At the military headquarters here where commanders oversee America’s longest war, an official explains in one sentence the U.S.-led coalition’s bottom-line objective: “Peace is a situation where we can leave, and we don’t have to come back.”
But how will the United States move toward this endgame, as U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad nears conclusion of his secret peace negotiations with the Taliban jihadists that America has been fighting for 18 years? Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is said to have complained late last week that a draft of Khalilzad’s agreement contains “mere promises”from the Taliban and major concessions by the United States, according to a knowledgeable Afghan source who talked recently with Ghani.… Seguir leyendo »
One disturbing aspect of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka was that the slaughter of 321 victims came at a time when the United States is suffering what might be described as terrorism fatigue.
The wars against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are part of a painful past that policymakers and the public want to escape. Those Middle East conflicts were costly and distracting. They didn’t produce many tangible gains, other than killing terrorists. Sept. 11, 2001, feels like it happened a long time ago, and many politicians want to move on.
But the networks of violent extremists are still there, stretching to places most of us probably hadn’t even imagined, like Sri Lanka.… Seguir leyendo »
The handmaiden of peace is exhaustion. We are seeing that lesson in the killing fields of Afghanistan and Yemen.
Fragile peace agreements are emerging in both conflicts, thanks to skillful diplomats. There are a hundred reasons each negotiation may fail, and in assessing Middle East conflicts, we should remember that, unfortunately, “pessimism pays,” as my former Wall Street Journal colleague Karen Elliott House observed nearly 40 years ago.
But a process has started: Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy, said Monday, “We have a draft of the [peace] framework that has to be fleshed out.” A senior Gulf official told a Washington gathering Monday night that because of U.N.… Seguir leyendo »
As the Syrian tragedy lurches toward a bloody final showdown in Idlib province, the Trump administration is struggling to check Russia and the Assad regime from an assault there that U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warns would be a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
The administration’s efforts are so late in coming, and so limited, it’s hard to muster much hope they can reverse seven years of American failure. But at least the administration has stopped the dithering and indecision of the past 18 months and signaled that the United States has enduring interests in Syria, beyond killing Islamic State terrorists — and that it isn’t planning to withdraw its Special Operations forces from northeastern Syria anytime soon.… Seguir leyendo »
The brutal war in Yemen may be moving toward a tipping point following a controversial siege of the port of Hodeida by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
A U.N. mediator and a top diplomat from the United Arab Emirates both expressed hope Thursday for a negotiated deal with Houthi rebels that could relieve pressure on the city. But they disagreed about details, and humanitarian groups warned that the assault is choking relief supplies for the country’s tormented civilian population.
Yemen is caught in a proxy war between the Saudi-UAE coalition, which backs the Yemeni government, and Iran, which supports the Houthis.… Seguir leyendo »
Armenia appears at last to be breaking with its post-Soviet malaise and embracing democratic change, thanks to a grass-roots movement that has found a way, for now, to straddle Russia and the West.
Tens of thousands of people thronged Yerevan’s central square Wednesday night, chanting “Victory! Victory!” in what one Armenian reform supporter in the United States told me was “a celebration of the country as much as a protest.” The movement’s mass street demonstrations over the past month have deposed the prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan, and this week appeared ready to topple his long-entrenched ruling party.
Videos circulating on social media Wednesday captured a country embracing the reform movement headed by Nikol Pashinyan, who is seeking to replace Sargsyan.… Seguir leyendo »
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed a treasure trove of secrets on Monday about Iran’s hidden nuclear activities. But it would be a waste of this extraordinary intelligence to use it as a pretext for American withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Much better to use it as a pressure tool to squeeze Tehran.
The Israeli intelligence coup should open the way for a much smarter U.S. campaign to isolate Iran and tighten the deal — and bring Europe, Russia and China along in a common push for a better agreement. This approach would keep the international community together and avoid handing Iran the propaganda victory that unilateral U.S.… Seguir leyendo »
A word of advice for Congress as it ponders new schemes for Internet regulation after the “perp walk” this week of Facebook tycoon Mark Zuckerberg: Don’t do it.
