Eurasia Group's weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie-presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections @EurasiaGroup or @IanBremmer.
1. "Al Qaeda 3.0:
Terrorism's Emergent New Power Bases"
Bruce Riedel, The Daily Beast
In a world where international governance is breaking down, leaders are focused more on domestic than on foreign policy challenges. This trend extends to al Qaeda, an organization transitioning from global to local goals.
2. "India's African ‘Safari'"
Sudha Ramachandran, The Diplomat
We hear a lot about the US and China's conflicting investment approaches in Africa, but there's precious little written on Africa's fourth largest trading partner: India. With trade increasing by a factor of 17 over the last decade, India-Africa relations are becoming much more interesting.
3. "How Crash Cover-Up
Altered China's Succession"
Jonathan Ansfield, New York Times
How will Beijing's leadership manage the challenges that come with an era of more open information? What will the rest of us learn about the Chinese leadership's taste in cars, clothes and once-hidden power politics?
4. "Merkel's mastery of
Michael Fry, The Scotsman
Is Angela Merkel the most talented politician in the world? Her domestic political tactics shed light on her policies with regard to the Eurozone and beyond.
5. "A free-trade agreement
David Ignatius, The Washington Post
Though still on the drawing board, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has far-reaching security and economic implications for North America and the Asia Pacific region. Progress on an Atlantic equivalent seems beyond the horizon. But is an ‘economic NATO' already in the planning stages?
6. "The mother of all
worst-case assumptions about Iran"
Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy
Would a nuclear Iran carry "shattering geopolitical significance?" This piece overstates its case at times, but it's a question that demands consideration.
The Weekly Bonus:
"Floating Housing (And
Golf Courses) For Post-Climate-Change Island Paradises"
Co.EXIST blog, Fast Company
In a G-Zero world, don't expect political leaders to tackle climate change. An ineffectual climate summit meeting in Doha this week makes that all the more obvious. If climate change continues unabated, the Maldives will end up underwater. The government knows it, hosting a cabinet meeting on the ocean floor in full scuba gear in 2009, and inquiring about land purchases abroad. But even the most daunting risks come with opportunities, however whimsical they may seem.
By Ayham Kamel
It may be tempting to view the plethora of recent gatherings -- the Arab League summit, the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council Strategic Cooperation Forum, and the Friends of Syria conference -- as evidence that the global community is getting more serious about addressing the violence in Syria. But the summits really just exposed the rifts among the relevant players that will prevent a viable and coordinated response. Syrian President Bashar al Assad, in turn, will profit from the lack of coherence; he will only nominally entertain Kofi Annan's peace plan as he maintains his grip on power, and the bloodshed will worsen.
International powers remain hesitant regarding any form of direct intervention. They considered initiatives calling for buffer or humanitarian zones, but ultimately no country seems prepared to act. Key powers appear to be pursuing their distinct policies, with only a hint of coordination.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar will provide extensive support -- including arms -- to the Syrian opposition, but are unlikely to supply the heavy arms that would lead to an immediate change in the balance of power. Heavy arms are more difficult to smuggle and training rebels would be much more challenging than during the Libyan conflict. Moreover, the escalation could provoke an un-calculated response from Assad's military. While their interests differ, the two powers see Assad's survival as a threat to their influence. Riyadh's purpose is to limit Iran's regional influence. Meanwhile, Doha has invested significant diplomatic and political capital in the struggle against Assad and any failure to deliver would represent a tangible setback to its prestige. Behind the armament policy is also a deep concern that if Assad regains control, Damascus and Tehran would aim to destabilize the al Saud and al Thani ruling families' grip on power.
Arming the rebels, who have had trouble obtaining ammunition sine the regime began its extensive military campaign in early February, will provide much needed psychological support and will help weaken Assad's forces. While the resolve of Syria's opposition will not abate, arms from the Gulf will neither arrive overnight nor will they immediately change the balance of military power, which is still heavily tilted in the regime's favor. An equally important element of the Gulf strategy is providing monetary incentives to officers in the Syrian army to incite defections. But Assad has built multiple safeguards to prevent defections, a tactic he inherited from his father.
