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Entries in Iran (102)

12:16AM

Another take on the expanded AQ-Iran relationship

Per the piece I wrote for WPR a while back, leveraging some work by Michael Smith of Kronos, this AP story in USA Today (HT to Mike) lays out a very similar analysis:

Since 2001, Iran has appeared a somewhat reluctant host for senior al-Qaeda operatives who fled there after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, keeping them under tight restrictions. Now, though Iran remains on the edge of al-Qaeda's orbit, it seems to be a more comfortable haven for those operatives.

The turning point was the negotiations for the release last year of a senior Iranian diplomat held by the Taliban. As I noted in the WPR piece, top AQ strategist Saif al-Adel, allegedly held under arrest in Iran, has started to travel with Iran's blessing to Pakistan.  As the USA Today article further notes:

Despite his travel to Pakistan, al-Adel has so far chosen to remain based in Iran with his wife and family, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

This suggests that al-Adel and perhaps lower-level al-Qaeda figures now consider Iran a viable outpost, with fewer restrictions and the added security that a U.S. commando raid or drone strike on Iranian soil is unlikely. Al-Adel, an Egyptian who allegedly helped mastermind the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, is among the FBI's most-wanted terrorists and the U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for his capture.

"There are a number of reasons an al-Qaeda leader would feel comfortable these days in Iran," said Theodore Karasik, a regional affairs expert at the Dubai-based Institute forNear East and Gulf Military Analysis. "Chief among them is a mutual enemy: America."

The life of the al-Qaeda-linked exiles in Iran is still very much a blind spot to Western intelligence agencies. Very few firm details have emerged, such as how much Iran limits their movements and contacts.

Iran has made no public comments on bin Laden's family members believed to be on its soil, nor about al-Adel and others in the al-Qaeda braintrust believed to have spent time in the country and may still be there. They include Atiyah Abdul-Rahman, a Libyan high in the al-Qaeda hierarchy; Abu Mohammed al-Masri, a top figure in the al-Qaeda's "Military Committee," which al-Adel is believed to head; and Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, a senior spiritual adviser in the terror network.

"The story of al-Qaeda and Iran is one that often is hard to figure out," said Karasik. "But there is a sense that Iran is not just a bystander. Links to top figures like al-Adel gives Iran channels to al-Qaeda's inner workings if they want to go on that path."

With al-Zawahri leading the al-Qaeda, al-Adel is likely to remain a behind-the-scenes organizer and planner of possible new attacks.

Something to keep an eye on.

10:49AM

WPR's The New Rules: Making Syria's Assad Next Domino to Fall

Recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans and Europeans don't want NATO to widen its war against embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. So long as the West's low-and-slow approach to regime change continues to weaken the dictator, there is good reason to stick with President Barack Obama's strategy of limited intervention. Yet as international cameras focus in on Libya, a prospective tipping point for the future of the Middle East becomes all the more visible in Syria, despite that country's ban on international journalists. And although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken an admirably tough line regarding the Baath regime's "continued brutality," the White House still expresses more concern over Israel's policies in the West Bank and Gaza than over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's increasingly bloody crackdown against protesters there. 

Read the entire column, co-authored with Michael S. Smith II, at World Politics Review.

6:15AM

Time's Battleland: Future grand strategists speak: Why US withdrawal from Afghanistan would stabilize Pakistan

In my continuing role as Head Judge  for the online strategy community Wikistrat's month-long International Grand Strategy Competition featuring roughly 30 teams from top-flight universities and think tanks around the world, I get to peruse all manner of provocative thought from some of tomorrow's best and brightest thinkers.  And yeah, full disclosure, I get paid to judge as the firm's chief analyst.

Well, this last week, our participating teams drew up elaborate national trajectories and regional trajectories for their 13 countries (Brazil, China, EU, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and US), and the two entries that really jumped out at me in their immediate dueling were the two Pakistani teams populated with grad students from Claremont Graduate University (CA) and Yale (CT).  Let me tell you why.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


12:39PM

Time's Battleland: "US bases in Afghanistan for decades?"

Waiting on the Obama speech explaining this one.

Guardian piece Monday predicts that current US-Afghan talks will cement a very long-term deal on presence [hat tip to World Politics Review Media Roundup].