Zuckerberg is a tempting target. His serial apologies show how Facebook became so entangled in its corporate mission to “bring the world closer together” that it stopped putting the customer first.
Facebook is paying for its mistakes in loss of customer trust — its main asset — and this market punishment has only just begun. It’s obvious to users now that Facebook’s business model isn’t about making the world better, but about obtaining information about its customers and profiting from it.… Seguir leyendo »
The seizure of the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin on Sunday by Turkish forces is a rerun of one of modern history’s saddest recurring themes: The Kurds struggle for survival while their friends among the great powers stand aside and watch.
The Kurds’ plight is especially painful for U.S. military commanders, because the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been America’s key ally in defeating the Islamic State in Syria. U.S. commanders fear that the decisive gains won against the jihadists since 2014 may be slipping away as the SDF leaves the Islamic State front in eastern Syria to combat the Turkish assault on Afrin in the northwest.… Seguir leyendo »
Hearing the emphatic modernization message of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a visitor can’t help wondering: Is this for real? Are the young leader’s proposals for change supported by the religious leadership and the public in this traditionally very conservative country?
Making reliable forecasts about Saudi Arabia is impossible for an outsider. But I can offer some data points gathered during a trip here, where I heard strong support for reforms from young Saudis interviewed on the street as well as a senior Muslim cleric.
Whether MBS, as he’s known, can succeed with his transformational agenda is still an open question.… Seguir leyendo »
The Trump administration shares with Russia and all of the regional powers of the Middle East the same nominal end goal in Syria — a political transition that creates a new, decentralized government that can reestablish sovereignty throughout the country.
The problem, as the nightmare of war and tangled diplomacy of the past seven years has demonstrated, is how to get there. A recent column of mine highlighted how tricky this passage can be, as well as the delicacy of the Geneva negotiations to create a new Syria.
My column Friday noted “a controversial new twist” in thinking about how to stabilize Syria that was “being discussed quietly by some U.S.… Seguir leyendo »
The abiding image from this past weekend’s security conference here was of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu theatrically brandishing a piece of an Iranian drone shot down over Israel a week before — and starkly warning Tehran: “Do not test Israel’s resolve.”
Are Israel and Iran heading toward war, in their new jockeying for influence amid the rubble of Syria? Probably not, but a delicate game of brinkmanship has certainly begun. Policymakers in Washington, Jerusalem, Moscow and Tehran are struggling to define and communicate the rules.
The Israel-Iran confrontation is the most dangerous new factor in Syria, which has become a gruesome cockpit once again after some months of relative quiet.… Seguir leyendo »
How bizarre that the biggest obstacle to finishing the war against the Islamic State and beginning the stabilization of Syria is America’s supposed friend and NATO ally Turkey.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the latest attempt to mollify an angry Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a three-hour meeting in Ankara Thursday. But this may be mission impossible: Granting Turkey’s demands would make Syria more unstable and prolong the threat of radical Islamist terrorism there.
The U.S. goal is “getting to yes” with Erdogan, says a senior administration official. To that end, the United States has crafted a tentative package meant to appease the Turks by offering them a buffer zone in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, joint Turkish-American patrols of the Manbij region where Erdogan has threatened an “Ottoman slap” if U.S.… Seguir leyendo »
Wednesday was a strange and scary day in Syria, even by Middle East standards:
In the early afternoon, American military commanders, nearly victorious against the Islamic State, were standing at a hilltop observation post here complaining about harassing fire on their Syrian Kurdish partners — from a rebel force that is backed by Turkey, our NATO ally.
And then a few hours later, about 100 hundred miles to the southeast, ground troops supporting the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad struck a headquarters of Syrian Kurdish fighters and their partners from U.S. Special Operations forces, five miles east of the Euphrates and possibly near Syrian oil fields.… Seguir leyendo »
Vered Ben-Saadon says she and her husband felt a sense of biblical mission to cultivate “part of the land of Israel” when they founded their winery here at a settlement about 30 miles north of Jerusalem. And she appears to have no intention of leaving, regardless of what peace negotiators may say.
