The United States challenged China's recently announced Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Monday night, flying two unarmed B-52 bombers on a scheduled training sortie into airspace which China on Saturday declared subject to new defensive measures. Despite Beijing's blustery announcementthat any aircraft flying over a large swatch of the East China Sea would have to identify themselves and coordinate their flights with Chinese air traffic controllers, Chinese naval and air forces in the area did nothing to intercept the flight.
Washington said the flights had been scheduled weeks ago and that the timing was coincidental. Of course, scheduled flights can always be delayed, and it's striking that wasn't done here.
To eliminate any confusion, this is what's known in technical terms as Washington deciding to flip the bird at Beijing.
The entire episode -- both Beijing's decision to erect the ADIZ and Washington's decision to immediately flout it -- raises an important question: Just what exactly is an ADIZ?
Tech Sgt. Dennis Henry/DVIDS Map: Chinese Ministry of Defence via Xinhua
The pair of lion cubs born on Monday in Gaza's Bissan Zoo were hailed as a triumph -- a rare optimistic sign in a region that has been devastated by militants within the Strip and a blockade along its borders. But that sudden spring of hope was quashed quickly when zoo officials announced yesterday that the cubs had died.
"It's a huge achievement for them just to be born here in Gaza," zookeeper Mohammed Shabai told reporters when they were born. "Now they must survive." Reports have cited several possible causes of death for the cubs, who were reportedly born healthy. The lioness that birthed them refused to feed them, so zookeepers substituted whole milk and nursed the cubs by hand. The lion that fathered them showed signs of aggression toward the cubs. Zookeepers had to rely on experts in Egypt, reached by phone, for advice on the cubs' care. On Tuesday, an Israeli airstrike targeting rocket-launching militants startled the lioness. At least according to one report, she stepped on the cubs. Zookeepers brought the cubs into a warmed room to protect them from the November chill, but later told reporters that they did not have the facilities to adequately shelter the newborns. Some reports cited an unidentified illness or "pollutants," and zookeepers noted that they were not able to import the vaccines necessary to inoculate the cubs.
Three days after their birth, the cubs succumbed. They did not live long enough to open their eyes. "We were happy we had them, if just for a short time," a zookeeper said.
As with everything in Gaza, the cubs' brief life and abrupt death has been heavily politicized. The pair was born a year after Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense, a week-long convulsion of violence in November 2012 in which Gazan militants and Israeli forces exchanged heavy rocket fire and airstrikes, and were named "Fajr," after an Iranian-made rocket favored by Gazan militants, and "Sijil," the Gazan name for the Nov. 2012 conflict. Hamas seized on the lions as a symbol of Gazan resilience, publicizing their birth on Twitter. Even the process by which they were born is steeped in Gazan embargo politics: The pair of lions that parented the cubs were smuggled into the Strip through underground tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border in 2008; most of the tunnels have since been destroyed.
There are three zoos operating in the Gaza Strip. They have struggled to keep animals alive in Gaza's austere conditions, have been implicated in animal abuse scandals, and resorted to displaying the taxidermied remains of deceased animals.
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In 1926, Vartoohi Galezian -- a 15-year-old refugee from the genocide in Armenia -- arrived at the White House to pay a visit to President Calvin Coolidge. She had come to view the rug she and 1,400 other orphans living in Ghazir -- then part of mandate Syria, now in Lebanon -- had woven as a gift to the United States in thanks for the humanitarian assistance provided to the refugees of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians during World War I. In June 1995, the Ghazir rug, a huge, beautiful work exemplary of the Middle East's legendary weaving traditions, was shown once more to Galezian and her family, but it's now been more than 17 years since the White House has displayed what has come to be known as the Armenian orphan rug. Now it is unclear when the rug will ever be shown again.
That rug, seen in the photo above, is now caught in a tug-of-war with historians and Armenian advocates on one side pulling for the rug to be displayed and the White House on the other, which seems reticent to release the rug for an exhibit. Many suspect the White House of kowtowing to Turkey, which refuses to describe the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide and objects to the display of Armenian artifacts -- and the implicit acknowledgement of Turkey's responsibility in the 20th century's first large-scale ethnic cleansing. But the rug has powerful supporters, who are now pushing a White House loathe to antagonise Turkey to put the rug on display.
As strange as it sounds, the memory of a nearly century-old genocide is now being litigated over the future fate of a rug.
Armenian Cultural Foundation
Taiwanese officials are up in arms after discovering that Apple maps refers to their country as a province of China -- in simplified Chinese characters, no less.
The government filed a complaint with the company Tuesday, demanding that it drop the China reference. Kelly Hsieh, the head of the foreign ministry's North American affairs office, told reporters that the label degrades Taiwan and that "no compromise will be made over this kind of matter."
Taiwan's political status has always been a sensitive issue. Having split from mainland China in 1949, it has its own army, constitution, and democratically elected leaders. But China continues to assert that Taiwan is a breakaway province that will eventually be reclaimed. Apple's position on the dispute is, as yet, unclear: It's website refers to Taiwan in traditional Chinese characters, without mention of China at all. But the updated map app on Apple's iOS 7 says something rather different.
