This guy sounds like someone whose name I’ve certainly run across before, but he’s definitely never made an impression until now:
“Since the mass unrest that followed the June 2009 presidential election, the Iranian authorities have succeeded in suppressing street protests and decapitating the opposition movement.
“The two leaders who stood against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the election, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, are in detention, as are dozens of their supporters.
“The conservative factions that run Iran should be feeling confident they can win the parliamentary election later this year virtually unopposed.
“That hope may be premature. At the end of March, a 70-year-old cleric who had hitherto kept out of the headlines came out of the shadows.
“News websites run by conservative groups – often the first sources of such information – reported that Ayatollah Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha was making plans to ease the way for a number of candidates, presumably with opposition leanings, to get through the vetting process that might otherwise exclude them and stand for election.”
The link is to a full IWPR profile of Khoeiniha, a reformist who during the Islamic Revolution served as the clerical liaison between the U.S. embassy hostage takers and Ayatollah Khomeini. He had some mid-level prominence in the 1980′s, but was later edged out of government and became an important of apparently quiet player in the reform movement.
It speaks well of the climate for reform in Iran that even with its A-team of leaders out of the picture, it can find a such a respectable B-team.
(Crossposted to my blog)
This Frederic Wehrey piece in Foreign Affairs explores some of the cleavages and divisions in Libya’s population/power structures that could come to the fore if and when the Qaddafi regime is toppled – as well as some of the challenges in rebuilding (or building anew) a society left dilapidated by years of inept dictatorial rule:
After Libyans, and much of the civilized world, rejoice in the seemingly inevitable fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi, the country will face the difficult task of repairing a society long traumatized by the Middle East’s most Orwellian regime. Libya lacks both legitimate formal institutions and a functioning civil society. The new, post-Qaddafi era, therefore, is likely to be marked by the emergence of long-suppressed domestic groups jostling for supremacy in what is sure to be a chaotic political scene.
In the near future, even with Qaddafi gone, the country may face a continued contest between the forces of a free Libya and the regime’s die-hard elements. In particular, Qaddafi’s sons — Saif al-Islam, Khamis, Al-Saadi, and Mutassim — and their affiliated militias may not go quietly into the night; the struggle to root them out may be violent and protracted…
Lined up against these Qaddafi holdouts are the members of the Libyan military and officer corps who have joined the opposition. [...]
Libya’s tribes will also be critical for governance and reconciliation. Qaddafi’s 1969 coup overturned the traditional dominance of the eastern coastal tribes in Cyrenaica in favor of those drawn from the west and the country’s interior. Although the Qaddafi regime was, at least in theory, opposed to tribal identity, its longevity depended in large measure on a shaky coalition among three principal tribes: the al-Qaddadfa, al-Magariha, and al-Warfalla. [...]
In the post-Qaddafi era, the recently defected tribal bulwarks of the ancien régime — the al-Magariha and the al-Warfalla — will play a critical role in lending legitimacy and unity to a new government. That said, the weakness and fragmentation of the military and the tempting availability of oil resources highlight the very real threat of tribal warlordism.
In a prior post, I raised the all-too-possible specter that the aftermath of Qaddafi’s ouster could give rise to (or perpetuate) internecine conflict that would require policing by international forces and/or a prolonged nation building effort in order to avoid a massive conflagration. Wehrey’s piece highlights some of the fault lines along which such conflicts could erupt.
While it is possible that Libya could undergo a smooth, relatively violence-free transition to stable governance, we cannot afford to plan based on best-case-scenario assumptions. Though this is no great insight, it remains true: wars, revolutions and lesser armed conflicts are notoriously unpredictable.
Considering the enormously expensive, long-term, resource-intensive nation building/policing efforts that the United States is currently undertaking in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would be beyond imprudent to risk getting embroiled in yet another such enterprise at this juncture. Which is why my reaction to the possibilities discussed in this piece in the Small Wars Journal was more of hopeful relief than concern:
Let’s make something clear, the civil war in Libya will not end in a stalemate. The French will likely intervene with ground forces and topple the Gaddafi regime, and they will probably do it within a month. It is quite possible that they will do so with Italian help. President Obama has fervently wished for America to be just one of the boys; in the end, this may be a case of wishing for something so much that you get it. America has abrogated the role of global marshal that it assumed after World War II. Every posse needs a Marshal to lead it. The French will likely pick up the tin star they found lying in the street of the global village. [...]
