Discussing Syria and Chemical Weapons on HuffPostLive

I appeared on World Brief this morning to discuss the apparently imminent U.S. attack on Syria. I was joined by Joshua Foust and the host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin. You can watch the video on HuffPostLive.

While the chemical weapons attack that occurred last week is terrible, I am more convinced than ever that regional strategy, rather than chemical weapons use, should drive the level and nature of American involvement in the Syrian conflict. I have written previously about why chemical weapons are the wrong Red Line, a point that remains true today. Before we begin striking targets inside Syria, we need to have an earnest conversation about core U.S. interests in the Middle East and how we can best promote them. If Assad’s ouster is our policy goal, than we should be pursuing actions designed to bring that about. The strikes being currently discussed won’t accomplish that end, however. Similarly, if our goal is narrowly to defend the international norms against using chemical weapons, it’s unclear that it would be a useful precedent to establish that the response to chemical weapons use is a handful of perfunctory military strikes explicitly not designed to dole out existential costs upon the culpable government.

In the coming days we will have more analysis on the need to view our engagement strategically rather than tactically. Stay tuned. You can click the image below to watch the full segment on HuffPostLive.

Click Image To Watch This Segment

Click Image To Watch This Segment

Event Video: The End of Power with Moises Naim

Renowned thinker and writer Moises Naim joined us at NDN to discuss the future of power and the international political landscape. He unpacked some of the themes of his latest book, The End of Power, and presented a vision that drew a through-line between the events of the Arab Spring and many other emerging global trends.

This wide-ranging conversation was moderated by NDN’s Simon Rosenberg and explored economic and institutional challenges that are coming to define our globalized world. You can watch the full video below and pick up a copy of his new book here.

U.S. Needs A New Approach Toward Egypt

Cairo protest“When Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns meets with Egyptian officials today, for the first time since President Morsi was deposed, he should strongly encourage the transitional government to avoid prosecuting or persecuting the ousted leader and his allies. While the Muslim Brotherhood’s government managed to alienate much of the population through managerial incompetence and autocratic tendencies, they were serving under the legitimate authority of popular elections.

The United States has important regional interests in the stability of Egypt, but American policy needs to avoid taking sides with specific political actors. Instead, the U.S. should make it clear that our allies and recipients of large aid packages are expected to be invested in the processes, values, and institutions of inclusive democracy.  We have seen over the last several years that threats to withhold military assistance are seen in Cairo as empty threats and insufficient motivation to change policy or approach. This sticks American policymakers with the bill while denying them any of the leverage that is supposed to accompany it. Burns should inform the Egyptian government that, as mandated by U.S. law, aid will be temporarily suspended until a democratically elected government is returned to power. The United States should take this opportunity to continue working on the bilateral relationship – one that is marred by a history of suspicion and ambivalence – while expanding the scope of stakeholders that the U.S. government engages with. If we aspire to see this “revolution reboot” result in a more open, democratic, and inclusive Egypt, we need to learn the lessons of the last 18 months, speaking out vocally for U.S. values and backing it up with consistent actions.” Brad Bosserman, 7/18/2013

Dramatic changes have been taking place in the Middle East over the last few weeks and NDN’s MENA Initiative has gathered together some of their latest analysis to help our community better understand the challenges and opportunities of the unfolding events in Egypt, Iran, and Syria. You can find this on the NDN website.

Quoted in The Hill — President Obama takes flak over Egypt

The Hill

“Where we missed an opportunity over the past year and a half in dealing with Egypt is not that we supported the wrong people, but that we missed an opportunity to support institutions and to really apply pressure where we had it,” said Bradley Bosserman, director of the Middle East and North Africa initiative at the New Policy Institute.

“We need be much more outspoken going forward to make sure that there’s actual, legitimate processes and institutions for people to voice their opinion. We can do all of that while recognizing that the Egyptian people are going to vote for who they want,” he said.

Bosserman said Congress is part of the problem. He said Obama laid out a path forward for the Middle East in his 2009 Cairo speech but failed to follow through with specific incentives, in part because Congress has blocked efforts to approve his $770 million incentive fund designed to advance democratic and economic reforms in Arab Spring countries.

Read the full article here

In Egypt, It’s Time For Opposition to Unify

June 30 EgyptMillions of Egyptians took the streets over the weekend in much-anticipated protests against President Morsi. The largely peaceful demonstrations reveal a deep and broad “legitimacy deficit” for a government that was elected democratically, but has consistently pursued non-inclusive policies designed to consolidate power in the hands of Morsi and his allies. The everyday Egyptians taking part in these protests feel alienated by the ruling government and the heavily criticized constitutional process that followed. But while the opposition may appear unified from 30,000 feet, there remain deep ideological, political, and strategic cleavages among these anti-Morsi groups.

The situation on the ground is still unfolding, but as of Monday afternoon, the Egyptian military had issued an ultimatum, threatening to intervene in 48 hours if the situation is not resolved. The U.S. has vital strategic interests in seeing a stable, secure, and democratic Egypt and American policymakers should speak out in favor of institutions and processes that respect the will and views of the Egyptian public. A military coup seems very unlikely to be a positive development, but neither does a continued consolidation of power by Morsi . If a third way is to emerge, the responsibility lies with key Egyptian opposition figures to coalesce around a shared goal and vision for the country, at least in the short term, which can provide a legitimate alternative.

Webcast: U.S. Policy Toward Syria

President Obama has announced an additional $300 million in direct aid following the apparently confirmed reports that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons sporadically throughout the conflict in Syria.  It is less clear, however, exactly what will be provide, who precisely will receive it, and when the aid will arrive. This decision occurs while the momentum that the rebels seemed to have been building earlier this year appears to be slipping away as the Assad regime retakes territory and becomes resurgent.  To explore this evolving situation, NDN’s MENA Initiative hosted an interactive webcast with leading experts.

Yisser Bittar from the Syrian American Council.

Christy Delafield from the Washington office of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

Shadi Hamid from the Brookings Institution and Research Director of the Brookings Doha Center.

Watch the full video of our discussion below.

Syria Chat Pic

Press Statement on the Implications of the Iranian Presidential Election

The election of Hassan Rouhani as the next president of Iran is a positive development and represents an opportunity for reform as well as renewed and rational engagement with the west. While it would be naïve to expect any sudden policy shifts from a regime still headed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rouhani ran on a platform of reform that emphasized not only domestic economic issues, but also his goal of working toward normalizing relations with the international community and creating an environment in which sanctions can be gradually rolled back.

U.S. relations with Iran should continue to be driven by our regional interests and by ensuring the security of our allies. It should be understood, however, that the current policy of sanctions and isolation are not policy goals in and of themselves. American interests will be best served by a more democratic, open, and responsible Iran that respects international norms and laws. If President-Elect Rouhani wishes to normalize Iran’s relationship with the United States and our allies, they will need to bring their nuclear program under transparent monitoring and cease supporting regional terrorism and instability through the forces they control both directly and by proxy.

It is worth noting that Mr. Rouhani was instrumental in negotiating the 2003 Sa’dabad Agreement, in which Iran agreed to suspend nuclear enrichment. Though this deal eventually collapsed, the fact that he has demonstrated a willingness to constrain the Iranian nuclear program should be viewed as a possible opening for new talks. While it will take time for the President-Elect to bring new and hopefully reform-minded personnel into the bureaucracy, the Iranian people have clearly rejected the status quo and spoken out for change. The United States should seize this opportunity to develop a diplomatic relationship with the new President and deploy a strategy designed to encourage Iran to become a more open and responsible member of the global community.