Harry C. Blaney III

Trump Quote: “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

Once again we are entering a merciless mess in Afghanistan led by a man that has not the faintest idea of what he is doing other than sending added, yet unknown numbers, of American armed forces into conflict without even a true strategy or concept of making Afghanistan itself safe and having a chance to recover security and stability.

And by cutting out any “nation building” (that is support the civilian sector and giving its people hope for jobs, education, security and a better decent life), a purely military escalation is likely domed from the start.  And sadly this will be at the cost of many additional American, allied, and civilian lives.

Other than threats and platitudes against the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan for their seen failures which we have tried and tried again to correct and change, Trump offered no new hopeful approaches. Trump remains ignorant of the complexity and the deep ingrained habits of corruption, loyalty to tribes, fear of retribution, etc. Not least, also unaddressed is the embedded drug trafficking including the widespread growing of poppies which all sides greatly benefit from not least the terrorists, for which there is no sign we have any new effective solutions. Even if we had it would likely take decades and much resources to make the necessary changes on the ground even if the Afghan government were to become more honest and effective.

It has been 16 years of American war and massive costs under three administrations and we were not able to make right that poor and beleaguered nation burdened with conflict. Does any one think Trump, at his worst unbelievable behavior (note support for racists and the Phoenix unhinged diatribe today), now has the answer? Clearly, he has no different innovative ideas how to make peace in Afghanistan. And even worse, he has gutted our diplomatic capacity which might have helped towards the serious negotiations towards peaceful or less conflict solutions. Trump even had the temerity to say: “In the end we will win.”

He clearly has no end game other than killing the ISIS, Taliban and Al-Qaeda with an undetermined number of thousands of American troops. Having lived through and watched each administration grapple unsuccessfully with Afghanistan. Now even with the support of the military, clearly now neither the military nor Trump have any idea of a truly new approach. In fact, Trump’s approach is almost exactly what each previous administration tied from time to time and found wanting in any lasting success.

There was not a single sign that Trump or his advisors had better newer answers. Most troubling was his simplistic and even quixotic views on defeating terrorism. He lacks any interest even in proving the people of Afghanistan peace and true stability. There was perhaps another game plan but not to bring peace or security. That is rather simply the idea of saving his administration by becoming a “war president” and thus un-impeccable and un-touchable and diverting attention from the Trump-Putin investigation.

One fact which was not mentioned was the reality that these terrorist groups have learned to spread their activities to other at risk nations and also to regions like Europe, Asia and North America. Killing them in one country is only likely to see them spring up in others, perhaps with even more dangerous outcomes. All this threatened killing brings increased anger and haltered that are at the cause of their strength. Only indeed if we had a effective true strategy against the fundamental sources of terrorism and an effective “nation building” strategy, that could be fully carried implemented, we might address the critical reasons for the spread of terrorism and violence and reduce its impact.

We welcome your comments!!





Harry C. Blaney III

This is another text on foreign and national security platform of the Democratic Party with commentary with this post we have covered all but one of the more major issues in the platform. Climate change and environment will be posted shortly.



We must defeat ISIS, al Qaeda, and their affiliates, and prevent other groups from emerging in their place. Democrats will continue to lead a broad coalition of allies and partners to destroy ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq and Syria. We will press those in the region, especially the Gulf countries and local forces on the ground, to carry their weight in prosecuting this fight. We will dismantle the global network of terror, which supplies terrorists with money, arms, and fighters, and stop them from recruiting and inspiring potential radicals. We will improve our intelligence capabilities, with appropriate safeguards here at home, and ensure that the intelligence community and law enforcement is prepared to deal effectively with the threats we face. We will harden our defenses as well as those of our partners against external and homegrown threats. We will secure the homeland, investing more resources to improve mass transit, aviation, infrastructure, and port security. And we will remain a resilient nation, always coming together to stand up to terror.

Democrats will seek an updated Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that is more precise about our efforts to defeat ISIS and that does not involve large-scale combat deployment of American troops.

As we prosecute the fight against terrorism, Democrats will repudiate vile tactics that would do us harm. We reject Donald Trump’s vilification of Muslims. It violates the religious freedom that is the bedrock of our country and feeds into ISIS’ nefarious narrative. It also alienates people and countries who are crucial to defeating terrorism; the vast majority of Muslims believe in a future of peace and tolerance. We reject Donald Trump’s suggestion that our military should engage in war crimes, like torturing prisoners or murdering civilian family members of suspected terrorists. These tactics run counter to American principles, undermine our moral standing, cost innocent lives, and endanger Americans. We also firmly reject Donald Trump’s willingness to mire tens of thousands of our combat troops in another misguided ground war in the Middle East, which would only further embolden ISIS. There is nothing smart or strong about such an approach.


Much of this text on terrorism followers the main elements of the policies and strategy of the present administration. As a general summary of the approach makes much sense and there has been much success in such areas as taking ground from ISIS and in denying money and other resources to ISIS. It has become writ that we expect the states of the region play a more prominent role in the defeat of ISIS.

This today is exemplified by the recent August 24th attack by Turkish forces including planes and tanks against ISIS terrorists along Turkey’s Syrian border in the area of the town of Jarablus. What is unsaid is to what degree this will impact our need to have the Kurdish forces that are key to defeating ISIS, taking on Assad, and also their role of actions against terrorists in Iraq. The press reports that American planes are supporting the Turkish advance but Turkish leaders have made clear they will attack Kurdish force if the advance into territory near Turkey. That makes for a very complex situation. The Jarablus town is only 95 kilometers from the key city of Aleppo. It is understood that Turkish backed Syrian rebels are working in cooperation with the Turkish forces.

Aleppo and success in Iraq may become a key indication of the success or failure of the joint American lead coalition strategy of destroying ISIS but it is also a very complex and difficult terrain both in military and political grounds. There are some six groups in Syria involved with different motives and alliances. Within the city are forces against Assad which are besieged by pro-Assad army forces, Hezbollah fighters, Iranian troops, and Iraqi Shia militia and even it is said Russian “contract soldiers.” The unknowns are first, the possible Russian response, second, the possibility of a clash between Kurd led forces and others allied with them largely supported by the US coalition, and Turkey’s own objective of destroying or limiting the Kurd power in the region near their border.

Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) are also in the fight and are made up of mainly but not solely of Kurd fighters. This mix of anti-Assad groups which have not always compatible goals makes for a high level of uncertainty of the outcome of the current fighting.

In the end, the test of the current American and allied strategy must be a Syria that is secure, a new government of all groups without Assad in control, and where terrorist do not hold large areas. At the moment the Kurdish and other Arab forces against Assad have taken the critical town of Manbij and want to advance further North and West including towards the Jarablus which could create a threat to both Turkey and Syrian rebels made up largely of Kurds if they engage each other and destroy the unity of the moment. Not least is the role North of Aleppo of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which plays a role in the defeat of ISIS and is backed by the anti-Assad coalition.

At this moment with the contending forces now fully engaged are creating an even more complex military and political situation with anti-Assad forces diminished yet still strong with Russian support. But a danger is some of these other anti-Assad forces might engaged with each other in a fight over territory and control of large areas and create still more instability. At this point American diplomacy will be key and the need for some kind of accommodation between forces is necessary to end the conflict and stabilize the region. The key today today is what will the region look like the day after ISIS is essentially defeated in both Syria and Iraq. It clearly will not stop all terrorism.

It is hard to argue with the platform idea of protecting our homeland and that of our allies against acts of terrorism. Here key specifics are missing.