American and Afghan officials are locked in increasingly acrimonious secret talks about a long-term security agreement which is likely to see US troops, spies and air power based in the troubled country for decades. [italics mine]

This is described officially as a "strategic partnership," but nobody in their right mind would describe it as such. It's a dependency - pure and simple. The longer we stay, the more we'll infantilize the system. Ten years in and virtually everything we've set about to create is still described as "fragile" - meaning it collapses and disappears the minute we pull out.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

11:18AM

WPR's The New Rules: "For U.S., the Long War Shifts Back to the Persian Gulf"

As the United States debates just how much more effort it wants to put into the Afghanistan-Pakistan sinkhole, evidence mounts of the need to pursue a strategic pivot back toward the Middle East, where the Arab Spring is increasingly threatened by a Persian winter of revolutionary discontent. For some time now, Iran has been showing signs of mounting internal divisions between competing hardline factions led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But it has also become more desperate about asserting its alleged leadership of the region's ongoing wave of uprisings, including a far more active sponsorship of al-Qaida's Persian Gulf franchise. All this suggests that, if America is truly serious about continuing the fight against the post-Osama bin Laden al-Qaida, then Washington needs to admit that the center of gravity in that "persistent struggle" has shifted out of northwest Pakistan and into the Persian Gulf.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

9:44PM

Kronos report to Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus on Iran-AQ Nexus

Download here.

Made available here as part of tomorrow's WPR column.

1:30PM

On NPR's Morning Edition with Renee Montagne 1 June

Taped remotely this morning at WFYI here in Indy.

She said it would run near front of program, so EST at about 5:10-15, then 7:10-15, then again at 9:10-15.

Even hours on the West Coast.  All very confusing, but you know what I mean.

Subject is Af-Pak and America's choices.

Spoke for close to half-hour, but they will edit down to best bits, which should make my pollen-addled brain sound smarter.

4:28PM

Esquire's The Politics Blog: Obama's Middle East Speech Text, Decoded Line-by-Line

Expectations couldn't have been lower for President Obama's Middle East speech on Thursday, and yet it was a work of "realist" beauty that recognized: a) how little influence America actually has over these types of events, and b) where we stand at the beginning of what is likely to be a long process of political upheaval and — hopefully — economic reform that addresses the underlying issues driving the entire region. Yes, Obama took a pass on Palestine and Israel (his historic referencing of Israel's pre-'67 borders is the Mideast equivalent of a "world without nuclear weapons"), but he's got several touch points in the coming days (the Netanyahu meeting, another speech, Netanyahu's speech to Congress) with which to address that, so this was more of a broad-strokes laying out as to what America stands for, and what it's willing to do amidst its current fiscal realities. And — again — it was a great mix of stated idealism, expressed in long-haul terms, and political pragmatism that recognizes the here-and-now realities that must temper any sense of America coming to anybody else's immediate rescue.

Obama's was a well-crafted message — one that reassured both the world and Americans that this administration knows its limits and its responsibilities to history. It was, in a word, presidential.

And now, so you don't have to sit through it again, a little deconstruction of the most compelling sections excerpted (from the prepared remarks) at length....

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


8:55AM

WPR's The New Rules: Long-Term U.S. Presence in Afghanistan a Mistake

The Obama administration has begun talks with Afghanistan designed to quell the Karzai government's fears about being abandoned by the West come 2014. Those talks are said to involve negotiations for long-term basing of U.S. troops involved in training Afghan security forces and supporting future counterterrorism operations. This can be seen as a realistic course of action, given our continuing lack of success in nation-building there, as well as our inability -- although perhaps unwillingness is a better term -- to erect some regional security architecture that might replace our presence. But there are good reasons to question this course.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

10:37AM

The weird rush to anoint Iran as "victor" in 2.0 Revolutions

Tour d'horizon piece by always solid Michael Slackman that editors at NYT need to hook with title, and so they decided that Saudis are losing and Iranians are winning.

I find that teaser a bit much and awfully premature.  Simplistic and deceiving are other words.

These are not Islamic revolutions.  The protestors are not saying, "What's wrong is the lack of Islam!"  Nor are they saying, "Stick it to the West!"

What they are saying is that they want a future, with jobs and opportunity.  Again, this is an expectations revolution:  these young have gotten just enough education and just enough connectivity with the outside world to know they're screwed, that the oligarchic capitalism they're being offered is totally slanted against them, and that these situations will not improve with time--meaning no jobs and no dowries and no wives and no families for them.

