Weekend Reading: Halloween Edition

October 31, 2014

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.

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.”

“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.

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.
  • 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.