Category: John Hannah
Hannah: Obama’s Syria disaster
| December 14, 2012 | 3:52 pm | John Hannah | No comments

Published for Foreign Policy Shadow Government, December 13, 2012

Watching the nightmare in Syria unfold, you have to ask yourself: Could the Obama administration have made a worse hash out of the situation if it had tried?

Short of an outright Iranian victory that saw the Assad regime’s power fully restored, it’s hard to imagine a more dire set of circumstances for U.S. interests. The Syrian state is well on its way to imploding. A multiplicity of increasingly well-armed militias are rushing to fill the vacuum. At the forefront of the fight are a growing number of radical Islamist groups, including some affiliated with al Qaeda. The prospect that Assad’ s demise will be accompanied by the use (and/or proliferation) of chemical weapons and massive communal bloodletting gets higher by the day. Libya on steroids is what we’re looking at, only this time not on the distant periphery of the Middle East but in its heartland, a gaping strategic wound that is likely to threaten the stability and wellbeing of Syria’s five neighbors — critical American partners all — for years to come.

Does it require saying that it need not have been this way? That with sustained American leadership over the past 21 months the most threatening aspects of this crisis could not only have been seriously mitigated, but U.S. interests significantly advanced?

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Hannah: Energy insecurity: How oil dependence undermines America’s effort to stop the Iranian bomb
| October 12, 2012 | 4:53 pm | John Hannah | No comments

Published for Foreign Policy Shadow Government, October 12, 2012

Energy issues have figured prominently in Governor Romney’s campaign. Achieving “North American energy independence” has been a central pillar of the 5-point economic plan that he’s been touting — including at last week’s first presidential debate. A bit surprising, then, that in the governor’s October 8th foreign policy speech, with its heavy emphasis on the Middle East, energy didn’t even merit a mention.

Let’s face it. Ensuring the free flow of oil has been the main driver of American strategy in the Middle East for decades. Our nation’s economic wellbeing depends on a well-supplied global oil market, and countries in the Middle East account for a significant portion of the world’s production. The cartel they dominate, OPEC, today controls between 30 and 40 percent of the international market while possessing the vast majority of the world’s proven reserves.

As a result, America and the global economy are incredibly vulnerable to what happens in the region. Every U.S. recession but one since World War II has been preceded by an oil price shock. And in the majority of cases, those shocks have been triggered by events originating in the Middle East. Think the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the 1979 Iranian revolution, or Saddam’s 1991 invasion of Kuwait.

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Hannah: Good friends are hard to find: Why the U.S. should support Mithal Alusi and Kurdistan
| September 17, 2012 | 11:19 am | John Hannah | No comments

Published for Foreign Policy Shadow Government, September 14, 2012

I know. Foreign policy has been largely an afterthought in the presidential campaign. Iraq, for all intents and purposes, is off the radar screen entirely — except as a Democratic talking point, Bush’s misbegotten war that Obama allegedly “ended.” So a post on the plight of a rather obscure Iraqi politician — and the merits of the Kurdish region he now calls home — amounts to so much spitting in the wind, right?

Probably. On the other hand, this week’s news — rampaging anti-American mobs across the Arab world, skyrocketing U.S.-Israeli tensions — has brought into sharp relief one of the main critiques of the administration’s foreign policy. Its sustained efforts to mollify enemies at the expense of longtime friends has fomented a dangerous perception of American weakness, irresolution, and retreat in the Middle East — the slow-motion breakdown of a U.S.-led order that, unless reversed, will inexorably invite far more destabilizing and costly challenges down the road.

From that perspective, perhaps an appeal for greater solidarity with some true Iraqi friends will not fall totally on deaf ears.

Mithal Alusi is the leader of Iraq’s Democratic Nation Party. Since his return to Iraq in late 2003, Mithal has been without question the country’s most outspoken and courageous champion of liberal values, unwavering in his defense of free speech, free press, free markets, religious tolerance, and human rights — especially full equality for women.

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Hannah: A trip report from Israel–’We have entered the phase of strategic decisions’
| August 8, 2012 | 11:07 am | John Hannah | No comments

Published for Foreign Policy, August 7, 2012

I recently returned from a trip to Israel. I met with a handful of very senior foreign policy and defense officials, but did not speak with any member of the “Forum of Eight” — Israel’s security cabinet that is responsible for key decisions concerning war and peace. With that important caveat, I thought I’d share several random impressions:

First, Israelis realize full well that they’re in the middle of a geo-political hurricane. The pillars that have anchored their national security strategy for a generation are being washed away, swamped by a rising tide of Islamism. The Egypt of Sadat, Mubarak and Camp David is no more. Jordan, Israel’s other critical peace partner, is under enormous strain. The once vibrant military relationship with Turkey has withered. Syria is awash in blood, raising the specter of loose WMD, a jihadist safe haven, and generalized chaos on what for nearly four decades (despite the Assad regime’s enduring hostility) has been Israel’s quietist front. All this, of course, on top of the pre-existing threat of Hezbollah in Lebanon with 50,000 rockets and missiles in its arsenal, and patrons in Tehran hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons with which to terrorize the Middle East in service to their particularly virulent brand of anti-Zionism.

