Obama and the Nuclear Microphone

Come on Barak. Not again. Will somebody please tell the President that you can’t discuss nuclear missile negotiations on an open microphone; especially not in a press-filled room at a nuclear security conference in a presidential election year? It just doesn’t get worse than that.

But that’s exactly what happened in Seoul, Korea on Monday when President Obama had a private chat with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev at the “2012 Nuclear Security Summit.” Obama told Medvedev and world the following: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space…This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.” Medvedev, in a seemingly sympathetic vein replied “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…I will transmit this information to Vladimir [Putin].”     Continue reading

Why Nigeria’s Boko Haram Has Been Deemed A National Security Threat to the US

A new jihadist organization is threatening America’s homeland. But these upstarts aren’t your typical extremists from the Middle East; Boko Haram’s holy warriors hail from Nigeria’s northern badlands.

Two years ago, US intelligence agents described Boko Haram as a local Salafist group attacking Christians and local police stations with machetes and poison tipped arrows in Nigeria’s Northeastern Borno state. By November 2011, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence had issued a report stating that “Boko Haram has quickly evolved and poses an emerging threat to US interests and the US homeland.”  That quantum leap was magnified by the report’s recommendation that “The Secretary of State should conduct an investigation into whether Boko Haram should be designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).”  Continue reading

Obama’s Secret War Against Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s “days are numbered. It’s not a matter of if but when,” said President Obama in a March 2 interview with Atlantic Monthly. Obama’s toughest talk yet on Syria was hardly imperial hubris run amok; his ongoing secret war to overthrow the Assad regime is about to escalate.

For months the media has questioned whether the Obama administration has a strategy to depose Assad, and painted a one dimensional portrait of a dictator gone mad slaughtering his own citizens. One might have thought the Fourth Estate would have deployed their considerable corporate resources to report that the administration has been financing Syria’s opposition movement; that the CIA has been training Free Syrian Army forces on Syria’s borders with Jordan and Turkey; that the U.S. is funneling weapons to insurgents inside Syria, and providing them with critical communications equipment. Continue reading

The Berber Rising: The “Other Arab Spring”

Since 2011, the Arab Spring revolts have become the source code for “people power movements” across the planet. Little, however, has been said about the indigenous Berber minority risings coursing through the Maghreb; but no more. Oppressed by Arab regimes for decades, Berber (Amazigh) militias have surged to the center of the post-Ghaddfi governance battle in Libya. In Tunisia and even in Egypt, Berber organizations have mounted spirited campaigns to secure recognition of their culture and Tamizight language. Nor have the Amazigh in Morocco and Algeria been pacified by long overdue reforms and concessions hastily granted by their governments in 2011. Continue reading

Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud Killed in CIA Missile Strike

Brooks Foreign Policy Review

August 7, 2009

Today Pakistani officials announced that Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a U.S. drone missile attack. Mehsud was the most feared leader of Pakistan’s resurgent Tehrik-i-Taliban. He has been accused of masterminding terrorists attacks from Spain to complicity in the murder of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Mehsud always denied he had any involvement in Bhutto’s assassination. He was also accused of working directly with al Queda in Pakistan, supplying them with support to establish operating and training bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Territories.

While definitive proof of Mehsud’s death has yet to be established it is believed he was killed in Drone attack on his father-in-laws home on Friday morning, where he was visiting his second wife. Reports have also indicated that local Taliban leaders in South Waziristan have already convened a shura (council) to determine who will succeed Mehsud as leader. Robert Gibbs, Obama adminstration spokesman said they are aware of the reports but cannot confirm their accuracy. Meanwhile the Pakistani government announced they will be dispatching a team to the site of the attack to confirm Baitallah Mehsud’s death.

