Summary of Presentation on…

“Whither Kurdistan”

with

Dr. Jill Derby and Ted Morse

 

Dr. Jill Derby and former Diplomat, Ted Morse, teamed up to provide a riveting presentation on the Kurds– their history, their role in central Asia, their internal divisions as well as cohesion, and their current conflict with the Islamic State.  Derby has a PhD in anthropology, speaks Arabic, and has traveled widely in the region.  She also serves on the Board of the American University of Iraq in Kurdistan.  Morse is a retired Diplomat and international consultant with 50 years of experience, with much of that having been spent in Iraq and the Middle East.

Derby provided a historic evolution of the Kurdish region, whose people live primarily in four different countries– Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq.  Largely Sunni-Muslim, the Kurds have one of the longest ethnic histories in the Middle East– dating back to 2400 B.C.  However, the Kurds have never had their own independent nation, despite the multiple divisions of the region throughout history.  Derby also discussed the importance of loyalty to various clans (many of us hadn’t realized how many internal divisions there were among the Kurdish people).

Derby and Morse also focused on the strength and weaknesses of various para-military forces in the Kurdish region, including the Peshmerga.  They both strongly support increased assistance to the Kurdish groups, directly when possible or through the Iraqi government when necessary.  Despite their deep respect and affection for the Kurdish people, neither felt it was politically feasible to push, at this time, for an independent Kurdish state carved out of the four impacted countries.  They did, however, strongly advocate that the U.S. support efforts to enhance Kurdish autonomy, particularly in Iraq.

The PowerPoint that Derby and Morse used is below.  Given the depth of interest shown in this presentation, we will ask both participants to provide us additional commentary on the Kurds, particularly with respect to U.S. policy toward that group and region, and the current conflict with the Islamic State.

Kurdistan PowerPoint

 

October 21st Final Announcement

Colleagues: Don’t miss this program!  In a preparatory session with Jill and Ted, it became very clear that the Kurdish situation is quite complex and defies any simple solution.

Whither “Kurdistan”

The Historic Kurdish Legacy and the Current Conflict

 with

Dr. Jill Derby

And a commentary by Ted Morse

The Ramada, 9:00 a.m., Tuesday, October 21st

The Kurdish people (about 30 million) are spread out over a number of countries surrounding the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.  Recently, the idea of an independent Kurdish nation has received increased attention. However, given the implications of that for Iraq, Iran and Turkey, it is difficult to envision that occurring.   Dr. Derby will direct special attention to the evolution of various Kurdish entities following WWI, and will assess the potential and implications of greater autonomy or independence for the Kurds. The changing and troubled relationship between Turkey and the Kurds amidst the current conflict with ISIS will also be addressed.

Ted Morse will add commentary on the current situation facing the Kurds—should they seek greater autonomy within Iraq? Is Turkey an implacable foe or potential ally in the fight against ISIS? Where does Iran fit in this equation?

The Kurds are largely Sunni Muslims, but include a sizeable Shia population, as well as other minorities such as the Yazidis. Regardless of religious orientation, the key foe of the Kurds at present is the Islamic State (ISIS), which appears to be on the verge of taking the Kurdish town of Kobani despite American and allied air strikes. Derby and Morse will analyze what actions the U.S. can and should take in the present crisis on behalf of the Kurds, in the short term assisting the Kurds militarily but in the longer term, should we support Kurdish autonomy within neighboring states or even a Kurdish nation? (An article in a recent New Yorker described US policy toward the Kurds as “swinging between rescue and abandonment”).

Dr. Jill Derby has a PhD in cultural anthropology and speaks Arabic.  She lived and worked in Saudi Arabia and traveled widely throughout the region.  She was recently named to the Board of the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani in Kurdistan.  She works closely with Barham Saleh, the former Prime Minister of the Kurdish Republic and former Deputy PM of Iraq. Ted Morse is a retired U.S. diplomat and international consultant with 50 years experience in economic and political development in international conflict zones, including two tours in Iraq. He has extensive experience in the region, having lived and worked in several countries with large Muslim populations.

