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YPFP's Foreign Policy Journal
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    Until recently, cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iran was considered unthinkable, but recent events suggest that a thaw in relations is more than just possible. The Middle East is a region embroiled in chaos, conflict, and uncertainty. The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Arab Spring that saw the departure of many of the region’s strongmen, and intermittent armed conflict between Israel and Hamas are just a few examples. The odds of democracy replacing the authoritarian regimes that have plagued the region since European colonial powers divided their mandates into independent countries seem grim. Amid the chaos, one relationship stands out as being the key to sustainable peace: that between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Both countries consider themselves preeminent regional powers. Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the Arab world, boasting high oil production and prominence on the world stage. Iran has gained international recognition for its nuclear ambitions and recent negotiations with the United States and others over an interim nuclear deal. Until recently, cooperation between these two rivals for regional hegemony was deemed unfeasible, but events of the past two years suggest that a thaw in relations is more than [...]

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    In an explosive campaign last year, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which also known as the Islamic State, captured much of northern Iraq. The spoils of their conquest included several large oilfields, which had been run by major multinational oil producers like Exxon, BP, and MobileChina, as well as smaller producers like the Angolan firm Sonangol. These oil firms responded to the advancing chaos by curtailing their projects in the north and evacuating their employees from the region. In some cases, they even evacuated nonessential employees from elsewhere in Iraq. Among the firms’ employees were private military contractors (PMCs) hired to provide security for the oil field’s civilian employees. This raises a question: if multinationals were willing to hire PMCs to protect their employees, why did they not use these PMCs to defend their oil fields from ISIS militarily, preventing the fields from falling in the first place? ISIS’s onslaught was not entirely unexpected. Iraqi defense officials and U.S. intelligence had been warning of ISIS’s growth since late 2013, so firms had time to determine some kind of response. Lots of money was on the line, in terms of both fixed infrastructure investment and future revenue. Why then did the collective response of the oil [...]

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    On June 24, the Brookings Institution held its first Brookings Debate, with three respected foreign policy analysts and a U.S. senator discussing whether the United States should put boots on the ground to fight the ISIS. Both sides provided persuasive arguments and offered well-informed perspectives, yet several key questions remain. On June 24, the Brookings Institution held its first Brookings Debate, with three respected foreign policy analysts and a U.S. senator going head-to-head to discuss a critical policy question: Should the United States put boots on the ground to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? The challenge of containing ISIS, a formidable terrorist network that has taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria and poses a threat to the wider Middle East region, has become one of the most important and divisive debates in U.S. foreign policy. Following U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to order air strikes against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria in September 2014, the debate has centered on whether this course of action is enough. Some members of the U.S. government and the international community have called for a more forceful reaction. Domestically, more than 50 percent of the American public supports [...]

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    The debate over what to call the Islamic State (ISIL) reemerged full force following recent attacks inspired by the group in a number of Western countries. Some argue that the West is at war with radical Islam, while others say that ISIL’s ideology is a perversion of Islam and argue that jihadism is the real threat. This debate, which focuses on appealing to domestic constituencies rather than foreign audiences, is not new. U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama took almost opposite approaches in the way they communicated about the fight against extremist groups, namely al-Qaeda and ISIL. While Bush spoke of a crusade and a war against terror, Obama called for a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim world. However, despite their different communications strategies, favorable perceptions of the United States in much of the Arab and Muslim world declined during both presidencies. Rather than focus on inflammatory rhetoric that speaks to domestic audiences, presidential candidates should look to the environment from which ISIL emerged. Opinion polls have found that most respondents in the Arab world have negative views of ISIL. Even in countries where there has been a lack of support for U.S. foreign policy, [...]

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    The Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) is the best-funded terrorist organization in the world. ISIL presents a policy and intelligence challenge because it derives its financial strength largely from internal sources. This non-state actor’s ability to survive and grow independent of external funding and exploitation of ungoverned spaces make it difficult for the U.S.-led coalition to target the group’s funding using traditional measures. To date, U.S. policy to counter ISIL financially has focused on disrupting the group’s main sources of funding, restricting access to the international financial system and imposing sanctions on its senior leadership and financial facilitators. However, with no concrete metrics in place to measure the effectiveness of counter threat finance, it is difficult to gauge the need and appropriate tools required to dismantle ISIL. As a result, the United States should focus on forming a concerted effort among international partners to identify key nodes within ISIL’s financial system. When financial choke points are identified, local law enforcement efforts can help to dismantle entire networks of criminal activity. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States sought to enhance its national security through military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, strengthen its surveillance [...]