American Foreign Policy and the Shia of Iraq after the Invasion of 2003


by Alex J. Kennedy, Contributor
Brooks Foreign Policy Review Middle East Affairs

The current phase of intersection between American foreign policy and Iraq’s Shia began on the night of April 6th, 2003. Overnight, Saddam Hussein’s regime melted away, confronting the Shia with a new reality: they would now have to exercise political control.
The American invasion in 2003 liberated the Shia clerical classes of Shia Islam’s holiest city of Najaf, “the Vatican-Oxford of Shia Islam” and Karbala, where Imam Husayn’s martyrdom engendered the “ethos of Shiism” in 680 A.D. This indicates two ramifications which will forever impact the region: One, for the first time a major Shia Arab population is governing a Sunni Arab people, making political decisions and turning on its head the “mainstream Arab opinion – that mixture of Sunni culture and Pan-Arabism”. A thousand years of Shia political quietism overturned, the Shiites of Iraq will now affect Arab domestic political discourse in neighboring Arab countries. This will be especially true in countries with large Shia populations in the Islamic world such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Sunni Arab states must own up to the political and social neglect inflicted upon their Shia minorities. The Islamic world, especially the Arab societies, should engage all citizens in a dialogue of how to be more inclusive of minorities. The second ramification is the new freedom of the Iraqi Holy Cities of Najaf, Karbala and Kazimain. The liberation of Shia Islam’s holiest cities will no doubt feed into the overall religious revival within Shiism, with geopolitical implications for Iran.
After 1979, the dominance of Iraqi Arab Shia religious instruction was in decline. In Iran, the Shiite shrine cities of Qom, Tehran and Mashadad grew in importance. With the combination of Saddam’s repression at the time of the Iranian Revolution, many of the Iraqi Shia had to go to Iran to receive religious study. Ayatollah Khomeini’s religious revolution of 1979 meant a split for the Islamist Shia groups in Iraq: patriotic and Islamist Shia groups could stay and suffer under the repressive rule of Saddam to aid their fellow Shia, or flee to the protection of the mullahs in Iran. For many this was a tough choice. It has also turned out to be a strategic decision affecting how these Shia groups are viewed domestically in Iraq today. The invasion of 2003 revealed how crucial this split had become to the identity of Iraqi Islamist Shia political groups and other Shia parties in Iraq. This split in Shia Iraqi Islamists groups is very important for understanding the current situation of the Shia in Iraq. This is also illustrated in the change in name of the Shia political party the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), developed by Shia Iraqi exiles financed in Iran, to the more Iraqi-sounding Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC).
At present, relations between Iran and Iraq are evolving. Shortly after the invasion Shia, groups made their way back to Iraq from Iran. Many groups have returned from exile in Iran to find a fluid situation on the ground in Iraq. With the Iraqi Shia liberation in 2003, a shift back to the proper order is occurring. One result has been an intensification of the Arab-Iranian distinction. Groups, such as SCIRI (now SIIC), are Islamist Shia parties which were formed in Iran because of the cover given them by the Iranian regime following the 1979 Revolution. Some Shia, such as the undisputed religious leader of Iraq’s Shia, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, were born in Iran but came to Iraq for religious instruction, another factor which complicates the Arab-Iranian distinction. Shia Iraqi groups formed in exile in Iran have come to find that the domestic Iraqi Arab Shia leaders have greater appeal because they are perceived as having stayed with their flock during the Hussein regime’s persecution.
Moqtada al-Sadr has emerged as one of these Iraqi Shia leaders who suffered the same terrors of his Shia followers. His father was assassinated by the regime of Saddam in 1999. Not long before the invasion in 2003, Shia leaders were already jockeying for control over the various Shia groupings, whether they be in southern Iraqi cities, like Nasiriya, or in Baghdad. After the invasion, many of Baghdad’s poor Shia looked to the young Sadr as a new leader. Despite confrontations between American forces and Sadr loyalists early in the war, it is now believed that Sadr has consolidated a domestic support base among the Iraqi Shia. His constituency is poor and Islamist Shia, especially those in and around Baghdad. Some believe that the aim of Sadr is ultimately to control the holy city of Najaf. Others say “Muqtada opposed Iranian ayatollahs and wants the marja-yi taqlid (top Shia source of emulation) to be an Iraqi” .
Da’wa, another powerful Shia grouping under the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA is a religious-Shia political coalition within Iraq’s parliamentary system) emerged in Iraq in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. It was an indigenous conservative Iraqi Shia reactionary movement against secularism and communism. The group waged an armed struggle against the Iraqi government in the 1970’s. The group is suspected of links to terrorist activity, such as the 1985 assassination attempt on the Emir of Kuwait, but Da’wa (‘Islamic Call’) in 1979 renounced targeting civilians and hijackings as counterproductive. Despite the group’s murky past, Da’wa developed in Iraq by Shia Iraqis, so it will continue to have broad appeal to many, especially conservative Shia Muslims. It is now the favored choice of American policymakers and will likely remain so until other Iraqi parties can gain footing and attract significant constituencies among Iraqis. The current Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was number two after the Da’wa party leader, Ibrahim al-Jafari, who served as the transitional Prime Minister from April 2005-April 2006.
The Shiites of Iraq will not soon forget our support of Saddam in the 1980’s and the failed uprising in 1991 when considering any future interaction with the U.S. One thing that all of the parties of Iraq would likely agree upon is that they want American forces to leave their country. Beyond this, some Shia leaders fear what will happen when we do leave. There will be bloodshed whether we stay or leave. We have come to crossroads in terms of our policies with the Shia of Iraq. The American led invasion did in fact liberate the Shia of Iraq from the repression of Saddam’s regime, but if we leave before the job is done, the situation may be reversed and our policies would enable repression of Iraq’s Sunni people. We must support all legitimate Iraqi groups, especially the moderates. Our policy should be to continue to support the Shia-led government and democratically elected parties, while at the same time using our leverage with the ruling Shia parties to include Iraq’s other groups such as the Sunnis, Turkomans, Assyrians, Yazidis and Chaldeans in a truly pluralistic government representative of all Iraqis regardless of clan, sect or ethnicity.


