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Melkulangara Bhadrakumar

US/Afghan Pact: Permanent Occupation

Afghan Base

Writing on the subject of “foreign troops” a few months ago, the well known Guardian columnist and editor Seumas Milne observed, “It’s almost never discussed in the political mainstream. But thousands of foreign troops have now been stationed in Britain for more than 70 years. There’s been nothing like it since the Norman invasion. With the 15-month Dutch occupation of London in 1688-89 a distant competitor, there has been no precedent since 1066 for the presence of American forces in a string of military bases for the better part of a century.” 

The case of Germany where American bases were established following World War II is even more curious. Forty-two US military installations still exist in Germany 70 years after the war ended and even after the “enemy” vanished —  the Soviet Union. 

This is also the most intriguing question that no one is prepared to answer regarding the US-Afghan pact, known popularly as the Bilateral Security Agreement or the BSA, which was signed in Kabul on September 30. What explains the long-term military presence of a superpower on foreign soil?
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Afghanistan Faces Uncertain Future

Afghanistan Pres

Afghanistan has witnessed two major events in the most recent weeks. One is the assumption of office by Ashraf Ghani as the next president of the country, succeeding Hamid Karzai. The second has been the signing of the two “back-to-back” security pacts between Afghanistan on the one hand and the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] on the other. 

Both developments are of historical importance in their own ways. Ghani’s presidency signifies a rare peaceful transition of power in the ebb and flow of Afghan history. 

As for the second, Afghanistan has been invaded and occupied before in its tumultuous history dating back to Alexander the Great – the last famous occupation followed the British invasion in the 19th century – but never before has that country had to agree to foreign military presence on its soil in such an open-ended fashion. 

Equally, for the first time in its history, Afghanistan is taking help from a foreign military alliance. Indeed, the subplot here is also that the foreign military presence is not of a regional character, but is “extra-regional” drawn from countries from a faraway region which is tens of thousands miles away from South or Central Asia and have had no shared history or culture with Afghanistan.
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US Slouches Toward Syria, Again...

Obamasyria

The Americans have a habit of first naming their imminent war before the troops march out and it will be interesting to see how this one is going to be christened. There seems some ambiguity about the war ahead in Iraq and Syria – what it is really going to be as it gathers momentum. That probably explains the shyness in naming it. 

What began as "humanitarian intervention" in Iraq has since spread from Kurdistan to Baghdad to Anbar and in the past forty-eight hours or so reached Syria with the US president having given approval for sustained air reconnaissance missions in its airspace. 

So far, the US’s intervention in Iraq has been episodic but it produced some gains. These gains have been far from consolidated or irreversible, but are important enough. Humanitarian aid has apparently reached the beleaguered Yazidi community on Mount Sinjar and some areas lost to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Lebanon [ISIL] in northern Iraq – Gwer, Makhmour and the Mosul Dam – have been retaken by the Kurdish forces with the help of US air strikes. An ISIL advance toward the Kurdish capital of Erbil has been stalled for the present.
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Obama's Skewed Policy Priorities in Middle East

ISIS

The US State Department has maintained that continuity rather than change in the American policy is what should be expected in the aftermath of the killing of photojournalist James Foley by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria early this week. 

The State Department’s media briefings insisted that there has been an “ongoing policy initiative”, an “ongoing effort” on the part of Washington to meet the ISIL threat and “we will continue doing what we’re doing in Iraq.” So, on Wednesday, the US military took an additional 14 air strikes around the Mosul Dam. 

Second, the US reserves the right to take action against Foley’s killer and won’t be “ruling anything in or out” – including military operations inside Syria. That is to say, the “principles that guide” will be the same that guided earlier occasions of a similar kind such as in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. 

