The United States challenged China's recently announced Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Monday night, flying two unarmed B-52 bombers on a scheduled training sortie into airspace which China on Saturday declared subject to new defensive measures. Despite Beijing's blustery announcementthat any aircraft flying over a large swatch of the East China Sea would have to identify themselves and coordinate their flights with Chinese air traffic controllers, Chinese naval and air forces in the area did nothing to intercept the flight.
Washington said the flights had been scheduled weeks ago and that the timing was coincidental. Of course, scheduled flights can always be delayed, and it's striking that wasn't done here.
To eliminate any confusion, this is what's known in technical terms as Washington deciding to flip the bird at Beijing.
The entire episode -- both Beijing's decision to erect the ADIZ and Washington's decision to immediately flout it -- raises an important question: Just what exactly is an ADIZ?
Tech Sgt. Dennis Henry/DVIDS Map: Chinese Ministry of Defence via Xinhua
For the past several weeks, the world's attention has been fixed on a Geneva luxury hotel where Western negotiators and their Iranian counterparts have flitted in and out in search of a deal to end the stand-off over Tehran's nuclear program. But the real action, it turns out, took place 3,000 miles away in the Omani city of Muscat.
Working through the Sultan Qaboos-bin-Said, the ruler of Oman, U.S. diplomats have secretly huddled with a team of Iranian diplomats since 2011 to carry out bilateral talks aimed at securing an agreement to put the brakes on Iran's nuclear ambitions. While negotiations in Geneva appear to have generated all-important consensus among Western powers, the meat of the agreement looks to have been hammered out in Muscat, far from the prying eyes of the international media gathered in the Swiss city.
That subplot -- secret negotiations carried out in a little-known Middle Eastern capital known for the production of exceptionally aromatic frankincense -- has added a level of subterfuge to what is already one of the biggest diplomatic developments in recent memory. That a landmark nuclear deal could be worked out in secret is perhaps not surprising but it does cast the spotlight on the man who shepherded the agreement. Just who is Sultan Qaboos?
MOHAMMED MAHJOUB/AFP/Getty Images
In the war of words over the nuclear deal with Iran, any metaphor is fair game.
Skeptics of the agreement hashed out in Geneva see parallels between this deal and, well, just about every bad, no good, awful, catastrophic moment in international politics since 1914. Meanwhile, its defenders have run out of breathless adjectives with which to describe a deal that just, maybe, might, possibly be similar to President Nixon's opening to China.
In short, the debate over how to interpret the Geneva agreement has descended into a fun house of dueling metaphors. This is your guide to those metaphors -- and the argument -- that will surely dominate the next few months as the world debates whether the Geneva agreement represents a bona fide diplomatic breakthrough.
Get ready to hear a lot about Neville Chamberlain and "peace in our time." Oh, also: Appeasement.
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
For weeks, Western negotiators have huddled in a luxury hotel in Geneva with their Iranian counterparts to defuse tensions over Tehran's nuclear program. In the early hours Sunday, the diplomats finally secured their long-sought prize: a deal that puts the breaks on Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.
Now comes the hard part. With the details of the agreement public, skeptics of Iran's sudden willingness to compromise with the West have been handed heaps of ammunition with which to attack the Obama administration as a sell-out to Tehran. The Geneva deal bears the hallmarks of a compromise solution, the terms of which do not require Iran to dismantle its nuclear program -- as Israel has demanded -- but to scale back activities over the next six months that are most useful for producing a nuclear weapon. The diplomats who drafted the agreement are describing it as an interim, confidence-building measure. Iran skeptics are describing it as hopelessly naïve. "If five years from now a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning," Naftali Bennett, Israel's economic minister, said in a statement.
At the center of that debate -- whether the agreement represents a clear-eyed test of Iran's true intentions or a victim of Iran's savvy bait-and-switch negotiating tactics -- is the question of whether the document recognizes what Tehran describes as its right to enrich uranium. Immediately after the agreement was announced, Fars News, the Iranian state-sponsored news outlet, proclaimed that the accord "includes recognition of Tehran's right of uranium enrichment" and that the "right to enrichment has been recognized in two places of the document." Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, made exactly the opposite claim on ABC's This Week on Sunday: "There is no right to enrich. We do not recognize a right to enrich."
Over the next few weeks one of these two narratives will become the dominant interpretation of the Geneva agreement -- and which one catches on will go a long way toward determining its ultimate success. Either the West has by force and calculation compelled Iran into accepting a change in its strategic outlook and abandoned its nuclear ambitions. Or the West has backed down -- "appeased" Iran, if you will -- and allowed Tehran to hold on to its nuclear program in the hopes of avoiding war in the Middle East.
