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Entries in Israel (35)

11:44PM

Delivering a PPT in the PNT

 

Was approached by a group at the Joint Staff a while back to present to a working group focused on a particular operational theater.  The group regularly hosts speakers for an audience of about 75 flags, officers and senior civilians, with VTC to a large number of overseas commands.  Audience also had a number of foreign senior officers.  

The sponsor had asked to discuss near- and mid-term issues that could prove disruptive to security issues under their purview.  Because my current brief is more long term, I saw this as a chance to brief a number of Wikistrat sims.  So the bulk of the brief was on four sims we've done over the past couple of years now.

Little bit nervous going in, because it was a significant audience in terms of hierarchy, so a good test of the product line - as it were.  Unlike a pitch where you talk about the methodology and the company, this was a pure product presentation.  Not a demo, but actual product that had to stand on its own - as in, nowhere to hide behind hand-waving.

Joel Zamel was there as well to answer questions on the company and methodology.

I did 28 slides at a podium.  Couldn't move around due to the VTC cameras.  Also had to finger a screen to advance the slides (tap, tap, tap).  All in all, a terrible set-up for somebody like me, and I often feel like I underperform in those situations (I don't get complaints; it just doesn't feel as gloriously un-self-conscious as the perfect set-ups - for me - do).  But for whatever reason, it worked great and I got my head around the delivery and banged out about 30 mins of presentation, followed by another 30 or so of Q&A that felt even better.  Audience was really great.  Really interesting questions and super engaged.  What you expect from that level of crowd.  So you give what you get (e.g., my humor was above average), as the best audiences always get the best briefs.  It's just how it works.

Still, you just never know going in.  I tend to be pretty quiet right up to the point, because it takes a lot of energy. And yes, some nerves on the product. But the material was received very well, which was very gratifying. Big league audience in the bowels of the Pentagon and Wikistrat - at only three years old - comes off as top flight. We fielded a lot of powerfully positive comments and feedback. Extremely validating.

Follow-on lunch inside the Building with a crew of USA younger officers who are all elite something or other in some prestigious fellows program.  Most had seen me give my current standard globalization brief at Belvoir during my regular lectures there.  That was a really nice discussion.  Decent bisque, too.

Only really hard part was getting up at 0400 to fly there and back on same day, but nice to be back home for a movie with the kids at the end of their school week.

All in all, it felt like a genuine milestone.

You know, we run a lot of training simulations at Wikistrat.  Really pretty much nonstop.  And one of the things I'm always preaching throughout the community is that everything needs to be of high-enough caliber that, if I'm standing in front of a senior audience of serious operators and policy types at the Pentagon or some COCOM, I sound like the real deal from stem to stern. That's really the first threshold. Everybody knows we can do it fast and far less expensively, so the only remaining question is, Is the quality as good as anybody else's out there?

And that test was passed today (actually yesterday) - with flying colors.

And that is no small achievement. 

So the community should feel very proud of itself and what it is accomplishing.

Because the quality is only going to keep improving.  I'm seeing that elevate with each sim.  Less correcting work for me as Chief Analyst, and more time to really work the synergizing write-up, so elevation across the board, as well as product I can stand in front of - inside the Pentagon and with a senior audience - and deliver without a hitch.

12:02AM

Where is the world is Wikistrat?

A graphic listing most - but not all - of the sims conducted by Wikistrat this year.  The point is to display the breadth and the volume.  Be impressed, because you should be.

Wikistrat's sims aren't a year in the planning.  Client names the subject and we're off and running in days.  Why? All Wikistrat needs is a framework and then we turn the analysts loose on the scenarios.  The company don't spend countless man-hours narrowing down the range of possibilities so that 95% of the uncertainty and surprise is drained from the exercise by the time we actually start it.  Wikistrat can customize the structure to your concerns and then it brings the masses in to run with that structure and take it places you - the client - hadn't considered.

That approach allows for a huge mapping of possibilities.  You want to find the needle in the haystack?  Well, Wikistrat can run through that hay awfully damn quick.

Spend a minute and see if you can guess the four sims that were my ideas . . .

{music}

First one was China as Africa's de facto World Bank.  I'm pretty sure that was based on a WSJ headline noting that tipping point.  It ended up positing a lot of interesting intersection points between the US and China on the continent. Sim ended up generating both a report and a briefing by me.