The U.S. is willing to overlook, perhaps even support, GCC efforts to weaken Assad. But Washington is definitely not interested in playing an active role. It is concerned about Saudi Arabia's and Lebanon's support of Salafist rebels and al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri's call for jihad in Syria. While Sunni monarchies in the Gulf benefit from rising sectarianism in Syria, the U.S. interest in long-term regional stability could be compromised if the Sunni-Shia confrontations spread to Iraq and other countries. U.S. officials believe that a political settlement will be needed to prevent prolonged instability. Verbal support for the Annan process is a reflection of the desire to keep negotiations open, but U.S. officials are convinced that under current conditions the Annan plan will only enable Assad to retain power.
Assad will probably not implement key elements of the Annan peace plan, which calls for a halt of hostilities from all sides, and a negotiated settlement between the regime and the opposition. The regime views cooperation with the UN envoy as a way to secure the successes achieved by its military strategy and to gain some breathing space. While Annan is a shrewd diplomat, there are few reasons to think that success is in reach. Syria's opposition will probably not negotiate with Assad or agree to a settlement that keeps him in power. Meanwhile, there are no indications that the Lion of Damascus has reached a point where he would accept his own ouster.
Ayham Kamel is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East and North Africa practice.
Mohammed Ameen-Pool/Getty Images
By James Fallon and Ayham Kamel
It's lonely at the top, at least for the embattled president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh. His former friends in the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council are pushing for an accelerated transition of power, while thousands of Yemenis brave ugly clashes with security forces and Saleh supporters to demand his ouster. While Saleh could still refuse to budge, the overwhelming likelihood is that in the coming weeks he will relinquish his position, leaving an even weaker central government in his wake. Unrest has sapped Sanaa's already tenuous control over the country, and further upheaval in the Yemeni capital would allow al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to gain ground in the provinces. But Saleh isn't AQAP's only obstacle, and the group is unlikely to exert direct political influence or operate with impunity after he leaves.
While the particulars shift on a near-daily basis, Yemen's security situation is trending in one direction: down. Government forces have reportedly given up parts of Shabwa, Abyan, Marib, Sa'ada, and al Jawf provinces, with local tribes assuming de facto control. Influential regional military commanders have defected to the opposition, and while Saleh continues to advocate a transition "within the framework of the constitution," the deteriorating situation on the streets will limit his options. Even if his departure is negotiated, it could result in violence.
In the short term, any scenario is likely to include more leeway for AQAP. With Sanaa focused on political transition, and the country's military and security forces in (at least temporary) disarray, the central government will be less able to rein in the terror group. If Saleh's sons, nephews, and close associates are bumped from their positions in the security and counterterrorism forces, the United States and Saudi Arabia will lose their main point people for counterterrorism. And if Saleh's friends are allowed to stay, their credibility in key provinces will be even shakier than it was before. (Their units are already abandoning some areas in the face of local opposition.)
While all of this is good news for AQAP, the group is unlikely to have a blank check in a post-Saleh Yemen. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia have extensive intelligence and strike capacity and will use it if necessary. The United States began to shy away from unilateral strikes last year, after a provincial deputy governor was mistakenly killed in an air strike and a U.S. drone was revealed to have fired the missile (despite Saleh's claim of responsibility). Washington subsequently pared back such strikes to avoid jeopardizing its cooperation with Sana'a. But absent effective Yemeni leadership, the United States would be inclined to renew unilateral action -- however reluctantly -- if circumstances warranted it. Saudi Arabia could also intervene militarily along its shared border. Even the domestic environment could frustrate AQAP. Popular support for the group is generally low in Yemen, and tribal decisions about whether to back AQAP are based largely on local interests. There's no guarantee that those calculations would shift radically in AQAP's favor just because Saleh got the boot.
James Fallon and Ayham Kamel are members of Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
By David Bender
What exactly did Iraq wait 8 months for?
It's been seven weeks since Iraq smashed the record for the longest period of time between an election and the formation of a government. But last week there was finally a breakthrough of sorts between the country's squabbling political factions. It's not yet a done deal, but it's now finally possible to speculate about what the next Iraqi government will look like -- and time to ask the question of whether it was all worth the wait.
The deal struck last week between the Shia-dominated National Alliance, Sunni-backed Iraqiya, and the Kurdish alliance provides the basis for the next government. But it isn't a basis for a stable government. The agreement was an attempt to satisfy everyone in the short term, while delaying decisions on important political issues further into the future. The next government is likely to have little policy coherence, much infighting, and numerous contradictory agendas. That's a troublesome dynamic given that Iraq faces an impending onslaught of tough technical and political questions in 2011. The Kurds will press hard for progress on their territorial issues and their right to sign their own oil contracts, provincial governments will call for greater shares of the profits from Iraq's oil and gas, al Qaeda is attempting to reassert itself going after soft targets, and someone competent will need to direct and oversee the upcoming massive infrastructure expansion needed for the growing Iraqi oil industry.
