From the Blog
President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on the Shayrat Airbase in Syria allegedly in response to the use of chemical weapons in an attack carried out by the Assad regime in the Idlib Province April 4.
Tower Chair and security studies expert Joshua Rovner wrote an opinion piece for the Dallas Morning News looking at the likelihood of and potential consequences of escalated U.S. involvement in the civil war.
“The United States is now in the odd position of launching air strikes against opposite sides in someone else’s civil war,” Rovner wrote.
He argues that in the past the U.S. has not been satisfied with a limited victory, such as deterring unfriendly regimes from the use of chemical weapons. Instead, as seen in Iraq, regime change becomes the goal — or total victory.
Read his full commentary here.
UCLA’s James Gelvin and the Wilson Center’s Henri Barkey came to the Tower Center April 6 to discuss what the Middle East might look like after the demise of ISIS. Sabri Ates, associate professor at SMU, opened the seminar with a look at ISIS’ demise since its peak in 2014. The group has lost almost a quarter of their territory in the last year, according to BBC.
Syria and the New Middle East
Gelvin, professor of modern Middle Eastern history, opened the seminar with a look at what is referred to as the “New Middle East,” a term invented by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The New Middle East refers to what arose out of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Arab uprisings in 2010-2011.
Syria came late to the uprisings and had a different experience for three reasons according to Gelvin. First, the Syrian uprising was highly militarized, and its was militarized early. Second, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made the fight sectarian by naming Sunnis the enemy of the ruling minority, the Alawites. He went as far as releasing jihadists from prison who had fought U.S. forces in Iraq. Third, it turned into a proxy war making it extremely difficult to resolve. When it seems one side is losing invested allies ramp up support in order to turn the tables. For example, in the spring of 2015 the U.S. and Saudi Arabia amped up opposition support, which then led Assad to turn to Russia for increased support as well.
In a post-ISIS world Gelvin predicts the “Somalization of Syria,” meaning Syria would become like Somalia. There would be a formal government and UN membership, but the regime wouldn’t rule over the entire land and would face a long-term fight against the opposition backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
The future of ISIS
ISIS is different from other jihadist groups for two reasons according to Gelvin: One, instead of fighting an insurgency they claimed territory and established a caliphate; and two, they practice takfir. Takfir is when one Muslim declares another Muslim an apostate, for which the penalty is death. ISIS not only fights against non-Muslims, but also Shia Muslims and others they perceive as non-believers. This is why the fight has been so bloody.
Gelvin concluded his talk with five possibilities for a post-caliphate ISIS. They could go underground and re-emerge, relocate, wage an insurgency on Iraq or Syria, give up and move on, or, what Gelvin identifies as the most likely scenario, freelancers or “flaming bananas” will continue to attack globally like the couple in San Bernardino, California.
There is no ‘After ISIS’
Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, opened his portion of the lecture with a dim outlook.
“I’m sorry to tell you, there isn’t going to be an after ISIS,” he said. “Jihadism is alive and well and will continue.”
He partly blames the U.S. strategy for his prediction. While he doesn’t doubt the U.S. will take Mosul and Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State, Barkey says there is no plan for the day after.
“We were surprised by Al Qaeda, we were surprised by ISIS, and we will be surprised again,” he said.
President Trump has already almost doubled the troop numbers in Syria, and his administration is working diligently to remove restrictions on the American military imposed by President Obama.
Barkey’s best case scenario is a Balkanized Syria with the regime in the west, Kurds in the north, and local forces filling in the gaps to create communities out of impossible circumstances.
Three SMU professors Sabri Ates, Michael Lusztig, and Hiroki Takeuchi were awarded the Colin Powell Global Order and Foreign Policy Fellowship for 2017-2018. The award, designed to increase research and scholarship and to enhance teaching effectiveness, gives SMU faculty members up to $5,000 for their research, which contributes to what President Bush referred to as the New World Order.
Sabri Ates, associate professor of history, will use the award to finish writing his book Seyyid Abdulqadir Nehri’s Pursuit of an Independent Kurdistan. With the recent developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey the question of Kurdish statelessness is becoming more pressing. Ates explores what historical conditions account for how the Kurds became the largest ethnic group without its own nation. His book explores attempts at establishing a state going back to the 1870s, anchored in the biography of protagonist Seyyid Abdulqadir Nehri.
In particular, it focuses on the tumultuous period between 1880-1925, during which the creation of a Kurdish state emerged as a distinct possibility and then quickly unraveled. Ates studies the role the Kurds themselves play in making or unmaking a state of their own.
