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Entries in Arab Spring (19)

10:50AM

Aren't all those Islamists now in power supposed to keep globalization out?

Interesting NYT story on the cotinuing explosion of social media across the Middle East:

The use of social media exploded during the Arab Spring as people turned to cyberspace to express themselves. On the back of that, social media networks, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, have moved into the region commercially, setting up offices to sell advertising products to companies like Mobily, which has over 200,000 Twitter followers, to capitalize on the growing audience.

In Saudi, social media gets everyone talking to everyone, which is something we just don’t have in the streets here,” said Muna AbuSulayman, a Saudi development consultant and formerly a popular television talk show host, who has over 100,000 followers on Twitter.

It’s a unique opportunity that lets people have conversations in a boundary-less way that wasn’t possible before,” Ms. AbuSulayman said. “In addition to promoting social and political discussion, it carries a powerful economic incentive for businesses, too.”

Well, you know what the experts say:

 

  • The Arab Spring failed - turned to a terrible winter.
  • Globalization is on the retreat- everywhere.  
  • Connectivity is oversold; it doesn't really change all that much.
  • Authoritarianism is resurgent.
  • We lost the Middle East, thank you very much.

 

What's odd to me?  People have no sense of patience anymore and reach for the fatalism in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, everything is moving at such a fantastically high speed in terms of positive change.

8:52AM

The global security system's latest "gap"

New location, old story.

Been saying for about a decade now that Long War eventually migrates to Central Asia (less likely) and Africa (more likely), because it's "losing proposition" would eventually wear out its welcome in the Middle East (latest version now unfolding in Syria).  Will it succeed in Africa?  Only in the harshest locations above and around the tenth parallel that divides a predominately Muslim north ("cowboy" in American parlance, which sounds better than "herder") and a predominately Christian/animist south ("farmer" or any location-fixed economic activity). These two characters have never been friends anywhere and anytime in this world - no matter what Rodgers and Hammerstein said.

What is the dynamic we see?  We see a crisis du jour (Tuaregs in North Mali) attract co-ethnic mercenaries with nothing to do after Libya (and flush with small arms).  We also see an extremist Islamic uptick as an identity unifier.  Then, to no surprise, al-Qaeda shows up.  Where is this place?  Unbelievably remote.  Hillary Clinton called it "one of the remotest places in the world." (How many times have we heard that?).

Next, the words "save haven" pop up and we have a Western intervention seguing into all the usual insurgency/counterinsurgency dynamics.  The Long War doesn't go away because America takes most of its "ball" and goes home (or to East Asia); it merely keeps shifting location - as it has done for a couple of decades now (check out AQ Central's many addresses over the years - all garden spots).

This is the small-wars world we live in (subject of my upcoming "think again" piece in Foreign Policy).  We can get all jacked about China but, quite frankly, that's a self-liquidating problem (China's slowdown and other internal contradictions, plus the natural security balancing in East Asia like Japan moving to spend more on defense and logically go nuclear eventually).  

America thinks it's in charge of all this, so when we decide the "decade of wars is over" (Obama), then by God, they're over - right?  No American troops, no headlines (that matter) and no wars (that count).  Instead, we now "stand up" to those dastardly Chinese because it fits our fiscal fights and the Pentagon's need to find a distant and relatively benign "floor" to its budget ("Let's plan for an imaginary super-cool high-tech war with the Chinese so we can buy stuff like crazy - or as crazy as Congress will let us be for now.").  Thus we "heal the force" by getting rid of bodies (personnel) and restocking our toys.  China is the perfect cold-war-like foe for that. Chances of real war?  Virtually zero.  But, man, what a force sizer! (Actually not so good, but you make do with what you have in tough times, right?).