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    Fears of a terrorist attack happening in the United States are at their highest since 2005. Even more surprising is the rate at which Americans seem to think we’re losing the War on Terrorism. According to a CNN/ORC poll released December 28, 2015, 80% of Americans do not believe the United States is winning the War on Terrorism, with 40% of respondents indicating that the terrorists are winning. Another 40% of respondents said that neither side is winning, and only a pitiful 18% viewed Americans as holding the upper hand in the global war on terror. Compare that to the 2006 numbers just after the highly lauded Anbar Awakening (a stratagem which shifted the fight against ISIL’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq and is being floated today as a response to ISIL’s growth and control in Iraq), when nearly the same numbers of Americans said neither side was winning, but 34% gave the victory to the United States and its allies, and only 20% said the terrorists were winning. At first, one would expect a surge in attacks on American soil would be the culprit, but the reality is that America is enjoying a period of relative safety from global terrorist [...]

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    Jordan’s desert capital of Amman is only about 60 miles from the Syrian border, but it is a beacon of stability in a convulsing region. The stability is impressive but fragile, interrupted by small signs of tension: a begging Syrian child in the street, or the many suspiciously fit, plain-dressed Westerners, who make little effort to hide their heavy-duty boots or occasional Joint Task Force backpacks. Peaceful Jordan is also the coordinating base for U.S.-led coalition efforts to counter violent extremism in Syria. That covert campaign has not been going well and the surreptitious approach comes with an often-overlooked cost to U.S. security by providing a foothold for radicalizing conspiracies, not only in Jordan but among moderates in the rest of the region. The whole region is watching how the United States engages in Syria–and finding it lacking. In the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the United States is leading fitfully from behind. The desultory and covert tactics not only seem to prolong the conflict and allow the humanitarian disaster to deteriorate but leave U.S. strategic goals ambiguous. By insisting on a small and quiet footprint in the battle against radical jihadism, the United [...]

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    The recent January 2016 terror attack in the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta, serves as a painful reminder that those seeking to perpetrate violence in the name of the Islamic State (ISIL) stretch far beyond both the West and the Middle East. Unfortunately, Indonesia and its neighboring Southeast Asian states are quite familiar with both Islamic militancy and foreign violent extremist groups seeking to influence and penetrate the region, including al-Qaeda and more recently ISIL. Indonesia’s internal societal issues would seem ripe for an assertive foreign agitator to exploit; however, the country’s history with violent extremists has shaped experienced and effective counterterror campaigns. Indonesia is currently grappling with domestic sectarian violence and has endured over a decade of terrorist violence from domestic-based groups such as the infamous Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Jemaah Islamiyah was born out of Darul Islam (meaning “Islamic state”), an Islamic movement involved with militancy and rebellion that began in response to the end of Dutch colonial rule in the 1940s and gained strength in the 1950s. JI’s mission was the  creation of an Islamic state throughout Southeast Asia and it came to existence in Indonesia following the forced resignation of Indonesian President Suharto in 1999. The two [...]

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    Following each new terrorist attack, especially those in western countries such as France and Belgium, the international community reaffirms its commitment to fighting terrorism. U.S. President Barack Obama stated that the attacks in Brussels in March 2016 were “yet another reminder that the world must unite. We must be together, regardless of nationality or race or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism… We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.” Yet the United States’ piecemeal counterterrorism strategy is failing because it prioritizes surveillance and killing individual terrorists over addressing the fundamental social and economic issues that empower and sustain terrorist groups. The United States must reevaluate its counterterrorism approach in order to fulfill the promise of defeating global terrorism. A greater emphasis on investment in development – political, economic, and social – is the only means of alleviating the underlying conditions that give rise to terrorist groups and allow them to successfully recruit members. Engaging terrorists militarily is very different from fighting a conventional war against a sovereign nation. Terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram, and al-Qaeda consist [...]

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    At the UN Security Council meeting in May 2013, the President of Togo, Faure Essozimna Gnassingé, warned of an arc of terrorism spreading across the continent from Mauritania to Nigeria extending into the Horn of Africa. Since 2013, the so-called arc has continued to spread, engulfing Burkina Faso and other states formally on the periphery of this band of insurgent activity in its wake. A series of attacks on both sides of the African continent have effectively redrawn the boundaries of the struggle taking place between global extremism and counter-terrorism efforts led by regional and international forces. The attack on a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso on January 15, 2016 was an unexpected extension of extremism sweeping the region. Despite attacks taking place at a hotel in Mali in November 2015 and on Grand-Bassam beach in Côte d’Ivoire in March 2016, Burkina Faso was described as being largely “off the radar of Islamist extremist groups.” In light of recent events, the country has now had to contemplate addressing new threats as security experts reassess the risk of extremist activity in the country. The attack, widely reported as “unprecedented” within the country, was described as an “incremental step in the deterioration [...]