Not least also in an anti-terrorist effort is the war in Iraq against ISIS which is also may be coming to some kind of unknown of conclusion but the goal of an Iraq that is untied between Sunni and Shia and Kurds and this will not happen just by defeating ISIS. This issue will be examined in another post.

The second part of the platform on terrorism reaffirms that this is not a war on Muslims, that Trump’s idea of making unlimited war is wrong, and that the idea of sending large numbers of American troops wold be counterproductive. On these stances I see no problem and are compatible with Obama’s perspective and strategy. But the presidential campaign needs to correct some of the false and dangerous assumptions and strategies by Trump that are dangerous to a true “win” over terrorism and for America’s leadership on this and other issues.

We welcome your comments!


Datelined London

Photo: The Guardian

Harry C. Blaney III

Last night Friday on a TV screen in London we watched in real time the horrific unfolding of the terrorism acts which at this report time cost the lives of some 129 persons and many more wounded as the total is likely to grow over time. The analysis is that it was an organized series of such attacks which were designed to cause major fear not only in Paris but in France and beyond. It has had already reverberations throughout Europe and even in America.

Friday night UK time, President Obama said while the events were still active, that this was an attack on all humanity and this view was echoed by statements by President Holland and Prime Minister Cameron and others.

This attack has had many implications for both France’s own security and the possible impacts on its politics, economy, and not least the relationship with Muslims in France that constitute, by some estimates, 4.7% of the population, the largest in Europe.

ISIS almost immediately took “credit” for these acts of brutality. ISIS said this was a retaliation for France’s acts of bombing against it. President Holland in the immediate aftermath said that this was “war” and promised swift action and France will be “merciless against the terrorists.” These were acts of war Holland stated on Saturday that the attacks were planned abroad. Two people were arrested in Belgium and two attackers were said to come from Syria and Egypt. An American student and a British London School of Economics student were killed at last reports.

This act has been called a massacre – the worst attack in France’s recent history. Paris is in shock but the reactions take a wide range of anger, horror, revulsion, fear, and a determination to both carry on and to respond against the terrorists. But people in Paris are clearly very uncertain and cautious. Holland has taken a hard stance, which is understandable given the brutality of the attack. Holland has called a state of emergency and the French Prime Minister has said on Saturday that France will enhance its attacks on ISIS and will not be deterred by threats.

If ISIS thought the attacks would frighten France and other countries to stop their attacks it looks that this has likely backfired. But the other danger is that the attacks increased polarization and racist and right wing groups may use these attacks to instigate hatred for migrants, the domestic Islamic community, and citizens and create even more fear for political reasons. This could backfire and increase the sense of alienation which has already led to disaffected and angry Muslim youth joining ISIS. Thus national authorities need to find a fine line between cracking down on likely terrorists but at the same time assuring regular Muslim citizens that they live in a welcoming and safe environment.

The reaction from other countries was with statements of sympathy and solidarity. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron promised to be of help in any way they can. Here in London tonight there was a large vigil and gathering of citizens showing solidarity with Paris and France, with the tricolor lights of the French flag projected against the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square which I and my wife went to. I could not be but aware of the irony that a few weeks earlier there were many statements related to Britain leaving the EU by the Tory leaders, including Cameron, about how UK was different from the Continental Europeans. That party’s majority MPs desires to separate from countries like France that they wish little ties with that are seeking for more European unity.

One interesting element which some have commented on is that at the moment when ISIS is under siege at their home base in Syria/Iraq, they have carried out their most successful major and effective massive attack in Paris and created a sense of fear throughout Europe and beyond. This brutality gives ISIS major international profile and forced focus on their presence abroad while at the same time facing increased military action against them. This pressure is due to American bombing and more effective moderate reinforcements on the ground of allied groups fighting in their home bases.

As for Paris, one concern is that if this can happen in Paris, it could happen again and anywhere. Thus the international dimension has now been established and it is clear that the G-20 meeting in Turkey this week attended in advance by Secretary Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister with President Obama soon arriving, will strongly focus on what can be done on an international level to deal with such horrific and massive attacks and what are the implication of these more professional and devastating attacks on citizens and how to prevent or mitigate them. But also how to solve the basic problem of how to put an end to ISIS and get rid of Assad and create a more safe and stable region.

What does all this mean? As noted, one danger is a backlash over Europe against Muslims and this anger being exploited by right-wing racists parties like UKIP and the Le Pen party in France.

The other question is where does the Western nations and their Islamic allies go next against ISIS both in their Syria/Iraq stronghold and to counter their international reach. This is not a new question but the Paris attacks gives it new urgency and profile to these questions. What has been said and I think still stands is that what is most needed is a viable diplomatic solution likely backed up by some sort of military action also.

Many are saying too little is being done while others think American engagement in the region is too much. Will the attacks in France change any of this? Will changes on the ground change anything also? The Question for the major powers and many members of the G-20 and also Muslim nations in the region is can there be a way of putting the necessary elements together to achieve sooner rather than later a dismemberment of ISIS and a political structure on the ground to replace the present chaos and brutality. This will take major decisions by all, that enough is enough and all are in peril if this ISIS and other Jihadis forces remain powerful and dominant and attract each day new and committed recruits.

The key must be in the long term to return the region to some sense of normality and hope for security and some decent economy and employment of youth. But also at the heart of any solution must be a mitigation of the religious and political conflict between the Sunni and Shia sects which really means Shia Iran, its allies, and Sunni Saudi Arabia and Gulf States and others. It may also mean bringing peace to the Israeli and Palestinian situation via a two state solution and now the sooner the better. On seeking security and security for the region here American power and European and regional allies and perhaps even Russia and Iran might just find some common ground. This is probably asking too much now, but if not now when? If one waits, will not all be caught by a maelstrom of disaster and destruction from which none will survive intact.

More in time on these issues and related events from Europe.

We welcome your comments!


Photo: Carnegie Endowment For International Peace

by Harry C.  Blaney III

The Secretary of State recently made one of the most important speeches thus far on the challenges of the conflicts in the Middle East with a strong defense of our polices. His speech also included a summary and insight to the changes that are being made in the United States’ stance in these fast evolving conflicts in the region, and what key role diplomacy, as well as military, can play to achieve those goals. This speech was a plea for support from our allies and our not so allies, and it laid out, as few statements have so far, the U.S. strategy for dealing with the Islamic State, or ISIS, and called for the critical cooperation between the Shia and Sunni peoples, and also nations in ridding the region of the brutalities of ISIS. He reaffirmed that the defeat of ISIS was a key objective but also the importance of making Assad stand aside if peace is to be achieved.

Secretary Kerry’s Remarks 

Thank you very much. Thank you all very, very much. Bill, thanks so much for welcoming me to your new home, but thank you for remarkably generous comments. I’m very, really touched to hear them from somebody of Bill’s caliber, because as all of you know, he really was the State Department’s premier career diplomat par excellence to everybody’s standard. And now that you’ve been away almost a year, Bill, I know you’re missing all the travel, the early morning meetings, the late night calls, and you’re just dying to return, right? (Laughter.) But all kidding aside, ladies and gentlemen, the door to the State Department for Bill Burns is always open. And from President Obama through the entire security team to me to every former secretary of state, there’s no better diplomat and there’s nobody you could be better led by here at the Carnegie Foundation for Peace than by Bill Burns. So Bill – please join me, everybody, in saying thank you for a remarkable career to this man – a remarkable career. (Applause.)

Now, if I behave myself, which is never for certain, I’m going to try and restrain my voice, not be as passionate as I want to be about every word that I’m uttering today, but I’m trying to save a little case of laryngitis and make sure that I don’t exacerbate it, because I leave tonight for Vienna for two days of important meetings and I want to make sure that I can actually talk during those meetings.