And meanwhile, the Long War keeps unfolding.  No argument on Obama's symmetricizing the fight (our SOF v. their terrorists), but since we're no longer in the business of "healing post-conflict societies/nations/etc" because in the past we insisted on doing it all ourselves (and all our own way) and that's too costly now (plus, we could never cooperate with those dastardly Chinese), those places just get shot up by our SOF and drone and get left with the smoking holes.  If these places are lucky, there's something for the Chinese to come in and extract.  If not, they are simply left behind by an uncaring world that will show up to kill bad guys and nothing else.

This is Colin Powell's dream world; no wonder he admires Obama so:  "I'm just here to kill bad guys and when there are no more bad guys to kill, I move on."  That's the Powell Doctrine in a nutshell (insert "overwhelming force" HERE).

But Obama is the great peacemaker.  We know this because he has a medal to prove it.  He stops America's over-stretched ambitions on nation-building and replaces it with worldwide targeted assassinations, and we are pleased with his wisdom.  But his total lack of caring for what happens next in those places where the smoking holes are all we leave behind?

History will judge that as both strategically unwise and incredibly cruel.

"Lead from behind" is a brilliantly descriptive phrase.

9:11AM

Wikistrat's latest sim: "Syria's Turmoil Explored

I co-wrote with Nick Ottens, a Wikistrat supervisor and Dutch journalist who specializes in globalization reportage.

This crowdsourced simulation, conducted in real time on Wikistrat’s online platform during the course of three weeks, discussed the sustainability of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and forecasted dozens of scenarios for its collapse or survival. In addition, analysts explored and evaluated a range of policy options for the United States, Russia, Iran, Israel, Turkey, France and other actors. The simulation saw the participation and collaboration of over 120 Wikistrat analysts from all around the world. The following is an excerpt from the simulation’s executive summary, available for download here.

Assad has little control over his own destiny. His survival to date has had less to do with his bloody suppression of insurgents than the absence of comprehensive foreign intervention, China’s and Russia’s diplomatic support (along with some material support from Moscow), and the opposition’s enduring divisions. Brute force can put down any uprising, but it won’t put the sectarian “genie” back in the “bottle.” Those enduring tensions will do more to shape the future of Syria than anything Assad can now manage.

Absent assassination, military coup or outside intervention, the struggle will require significant time to reach resolution. Assad’s forces keep the upper hand wherever they focus attention, but they cannot hold territory once they move on. Recent opposition successes notwithstanding, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) survives but does not flourish.

The Wikistrat simulation explored five scenario pathways. Overall, the analysts agreed that the rising sectarian violence, questionable army loyalty and ongoing defections dramatically reduce Assad’s chances to restore stability. The most plausible scenarios thus portray a slow-but-continuous of the regime until Assad falls. At that point, the opposition’s divisions and conflicting goals imply Libyan-style post-war difficulties.

 

11:47AM

Syria: When US inaction accelerates a radicalizing dynamic

Nice op-ed by Joe Lieberman, John McCain and Lindsey Graham in WAPO.

The core argument:

We are hopeful the rebels will ultimately prevail, but it remains a deeply unfair and brutal fight, and the speed and manner by which it is won matter enormously. All evidence suggests that, rather than peacefully surrendering power, Assad and his allies will fight to the bitter end, tearing apart the country in the process.

America’s disengagement from this conflict carries growing costs — for the Syrian people and for U.S. interests.

Because we have refused to provide the rebels the assistance that would tip the military balance decisively against Assad, the United States is increasingly seen across the Middle East as acquiescing to the continued slaughter of Arab and Muslim civilians. This reluctance to lead will, we fear — like our failure to stop the slaughter of the Kurds and Shiites under Saddam Hussein in Iraq or of the Tutsis in Rwanda — haunt our nation for years to come.

Our lack of active involvement on the ground in Syria also means that, when the Assad regime finally does fall, the Syrian people are likely to feel little goodwill toward the United States — in contrast to Libya, where profound gratitude for America’s help in the war against Moammar Gaddafi has laid the foundation for a bright new chapter in relations between our two countries.