Second, while deeply concerned with the turmoil that surrounds them, Israeli officials exude a degree of quiet confidence that they can weather this storm. I detected no sense of panic, but rather a steely-eyed determination to do what was necessary to secure Israel’s core interests. Given the degree of uncertainty inherent in the current regional upheavals, it would be an exaggeration to say that Israelis are yet at the point of developing any new grand strategy. But one can discern some basic principles that have emerged to help navigate the turbulence that will continue to roil the region for the foreseeable future.

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Hannah: Turkey, Kurdistan and the future of Iraq: Time for Washington to tune back in
| June 1, 2012 | 3:25 pm | John Hannah | No comments

Published for http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com, May 31, 2012

With last week’s headlines dominated by Egypt’s presidential elections, negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, and fresh atrocities in Syria, it would have been easy to miss a major development out of Iraq that in time could have equally momentous consequences for the future of the Middle East. I’m referring to the announcement that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Turkey have agreed — in principle at least — to build a series of pipelines that will allow the Kurds to export oil and gas directly to Turkey and, from there, onward to the rest of the world. The U.S. should be paying close attention.

Until now, the KRG’s ability to develop its substantial energy riches has been held hostage to its dependence on export pipelines controlled by the central government in Baghdad. To get any oil to international markets — and, in turn, to get its fair share of revenue from those sales — the KRG has largely been at Baghdad’s mercies.

Iraq’s oil ministry has sought to exploit its position of strength to coerce concessions from the KRG on a long-stalled national hydrocarbons law. In particular, Baghdad has demanded veto power over exploration and development contracts that the Kurds are negotiating with international oil companies. At least 40 such contracts have already been signed over the central government’s vociferous objections — including a breakthrough agreement late last year with the global energy giant, Exxon Mobil.

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Hannah: Sanctioning Iran’s central bank: An important step too long in coming
| May 18, 2012 | 3:50 pm | John Hannah | No comments

Published for http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com, May 17, 2012

Washington is abuzz with speculation about a possible interim deal that might help defuse the brewing crisis over Iran’s nuclear program. Color me skeptical.

That said, one thing seems clear. Iran’s increased interest in negotiations has been driven almost entirely by its search for relief from harsh Western sanctions imposed in the last six months.

A top official from the Obama administration recently told me that “from what we are seeing, the threat of an Israeli strike hardly figures right now in Iranian calculations. On the contrary, everything indicates that what really worries Iran’s leaders is the impact of sanctions and the danger that they could spark domestic unrest.” Senior Israeli intelligence analysts have reached a similar conclusion, noting in conversations that, “at the moment, Iran doesn’t think Israel will attack [without endorsement from the U.S.] . . . . The need for sanctions relief is the reason they’re back at the table.”

Of course, the centerpiece of the sanctions campaign has been the U.S. decision at long last to target the Central Bank of Iran (CBI). Foreign financial institutions that continue dealing with the CBI to make payments for Iranian oil now risk being cut off from the U.S. banking system. Only countries that show significant reductions in purchases by late June will qualify for exemptions.

In response, the European Union has agreed to end all imports of Iranian oil as of July 1. Japan — Iran’s second largest customer — has already secured a U.S. waiver for its efforts to slash imports. Other major purchasers of Iranian crude, including South Korea, India, South Africa, and Turkey, are scrambling to follow suit. There are even signs that China, Iran’s biggest buyer, may be reluctantly cutting back, or at least taking advantage of the shrinking demand for Iranian product to negotiate significant price reductions.

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Hannah: What Obama should say when Kurdistan’s President Masoud Barzani visits Washington
| April 2, 2012 | 2:17 pm | John Hannah | No comments

Published for http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com, April 2, 2012

In my last post, I sketched out the strategic case for significantly deepening U.S.-Kurdish ties. While such a paradigm shift may take some time, a good start can be made simply by clearing out the underbrush of counter-productive policies that needlessly hinder our relations with the Kurds. During this week’s visit to Washington by President Masoud Barzani, head of Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government, the Obama administration would be well-served by focusing on several practical deliverables:

Stop Treating the Kurds as Terrorists. Incredibly, under existing immigration law, members of Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties — Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) — are classified as terrorists when seeking visas to enter the United States. As modified after 9/11, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) uses a definition of terrorism so broad that virtually any resistance group that in the past engaged in armed conflict against its government is considered a so-called “Tier III” terrorist organization. Membership in such a group is automatic grounds for denial of admission to the U.S., treatment that extends to the member’s family as well.