It's not the first time that Apple maps has frustrated Taiwanese officials. In 2012, the defense ministry complained that the iPhone 5 version of the app clearly displayed top-secret military facilities on the island.
Apple's mum about the recent controversy, but it might consider discussing the matter with Google, which has repeatedly inflamed international tensions with its maps. In 2010, Google's re-drawing of the Thai-Cambodian sparked a diplomatic controversy. Later that year, a Nicaraguan commander justified a raid on a Costa Rican border area by citing Google's erroneous delineation of the contested boundary. The list goes on. In an interview last year, Google's chairman Eric Schmidt summed up the issue succinctly, saying, "Maps are really hard." Not as hard as international relations, it seems.
Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images
In Brunei on Thursday, Myanmar took its place as the 2014 ASEAN chair, a role it was forced to relinquish in 2006 as its military rulers came under pressure from the U.S. and the European Union for not doing enough to advance democracy. As head of the Southeast Asian bloc, Myanmar will host the 2014 ASEAN summit -- an annual event that draws thousands of delegates and journalists, who attend upwards of 1,000 meetings.
But can Myanmar, with its notoriously poor infrastructure, handle the foot traffic?
Thierry Falise/LightRocket via Getty Images
On Saturday, U.S. Navy SEALs captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Anas al-Libi, in a brazen raid on his home in Tripoli, Libya. Libi was indicted in New York in 2000 for his role in al Qaeda's bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and is believed to have played a role in revitalizing al Qaeda's operations in North Africa in recent years. The SEALs whisked Libi to the USS San Antonio, which was waiting offshore, where he is "currently lawfully detained under the law of war" as an enemy combatant, according to the Pentagon.
"Warsame is the model for this guy," an unnamed official told the New York Times. That would be Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, an al-Shabab military commander seized in Somalia on April 19, 2011. He was then held and interrogated by a special American interrogation team comprised of representatives from the Department of Justice, the intelligence community, and the military aboard the USS Boxer for two months, before being read his Miranda rights and turned over to the FBI. After another week of interrogation, Warsame was indicted on June 30, 2011 and formally arrested on July 3. While only the testimony he gave the FBI was admissible in court, the intelligence he shared with U.S. interrogators before being read his Miranda rights could be used to inform U.S. military strikes or CIA operations against terrorist groups. Warsame later pleaded guilty and elected to cooperate with U.S. officials.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sabrina Fine/Released
President Vladimir Putin's direct appeal to the American people in the pages of the New York Times is just one part of his government's messaging strategy on Syria. Russia's English-language media outlets are busy blasting out the Kremlin line on the conflict as well.
A few articles have focused on the American reaction to Putin's editorial on Thursday (see, for example, "White House Pokes Russia over Putin's Syria Op-Ed"), but many outlets have drawn attention to other criticisms of President Obama's stance on Syria. RT, the flashy Kremlin-financed news channel, is covering a range of critiques -- from former President Jimmy Carter to Madonna. The Russian media has also tried to gauge the American mood through polling: RT notes that a recent survey by the libertarian magazine Reason found that two-thirds of Americans feel that Obama's handling of foreign policy has been as bad or worse than President George W. Bush's. But that doesn't mean Americans are thrilled with the Russian disarmament plan; the state-owned RIA Novosti pointed to a Pew poll showing that the majority of Americans distrust Russia.
The Russian press is most interested in discrediting the story that the Assad regime used chemical weapons -- an allegation that has been supported by evidence collected by the Obama administration, the French government, the United Nations, and Human Rights Watch, among others. These efforts to present a counternarrative -- in which the rebels gassed themselves and civilians -- range from the credible but circumstantial to the just plain silly. On the more intriguing side, there's the account given by two kidnapped Europeans, who traveled to Syria as supporters of the rebels but wound up being held hostage until last week. They claim to have overheard a conversation with a rebel commander suggesting that the rebels were involved in the attack, but have not discussed details of what they heard. Less compelling is the idle speculation of Ray McGovern -- a former CIA analyst, 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and RT favorite, that the CIA fabricated evidence implicating the Assad regime in the chemical weapons attacks, and the video analysis of a Syrian nun. Across the Russian media, there's consensus on at least one thing: the rebels are "terrorists."
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin made a direct appeal to the American public in an editorial in Thursday morning's New York Times. "The potential strike by the United States against Syria," he writes, "despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria's borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism.... It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance."
But Putin seemed notably less concerned about civilian deaths and the second-order effects of military intervention when he took to the same opinion page in 1999 to make the case for intervention -- in Chechnya. In an editorial titled "Why We Must Act," he defended Russian military action, writing that "in the midst of war, even the most carefully planned military operations occasionally cause civilian casualties, and we deeply regret that." Despite international concerns, though, he assured readers that the Russian counterinsurgency operation would not cause widespread harm to civilians. "American officials tell us that ordinary citizens are suffering, that our military tactics may increase that suffering," he wrote then. "The very opposite is true. Our commanders have clear instructions to avoid casualties among the general population. We have nothing to gain by doing otherwise." Because when the Russians stage a military intervention, it's different.
ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution this afternoon to authorize the use of U.S. military force against Syria. The resolution will be voted on by the full Senate next week, but since before this afternoon's committee decision, politicians and commentators have been trying to read the tea leaves on how the vote will go. And unlike on so many other issues, this vote probably will not follow party lines.
Whip counts by the Washington Post, Think Progress, CNN, and others have been shifting over the past day or so. The Post, for instance, moved Sen. John McCain from their "Against military action" column (he'd been placed there for saying earlier in the week that he didn't support the president's plan as proposed) to "For military action" after his SFRC vote this afternoon. Still, all the tallies so far leave about 300 of the House's 435 members unaccounted for, making them only modestly instructive.
The 10-7 committee vote this afternoon, however, may be a preview of next week's vote. Interventionism makes for strange bedfellows: McCain and fellow Republicans Bob Corker and Jeff Flake joined seven Democrats in support of the resolution, while Democrats Tom Udall and Christopher Murphy voted against it along with Republicans Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Democrat Edward Markey of Massachusetts voted "present."
The latest -- but still early -- forecasts for the full Senate show signs of a similar split. This was the Post's count as of this afternoon:
The coalition between the interventionist wings of the Republican and Democratic Parties stands in sharp contrast with what occurred in the British Parliament's vote last week. On August 29, the House of Commons split nearly along party lines: The entire Labour Party stuck together, as did much of the governing coalition of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties. But a handful of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted against the motion -- and the efforts of their prime minister -- sinking David Cameron's proposal for a British role in a Syrian intervention, 272-285.
The vote next week will likely involve a greater commingling of political parties than in Britain. But, in keeping with the parliamentary outcome, whether or not President Obama's proposed strikes move forward will probably be decided by a very narrow margin.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
For most people, the name "Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf" evokes the image of "Stormin' Norman," the U.S. Army general who oversaw Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as commander of the military's Central Command from 1988 through the effort to eject Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait in 1991. The Desert Storm general, though, was the son of Maj. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, whose varied and colorful career took him from being the founder and commander of the New Jersey State Police (where he led the investigation into the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby), to serving as a general in World War II, training Iran's national police, and advising Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In 1953, he was the CIA's asset in Tehran when the country was convulsed by a coup.
Schwarzkopf's role has been the subject of speculation since the day after Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh's arrest on Aug. 19, 1953. On Aug. 20, the New York Times reported on Schwarzkopf's visit to Tehran and noted an editorial in the Soviet newspaper Pravda accusing Schwarzkopf of delivering the orders for the coup. Now, 60 years later, the CIA has confirmed his role in declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive.
Earlier this month, as the United States rushed to shutter embassies in response to a terrorist threat, New Zealand's prime minister made a remarkable but largely overlooked assertion. According to John Key, there are al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-trained individuals at large in his country.
"In New Zealand there are people who've been trained for al-Qaeda camps who operate out of New Zealand, who are in contact with people overseas, who have gone off to Yemen and other countries to train," he told a radio program in New Zealand on Aug. 1. "Some are still offshore and some are in New Zealand."
Key told the radio program that he had signed off on surveillance of al Qaeda-trained individuals in New Zealand, but could not legally arrest them. "It does not necessarily mean that they have broken the law at this point," Key said.
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Even the spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, D.C. is having a hard time believing a plot by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that the Yemeni government says it foiled.
Several news agencies -- including the BBC, the New York Times, and Bloomberg, among others -- reported this morning that the Yemeni government claimed it had stopped a large AQAP attack in Yemen's Hadhramaut province. As the BBC reported:
Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi said the plot involved blowing up oil pipelines and taking control of certain cities -- including two ports in the south, one of which accounts for the bulk of Yemen's oil exports and is where a number of foreign workers are employed.
"There were attempts to control key cities in Yemen like Mukala and Bawzeer," said Mr Badi.
"This would be co-ordinated with attacks by al-Qaeda members on the gas facilities in Shebwa city and the blowing up of the gas pipe in Belhaf city."
That didn't sound right to Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni embassy, and he said so on his personal Twitter account:
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Amman on Friday that his shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East is paying off. "We have reached an agreement that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis," he proclaimed. Remember the peace process? After three years of dormancy, it's back!
Well, maybe. "The agreement is still in the process of being formalized," Kerry hedged, but Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will meet in Washington, D.C. next week to continue planning.
In case you've forgotten what all this means, here's a handy guide to the buzzwords you'll be hearing for the next few weeks.
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On Wednesday, the story of Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA station chief in Milan, Italy, took another improbable turn when he was arrested in Panama near the Costa Rican border. Lady has been living quietly in the United States since fleeing an Italian investigation that resulted in him and 22 other Americans being convicted in absentia for their roles in the 2003 abduction of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical cleric the CIA believed was helping recruit jihadists to fight in Iraq.