We are being left behind by events.  When Al-Qaida makes this a bigger cause celebre than America does, we lose by definition - by our abscence.

We keep trying to wind ourselves up over the chem weapons depots, but we should be more concerned with registering the anti-Iranian win in a way that benefits Israel - if we're serious about wanting to avoid war with Iran.  That's the bigger fish here, not the lowest common threat inflator of chemical arms.

There are plenty of ways to ramp up our involvement without boots on the ground.  WAPO ran an editorial recently calling for the always handy no-fly-zone.

We have entered the R2P space (right to protect), and what we need to protect most here is our credibility and the region from outcomes that make it less stable over the Arab Spring's continued unfolding.

I have, in the past, noted that the Arab Spring has been kind enough to us to offer the one-damn-thing-after-another dynamic.  Well, now's the time when we seriously deal with the one damn thing called Syria.

The Syrian PM just defected.  What are we waiting for?

9:45AM

Time's Battleland: SYRIA When Military Intervention Makes Sense

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says that “diplomacy is still better than bombs” and that “moral outrage is just the starting point for a decision to intervene.”  He then goes through all the major powers in his piece Tuesday and cites reasons why each one is either holding back or holding things up. It’s one of those great ass-covering op-eds that’s supposed to make you look smart when the intervention does comes and it — gasp! — leads to more death and destruction.

Let me tell you why great powers intervene:  they don’t care about moral outrage and they don’t care about stopping the killing.  Moral outrage is a headline and nothing more, while the killing is either made faster or slower but never really “prevented.”

Great powers intervene when they can.  It’s as simple as that.  Good and bad don’t play into it.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

10:55AM

Egypt: you knew it was going to come down to this

A Muslim Brotherhood candidate versus a holdover from the old regime.

This is the essential question for the Egyptian public: stick with what they know or let the Islamists try to do better with the economy.

In the end, you want them to choose the Islamists, because the same old, same old won't work any better than the Mubarek version did. The trick is, the military needs to let this experiment run itself out.

Yes, there are many in the West that see a Muslim Brotherhood taking over the Middle East.  This sort of overwrought hysteria is not useful.  We've seen several would-be national liberation movements link up regionally over time, but as any of them get actual opportunities to rule, expect them to be total nationalists who completely backburner any alleged transnational solidarity.

This is not a new dynamic (nor a new misdiagnosis by the strategic community in the West): we've seen it throughout history.

But, in the end, letting the Islamists try-and-either-fail-or-succeed is essential to the Arab Spring process, and since that dynamic is overwhelmingly characterized by the empowerment of Sunni masses, that means the MB now face their moment in the sun.

Again, the Brotherhood can either meet this overwhelmingly economic challenge and succeed (the Erdogan dynamic in Turkey) or they can go all social conservative and self-destruct just like the GOP here in the fiscally f--ked-up States.

1:13PM

Time's Battleland: SYRIA Obama Cleverly Leading from Behind — Again

The quiet coalition has come together to reverse the decline of the opposition rebel forces in Syria, according to this nice front-pager in Wednesday’s Washington Post.  Much like in the case of Libya, the Obama Administration is hanging back and letting the local “market” determine his military response.  He simply refuses to take the strategic lead, which is frustrating to many and yet decidedly clever on his part.

To me, this is the Obama Doctrine: respond to local demand for U.S. crisis-response services rather than — in typical American fashion — pushing our way to the front of the line, bossing everyone, and then finding ourselves alone on the postwar backside.

 Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

10:44AM

West's conundrum on Syria

WSJ story: "Syria attacks seen as sign of extremists' rise."

Reason why, in a column a bit back, I argued for quasi intervention (imagining something in air control along Turkish border + arms support to rebels) is that, the longer this goes on, the more it becomes next natural cause celebre for AQ and associated.