The problem for the ideologues on either side of this debate is that the text of the agreement provides no clear answer on whether Iran does or does not have the right to enrich uranium. And that piece of diplomatic maneuvering provides important clues about what lies ahead for President Obama's effort to defuse the stand-off with Iran.
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Trade talks between the United States and the European Union are on hold, China is promoting a rival Asian trade bloc in President Obama's absence, and Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is apparently answering his own phones.
With the shutdown of the U.S. government about to enter its second week, the impasse on Capitol Hill is having clear ripple effects in the global economy. And that's bad news for Washington.
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On Saturday, U.S. Navy SEALs captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Anas al-Libi, in a brazen raid on his home in Tripoli, Libya. Libi was indicted in New York in 2000 for his role in al Qaeda's bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and is believed to have played a role in revitalizing al Qaeda's operations in North Africa in recent years. The SEALs whisked Libi to the USS San Antonio, which was waiting offshore, where he is "currently lawfully detained under the law of war" as an enemy combatant, according to the Pentagon.
"Warsame is the model for this guy," an unnamed official told the New York Times. That would be Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, an al-Shabab military commander seized in Somalia on April 19, 2011. He was then held and interrogated by a special American interrogation team comprised of representatives from the Department of Justice, the intelligence community, and the military aboard the USS Boxer for two months, before being read his Miranda rights and turned over to the FBI. After another week of interrogation, Warsame was indicted on June 30, 2011 and formally arrested on July 3. While only the testimony he gave the FBI was admissible in court, the intelligence he shared with U.S. interrogators before being read his Miranda rights could be used to inform U.S. military strikes or CIA operations against terrorist groups. Warsame later pleaded guilty and elected to cooperate with U.S. officials.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sabrina Fine/Released
Donté Stallworth is currently a free agent who has been a wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots, the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Washington Redskins.
He also has some thoughts on Iran he'd like to share:
Nothing good comes away from a US/Israel war with Iran... Especially when you have TOP U.S. military brass saying it's, "not prudent."— Donte' Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) October 1, 2013
And on drones:
We (the U.S.) are setting a dangerous precedent with regard to extrajudicial and extraterritorial killings by way of #drones.— Donte' Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) September 26, 2013
And on Syria:
And if the war spreads beyond Syrian borders, you have Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Israel. #USinterestsAndAllies— Donte' Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) September 7, 2013
And on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute:
What's going to be #China's response if Japan shoots down their surveillance drone over the East China Sea near or in Japanese territory?— Donte' Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) September 26, 2013
And on NSA spying:
He's buds with Jeremy Scahill:
And FP's Middle East Editor David Kenner:
And he sometimes tweets our stuff!
NFL via Getty Images
On Monday, Apple (and, in second place, Google) surpassed Coca-Cola as the most valuable brand in the world according to an annual report by the consultancy Interbrand -- a title the beverage behemoth has claimed since the start of the report's run 13 years ago. It's the end of an era in which Coca-Cola's international ubiquity and global recognition seemed untouchable. By dint of its links to American culture, the soda has occupied an often bizarre place in political movements around the world, frequently serving as an expression of solidarity with -- or distaste for -- the West and the capitalist culture it exports. A verb was even coined to reflect the beverage's association with cultural imperialism: to "coca-colonize" means to "bring (a foreign country) under the influence of U.S. trade, popular culture, and attitudes." Here's a look back at some of Coke's most memorable cameos in international relations.
FARJANA K. GODHULY/AFP/Getty Images
Fars News Agency, the state-run Iranian news outlet famous for picking up an Onion story and presenting it as news, has apparently decided that plagiarizing satirical articles isn't brazen enough. On Thursday, the news agency's editors reprinted a Foreign Policy article on the debate over chemical weapons in Syria. And by "reprinted" we mean they lopped off entire paragraphs, changed key words, and added others to turn the argument into a case for why the U.S. shouldn't take military action in Syria -- and why the rebels, not Syrian President and Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad, have committed unspeakable atrocities (oh, and Iran comes off looking pretty good too). "This article originally appeared on the US Foreign Policy magazine," the Fars article notes at the end of the story. We beg to differ.
Russian President Vladimir Putin made a direct appeal to the American public in an editorial in Thursday morning's New York Times. "The potential strike by the United States against Syria," he writes, "despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria's borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism.... It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance."