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    A review of Shadi Hamid’s new book Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World Over the years there have been many attempts to explain why the Islamic world seems to be, as some have argued, at odds with modernity and political pluralism. Yet, such presumptions persist under determinist arguments, underpinned by the assumption that Islam must eventually undergo an Islamic reformation that follows a similar trajectory and reasoning as Christianity’s period of reformation. Shadi Hamid rejects this idea in his new book: Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World. Hamid argues that […]

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    Strategic narratives are often-overlooked instruments of war that possess the capability to enhance conventional operations. In a world where presidential candidates proclaim they will “defeat” and “destroy” the Islamic State (ISIL), policy proposals focus on kinetic tactics like drone strikes and massive air and special operations campaigns. These tactics certainly make for great sound bites and headlines, yet they lack the nuance to undermine ISIL’s ability to recruit and deploy forces. Rather than attempt to “defeat” and “destroy” ISIL, policymakers should focus on “managing,” “minimizing,” and “mitigating” the organization. Words matter, and by investing resources into the battle of narratives, […]

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    In many parts of this vast world, long departed civilizations left rich and enduring tributes to the way people saw their environment, themselves and their legacy.  In a tragic twist of fate, many of these invaluable examples of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria survived numerous conflicts and unpredictable weather throughout the centuries only to crumble or disappear at the hands of members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and others involved in conflict in Iraq and Syria.  These sites are in dire need of additional protection and the United States (U.S.) must increase its efforts. […]

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  • 10/20/16--07:00: Defining the Enemy
  • During a recent CNN presidential town hall, President Obama again refused to use the term “Islamic terrorism,” explaining that he did not want to lump together terrorists and the vast majority of Muslims who are peaceful. Bill O’Reilly predictably pounced, saying “the enemy needs to be defined,” and that any rational Muslim would not be offended by the term “Islamic terrorism.” The debate over how to define the enemy in wars against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIL, and other such groups has plagued Americans since the days following 9/11. On September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush first used the term […]

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    In April 2014, in what quickly made al-Qaeda’s jihadist hegemony look passé, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) blazed through Syria and Iraq, ravaging cities and penetrating power structures to force its fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia law on local populaces. By June, ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared the resurrection of the caliphate, claiming 34,000 square miles from the Mediterranean Coast to the south of Baghdad. Over the next two years, ISIL would acquire an army of tens of thousands of Muslims and over 30,000 foreign fighters, eventually achieving military dominance in 162 strategic locations. This […]

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    Almost two and a half years after ISIS took control of Mosul in early June 2014, the Iraqi army launched Operation Fatah, a military campaign aimed at regaining control of the city and its surrounding areas, on October 17, 2016. The operation inscribes itself within the ongoing offensive against ISIS in Iraq, which involves the Iraqi government, Peshmerga (Kurdish) forces, a number of militias under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces, and an international coalition that includes the United States, United Kingdom, and a variety of other countries. With the city’s liberation slow but inevitable, coalition forces must now […]

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    A few months ago, I wrote an article for Charged Affairs examining how a U.S. Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that incorporates a version of World War II’s “Monuments Men” could be an invaluable instrument in the fight against the widespread pillaging, destruction, and illicit exportation of cultural property from Iraq and Syria.  In fact, as recently as November 2016, prosecutors in Geneva seized from its ports cultural relics that had been looted from Syria and other countries in the Middle East that are in turmoil, such as […]

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    On July 5, 2017, prosecutors for the Eastern District of New York announced a settlement with Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. for its purchase and importation of Iraqi artifacts in violation of applicable customs laws.  Hobby Lobby, a privately owned arts-and-crafts retailer based in Oklahoma, worked with several dealers from Israel and the United Arab Emirates to buy more than 5,500 artifacts that included clay tablets containing cuneiform (an ancient Mesopotamian script) and clay bullae.  According to the civil forfeiture complaint, Hobby Lobby retained an expert on cultural property law, yet ignored the expert’s warning that acquiring artifacts from Iraq entails […]

    The post The Hobby Lobby Settlement and Combating Cultural Property Trafficking appeared first on Charged Affairs.


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    The withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989 provoked a type of “dandelion effect” in regards to the dispersion of the foreign fighters who had traveled there to wage war against Russia. Some remained to fight the communist government of Afghanistan, while others went home or on to other distant battlefields. The war created a situation akin to the seed dispersal of a dandelion, casting the seeds of conflict in many directions. Groups like al-Qa’ida, Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) spawned from fighters who left Afghanistan. This concept of a dandelion effect may […]

    The post Post-Caliphate: ISIL and the Dandelion Effect appeared first on Charged Affairs.