So conunudrum is usual one: people say, don't get involved because we encourage terrorism/are forced to ally with terrorists.  Problem is, best way to ensure their growth is to sit back and let civil strife unfold over longer haul now made possible by our inaction.

We also buy lots of stiff-arming diplomatically from great powers generally because we don't resolve this.  If we went harder and faster, we'd still get stiff-armed, but speeding the killing also speeds the great-power dynamics past this dispute.

We all know we'll be in semi-aggressive stance on Syria so long as Assad remains, so why not get it over with? Why not speed the kiliing?

My preference is always the "damned if you do" variant.

No question about the "right side of history" here.

8:39AM

WPR's The New Rules: In Globalized World, Time Is on America's Side

Second-to-last column at WPR.

There is a popular tendency to characterize globalization as an elite-based conspiracy or as something imposed by greedy outsiders upon unsuspecting native populations, hence the enduring belief in the possibility of its systemic reversal. In truth, the spread of modern globalization reflects a bottom-up demand function, not a top-down supply imposition. People simply crave connectivity -- in all its physical and virtual forms -- as well as the freedom of choice that it unleashes. This simple truth is worth remembering when we contemplate America’s global role in the decades ahead.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

5:10PM

Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: Five countries that may rise up next

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

 

Is the Arab Spring over? Or are there other countries that might rise up in the year ahead? Wikistrat asked its global community of analysts to consider this question. Here’s what they came up with:

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

 

8:55AM

WPR's The New Rules: Assad's Ouster Best Chance to Stave off Israel-Iran Conflict

The debate among U.S. foreign policy analysts over the wisdom of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities -- and whether or not America should allow itself to be drawn into an ensuing conflict with Iran should Israel strike -- has largely taken place parallel to the debate over whether to pursue an R2P, or responsibility to protect, intervention in Syria. It bears noting, however, that forcing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure may be the best near-term policy for the U.S. to avoid being sucked into an Israeli-Iranian war.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

12:20PM

Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: Ten Roads to Israel-Iran War

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

Either Israel and the United States are engaged in a brilliant psychological operations campaign against Iran or the two long-time allies really are talking past each other on the subject of Tehran’s reach for a nuclear bomb. Either way, all this Bibi Netanyahu said, Leon Panetta said chatter is producing some truly jangled nerves over in Iran on the subject of Israel’s allegedly imminent attack on that country’s nuclear program facilities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps publicly implying that his nation can’t wait on Iranian events for as long as the Obama administration – with its looming embargo of Iranian oil sales to the West – would like. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta keeps tripping over his own tongue, saying one day that America is doing its best to keep Israel’s attack jets grounded and the next offhandedly remarking to reporters that Tel Aviv is inevitably going to pull that trigger sometime this spring.

Again, as psyop campaigns go, this is brilliant, because it not only keeps the Iranians nervous and guessing, it forces them out into the diplomatic open with all manner of implausible counter-threats that reveal their increasing desperation.

Stipulating all this brinkmanship - coordinated or not - this week’s Wikistrat crowd-sourced analysis exercise involves imagining the range of possible pathways to an Israel-Iran war.  We don’t offer odds here. We just try to cover a wide array of possible vectors toward the trigger-pulling point.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

12:12PM

Wikistrat post @ CNN/GPS: How Will It End in Syria?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

It’s hard to gauge just how strong the Free Syrian Army really is.  It’s clearly growing in size and in its ability to control ever-widening swaths of territory.  But at the same time, Russian and Iranian guns pour into Bashar al-Assad’s government.  And Bashar al-Assad has a steely will to power.

Given the mounting tension, it’s worth thinking through exactly how regime change may unfold and what it’s consequences would mean for the region.

Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy ran an online simulation on what could go down in Syria. Here are the results:

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

8:57AM

Time's Battleland: Would Assad’s Fall Limit the Nuclear Menace in the Middle East?