Second one was the North American Energy Export Boom.  There was a time when Wikistrat asked me what I'd most like to explore in terms of near-term uncertainty in the system, and the whole fracking thing just jumped out at me:  Which way does it go?  Does it work out big-time for the US and - ultimately - the world?  Or does it get aborted like nuclear power for enviro reasons?  That was a very strong sim in terms of output, and all that material (final report and my brief) still tracks incredibly well with headlines.  All we did is simply systematize all those possibilities, organizing them into four major trajectories (usual X-Y approach). But the upshot was, anybody who goes through that stuff now has the capacity to process all the headlines to come.

Third one was the China slowdown sim.  That one's been in my mind since I wrote the piece for Esquire back in the fall of 2010 (it came out in the Jan '11 issue).  The idea came to me in the summer of 2010 and it took a while to sell it to the magazine, but it looks fairly prescient today, doesn't it?  Anyway, a very solid sim that ran down all manner of possibilities, and I really loved the quartet of scenarios we came up with (which drew comparisons to historical risers).  Great report and probably the strongest brief I've yet done for WS.

Fourth one was "when China's carrier entered the Gulf."  Wikistrat asked me to generate a host of possible sims way back when, and that was one of them. Just a simple logical progression argument, with the trick being imagining all the possibilities when that inevitability unfolds.  Hence the sim, which turned out great, along with a solid report.  And this one was only a "mini-sim" by WS standards:  just a brainstorming drill on scenarios with a quick follow-up on policy options.  Mostly junior analysts, but the output was as good as anything I've seen from the National Intelligence Council - seriously.

Two on the list I didn't really have anything to do with: NATO and Pakistan.  First one was driven by a client's curiousity.  Second one is just a natural "what if?"  Both turned out quite nicely.

The Democratic Peace Theory Challenged sim is another one I did not design, and I will admit that, at first blush, I didn't much care for the subject.  I was brought in to work the design and shaped it somewhat, but I truly had low expectations.  In truth, those were exceeded by a long shot.  The material needed more shaping than usual, because the sim had a theoretical bent, but what I ended up with at the end in the final report was . . . to my surprise . . . quite strong - I mean, present at a poli sci/IR conference strong (or walk into any command and brief strong).  It easily could have veered into all sorts of panic mongering, but instead it organized a universe of possibilities very neatly.  I was really proud of the overall effort, and it reminded me not to get too judgmental going into sims.

The Syria sim I didn't design, nor did I oversee its operation.  That Wikistrat left to junior versions of myself.  I was brought in at the end to shape the first draft of the report, and, while I moved things around plenty, the material held up very nicely to my critical eye, which is encouraging.  If Wikistrat is going to handle all the volume coming down the pike (contractual relationships are piling up at a daunting rate), then the Chief Analyst position needs to be like that of any traditional RAND-like player:  that person needs to be able to shape things a bit at the start and then at the end, but mid-range staff need to be able to herd all those cats and the resulting material. So that one felt like a nice maturation of the process, because, like with any successful start-up, the real challenge isn't marketing but execution.

This graphic, for some sad reason, skips the headlining sim of the year to date:  When Israel Strikes Iran.  That one I had a lot of fun with, giving it my years-in-the-testing phased approach (initial conditions, trigger, unfolding, peak, glide path, exit, new normal).  That approach goes back to my Y2K work and later after-action on the Station Nightclub fire disaster in Rhode Island (done for the local United Way to provide lessons learned on how well the organization responded). That was the most structurally ambitious Wikistrat sim to date and it - unsurprisingly - produced the best material by far. I'd put that final report and brief up against anything the best elements of the US national security establishment could produce . . . naturally at about 20 times the cost and five times the duration of effort.

The graphic also doesn't include the most recent sims.  I just finished a final report on The Globally Crystalizing Climate Change Event (one of mine), and, despite the great time projection, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the material holds up in the report.  I thought the analysts did a great job there.

Based on that fine crowd performance, Wikistrat pushes the community even harder in the just-wrapping-up sim entitled When World Population Peaks.  This one was truly challenging, but my point in designing the sim was almost to purposefully "test out" analysts in the manner of a language-skills oral exam, meaning I wanted something almost too hard for most analysts so as to press both them and the supervising analysts on how they handled it.  Think of it like a NASA sim where Control is trying to crash the lunar module.  That was a bit stressful, I think, for a lot of the community who participated, but - to me - it was like a nasty cross-country workout (I am assistant coaching my kid's team again for the 8th year in a row and I'm on my third kid) early in the season:  bit of a bitch mentally and physically, but it'll pay off down the road.