Nasr, who also went by Abu Omar, was pulled off a Milanese street during a daily noon-time walk. He was thrown into the back of a van, driven to Aviano Air Base, near Venice, and then flown to Egypt, where he was interrogated and tortured. The practice of seizing suspected terrorists and forcibly removing them to a third-party state for interrogation is often known as extraordinary rendition; in the eyes of the Italian judicial system, though, Nasr's abduction was kidnapping. After an investigation implicated a collection of CIA agents in Italy, tying their cell phones to the place and time at which Nasr was thrown into the van, the Italian government conducted a trial that sentenced 23 Americans to seven to nine years each in prison. The convictions were upheld last September by the Italian Supreme Court.
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The enemy of the CIA's enemy in Lebanon is still its enemy. But, according to a report for McClatchy by FP contributor Mitchell Prothero, when the CIA discovered that al Qaeda-affiliated rebel groups in Syria were plotting attacks against Hezbollah's strongholds in Lebanon, they shared that intelligence with the Lebanese government -- "with the understanding that it would be passed to Hezbollah." (A U.S. official speaking to FP disputed the notion that the CIA would provide intelligence to a terrorist organization.)
Lebanese officials and a security contractor said the intelligence had included phone calls monitored by U.S. intelligence between militants in Lebanon and the Gulf. "America might hate the NSA right now, but they were able to actually hear the calls and warn us what was said," a Lebanese official told Prothero.
That prompted anger among some national security experts, like Guardian editor Spencer Ackerman and Brett Friedman of the Marine Corps Gazette.
MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images
Looks like the Luddites at Russia's Federal Guard Service are headed back to the pre-digital age. The agency, which guards Russian officials -- the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service -- is placing an order for typewriters, according to Russian newspapers Izvestia and the Moscow Times. The reason? Information security.
"After the scandal with the circulation of classified documents by Wikileaks, the revelations made by Edward Snowden and reports that [Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev's phone was tapped during his visit to the G-20 summit in London, it has been decided to expand the use of paper documents," a Russian official reportedly told Izvestia.
As the Obama administration considers what the residual U.S. force in Afghanistan will look like after its planned drawdown in 2014, the general consensus has been that some troops -- particularly special forces for counterterrorism missions -- will be staying behind. But amid a new spate of disagreements between U.S. officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai following his withdrawal from tentative peace talks with the Taliban last month, the New York Times reported this morning that the Obama administration is increasingly considering the "zero option" -- a complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
Since a particularly contentious meeting with Karzai on June 27, the Times reports, "the idea of a complete military exit similar to the American military pullout from Iraq has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario -- and a useful negotiating tool with Mr. Karzai -- to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul."
Or, then again, it could be a bluff. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that Washington has stared down its nominal ally in Kabul, or the other way around (despite Obama's insistence that he doesn't bluff). Just last year, Karzai told reporters that the United States was playing a "double game" and threatened to find a new weapons supplier, name-dropping India, China, or Russia.
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Tehran might "welcome" direct flights between the United States and Iran, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen.
On Wednesday, Iran's PressTV reported that the country's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, had told reporters that "launching direct flights is for the sake of public welfare, and we have no problem with this issue." The PressTV article cited Mehr News Agency, another Iranian media outlet, reporting that the United States and Iran are preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding that would allow direct flights between the two countries, and that Delta Air Lines was one of the participating carriers (such a report does not appear to still be on Mehr News' English-language website, though Iran's Fars News Agency also ran with the news).
The report was met with appropriate skepticism on Twitter:
Appropriate because the news seems to be completely made up. Anthony Black, a spokesman for Delta, flatly denied the report to Foreign Policy, explaining that providing service to Iranian airports would violate sanctions administered by the Office of Foreign Assistance Control. "So," he said, "what you have, heard, seen, read: untrue.... We have done nothing on our part to engage in any service to Iran."
So, if you're headed to Tehran, keep looking for connecting flights.
RUHOLLAH YAZDANI/AFP/Getty Images
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
China, Russia, and Uzbekistan are simply not committed to addressing human trafficking. That's the takeaway from the State Department's new 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, out Wednesday afternoon. After nine years each for China and Russia, and six years for Uzbekistan, on the State Department's watch list, the status of the three countries was downgraded this year to "Tier 3," the lowest rank, which includes "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards [to address human trafficking] and are not making significant efforts to do so." Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania were also downgraded to Tier 3, joining the ranks of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.
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With the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland concluded, Vladimir Putin -- one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's few remaining allies, and the main obstacle to achieving international consensus on a way out of the Syrian civil war -- appeared before the media Tuesday to take some questions. A reporter asked the Russian president whether he felt "lonely" among other world leaders at the gathering.
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Though Qatar is small -- tinier and less populous than the state of Connecticut -- it has established itself as a rising power in the Middle East. Its state-owned news network, Al Jazeera, influences the entire Arabic-speaking world (and beyond -- its American venture is slated to launch by the end of the year). And it's also become a destination for diplomats -- from the Afghan Taliban, which is looking to open an office in Doha, to the Brookings Institution, which is hosting its annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum with Qatari sponsorship there this week.