As Bashar Assad looks more internationally isolated by the day — and far more vulnerable to Western economic sanctions than uber-bad boy Iran — it behooves us to think through what general advantages accrue with his eventual fall. To date, most of the thinking has focused on Iran’s loss of its right-hand proxy in transmitting terror to Israel via Hamas and Hezbollah.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

11:42AM

Van Creveld tuned into Iran v. Turkey

Temp Headline Image

CSM op-ed, by way of WPR's media roundup.

As readers will attest, I've been saying this for a long time myself, both here and in columns and posts for other sites, but felt kinda odd that no one else was picking up on it. Knew I wasn't making it up.  Just wondered why the real lead being buried by MSM.

Well, this is one credentializing op-ed from Martin Van Creveld and somebody else.

Check it out.  I don't agree with all of it, but it's a powerful piece.

My annotated rundown:

[SUBTITLE] Many analysts say the Middle East is the focus of a geopolitical power struggle between the United States and Iran. That misses the primary thread of events – namely, the ongoing soft partition of the Arab republics between Turkey and Iran, with Turkey the stronger power.

What's not said: the power Turkey wields is entirely "soft," meaning the attraction of its culture, politics and its economic heft.  Turkey is not threatening with hard power, nor reaching for nukes - none of what Iran does. Instead, it's primary attraction is its success in growing and keeping happy an expanding middle class.

This is primarily China's soft-power attraction, so when we seek to counter it with a military "pivot" to East Asia, we don't look strong but weak.

During the last decade many right-wing American and Israeli analysts have described the geostrategic struggles unfolding in the Middle East as a new “cold war” pitting the United States against Shiite Iran. They have warned of an Arab “Shiite crescent” – stretching from Lebanon to Iraq – connected to Iran via ties of religion, commerce, and geostrategy . . .

Van Creveld puts Iraq too easily in Iran's camp - at least the Arab portion. I don't think it's such a done deal by any stretch, and we've seen plenty of reports that say the Turkish attraction is greater there on a lot of levels.

Back to the argument:

What this view of the Middle East overlooks is the fact that both the US and Iran are mired in internal political and economic difficulties. Simultaneously, inside the region, both are being outmaneuvered by an ascendant Turkey.

I don't think the US is being "outmaneuvered," just outperformed and out-clevered - if you will. Turkey, as a "young" rising power, has the strategic imagination required for the task, whereas the US strategic community is mired in a plethora of 20th-century concepts, many of which are so outdated as to be laughable. Turks just see the region with clearer eyes than we do.  No great mystery there.  Iran, thank Allah, is just as mired in the past.

Moreover, Western observers have missed the primary thread of events – namely, the ongoing asymmetric Turkish-Iranian soft partition of the Arab republics. Concomitantly, the American position as regional hegemon is vanishing. Today, only the Arab monarchies and Israel continue to look to the US as their primary patron.

I believe this to be true, but again, Turkey is winning and Iran's grip is tenable - see Syria.

Following the US withdrawal from Iraq, KRG officials bemoaned their need of a regional patron to protect them from dominance by Baghdad. Landlocked Iraqi Kurdistan also needs a conduit to export its oil to the West. The only country that can fulfill both roles is Turkey. That is why KRG officials, instead of supporting their ethnic brethren inside Turkey, have often sided with Ankara against the Kurdish separatist PKK.

This was made obvious to us when Enterra did its development work in the KRG.

Should more pipelines leading from Iraqi Kurdistan to the Mediterranean via Turkey be built, the result will be the de facto creation of an Iraqi-Kurdish buffer state. 

And frankly, the KRG is the nicest part of Iraq in terms of combined hydrocarbons and arable land.

In the southern part of Iraq, the situation is just the opposite. There, a Shiite Arab buffer state, buttressed by Iran as a bulwark against Turkish, American, or Saudi encroachments, is being created. The last two weeks’ events have removed any doubt that Prime Minister Maliki is “Iran’s man” in Baghdad. 