But Putin seemed notably less concerned about civilian deaths and the second-order effects of military intervention when he took to the same opinion page in 1999 to make the case for intervention -- in Chechnya. In an editorial titled "Why We Must Act," he defended Russian military action, writing that "in the midst of war, even the most carefully planned military operations occasionally cause civilian casualties, and we deeply regret that." Despite international concerns, though, he assured readers that the Russian counterinsurgency operation would not cause widespread harm to civilians. "American officials tell us that ordinary citizens are suffering, that our military tactics may increase that suffering," he wrote then. "The very opposite is true. Our commanders have clear instructions to avoid casualties among the general population. We have nothing to gain by doing otherwise." Because when the Russians stage a military intervention, it's different.
ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
This is what desperation looks like.
With the White House selling an increasingly skeptical Congress and public on airstrikes in Syria, President Obama and his lieutenants have rolled out just about every possible argument to marshal support on the Hill ahead of Obama's big Syria speech on Tuesday evening. It's akin to throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.
Is Syria's use of chemical weapons a threat to U.S. national security? You bet, says National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Does the United States have a moral obligation to enforce international norms against chemical weapons use? It certainly does, says White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Does the current crisis bear a frightening resemblance to Munich circa 1938? Most certainly, says Secretary of State John Kerry. And is there a need to send a strong message to the mullahs in Tehran about their nuclear ambitions? Damn straight, says U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power.
Welcome to the spaghettification of U.S. foreign policy.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
As of Monday morning, the majority of U.S. legislators still have yet to announce their position on whether they'll vote to authorize the use of military force against Syria. They're running out of time to come to a decision, though; the resolution passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Wednesday and a vote by the full Senate is expected this week, with the House likely to follow soon after.
Some members of Congress may just be keeping their opinions to themselves. Congressional offices have reported a sharp uptick in phone calls from constituents, almost all of them critical of a strike against Syria. The incentive to voice opposition to the resolution is stronger at this point -- both because it resonates with popular opinion and because it serves as a counterpoint to the Obama administration's campaign for strikes, which has included congressional hearings featuring Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey; public speeches (U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power spoke last week, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will speak today, and President Obama will deliver a speech tomorrow); private meetings; and appearances on the Sunday talk shows.
As both sides vie to sway the undecideds, here are the key congressional players to watch this week:
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution this afternoon to authorize the use of U.S. military force against Syria. The resolution will be voted on by the full Senate next week, but since before this afternoon's committee decision, politicians and commentators have been trying to read the tea leaves on how the vote will go. And unlike on so many other issues, this vote probably will not follow party lines.
Whip counts by the Washington Post, Think Progress, CNN, and others have been shifting over the past day or so. The Post, for instance, moved Sen. John McCain from their "Against military action" column (he'd been placed there for saying earlier in the week that he didn't support the president's plan as proposed) to "For military action" after his SFRC vote this afternoon. Still, all the tallies so far leave about 300 of the House's 435 members unaccounted for, making them only modestly instructive.
The 10-7 committee vote this afternoon, however, may be a preview of next week's vote. Interventionism makes for strange bedfellows: McCain and fellow Republicans Bob Corker and Jeff Flake joined seven Democrats in support of the resolution, while Democrats Tom Udall and Christopher Murphy voted against it along with Republicans Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Democrat Edward Markey of Massachusetts voted "present."
The latest -- but still early -- forecasts for the full Senate show signs of a similar split. This was the Post's count as of this afternoon:
The coalition between the interventionist wings of the Republican and Democratic Parties stands in sharp contrast with what occurred in the British Parliament's vote last week. On August 29, the House of Commons split nearly along party lines: The entire Labour Party stuck together, as did much of the governing coalition of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties. But a handful of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted against the motion -- and the efforts of their prime minister -- sinking David Cameron's proposal for a British role in a Syrian intervention, 272-285.
The vote next week will likely involve a greater commingling of political parties than in Britain. But, in keeping with the parliamentary outcome, whether or not President Obama's proposed strikes move forward will probably be decided by a very narrow margin.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
For most people, the name "Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf" evokes the image of "Stormin' Norman," the U.S. Army general who oversaw Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as commander of the military's Central Command from 1988 through the effort to eject Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait in 1991. The Desert Storm general, though, was the son of Maj. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, whose varied and colorful career took him from being the founder and commander of the New Jersey State Police (where he led the investigation into the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby), to serving as a general in World War II, training Iran's national police, and advising Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In 1953, he was the CIA's asset in Tehran when the country was convulsed by a coup.
