November 22, 2023Middle East
The agreement reached today between Israel and Hamas — and brokered by Qatar and Egypt — is an important first step that will hopefully give all sides an opportunity to step back from the precipice of a larger regional conflagration, and to consider options for ending this war other than by the military destruction of one another.
The return of the hostages to Israel in exchange for the return of Palestinian prisoners is welcome news and hopefully will proceed through subsequent cycles until all the hostages have been returned. The exchange proves that solutions can only be found through diplomacy through the help of actors in the region who can talk to all sides, in this case, Qatar and Egypt.
This agreement should also serve as a wake-up call to the United States about the viability of a ceasefire, in both policy and political terms. President Joe Biden could and should have used political leverage sooner to secure this deal. For the sake of the Israeli hostages, for the sake of the thousands of Palestinian civilians who have been killed by this delay, and for the sake of the longer-term peace: Every Palestinian or Israeli child or civilian killed pushes peace further and further into the future.
And finally, for the sake of preventing a widening of the war that could drag the US into yet another military conflict in the Middle East.
It is crucial that this agreement is not treated by Biden as an alternative to a ceasefire. Rather, it must be treated as the first step towards it.
If it amounts to nothing more than a prelude to a resumption of the military campaign and a continuation of the siege, it will not make much of a difference in stemming the larger humanitarian crisis, preventing a regional war, or paving the way for real peace.
The U.S. has already lost significant international standing through its opposition to a ceasefire. If Biden fails to press all parties for a ceasefire after the prisoner swap, America’s global standing will plummet even further, which will have dire consequences for the U.S., including in Ukraine.
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Photo credit: Marines disembark from a V-22 Osprey at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq in 2018 (Cpl. Jered T. Stone/ Marine Corps)
November 22, 2023QiOSK
The United States has conducted two retaliatory airstrikes against Iraqi militias this week after ballistic missile attacks against America’s Al Asad Air Base, the latest in a troubling tit-for-tat between the U.S. and Iran-backed militias in the region that was triggered by the Israel-Hamas conflict.
CENTCOM appears to believe that the status quo of attack and reprisal with Iraqi militias is sustainable. There’s an assumption that Washington, Iran, and Iraq’s militias understand each other’s red lines. However, this assumption comes with a lot of risks.
The potential for one-upmanship between various Shi’a militias, each trying to prove they’re more hostile toward Americans than the others, is a concerning possibility. A deadly attack on U.S. troops could prompt the Biden administration to respond more forcefully, especially in an election year. What is the administration’s plan to manage escalation and prevent a larger regional war (with heavy U.S. involvement) if this were to occur?
While the timing and scale of the war in Gaza may have been unpredictable, it was always evident that the presence of scattered U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria posed a risk of escalating the U.S. into greater conflict in such an unpredictable region. That’s why I’ve long argued for rethinking America’s military posture in Iraq, including in new research this year exploring how Washington could conduct a phased withdrawal of troops and successfully recalibrate our approach to the country and region.
It is true that the presence of U.S. military advisors in Iraq helps maintain cohesion and a working relationship between competing factions of Iraq’s military. U.S. troops also offer critical capabilities in the fight to contain ISIS. But it is time for Washington to consider whether these benefits are outweighed by the risk of malign actors using U.S. troops to provoke a wider conflict – either intentionally or inadvertently.
While the risks of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq are apparent, the overall utility of their presence is unclear (particularly in deterring attacks on themselves). With each new day comes a fresh opportunity for crisis. It’s past time Washington grappled with the true costs and benefits of our military presence.
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November 22, 2023QiOSK
Sixty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
According to his biographer, Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy’s thinking had evolved in the year before his killing. In an obituary in The Saturday Evening Post on December 14, 1963, Schlesinger said this about the president in those last months:
“What preoccupied him most, I believe, was the peace of the world and the future of mankind. His historian’s perspective made him see the conflict with Communism not as a holy war but as a difficult and perilous struggle for adjustment and accommodation. The world, he deeply believed, was in its nature and its historical movement a diverse world — a world which had room for great diversity of economic systems, of political creeds, of philosophic faiths. He respected the distinctive values and traditions, the distinctive identities, of other nations and other societies.
Above all, life must survive on this planet. He knew what nuclear war would mean, and he believed that the avoidance of such a war was the common interest of mankind — a common interest which must transcend all conflicts of ideology and national ambition. This common interest was the bridge across the dark abyss. His deepest purpose was to strengthen that bridge against storms of suspicion and fear, and to persuade his adversaries that, if each nation and people respected the integrity of the rest and accepted the reality of the world of diversity, if nations abandoned a messianic effort to remake the world in their own image, peace would be possible, and humanity would endure."
This is a far cry from President Joe Biden’s "good vs evil" and "dictators vs. democrats" rhetoric of today. Interestingly, it bears resemblance to Chinese President Xi Jinping's comment last week when meeting with Biden:
"Planet Earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed, and one country’s success is an opportunity for the other. It is an objective fact that China and the United States are different in history, culture, social system, and development path. However, as long as they respect each other, coexist in peace, and pursue win-win cooperation, they will be fully capable of rising above differences and find the right way for the two major countries to get along with each other."
It is also worth noting that Kennedy only five months before Dallas had given what some have called one of the most enduring speeches of his time. On June 10, 1963, he asked the American University commencement audience, “what kind of peace do we seek?”
"So, let us not be blind to our differences but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."
Sixty years and more than a generation ago these words held promise, then seemingly lost amid the chaos of assassination, and war. There is no cost to resurfacing them now, in a world no less uncertain.
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