What is there in the Iranian model that says they know how to raise a middle class and keep it happy? Nothing.  Their middle class is miserable.  We're talking a stunning brain drain (worst in world, according to international organizations) and an even more stunning birth dearth, meaning people are so profoundly unhappy in Iran that they're refusing to have babies--the ultimate vote.  Iran's economy is magnificently controlled--mafia-style--by the Revolutionary Guard, oligarchic capitalism at its best.

Granted, compared to "revolutionary" Iran, the Saudis seem equally trapped in some nutty past (and an equally oligarchic, mafia-run economy), but at least there you're talking some serious money to be thrown at the problem and at the region, something Iran doesn't have to anywhere near the same degree. 

But, in the end, both peddle loser ideologies that do not attract investment or business or jobs.  They are both all about holding off the future and, in Iran's case, settling past scores.  Yes, to the degree they open up, they and others like them may buy time with Chinese investment, but that's all they're buying--time.  The same expectations revolution comes for their heads--eventually.

The one country that can be cast as default winner in the region is the government that knows how to raise a middle class and keep it happy--Erdogan's AKP in Turkey.  There's a country with a future and its people know it.

Once all the dust settles, the winners will be countries and extra-regional powers who make the economic connectivity happen.  In those loser situations where that does not happen, radical ideologies will hold sway, but what else is new? The Saudis and Iranian can fight over those bones, but how that constitutes winning is beyond me.  Winning is picking up strong allies, not more mouths to feed.

Globalization, meanwhile, marches on.

8:30AM

WPR's The New Rules: Ten Assumptions About Egypt Worth Discarding

There's a lot of trepidation mixed in with the joy of seeing one of the Arab world's great dictators finally step down. With Americans being so down on themselves these days, many see more to fear than to celebrate. But on the whole, there's no good reason for the pessimism on display, which is based on a lot of specious assumptions that need to be discarded. Here's my Top 10 list.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

9:44AM

WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Defense Cuts a Step in the Right Direction

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled his much-anticipated budget cuts last Thursday, signaling the beginning of the end of the decade-long splurge in military spending triggered by Sept. 11. Gates presented the package of cuts as being the biggest possible given the current international security landscape, warning that any deeper reductions could prove "potentially calamitous." Frankly, I find that statement hard to swallow.

REad the entire column at World Politics Review.

8:59AM

WPR's The New Rules: A Wish List for the New Year

To kick off 2011, I thought I'd put together my top-10 international affairs wish list for the year, going from left to right on my wall map. But like Spinal Tap, only better, my list goes to 12:

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

10:00AM

WPR's The New Rules: Obstacles to a U.S.-China Partnership Made in U.S.A.?

 

In a column two weeks ago, I described the outlines of a proposed grand-strategic bargain between China and the United States. Basically, the "term sheet" that I helped draw up proposed various bilateral compromises over the security issues -- Taiwan, North Korea, Iran and the South China Sea, among others -- that keep the relationship clouded by profound strategic mistrust. The resulting climate of confidence would encourage Beijing to invest some of the trillions of dollars it holds more directly into our economy, instead of simply using them to facilitate our skyrocketing public debt. Since the column appeared, I and my co-authors spent two weeks in Beijing meeting with top government-sponsored think tanks and retired Chinese senior diplomats to discuss and revise the proposal. I thought it would be useful to report on this dialogue.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

12:02AM

Esquire's Politics Blog: Obama's Afghanistan Review, Decoded

So the White House just released its much-anticipated review of our ongoing military efforts in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, mind you). And while President Obama, Bob Gates, and Hillary Clinton took pains to explain in a press conference on Thursday that "this continues to be a very difficult endeavor," it can also be very difficult to parse propaganda from, you know, the actual end of a modern war. But since this is a reasonably well-written document that the president's talking about here — and since it more or less outlines the past, present, and future of our troops' presence in region in a still-untidy five pages — it seems worthwhile to deconstruct the review line-by-line... and (white) lie-by-lie. Here goes.