I appreciate the chance to speak today to you, an audience of experts and students who are on their way to being experts, but all of you who spend an awful lot of time thinking about some very serious issues. And the truth is that, for generations, Carnegie has been training the foreign policy leaders of the future and generating at the same time real-time solutions for those of us who are practicing at that time.

It’s an understatement to say today that we’re facing a very different world, a world of remarkable complexity. All of you have probably read Henry Kissinger and Diplomacy or countless other books as I have. And Henry would be the first to tell you – I had the privilege of having lunch with him in New York during the United Nations meetings – that he never had it coming at him with the numbers of different places and crises and in a world that is as multipolar as now. I mean, a bipolar Cold War with the former Soviet Union, the United States and West was pretty clear about what the choices were in many ways. It didn’t mean they weren’t tense and they weren’t difficult and that there weren’t some proxy wars, as we saw in Vietnam and elsewhere, but it truly was not seeing what we see today, which is a world of violence where it’s not state on state, with a few exceptions. It’s non-state actors who are confounding states and the global order, and that presents a very different challenge.

So I can tell you that despite the complexity, and I am certain of this, the United States of America is more deeply engaged today in more places on more important issues with impact than at any time before in our history. And I could document – I’m not going to run around the whole world, but I mean, I could start with TPP and I could go to North Korea and I could start talking about South China Sea, and then I could roll into Afghanistan and Pakistan and India and roll around the world. I’m not going to do that. I want to focus on one particular – and particularly important – area of the globe today, and that’s the Middle East. And I’m not even going to go into all of the aspects of it.

But 20 years ago next week, after attending a peace rally, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by an extremist who claimed to be doing God’s will.

At the funeral, King Hussein of Jordan, Rabin’s one-time enemy turned partner in peace, declared, I quote: “Let us not keep silent. Let our voices rise high enough to speak of our commitment to peace for all times. And let us tell those who live in darkness, who are the enemies of life and true faith, this is where we stand. This is our camp.”

At the same ceremony, Rabin’s granddaughter Noa, a teenager, said that, quote, “Others greater than I have already eulogized you. But they never had the pleasure to feel the caresses of your warm, soft hands, to merit your warm embrace, to see your half smile that always told me so much, that same smile which is no longer frozen in the grave with you.”

Now, these quotations remind us that beyond all the cold statistics, beyond the headlines of the daily newspapers, beyond the clapping talking heads on one show or another and eternally perpetual talk show circuits, the impact of violence in the Middle East, there is humanity. There is a humanity of people just like us who yearn simply to help one another and to share affection from one generation to the next. And beyond all the complexities in the region, there is also something fairly basic going on – a struggle between people who are intent on opening wounds, or leaving them open, and those who want to close them and who want to heal and build a future.

It is this struggle between destroyers and builders that informs every aspect of American policy in the Middle East. Now, this is the glue that holds the components of our strategy together – and we do have a strategy – whether we’re backing an electoral process in Tunisia, mobilizing a coalition against terrorists, trying to halt the sudden outbreak of violence as I was last weekend with respect to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, or striving to put in place new foundations for prosperity and stability. Our goal is to help ensure that builders and healers throughout the region have the chance that they need to accomplish their tasks.

Now, I’ve heard some Americans wonder aloud, “Why should we care about the Middle East? After all, we’re on the verge of energy independence, so why don’t we just walk away?”

And the answer is that it would be directly and profoundly contrary to our nation’s interests to try and do that. We have to remember that the Middle East is home to some of America’s oldest friends, including our ally Israel, but also our many Arab partners in this now more complicated world. We also learned from 9/11 that regional threats become global very quickly. And we have seen that ideas transmitted by terrorists in Raqqa and Mosul can reach impressionable minds in Minneapolis and Mississippi. We are aware as well that events in the Middle East can affect perceptions on every single continent because people on every continent are influenced by the spiritual and ethical traditions that have their roots in those ancient lands.

I hear about this everywhere I go. People are amazed. It’s good to see the former prime minister here. I am amazed – he knows what I’m talking about. All over the world – foreign ministers, prime ministers, finance ministers, presidents say to me when I visit, no matter where I am, “You’ve got to do something about the Middle East. You have to change this because it affects us.”

Now, it is true, of course, that we rely less on Middle East oil than we used to, but it’s also true that the energy market is global. And any serious disruption of Gulf oil supplies could quickly harm our financial systems, lower exports, cost millions of jobs. That’s an interest.

So the Middle East matters, and it matters way beyond oil, my friends. It matters a lot in the context of this world where we are trying to bring people together to seize a future. That’s why it is so appropriate that Carnegie is launching this ambitious project this week called Arab World Horizons to examine trends that will shape the Middle East for decades to come. And I encourage you to begin this project with a healthy degree of optimism. And before you conclude that I’ve had too much caffeine – (laughter) – let me emphasize I mean what I just said, I mean it.

A couple of years ago, we asked the McKinsey Company to study the economic prospects of Jordan, Syria, Israel, Egypt, and the West Bank. And a good starting place for all of you is to go back to the Arab report – study report on economic growth of a number of years which was stark in its appraisal of what had not happened that should have happened in many of the Arab countries in the region. But interestingly, my good friend, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed, recently also commissioned a separate study which similarly showed what we looked at through McKinsey Company where we looked at every sector from farming to tourism.

My friends, the potential for growth is simply extraordinary. The potential of this region to be a driving financial center, harnessing the incredible technology and capacity of peoples in many of the countries is simply extraordinary. Just imagine a future where people from the Nile to the Jordan to the Euphrates are free to live and work and travel as they choose; where every boy and girl has access to a quality education; where visitors are able to flock without fear to the world’s greatest tourist attractions. I mean, think of that – the world’s greatest tourist attractions. I’ve driven by them. I haven’t even had time to stop at some of them. The place where John the Baptist christened so many people including Jesus, the temple near it, a Muslim mosque, which is one of the oldest in the region and most important, the extraordinary history of the generations of struggle that have taken place in the Middle East. There is something there for everybody – even a atheist who is a budding architect would have trouble not having an interesting time. And where you have – neighboring countries are actually eager to trade. I hear this from the ministers in each of the surrounding countries – how much they wish things could just change so they could begin to engage in the normal commerce of the region and ready to cooperate on projects that actually link their economies together.

Now, sadly, we have become so accustomed to dwelling on the problems of the Middle East that we sometimes forget that, staring us in the face, are some incredible opportunities – and we all ought to be doing more to focus on those opportunities, because the people in all the countries are beginning to simply lose belief in any of their leaders. Palestinians don’t have belief, Israelis don’t have belief, and people in the surrounding Arab countries don’t have belief. And what it takes is real leadership and real decisions and real events on the ground to begin to change those hopes.

So we ought to be doing more, all of us – and here I specifically include governments in the region – need to take advantage of these huge opportunities that exist today.

Now, let’s be honest with each other. Apart from petroleum, Middle Eastern countries right now simply don’t produce enough of what the rest of the world wants; they don’t trade efficiently even among themselves; and they aren’t making wise use of their human capital. Only about one woman in four participates in the economy and youth unemployment is at 25 percent or higher. This leaves millions of unhappy young people who – because of the pervasiveness of social media – are completely aware of what everybody else in the world has and they don’t. Everybody’s connected 24/7. You can be impoverished and they still have a smartphone and they can still Google and they can still Facebook and they can still figure out what the other person has, and they can talk to those people and they do in very simple, declarative sentences.

So what happens to all that energy and ambition?

