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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Shavua tov v'Chanuka Sameyach, a good week and a Happy Chanuka to everyone. Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Friday, December 14.
1) Endgame in Syria

In Obama's Syria Disaster, John Hannah writes:

What to do when no good options remain? If rebel advances have finally convinced the Russians that Assad's days are indeed numbered, a very slim chance may still exist for some form of last-ditch diplomacy that salvages the core structures of a functioning state and averts the black hole of uncontrolled collapse and chaos. The starting point would have to be the rapid exit from power of Assad and his immediate clique, either via voluntary exile abroad or some version of a palace coup. A UN-brokered negotiation on a political transition would then ensue between a remnant of the Alawite regime and the internationally-backed opposition, leading hopefully to a ceasefire, some form of national unity government, and eventually a new constitution with credible guarantees for Syria's minority communities, followed by free and fair elections.
No doubt this is a very tall order. What the Russians could actually deliver with respect to Assad, even if they wanted to, is a major question mark. More importantly, why the armed opposition, especially its most radical elements, would ever agree at this point to stop short of an outright military victory that ended with the storming of Assad's palace is not at all apparent. Convincing them and the Syrian people otherwise would require a unified, full-court diplomatic press by all Syria's major outside stakeholders, equipped with a powerful panoply of both pressures and inducements.
Short of that kind of diplomatic miracle, the outlook is extremely bleak. Battening down the hatches and riding out the storm as Syria fractures may be the best we can do. Working as closely as we can with our key partners in the region and internationally, we should identify those armed groups that are prepared to work with us and have no truck with the most extreme Islamists. Strengthen political and military alliances between them. Provide the humanitarian aid and resources they need to consolidate and expand their popular support, as well as defensive weaponry and training to provide local security and fend off both the jihadists and Iran in the post-Assad era. Critically, we need a viable plan for securing and/or neutralizing Syria's chemical weapons, either in conjunction with these local forces or on our own.
(emphasis mine)

Barry Rubin offers A detailed assessment of the forces likely to rule in a post-Assad Syria.
At the end Professor Rubin notes:
The Libyan government gave 50 percent of the funds to finance the budget of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council (SNC) budget. Since Libya is very much a U.S. client, it’s reasonable to conclude that the Obama administration encouraged this generosity. Yet this money was financing a Muslim Brotherhood front. A lot of arms have been flowing from Libya to Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and to radical forces in Syria. Some claim that the U.S. government was coordinating that traffic, though this has not yet been proven. But at least indirectly, the U.S. government was helping to arm the Brotherhood by overseeing Qatar and Turkey delivering weapons to the Brotherhood’s militia without making any attempt to identify and arm moderate and non-Islamist forces instead. This means the Obama administration was using a barely disguised channel to pay for a revolutionary Islamist movement seeking to take over Syria. The fact that this group was also anti-American, anti-Semitic, and genocidal toward Jews seems significant.
It would seem that the Obama administration is not being selective about its clients in Syria.

The Washington Post criticized the administration for its Silence on Syrian Scuds:
These dodges are sadly understandable. President Obama remains determined not to intervene in the Syrian conflict or to provide arms to the rebels, regardless of the cost in lives (40,000 and counting) or the growing threat of the war to U.S. interests across the Middle East. It’s undoubtedly embarrassing for the administration to concede that even the use of Scud missiles will not draw a U.S. response.
Moreover, having declared that the use of chemical munitions would provoke “consequences” while otherwise ruling out intervention, the president signaled that every other weapon in the Syrian arsenal would be tolerated. The non-response to the past week’s attacks confirms such a conclusion and will likely encourage more strikes: The regime is believed to possess hundreds of the missiles. Meanwhile, the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which reportedly acquired Scuds from Syria in 2010 for possible use against Israel, will likely draw its own lessons from Mr. Obama’s passivity.
2) In the year 2030 

The National Intelligence Council just published its projections for the year 2030. Politico reports U.S. out as sole superpower by 2030:
And the intelligence community does not believe the United States will be supplanted as the world's only superpower by another country.
"The replacement of the United States by another global power and erection of a new international order seems the least likely outcome in this time period," the report projects.
The report argues that rising powers like China, India and Brazil are not unified by any common ideology and are more focused on their regional role. And the report warns against the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal from the world's stage.
I have no idea how that matches the headline. In fact Walter Russell Mead notes Intelligence Report Challenges Declinist Consensus:
Via Meadia thinks the media are missing the real story here: Compared to previous reports, this one gives an upgrade to American power, not a downgrade. Four years ago, the National Intelligence Council released, Global Trends 2025: Alternative Worlds, which predicted a far steeper American decline, culminating in the collapse of the American age by 2025.
To those keeping score at home, this means at least another five years of Pax Americana. If this trend keeps up, these reports may soon be talking about America’s superpower status extending well into the second half of the 21st century.
I don't know how accurately these reports predict the future. Noah Schachtman has his own unique take on the report, U.S. Spies See Superhumans, Instant Cities by 2030:
We’ve seen experimental prosthetics in recent years that are connected to the human neurological system. The Council says the link between man and machine is about to get way more cyborg-like. “As replacement limb technology advances, people may choose to enhance their physical selves as they do with cosmetic surgery today. Future retinal eye implants could enable night vision, and neuro-enhancements could provide superior memory recall or speed of thought,” the Council writes. “Brain-machine interfaces could provide ‘superhuman’ abilities, enhancing strength and speed, as well as providing functions not previously available.”
Martin Kramer, though, notices a disturbing premise in the report in The NIC of Time:
So the suggestion in the NIC report, that Muslim anger against the United States might soon be reduced to a kernel of resentment over US support for Israel, is a species of wishful thinking. The United States will continue to infect the Muslim world, even if its willingness or ability to project hard power declines. The so-called “Arab Spring,” which is so often hailed as the product of indigenous processes, is in fact an inflammation produced by the most contagious of all viruses: the idea of freedom, now linked inseparably to American-style democracy. As long as Muslim societies remain internally divided over freedom and democracy, there will be governments and factions that will stoke hatred of America. In some places, American flags will be waved, but in others American embassies will be burned. In either case, the United States will be regarded, favorably or unfavorably, as the grinding wheel of change in the world.

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