Schwarzkopf's role has been the subject of speculation since the day after Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh's arrest on Aug. 19, 1953. On Aug. 20, the New York Times reported on Schwarzkopf's visit to Tehran and noted an editorial in the Soviet newspaper Pravda accusing Schwarzkopf of delivering the orders for the coup. Now, 60 years later, the CIA has confirmed his role in declassified documents obtained by the National Security Archive.
On Thursday, Barack Obama took a break from vacationing in Martha's Vineyard to address the ongoing crisis in Egypt, condemning the military's use of violence against pro-Morsy protesters and announcing the cancelation of joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercises. It's a predicament presidents find themselves in more than you might think; as Bloomberg noted earlier this week -- before Egypt's bloody clashes erupted -- the world has a habit of going to pieces while presidents are getting their R&R, with the George W. Bush/Hurricane Katrina debacle being but one particularly memorable example. Here are some of the biggest international crises to hit the fan while U.S. presidents were out of the office.
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As new details have emerged about the terrorist threat that forced the closure of 19 U.S. diplomatic posts and the evacuation of American and British personnel from Yemen, officials have repeatedly raised alarms about how remarkably specific this particular threat was -- in terms of the size and timing of the planned attack (administration officials are telling reporters that the alert originated with intercepted communications between al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan and its Yemeni affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). But specifics about the intended target of the attack have yet to leak.
Still, based on the U.S. response to the threat and AQAP's track record, it wouldn't be surprising if U.S. embassies were discussed. According to the private U.S. counterterrorism intelligence company IntelCenter, AQAP has mentioned the United States in its messages 16 times this year alone -- making America far and away AQAP's favorite target. (In comparison, the second-most threatened country, Yemen, has only been mentioned eight times, followed by France with six mentions.)
In a separate analysis, IntelCenter found that AQAP has publicly discussed attacking embassies seven times since December 2009. Last September, in a statement issued shortly after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, AQAP praised the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and urged others to emulate the attack: "[W]henever a Muslim gets hold of US ambassadors or delegates, he has the best example in the act of the grandsons of Omar Mukhtar in Libya -- who slaughtered the US ambassador -- may Allah reward them. Let the step of expelling embassies and consulates be a milestone to free the Muslim lands from the American domination and arrogance."
Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Amman on Friday that his shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East is paying off. "We have reached an agreement that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis," he proclaimed. Remember the peace process? After three years of dormancy, it's back!
Well, maybe. "The agreement is still in the process of being formalized," Kerry hedged, but Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will meet in Washington, D.C. next week to continue planning.
In case you've forgotten what all this means, here's a handy guide to the buzzwords you'll be hearing for the next few weeks.
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On Wednesday, the story of Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA station chief in Milan, Italy, took another improbable turn when he was arrested in Panama near the Costa Rican border. Lady has been living quietly in the United States since fleeing an Italian investigation that resulted in him and 22 other Americans being convicted in absentia for their roles in the 2003 abduction of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical cleric the CIA believed was helping recruit jihadists to fight in Iraq.
Nasr, who also went by Abu Omar, was pulled off a Milanese street during a daily noon-time walk. He was thrown into the back of a van, driven to Aviano Air Base, near Venice, and then flown to Egypt, where he was interrogated and tortured. The practice of seizing suspected terrorists and forcibly removing them to a third-party state for interrogation is often known as extraordinary rendition; in the eyes of the Italian judicial system, though, Nasr's abduction was kidnapping. After an investigation implicated a collection of CIA agents in Italy, tying their cell phones to the place and time at which Nasr was thrown into the van, the Italian government conducted a trial that sentenced 23 Americans to seven to nine years each in prison. The convictions were upheld last September by the Italian Supreme Court.
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Said al-Shihri, the second-in-command of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has reportedly been killed. But unlike previous (and premature) reports of his death -- and there have been many -- this time the news came straight from the source, in an announcement by AQAP. Maybe this time Shihri will actually stay dead.
Image via Jihadology
The enemy of the CIA's enemy in Lebanon is still its enemy. But, according to a report for McClatchy by FP contributor Mitchell Prothero, when the CIA discovered that al Qaeda-affiliated rebel groups in Syria were plotting attacks against Hezbollah's strongholds in Lebanon, they shared that intelligence with the Lebanese government -- "with the understanding that it would be passed to Hezbollah." (A U.S. official speaking to FP disputed the notion that the CIA would provide intelligence to a terrorist organization.)
