Outing the Islamist Threat to the West
An interview with Daniel Pipes - Debating Islamism in Europe
Daniel Pipes taught Middle Eastern and world history at Harvard University and the University of Chicago, served on the Policy Planning Council under President Reagan, founded the Middle East Forum, and oversaw $28 million in grants to allies. He has written sixteen books, the most recent of which is titled Nothing Abides: Perspectives on the Middle East (2015).
The discussion of Islam in Europe is fraught with risk, as evidenced by the arrest of Tommy Robinson, a U.K. anti-Islamist activist accused of violating British law after covering a rape-gang trial involving Muslim defendants. Thanks to the Middle East Forum's Legal Project's efforts, Robinson was recently released on bail in light of a high court's judgment that threw out the original verdict against him after finding the original proceedings to have been highly flawed.
The implications of the ruling challenges the government's ability to squelch the legitimacy of the free speech rights of a citizenry concerned about Islamism and its ideology. Most of the European countries are oblivious to the Islamist threat, but it is becoming increasingly unable to ignore a rising backlash towards illegal migrants flooding the continent. Eastern Europeans, recalling life under the Soviets during the Cold War, are more realistic about Islamism's threat. Western European governments ignore heeding this lesson at their peril.
Italy, Spain, and Greece - front-line states because of their entry point location for migrants - have experienced a rising trend of native Europeans voting in populist candidates to confront the crisis. Italy's government under Mario Salvini is taking steps to reject incoming migrants with a pledge to expel 500,000 migrants over five years, a policy exceedingly difficult to implement and an experiment that bears watching.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoan, using the migrant crisis as a vehicle to exert pressure on the Europeans, successfully manipulated the Germans to yield to his pressure tactic of controlling migrant flow into Europe through Turkey. Erdogan's threat to the West, compared to the threat by the ayatollahs in Tehran, has been subtler – Iran is Islamism 1.0; the Turks, Islamism 2.0. As the Iranian revolution declines, Turkey will emerge as the greatest Islamist threat to Europe and more broadly to the West, either by flooding Europe with more refugees, threatening military force around Cyprus, or becoming more actively involved in the politics of countries like Germany and Belgium.
The threat posed by Islamism needs to be faced by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to understand it, and to fight against the new totalitarianism.
What Next for the Flawed Iran Deal?
An interview with Abraham Sofaer - The Iranian nuclear threat
Abraham Sofaer is a former U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York, former Legal Adviser to the U.S. State Department, and was appointed as the first George P. Shultz Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy and National Security Affairs at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Sofaer's work focuses on issues of international law, terrorism, diplomacy, and national security.
The flawed Iranian nuclear deal (JCPOA) was doomed from the start because of its limited scope and reminiscent of past failed deals. During the Iranian hostage crisis of '79, the U.S. lifted sanctions for the release of American embassy staff but limited the deal to economic sanctions, omitting Iran's support for terrorism, missiles, and their nuclear program. The result was that Tehran resumed its aggressions mining the Gulf and targeting U.S. flagships with their rockets until President Reagan reimposed sanctions.
President Obama, using his executive power to revoke U.N. sanctions, placed political stock in securing a deal without congressional approval. Obama's red line for Syria had been exposed as an empty threat, as well was his bluff threatening Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment program. Consequently, the Iran deal became a necessity.
During the Reagan era, unilateral sanctions were ineffective after Iran circumvented them with its oil-for-food program, among other ploys, enabling them to build their nuclear program. Currently, if the Europeans continue to give Iran their economic support, our unilateral sanctions will have limited impact.
In lieu of a major confrontation that would result in disruption of global oil production, the U.S. should work with the Europeans multilaterally to force Iran to extend the deal and offer complete transparency about nuclear enrichment. Continued support for our Arab allies, coupled with increasing attacks against Iranian proxies working to undermine Middle Eastern governments, can target the military network in Tehran committed to expanding the Shia crescent to the Mediterranean.
