September 4, 2011
The pressure on Syria’s Bashar al-Assad continues to build as the international community watches for signs that he might finally be weakening. But outside of Syria’s borders, the country which may have the most riding on the fate of the Assad regime may be Syria’s last and best ally, Iran.
Assad’s situation has steadily grown more precarious. Just this week, the Hama province attorney general announced that he has resigned from Assad’s regime in protest to violent crackdowns against the Syrian people. Also this week, the United States levied increased sanctions against the regime’s top leaders as Europe continued to work out ways to cut off its energy sector. But perhaps the most striking action regarding the regime’s longevity may have come from Iran, whose recent pronouncements have displayed an almost uncomfortable desperation, according to veteran observers of the region.[Read more about how the United States and Europe called for Assad to step down.]
For years, Syria has been essential to Iran’s interests in the region, particularly its support for Hezbollah, a political and militant group in Lebanon, and Hamas, a political party in the Gaza Strip. For example, Syria’s been a crucial conduit for Iran to get arms and other supplies into the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas, according to Marina Ottaway, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based foreign affairs think-tank. “Iranians need a Syrian government,” she says.
And for Syria, Iran has been an important economic partner as well. Iran accounts for as much as 10 percent of foreign direct investment in Syria, according to David Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, another Washington-based research group. In addition to joint ventures like banks, Iran has high-profile assets like auto factories, a cement plant, and an oil refinery in Syria, all of which rely on the stability of the Assad regime. Leaders in the two nations also share theological ties, as Shiite Muslims, and a mutual distaste for the West. “You’ve got this military relationship. You’ve got this economic relationship,” says Schenker. “And they’re ideological fellow travelers, in that they both can agree that diminished U.S. influence in the Middle East is a good thing.” [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Middle East uprisings.]
Given this relationship, the survival of Assad is key for Iran as it continues to assert itself in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. However, with the rest of the world turned against Assad, Iran and its proxies like Hezbollah find themselves in an awkward place, says Schenker. For one, while Iran has been severely critical of other countries like Israel for violence within their borders, it’s kept mostly mum about the brutal crackdowns carried out by Assad’s regime. And while has turned a blind eye on Assad’s attacks on Syrian protesters, it has supported the protesters in all the region’s other revolutionary movements this year, like in Egypt and Tunisia, where the previous leaders had been at odds with Iran.
Iran, however, may be feeling the heat of its apparent hypocrisy. Late last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi rather softly called on Assad to listen to his people. “The government should answer to the demands of its people, be it Syria, Yemen, or other countries,” Mr. Salehi said, according to an Iranian news agency. “The people of these nations have legitimate demands, and the governments should answer these demands as soon as possible.”
According to Schenker, such a statement is no real threat to its ally Assad, but more for appearances’ sake among the rest of the region. . “It’s a pretty strong statement from them, because obviously Tehran themselves, the clerical regime in Iran, has no moral qualms with mowing down their own people. That they should be calling on the Syrians to reform is laughable,” says Schenker. “It really points to not only their discomfort, but their concern that this regime is heading toward collapse…”
Meet the new power players: Ten years ago, 9/11 announced an important change in how the world works. Our thinking hasn’t caught up yet
September 4, 2011
EVEN BEFORE WE knew who had committed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it was clear that the event would be transformative, startling Americans into reconsidering how they understood matters from religion and culture to war and civil liberties.
For the nation’s foreign policy brain trust, it announced one thing in particular: A new species of power finally had come of age. The force behind the 9/11 attacks wasn’t an enemy nation but a small band of resourceful zealots scattered around the world. Al Qaeda was what experts call, for lack of a more elegant term, a “non-state actor” – one of a new species of powers that operate outside the umbrella of traditional governments. These powers run the gamut from terrorist cells to Google, from globe-spanning charities to oil conglomerates. As much as anything, the 9/11 strikes illustrated the profound influence that non-state actors could have on world affairs.
You might think that the sudden demonstration of the radical power of a non-state actor would have triggered an equally bold reaction at the highest levels of policy thinking: a coherent shift in grand strategy, in America’s thinking about how it should contend with the wider world, on the scale of the one that developed after World War II.
