Happy Halloween, War on the Rockers! This week’s collection of foreign affairs highlights contains several frights, a few delights and even some humor. As we turn the pages of our calendars to November and next week’s midterm elections, let’s take a closer look at four trending themes that will likely influence headlines in the days ahead.
Recent political rhetoric and operational reflections from the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq and Syria might finally be converging on a key realization: The destruction of the Islamic State is not a realistic objective. “What we’re seeing in the Middle East with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is going to require a steady, long-term effort. It’s going to require coalitions of common interest,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday. After nearly three months, 6,600 sorties by U.S and allied aircraft and a cost of $580 million the Islamic State continues to challenge Iraqi Army and Police units across Iraq and Syria, having suffered only marginal to moderate setbacks. According to The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, it remains a dubious assumption to expect Syrian and Iraqi military recruits to defeat Islamic State fighters without U.S. advisers fighting alongside them. Despite current debate over the extent of U.S. military involvement and the limits of American airpower, Stratfor’s Robert Kaplan asserts the United States is still primarily concerned with achieving only a marginal balance in the Middle East “through a rapprochement of sorts with the mullahs” – the long-term national interest lies in other regions.
- Let’s talk tactics. WOTR contributor and former U.S. Marine Thomas Gibbons-Neff writes about the Islamic State’s plan to shoot down Apache helicopters in an article for The Washington Post.
Will Israel’s Closure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque Lead to a Third Intifada? This is the question posed by Slate’s Joshua Keating. A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the closure a “dangerous Israeli escalation” that represents a “declaration of war on the Palestinian people.” The closure of the Muslim holy site follows recent news that Sweden will become the first West European EU state to officially recognize the occupied state of Palestine, a decision that prompted Israel to recall its ambassador to Sweden. Both of these developments come during a period of increased tension between President Obama and Primer Minister Netanyahu, something Times of Israel writer David Horovitz calls “a fractured alliance.”
- Need a re-introduction to some of the personalities and issues involved in this conflict? Try Adam Ciralsky’s recent interview with Hamas leader Khalid Mashal from Vanity Fair.
“The people of Ukraine have spoken, and they have again chosen to chart the course of democracy, reform, and European integration.” Secretary of State John Kerry’s official remarks following last Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Ukraine signal a renewed enthusiasm for partnership between Ukraine and the West. Despite this positive development, renowned American business magnate and philanthropist George Soros asserts in “Wake up, Europe” that the EU has yet to respond to the existential challenge posed by Russia’s aggression across the region – “The European Union would save itself by saving Ukraine.” Some form of the phrase “wake up, Europe” appears to be getting a lot of ink lately. In reference to Sweden’s six-day hunt for a suspected Russian submersible, Magnus Nordenman writes in USNI News that “The hunt for the mystery submarine should also serve as a wake-up call across the European and U.S. naval communities to not assume a benign maritime environment in and around Europe in the coming decades.” Ukraine’s self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic will hold elections on Sunday, November 2.
With conflict across three continents, pervasive foreign intervention and incidents of state breakdown from Asia to North Africa, many are asking: What is the United States’ strategy to manage an increasingly chaotic world? In his article “National Insecurity,” Foreign Policy editor and CEO David Rothkopf suggests that the national strategy begins with the personality and practices of the president; “Obama has begun to acknowledge and address some of his administration’s errors. It isn’t too late for the president to build on these successes and undertake the broad reassessment that’s needed.” Similarly, former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan recently told The National Interest that President Obama has lacked a coherent foreign policy, but that “he’s got a better policy today, and he needs to see it through.” Is it possible that the current condition of global affairs is beyond the scope of the president’s control? Stratfor believes so, and suggests that President Obama’s principles, rather than his strategy, have not been defined with enough rigor to provide definitive guidance in a crisis.
- Want more on U.S. foreign policy strategy? Check out Brian McGrath’s “Unconstrained Grand Strategy” published this week in War on the Rocks.
Attention to detail(s)
- Dustin Walker of RealClearDefense comments on the complications of U.S. Ebola quarantine policies, the continued importance of the F-35, the status of President Obama’s pivot to Asia and the evolution of the American military’s most recent foray in the Middle East.
- Building on the creative success of last year’s event, the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum (DEF) 2014 made critical progress in outlining a vision: to potentially become the guardians of independent and clear thinking about how to make the military better. Earlier this month, War on the Rocks’ contributors outlined their hope that DEF will improve defense thinking by encouraging “innovative thought and unconventional relationships.” Let’s hope the convention lasts many years into the future and delivers on its promising start. DEF will only become more important as America’s post-war military enters what Elliott Ackerman calls “a quiet crisis of peace” in a recent review of Elizabeth Samet’s No Man’s Land.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the spread of the Ebola virus in Liberia may be slowing. Although exponential growth projections of the disease suggest it will peak in 2015 and potentially claim between 100,000 and 150,000 lives, The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn writes that “the opportunity for exponential impact of timely interventions […] should be our clarion call to double down now.”
- Attention on Iran and its nuclear program will undoubtedly increase in the run-up to the Nov. 24 nuclear deadline with the United States. The passing of Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, head of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, and recent prostate surgery of 75-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may raise questions about the country’s stability leading into the negotiations. However, The Economist assures us these are merely peripheral issues and that changes in Iran make a nuclear deal more likely…eventually.
- In light of the heightened security environment in Canada, the editorial staff of the Montreal Gazette advises of the importance for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to be mindful of the balance between national security and civil liberties, while maintaining governmental oversight of the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service (CSIS). This is a conversation all too familiar to many stateside readers.
- The last contingent of U.S. Marines and British troops left Camp Leatherneck this past Monday. Located in southwestern Afghanistan, Camp Leatherneck anchored what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the Marines’ “strategic breakthrough” in some of Afghanistan’s most violent districts across Helmand Province. From the British perspective, The Telegraph’s Peter Osborne speculates that historians will someday look back on Helmand as the moment when Britain’s ability to act as a global military power came to an end.
- And finally, the Duffelblog imagines a new slogan for the Islamic State’s recruitment campaign: “The Islamic State. Be all you can behead.”