Saudi youth initiatives: Some links for researchers

My FPRI E-Note of October 20 provides an assessment of the results of a new poll of Saudi public opinion that focused on the country’s youthful majority. The purpose of this blog entry is to provide some links for researchers interested in learning more about a series of government-sponsored youth projects, mentioned in the piece, that have been launched under the umbrella of the “Misk Initiative.” Insight into prospects for the success of “Vision 2030” may potentially be gleaned by gauging the rollout of these initiatives and how the population responds to them. As I note in the piece, “Vision 2030 only works if young people adapt to a new ‘knowledge economy’ and help shore up a social safety net for those who lag behind.” Those are the goals that inform Misk. For the Foundation’s home page in Arabic, click here. For the English-language page, click here. Its Twitter feed in Arabic [email protected] For those interested in following domestic Saudi social media chatter about the group, here is the Arabic hashtag which the Foundation itself promotes, whereas this is Continue Reading…

Invading Mosul; Remembering the Taleban’s Phone Company

Small point, as Iraqi and coalition forces fight to take back Mosul: What happens to phone communications in the city? Back in 2001, on the eve of the American-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan, I helped a journalist study the Taleban’s phone company — by calling in and having a series of conversations with the main switchboard operator in Kabul. (It was interesting to discover that a New Jersey man had built it on behalf of the Taleban, with an assurance from Bin Laden that “his people would not be harmed.”) Anyhow, as aerial bombardment of Kabul commenced, I kept in touch with the operator and learned that, apparently, pains were being taken to avoid targeting telephone infrastructure. The reason? An American defense expert said, “Simple. If we take out their phones we won’t be able to listen in on the conversations.” The New York Times described our research here. The Jordanian news service Al-Bawaba reported on it here, and here’s the article in USA Today.

Some thoughts about the aftermath of the JASTA veto override

The public discussion over JASTA has evolved — at that, rapidly — in recent weeks, as the hypothetical “veto override” became a reality. In venerated opinion pages such as that of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, three substantial arguments against the bill emerged: First, concerns were raised that the bill, in greenlighting American courts to prosecute any foreign government — including even American allies — would create a dangerous precedent. It would invite, for example, the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings in Japan to sue the United States for the killing of hundreds of thousands. Or perhaps, for example, the victims of the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam would sue the U.S. in a Vietnamese court. American assets, spread as they are in banks and businesses throughout the world, would be vulnerable — as would American soldiers and diplomats — to confiscation or even arrest. A Wall Street Journal editorial added, moreover, that “Given America’s role in international banking, for instance, or its support Continue Reading…

Former Ambassador Jim Jeffrey: The biggest threat in the region isn’t ISIS but Iran

Between 2007 and 2012, career ambassador James Franklin Jeffrey served as Deputy National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, then, under the Obama Administration, as United States Ambassador to Turkey and Iraq. Now a member of the Defense Policy Board and a prominent voice in the Washington policy discussion, he has emerged as a critic of Obama Administration policies in Syria and the Iranian nuclear accord. In an exclusiveinterview with Asharq Alawsat, he discussed his own vision for a more robust Syria policy, shifting American public opinion on foreign military deployment, concerns about Iran, and the current frontrunners in the candidacy for President of the United States. Q: You call for the United States to use air and ground forces to create a “safe zone” in Syria. Explain the proposed plan. A: It would be an area under the control of a combination of American, Turkish, local, and basically Sunni Arab forces from various population groups that we’re in contact with — and, I’d hope, other members of the Continue Reading…

An Interview with Fran Townsend

Frances Townsend  is the former Homeland Security Advisor to United States President George W. Bush. She chaired the Homeland Security Council and reported to the President on homeland security policy and counterterrorism policy. She previously served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism. Subsequently, in her life as a private citizen, she has become a trusted analyst on security and foreign affairs on American TV news networks, such as CNN. She also serves as President of the “Counter Extremism Project” — a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization formed to combat the growing threat from extremist ideology. In this interview, Ms. Townsend reflects on her experiences representing the President in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, her views on the Obama Administration and the next American president in terms of foreign policy, and her own perspective on Iran and the conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere. Q: What is your overall view of the state of White House policies toward Washington’s traditional allies Continue Reading…

Former DIA Director David Shedd: The United States Needs a Strategic Rebalance and a Quick Win in the Middle East