In the United States, the average age is 35. In the Middle East and North Africa, it’s under 25. And many of those countries have populations where it’s 60, 65 percent under the age of 30, 35. So the region’s future really depends on the choices that these young men and women are going to get to make. But who are they going to listen to? You need to talk about that as you have this conference. What ideas will command their loyalty? What might excite their imagination? Individually, each one of these young people is a story that will end either in frustration or in opportunity. And collectively, they present a profound challenge, because the outcome of that race between frustration and opportunity will do everything to define tomorrow’s Middle East.

So to be clear, there’s no single way, there’s no just one way to win this race.

Governments in the region have to look both inward at their own policies and they have to look outward in order to compete in the global economy. And boy, do they have to start making a lot tougher decisions than they seem to have been willing to make. You can’t fake it. You just can’t drift along and pretend somehow it’s going to resolve itself.

Business people have to help bridge the gap between what graduates actually know when they leave school and the skills that they need to have in order to get a good job. And by the way, that’s the same right here in the United States of America and every other modern country today.

Women and girls have to be given an equal chance to compete in the classroom and in the workplace.

And civil society has to have the right to voice new ideas, advocate for reform, and hold leaders accountable.

Now, the United States believes deeply in the future of the region. That’s why we remain so engaged. And that is why we have invested in a variety of worthwhile programs, everything from the rule of law initiatives in Jordan to public-private partnerships in the Palestinian Authority, which Salam Fayyad worked so hard, and I had the pleasure of working with him, to try to implement. But we also know that the pace of progress will depend, in part, on improved security – and that is a major goal of U.S. policy in the Middle East. And we don’t just mean security for one country or another. Israelis have to be secure; Palestinians have to be secure; the people in Gaza have to be secure; everybody has to be secure. And it’s our common enterprise now to fight for that security.

So here I go back to the struggle that I mentioned earlier about the destroyers and the builders. If the builders are going to succeed, they’re going to have to be protected from the dangers that are posed by terrorists, by strife, by violence, by weapons of mass destruction; and America’s security strategy in the Middle East is precisely designed to try to aid in each of these areas.

That’s why President Obama placed such importance on achieving a negotiated solution to Iran’s nuclear program. As all of you know, this man over here, Bill Burns, played a critical role in helping to get those talks with Iran off the ground and in helping to forge the interim plan that set the stage for the final agreement that we’ve reached, and that is an agreement that is imposing dramatic constraints on all aspects of Iran’s nuclear activities.

Ten days ago, the deal became official and the implementation began. And that implementation will require the mothballing of two-thirds of Iran’s centrifuges, the shipment abroad of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium, the destruction of the core of its heavy water nuclear plutonium reactor.

The whole process will be monitored by the IAEA and no sanctions will be lifted until that Agency verifies that Iran has done exactly what it promised to do. Now this gives Iran every incentive to live up to its commitments, just as it did, by the way, during the 18 months leading up to the final agreement. People don’t realize this, that almost – I think more than two years now – just about two years exactly of Iran’s compliance with the interim agreement has now taken place. And you haven’t heard of major breaches or anything because it’s been adhered to.

So I hope now that everyone who was for the agreement and everyone who was against it will come together to support its full and verifiable implementation. That’s the goal. And I promise you, I am absolutely convinced that the United States will be safer, our allies will be safer, and the world will be safer if Iran doesn’t have and isn’t anywhere close to getting a nuclear weapon. And we believe, as our Energy Department, our intelligence community, and our military know, that because of the verification measures and transparency of this agreement, we will know whether or not they are.

Now, as you recall, when negotiations were going on, there was speculation about what an agreement might mean for relations between Washington and Tehran. Was it possible that a breakthrough on the nuclear issue would be able to open the door to broader cooperation? Some welcomed that prospect and some, to be truthful, were alarmed by that prospect.

So I want to be clear that we meant exactly what we said: the Iran deal was considered on its own terms. Not, “What is it going to do here?” It was just nuclear – nuclear terms. It was the right thing to do whether or not it leads to other areas of cooperation. Now, we’re not making any assumptions about Iran’s future policies because we base our approach on observable facts. And what we see, obviously, is that Iran continues to engage in playing to sectarian divisions in the region and it continues to detain several American citizens, in our estimation, without justification. And Tehran’s policies are one reason that we are working so closely and so supportively with our partners in the region including the Gulf states and Israel.

In fact, we have established an unprecedented level of cooperation with Israel on military and intelligence issues; and we are coordinating in enforcing sanctions and in trying to stop terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah from getting the financing and the weapons that they seek.

We also support Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens, and we do that in many ways. We also support all of the GCC countries in the work we did at Camp David and in Doha and that we will continue to do, and that I even reaffirmed when I was out in the region just a couple of days ago. Within the past week, I have met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with President Abbas, with King Abdullah, with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, others. And we all agreed on the importance of ending the violence in Israel, Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, and of and making it clear that the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif will not be changed.

Now, I want to be clear that the kind of violence that we have been seeing in recent weeks hurts everyone: the innocent victims and their families; the Jewish and Arab residents of Israel; the Palestinians who yearn to have their aspirations realized – hurts everyone. And this is yet another indication of the folly of believing that efforts at permanent peace and reconciliation are somehow not worth pursuing. I can’t imagine the notion of just throwing up your hands and walking away and saying good luck. The current situation is simply not sustainable. President Obama has said that publicly many times. I’ve said it publicly.

And it is absolutely vital for Israel to take steps that empower Palestinian leaders to improve economic opportunities and the quality of life for their people on a day-to-day basis. And it is equally important – equally important – for Palestinian leaders to cease the incitement of violence and to offer something more than rhetoric; instead, propose solutions that will contribute in a real way to the improvement of life, to the reduction of violence, and to the safety and security of Israel’s – of Israelis. Firm and creative leadership on both sides is absolutely essential. A two-state solution with strong security protections remains the only viable alternative. And for anybody who thinks otherwise, you can measure what unitary looks like by just looking at what’s been going on in the last weeks. The United States absolutely remains prepared to do what we can to make that two-state – two peoples living side by side in peace and security – to make it possible.

Now, another core element of our security strategy in the Middle East is centered on the coalition that we have mobilized to counter and defeat the group known as ISIL, or Daesh. The list of crimes for which Daesh is responsible is truly mind-boggling. It’s as disturbing as anything that I have ever contemplated in my life. Daesh are smugglers, they’re kidnappers. They butcher teachers and burn books, destroy history. They execute journalists for doing their jobs, trying to report on the truth. They execute people just for their religious beliefs. They execute them for who they are by birth – nothing said, nothing done – just because they’re different. In Iraq, Daesh has been auctioning off women and girls, teaching – teaching people that the rape of underage non-Muslim females is a form of prayer.

According to Daesh’s online propaganda, their militants supposedly live in virtual paradise, but we’re beginning to see how different the reality really is. There are multiple reports of Daesh executing fighters who signed up and then had second thoughts and were trying to get out. Consider the case of a teenage boy who had been recruited in Syria and sent to Iraq. One morning, he approached a Shiite mosque in Baghdad; he unbuttoned his jacket, opened it up, told the guards, “I’m wearing a suicide vest, but I don’t want to blow myself up.” And the boy said later that he had volunteered to wear the vest because it was the only way that he could think of to escape. He had joined Daesh to serve his religion and fight Assad. But when he witnessed the execution of a young person very much like himself, he decided to reverse course and get out.

