian interests in exchange for the Kremlin’s cooperation, to name just a couple. 

Ambassador Khalilzad spoke to DCFR in September of 2011 regarding developments in Iraq and Afghanistan. DCFR conducted an interview with him about “Afghanistan, Pakistan, and U.S. Power.”

Posted in Foreign policy, Security, Syria

U.S. Budget Deficit: A Dangerous Game

As part of our Series “M” (money) program last night, Dr. Dennis Ippolito, SMU’s Chairman of Political Science, and senior research economist Carlos Zarazaga of the Dallas Fed, offered remarks about the domestic and global sides of the U.S. budget deficit. Some key takeaways emerged, particularly in the case of ‘kicking the can down the road’:

• Slower economic growth will become the new normal as long as markets, businesses and investors believe a higher tax regime will be required to deal with the outsized deficit.

• Countries that near the 90% debt to GDP ratio face slower growth, sometimes up to a 2% reduction to GDP.

• The U.S. is now travelling at a slower growth trajectory because of debt (and spending).

• A real fiscal picture needs to be presented to the public as happened many decades ago from leaders. The politicization of the budget and the restoration of budget discipline should not be party platforms but an underlying responsibility of lawmakers and leaders.

• The U.S. budget deficit is a liability to present and future generations, and to our economic prowess, standing and leadership across the globe.

The slides which were presented can be viewed on the DCFR slideshare page.

Posted in Uncategorized

Energy-Water Resources Brief

Dr. Rajan Gupta, Laboratory Fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, presented his work on the energy-water nexus and resource implications at DCFR on August 29, 2012. The program on sustainability was part of Series “D,” focusing on development issues.

The extensive interview with Dr. Gupta contains references, analysis and insight into the “challenges of the commons” faced globally, including:

• Energy and water resources and their implications for development and foreign affairs;

• Climate change, carbon emissions equations and the response of nature;

• Discussions about natural gas and nuclear energy and waste;

• And, the geopolitics and economics surrounding the energy- water nexus, with references to China and India.

Download the Global Themes brief here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Transatlantic Relations to Advance Cooperation

We recently partnered with the American Council on Germany and the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank to hear Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Distinguished Statesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, offers remarks. 

Minister zu Guttenberg will lead a new transatlantic dialogue initiative at CSIS which will bring European and American thought-leaders, practitioners and officials together on a variety of security and economic related issues. He pointed to a wide range of risks facing our era of multi-polarity. One risk he mentioned under the category of societal risk was linked to demographics. He suggested that demographic changes in both Western countries with issues of aging and youth bulges in other parts would have ramifications for energy, food and water security and public health. The impact of demographics is being ‘sorely neglected’ in his view.

The topic of environmental risks was broached within his structure of global risks. Guttenberg noted that the U.S. is behind-the-times when it comes to addressing climate change. Global warming and the melting polar ice caps deserve the proper attention of a large global power.

Three other main suggestions emerged to further more optimal governance of the globe. Regional cooperative models were needed going forward to accommodate the rise of Asia and better serve transatlantic relations. Even as Russia looks to the East for new markets and geopolitical positioning, a progressive, thoughtful transatlantic relationship can serve numerous purposes to further global cooperation. Additionally, he noted that the Western camp needs to respect cultural fundamentals from countries where stark differences exist. And, importantly, democracies should engage in a self-critical debate about democracy. The EU’s economic crises and its political implications coupled with the U.S.’s fiscal cliff both indicate a need for re-assessment of priorities and practices.

In a multi-polar world, the nation state is not the only power, and institutions need to evolve. Power can also be derived from the flow of information that goes beyond geography. In this time of retrenchment of globalisation and resurgence of nationalism, a healthy transatlantic relationship, with the U.S. and Europe doing their part, could become a source of inspiration.

Minister zu Guttenberg served as German Federal Minister of Defense from 2009 to 2011 and as Federal Minister of Economics and Technology from February 2009 to October 2009. He joined CSIS in 2011.

Posted in Foreign policy, Germany, Transatlantic partnership, United States | Tagged ,

Middle East Foreign Policy Analysis

As we watch events unfold (unravel) in the Middle East since 9/11/12, some informative commentary emerges. The Brookings Institute has posted an array of commentary and analysis here. The U.S. has a good deal of work ahead…to avert more ‘spontaneous’ acts of terror and violence. There is nothing spontaneous about what is happening in the Middle East; it is years of a bitter power struggle between extremism and moderation. Moderation needs to roll up its sleeves too.





Posted in Foreign policy | Tagged ,

Somber Day for Diplomats, Peace

On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, J. Christopher Stevens, the United States ambassador to Libya, and three of his staff members were killed in an attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi.  The armed mob that stormed the consulate was one of many protests across the MENA region last night in response to a video released on YouTube considered insulting to Islam. The filmmaker has gone into hiding.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack as a “senseless act of violence” in a televised statement this morning, referring to the assailants as “a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya.” Libya’s General National Congress condemned the attack in Benghazi. The U.S. diplomatic compound in Egypt was also under attack.

Posted in Egypt, Foreign policy, Peace, Terrorism

Diplomat Reflects on ‘Fraught Foreign Landscape’

As Ambassador Crocker retires following a 40-year legacy of service, a New York Times article offers some captivating thoughts on U.S. foreign policy challenges.

The article notes:

In the years ahead, Mr. Crocker sees, if anything, an increasingly fraught foreign landscape in a world set afire by war and revolution, a chapter bound to frustrate the best intentions and most sophisticated strategies of the United States. Although he speaks Arabic and has spent a lifetime immersed in the Arab world and Afghanistan, Mr. Crocker is deeply skeptical that Americans on foreign soil can be anything other than strangers in a strange land.

“We’re a superpower, we don’t fight on our territory, but that means you are in somebody else’s stadium, playing by somebody else’s ground rules, and you have to understand the environment, the history, the politics of the country you wish to intervene in,” he said.

In September 2010, the Honorable Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and then-current ambassador to Afghanistan, spoke to members of DCFR and the World Affairs Council.  Additionally, American Committees on Foreign Relations, the umbrella organization for DCFR, honored Ambassador Crocker with a distinguished service award at its 16th Annual Conference in May of 2011.



Posted in Afghanistan, Foreign policy, Iraq | Tagged ,