Please join us for what will be a very interesting discussion. A full breakfast will be served ($15 Members, $25 Non-Members, and $10 for students with ID and military personnel in uniform; free for WWII veterans). We recommend that you arrive by 8:30 to enjoy some breakfast, coffee and conversation.

You are encouraged to RSVP by clicking HERE. You may also RSVP e-mailinginfo@nationalsecurityforum.org. Just a reminder, after the forum, we will be accepting new and renewal membership applications for the July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015period. Forms will be available at the forum, though you can also access the application form by clicking HERE. For your convenience, we accept cash, check and credit card payments for both the breakfast and membership fees.

DEGRADING AND ULTIMATELY DESTROYING ISIS

Will the current strategy accomplish that?

If so, at what cost? And is it worth it?

  • By Tyrus W. Cobb

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, captured world headlines as it declared the goal of creating a “Caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria and embarked on a very impressive military campaign that has culminated in the capture of large swaths of territory, including major urban areas. ISIS has employed extremely ruthless tactics against the civilian populations in areas it has seized, including ethnic cleansing of Shiite, Christian and Kurdish communities. It has committed mass murders not only of ethnic and religious minorities, but even fellow Sunni Muslims who refuse to repent and declare their adherence to ISIL’s extreme view of Islam.

ISIS has conducted mass enslavements of women and children, likely over 3,000 to date, from the northern Iraqi towns and regions of Sinjar, Tel Afar, the Nineveh Plains and Shirkan. Women and children who refused to convert to this extreme Sunni religious brand were allotted to ISIS fighters or were trafficked in markets in Mosul and Raqqa (in Syria). Any males captured who refused to convert were usually executed.

Obama declares that ISIS must be “Degraded and Ultimately Defeated”

The Islamic State has also spread fear far beyond the region by the public beheadings of Western journalists and aid workers. The sheer ruthlessness of ISIS coupled with its striking military success has generated deep concern not just in the Mideast, but in Europe and the United States. However, there remains serious questions regarding the extent to which the Islamic State represents a threat to America, and what is the appropriate response to counter that threat.

There has been no shortage of criticism of President Obama’s assessment of the challenge and the response the administration has devised to counter ISIS. Some charge that the current strategy of relying on U.S. air strikes, assisted in part by modest support from regional and European air forces, and without consideration of placing combat forces on the ground, has little chance of succeeding in destroying let alone degrading the Islamic State. Those critics are right on target.

The steps he has outlined do not form a cohesive strategy that would destroy ISIS. There is precious little multilateral let alone regional participation. The actions taken to date have little chance of defeating the Islamic State.

Others charge that while ISIS is reprehensible and acting in a manner inimical to our interests, it does not represent a direct threat to our vital interests. In addition, these critics warn that American involvement in conflicts in the Middle East, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya, has led to large loss of life and limb and the wasted expenditure of billions of dollars. They add that in the end our interventions have managed to create or left behind weak regimes incapable of governing in a manner that unites the populace, and only created deep resentment against the United States. These critics are also right.

So then what is the extent of the threat from ISIS and what should be a rational and effective American response?

The Islamic State at present does not represent a direct threat to the U.S. Having said that, the radical Al Qaeda offshoot is now controlling vast swaths of land, as well as some urban centers, and has amassed a deep trove or riches—some seized and some, regrettably, from conservative Arab states that have funneled support to such jihadist groups for decades—and that includes Saudi Arabia and Qatar. ISIS is now threatening the Kurdish enclave of Korbani and is on the outskirts of Baghdad. If those centers fall the Islamic State would exercise control over much of the Arab heartland and significant oil reserves.

While not a current threat to America, defeating ISIS should be a national security objective given its potential influence and control of these key areas. As ISIS grows it will increasingly be a threat to Israel, Christian populations, Shia enclaves, the Kurds and other ethnic minorities.

Ideally the United States would be “leading from behind” here, assisting in providing logistics, intelligence and reconnaissance assets. Ideally, the conservative Arab states such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and even Egypt would provide the ground forces necessary to dislodge and defeat ISIS. Others, ideally, would aid in the air campaign.

How has that “ideal” outcome worked out?