The outlook for a government capable of managing all these challenges is not good, and the process that got us here was chaotic. Nouri al Maliki will remain prime minister after he skillfully navigated the long political limbo by using his incumbency to project a sense of inevitability that he would retain the premiership. This occurred despite the fact that nearly every other political bloc in the country despises him. Maliki's hold on the job was finally sealed when Iran brokered a deal in Qom, the Iranian city home to many of that's country's senior religious leaders, between Maliki and followers of firebrand Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who had previously declared they would sooner support the devil as prime minister. It's not clear what the Sadrists have been promised in exchange for their support, but they are likely to be a meaningful player in the next government. That's bad news for virtually everyone, because the Sadrists' hard-line nationalism, religious extremism, capacity for violence, and generally uncompromising attitude will make them a disruptive force in Iraqi politics.
But Maliki needed more than just Sadrist support to gain majority backing in parliament. He also looked to the Kurds, who had enough seats to give him a comfortable majority. The Kurds responded with a long list of demands, but ultimately were likely to support him. The United States, which had been keeping its distance from talks, feared that Iraq was heading toward a narrow Shia-Kurdish government that would exclude Sunnis from any meaningful political participation, increasing the risk of a spike in sectarian violence. Washington began working feverishly behind the scenes to push Iraqi politicians to find a compromise that would bring Iyad Allawi's largely Sunni Iraqiya into the next government. So the United States succeeded, sort of.
The White House and other leaders hailed the "power-sharing" agreement that would permit a national unity government to be formed when Parliament convened on Nov. 11. How much power will be shared remains unclear. In the deal, Iraqiya was offered the position of Speaker of Parliament, while Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, would remain president. For Iraqiya, which actually won two more seats than Maliki's State of Law, being given what is perceived as the third best position in the government was an insult. This despite the fact that the speaker, who has control over legislation in the parliament, is arguably more influential than the president, whose powers are largely symbolic. Under the deal, Allawi is to be named head of a newly created national security policy council, which in theory will check Maliki's control over the security forces.
But formally changing the chain of command in Iraq would require a highly unlikely constitutional change, and it seems unlikely that Maliki will ultimately agree to a significant reduction in his powers. He has argued that the new council will function as an advisory panel with no independent authority. If Allawi decides he is powerless in his new position, he could resign and become a forceful leader of the opposition.
Between an unclear Iraqiya role, an uncomfortably large Sadrist contingent, rising Kurdish demands, and no unity of purpose among any of the political groups, the prospects for the next government are not great. But the overall situation in Iraq will probably improve anyway. The next government isn't going to resolve much of Iraq's deep social and political dysfunction, but having it in place will finally allow the oil sector, budget, and infrastructure projects to begin to move ahead.
Was it worth the eight (soon to be nine) month wait? No.
But is it a good thing that there's likely to be a government by the new year? Absolutely.
David Bender is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice.
SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
By David Bender and Jonathan Tepperman
Since last Friday's near-miss terror attack, when a Saudi tip-off revealed the presence of two bombs making their way by air freight from Yemen to the United States, much nervous speculation has focused on two issues. The first is the supposed sophistication of the sender, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the two year old Yemen-based franchise of the international terror group. Second is the likelihood that Yemen may be quickly collapsing into a Somalia-style failed state, which would allow AQAP to operate there unchecked.
Reports on the technical complexity of the bombs themselves -- which were disguised as printer cartridges and made it past (admittedly insufficient) cargo shipment screening -- bolster the first point. Much of the conversation has also focused on Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), the malleable military-grade high explosive used in these most recent attempts, as well as in the aborted 2009 Christmas Day underwear bombing (also attributed to AQAP in Yemen). Such components mean that "these bombs have the hallmark of a higher degree of professionalism that we've ever seen come out of al Qaeda before," according to Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer in the Middle East.
Is Yemen the next Somalia? The debate over Yemen's fragility is framed by the severe challenges facing the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh: tribal rebellion in the north, secessionist pressures in the south, and a dysfunctional economy marred by rampant corruption and dwindling oil and water resources. On top of all that is AQAP, which is now aiming its guns on the government: the group has killed 70 police officers and soldiers in the past four weeks.