That’s right: The KDP and PUK for years worked hand-in-glove with the United States to bring down the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein. After 2003, they served as America’s most faithful allies in efforts to stabilize Iraq. And for all their trouble fighting alongside U.S. forces they got . . . well, they got labeled as terrorists, of course. As Mr. Bumble famously says in Oliver Twist, “If the law supposes that . . . [then] the law is an ass — an idiot.”

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Hannah: America needs a Kurdish policy
| March 22, 2012 | 4:47 pm | John Hannah | No comments

Published for http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/, March 22, 2012

Among the Iraq-related anniversaries to consider, here’s one more: Twenty-one years ago this week, millions of Iraqi Kurds set flight for the desolate, snow-capped mountains bordering Turkey and Iran, frantically seeking to escape the advancing armies of Saddam Hussein. Fresh off his humiliating defeat in the first Gulf War, Saddam had quickly trained his guns on wiping out all internal opposition to his tyrannical rule.

Where the Kurds were concerned, his purpose seemed clear. Saddam aimed to eliminate once and for all the persistent challenge this proud, irrepressible minority had long posed to his dictatorship. Genocide was on tap, the completion of a job begun in 1988, when Iraqi forces razed thousands of Kurdish villages, murdered their inhabitants, and rained chemical weapons down on the innocent men, women and children of a town called Halabja.

Now, with their backs literally to the wall, freezing to death on a barren mountainside, facing Saddam’s full vengeance, the Kurds’ destruction seemed nigh.

Until, that is: America. Said. No. Working with a small group of allies, the United States, quite simply, saved the Kurds. Saddam’s army was ordered to stand down or face renewed hostilities. U.S. ground forces deployed to northern Iraq and organized one of history’s greatest humanitarian rescues, Operation Provide Comfort. A no-fly zone was established over Kurdistan, which U.S. aircraft patrolled until 2003, when America finally settled its score with Saddam for good, liberating almost 30 million people from his republic of fear, including the long-suffering Kurds.

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Hannah: Iran and Iraq
| January 20, 2010 | 1:44 pm | John Hannah | No comments

As published for Shadow Government on foreignpolicy.com on January 20th, 2010:

By John Hannah

What should be the Obama administration’s focus in the Middle East for Year Two? For me, it’s a no-brainer: consolidating success in Iraq and supporting democratic change in Iran.

Iraq is at an important crossroads. Things could go very well in 2010 or they could begin to unravel. There’s no doubt that President Obama’s artificially imposed August timeline for removing all U.S. combat troops has introduced an unnecessary element of added uncertainty to the mix, and will serve as an accelerant of instability.

That said, the process remains manageable if balanced by steady progress in the political, economic, diplomatic, and security spheres, mainly: 1) Another free and fair parliamentary election that, without excessive delay, produces a reasonably competent national government; 2) The start of a serious campaign to deliver basic services, attract foreign investment, and generate jobs and economic growth for the Iraqi people; 3) Iraq’s further integration into its own neighborhood; and 4) The continued strengthening of the Iraqi security services. All these tasks remain seriously challenging, but eminently achievable — especially if buttressed by deep, consistent American engagement, led by Obama himself, that reflects an appreciation for Iraq’s critical importance to the Persian Gulf region and the enormous long-term benefits that would accrue from an effective U.S.-Iraqi strategic partnership.

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Hannah: An Arrest in Qom
| January 13, 2010 | 5:35 pm | John Hannah | No comments

As published for Shadow Government on foreignpolicy.com on January 13th, 2010:

By John Hannah

On Jan. 12, several agents from the Islamic Republic’s intelligence ministry raided the home of Mohammed Taqi Khalaji. They took Khalaji into custody and confiscated his computer, satellite receiver, and hundreds of notes, books and personal letters.  The agents also seized the passports of Khalaji and members of his family, banning them all from leaving the country. Khalaji’s family does not currently know where he is being detained and Iranian authorities are refusing to provide any information.

Khalaji is a prominent cleric in Qom, the center of Iranian Shiism. Since June 12, he has been a courageious critic of the Iranian regime’s crackdown on peaceful protests and a supporter of the so-called Green Movement. Khalaji was known to be close to Iran’s most prominent dissident cleric, the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, and is an ally of Ayatollah Sanei — another well-known reformist cleric who has come under whithering attack from the regime following the massive Ashura demonstrations of Dec. 28. Clearly, Khalaji’s arrrest is of a piece with the Islamic Republic’s escalating — though so far miserably unsuccessful – efforts to crush all signs of peaceful opposition. Khalaji now joins hundreds, if not thousands, of other brave Iranians dragged from their homes and illegally detained for exercising their most fundamental rights of citizenship.

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