“The two-state solution is not relevant anymore,” she says, answering questions as she offers visitors glasses of the gewurztraminer and cabernet sauvignon she and her husband have produced at their Tura Winery here. She hopes President Trump will come visit their settlement one day.
The Ben-Saadon family has built a thriving business, with wine production growing from 1,200 bottles a year in 2003 to 100,000 bottles last year.… Seguir leyendo »
After visiting Tehran in 2013, I wrote that the Iranian capital seemed suspended somewhere between Pyongyang and Los Angeles. We’ve seen this past week how passionately Iranians want the latter, not the former — as they denounced their impoverished garrison state and demanded a prosperous, modern future.
Asking whether Iran’s demonstrations create a “pre-revolutionary” situation may miss the larger point. The process of change has already begun. The regime will use its instruments of repression, and the unrest may wane. But the protests have been so widespread, taking place in what a former U.S. intelligence officer says are 80 cities, that it will be impossible to put the whole country back in a box.… Seguir leyendo »
Nearly two weeks after the double political explosion that rocked Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be doing damage control in ways that may help stabilize Saudi Arabia and the region.
The first bombshell in the Saudi capital was the Nov. 4 arrests on corruption charges of 201 prominent Saudis, including princes and government ministers. Now MBS, as the 32-year-old crown prince is known, is beginning a resolution process that may settle many of these cases out of court.
A senior Saudi official told me Thursday that the kingdom’s anti-corruption commission would follow the standard “plea-bargain process” that is “usually conducted by the public prosecutor prior to transferring a case to the relevant court.” The commission’s overall aim, he said, was to “send a strong message” that corruption won’t be allowed, “irrespective of rank or status.”
The crackdown may have consolidated support for MBS among younger Saudis who resent older, wealthy princes and palace insiders.… Seguir leyendo »
Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri is being held by Saudi authorities under what Lebanese sources say amounts to house arrest in Riyadh, apparently as part of the Saudi campaign to squeeze Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.
A startling account of Hariri’s forced detention was provided Friday by knowledgeable sources in Beirut. It offers important new evidence of the tactics used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to bolster his rule by mobilizing anti-Iran sentiment at home and abroad.
Rumors of the virtual kidnapping of Hariri, who resigned as prime minister last Saturday while in Saudi Arabia, have rocked the Arab world; Lebanese officials worry that MBS, as the 32-year-old crown prince is known, wants to force Lebanon into his confrontation with Iran.… Seguir leyendo »
Hisham Melhem, un destacado periodista libanés, recuerda una emocionante visita a la gran mezquita de Córdoba que realizó en mayo. Se vio allí y, con lágrimas en los ojos, se preguntó cómo era posible que el genio de los árabes musulmanes de hace 1.000 años se haya convertido en nuestros días en tal caos y represión.
Después de su visita, Melhem escribió un artículo para el periódico de Beirut An Nahar en el que describía su estancia en Andalucía, “paseando como… en un sueño”, tocando las columnas de la mezquita de Córdoba y otros magníficos restos de un momento musulmán “caracterizado por la confianza, el valor, la apertura, la tolerancia y el amor a la inteligencia, la filosofía, las artes, la arquitectura y la felicidad en la Tierra”.… Seguir leyendo »
Hace un mes, muchos estadounidenses se preguntaban por qué debían preocuparse por el lastre de la deuda de distantes naciones europeas como Grecia, España o Portugal. Ahora, mientras los mercados financieros estadounidenses se unen en el castigo al resto del mundo, la respuesta es clara.
Que el temor actual se transforme en pánico siempre reviste cierta dosis de misterio, igual que ocurre cuando el galope de unos cuantos caballos da lugar, sin saber muy bien por qué, a una estampida. Europeos y asiáticos debieron de hacerse preguntas parecidas hace dos años sobre la causa y el efecto que tendría en la economía mundial una porción relativamente minoritaria del préstamo estadounidense -el préstamo hipotecario de riesgo- y la histeria que provocó en Wall Street, que absorbió la liquidez del sistema financiero mundial como una esponja.… Seguir leyendo »