Taking a closer look at both of these concerns -- in Baer's words a "new, more dangerous wave of terrorism" in the United States and impending disintegration in Yemen -- reveals that both are overstated. It's not that AQAP isn't worth worrying about. But the danger is not quite on the level of catastrophe.
For example, while AQAP has made several attempts at striking targets abroad -- printer cartridges, explosive underwear, and in one case, a bomb stuffed inside the bomber himself -- so far, all of these plans have failed.
While all of these attacks could have had devastating consequences if they actually succeeded, they pale in comparison to the sort of mega-strikes al Qaeda central has pulled off. The Pakistan-based major league outfit is known for meticulous planning, simultaneous strikes (like the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania), and monumental targets (such as the World Trade Center and the Pentagon). The Yemeni team, judging by its track record, relies on eager but untrained volunteers and luck to hit its much smaller objectives. This scattershot approach may make future attacks more difficult to uncover and stop. But it also means the organization is unlikely to succeed -- and that even if it does, the attacks won't have anywhere near the international impact of 9/11.
While Washington may not yet understand AQAP very well or its place in Yemen's complex political and tribal matrix, Saudi intelligence seems to have effectively penetrated the organization. The Saudis have been watching the group carefully since the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al Qaeda merged and started targeting Riyadh. And the Saudi efforts have paid off. The key role the Saudis played in disrupting the recent bomb attempts suggests that the kingdom's intelligence either has human assets in AQAP or at least has gained the ability to monitor its communications. As a result, Western and allied intelligence organizations have far more insight into this branch than they do into its Pakistan-based sponsor.
As for Yemen, there are good reasons not to count it out quite yet. Yes, the country's long-term prognosis is grim. But Saleh is a wily operator who has stayed in power for 32 years by relying on bribes, tribal manipulations, kidnappings, and military force. For the next few years, at least, Washington and Riyadh -- both acutely aware of the risks the country's collapse would pose -- will not abandon him. On the contrary, they'll keep supporting Yemen with generous financial and military aid. Of course, Sanaa must be careful how it proceeds. The United States and Saudi Arabia are the object of much hostility among Yemeni public. Public exposure of U.S. military counterterrorism operations killing Yemenis (as when the Bush administration leaked a U.S .operation in Yemen in 2002) could end up weakening Saleh's position and boosting AQAP's popularity.
AQAP is plenty dangerous and a failed Yemeni state is a big risk -- eventually. But Yemen is not yet in crisis and this is not the worst terrorist threat the United States has faced.
David Bender is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East practice. Jonathan Tepperman is Eurasia Group's Managing Editor and a columnist at TheAtlantic.com.
MOHAMMAD HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
By David Bender
Earlier this week, just as Iraq seemed to be finally settling on a new prime minister -- the incumbent, Nouri al-Maliki -- the Washington Post reported a largely overlooked but telling development: the Ministry of Interior had stripped hundreds of police officers in Anbar province of their rank. The problem is that these weren't just any cops: they are Sunnis and former members of the Awakening Councils, paramilitary forces once backed by the United States that had helped turn the tide of the insurgency in 2007 when they turned their guns on al Qaeda.
Now would seem a very strange time for the Iraqi government to be abandoning the Awakening, given that al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has lately shown some signs of reconstituting itself. But the dismissals are not about security. Rather, they're indicative of the current (and likely next) government's inability to envision a place for Sunnis in Iraq's future. And they're a sign of the fundamental sectarian dysfunction that is likely to define Iraqi politics and society for years to come.
When Sunnis in western Iraq agreed to stop shooting at U.S. Marines and start fighting AQI in 2007, the United States was more than happy to welcome them with money and weapons. Using the Awakening Councils to help combat al Qaeda was a critical element of General David Petraeus's strategy ending Iraq's civil war by making the Sunnis part of the solution rather than problem. The gambit was a big success in reversing the tide of the war, but it gradually raised fears among the Shia. Decades of repression under Sunni-dominated governments and the military had helped convince many of the newly empowered Shia leaders that the well-armed and battle-tested Awakening Councils might eventually become a base for a Sunni renaissance. These Shia leaders went along with an American plan to start integrating the Awakening Councils into the Iraqi police and military starting in 2008, but only grudgingly; and few of the government jobs that were promised to Sunni fighters in recent years have materialized.