Lebanese officials and a security contractor said the intelligence had included phone calls monitored by U.S. intelligence between militants in Lebanon and the Gulf. "America might hate the NSA right now, but they were able to actually hear the calls and warn us what was said," a Lebanese official told Prothero.
That prompted anger among some national security experts, like Guardian editor Spencer Ackerman and Brett Friedman of the Marine Corps Gazette.
MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images
As the Obama administration considers what the residual U.S. force in Afghanistan will look like after its planned drawdown in 2014, the general consensus has been that some troops -- particularly special forces for counterterrorism missions -- will be staying behind. But amid a new spate of disagreements between U.S. officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai following his withdrawal from tentative peace talks with the Taliban last month, the New York Times reported this morning that the Obama administration is increasingly considering the "zero option" -- a complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
Since a particularly contentious meeting with Karzai on June 27, the Times reports, "the idea of a complete military exit similar to the American military pullout from Iraq has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario -- and a useful negotiating tool with Mr. Karzai -- to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul."
Or, then again, it could be a bluff. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that Washington has stared down its nominal ally in Kabul, or the other way around (despite Obama's insistence that he doesn't bluff). Just last year, Karzai told reporters that the United States was playing a "double game" and threatened to find a new weapons supplier, name-dropping India, China, or Russia.
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Tehran might "welcome" direct flights between the United States and Iran, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen.
On Wednesday, Iran's PressTV reported that the country's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, had told reporters that "launching direct flights is for the sake of public welfare, and we have no problem with this issue." The PressTV article cited Mehr News Agency, another Iranian media outlet, reporting that the United States and Iran are preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding that would allow direct flights between the two countries, and that Delta Air Lines was one of the participating carriers (such a report does not appear to still be on Mehr News' English-language website, though Iran's Fars News Agency also ran with the news).
The report was met with appropriate skepticism on Twitter:
Appropriate because the news seems to be completely made up. Anthony Black, a spokesman for Delta, flatly denied the report to Foreign Policy, explaining that providing service to Iranian airports would violate sanctions administered by the Office of Foreign Assistance Control. "So," he said, "what you have, heard, seen, read: untrue.... We have done nothing on our part to engage in any service to Iran."
So, if you're headed to Tehran, keep looking for connecting flights.
RUHOLLAH YAZDANI/AFP/Getty Images
Consider it a case study in getting off on the wrong foot.
Snarled traffic, shut-down streets, and security everywhere. These are things Senegalese news outlets are talking about today -- not development, investment, and American engagement -- as President Barack Obama kicks off a three-country visit to Africa with a stop in Senegal.
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On the heels of Wednesday's gay marriage rulings at the Supreme Court, a farcical piece of political theater played out on MSNBC.
As the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case were making an appearance on the cable network, Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, wandered into the frame with a phone to his ear and announced that he had Barack Obama on the line, calling from Air Force One. The president offered garbled congratulations through an iPhone speaker phone to the plaintiffs -- Kristin Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami, and Jeff Zarillo -- and MSNBC's national audience.
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KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
China, Russia, and Uzbekistan are simply not committed to addressing human trafficking. That's the takeaway from the State Department's new 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, out Wednesday afternoon. After nine years each for China and Russia, and six years for Uzbekistan, on the State Department's watch list, the status of the three countries was downgraded this year to "Tier 3," the lowest rank, which includes "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards [to address human trafficking] and are not making significant efforts to do so." Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania were also downgraded to Tier 3, joining the ranks of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.
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President Barack Obama stood before the Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday and tried to make some history.
In a speech that referenced a band of doomed protesters in East Germany, Immanuel Kant, and John F. Kennedy, Obama announced that he intends to cut America's nuclear arsenal by up to a third in pursuit of "peace with justice." The headlines from today's address will undoubtedly focus on this proposal, and whether the speech goes down as one for the history books will likely depend on Russia's willingness to shrink its nuclear stockpiles in tandem with the United States.
But the president's call for nuclear reductions was confined to a mere four paragraphs in an address that ran just over 30 minutes. The speech's real centerpiece was the idealist in Obama.
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Though Qatar is small -- tinier and less populous than the state of Connecticut -- it has established itself as a rising power in the Middle East. Its state-owned news network, Al Jazeera, influences the entire Arabic-speaking world (and beyond -- its American venture is slated to launch by the end of the year). And it's also become a destination for diplomats -- from the Afghan Taliban, which is looking to open an office in Doha, to the Brookings Institution, which is hosting its annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum with Qatari sponsorship there this week.