As Hans Blix wrote, “The invasion of Iraq was about weapons of mass destruction” he continues “[but] the Iraq war cannot be undone…We must also ask if there are important lessons to be drawn”. Before September 11, 2001 the American public had relatively little interest in the Middle East region as a whole, and Iraq in particular. The first Gulf War left hardened views on both sides and exposed shortsightedness on the part of our policies in the Middle East. Too often the American public knows little of the impact of our policies abroad. We must study our past policies toward Iraq and the region to understand what made things the way they are today. Mistakes have certainly been made, but a new government in Baghdad has enabled the Iraqis to carry out domestic elections on their own. This serves as a powerful symbol to the autocratic regimes of Iraq’s neighbors.
Relations with the Islamic world are deeply influenced by our policies in Iraq. American policies should recognize that the Shia in Iraq, and even in Iran, do not view theocracy as the answer to their political problems. There is hope yet for the relationship of the U.S. and Iraq’s Shia. We must encourage more secular and moderate Shia candidates and parties in democratic elections. Shia Iraqis will not simply turn over the rule of their country to the Iranians. A man with deep knowledge of Iraq, Hanna Batatu puts it best: “In their heart of hearts, Iraq’s Shia like things to grow from their own soil”.

Collin Spears Named Chief Washington, D.C. Foreign Policy Correspondent for Brooks Foreign Policy Review

Collin Spears, Chief Foreign Policy Correspondent

Collin Spears, Chief Foreign Policy Correspondent

March 19, 2009
Contact: (860)778.0002
For Immediate Release:


Hartford, Connecticut — Today, Collin Spears was named as the Chief Foreign Policy Correspondent of the Washington, D.C. Bureau of Brooks Foreign Policy Review. “As an astute observer, researcher and resident of East Asia, Collin brings a unique set of reporting and analytical tools to our Washington news desk” said Webster Brooks, Editor of the Brooks Foreign Policy Review (BFPR) and Sr. Fellow at the Denver University Center for New Politics and Policy.

Spears studied Mandarin Chinese at the Shanghai International Studies University. He also lived and worked in Japan as a teacher and IT contractor. Spears said “I’m excited by the opportunity to join the BFPR team and hope that my contribution will expand the scope of the execellent analysis already being generated.” Spears took a Masters of Liberal Arts in International Studies at the University of St. Thomas and a BS in International Business and Information Technology at Old Dominion University.

In addition to reporting on East Asian affairs, Spears will transfer his talents to broaden BFPR’s coverage of European and Central Asian foreign policy issues. Spears is a native of Lima, Ohio.

Brooks Foreign Policy Review is the international affairs arm of the Center for New Politics and Policy at the University of Denver. In addition to its policy blog on http://www.newpolicycenter.org, Brooks Foreign Policy Review host a weekly talk show with leading foreign policy experts and newsmakers called Sunday Global Review.

Brooks Sunday Global Review With Russian Specialist Nicolai Petro

Dr. Nicolai Petro

Dr. Nicolai Petro


Political science professor offers insight on foreign relations during online discussion

Kathleen McKiernanIssue date: 2/27/09:

As part of a new online public forum for foreign policy discussion, the University of Denver’s Center for New Politics and Policy sought out the insights of University of Rhode Island political science professor Nicolai Petro on U.S.-Russian relations.