Not well, not well at all. The potential partners in this “alliance” seem reluctant to commit ground forces to the fray, even though by doing so they could field a force far more formidable than ISIS. Those countries also seem to be more focused on other near term concerns than defeating ISIS.

Turkey is a major problem, not part of the solution. The Turks are wary that any involvement by them might only encourage the restive Kurdish populace to demand more autonomy or even independence. Although relations between the Kurds and the Turkish government have improved over the past few years, the current crisis threatens to destroy that progress. Specifically, as ISIS moves on the Kurdish city of Kobani, the Turks—rather than bombing ISIS positions, have instead struck Kurdish positions from the rear! Some believe that President Erdogan fears the emergence of a Kurdish state more than ISIS!

Erdogan has also made it clear that his primary objective is overthrowing the Al-Assad Alawite regime in Syria, not defeating ISIS. Removing Assad is also an American stated objective, but that has been placed on the back burner. Right now the U.S. needs Syria to be active in assisting in the defeat of the radical Sunni movement known as ISIS, but doesn’t want the repressive regime of Assad to be strengthened. There is no shortage of recriminations over these competing objectives as the confusing Syrian tactical situation is marked by divisions between the government, Al Qaeda affiliates (Al Nusra), a few “moderate” rebel forces, and the Islamic State.

The government of Iraq is also a disappointment. For years the Shia regime under PM Maliki has given scant attention and support to the majority Sunni, most living in the Western regions. As a consequence many disaffected Sunnis, including members of the old Baathist armed forces, have joined the ISIS camp. Further, in battle, the Iraqi Army has melted away in the face of ISIS militancy, and doubt remains if it can coalesce sufficiently to save Baghdad. To hold off ISIS, the dissolved elements of the old army would have to regroup and fight with conviction; political leaders will have to put aside sectarian differences and reach compromises; disenfranchised Sunni tribes will have to tolerate Shia militias and separate themselves from ISIS. A tall order with little chance of success.

Vice President Joe Biden was forced to apologize for his blunt criticism of Turkey’s unhelpful role, as well as that of the UAE (and implicitly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States). Biden recanted his criticism of Erdogan, explicitly for saying Erdogan’s policies “supported terrorism”, in the Veep’s words. Although this was diplomatically incorrect, Biden was right on the mark in his criticism.

American airstrikes also seem to have generated more criticism than battlefield success. ISIS initially remained deployed in force in open spaces, with its tanks and artillery unprotected. That has changed and the head of the militant forces, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, has brought his troops and equipment into urban areas, melding them in with the populace. Attacking these deployments has led to vociferous condemnation of the U.S., with allegations of widespread civilian casualties.

Thus, rather than having forged an effective alliance against the Islamic State, the U.S. is faced with “a warring club of hesitant allies with dissimilar objectives and often opposing interests”, as one observer notes.

So where do we go from here?

The challenge to a successful securing of U.S. strategic and tactical objectives are manifold. To achieve the key objective of “Degrading and Ultimately Destroying ISIS” would require:

  • A substantial commitment of American ground forces for an extended period in the war zone, augmented by troops from our European allies;
  • A continuation of the air strikes that have been conducted to date, but with much greater precision in order to strike well camouflaged ISIS forces and equipment, often in urban areas;
  • A major deployment of ground forces by impacted regional powers, especially Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf states;
  • Sending more advanced weaponry to the Kurds immediately; at the same time insuring that the weak Iraqi government can tolerate a militarily stronger Kurdish enclave;
  • Cooperation temporarily with the Shia-leaning Assad government in Syria and the Iranian regime. Place the removal of Assad on the back burner; make cooperation with Iran a high priority. Bring Russia into the “alliance” by shelving current concerns over Ukraine; stress to Putin the danger of infection of his own rapidly growing Sunni Muslim populations;
  • Prepare to allocate billions of dollars from the U.S. treasury, the European allies, and especially the oil-rich Gulf States.

And what are the prospects for accomplishing the above requirements?

Zero….on virtually every count. There is no prospect for substantial and meaningful commitments from our “friends” in the region; no chance that the American public will support “boots on the ground” or extensive funding; no chance of regional powers like Turkey dropping their near term concerns and joining the cause with significant military force.