Yes, Wikistrat does take all its sims - even the training ones - very seriously.  If you're not growing then you're dying - simple as that.  Start-ups have to have that survival-of-the-fittest mentality and we're talking about a small firm that's come out of nowhere (okay, Israel) in just three years.

So, a nice overview of the year, and it's an impressive body of work.  Would you believe me if I told you that all of it was accomplished within a timeframe and with a far smaller budget that one of those bloated wargames that Booz Allen runs for the Pentagon?

Well, if you did, then you'd know why Wikistrat is going to succeed in this cutthroat business.

12:06PM

Why the special relationship (US-Israel) isn't going anywhere

Fascinating factoid:  80 percent of the world's Jews live in US and Israel (roughly an equal split in numbers).

Then look at the lower right-hand bar charts and realize - Holocaust or no - that the 20th century was the best century the Jews ever had, because of the location of, and population concentration within, the two great safe places in the global system: the Jewish homeland of Israel and the next best thing called America.  The Economist (where the chart is drawn from) notes that the Jewish faith is now stronger and more "alive" than it's been for a very long time.  Naturally, Judaism experiences the same crises of all religious identities in this modernizing world (absolutely nothing "special" about the Jews in that regard, even as they consider themselves "chosen" like every other faith on the planet - the Lake Woebegon effect that all religions suffer ("I get it!  You don't!")), but there's no question it's a powerful and well-placed faith in a world experiencing religious awakening (everywhere but Europe's non-Muslims).

Expats and coreligionists driving US foreign policy constitutes a long and storied tradition in America.  It - for example - essentially defines our special relationships with the Brits and Europe in general.  Is it weird or "unfair" with regard to Israel?  Hardly.  People want to see conspiracies and what not.  But it's the simple - and beautiful -business of money talking.

America is a supremely fair place when it comes to minorities - save African Americans for obvious historical reasons.  But, in general, if you're an immigrant group or otherwise minority, you can make yourself heard and somewhat obeyed in our political system simply by organizing yourself and applying your collective wealth to the system of influence that is our political system.  Many people find this process slimy, but I love that the only color that matters in this country is green, because that's eminently more fair than skin tone. (And yes, the fact that our first African-American president is a genius at raising money in small amounts is highly indicative of this process - thank God!).

Simply put, NOBODY in this country gets what they want until they organize and start donating money (or spending in the market corollary) - i.e., start making their market heft known.  We've seen it with ethnic group after ethnic group over the decades, and we're watching now with Hispanics and Asians - and Indians in particular (who are becoming amazingly adept at it at a rather fast pace).  We likewise watch it now with the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender).

Again, cry all you want, but I like a process where money beats prejudice.  If you want to deny the party in question, then you mount a bigger effort. But, fortunately, people operating on the basis of love for something win out - time and again throughout history - over people operating on the basis of hatred (my personal fave being the early Christians v. Roman empire).  This is why I don't argue over things like gay marriage or America's continued support to Israel:  the connectors always win out over the disconnectors.  May take some time, but it always happens.  

You just can't bet against people wanting to connect. 

Strategy-wise, you just doom yourself to failure.

Pulling back the lens, this is why I don't - in the end - worry about globalization's future.  The fear-meisters will have their days (and revel in them), but history is stunningly clear on the subject - once America rose up and started running the show.

There is a reason why this is the greatest country in the world.  It's not that we're the best at doing this (personally, I would choose Canada or the Netherlands or Sweden or Norway - all very Wisconsin-ish, so it wouldn't be a big change for me), it's that we're right up there with the best AND we have the capacity and will to spread our system across the planet.  Notice how world history improves incredibly over the past several decades?  It's no accident. It's America doing on a global scale what minorities do on a national scale within our country.

Again, money talks . . . and wins over prejudice and tradition and intolerance and hatred and violence and . . ..

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.

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.

11:29AM

Follow-on comment to my WPR piece on war with Iran

 
 

 

Per Maduka's comment that he was shocked to see this analysis from me (presumably he knows something of my years [roughly 8] of writing to different effect on this subject), I penned the following comment that I felt was important enough of a statement to post in full:

I was somewhat shocked to write the piece myself, but I found myself talking to people on the phone regarding this and I kept coming back to this sense of determinism, when all the dynamics are considered.