This past summer, the terrorists picked up sledge hammers and smashed half a dozen statues in the ancient city of Palmyra. They destroyed the Roman arch, as you know. They blew up historic tombs and destroyed a 2,000-year-old temple. Then they seized the city’s director of antiquities, the man who was trying to protect history, and they made him kneel in a public square, and they cut off his head. The man was 83 years old and spent a lifetime saving history. He’d been in charge of preserving Palmyra’s cultural heritage for more than 50 years.

My friends, between this Saturday night and Sunday morning, we’re all going to be turning our clocks back one hour. Daesh and groups like it want to turn the clock of civilization back a millennium or more. We simply cannot allow this to continue.

And that is why President Obama is ratcheting up what we are doing. Under President Obama’s leadership, we have led a 65-member coalition to take on Daesh. For more than a year, we’ve been doing that. And we have saved communities – Kobani and (inaudible) and Tikrit – Tikrit has seen 100,000 Sunni be able to return to their homes. And we’ve said from the beginning that this would be a multiyear effort, but I think we’ve already accomplished a lot. We’ve launched more than 7,300 airstrikes. We’ve forced Daesh to change how it conducts military operations. We’ve impeded its command and control. From the critical border town of Kobani all the way to Tikrit, we have liberated communities and made a difference in the nature of this battlefield.

I spoke earlier about the impact of our policies on ordinary lives. Last week – just to underscore to you the degree to which we are ready to take this fight, and the degree to which we are raising our capacity – a U.S. special forces operation carried out a rescue directed against a Daesh prison in northern Iraq. Our troops freed 69 hostages who were about to be executed one by one, with a mass grave that had already been dug.

Now, I have spoken to our people in our embassy. I talked actually with our special envoy, who is in Baghdad even as I speak to you right now. I talked to him last night. He told me he went and visited these people who had been released. He said you could not imagine the emotion – their expression of gratitude to President Obama and to the American people. And they told us of the enormous debt they feel to the family of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler who gave his life in that operation. I think that’s a debt that we all owe, and I will say to you what I have said many, many times throughout my life: that we are deeply privileged to be represented and protected by the quality and caliber of the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States. And we express our gratitude to them.

Meanwhile, the – (applause). Meanwhile, I want you to know that the combination of coalition airpower and the Iraqi ground forces is being felt. We’re supplying Iraq with armored bulldozers and mine-clearing equipment that’s making it much harder for Daesh to resupply its fighters in Ramadi. An Iraqi force just retook the Baiji oil refinery, strategically located on the road that links Baghdad and Mosul. In northern Syria, the coalition and its partners have pushed Daesh out of more than 17,000 square kilometers of territory, and we have secured the Turkish-Syrian border east of the Euphrates River. That’s about 85 percent of the Turkish border, and the President is authorizing further activities to secure the rest.

Now looking ahead, we know that some of our key allies – including the British, the French, and the Turks – are stepping up even more with their help. And President Obama recently gave a green light to send more ammunition and other aid to our allies on the ground. The President has made clear that we are determined to degrade Daesh more rapidly.

Now, I want to underscore as well that military operations are but one of the many components of what the coalition is doing. We’re working hard to counter Daesh’s propaganda and to deter potential foreign fighters from joining it. In partnership with the UAE, we have established a center in Abu Dhabi that is offering positive messages across the region on the internet and all through social media, talking about politics, religion, and the responsibilities of faith. And we’re striving to cut off Daesh’s funding so that it becomes bankrupt politically, just as it is morally.

But ultimately, to defeat Daesh, we have to end the war in Syria. And that is America’s goal. In thinking about how to do this, you have to think about how the conflict began. Early in 2011, toward the start of the Arab spring, a popular uprising challenged the Assad regime, which father and son had ruled for more than four decades – 40 years, folks. Assad sent thugs to beat up the young people who were protesting in the streets and looking for jobs, looking for a future. That’s all they wanted. But the thugs went out and beat them up. And when the parents got angry at the fact that their kids were met with thugs, they went out and they were met with bullets and bombs. That’s how this started.

So having made peaceful change impossible, Assad made war inevitable and he soon turned to Hizballah for help, and Iran, and Russia. And this exacerbated tensions between Sunni and Shia communities, and it paved the way for Daesh to emerge. The result has been four and a half years of nonstop horror. This is a human catastrophe unfolding before our eyes in the 21st century. You all know the numbers; we have a fundamental responsibility to try to do something about it. One Syrian in twenty has been killed or wounded. One in five is a refugee. One in two has been displaced. The average life expectancy in Syria has dropped by 20 years.

My friends, the challenge that we face in Syria today is nothing less than to chart a course out of hell. And to do that, we have to employ a two-pronged approach, intensifying our counter-Daesh campaign and, on the other side, our diplomatic efforts to try to bring the conflict to a close. These steps are actually mutually reinforcing. And that is why we are stepping up the fight against Daesh by resupplying the moderate opposition fighters in northern Syria to help them consolidate the gains that they have made across broad swaths of territory and to begin to pressure the chief city of ISIL, which is Al Raqqa. We’re also enhancing our air campaign in order to help drive Daesh, which once dominated the Syria-Turkey border, out of the last 70-mile stretch that it controls. But at the end of the day, nothing would do more to bolster the fight against Daesh than a political transition that sidelines Assad so that we can unite more of the country against extremism.

We have to eliminate the mindset – which was encouraged from the beginning by both Assad and Daesh – that the only choice Syrians have is between the two of them; you either have terrorists or you have Assad. No, no, that’s not the choice. This is the mindset that drives those who fear the terrorists to side with the dictator and those who fear the dictator to side with the terrorists. And this is the mindset that has transformed Syria into a killing field.

We have a different vision. I just returned from meetings in Vienna that included a remarkable session, that broke some new ground, where we had the quartet of Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. And I will head back to Vienna tonight to take the next step in our discussions with representatives from an ever broadening group of nations, including Iran, which will join one of these multilateral gatherings for the first time. And while finding a way forward on Syria will not be easy – it’s not going to be automatic – it is the most promising opportunity for a political opening where recognizing what is happening – that Syria is being destroyed; that Europe is being deeply impacted; that Jordan is being greatly put under enormous pressure, Lebanon, Turkey, the region; and so many millions of Syrians are displaced within Syria itself, most compelling of all, the tragedy that Syrians are living every single day – the best opportunity we have is to try to come to the table and recognize there has to be the political solution that everybody has talked about.

As part of this diplomacy, I’ve had many conversations with my Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. And as everyone here knows, Russian airstrikes in Syria began about four weeks ago. So there’s a fundamental choice here. Is Russia there just to shore up Assad or is Russia there to actually help bring about a solution? We’ll know. We’ll put that to the test. And contrary to the claims of officials in Moscow, it has to be underscored that most of the strikes thus far have been directed not against Daesh, but against the opponents of the Assad regime. So that is not, in our view, the way to try to bring the war to a close. But that will be part of the discussion that we have in the course of our Vienna meetings. The likely results of that strategy, by the way, will be to further radicalize the population, prolong the fighting, and perhaps even strengthen the illusion on Assad’s part that he can just indefinitely maintain his hold on power. And if that’s what he thinks, I got news: there’s no way that a number of the other countries involved in this coalition are going to let up or stop. It won’t happen.

There’s another thing that’s critical, though. Russia, the United States, and others share an amazing amount of common ground on this. We actually all agree that the status quo is untenable. We all agree that we need to find a way to have a political solution. We all agree that a victory by Daesh or any other terrorist group absolutely has to be prevented. We all agree that it’s imperative to save the state of Syria and the institutions on which it is built and preserve a united and secular Syria. We all agree that we have to create the conditions for the return of displaced persons and the refugees. We agree on the right of the Syrian people to choose their leadership through transparent, free, and fair elections with a new constitution and protections for all minorities in the country. We agree on all that. Surely we can find a place where one man does not stand in the way of the possibilities of peace. So we agree that all of these steps can only be achieved – and Syria can only be saved – through a political settlement.