None of this is to say that the French may not be walking into a situation similar to that we faced in 2004-6 in Iraq when Iraqi factions fought over the remains of their country and the more radical factions turned on their would-be Coalition Force liberators. Libya will likely be a mess for years to come. However, I am suggesting that the U.S. will not be calling the shots if the French intervene decisively, and we should think about if that is what we really want. [emphasis added]
A situation in which France, rather than the United States, takes the lead in managing a potentially chaotic, conflict riddled, post-regime-change environment in a foreign country (that we remain largely ignorant of on a granular level) sounds like something that we should not only “want,” but strongly encourage. While ceding the lead role does have its drawbacks in terms of prerogatives and priorities, we quite simply do not have the resources to lead the “posse” in every global conflict that we choose to intervene in – especially at a time when we are already leading the pack in two other theaters.
(cross-posted at Democracy Arsenal)
by Benjamin Orbach
I watched the 60 Minutes piece on Greg Mortenson with disappointment. If you haven’t heard of Greg Mortenson, he is a humanitarian that has built more than 100 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the best-selling author of Three Cups of Tea (co-written with Oliver David Relin). Three Cups of Tea is the inspirational story of Mortenson’s personal journey from a lost K2 mountain climber to the founder of the Central Asia Institute, an organization devoted to children’s education, primarily girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
If you haven’t watched the 60 Minutes piece, Mortenson is accused of embellishing his personal story and of his mismanagement of the Central Asia Institute. He has offered a partial response to the accusations – none of which are criminal – and I hope that he clarifies further the points that have been raised.
In the interim, I have two thoughts on the subject. First, by the impact of his actions, Greg Mortenson remains a hero. He built mountains from sand both on an individual and organizational level. He went from sleeping in his car to building more than 100 schools, many of them for girls, in villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Without his personal efforts and investment, there are thousands of young women who never would have had the opportunity for an education. There are about double that number of parents who have been able to see their children take a path to opportunity. In the end, that impact, and the future accomplishments of those children as productive citizens are more important to Mortenson’s legacy as a person and activist than the details of his personal narrative.
Second, however this story unfolds, Greg Mortenson’s actions were an extraordinary service to the American public. His personal narrative, even if it turns out to be flawed, introduced millions of Americans to the concept of forming people-to-people partnerships to support the human development needs of local leaders and citizens. These partnerships and their impact are unquestionably in our country’s national interest, both at home and abroad. Three Cups of Tea ruled the bestseller lists at a time of acute disinterest and despair with the war and people of Afghanistan. The story that Mortenson and Oliver David Relin introduced to the world showed Americans the complexities, humanity, and needs of a people who were stereotyped en mass for harboring terrorists and abusing women.
Whether it is in Pakistan, Palestine, or Peru, if you have worked in development in a marginalized community, you understand the human element of it all – that parents want the same things for their children around the world and that young people aspire to dreams of their own success and normalcy if given the chance. Through his story, Mortenson took American readers – from Oprah book clubbers to servicemen about to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq – to a place of understanding that we are dealing with people in our foreign policies, not just faceless security issues. And from that, he inspired people to act – to donate and to serve. In this moment of national apathy, that is admirable.
Frequently, when I’m speaking about America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, I mention Greg Mortenson, his achievements, and comment that very few of us are going to devote our lives to building people-to-people partnerships in development in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet, many if not all of us are able to engage in some type of short-term volunteer service for a week or a month or even a year in the Muslim World, as an English teacher in Indonesia perhaps or as a public health volunteer in Senegal. Mortenson is still hero. His actions have made the world a better place; he has mobilized tens of thousands of people to support the dreams of strangers in need. He understands that those dreams intersect with our American aspirations, and he educated people about that connection. None of us are perfect, and I’ll continue to cite Greg Mortenson as one of America’s fine Unofficial Ambassadors.
Benjamin Orbach is the Director of the America’s Unofficial Ambassadors initiative at Creative Learning and the author of Live from Jordan: Letters Home from My Journey through the Middle East.