David Shedd is one of the most influential American intelligence officers in the post-September 11 era. During the Bush Years, serving in the National Security Council and eventually as Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Policy, Plans, and Requirements, he implemented sweeping intelligence reforms and a new “National Intelligence Strategy.” Under the Obama Administration, in August 2010, he was named Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and, four years later, took the post of Acting Director for several months before retiring from public service. In an exclusive interview, Mr. Shedd recalls his views of the Arab world during the “Arab spring” period and how they differed from the majority view within the Obama Administration. He explains the challenge of conducting intelligence work on Iran and the role of intelligence in America’s policies toward the Islamic Republic. Finally, looking ahead to the next White House, he presents some of new options for the United States which would mark a significant departure from Obama Administration policies. Q: What were your foremost Continue Reading…

A Campaign in Saudi Arabia Challenges Young People to Rethink Their Biases

by Joseph Braude – A three-minute video, posted by a Saudi government-backed organization to YouTube on June 4, has garnered 150,000 views in 48 hours and sparked a discussion in the kingdom about how to stem sectarian conflict. In “The Hidden Killer,” a voice speaking Saudi-inflected Arabic asks the viewer to guess the identity of a force “worse than disease, natural disasters, and famine” which kills not only innocents by the hundreds of thousands but also entire states. (Spoiler alert: The hidden killer might be you, unless you learn to accept difference and get along with others.) The narration intensifies over a sequence of animated watercolor images and a lean, crescendoing soundtrack. Here’s the clip, subtitled into English: The King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, which commissioned the video, was established in 2003 in the wake of the September 11 tragedy and a subsequent series of Qaeda-linked terror attacks in Riyadh which claimed more than 40 lives. It aimed to offer a platform to “debate reform and suggest remedies” for Continue Reading…

Why Iran Matters to South Korea — and Why South Korea’s Middle East Posture Should Matter to the United States

The controversial Iranian nuclear framework agreement presented on April 2nd in Lausanne is being closely watched 6,500 miles east of Tehran, on the Korean peninsula. Beginning in 1994, the rogue state of North Korea broke a series of promises to the international community to submit to nuclear inspectors and disarmament. In 2009, it declared that it had developed a nuclear weapon. As the country most gravely threatened is the democratic Republic of Korea to Pyongyang’s south, I sat down this week with Oh Joon, the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and asked for his perspective on Lausanne. Seoul is an increasingly active player in the Middle East. In 2012, a South Korean consortium began to construct four commercial nuclear power reactors in the United Arab Emirates, in a deal approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency and valued at $20 billion. Trade with the broader region has grown rapidly. With respect to Iranian efforts to dominate Arab politics through proxy militias, South Korea has generally sided with Sunni Continue Reading…

Political slugfest on suggestion the White House may take an Iran deal to the UN

This following is a translation of Joseph Braude’s latest weekly column in Arabic, Letter from New York (Risalat New York), in the Moroccan daily Al-Ahdath al-Maghrebiya. Reports emerged in the American media Thursday that President Obama may propose a resolution to the UN Security Council calling for the lifting of international sanctions on Iran, if an agreement is reached by the “P5+1” negotiating team over the country’s nuclear program. The possibility angered members of the Republican Congress, who have been fiercely critical of the emerging Iranian deal, citing concerns that it will enable Iran to gradually achieve its nuclear aspirations, as well as free its hand to further empower its Shi’ite Islamist Arab proxies. Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Al-Ahdath al-Maghrebiya, “There is a strong possibility that the President will take this to the Security Council because that is an Iranian demand. The reason the Iranians want him to go to the UN is they want sanctions relief, and a UN resolution will give the Continue Reading…

New pressures on the UN Security Council to lift its arms embargo on Libya

Pressures mounted on the United Nations Security Council yesterday to lift its international embargo on arms to the Libyan government. In an interview with journalist Valerio Robecco, Libyan UN ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said, “A time limit should be set for militias to leave the capital and a government of national united needs to be formed. Otherwise, military efforts should be deployed alongside political ones.” He added that the end of March would be an appropriate deadline. Yesterday’s comment by the Libyan ambassador follows his impassioned speech at the UN Security Council Wednesday, in which he called for exemptions on the arms embargo which the government says has hobbled its ability to fight the growing threat of Islamist militancy — and also blamed inaction by the international community for allowing jihadist militancy to spread across much of his country. It also comes on the heels of new press reports, citing unnamed diplomatic sources, that the government of Egypt led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is pressuring the United Nations for mandated Continue Reading…