Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Iran’s Domestic Politics & the Nuclear Standoff with the United States: Internal dynamic of Iran’s Nuclear Intentions

Speaker: Bahman Baktiari
Boston University
International Relations Department
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
12:00 to 1:30 pm
Eilts Conference Room, 154 Bay State Road, Room 203, Boston, MA

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stephen Walt's Top 10 lessons of the Iraq War

Stephen M. Walt
March 20, 2012
Foreign Policy

This month marks the ninth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Regardless of your views on the wisdom of that decision, it's fair to say the results were not what most Americans expected. Now that the war is officially over and most U.S. forces have withdrawn, what lessons should Americans (and others) draw from the experience? There are many lessons that one might learn, of course, but here are my Top 10 Lessons from the Iraq War.
Read the full article

Why Saudi Arabia pushing Bahrain to solve its crisis ?

The Saudis are afraid of a Syria spillover effect in the region, and according to this article, they are encouraging the ruling elite in Bahrain to negotiate their internal problems.

Saudi Arabia pushing Bahrain to solve crisis, fears Syria effect

By Andrew Hammond
March 21, 2012

MANAMA (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia wants Bahrain's government and opposition to resolve a political crisis that it fears could worsen because of the sectarian fallout of fighting in Syria and destabilize its Eastern Province, a diplomat and opposition politician said.

Bahrain has been in turmoil since the Arab Spring protest movement first erupted a year ago. Clashes have become a daily occurrence, usually in districts populated by majority Shi'ite Muslims who have dominated the protests.
"We heard that at end of January the Saudis were reaching out to Wefaq and wanted to hear how Wefaq - if Act 1 was last year - how they were going to play their role in Act 2," a senior Western diplomat said.

The leading Shi'ite opposition party Wefaq was involved in backroom talks during a pro-democracy uprising last year on reforms offered by Crown Prince Salman, but the they were cut short when Saudi troops rolled in and martial law was imposed.
The revolt was led by Shi'ite Muslim majority population on an island which is important to Washington as the base for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

The Shi'ite majority has called for sweeping democratic reforms that would reduce the Sunni ruling family's monopoly on power and allow parliament real powers to legislate and form governments.

One year on clashes between riot police and youths in Shi'ite districts have escalated, with heavy use of petrol bombs against police who in turn use large amounts of tear gas. Activists say at least 32 have died since martial law ended, though police question the causes of death.

In January Wefaq members met with Royal Court Minister Khaled bin Ahmed for preliminary discussions on a formal dialogue on democratic reforms.
The diplomat said Wefaq, which faces radicalization among many Shi'ite youth who oppose the monarchy, had met for a second time with the minister in recent weeks.
"There is stuff going on but it's getting more difficult than they imagined it would be. They are finding it difficult to get common ground," he said, citing government fears that Wefaq would command a parliamentary majority.

"You can foresee a political solution here that would keep the Saudis very happy, but I think the red lines would be slightly tighter than last year," he added.
Analysts say Riyadh sent troops last year because of alarm that Bahrain had not contained protests that had the potential to spill over into the Shi'ite Eastern Province region, where major Saudi oilfields are located.

An opposition politician, who did not wish to be named, said Saudi Arabia now feared that the conflict in Syria, in which Shi'ite Iran and its ally Hezbollah back Bashar al-Assad's rule, could sharpen Bahrain's sectarian divide - detracting attention from Syria and firing up Saudi Shi'ites.

"The Saudis are worried (the stalemate) could push the Shi'ites towards Iran... and at what could emerge as a consequence of Syria," he said.
Loyalist Sunni groups in Bahrain, who look to the ruling Al Khalifa for protection, have held protests against Assad and accuse Shi'ites of sympathy for Assad.
Media in Iran and Hezbollah give positive coverage to Bahrain's Shi'ite opposition, and Iraqi Shi'ites often demonstrate in support of their Bahraini coreligionists.
Some Sunni leaders in Bahrain fear the fate of Iraq's Sunnis, sidelined after Shi'ites gained power through elections.

Unrest in the Saudi Eastern Province has flared again in recent months.
"The Saudis really don't need unrest in the Eastern Province right now," said Michael Stephens, researcher at the Doha-based Royal United Services Institute. "The policy priority for Saudi Arabia has been Syria for last three months."
(Writing by Andrew Hammond)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Israel's Gift to Iran

Marvin G. Weinbaum
The National Interest
March 19, 2012

Are Iran’s leaders rational actors? This question matters when justifying any decision by Israel to preempt Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. An Iranian regime seen as driven to destroy the Jewish state has to be dealt with differently than one whose objectives are mediated by calculations of costs and benefits. Deterrents that would be normally expected to restrain a state would not work with an irrational Iran. But if the Islamic republic, for all its bluster, in fact carefully weighs its policies and values regime survival, then threats alone could succeed in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions—and presumably this Iran would allot high priority to avoiding armed attack on its homeland.