And now, Qatar appears to be coming under new management. Diplomats are reporting that the country's 61-year-old monarch, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is preparing a leadership transition that will begin with the prime minister stepping down and will culminate in Al Thani passing power to his fourth son, the Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The young crown prince -- he just turned 33 -- attended boarding school in Britain before graduating from Sandhurst Military Academy in 1998. He was named the next in succession in 2003, quietly replacing his older brother, Sheikh Jasim. In Qatar, he's taken on a diverse portfolio of issues -- his personal website lists titles from president of the Qatar National Olympic Committee, to chairman of the Board of Regents of Qatar University and chairman of the Supreme Education Council, to deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
By May 2005, U.S. diplomats in Qatar noted that Sheikh Tamim "has been increasingly invested with oversight and authority in the area of internal security," according to secret cables released by WikiLeaks. The cables paint a portrait of Sheikh Tamim as a conciliatory negotiator, eager for increased counterterrorism cooperation (including the extradition of U.S. citizens despite the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries, and help investigating a car bombing in Doha in 2005), though later cables note that "Qatar's record of sharing intelligence with [the United States] is the worst among" the Gulf countries. As the Sunni Awakening began in Iraq in 2006, he offered Qatar's network of ties to Sunni tribal leaders, telling U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch, "They still can help."
Sheikh Tamim appears to have been involved in many of Qatar's regional diplomatic initiatives, including moderating talks in Darfur, Lebanon, and Yemen. He personally headed the delegation to mend Qatar's strained diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia in 2010. In diplomacy of another sort, he was also accused of exercising undue influence on French officials to sway the vote for the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup -- a vote that Qatar won. His efforts haven't always been successful, though -- in 2008, he described Bashar al-Assad as "a good person" and believed that Qatari investment could pluck Syria from Iran's sphere of influence. (Today, Qatar is one of the largest suppliers of weapons to the Syrian rebels.)
According to reports by Reuters and the Telegraph, analysts have speculated that Sheikh Tamim's close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood could push Qatari policy in a more conservative direction, possibly straining ties with the United States. Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Qatar has strengthened its ties with Egypt and Tunisia, where Islamist political parties have swept to power.
Nonetheless, Sheikh Tamim has stressed Qatar's shared interests with the United States. In his private conversations with U.S. diplomats, he's expressed an interest in a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, telling Rep. Allen Boyd in 2007, according to a WikiLeaks cable, "that progress in the peace process requires relations with Israel.... Whether or not they agree with Israel, he said, the whole region should negotiate with Israel." He has also cited Qatar's potential role as an intermediary in U.S. talks with Iran. Doha maintains cordial diplomatic relations with Tehran and shares access to a lucrative gas field, but Sheikh Tamim has also expressed wariness about Iran's nuclear ambitions and influence in the region -- something U.S. diplomats have characterized as "a necessary balancing act."
Qatari officials have reportedly briefed foreign governments -- including U.S. and Iranian officials -- on the planned transition, which could occur before the end of the month.
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images
Ever since the Obama administration first rolled out its signature Asia pivot policy, the effort seemed ambitious. The United States was wrapping up its war in Iraq and still surging troops in Afghanistan -- and yet, policymakers planned to "rebalance" military forces to the Pacific while strengthening business and diplomatic ties with partners in the region. Since then, events have stymied the administration's policy at seemingly every turn.
In the latest example, President Obama's summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday was overshadowed by new revelations of an extensive domestic surveillance program. But Asia getting pushed to the backburner is nothing new. The administration's series of high-profile trips to the region last fall had to jockey for attention with the news that Israel might any day launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip (and now there's Secretary of State John Kerry's initiative to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations). Since then, the administration's Asia policy has also been a bone of contention in the fight over cuts to the defense budget.
Even the administration's modest successes have suffered setbacks. Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel showed off the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom in Singapore in an effort to showcase the increased U.S. naval presence in Southeast Asian waters. But that came after the ship was stranded in port when its propulsion system gave out on its maiden deployment. Then there's the deployment of U.S. Marines to Australia -- when the first 180 Marines arrived in Darwin in April 2012, they were supposed to be followed by more than 2,000 more. That might never happen, though, as Australian enthusiasm for the project has waned. Despite plans for 2,500 U.S. Marines to be stationed in Australia by 2017, Australia is still evaluating the effects of a force less than half that size.
With all the setbacks, maybe the administration is happy that the media isn't paying attention to the pivot.
If the country's future is its children, Syria's reconciliation and reconstruction will fall to a group of young people forced from schools -- a "lost generation."
It's a dramatic change for a country with a relatively high standard of education. A new Human Rights Watch report notes that "In 2010, about 93 percent of all eligible children were enrolled in primary education, and 67 percent in secondary education. Before the war, literacy rates among young people were high: approximately 95 percent of the population between ages 15 and 24 could read and write." Early in his presidency, Bashar al-Assad initiated a series of education reforms, increasing the quality of instruction and expanding opportunities for collegiate education.