Thanks to connections I have, Bahrain is a country whose troubles I can’t help but take more personally than most. Today Zainab Alkhawaja, who happens to be a former student of mine, announced a hunger strike over the arrest of her father and other family members:
“Security forces attacked my home, broke our doors with sledgehammers, and terrified my family. Without any warning, without an arrest warrant and without giving any reasons; armed, masked men attacked my father. Although they said nothing, we all know that my father’s crime is being a human rights activist. My father was grabbed by the neck, dragged down a flight of stairs and then beaten unconscious in front of me. He never raised his hand to resist them, and the only words he said were ‘I can’t breathe’. Even after he was unconscious the masked men kept kicking and beating him while cursing and saying that they were going to kill him. This is a very real threat considering that in the past two weeks alone three political prisoners have died in custody. The special forces also beat up and arrested my husband and brother-in-law.
“Since their arrest, 3 days ago, we have heard nothing. We do not know where they are and whether they are safe or not. In fact, we still have no news of my uncle who was arrested 3 weeks ago, when troops put guns to the heads of his children and beat his wife severely.”
The “father” is question is Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaji, former head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. The current head of that organization, Nabeel Rajab, has also been summoned for questioning over his exposure of regime torture. All this is part of a crackdown on opposition since the country’s protests were broken up last month with GCC backing, especially from Saudi Arabia.
Zainab addresses a call for support to President Barack Obama:
“I am writing this letter to let you know, that if anything happens to my father, my husband, my uncle, my brother-in-law, or to me, I hold you just as responsible as the AlKhalifa regime. Your support for this monarchy makes your government a partner in crime. I still have hope that you will realize that freedom and human rights mean as much to a Bahraini person as it does to an American, Syrian or a Libyan and that regional and political considerations should not be prioritized over liberty and human rights.”
I don’t know what kind of influence the U.S. can use with Bahrain on issues where the regime has decided its survival seems to be at stake, and I suspect that some in government are falling for the fear of Iran that the GCC has been peddling. If there is leverage, however, simply supporting the rights of dissidents is an appropriate place to use it.
(Crossposted to my blog)
Denise Natali reports on Kurdish politics in Iraq:
“The protests, which are still ongoing, have not only unleashed populations’ pent-up frustrations with the KRG-party apparatus but also have reinforced fractures in Kurdish politics and society. While most Kurdish populations seek political reform, only those in Sulaimani have had the opportunity and interest to openly challenge KRG and Barzani family power. Political polarization between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was made evident after the PUK refused the deployment of KDP militia into Sulaimani, which attempted to quell a situation that its KRG partner has proven unable to manage.
“New fissures also have emerged between the KRG and its challengers — Kurdish populations it now refers to as ‘Those Who Do Not Love Kurdistan’. In fact, the entire opposition movement and protests have become highly politicized as old party feuds over leadership and control are intertwined with demands for real political reform. While the KDP and PUK accuse the opposition group, Goran, and demonstrators for being disloyal to Kurdish nationalism, Islamic parties that have joined the protestors in Sulaimani have permitted their mullahs to give sermons referring to the demonstrations as ‘a jihad against the KRG’. These political tensions have widened the Badinani-Soran rift, or the geographical polarizations between regions, that has evolved alongside the aggrandizement of Barzani-family power and weakening of the PUK since 2006, making the possibility of a truly unified Kurdish government unlikely.”
This, I suspect, is a critical context for the KRG’s aggressive moves around Kirkuk:
“On February 25, Arabs and Turkomans planned to protest in Kirkuk against corruption and unemployment. The Kurds believed that these protests would lead to attacks against them and sought to preempt the protests. Therefore, two days earlier, Dr. Najmaldin O. Karim, until recently a prominent spokesman for the Kurds in the United States and now a member of Iraqi parliament from the Kirkuk region, told a press conference in Baghdad that ‘[Arab] chauvinists were planning to destabilize Kirkuk during the protests’ (Kurd Net, March 3). Khalid Shwani, another Kurdish MP from Kirkuk, claimed that the Arab Political Council planned to attack numerous Kurdish administrative and security offices. The following day 8500 to 12,000 heavily-armed peshmerga, including crack units of the Zeravani (paramilitary police), were deployed just west of Kirkuk. The Arab Political Council and Turkoman Front denounced the Kurdish move and demanded its immediate withdrawal. A call for a ‘day of wrath’ to protest the peshmerga presence was only averted by a police-enforced curfew.