Senior policy fellow at the CNPP, Webster Brooks III, comments regularly on international affairs, and produces the “Brooks Sunday Global Review,” which is broadcast nationwide every Sunday at 8 p.m. through XM Sirius satellite radio.

Originally organized as the University of Denver’s African-American studies center, the center is now expanding its agenda to focus on new opportunities that arise in American politics from the election of the country’s first African-American president, Barack Obama.

An expert on Russian politics, and a former attaché to the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Petro discussed political development in Russia, and how the U.S. should respond to Russia’s foreign policy during his interview with Brooks on Sunday.

He offered counterarguments to Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., who had spoken on the same topic the previous week, as part of Brooks’ two-part series on Russia. While Cohen argued that Russia views America as a Cold War adversary, Petro sees a chance to improve relations between America and Russia.

“There are interesting new opportunities for improving US-Russian relations, but it would have to begin with a reassessment of Russian initiatives by the U.S. because, if the current administration uses the same assessment as the Bush, there will be no improvement. The [U.S.] can’t keep lecturing at Russia. We need to start treating each other as equals,” Petro said.

Petro refers to the air base in Manas which NATO used as a key supply facility for troops in Afghanistan, and which Kyrgyzstan decided to close Feb. 20.

Petro says it may be harder to change relations between America and Russia because of the media’s influence on American attitudes and assumptions toward Russia.

“The mainstream media does a bad job of explaining what’s happening in Russia, so people think of it as an abnormal country,” Petro said. “It’s harder to just be friends with Russia because of the negative tone taken by the mainstream media. That’s where I come in. Through education we can show where the media is missing the story. That’s what I try to do when I teach about Russia.”

Since many media correspondents come from a similar background and education, they think alike and that “makes it hard to recognize things that are not expected,” Petro said.

“Our assumptions about what’s possible leads to omission of a great deal of information. Because it’s missing, people can’t go back and say the story is incomplete, because to them it’s the full story. It’s a big problem, the assumptions we have going into discussions with [Russia] have fed a persistent ‘intelligence gap.,'” says Petro, that may take more than a generation to overcome.

Iraq’s Successful Provincial Elections Auger Well for Obama’s Troop Withdrawal Plan



Iraq’s critical January 31 provincial election wars are over. With the Iraq Election Commission reporting 90 percent of the vote, the stunning results have far reaching implications for the upcoming referendum on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), December’s parliamentary elections and President Obama’s proposed U.S. troop withdrawal plan. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s “State of the Law” coalition emerged as the big election winner. The advocates of stronger central government gained substantially against Kurdish and Shiia demands for more provincial power, and the Sunni minority participated broadly for the first time in three national elections. The surprisingly peaceful and fair elections were marked by contentious intra-group campaigning as Sunni Awakening Forces challenged the dominant Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, and four Shiia parties (Maliki’s DAWA Party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Sadrists and the Fadhila Party) battled across Southern Iraq for electoral supremacy. Despite a lower than expected turnout of 51 percent, seven million Iraqi’s voted for 14,000 candidates vying for 440 provincial and local offices.

Nouri al Maliki, the once weak Prime Minister who controlled little more than Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and a rump parliament, led the “State of the Law” coalition list to victory in seven provinces in predominantly Shiia southern Iraq. Maliki’s coalition captured a plurality of 38 percent in Baghdad and 37 percent in the strategic oil port city of Basra, where he directed the Iraqi National Army drive to oust Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi army in the summer of 2008. Maliki’s even scored a narrow two point victory in Najaf, the center of Iraq’s Shiite religious movement and stronghold of Dawa’s rivals, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and the Sadrists.