Surprisingly, though, if there is one thing that 9/11 didn’t change, it was this. Instead of a flurry of new thinking at the highest echelons of the foreign policy establishment, the major decisions of the past two administrations have been generated from the same tool kit of foreign policy ideas that have dominated the world for decades. Washington’s strategic debates – between neoconservatives and liberals, between interventionists and realists – are essentially struggles among ideas and strategies held over from the era when nation-states were the only significant actors on the world stage. As ideas, none of them were designed to deal effectively with a world in which states are grappling with powerful entities that operate beyond their control.
“Great power relations, war, diplomacy, we know how to do that,” says Stephen Krasner, a Stanford University international relations specialist who ran the policy planning department in George W. Bush’s State Department from 2005 to 2007. “We don’t know how to deal with these tricky non-state questions.”
A look at the major foreign crises of the last two decades, the ones that have demanded the most attention, money, and lives from America, reveals that virtually all of them were provoked not by some hostile scheming government in Moscow or Beijing, but by an entity that would have been beneath the radar of a classic global strategist. In the 1990s, warlords in Somalia and Bosnia ripped apart their regions while bedeviling old-line powers like the United States, Britain, and NATO. On the eve of the millennium, the United States struggled to grapple with the fallout from a failed hedge fund, Long-Term Capital Management, and Argentina’s economic collapse – financial crises whose political repercussions outstripped those of many wars. The Sept. 11 attacks only made obvious a change that had already been apparent to many…
September 4, 2011
It used to be that D.C. architecture consisted of graceful Georgetown mansions, neoclassical federal buildings — and, of course, the monuments. When the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts was founded in 1910 to guide Washington’s architectural development, it reviewed designs such as those of the Lincoln Memorial and the Federal Triangle. Over the seven years I’ve served on the commission, however, an increasing amount of time is spent discussing security-improvement projects: screening facilities, hardened gatehouses, Delta barriers, perimeter fences, and seemingly endless rows of bollards. We used to mock an earlier generation that peppered the U.S. capital with Civil War generals on horseback; now I wonder what future generations will make of our architectural legacy of crash-resistant walls and blast-proof glass.
How did we become so insecure about our buildings? Although the 9/11 attacks loom large in the public’s imagination, the event that changed the way federal buildings in the United States are designed and used — perhaps forever — was a presidential directive issued six years prior to the attacks. Historically, U.S. presidents have shown little interest in architecture. You can count the exceptions on one hand: Franklin D. Roosevelt, who designed his own presidential library; Theodore Roosevelt, who had many architect friends and added the West Wing to the White House; and of course America’s two great architect-presidents, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Mostly, however, presidents have preferred to leave design to designers, whether of public buildings, war memorials, or double eagles. President Bill Clinton, whose most prominent addition to the White House was a hot tub, is not known as an architecture buff. But by issuing Executive Order 12977 in October 1995, he set in motion a process that thrust politics squarely in the center of the design process.
The executive order was the result of the Oklahoma City bombing. The day after the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building, which claimed 168 lives and injured more than 680 people, Clinton directed the Justice Department to assess the vulnerability of all federal facilities to acts of violence. The resulting report, prepared by a large team headed by the U.S. Marshals Service, is generally known as “The Marshals Report.” To implement the report’s recommendations, Executive Order 12977 established an interagency security committee charged with developing standards for all federal facilities as well as “long-term construction standards for those locations with threat levels or missions that require blast resistant structures.”
The Marshals Report classified all federal buildings according to rising levels of risk. The Murrah Building, which had 550 employees and housed offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), would have been Level IV, a high-risk category that includes federal courthouses and all large federal office buildings, as well as ATF, DEA, and FBI offices. Level V is reserved for the highest-risk agencies such as the Defense Department, the CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Because the authors of the Marshals Report were security experts, they focused on the immediate security problem — that is, safeguarding the occupants of federal buildings against explosives and other domestic threats. It is hard to question the good intention of protecting federal employees. As bombings in Madrid and Oslo later showed, however, terrorism does not confine itself to official targets; hardening government buildings simply moves the threat elsewhere. It is like deciding to protect only flight crew, rather than safeguarding the plane and all its passengers.
The Marshals Report proposed no fewer than 52 specific criteria, which resulted in the deployment of a host of building security devices. Some, such as reinforced structure, blast-resistant glass, and hardened curtain walls, have a small impact on a building’s appearance. That is not the case with perimeter security…
September 4, 2011
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.