And now, Qatar appears to be coming under new management. Diplomats are reporting that the country's 61-year-old monarch, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is preparing a leadership transition that will begin with the prime minister stepping down and will culminate in Al Thani passing power to his fourth son, the Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The young crown prince -- he just turned 33 -- attended boarding school in Britain before graduating from Sandhurst Military Academy in 1998. He was named the next in succession in 2003, quietly replacing his older brother, Sheikh Jasim. In Qatar, he's taken on a diverse portfolio of issues -- his personal website lists titles from president of the Qatar National Olympic Committee, to chairman of the Board of Regents of Qatar University and chairman of the Supreme Education Council, to deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
By May 2005, U.S. diplomats in Qatar noted that Sheikh Tamim "has been increasingly invested with oversight and authority in the area of internal security," according to secret cables released by WikiLeaks. The cables paint a portrait of Sheikh Tamim as a conciliatory negotiator, eager for increased counterterrorism cooperation (including the extradition of U.S. citizens despite the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries, and help investigating a car bombing in Doha in 2005), though later cables note that "Qatar's record of sharing intelligence with [the United States] is the worst among" the Gulf countries. As the Sunni Awakening began in Iraq in 2006, he offered Qatar's network of ties to Sunni tribal leaders, telling U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch, "They still can help."
Sheikh Tamim appears to have been involved in many of Qatar's regional diplomatic initiatives, including moderating talks in Darfur, Lebanon, and Yemen. He personally headed the delegation to mend Qatar's strained diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia in 2010. In diplomacy of another sort, he was also accused of exercising undue influence on French officials to sway the vote for the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup -- a vote that Qatar won. His efforts haven't always been successful, though -- in 2008, he described Bashar al-Assad as "a good person" and believed that Qatari investment could pluck Syria from Iran's sphere of influence. (Today, Qatar is one of the largest suppliers of weapons to the Syrian rebels.)
According to reports by Reuters and the Telegraph, analysts have speculated that Sheikh Tamim's close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood could push Qatari policy in a more conservative direction, possibly straining ties with the United States. Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Qatar has strengthened its ties with Egypt and Tunisia, where Islamist political parties have swept to power.
Nonetheless, Sheikh Tamim has stressed Qatar's shared interests with the United States. In his private conversations with U.S. diplomats, he's expressed an interest in a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, telling Rep. Allen Boyd in 2007, according to a WikiLeaks cable, "that progress in the peace process requires relations with Israel.... Whether or not they agree with Israel, he said, the whole region should negotiate with Israel." He has also cited Qatar's potential role as an intermediary in U.S. talks with Iran. Doha maintains cordial diplomatic relations with Tehran and shares access to a lucrative gas field, but Sheikh Tamim has also expressed wariness about Iran's nuclear ambitions and influence in the region -- something U.S. diplomats have characterized as "a necessary balancing act."
Qatari officials have reportedly briefed foreign governments -- including U.S. and Iranian officials -- on the planned transition, which could occur before the end of the month.
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images
Ever since the Obama administration first rolled out its signature Asia pivot policy, the effort seemed ambitious. The United States was wrapping up its war in Iraq and still surging troops in Afghanistan -- and yet, policymakers planned to "rebalance" military forces to the Pacific while strengthening business and diplomatic ties with partners in the region. Since then, events have stymied the administration's policy at seemingly every turn.
In the latest example, President Obama's summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday was overshadowed by new revelations of an extensive domestic surveillance program. But Asia getting pushed to the backburner is nothing new. The administration's series of high-profile trips to the region last fall had to jockey for attention with the news that Israel might any day launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip (and now there's Secretary of State John Kerry's initiative to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations). Since then, the administration's Asia policy has also been a bone of contention in the fight over cuts to the defense budget.
Even the administration's modest successes have suffered setbacks. Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel showed off the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom in Singapore in an effort to showcase the increased U.S. naval presence in Southeast Asian waters. But that came after the ship was stranded in port when its propulsion system gave out on its maiden deployment. Then there's the deployment of U.S. Marines to Australia -- when the first 180 Marines arrived in Darwin in April 2012, they were supposed to be followed by more than 2,000 more. That might never happen, though, as Australian enthusiasm for the project has waned. Despite plans for 2,500 U.S. Marines to be stationed in Australia by 2017, Australia is still evaluating the effects of a force less than half that size.
With all the setbacks, maybe the administration is happy that the media isn't paying attention to the pivot.
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