Having boycotted the 2005 elections, Sunnis participated fully in last March's vote, turning out en masse for Iraqiyya, a nonsectarian political alliance led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shia (who, once upon a time, was also a Baathist, although he turned against the party in the 1970s and Saddam Hussein tried to have him killed with an axe). Iraqiyya won more seats in the election that either Maliki's (nominally nonsectarian but actually largely Shia) State of Law or the Shia sectarian Iraqi National Alliance (INA). But Sunnis saw their preferences ignored when the two Shia coalitions formally merged and declared themselves the largest political bloc in parliament. Now Allawi and the Sunnis are trapped on the sidelines and forced to watch as Shia kingmakers decide who will lead the next government.
That person -- and it seems extremely likely to be Maliki -- will have to choose how to handle the Sunnis. On the one hand, there's no question it would help stabilize Iraq if he made a genuine effort to reach out to the Sunnis and give that disenfranchised community meaningful political influence and a role in the next government. But a combination of an almost implacable Shia fear of a Sunni resurgence and a sense that, after centuries of repression, this is the Shia's moment means that bold outreach is unlikely. Instead, some Sunni groups may be bought off in order to give the next government a veneer of sectarian diversity but little more.
The big question is how will the Sunnis respond? Should they decide they have no stake in the success of the next government, what will be their next move? Sunnis could cease their security cooperation with Baghdad, but a return to the sort of civil war we saw between 2005 and 2007 is unlikely. The Iraqi government of today, for all its problems, is significantly more stable than it was in 2005, and Iraqi security forces are dramatically more capable. Still, parallel efforts -- not cooperation but a sharing of similar goals -- by disaffected Sunnis and an AQI looking to reconstitute -- could keep Baghdad and Iraq's west violent and unstable for years to come.
David Bender is a Middle East Analyst at Eurasia Group.
by Ian Bremmer
In Afghanistan, even the good news isn't so good. The country managed to hold a presidential election in August, but there aren't many people inside or outside the country who considered it free and fair. It looks increasingly like Hamid Karzai will win without a second round, but his legitimacy will remain under a very large, very dark cloud. He'll face open revolt from Tajiks in the north, who overwhelmingly opposed his candidacy. And as evidenced by the significant recent expansion of terrorist bombings in Afghanistan's major cities and the assassination last week of the country's second-ranking intelligence officer, it will even become harder to secure Kabul. No one should have much confidence that a second round would do much to restore Karzai's credibility.
In addition, military operations against the Taliban inside Pakistan achieved some actual success this summer, but that has probably pushed some militants across the border into Afghanistan to harass coalition forces there. U.S. casualties have increased, though that's not surprising given the more aggressive operations of larger numbers of US troops. But last week's U.S. bombing on a Taliban target, which killed dozens of civilians, is just the latest in a series of setbacks for coalition military operations.
More worrisome: It's becoming increasingly clear that Afghanistan won't be able to stand on its own anytime soon. U.S. military officials report that the training of Afghan soldiers is well behind schedule. For the next two or three years, with coalition forces at their present levels, Afghan troops won't be nearly strong enough to maintain even the current level of security, let alone make any meaningful contribution to an aggressive counterinsurgency effort.
Afghanistan, more locals than ever
want the US
out, whatever the cost. There's also dwindling support for the war in the United
States, as the American media increasingly turns its
attention from an economy beginning to improve toward the growing death toll in
Within the Obama foreign-policy team, there looks to be a growing divergence of opinion on what to do next. There appears to be an internal consensus that the current strategy isn't working. But senior officials appear more divided on whether to "go long" or "go home." In the go long group, those who want more troops and more resources because "failure isn't an option," we see Secretary Clinton, envoy Richard Holbrooke, most of the generals on the ground, and most Republicans in Congress. In the go home camp, those who want to pull troops out before things get much worse, are Vice President Biden, most of Obama's political team, and a growing number of senior Democrats. Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates appears to have grown much more skeptical.
In short, Afghanistan is becoming Obama's first lasting foreign-policy crisis. A major terrorist attack somewhere in the world carried out by militants trained in Afghanistan could shift international public opinion toward greater engagement. Short of that, U.S. public opposition to the war will likely grow steadily over the coming year, bringing the issue to a head just in time for U.S. midterm elections and driving a wedge between members of the president's own party.
MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images
The Call, from Ian Bremmer, uses cutting-edge political science to predict the political future -- and how it will shape the global economy.