In the end, I do think the logic is very compelling for Israel - given the Arab Spring. Then we turn next to Obama, and given his drone use and desire to appear strong (hell, after all these years, let's just say the guy is strong on defense and leave it at that). Then we turn to the Pentagon, and I see a group of AirSea Battle Concept advocates who would love to test it out on Iran (limited scope) and, by doing so, signal VERY STRONGLY to China.

What I don't spot on any of these lines is a countervailing pressure of great strength.

Don't be confused, and I think I made this point decidedly in the piece (and you need to read it all to know this, so if all you scan is the opening . . . then please beg off further comment): this will be an air/SOF-only strike/war. This will be a "reducing" war, or what the Israelies call "mowing the grass." There is little sense of getting the job done with one effort.  

All you can hold out hope for is triggering the conditions for regime change (least likely from below; much more likely as result of regime infighting).  But that's at best a nice-to-get. You don't do it for that, even as I argue in the piece that you might as well - given the larger logic - target to encourage that (why not if you've making the effort already?).

And I think that's the macro lesson the US seems to be learning from the "war on terror," and it's making us more like Israel over time: we simply mow the grass now, and eschew the follow-on work.

9:11AM

WPR's The New Rules: The Coming War With Iran

While the debate over whether Israel will strike Iran ebbs and flows on an almost weekly basis now, a larger collision-course trajectory is undeniably emerging. To put it most succinctly, Iran won't back down, while Israel won't back off, and America will back up its two regional allies -- Israel and Saudi Arabia -- when the shooting finally starts. There are no other credible paths in sight: There will be no diplomatic miracles, and Iran will not be permitted to achieve a genuine nuclear deterrence. But let us also be clear about what this coming war will ultimately target: regime change in Tehran, because that is the only plausible solution.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

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.

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).

2:01PM

WPR's The New Rules: A Foreign Policy Wish List for 2012 

Last year was a tough one in terms of global economics, humanitarian disasters and political leadership among the world's great powers. But it was also the year of the glorious Arab Spring and hints of similar developments in Myanmar, Russia and Ethiopia. So while the year's "fundamentals," as the economists like to say, weren't so good, it left us with plenty to be grateful for as globalization continues to awaken the desire of individuals for freedom the world over. Keeping all that in mind, here is my foreign policy wish list for 2012.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

2:25PM

Quoted in Reuters piece on 2012 predictions

Find it here.

Opening:

Analysis: 2012 could prove even wilder ride than 2011

 

LONDON | Thu Dec 15, 2011 11:01am EST

(Reuters) - The ancient Mayans attached special significance to 2012, possibly the end of time. That has spawned a rush of apocalyptic literature for the holiday season.

My bit:

   CONFLICT, UNREST 

   After the fall of several veteran Western-backed Arab rulers, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq is seen as the latest sign of the diminishing influence of Western powers in a region they dominated for some 200 years.  

   In the resulting vacuum, regional powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and an isolated and perhaps more erratic Iran appear in increasingly open confrontation. 

   Western intelligence estimates that Iran is moving closer to a viable nuclear weapon have a shorter timeline, and some analysts say 2012 could be the year when Tehran's enemies decide to go beyond covert sabotage with a military strike that could spark retaliation against oil supplies in the Gulf. 

   "The bigger wild card out there is an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities and elements of regime control," says Thomas Barnett, chief strategist of political risk consultancy Wikistrat, saying neither the Israeli nor the Iranian leadership looks inclined to back down. "The setting here is scary... something has got to give in this strategic equation." 

   Even if the world avoids a devastating shock such as a Middle East war or a European breakdown, many analysts fear the business of politics and policy-making could become increasingly difficult around the world. 

11:07AM

On RT's "The Alyona Show" last night re: IAEA report on Iran

Did it via Skype from home office. The raccoon eyes tell you we're suffering a weird warm spell here and the resurgence of pollen!

One misspeak, primarily because I was so tired:  when I spoke about Israel being Iran's "whipping boy" and excuse for reaching for the bomb, I accidentally slipped an Iran in there when I meant Israel.

Other than that mistake, and not saying "America's global war on terror" (just said "America's global war") early on, I was happy enough with the interview.

Skype from home certainly beats trudging downtown to a remote office and that whole drill, but the latency is a bit much to deal with.  Still, nice to be able to see yourself on Skype (small window) so you can orient your position onscreen (you can see me self-correction at points, which is tricky because all of your movements need to be "mirrored").

