‘Historical analogies are often perilous and they are always inexact,’ IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs Dr Dana Allin admitted, when posing a question to Australian MP and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (above) during the Fifth Plenary Session at the recent Manama Dialogue. Nevertheless, Allin continued, ‘I have long been intrigued by some parallels between the challenges facing the Obama administration and those that faced the Nixon administration 40 years ago.’ He ticked off a list: a war-weary American public; an economic crisis; a political crisis (although ‘largely self‑inflicted by the Nixon administration and I do not think you can say the same thing about the Obama administration’); a major Middle East crisis; and the view that figuring out a relationship with China was vital.
How could America make a difference, he wondered. Was more energetic diplomacy going to be enough?
Rudd responded that he also saw ‘extraordinary parallels with the Nixon period’, partly because he was a keen China watcher. He said he had spoken to President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, ‘a lot’ about dealing with the major challenges that American administration faced.
As the international community debates how to respond to the crisis in Syria, it’s worth remembering that we’re approaching the ten-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The country regained full sovereignty in 2011, after years of post-conflict reconstruction, counter-insurgency campaigns and state-building. However, serious questions loom over its post-intervention future.
In the IISS’s latest Adelphi, Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism, Dr Toby Dodge focuses on three: ‘Can Iraq avoid sliding back into civil war and can it reduce the still-appreciable levels of lethal violence seen since 2010? Will Iraq evolve towards a law-governed, pluralistic polity that in some way resembles the interventionists’ dream of an Arab democracy? Will Iraq once again pose a security threat to its neighbours?’
Dodge also provides some insight into perhaps the most important debate of all: are the lives of ordinary Iraqis better today than under Saddam Hussein?
In this latest post by one of the ‘Young Strategists’ attending the Manama Dialogue, Jean-Loup Samaan, a researcher for the NATO Defense College, looks at US engagement in the Gulf through the prism of a Cold War concept.
Although Syria was undoubtedly the biggest issue on the agenda of the 2012 Manama Dialogue, another one was in the air: the seeming erosion of US leadership in international affairs in general and in the Gulf in particular.
By Becca Wasser, Program Officer and Research Analyst, IISS–US and John Drennan, Research Assistant, IISS-US
Throughout 2012, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) approach to counter-terrorism and security focused on building operational ties to its strongest international partner, the United States.
The US–GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum (SCF) was launched in March of this year, bringing together the foreign ministers of the GCC states and top US officials. The aim is for both sides to strengthen and better coordinate their security efforts. While the GCC has a long relationship with the US, this high-level forum illustrates the continuing importance of the Gulf region to the US national security agenda.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague was very clear on the need for swift international action to resolve the crisis in Syria when he gave that headline quote. Although none of Saturday’s sessions at the Manama Dialogue were devoted to that country, its 21-month-old conflict loomed large over proceedings. Both speakers and delegates intervening from the floor returned to the subject repeatedly:
‘We …remain committed to a transition to a new leadership’.
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on US policy towards Syria
‘In Syria…everything that people said would happen if we did not intervene has now happened because we have not intervened – growing radicalisation, sectarian conflict, the collapse of the state, and now the spectre of chemical or biological weapons being used.’
Senator John McCain takes a robust line
‘I do want to say one thing about Russia. I think Russia can play a pivotal role in working with Iran. They helped in Syria when it looked like Assad was going to use chemical weapons and I think it is important that dialogue continues. Sometimes negatives turn into positives and I think this relationship that we can work with Russia will help us with respect to Iran.’
Congressman Charles Ruppersberger is optimistic about Russia’s role in the region
‘At this stage, after 20 months, I think the people of Syria do not want us to provide them with a no‑fly zone. They want us to provide them with the means for them to impose their own no‑fly zone, I can assure you. They are now ready and prepared to impose their own no‑fly zone. The lack of means is what is holding them back.’
Dr Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Attiyah, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Qatar, on whether his government favours a no-fly zone over Syria
‘Everyone here has heard of the numerous deals that were offered to the Syrian regime to reform or leave; this was done not to set a precedent of protecting leaders who have so grossly crossed the line, but to stem the possibility of reaching the situation which we are in today…’
Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bahrain, on efforts to ensure a peaceful resolution
‘We keep hearing from Syrian opposition leaders that the regime is about to end. Farouk Tayfour, Deputy Head of the Syrian National Council, has been predicting it by the end of this year, which is 22 days away. Last night we heard from Mustafa Sabbagh that the end is imminent, from Representative Rogers that the regime is in its last days of desperation, and all this has been brought about by very disparate rebel groups, most of whom are local village militias, and relatively few of whom are actually taking the battle to the enemy. If all this is real, and the rebels control 70% of the territory, etc., etc., why does anyone still need to do anything from the outside? What are we missing?’
Dr Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is sceptical about calls for intervention
‘We have seen enough evidence to know they need a warning’.
William Hague, again, responding to a question from Frank Gardner of the BBC on US and UK intelligence about the potential use of chemical weapons
Every year, the IISS invites nominees from the next generation of strategists to attend the Manama Dialogue as part of its ‘Young Strategists Programme’. Here, one of this year’s Young Strategists – Alexander Vysotsky, Senior Secretary in the Office of the Mayor of Moscow – reflects on his highlight from Saturday in Manama:
‘I’m in the process of preparing a PhD thesis on Democratisation as an element of the US policy in the Middle East in 2001-2008, so I was especially looking forward to Saturday’s Plenary Session on “The US and the Region”.’
Taking part in the session were Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, former presidential candidate John McCain and Charles ‘Dutch’ Ruppersberger, who is the senior Democrat member of the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.
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Much press attention at this year’s Manama Dialogue will focus inevitably on the conflict in Syria and other consequences of the Arab Spring. But a set of other core issues also remain, including the threat perceptions of regional states, and Iran’s place in these calculations. Regional states, and international partners such as the US, remain concerned by Iran’s continuing drive to improve its ballistic missile capabilities, amidst international preoccupation with Tehran’s nuclear programme. Given these uncertainties, the development of regional military capabilities will likely figure high in delegates’ conversations Read the rest of this entry »