So my message to Foreign Minister Lavrov, to President Putin, to all concerned governments is that we each have a responsibility here to contribute to an early end to this Syrian disaster through a transition already agreed upon in the context of the Geneva communique that will unite the country and enable this beleaguered country to rehabilitate itself, bring back its citizens, and live in peace. That is the purpose of the inclusive diplomatic process that we’re continuing to pursue beginning with this trip back across the Atlantic this evening.

And before closing, I just want to make two additional points quickly.

First, to skeptics who say that democracy can’t make it in the Middle East and North Africa, I reply with one word: Tunisia. (Applause.)

Here, where the Arab Spring was born, we’re not finding a paradise. But we’re finding a place where leaders from opposing factions have been willing to put the interests of their nation above personal ambitions; where civil society played a vital role in spurring political dialogue; where power was transferred peacefully from one leader to the next in accordance with the rule of law; and where diverse perspectives, including both secular and religion, are not being repressed, but they’re actually being encouraged and taken into account. What is happening in Tunisia is important for the people there, obviously, but guess what? It is instructive for the entire region. Tunisia is showing what it means to be builders in the Middle East.

My second point is more of a plea: Please do not accept the view of some that the Middle East must inevitably be divided along sectarian lines, especially between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Nothing fuels the propaganda of Daesh and other terrorist organizations more than this myth. This simplistic and cynical view is not only not true historically, it’s not true today.

After all, the coalition to defeat Daesh includes virtually every Sunni majority nation in the Middle East, and Daesh, as we know, is made up of Sunni. And last June, when Daesh suicide bombers attacked and killed 27 Shiite Muslims while they were praying in Kuwait right at the start of Ramadan – and 27 were killed – what happened? The emir and the speaker of the parliament – both Sunni – immediately rushed to the site of the tragedy. Thirteen hundred people volunteered to give blood on the first day. Sunni religious leaders urged their followers to show solidarity by praying at Shia mosques. The government flew the bodies of the victims to Najaf for burial in accordance with family wishes. And back in Kuwait, 35,000 people of every single tribe came together and attended a funeral for others who were killed. The emir stood up and up and said the mosque will be rebuilt. And a Sunni businessman volunteered to do the job for nothing. Daesh will rise or fall on its ability to drive good people apart, and that is precisely why I say it will fail.

On that horrible evening 20 years ago, when Yitzhak Rabin descended the city hall steps in Tel Aviv and he walked towards his car and towards his killer, there was a sheet of paper in his pocket that would soon be stained with blood. And on the paper were the words to Shir LaShalom, the “Song of Peace” – words that warn of the permanence of death and hence the imperative of replacing hate with something better.

The Middle East today, my friends, is still marred by the sounds and spectacle of violence, but it need not be, because the region is also pulsating with life. It is the home of populations that are energetic, youthful, forward-looking, and far more interested in plugging into the world economy than slugging it out with historic foes. It is in them that we place our faith. It is for them and for their horizons that we dedicate our collective efforts. And it is with them that the United States of America is determined to turn back the destroyers and build a future that is characterized by prosperity, by peace, and by dignity for all people. That is a worthy fight.

Thank you all very, very much.

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the Future of U.S. Policy in the Middle East, October 28, 2015

We welcome your comments on this speech and the strategy outlined.


U.S. President Barack Obama waves alongside delegation leaders following the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit, May 14, 2015, at Camp David, Md. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Harry C. Blaney III

We have tried in our earlier posts in this series to look hard at some of the challenges of the many elements that have created the Middle East. We have also suggested some paths for American long-term policy and strategy that might, just might, mitigate some of the worse disasters that seem to be the fate of this region absent some major interventions inside and from without that can change the trajectory of that chaotic and conflict ridden region. My assumption is that continuation of this trend would be a threat to world order and peace while setting a precedent for the further spread of disorder and conflict. America’s fundamental interest is in a secure, prosperous and peaceful world system.

As many experts in the region have pointed out, the fundamental mutual distrust and history of outbursts of brutal conflict over decades has brought alienation, deep sectarian hatred and insensitivity to human life.  This has undermined not least the building of cohesive moderate nation states. It has created a lack of a simple sense of community within Iraq, for example, and in other states that no American army can alone repair with force of arms.

What we have seen in recent days is very complex conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. These are manifestations of exactly the kind of murky, always shifting, and not least, intransigence and extremism of the worst of Middle Eastern ethnic and religious elements. If anything our actions under Bush II only created or exacerbated these conditions by the chaos we caused and bad decisions for dealing with terrorism and inter-ethnic warfare.


In Syria we are rightly against both main fighting groups – the brutal Assad regime on the one side, and the even more brutal, if that is possible, ISIS or Islamic State on the other. If we take the side of the Assad regime we are supporting a mass killer of his citizens while ISIS has killed even more indiscriminately and in the most horrendous ways. President Obama’s reluctance to commit massive ground forces to this cauldron is quite understandable.

There are no good or even palatable options here as both sides are beyond the pale. The “bad” guys outnumber the “good” guys here. The need here is of for some kind of diplomatic and political arrangement that gets rid of both antagonists while also finding a space for a government of unity and conciliation. This will provide security and stability for all groups and a measure of stability in the country.  No one so far has the right formula for putting back together the broken nation. The only strategy that makes sense is a long-term goal of getting rid of both malevolent entitles but having in place some substitute.


In Iraq, where the Sunni and Shia divide has cost hundreds of thousands of deaths, there is a weak, largely Shia government influenced by Iran. The Iraqi army consists of mostly Shia soldiers who too often disrespect the Sunni and don’t seem to believe enough in their own government to fight for the government.  We have a skeptical alienated minority Sunni population which includes Sunni tribes that have some well armed tribal militia with mixed loyalties towards either Baghdad or ISIS. These Sunni tribes are however confronting a largely Sunni-ISIS brutal insurgency that kills non-conforming Sunni in large numbers.

Again is there a better path with a chance to change this trajectory?

Under President Obama we correctly have tried to bring both sides together and we are now committing added arms including shoulder held missiles. In addition, we have some 3,000 “advisors” in country maintaining still the wise rule for our main troops to not be in direct combat. Taking sides with either group would be a disaster for any effort to bring both sides to some kind of accommodation not just in Iraq, but in the entire region.

That means we need a wider regional set of solutions and actions.

What we are finding in the Middle East is a series of authoritarian, theocratic, military dominated, sectarian and divisive governments. The governments are filled with corruption and ruling by either extreme religious ideology, simply power mad leaders or groups that are the enemies of modernity and democracy. That does not give a lot of room for moderation and compromise.

Yet there are glimmers of hope in this barren desert of intolerance. Not least is the need for recognition of the brutal fact of “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”  We need profound recognition by the leaders in the region of the reality and danger of imminent end of nations with so much dissent and discontent externally and internally. What both rulers and citizens need, want and should seek is stability, economic security, and space to run their own lives and see prospects for their children. This can’t be done in the landscape of the Middle East today.

We are, as we noted, also at a point when there are a multitude of voices that criticize the present American approach to the Middle East. Some are proposing simply to send in more troops without directly saying that, and some even are proposing war against Iran for example. Further, some favor giving the Sunni states a kind of NATO alliance status, others to take the side of Assad in Syria, and still others like Rand Paul who would have us withdraw almost entirely from the region.

Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations would have us go back to the early “Biden option.” This would mean accepting the breakup of Iraq between the three major factions and helping each directly fight ISIS, supplying arms and training. But that means accepting at the end of the day that the country would be redrawn as loose federation along ethnic lines or totally broken up. Nice if it would work, but it just might create a new three way war within Iraq without some external peace keeping force to prevent mass ethnic killings.

I will not here go into all the possible blowback that any of these opposition “proposals” would have on the region and on our interests, but suffice to say they might not have the results that their proponents assume or want. I above all doubt that any single of these “solutions” would themselves totally stop the advance of the ISIS forces or terrorism in general.

What few of these voices will tell you is exactly how to get there without great costs, or the possible secondary and tertiary consequences of such ideas for peace, and if and how any of these alternative ideas would stop the killing.

So what can be done? What path just might have a chance, if only a chance, of making it better rather than worse?

Obama, has rightly said that these issues will take a long time to reach some kind of solution, indeed likely decades in many expert’s views, if at all. But my view remains that America, with its key allies, are just about the only power that might, just might, be able to mitigate some of these conflicts. There must be some recognition within the region’s nations and their leaders that these upheavals must be dealt with by conciliation, compromise and diplomacy. Hopefully that creates some peace and mutual security with accommodation to the vital interest of all responsible sides.

This is what I believe President Obama has started to do with his GCC Camp David meeting summit. This is also what Secretary of State John Kerry is also working on in his meeting of regional leaders and with outside powers, even including Russia, in order to help reshape the Middle East’s chaos and trajectory of endless killing.

Thus, the reality is the Sunni and the Shia divide can’t be bridged by more U.S. troops in the region. Nor can American military bring Iran or Saudi Arabia together.  Long-term diplomacy by those nations within and outside the region might help if a fair firm framework of security and dialogue were created and major “sticks” and “carrots” (in effect rewards) were on the table for all sides.

The question is, does the West, writ large with our Asian allies, have the wisdom, patience, resources, and political will to undertake such a difficult, perhaps thankless, task of putting back together a more peaceful Middle East “Humpty Dumpty?” It is a still an unanswered question. But only the United States has the capacity to lead such an effort.

Yes it is a huge task especially in a fractured and less capable “West” with so many challenges. Yet in some ways a joint effort might just energize these nations and have a wider benefit. The dialogue this week of the G- 7 is likely to have put on the table some glimmers of what our strategy towards the Middle East should be.

Building trust and taking on the enemies of peace and cooperation can only be done by putting on that table an offer that can’t be refused – and clearly showing the way towards a better landscape for all. That must include all the major players, such as Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel. And it is a task for a decade. 


The start of this effort should include the following broad set of policies and actions:


The first goal is to deal with ISIS and attacking its fundamental strengths and exploiting weaknesses. That means getting both Sunni and Shia factions and key nations to assess their venerability and address their own weakness. Together with Western help, they must undertake a full court press on ISIS’s own vulnerabilities and jointly undermine their military and financial capacities.

But this will only work, as I have outlined in earlier posts, if there is a diplomatic initiative that can at last bring together a measure of common interests and cooperation between the Sunni and Shia factions. This would be based on a common threat and realization that the present “war” between the two needs to be halted for the common good. Strong incentives are likely required to gain their cooperation.

This means getting rid of the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb and the Saudis and Gulf States playing a constructive role in the region. These states and developed nations need to provide financial help and investment to develop the region and put youth back to work. It also means the key “linchpin” states Egypt, Turkey, and their allies join the effort. A tall requirement. Addressing the nuclear issue of the region has to be on the table as the spread on nuclear weapons in the region can only bring catastrophe.

No matter what the GOP hotheads and neo-cons say, we are already starting to do this but under destructive resource constraints because of the Republican distaste for Obama success in any undertaking and their hate of the concept of “nation building.” Yet America and allied countries must put on the table a kind of “Marshall Plan” for the region and create an appropriate security framework that gives to all sides assurances of long-term security and stability short of a NATO type alliance.

As part of this we need other states and actors who are accepted by all sides to fully cooperate in this effort. This includes effective emergency resource interventions on the ground and civilian economic assistance on a more massive scale. 

When, for example, ISIS distributes food to the Sunni population (yet chops off their heads), and when the Iraq government does nothing to help the same population, that is a condition for defeat.  There is then a requirement  for a reformulation of policies that permit an international group to provide, if needed outside the control of a weak Iraq government, food and necessities of life to threatened Kurds, Sunni, and Shia in crisis areas or retaken territory. Also putting people to work to rebuild communities immediately would strengthen their loyalty and commitment to peace and moderate, uncorrupted government. We need a reason for people to fight for their society.

The time has also come to think about the insertion, in selected areas, of an armed broad international peacekeeping force that will enter threatened but defended communities and retaken areas to provide to the local population of any ethnic group a measure of security and protection.  It has worked elsewhere. They would help to create local entities that can long- term provide basic services and requirements for a vulnerable population. Early resettlement of refugees and displaced population should be a high priority to stabilize regions that were battlefields.

One option that needs to be examined is creating “neutral” armed and robust, incorruptible peacekeeping/peacemaking forces from within the region and without, under command of a respected neutral commander. This might be done through the UN or even NATO or another ad hoc body under a new international framework. This needs to be examined now.


Getting a strong nuclear deal is a sine qua non for a peace framework in the Middle East. Keeping the security of the sea lanes is another item that the West can insure.  Also getting, as we have noted, Iran to think beyond endless aggression against fellow Islamic states and not least seeing a “win-win” solution being in their best interests. A more responsible Iran will be difficult but over time probably not impossible if we provide the necessary incentives.


Not least as part of this framework to bring peace to the region is a new approach to the Israel-Palestinian problem. The new realities call for drastic action. A far right-wing brutal Netanyahu government, with many in this new regime calling for the destruction of the Palestinian people’s hope for a state is not the answer. Given the marginalization of them as a people by the Israeli regime, combined with a weak divided and angry Palestinian leadership, it seems to be sadly, at last, time for a new external “force majeure” to enter the equation.

That may include at long last a UN Security Council compulsory resolution that mandates an international agreed outcome to create a fair and balanced solution to this conflict along lines that all know must be the basis of a fair deal. That deal must provide firm security for both sides and an independent state for the Palestinian people based on the agreed 1967 boundaries with possible exchanges, including a division of Jerusalem so both states can have it as their capital.

With this there may need to be the possible imposition of the strong and armed peacekeeping force made up of NATO countries and other neutral states to enforce the peace. This move will either drive both sides to find a solution between them or have it imposed by the entire international community as part of the UN mandate to provide international security and prevent war. The process may take years but would at least give a clear path to peace. Unfortunately U.S. corrosive political climate may prevent its realization, but there is clearly a need for a new set of external forced conditions to move both sides to peace.

Finally, to make all this work there is a vital need for the key outside powers, North American, Europe, key countries in Asia like Japan, South Korea, and others to support an effort to secure their own interests. These interests include access to energy, and prevent the spread of conflict to their own regions, and to at last address fundamentally the threat that unlimited brutal conflict in this region imposes on the entire international community and human rights. Its frankly a long bet but a start needs to be made and with Obama and Kerry we have a team that at least has the intelligence and heart for such an undertaking.

We welcome your comments!



President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite


Harry C. Blaney III


The recent debate over American policy in the Middle East and most recently the criticism of have engendered much debate, most of it misguided.  (See Post of 5/27/15)

There has been a profusion of comments and advocacy in our national security debate. They aimed at digging us deeper into a dangerous military alliance with those that do not share our values or interests and also a perverse kind of military adventurism beyond rationality.  In an area of conflicting powers, mixed loyalties and motives, and few  good, if any, national powers with the same outlooks and values of Western democracies, finding good partners for the long run will not be easy. But it is necessary to try. 