Playing the Victim

But could the same rationally thinking Iranian leadership instead be welcoming a military strike on the nation’s soil? Iran’s more provocative statements and actions in recent months offer strong evidence that some influential policy makers see an attack on the country’s nuclear assets by Israel or the United States as promising rich dividends. They would like nothing more than the opportunity it offers to shed the country’s present international-pariah status and assume the mantle of a victim nation.

Massive air attacks against nuclear sites across the country can be counted on to kill or injure hundreds of civilians. Should there be a release of radioactivity that threatens many more deaths, international sympathy for Iran would increase dramatically. Iran’s leaders can look forward to angry demonstrations erupting across the Muslim world. Popular participation would predictably be more massive and potentially violent in this season of the Arab Awakening. The Tehran regime also could enjoy watching political protests fueled by exploding oil prices breaking out across Europe. The hard fight for economic sanctions against Iran would, in all probability, fall apart. UN resolutions of condemnation would certainly be expected to follow, votes where the United States could very well be left standing virtually alone in rationalizing the bombings. Even were it only Israeli planes that carried out the raids, Washington and Tel Aviv would be lumped together as aggressors.

Iran’s leaders well understand that certain governing elites, especially among the Gulf countries, would be pleased to see a preemptive attack that dealt Iran’s nuclear ambitions a setback. Yet an Israeli attack offers an opportunity to put Iran’s regional rivals on the defense. Were these Arab leaders, some with restive populations, to fail to join the chorus decrying the strike on Iran, they would risk alienating their own citizens. After an attack, the continued presence of American military bases in the Gulf could become untenable.

Other regional windfalls can be anticipated by Iran. Already inflamed anti-American public sentiment in Afghanistan and Pakistan undoubtedly would be further stoked by the bombing of Iran. Anxious to have American troops out of its backyard, Iran could count on pressures from all directions for an accelerated U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Fears of a negotiated strategic agreement between Washington and the Karzai government allowing a residual presence of foreign forces would disappear. Opportunities for Iran to expand its already extensive political and economic influence over its neighbor would certainly improve. In Pakistan, with conspiracies about nefarious joint American and Israeli designs already a staple of popular opinion, Iran could take pleasure in witnessing a further blow to Pakistan’s relations with the United States and conceivably a genuine divorce.

This international political bonanza would be more than matched by an appealing domestic payoff. Notwithstanding the disdain that millions of Iranians have for their Islamic government, the country’s fiercely nationalistic public can be counted on to rally behind its leaders to the country’s defense. An attack on the homeland could set back chances for the revival of the reformist Green Movement for at least a decade. Even the reformers have been solidly in favor of Iran retaining its nuclear program. Who now at home or abroad would dare question the regime’s argument if it decides to build a bomb?

Iran Will Not Pay

And the price to pay for all this good fortune would be minimal. For all that Israel’s military operation could hope to accomplish, it would at best delay Iran’s eventual building of a nuclear arsenal by a few years. Iran would also have the pleasure of knowing that its elaborate construction program to protect its nuclear assets had given them a high degree of invulnerability. Destruction of any of attacking planes could be hailed as a victory against the aggressor.

A rational Iran is likely to refrain from openly retaliating against Israel. Iran’s leaders can be expected to forgo any immediate payback in favor of cashing in on their accrued political bounty. Undertaking a direct military response might invite a more general war, drawing in the United States and risking Iran’s entire military infrastructure. It would also detract from the country’s portrayal of itself as the aggrieved party.

But a measured reaction to an Israeli attack would not preclude any violent response. Iran might encourage Hezbollah and Hamas to act as surrogates and launch rockets against Israel, or it might increase the clandestine stream of weapons it provides to the Afghan Taliban. Meanwhile, many would applaud the Tehran regime for showing restraint. For Iran, a Western-led attack could be a gift that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Interview with Eugene Rogan, Oxford-based historian & author of the book The Arabs: A History

"During an in-depth interview for Al-Akhbar, Rogan draws parallels between the current wave of reform movements that collectively formed the “Arab Spring” and the fervor that shook the Levant, North Africa, and proceeded to the Gulf and beyond two centuries ago, ending with results favorable to representative governance."

Arab Struggle for Democracy a Historical Norm

The End of Ahmadinejad's era in Iran

Max Fisher, associate editor at The Atlantic, looks into how the results of the latest parliamentary elections in Iran is signaling the end of Ahmadinejad's presidency in Iran.

The End of Ahmadinejad
By Max Fisher

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

NEW PUBLICATION: Reflections on Women in the Arab Spring: Women’s Voices from Around the World.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, March 8, 2012, the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center asked a cross-section of women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the United States, and other countries to reflect on how women have fared in the Arab Spring.

Download: Reflections on Women in the Arab Spring: Women’s Voices from Around the World