The keys to Maliki’s success are instructive. Eschewing his DAWA Party’s religious themes, Maliki’s coalition ran on a platform of restoring law and order. He played to the Iraqi masses fatigue with sectarian conflict and argued that violence had been reduced to a minimum. Maliki trumpeted his leadership in signing the Status of Forces Agreement requiring all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by 2011, thereby muting the SIIC and Muqtada al Sadr’s rhetoric as the guardians of Iraqi nationalism. Next, Maliki maneuvered to divide his Shiia opponents by teaming with the SIIC and the Iranian government to subdue Muqtada al Sadr’s militias in Basrah and Baghdad last July. Then Maliki sided with the weakened Sadr forces in the elections to curb the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council’s push for a nine-province Shiia super state in Southern Iraq, which runs counter to both their interest in a strong central government. Maliki also took advantage of the splits among Sunni and Sadists forces to secure electoral and military alliances. Finally, as the only major player in Iraq without loyal armed forces to back his writ, Maliki cobbled together a patchwork army. Maliki secured the loyalty of two divisions of the Iraq national army in Bagdad to control the capitol city and began paying tribal chiefs across Iraq to form “tribal council” militias to battle other militias and maintain order.

The big loser in the elections was the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim. The SIIC went into the elections with the most seats in parliament and majority control of the nine southern Iraq Shiia provinces. Their party list, Al-Mihrib Martyr List didn’t win a single province, but managed second place finishes in six provinces (Najaf, Qadisiyaya, Basra, Wasit, Muthana, Babil, Maysan and Dhi Qar). The SIIC platform called for more power to the provinces, the formation of Shiia Islamic super-state in Southern Iraq and expansion of an Islamic state. Ridiculed by the Sadrists for agreeing to the SOFA, falling into disfavor with southern Iraqi’s for not securing essential government services, and labeled as agents of their Iranian sponsors, SIIC will need to retool its organization and message for the upcoming Parliamentary elections to maintain its national power.

One of the most critical election battles took place in Anbar Province. Sunni Awakening forces who led the fight to defeat al Queda, challenged the dominant Sunni parliamentary party, the Islamic Iraqi Party (IIP). The Awakening and National Independent List finished in second place by one-half a percentage point behind the independent Sunni parliamentarian Salih al-Mutalk. The Islamic Iraqi Party came in a close third. The Awakening forces threatened to drown Anbar province in blood if the Islamic Iraqi Party finished first. Although neither the IIP nor the Awakening forces won, the results were so close that a recount was ordered, and the government imposed an immediate curfew in Anbar to impose order. The situation in Anbar remains tense.

While provincial elections in the Kurdish controlled provinces of Dohuk, Suleimaniyah and Erbil were suspended until the Iraqi government and the United Nations agree on a plan on the status of Kirkuk, the Kurds had a great deal at stake in two bordering provinces with large Kurdish populations. The Kurdish Alliance ran second in Ninevah with 25 percent of the vote and second in Diyalah with 17 percent of the vote. The loss in Ninewah to the new Arab nationalist Al Hadbaa List (38% of vote) was a big setback. Although Arabs in Ninewah are the majority the Kurds gained control of the provincial government when Sunni Arabs boycotted the 2005 election. Al Hadbaa has not only launched attacks on the Kurds, but is vehemently opposed to expansion of the Kurdish Region.

As the final results of Iraq’s provincial elections are sorted out over the next two weeks, the struggles will begin to divide provincial governance assignments, local offices, and expenditure of provincial revenues. With not a single party list winning more than 50 percent of the votes in any of Iraq’s 14 provinces, the winners will have to divide provincial offices with their adversaries, and the other minor parties. In most cases this will be a fractious process. In Anbar and Ninewah provinces, the potential outbreak of violence is very real. In order to preserve the gains that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki made in the elections and to consolidate order across Iraq, he will need to respond appropriately with prudence to any flashpoints of contention.

Despite the difficult hurdles the Maliki government must clear going forward, the Iraqi provincial elections were a big success for the Obama administration. Had the elections been marred in violence and fraud, Iraq’s fragile peace could have been plunged in chaos and Maliki’s regime severely undermined. The defeats of the dominant Shiia “Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council” in southern Iraq and the Kurdish setbacks in Ninewah and Diyalah provinces, has significantly slowed the momentum for federalism and a hard partition of Iraq. Moreover, the rising support for secular parties among the Shiia, Sunni and Kurds is an encouraging sign that polarizing sectarian-leaning parties may be on the decline. The parliamentary elections in December will be even more crucial in the re-alignment of national power sharing.

The victories scored by Maliki’s State of the Law list gives President Obama a stronger maximum leader across Iraq and a powerful proponent for approving the Status of Forces Agreement in the June 2009 national referendum. More importantly, these developments open a wider path of relative stability in Iraq that President Obama desperately needs to begin his proposed 16 month troop withdrawal plan.