It's difficult to separate higher education from Ba'ath Party privilege, but it also "was linked to social mobility and the attainment of middle-class status," according to a recent study of refugee students and academics conducted by the University of California, Davis Human Rights Initiative and the Institute for International Education's Scholar Rescue Fund. "Syria's university campuses were the domain of both its established middle class and its aspiring lower middle class," Keith Watenpaugh, director of the UC Davis-HRI, told Foreign Policy by email. "They were one of the few social spaces in Syria, outside of the military, where Sunnis, Alawites and Christians mixed with any frequency."
The war has changed that. "UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations have made it very clear that the entire education sector in Syria is collapsing," Watenpaugh tells FP -- a fact also demonstrated by the new HRW report, "Safe No More: Students and Schools under Attack in Syria," about primary and secondary education. "As anti-regime higher education professionals and students have fled the country or stopped attending the universities, the remaining faculty are mostly regime loyalists. For decades Syria has been hemorrhaging its best and brightest -- tired of the party, but also the loss of opportunity. The war has accelerated that process."
As schools are closed by the violence and university students flee the country, those opportunities are slipping away. When Watenpaugh and his co-authors visited the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan in April, relief workers told him that there were no university students among the camp's 140,000 residents, "only poor and uneducated villagers," he wrote in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. That simply wasn't true. In their conversations with overlooked refugee students at the camp, they found them eager "to renew their studies, even if it meant leaving their families and traveling farther abroad," but they also found that their efforts to continue their education have been stifled by a lack of money, studying opportunities, and paperwork (like transcripts and standardized test results left behind).
Watenpaugh hopes that special arrangements can be made for visiting students in the region, especially in Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey, where there are many universities and, in many cases, lower tuition costs than in Jordan. Otherwise, post-conflict Syria could face an even steeper class divide. "Often when we focus on the elite," he tells FP, "we end up enabling emigration and not empowering large numbers of mid-range students to go home and rebuild their societies." It's a bleak prospect that could leave students who thought they were rising in society "at the bottom end of the economic ladder -- either in Syria or on the margins of Jordanian, Lebanese, and Turkish society."
That disappointment will exacerbate the prospects for peace in the long-term, he writes by email: "That loss of status is a sure path to anomie and radicalization. Angry, resentful, and left-out, those students who fall off the edge, as it were, will be a burden on any peace and reconciliation process."
The fight for Syria seems as intractable as ever, but the struggle for what comes next is already well underway.
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In his inaugural remarks as prime minister on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif called for an end to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. "The chapter of daily drone attacks should stop," he told the Pakistani parliament. "We respect sovereignty of other countries but others should also respect our sovereignty."
Sound familiar? It's hardly the first time Pakistan has called for an end to U.S. drone strikes:
It's worth noting that these quick snippets from news stories only scratch the surface when it comes to the convoluted politics of U.S.-Pakistani security relations. For example, despite the public outrage, some Pakistani officials were still quietly green-lighting U.S. drone operations in February 2009, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly noted that some of the strikes were being launched from bases in Pakistan.
Pakistani political opposition to U.S. drone strikes grew as the number of strikes increased -- though the first strike took place way back in 2004, there were no more than a few strikes each year until 2008, when there were 37. That number grew to 122 in 2010 but has been declining since. Still, the decreasing number of strikes hasn't extinguished Pakistani opposition, and calls for an end to U.S. drone strikes were a rallying cry for populist candidates in Pakistan's recent election.
It's unclear if the country's new prime minister will make much headway on this front, or if he'll even try. The New York Times suggested that Sharif's comments today may be more political doublespeak, noting that "Mr. Sharif's rhetoric may have been driven by political considerations, with some suggesting that he may be more pragmatic toward the United States once I office." But Sharif has also positioned himself as a counterweight to the Pakistani military establishment -- which forced him from office when he was prime minister in the 1990s -- and might challenge the cadre of generals who have been more permissive of U.S. strikes than elected officials. Today's announcement, though? It's nothing new.
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World leaders don't always have the liberty of choosing their allies, but they do get to pick their friends. And while Barack Obama has been criticized for his Vulcan-style diplomacy, the U.S. president has made a few buddies in office. Now, as anti-government protests grip Turkey, one of them is embarrassing him.
In an interview with Fareed Zakaria in January 2012, Obama spoke candidly about the world leaders he had befriended, as The Cable reported at the time (emphasis ours):
Obama replied that he couldn't compare his relationships to those of past presidents, but "the friendships and the bonds of trust that I've been able to forge with a whole range of leaders is precisely -- or is a big part of what has allowed us to execute effective diplomacy."
Obama then went on name the five world leaders he feels especially close to and explained that he isn't exactly shooting hoops with them, but they at least have good working relationships.
"I mean, I think that if you ask them -- Angela Merkel, or Prime Minister Singh, or President Lee, or Prime Minister Erdogan, or David Cameron would say, we have a lot of trust and confidence in the President. We believe what he says. We believe that he'll follow through on his commitments. We think he's paying attention to our concerns and our interests," Obama said. And that's part of the reason why we've been able to forge these close working relationships and gotten a whole bunch of stuff done."