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

12:01AM

Esquire's Politics Blog: How the WikiLeaks Cables Reveal Obama's False Utopia

So the Obama administration says America's relations with our allies around the world can survive the latest WikiLeaks dump of U.S. diplomatic cables, and I'm inclined to agree. Truth is, the whole thing reads like a booze-addled Thanksgiving argument spun out of control, and nothing more. So the Middle East's corrupt autocrats hate each other and constantly goad the White House into taking out their garbage — big deal! God only knows the same good ol' boys will be the first to condemn us once things get tough and we choose to act. (To say nothing of Julian Assange's impending lawsuit.) In the meantime, sell the bad guys a few anti-missile defense systems and tell 'em to shut the hell up, because President Obama has one helluva lot more on his plate right now than just Iran, or North Korea, or Pakistan, or... you get the point.

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

11:05AM

WPR's The New Rules: Nation-Building, not Naval Threats, Key to South Asian Security

It is hard for most Americans to fathom why the U.S. military should be involved in either Afghanistan or northwest Pakistan for anything other than the targeting of terrorist networks. And since drones can do most of that dirty work, few feel it is vital to engage in the long and difficult task of nation-building in that part of the world. These are distant, backward places whose sheer disconnectedness relegates them to the dustbin of globalization, and nothing more.

If only that were true. 

Read the rest of the column at World Politics Review.

The book reviewed in the piece is Monsoon:  The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.

5:38PM

Ahmadinejad's assault on the mullahs intensifies

Brilliant World Politics Review piece by JAMSHEED K. CHOKSY at Indiana U (go Hoosiers!).  Been waiting a while for someone to really lay this out.

Some bits:

Despite some typically incendiary remarks, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's attendance at the U.N. General Assembly's 65th session in New York was marked by a low-key tone noted by many. The change in tone, including a reported willingness to resume talks with the U.S. and its allies, reflects the impact of Iran's domestic politics. For increasingly, Ahmadinejad's real battle is at home, against the mullahs who brought him to power. And in that struggle, Ahmadinejad and his allies are increasingly embracing Iran's venerable 2,500-year-old national heritage to attack its recent three-decade Islamist experiment.

The latest salvo, via a Web site called Mashanews run by Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, didn't mince words. "Iran needs to remove the mullahs from power once for all," it read, "and return to a great civilization without the Arab-style clerics who have tainted and destroyed the country for the past 31 years." The executive branch's current stance on the Shiite clergymen who have shaped Iranian politics since 1979 is summed up as, "din (religion) should be distinct from dowla (state)." Indeed, Ahmadinejad's supporters have begun comparing him to King Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire who kept those two institutions separate.

The shift is based on the political realities in Tehran. Having survived the last election thanks to his allies in the civil bureaucracy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, and the Basij paramilitary, Ahmadinejad now has little to fear from the mullahs and their supporters. So he has begun to insist that "the executive is the most important branch of government," thereby challenging oversight by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Islamic political institutions. 

That is the wow(!) analysis I've been looking for.  Really spectacular piece worth reading in full.  The mullahs have fallen from power.  We are only beginning to realize the problems and possibilities that ensue.

8:34AM

Esquire's Politics Blog: 5 Reasons Ahmadinejad Might Just Be Good for the World

Ah, U.N. Week — that time of year when Fox News sounds the alarm bells and The National Review starts making musical-theater references to impending speeches from Dictators with an Important Audience. And when the rest of us realize that Thursday's session with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be quite the opposite: another round of comic relief sure to sabotage his own attempts to be taken seriously, followed by another round of (mostly) effective sanctions. The Obama administration already rolled one eye on Monday by refusing a detainee swap, so let's see just how far one man's stubbornness can be leveraged, shall we?

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

12:06AM

Good instinct, bad linkage on Iran-Afghanistan

Ignatius piece in WAPO that starts out promisingly:

Iran is signaling that it wants to join regional efforts to stabilize Afghanistan -- presenting President Obama with an interesting diplomatic opportunity. He had solicited just such help from Tehran last month, but the administration has not yet responded to the Iranian feelers.

And then replays past mistakes:

U.S. policy is still in flux, but the administration appears ready for a limited dialogue with Iran about Afghanistan, perhaps conducted through the two countries' embassies in Kabul. This position has not been communicated to the Iranians, in part because Washington is waiting to see whether Iran will return soon to negotiations about its nuclear program with the "P-5 plus 1" group.

Thus we see yet again what our mania with nukes costs us in the Long War.  Sadder still, but telegraphing our conditions in such a rote fashion, we cede all initiative and put Tehran in the driver's seat on both scores.

Unimpressive.