Breaking Down the Syrian Ceasefire 


An excellent discussion parsing prospects, dimensions, and implications relating to the Syrian Ceasefire on today’s Diane Rehm Show.

The U.S. – Russian brokered ceasefire in Syria which went into effect at sundown on Monday is said to be, so far, mostly holding. Despite long odds for success Washington and Moscow hope their joint efforts can target the Islamic State and an Al Qaeda terrorist group while allowing for the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands of increasingly desperate Syrian civilians: Join us for an update on the ongoing brutal conflict in Syria and prospects for this latest ceasefire agreement to hold.

Guests

  • Liz Sly bureau chief, Beirut, Washington Post
  • Jason Cone executive director, Doctors Without Borders
  • Philip Gordon senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, former special assistant to the president and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region from 2013–15
  • Faysal Itani resident fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.
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A New Frame for American Power

 

Facing “a world in disarray”–the term used by Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. President has some work to do. On his recent trip to Laos, however, President Obama draws from his rhetorical toolbox to reframing the discourse on U.S. power and foreign policy history. His critics see it as weakness, or worse. But speaking truthfully about American past misdeeds can be a powerful strategy for building influence.

Mr. Obama’s series of speeches reviewing historical trouble spots highlight several unusual facets of his worldview. They fit within his larger effort to reach out to former adversaries such as Cuba and Myanmar. They assert his belief in introspection and the need to overcome the past. And they highlight his perspective that American power has not always been a force for good.

According to Jennifer Lind of Dartmouth College, reported in the NYT:

none of Mr. Obama’s comments constitute apology. … Rather, these speeches touch on a longstanding domestic political divide over the nature of American power.

“It gets back to this issue of national identity,” she said. Some Americans, including Mr. Obama, emphasize democratic ideals of humility and self-critique. Others believe American power is rooted in unity, celebration of positive deeds and shows of strength.

“Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for,” Mr. Obama said in March in Argentina, referring to a 1976 military coup that had received tacit American approval. “The United States, when it reflects on what happened here, has to examine its own policies, as well, and its own past.”

Source: Obama, Acknowledging U.S. Misdeeds Abroad, Quietly Reframes American Power – The New York Times

This strategy strengthens soft power–even as the Obama Doctrine has relied on hard power significantly.

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Could we Sleepwalk into a Big War?

What does the end of the West’s military superiority mean for great power politics, peace and stability around the world?

When explaining the need to prepare for a major war against a high-end enemy, US and European analysts usually point to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea (9). Western military moves, it is claimed, are an undesired but necessary reaction to provocations by others. But probe more deeply into the thinking of senior leaders and a different picture emerges. Running throughout this discussion is a pervasive anxiety that the world has changed in significant ways, and that the strategic advantages once possessed by the West are slipping away as other powers gain increased military and geopolitical leverage. In this new era — ‘a time of renewed great power competition’ as Carter put it — the US’s military might no longer appears as formidable as it once did, while the m

Source: Sleepwalking into a big war, by Michael T Klare (Le Monde diplomatique – English edition, September 2016)

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‘Gaps of Trust’ With Russia Bar a Syrian Truce, Obama Says 

Have you ever participated in a “trust fall” exercise? If so, you get the point–trusting your partners is important. It appears that trust doesn’t really exist much between the US and Russia–and that has big implications for the ongoing Syrian civil war.

“Given the gaps of trust that exist, that’s a tough negotiation, and we haven’t yet closed the gaps in a way where we think it would actually work,” Mr. Obama declared at a news conference at the end of a Group of 20 summit meeting in Hangzhou, China.He did not describe the points of contention. Other officials have said they involve technical issues like how to staff checkpoints in combat areas. But the checkered history of Syrian cease-fires — the United States agreed to one with Russia in February, only to watch it unravel weeks later — has left the president deeply leery.

Source: ‘Gaps of Trust’ With Russia Bar a Syrian Truce, Obama Says – The New York Times

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The Kurds: Against Iraq and a Hard Place

The history of the Kurdish people can make for some sobering reading. Even so, their success on the battlefield against ISIL has raised their hopes for autonomy–and also the pressure brought against them by their adversaries.

If nothing else, the American military support, even without any promises on the political front, has legitimized the Syrian Kurds’ ambitions. It has helped them to secure a large section of territory they say they will never give up, no matter what their patrons do.“Throughout history, the Kurds were abandoned,” said Ahmad Haj Mansour, a Democratic Union Party official who lives in Britain. “But now, the time and place is different. We don’t need world powers to survive. We are in charge of our land, and we have fighters.”

Source: Kurds Fear the U.S. Will Again Betray Them, in Syria – The New York Times

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All Impeachments Are Political. But Was Brazil’s Something More Sinister? – The New York Times

Olympics are over. So what’s happening in Brazil politically-speaking? And what can we make of the impeachment of the country’s first female president?