When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Washington last month, Obama mentioned that, in addition to discussing developments in Syria and peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the leaders had also exchanged parenting tips. An administration official told Politico that Obama and Erdogan's friendship has helped them weather a series of diplomatic challenges in Obama's first term -- though a New Yorker profile of Erdogan chalked that cooperation up to American desperation to maintain allies in the Middle East as much as to Obama and Erdogan's personal relationship:
President Barack Obama has developed a close relationship with Erdogan, whom he regards as a dynamic and democratically minded leader. A White House official told me that Obama has regularly voiced his concerns about the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities. On the rare occasion that an American official has made his criticisms public, Erdogan has easily dismissed them....
One explanation for American passivity, repeated by a number of Turks, is that Obama is desperate for allies in the Muslim world and is determined to hold on to Erdogan as a friend in an increasingly combustible region. When I mentioned this to a Western diplomat, he said that Erdogan had proved to be a positive leader for Turkey. As the diplomat told me, "Turkey is Muslim, prosperous, and democratic. There isn't another country like that." And yet some Turks compare Erdogan's Turkey less to the democracies of the West than to the Russian and Chinese models, in which free-market economics are championed and domestic dissent is repressed.
Obama speaks to Erdogan frequently (in 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that the president had placed more calls to Turkey's prime minister than to any world leader except British Prime Minister David Cameron) -- enough for Mark Kennedy, writing for FP's Shadow Government blog today, to suggest Obama ring him up again to discuss the recent unrest in Turkey.
So far, though, Obama has left discussion of the protests to the State Department. "I have no calls to report," Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday, in explaining the administration's assessment of the protests. "Turkey is a very important ally. And look, all democracies have issues that they need to work through and we would expect the government to work through this in a way that respects the rights of their citizens." Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters yesterday that the State Department has been working through the U.S. ambassador to Turkey to communicate the administration's position to Turkish officials. It's a roundabout way for the president to send a message to one of his closest friends on the world stage.
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Barack Obama's counterterrorism speech on Thursday has drawn mixed reviews here in the United States (here at FP, Rosa Brooks gave the address an A-, while Emile Simpson found it to be a "conceptual car crash") -- and reactions have been similar in the countries that may be most affected by the president's proposals.
In the Pakistani press, the takeaway from the speech was the Obama administration's position on drone strikes, which have targeted militants in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. With a touch of optimism, Pakistani reports listed the revised criteria for drone strikes described in the speech and new "presidential policy guidance" as a major shift in U.S. policy. The reports also took special note of Obama's acknowledgement of the "thousands of Pakistani soldiers [who] have lost their lives fighting extremists."
For some in Pakistan, though, including the government's Foreign Ministry, the speech was too little, too late. The ministry issued a statement saying that, while officials agreed with Obama's comment that "force alone cannot make us safe," the Pakistani government "has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law." In an op-ed in Dawn, Pakistani author Rafia Zakaria wrote that the speech would have been better two years ago. In the time since the May 2011 Osama bin Laden raid, she pointed out, terrorism in Pakistan has metastasized as groups like the Pakistani Taliban have been emboldened by airstrikes:
The United States delegitimised the Pakistani state by continuing its onslaught of drone strikes year after year. Unheeded by both Parliamentary resolutions that denied any tacit agreement on drones and the statements of UN Rapporteurs calling them illegal; the Predators continued to fly, releasing Hellfire missiles over Pakistani territory and treating Pakistani borders as arbitrary impediments to American strategy.... The Tehreek-e-Taliban made the same point as the Americans, that the Pakistani state was not able to protect its own people, that their invasive capacity to kill was greater than the government's capacity to protect and that the writ of the state simply did not apply.
Meanwhile, in Yemen, despite the prevalence of U.S. drone strikes in the country, the reaction has focused on Obama's comments about the Guantánamo Bay detention center, where Yemeni nationals make up the majority of remaining detainees. The most-read article on the Yemen Post website on Friday, titled "Gitmo detainees could be heading home to Yemen soon," led with:
Following weeks of an intense political debate between Yemeni and American officials regarding the fate of Yemen 56 cleared terror detainees in Guantanamo Bay prison, America's infamous terror penitentiary, US President Barack Obama said he is ready to resume the transfers of prisoners, hence ended his self-imposed moratorium. In a speech on Thursday at the National Defense University President Obama made clear he wished to reduce Guantanamo "detainee population" ahead of the potential closure of the facility altogether.
The article also noted the looming political fight in Washington, stating, "While the news will come as a relief to many Yemeni officials and the families of detainees, not all American officials agree with their president's decision." The Yemeni government issued a press release and the Yemen Post article quotes officials from the country's Human Rights Ministry confirming U.S.-Yemeni cooperation on a new rehabilitation program in Yemen for repatriated detainees.