Again, I differ here on writing off the south, but point taken.

Yet despite this de facto partitioning of Iraq over the last month, Turkey and Iran are not challenging each other’s spheres of influence. Thus, Iraq has reverted to its traditional position as the Poland of the Middle East.

Cool analogy.

In post-Arab Spring North Africa, too, Turkey and Iran have essentially partitioned the resurgent Islamist movements between themselves. The Turks support the victorious “moderate” Islamists from Tunisia to Egypt. Iran backs the Salafist spoilers, even though they are Sunni.

Bingo!

Key point:

Since North Africa lacks indigenous Shiite populations and the “moderate” Islamists have now emerged as the main players in the region, it is Sunni Turkey, along with Qatar, that appears to be the rising political and commercial patron in North Africa.

Not arms, but soft-power backed by serious wealth accumulation.

Next arguments about Turkey and Iran synching their approaches to Israel-Palestine problem strikes me as weak. Van Creveld and his guy are interpreting Turkey's reorientation away from quasi alliance with Israel and a reorientation toward Iran's hard line.  I see nothing of the sort, but rather Turkey proving its Islamist credentials as it openly seeks regional leadership.  Israel here is just the litmus test.

Van Creveld and Pack see a clear struggle between the two powers in Syria, but again with an eye to soft partition, as they put it:

In a fragmented post-Assad Syria, Turkey will support the Sunnis, while Iran will remain the patron of the Alawites. Moreover, both will surely find a way to protect their strategic and financial interests in whatever regime emerges.

Strong finish on a point I have railed incessantly - our obsession with Iran's nukes blinds us to everything else going on in the region:

Throughout 2011, the continued Western obsession with the Iranian nuclear menace prevented policymakers from grasping the most salient dynamics at play in the new Middle East. Those who, like Mohammed Ayoob, have warned that “Beyond the Arab Democratic Wave” lies a “Turko-Persian Future” have been mostly ignored.

The Arab Spring has vastly weakened the Arab states, leaving them open to fragmentation, increased federalism, and outside penetration. With hindsight, 2011 may come to represent as sharp a rupture in the political landscape of the Middle East as 1919 did.

True to my "new map" approach: globalization, entering the Arab world, creates fragmenting tendencies (remapping, as I have long described it), and the two states seeking to take advantage represent polar opposites on adapting themselves to globalization's many challenges: Turkey embraces and is stronger for it, Iran does not and in its fight to keep it out becomes decidedly weaker (here our sanctions do help). Toss Qatar in the same basic globalization camp as Turkey.

Van Creveld and Pack view all this in terms of great power control over weaker states, and yes, we will witness plenty of these dynamics in the initial remapping process, but Turkey won't "own" the Middle East any more than China will "own" SE Asia.  Ultimately, as globalization takes deep root and economic opportunities arise, states will gravitate according to market power, not pol-mil influence.  Turkey will be prominent because of its significant market size (just like China in East Asia or India in South Asia or the US in the Western Hemisphere), adhering to my general principle that what rules in globalization is not supply (especially of hard power) but demand (the ultimate soft attractor).

12:01AM

Esquire's Politics Blog: So, How's That Egyptian Revolution Coming Along?


Egypt has just concluded voting for its new parliament — the first round, anyway — with surprisingly large turnouts and little-to-no serious violence. And that should make us all pretty happy, right? Alas, there's a lot of angst out there in the mainstream media and the blogosphere on all the issues that get lumped together in the big, mournful vibe of who killed the revolution? As usual, America's incredible impatience with progress, along with our unrealistic expectations about "new faces" dominating political outcomes, are fueling this growing sense of pessimism. But, in truth, the revolution is going along just fine.

Herewith, some whining you'll be hearing in the coming days — and the truth behind it....

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.

10:32AM

Quoted in Reuters piece on Syria & great powers

Quoted in Reuters piece about Russia bolstering its naval presence in the Eastern Med while making strong noises about no Western intervention into Syria.