Amy Erica Smith, an assistant political science professor at Iowa State University who studies Brazil, said these charges “don’t rise to the level of the kind of accusations that would merit impeachment,” adding: “It’s not a legitimate use of the impeachment proceedings.”

This is why Ms. Rousseff and her allies argued that the politicians pushing impeachment were not trying to protect the integrity of Brazilian democracy, but, rather, to manipulate it to serve their own ends. Calling the impeachment a coup became a way to question the motives of opposition leaders and to argue that impeaching Ms. Rousseff would be contrary to democracy.

Normally, following the law — which the impeachers were indeed doing — by design serves democracy. But, in Brazil, there is currently just enough corruption and just enough rule of law for political elites to play the two against each other.Corruption, Professor Smith explained, is so endemic in Brazilian politics that it most likely implicates the entire governing class. The country also has a powerful judiciary that is actively working to investigate and prosecute corruption — an unstable combination.

Source: All Impeachments Are Political. But Was Brazil’s Something More Sinister? – The New York Times

More recently, the issue appears to be a pivot toward economic issues. Should Michel Temer maintain control as the new president, “the hard part is just the beginning” according to Simon Romero’s latest article with the economy, questions about his legitimacy, corruption investigations, and uncertainty all key questions.

Hacking for Diplomacy

New class at Stanford that is part-technology, another part-diplomatic trouble-shooting:

Hacking for Diplomacy starts in the fall. The courses ask government officials for specific challenge ideas—in Hacking for Defense, some worked on a communication app, others on a wearable device that can monitor a diver’s physiological traits and students applied in teams to work on individual projects.

One of Blank’s goals was to show tech-minded students their skills could solve problems facing the government, just as they might in the consumer or business worlds, he told Nextgov. The class might “provide another venue” for civic-minded students to help the government, in addition to joining new and much-hyped federal groups such as 18F or the U.S. Digital Service.

http://m.nextgov.com/defense/2016/08/stanfords-hacking-defense-class-expands-diplomacy/130840/

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The Formula for a Richer World? Equality, Liberty, Justice 

 

Are you idealist? Want to make a difference in the world? What is the key to ending poverty? Would it surprise you to learn that some development experts see this as a human rights and international legal issue, based in economic terms, or the notion of inequality?

In any case, the problem is poverty, not inequality as such — not how many yachts the L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt has, but whether the average Frenchwoman has enough to eat. At the time of “Les Misérables,” she didn’t.

In the last 40 years, the World Bank estimates, the proportion of the population living on an appalling $1 or $2 a day has halved. Paul Collier, an Oxford economist, urges us to help the “bottom billion” of the more than seven billion people on earth. Of course. It is our duty. But he notes that 50 years ago, four billion out of five billion people lived in such miserable conditions.

In 1800, it was 95 percent of one billion.We can improve the conditions of the working class. Raising low productivity by enabling human creativity is what has mainly worked.

By contrast, taking from the rich and giving to the poor helps only a little — and anyway expropriation is a one-time trick. Enrichment from market-tested betterment will go on and on and, over the next century or so, will bring comfort in essentials to virtually everyone on the planet, and more to an expanding middle class.

Source: The Formula for a Richer World? Equality, Liberty, Justice – The New York Times

 

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Gray Diplomacy: Side Deals

Much was made of the U.S. payment to Iran as a “ransom for hostages.” As President Obama said, “The only bit of news is that we paid cash…because we don’t have a banking relationship with Iran.”

 The truth is, what President Barack Obama did was more like standard operating procedure for presidents, who must often enter into notoriously “gray areas” of diplomacy with hostile powers.

Think of it as the art of the side deal. From the earliest times, presidents have quietly cut private pacts to push big big diplomatic goals through—often with a lot of secrecy, and sometimes in violation of the country’s own stated diplomatic rules.

via Politico

Still not sure? Read through Jack Beauchamp’s piece in Vox where he breaks it down step-by-step.

 

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The Magic Word for Persuasion?

The magic word is … “willing.”

Psychologist Elizabeth Stokoe, a professor of social interaction at Loughborough University in the U.K., specializes in conversational analysis, recording and transcribing everyday verbal exchanges to try and understand their linguistic and social components. In a recent presentation at Latitude, a festival-slash-conference in Suffolk, England — think a British SXSW — she explained a common pattern that she’s noticed throughout her research:

When a request framed in more direct terms is turned down, a follow-up with a willing will often get the other person to cave:Are you the type of person to mediate? Yes or no. What was really interesting about the mediation “willings” is that if you ask someone “Are you interested in mediation?” they might say yes or no. But if you ask them if they’re willing to mediate, that requires them saying something about the type of person that they are.

That particular phrasing, in other words, tweaks the nature of the ask — a question that was formerly about an immediate action is now about a person’s boundaries, what they can find doable or palatable in a broader sense. “So, if we change words, we change outcomes,” she said

Source: Use This Magic Word to Be More Persuasive — Science of Us

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