Third, the Syrian regime remains a "pariah," no matter its hostility towards the ISIL, insofar as the US cannot forget that Damascus “allowed this group to flourish” and “facilitated their movement to Iraq.” Therefore, the US would rather focus on building “capable partners” in Iraq and among the “moderate opposition” in Syria that can take on the ISIL and will continue to seek the replacement of President Bashar al-Assad.
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Saudi Anger Has Many Faces

During the past fortnight, Saudi Arabia raised the bar by several notches in its rhetoric to Bandarexpress fury over US regional policies in the Middle East, especially over Syria and Iran. The rhetoric reached a high pitch last week with two key figures in the Saudi regime alternatively lampooning and threatening the Obama administration. 

Is this strategic defiance of the US by the Saudi regime sustainable or will turn out to be mere bravado or even a defensive strategy to cover up dark fears? There is every reason to anticipate that it is the expression of an anger with many faces. There is a hint of an American warning appearing on the horizon to the House of Saud that discretion is the better part of valor and the latter is in no position to threaten the White House. The Saudi regime couldn’t have missed this subtle message but how it assimilates it will bear watch.
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Obama Сhanges Direction in the Middle East

Obama Talks Rouhani

The politics of the Middle East are undergoing a period of great turbulence emanating out of the changes in direction of the regional policies pursued by the United States. When the ship makes a turnaround, it has to be over an arc, and it is now possible to discern the reset of the compass.

This is primarily being felt in the Obama administration’s rethink on the Syrian conflict and its decision to constructively engage with Iran. Neither is an afterthought, but rather they took time to mature…

To take Syria first, Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York needs no introduction as an influential voice in the US foreign policy establishment. His views on the Syrian conflict will always merit attention – especially when aired through the Voice of America.
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The Iran Question – What Next?

Rouhanip5 1

It is only natural if there is a sense of deja vu over the inconclusive end to the P5+1 and Iran talks in Geneva over the weekend – and of course its photo finish dripping with high drama. The United States-Iran standoff has edged tantalizingly close to resolution many a time in the past in its three decades of history but only to remain on track. 

This time around, however, there could be a qualitative difference, although the templates of an adversarial relationship hardened through decades cannot be made to shift easily, even with the best of intentions. 

The first thing, of course, is to comprehend what really happened in Geneva to dash the high hopes that were aroused. Different interpretations are available, but most accounts agree that France was at its epicenter. The French motives in apparently throwing the wrench at the wheel need to be understood. The French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius publically implied that Israel’s concerns were not adequately reflected in the interim agreement that the US, EU and the Iranian diplomats worked out. But beyond that, an impression has also gained ground that France was actually bidding to please Saudi Arabia and the other petrodollar-rich Gulf Arab regimes while ingratiating itself with Israel…
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Obama Sidesteps Detractors to Engage Iran

Obama Iran

Below the radar, the tortuous process leading to an Iran nuclear deal may have got under way in Geneva where the two-day talks between the protagonists – P5+1 and Iran – ended on a positive note on Wednesday. The joint statement issued after the talks was a “first” of its kind, symbolizing that there is reason to believe in the strong likelihood of a critical mass forming.
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The OPCW wins Nobel by default

Obamasyria

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons based in The Hague. This has come as a surprise – even to the OPCW. So far, according to the OPCW’s own records, only Albania and India have completely destroyed their chemical weapon stockpiles. The OPCW has a long way to go and why now?

The answer lies in a five-letter word – Putin. The OPCW got the Nobel by default. The only way to dodge the claim of Russian president Vladimir Putin for a Nobel was to sidestep gingerly and instead to award his contribution in the abstract. That explains the metaphysics of the decision to honor the OPCW. 

Looking back at the entire year behind us, it is clear that international security came to a flashpoint on August 30 when the United States president Barack Obama threatened to launch a “limited, narrow act” against Syria – shorn of diplomatese, when he threatened to launch a militarily attack against Syria. To cut short a dramatic story played out on the world stage over the next ten-day period, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s timely initiative to bring Syria’s chemical weapons under international control compelled Obama to come back to the path of negotiations.
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