The bits:

As Syria's uprising escalates into outright civil war and begins to drag in other states, it risks fuelling not only wider regional confrontation but also growing antagonism between the world's great powers . . .

That in itself could mark the beginning of a long, bloody, open-ended civil war. And speculation about foreign military intervention could even spark a Cold War-style face-off between Russia and the United States.

Analysts and foreign governments have long said they believed Iran was providing military and logistics support to Damascus, and some now suspect the opposition too is now receiving foreign weapons.

That, many analysts fear, risks further fuelling the growing regional confrontation between Tehran and its local enemies, particularly the Gulf states and emerging heavyweight Turkey. . .

My quote comes at the end.

"The problem with conflict in Syria is that it is much harder to contain than what we saw in Libya," said Anthony Skinner, Middle East analyst for UK-based consultancy Maplecroft.

"It has much wider regional implications that have largely been ignored. It feeds into what is already happening in the Gulf, as well as elsewhere" 

. . . 

"The Russians are signaling that on Syria, it is not a situation where they will publicly protest but quietly and privately acquiesce," says Nikolas Gvsodev, professor of national security studies at the US Naval War College.

"The danger is that it is not clear what they are prepared to do to stop open intervention."

. . .

"I think the Russians really were spooked by what happened in Libya and are determined to see that nothing like that happens again," said Nigel Inkster, a former deputy chief of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and now director of transnational threats and political risk at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"In that they are joined by China and most of... the BRICs... (However) since there is clearly no appetite for a military intervention in Syria, the Russian navy's journey looks likely to be wasted."

. . . 

"What you're seeing in the Middle East with the withdrawal of the U.S. from Iraq is Iran moving into an increasingly stronger position," said Reva Bhalla, director of analysis at U.S. private intelligence company Stratfor.

"If Assad survives in Syria, he will also be increasingly isolated and dependent on the Iranians, which will reinforce existing regional fears of Iran's growing influence."

Further stoking events, many believe, is a much wider tussle for power as the realization dawns that some two centuries of regional dominance by outside powers - first colonial Britain and France, then the U.S. - may be drawing to a close.

"We shouldn't be surprised that the Russians - in addition to the Turks and Iranians - feel like they've got an opportunity to expand their political-military influence in the eastern Mediterranean," said Thomas Barnett, U.S.-based chief strategist at consultancy Wikistrat.

"Nature abhors vacuums and so do rising great powers."

Personally, I think Russia has decided it must be present on Syria, lest it allow the entire Arab Spring to pass without so much as a howdy-do.  I think Moscow has some ambitions to re-establish itself in the region, but that the main show remains the Saudis and Iran, with the second bill being Turkey and Iran - the rivalry that I think overtakes all under the right crisis conditions.

11:44AM

WPR's The New Rules: How to Stop Worrying and Live with the Iranian Bomb

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear programsurprised no one, even as it created the usual flurry of op-eds championing preventative “next steps.” As I’ve been saying for the past half-decade, there are none. Once the U.S. went into both Iraq and Afghanistan, the question went from being, “How do we prevent Iran from getting the Bomb?” to “How do we handle Iran’s Bomb?” That shift represents neither defeatism nor appeasement. Rather, it reflects a realistic analysis of America’s strategic options. With that in mind, here are 20 reasons why Iran’s successful pursuit of the Bomb is not the system-changing event so many analysts are keen to portray.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

10:14AM

Time's Battleland: For all you Iran-is-winning types, the sad truth

You get two variants of this logic: 1) if the US leaves Iraq, Iran wins automatically (or it's won already because the Shiite majority actually rules); and 2) even more than al-Qaeda, Iran is the real beneficiary of the Arab Spring.

Both judgments are wrong in the way that America's capacity for frantic self-doubt and self-blame are routinely wrong.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.