“On March 3, Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki demanded through a spokesman that the KRG withdraw its troops: ‘These troops were deployed without the permission of the central government and the Prime Minister has asked them to draw down immediately’ (Kurd Net, March 4). However, Shaykh Ja’afar Mustafa, the Minister of Peshmerga Affairs, announced that the Kurdish forces would not withdraw until the situation normalized (Kurd Net, March 9). He claimed that the Kurds had to protect Kirkuk from al-Qaeda, Arab groups, and Ba’athists and were acting on the basis of intelligence reports that indicated that these groups had been planning to take over the city during the protests (Kurd Net, March 9). Mustafa also asserted that the Kurds were coordinating their actions with the Iraqi army units in the region (Kurd Net, March 2).”
These events in Iraq outside Baghdad have not gotten the attention they deserve, as the type of protests seen across the Middle East are, in Iraq’s north, increasing the volatility of an already situation. On one level, there is the KRG’s stated fear for their interests in Kirkuk. On the other, there is the fact that it is easy for the challenged authorities in Iraq, in this case the KRG, to try and answer protests by standing up for the interests of the community they represent against those of other communities, and portray the opposition as traitors.
(Crossposted to my blog)
Reports that Moammar Qadhafi has brought in mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa has placed Libya’s African migrant workers in a vulnerable position:
“As rumours of black mercenaries flown and trucked into Libya in their thousands have swirled about the country, poor sub-Saharan African migrant workers have borne the brunt of rebel outrage at the claims…
“The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said it has become a “poisonous” atmosphere for sub-Saharan Africans in Libya, noting youth gangs this week broke down the doors to threaten an Eritrean family in hiding for three weeks, and that there are unconfirmed reports of some killed…
“Says the man in hiding: ‘Some people here among the black African community tend to support the regime purely on the basis of wanting to survive. If the rebels win, they’re going to unleash their terror on black Africans.’”
Libya apparently has a history of racism. According to Julie Flint and Alex de Waal’s Darfur: A New History of a Long War:
“Colonel Gaddafi had been mentor of the Arab Gathering. When relations with the Arab League sourced in the 1990′s, he turned his attention towards building strategic alliances in Africa, and opened Libya’s borders to migrant workers. But an estimated one-third of Libya’s youth were unemployed, and race riots in 2000 killed an estimated 250 black migrants. Thousands more were expelled from the country.”
Libya, incidentally, is relevant to Darfur because during the 1970′s and early 1980′s, Qadhafi sought a Saharan empire, fighting a lengthy war with Chad in which he used Darfur as a side base. Qadhafi promoted an aggressive Arab supremacy as a political movement potentially favorable to his ambitions, which led to the “Arab Gathering.” This ideology of Arab supremacy is an important element to the genocide in Darfur.
(Crossposted to my blog)
Today’s Washington Post‘s describes “America on the installment plan”:
Absent an agreement to fund the government until the end of the fiscal year in September, Congress has passed six short-term stopgap measures, one after another. The current one lasts until April 8.
The short-term extensions have kept the lights on. But the uncertainty over whether the two sides will eventually reach a long-term budget deal has done its own damage, producing waste and inefficiency as a massive federal bureaucracy tries to live paycheck to paycheck.
Some agencies have had to halt new projects in midstream, because the funds they expected have not arrived. In California, there is a new federal prison with 160 staff and no inmates. The government has no money to open it.
This is the same government that has launched over 150 Tomahawk cruise missile into Libya, each of which cost approximately $1.5 million. Galrahn at Information Dissemination calls that per missile figure a bit high, but emphasizes the operational/energy costs of an operation like this.
I am not familiar enough with the particulars of American involvement in Libya to have a strong opinion about it. But one thing is clear: unless we can pay our bills at home, it becomes very difficult to argue for expensive foreign ventures. One good reason to have a thriving economy and a well-financed government is so that we have the resources to act abroad when we need to. A major crisis — the unravelling of the North Korea, for example — might require American boots on the ground or American planes in the sky, and it would be a shame if they simply were not available.
I realize that this is as much an argument against unnecessary foreign intervention as it is an argument for fiscal prudence at home, but there is something unsettling about a government that neglects its domestic responsibilities but so enthusiastically uses force abroad.
(Just to be clear, there are a lot of ways we could better match fiscal means to ends, and I am not endorsing a particular strategy in this post)