Ultimately, Washington can engage in diplomatic discussions with Tehran while maintaining broad pressure on the regime's nefarious activities. The remaining seven years to work this agreement should be used wisely to develop a carefully constructed strategy.
A New Game in Syria's Civil War
An interview with Jonathan Spyer - Syria's major players
Jonathan Spyer is a Middle East analyst, author and journalist focusing on Syria, Lebanon and Israeli strategic affairs, and the Director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs in Israel. Spyer holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.
The end game in the Syrian civil war between the Assad regime and the largely Sunni Arab rebellion launched in mid-2011 is winding down, effectively ending the Syrian rebellion as an independent force, while the war between ISIS and the global coalition also enters its last stages. A new game is emerging between the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Israel, and Iran, all external forces who have become key players on Syrian soil in a complex and multifaceted contest based upon each countries' strategic interests in the region. Spyer breaks it down from the perspectives of Russia, Iran, and the U.S:
- Russia: Saving the Assad regime from the brink of defeat in 2015 enabled Moscow to achieve many of its goals by preserving a longstanding alliance begun in the seventies. Successfully securing an airbase and the only two Russian naval bases located outside of the former Soviet Union, Moscow flexed its muscle to return as a great power to act globally and strike out as an expeditionary force. Russia showcased its weapons systems in the conflict and as a result are finding new customers among Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey.
- Iran: Like its presence in Lebanon through Iraq, Assad's Syria enabled Iran to build up its own independent political and military power there, with a primary goal of establishing an essential link in the chain which forms a contiguous line to the Mediterranean. Tehran's and Moscow's common goal to preserve Assad does not extend to Russia's interest as a power broker in the region, where it has maintained good relations with Israel, evidenced by the Israeli air operations carried out in southern Syria against Iranian positions with the tacit consent of Russia.
- U.S.: As the U.S. is entering the final stages in its war against ISIS, the debate in the administration is among those who want to fold the Syria policy into the larger anti-Iran policy. The U.S. and its Kurdish allies are effectively in control of the economically resource-rich region of Syria. Geographically, the area is of strategic importance because it blocks the contiguous area of control that the Iranians want to build through Syria. As part of the broader effort against Iran, the U.S. maintains airbases and forces in eastern Syria, but there is genuine fear among the Kurds that should the U.S. exit, the murderous Assad regime will return there. As long as American air power and its limited military presence remains, the regime and the Russians will not cross the Euphrates.
Reframing National Security Challenges
An interview with Jim Hanson - Defeating the Islamic State
Jim Hanson, president of the Security Studies Group, previously served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and conducted Counter-Terrorism, Counter-Insurgency, as well as Diplomatic, Intelligence and Humanitarian operations in more than a dozen countries. Author of Cut Down the Black Flag – A Plan to Defeat the Islamic State.
Important issues that risk becoming entrenched problems can gain new momentum when they are brought back into the public sphere to spur debate and elicit new ideas. The entrenched Israeli-Arab conflict has been one of the most difficult foreign policy problems plaguing U.S. presidents since 1948. President Trump's decidedly different approach as a deal maker could well decide to enforce a security arrangement that may result in being more favorable to Israel, a reliable U.S. ally, in the face of persistent Palestinian rejectionism. Challenging the status quo, the Trump administration has set itself apart from prior administrations by rejecting the idea that the conflict first had to be resolved before addressing other important security issues.
An administration strategy to counter the Iranian threat and its proxies in Syria who have been building up their troop presence with armaments that could threaten Israel should be a priority in pushing back Iran to contain its aims to build a land bridge to the Mediterranean. The burgeoning counter-Iran coalition formed between Israel and many of its former Arab enemies has shown that the delinkage of the Palestinian issue to the larger Iranian regional threat has opened eyes to the true threat targeting them all. Consequently, the possibility of improved relations between formerly unimagined partners has yielded greater security for all.
Summary accounts by Marilyn Stern, Communications Coordinator for the Middle East Forum