9:03AM

WPR's The New Rules: Turkey's Long Game in the Cyprus Gas Dispute

"Resource wars" enthusiasts worldwide have a new -- and unexpected -- poster child:"zero problems with neighbors" Turkey. The Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is beside itself over Israel's recent moves to cooperate with Cyprus on surveying its Eastern Mediterranean seabed for possible natural gas deposits thought to be lying adjacent to the reserves discovered last year off the coast of Haifa.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

9:53AM

Quoted in Reuters piece on Cyprus gas dispute

Here are excerpts with my bits (find the story here):

ANALYSIS-Turkey-Cyprus spat a sign of conflicts to come?

06 Oct 2011 08:54

Source: Reuters // Reuters 

By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent

LONDON, Oct 6 (Reuters) - With an emerging power testing its strength, valuable resources in the balance and a weakened West struggling to exert influence, the dispute between Turkey and Cyprus over gas drilling may be a sign of wider things to come . . . 

In Southeast Asia, the Arctic, and perhaps also Africa and Latin America, disputed maritime boundaries may become flashpoints as rising scarcity of energy and other resources coincide with a shift in the geopolitical balance of power.

The United States and other Western powers,their relative influence waning, may have to play a subtle diplomatic game to ensure conflict is avoided and important relationships are not jeopardised.

"What we're seeing here is theatrics," says Thomas Barnett, US-based chief strategist for political risk consultancy Wikistrat. "The trick here is to manage it" . . . .

Beijing has been involved in a growing number of face-offs with neighbours in recent years over mineral and fishing rights, most recently Vietnam. Outside analysts say these are often originally spurred as much by private actors -- fishing boats or exploration vessels -- as deliberate policy, but again offer a podium on which Beijing can showcase its growing clout.

Other areas to watch, analysts say, might include Russia's growing assertiveness in the Arctic and perhaps Argentinian interest in the British-controlled Falklands, particularly in the event of energy discoveries there. Increased energy discoveries of Africa's coastline could also spark disputes.

But fears of a new era of "resource wars", Wikistrat's Barnett says, might still be overblown.

In the long run, he said a more assertive Turkey could prove a positive for both the U.S. and Israel, acting as a regional counterweight to Iran and Saudi Arabia, and that the important thing was to manage its rise.

"My instinct is that this is a storm in a tea cup," Barnett says of the Cyprus dispute. "You could make comparisons from this to what we are seeing in the South China Sea (and) in both cases the ultimate answer is probably the same -- some kind of shared corporation agreement... It might sound a long way off now, but it should happen with time."

The need for the West, he said, was to learn to reach out subtly and diplomatically to emerging powers like Turkey as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger did with China in the 1970s, soothing egos and helping nudge them towards co-operation.

Not everyone is so confident outright bloodshed will always be avoided . . . 

Yes, I did have some problem with the formulation Apps made on that last line.  I said  thing, but he was working the tension in the piece (sigh!), so you live with that journalistic trick, realizing that this is my legitimate niche anyway - the anti-alarmist.

So the tone of the quotes was good for both me and Wikistraat:  we want to be associated with wide-angle perspectives that emphasize strategizing. Toward that end, we've designed a number of simulations on this story at Wikistrat, to include ones that explore Turkey walking from the EU over this, oil drig shootouts (if Turkey truly wants a bloody shirt to wave like the "aid flotilla" fiasco), a downstream linkage to the nuclearization of the Eastern Med, and ultimately how all this natural resource wealth impacts regional economic development.

I'll have more on this subject in Monday's column. Apps' piece got me thinking . . ..

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.

11:20AM

Tom on Backbone radio (Colorado talk) - 2 segments

Did two segments with Ross Kaminsky last Sunday night.

First one on Pakistan, second one on Israel.

Find them both here.

10:03AM

WPR's The New Rules: Obama's Israel-Palestine Red Herring

Much of the reaction to President Barack Obama's speech on U.S. Middle East policy last Thursday focused on his reference to Israel's pre-1967 borders as the basis for a future two-state solution with Palestine. But Obama's speech was far more focused on long-term realities, suggesting that he is not really willing to push for some historic Israeli-Palestinian peace plan against the background of the Arab Spring. In fact, it's fair to wonder why he chose to expend any of his political capital on this deadlocked issue, especially since he had to know that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would reject the 1967 boundaries proposal as a starting point for negotiations, as Netanyahu had already protested that point's inclusion in the speech prior to its delivery.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

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.


8:30AM

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.