In the same vein, the critics recent simplistic and partisan knee jerk responses to the recent fall of the provincial capital Ramadi of Ambar province in Iraq and other events, underlines the absence of long-term critical thinking. Critics fails to look at the nature and depth of the Middle East’s woes and what can and can’t be done to mitigate these age old conflicts and their newer manifestations.

Further, there is no single leader, no single group, no single country, nor one single failure of society that can be attributed to all of the many sources of these upheavals and hatreds. Thus no single “silver bullet” exists to redeem these tragedies or can put to rest all the injustices and conflicts that we now see in this tragic “rotting” Middle East conundrum. 

The entire Middle East has and is undergoing cataclysmic changes and upheavals in local communities, within whole nations, and beyond national borders, indeed throughout the whole region.  Those causes of instability that otherwise might be seen in a century or more of violent change now appear rapidly and widely. 

Nor is there yet in sight a serious abatement of these conflicts, and the sad part is that “new” and “old’ regional leaders, with a few exceptions, do not seem able or willing to put a stop to these conflicts. Many leaders even have exacerbated them and contributed to their savageness.  

Forces and divisions long dormant have risen up. New political and military groups have asserted their power and used the tools of armed conflict, bigotry, religious extremism, and sectarian hatred to gain power and to enforce brutal rule without restraint. Powerful leaders without any moral sense have used the hatred of “the other” for narrow self-interested, and in the end likely self-defeating, political power.

All this is illustrated not only by ISIS and their mass killings, but in the mass convictions of a former prime minister and hundreds of citizens to death sentences in Egypt by a rigid authoritarian military regime. Not to mention the killings in Gaza of 1,200 largely civilians including woman and children by Israel and the use in the last election by the right-wing Prime Minister Netanyahu of denigrating statements about Palestinians citizens within and outside Israel.  

Equally, this corrosive environment is shown by the deadly civil conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Syria and beyond.  This all indicates not only a new level of extreme mass killings by the jihadists but also official use of the power of the state to kill or jail political opponents. There appears to be widespread indifference to the value of life and sense of justice. Civil society and institutions have become weakened.

The lack of tolerance, reconciliation and of compromise among the conflicting parties of the region in recent years has only exacerbated the problem of poverty, un-employment, prejudice between sects and ethnic groups that have lived with each other for centuries and indeed millennium. Corruption also has undermined civil society as has sizable inequality.

So can any of this be solved by added American fighting troops alone? 

In these conditions it is hard to frame a workable let alone effective American and Western military strategy that can mitigate meaningfully the massive instability and brutality in the region. Those that think they have an answer appear to be critical of President Obama’s policies and action. They seem bent on actions that likely will do no good or do real harm and reflect a misguided ideology and narrow view that itself is destructive.

Above all for those supposed leaders who call for the use of U.S. active combat troops on the ground it seems that this is their only answer to these complex forces of unrest and upheavals. While some combat troops can help deal with specific events and crises, their insertion in areas with little understanding of the territory can do much harm.  Their actions too often have escalated the conflicts and problems. 

How can we trust them and our security with this simplistic view of massive complexity and many dangers? Some still think they have the right or arrogance to run for president and under the banner of more senseless war. 

In this context the question our next post will address is how we might advance some measure of actions and policies that might stop the stride toward endless war on this region.

We welcome your comments!


Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The press conference of March 2nd  in Geneva in which Secretary John Kerry provided a broad outline with great clarity of some of the most pressing foreign affairs and national security issues facing this administration. There is so much substance to this press briefing in Geneva that we decided it deserves to be highlighted and its text posted to provide to our readers a chance to not only read it in full but also to comment, if they wish, on Secretary Kerry’s outline of our objectives and perspective.

What is clear is that the international landscape presents extraordinary challenges and difficulties that require not only wisdom and real resources by America but also the full participation by our allies and friends in the difficult task of dealing effectively with the many crises that clearly face the international community. In the coming days we will post some of our analysis of these and others topics in our earlier post on looking at American strategy in 2015 and beyond.   

“I met this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov. And we spent a fair amount of time discussing Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, and Iran. I reiterated the urgency of Russia’s leaders and the separatists that they back implementing the full measure of the commitments under the Minsk agreements and to implement them everywhere, including in Debaltseve, outside Mariupol, and in other key strategic areas. And I underscored this morning that if that does not happen, if there continue to be these broad swaths of noncompliance, or there continues to be a cherry-picking as to where heavy equipment will be moved back from without knowing where it’s been moved to, or if the OSCE is not able to adequately be able to gain the access necessary, then there would be inevitably further consequences that will place added strain on Russia’s already troubled economy. Now, obviously, Ukraine is just one of those issues, as I mentioned, that we focused on. And it’s only one of those issues, frankly, on which the United States and Russia are focused.”

“We spoke at length about steps that might be able to be taken in order to try to see if there is a potential of common ground. And we agreed that there is no military solution; we agreed there is a need for a political solution; and we agreed on the need of those countries who have been supporting people in this endeavor, in this conflict, to be able to search yet again to see whether or not there is a path either to Geneva 1 or to some hybrid or some means of ending the violence. And one of the things that drives that interest, that common interest, is the reality of Daesh, the reality of what is happening to Syria as a result of the presence of Daesh there and its use of Syria as a base for spreading evil to other places.”

“We continue to believe, all the members of the P5+1, that the best way to deal with the questions surrounding this nuclear program is to find a comprehensive deal, but not a deal that comes at any cost, not a deal just for the purpose of a deal; a deal that meets the test of providing the answers and the guarantees that are needed in order to know that the four pathways to a nuclear bomb have been closed off. And that is the task. And we hope it is possible to get there, but there is not guarantee.”

“Sanctions alone are not going to provide that solution. What needs to happen is that Iran needs to provide a verifiable set of commitments that its program is in fact peaceful. And that average people and experts alike looking at that verifiable set of commitments have confidence that they are sustainable, that they are real, and that they will provide the answers and guarantees well into the future.

Any deal must close every potential pathway that Iran has towards fissile material, whether it’s uranium, plutonium, or a covert path. The fact is only a good, comprehensive deal in the end can actually check off all those boxes.”

“Now, I want to be clear about two things. Right now, no deal exists, no partial deal exists. And unless Iran is able to make the difficult decisions that will be required, there won’t be a deal. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That is the standard by which negotiation is taking place, any anyone who tells you otherwise is simply misinformed.” 

“Now, we are concerned by reports that suggest selective details of the ongoing negotiations will be discussed publicly in the coming days. I want to say clearly that doing so would make it more difficult to reach the goal that Israel and others say they share in order to get a good deal. Israel’s security is absolutely at the forefront of all of our minds, but frankly, so is the security of all the other countries in the region, so is our security in the United States. And we are very clear that as we negotiate with Iran, if we are able to reach the kind of deal that we’re hoping for, then it would have to be considered in its entirety and measured against alternatives.”

“President Obama has said this repeatedly: We will not accept a bad deal. We have said no deal is better than a bad deal, because a bad deal could actually make things less secure and more dangerous. Any deal that we could possibly agree to would make the international community, especially Israel, safer than it is today. That’s our standard. So our team is working very hard to close remaining gaps, to reach a deal that ensures Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively and verifiably peaceful, and we have made some progress, but we still have a long way to go and the clock is ticking.”

To read the full text of this press conference from Geneva on March 2nd visit 

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