“My book will be part of an ongoing discussion about the Kurds in particular and the greater Middle East in general,” Ates wrote.
Michael Lusztig, professor of political science, will use the award to publish his new book titled The Culturalist Challenge to Liberal Republicanism, which was accepted for publishing by McGill-Queen University Press. In the book, Lusztig explores the risks multiculturalism poses to liberal democracy. His findings fall between Francis Fukuyama’s optimism put forth in his famous declaration of “the end of history” at the conclusion of the Cold War, and Samuel Huntington’s pessimism described in Who Are We, which explores the “identity crisis” and destabilization that comes with increased immigration.
He examines Mexican immigration to the U.S. and finds the risk to be negligible, as well as Islamic immigration to Europe, which he finds poses a greater concern. France and Germany in particular have failed to “bridge social capital” as Robert Putnam recommends, which would develop commonalities between dominant and heritage cultures. Instead, however, the cultures keep to themselves and resentment builds up followed by instability.
“My position is that cultural heterogeneity can be accommodated in different ways,” Lusztig wrote.
Hiroki Takeuchi, associate professor of political science, plans to investigate the security implications of global value chains in the Asia Pacific. It has become increasingly popular for multinational corporations to have different stages of production in different countries, thus creating global value chains. This is especially true in the auto industry.
Takeuchi will explore whether these cross-border relationships built off of trade contribute to peace and international cooperation. According to liberal theories, economic integration should create common interests among states. He argues this research is increasingly pressing considering President Donald Trump’s America first rhetoric and free-trade bashing.
“The development of GVCs in the Asia-Pacific over the last two decades has brought a new international division of labor between developed and developing countries,” Takeuchi wrote.
The three professors will present the findings of their research at a Tower Center seminar in the fall of 2018.
Hiroki Takeuchi, director of the SMU Tower Center Sun & Star Program, wrote an analysis for the China Policy Institute looking at the consequences of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.
“The CCP leadership has feared that corruption, if left unaddressed, could undermine the stability of one-party rule,” Takeuchi wrote. “Perhaps ironically, however, the success of Xi’s campaign has itself undermined the basis of one-party rule.”
Read the essay here.
Tower Chair Joshua Rovner edited and wrote the introduction for the International Security Studies Forum’s newest roundtable, “Russia and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.”
Russian intelligence officials stole and leaked information from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta during the 2016 election. While Russia pursuing “active measures” against a U.S. election is nothing new or startling, the possible ramifications on a historically bizarre race remain to be seen.
“The idea that this one might have succeeded suggests that Russian ‘influence operations’ have become more sophisticated; or that the United States has become more vulnerable; or both,” Rovner wrote.
“The controversy is especially troubling because it follows decades of declining public faith in U.S. institutions.”
Read Rovner’s introduction and the policy roundtable here.
Jieun Pyun, manager for the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, wrote about the recent protests in South Korea, her home country, in the wake of the corruption charges surrounding the now impeached President Park Geun-hye and her administration. Pyun calls the wave of protests a new “Seoul Spring.”
“The past four months revitalized Koreans’ engagement in the democratic process,” Pyun wrote. “Young people who were indifferent towards politics learned about their parents’ sacrifices for democracy and wanted to become more involved.”
Read Pyun’s essay here.
Tower Center Board Member and former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas Richard Fisher wrote a column in the Dallas Morning News telling the story of his father, Leslie Fisher.
In the column, Fisher describes his father’s journey from a homeless child in Queensland, Australia to a traveling salesman and eventual U.S. citizen.
“There isn’t a person reading this whose ancestors didn’t come from the humblest origins, who didn’t come from nowhere with nothing.”
Read Fisher’s full story here.
Tower Center Fellow Alexander Betts and Oxford University Professor Paul Collier wrote an article in the Guardian March 22, “Why denying refugees the right to work is a catastrophic error.”
Betts and Collier argue that the decampment strategy that started being used in the 1980s recognizes food and shelter as refugees’ only needs. Since most refugees are unable to return home for years, this setup is inhumane.
“Refugees have a right to expect a pathway to autonomy,” Betts and Collier wrote.
Read the full story here.
Tower Center Diplomat-in-Residence Ambassador Robert Jordan commented on the Russian intelligence hearing March 20 with FBI Director James Comey.
In the hearing, Comey confirmed that the FBI is investigating ties between President Trump’s associates and the Russian government. “What we really need is a comprehensive investigation,” Jordan said. “Let’s clear air.”