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In yet another example of the unrealistic ambitions of Egypt's new political class on the world stage, the Building and Development Party, the political wing of Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GI), is calling on the United States to remove the political party and its parent organization from the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"Gama'a al-Islamiyya and the Building and Development Party do not consider the West as opponents, but instead advocate for the good of all and embrace all ideas that serve Islam," Building and Development Party spokesman Khaled al-Sharif said in a press conference on Sunday, according to a posting on the party's Facebook page. Daily News Egypt reports that al-Sharif then went on to "demand" that GI be taken off the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list, and called for the United States to release Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the "Blind Sheikh."
GI was a fixture in Egypt's collegiate political scene in the 1980s but became internationally infamous for a campaign of terror attacks in the 1990s, which included assassinations and massacres targeting tourists. GI also occasionally worked with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, then headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later merged his organization with al Qaeda and eventually became Osama bin Laden's successor in that organization. Abdel Rahman had ties to both organizations and is GI's spiritual leader -- he was imprisoned in Egypt in the 1980s for issuing a fatwa sanctioning the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for helping plan attacks in New York City, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. When the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups was compiled in 1997, GI was an inaugural member.
In 2003, GI reentered the Egyptian political arena, formally renouncing violence in exchange for the release of hundreds of political prisoners. That promise has held, mostly. The change in tactics split the organization, and a violent faction formally joined al Qaeda in 2006. Mainstream members aren't a bunch of peaceniks, either; GI was responsible for organizing the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012, and has threatened to fight for the implementation of sharia law "even if that requires bloodshed."
It's not unheard of for an organization to work its way off the State Department's terror list -- after a years-long lobbying effort, Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khalq was delisted last September -- but it's a rare occasion. And though GI and its Building and Development Party aren't the only politicians in Egypt to call for the release of the Blind Sheikh, it's certainly not going to win them any fans in Foggy Bottom. It's also not going to happen.
Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher, a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, was arrested at the Cairo International Airport on Friday, according to Egyptian press reports. He was returning to Egypt from a 13-day trip to the United States hosted by the Milken Institute and the Project on Middle East Democracy, during which he met with officials from the State Department, the Obama administration, and Congress, and spoke at universities and the Milken Institute Global Conference. "The goal of Maher's trip," according to a press release from POMED, "was to highlight the many challenges to democratic progress in Egypt, including a widespread crackdown on freedom of speech, assembly, and association."
Egypt's Ahram Online reports that Maher's arrest is in connection with a March 28 protest outside the residence of the Egyptian minister of the interior in which activists waved women's clothing and banners claiming the ministry had "prostituted" itself to the government of President Mohamed Morsy. Maher tweeted a picture from the protest, "Now in front of the house of the minister of the interior."
?? ???? ???? ???? ???????? ???? twitter.com/GhostyMaher/st…— ?Ahmed Maher (@GhostyMaher) March 28, 2013
Four members of the April 6 Youth Movement were arrested and then released last month for their involvement in the protest. At the time, a spokesman for April 6 told Ahram Online that no arrest warrant had been issued for Maher. But today, an Egyptian official told AFP that "the prosecution has decided to jail Ahmed Maher for four days as part of the investigation."
Maher and April 6 supported the candidacy of Mohamed Morsy. But since the country's constitutional crisis in November, he has felt disillusioned by the new government. "This regime is the same old regime, but has a religious atmosphere or shape," he said at an event at the New America Foundation on Monday. It has "the same rules, the same constitution ... the same behavior, the same strategy, the same politics -- so we need to keep the struggle until step down all of that regime."
Maher also knows the potential consequences of his protests. "Our members are arrested now and in the jail, and sometimes are tortured. So our role now is to keep the struggle," he said Monday. It's not his first arrest, either -- in fact, Maher was arrested for organizing protests as early as 2008, years before the January 2011 revolution.
"Opposition figures and protestors being arrested isn't new, unfortunately," Marc Lynch, director of George Washington University's Middle East Studies Program and an FP blogger and columnist, told Passport by email. Lynch met with Maher during his visit to Washington. "What is striking is that Ahmed would be arrested after returning from the US where he spoke (I understand) to a variety of US officials as well as academics and think tankers. It just points to the ongoing urgency of real reform of the security sector in Egypt," he wrote.
Maher's arrest also demonstrates the government's unwillingness to work with even receptive members of the opposition, according to Nancy Okail, Egypt director for Freedom House, who also met with Maher during his visit to Washington. "The arrest of any activist is worrisome, but Maher's arrest is particularly significant as he was one of the strongest supporters of President Morsy before and after his elections," Okail told FP by email. "He repeatedly expressed his willingness to extend a helping hand to the government to solve Egypt's problems -- especially with regard to reforming the police. The current repressive approach of the Egyptian government is stifling constructive discussions at the very time it should be expanding dialogue with different segments of Egyptian society."
At the State Department's daily press briefing this afternoon, Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell told reporters that the State Department was still trying to confirm reports of Maher's arrest, saying "of course, if it were true, we'll express our concerns, but at this time we're still seeking more information." Representatives from the Egyptian embassy did not respond to requests from FP for comment.
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