Therefore, I would in the future recommend that the Obama administration focus on a strategy designed to assist regional powers in their struggle against the Islamic State. Emphasize it is their struggle to win; we can help them, not win the war for them.

This strategy is far from perfect—by no means is it guaranteed to succeed, and it will make the President vulnerable to charges of being weak in the face of a clear challenge. However, it is realistic and places the burden on those countries/regimes with the most to lose from further ISIS successes.

Am I wrong?

  • Tyrus W. Cobb

Announcement for our October 21st Meeting

 Whither “Kurdistan”

The Historic Kurdish Legacy and the Current Conflict

with

Dr. Jill Derby

And a commentary by Ted Morse

The Ramada, 9:00 a.m., Tuesday, October 21st

The Kurdish people (about 30 million) are spread out over a number of countries surrounding the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.  Recently, the idea of an independent Kurdish nation has received increased attention. However, given the implications of that for Iraq, Iran and Turkey, it is difficult to envision that occurring.   Dr. Derby will direct special attention to the evolution of various Kurdish entities following WWI, and will assess the potential and implications of greater autonomy or independence for the Kurds. The changing and troubled relationship between Turkey and the Kurds amidst the current conflict with ISIS will also be addressed.

Ted Morse will add commentary on the current situation facing the Kurds—should they seek greater autonomy within Iraq? Is Turkey an implacable foe or potential ally in the fight against ISIS? Where does Iran fit in this equation?

The Kurds are largely Sunni Muslims, but include a sizeable Shia population, as well as other minorities such as the Yazidis. Regardless of religious orientation, the key foe of the Kurds at present is the Islamic State (ISIS), which appears to be on the verge of taking the Kurdish town of Kobani despite American and allied air strikes. Derby and Morse will analyze what actions the U.S. can and should take in the present crisis on behalf of the Kurds, in the short term assisting the Kurds militarily but in the longer term, should we support Kurdish autonomy within neighboring states or even a Kurdish nation? (An article in a recent New Yorker described US policy toward the Kurds as “swinging between rescue and abandonment”).

Dr. Jill Derby has a PhD in cultural anthropology and speaks Arabic.  She lived and worked in Saudi Arabia and traveled widely throughout the region.  She was recently named to the Board of the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani in Kurdistan.  She works closely with Barham Saleh, the former Prime Minister of the Kurdish Republic and former Deputy PM of Iraq. Ted Morse is a retired U.S. diplomat and international consultant with 50 years experience in economic and political development in international conflict zones, including two tours in Iraq. He has extensive experience in the region, having lived and worked in several countries with large Muslim populations.

Please join us for what will be a very interesting discussion. A full breakfast will be served ($15 Members, $25 Non-Members, and $10 for students with ID and military personnel in uniform; free for WWII veterans). We recommend that you arrive by 8:30 to enjoy some breakfast, coffee and conversation.

You are encouraged to RSVP by clicking HERE. You may also RSVP e-mailinginfo@nationalsecurityforum.org. Just a reminder, after the forum, we will be accepting new and renewal membership applications for the July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015period. Forms will be available at the forum, though you can also access the application form by clicking HERE. For your convenience, we accept cash, check and credit card payments for both the breakfast and membership fees.

Save the Dates for These Exciting Upcoming Forums

Whither “Kurdistan”

The Historic Kurdish Legacy and the Current Conflict

with

Dr. Jill Derby

The Ramada, 9:00 a.m., Tuesday, October 21st

The Kurdish people are spread out over a number of countries surrounding the Kurdish region in northern Iraq.  Recently, the idea of an independent Kurdish nation has received attention, although given the implications of that for Iraq, Iran and Turkey; it is difficult to envision that occurring.   Dr. Derby will direct special attention to the evolution of various Kurdish entities following WWI, and will assess the potential and implications of greater autonomy or independence for the Kurds. The changing and troubled relationship between Turkey and the Kurds amidst the current conflict with ISIS will also be addressed.

Dr. Jill Derby has a PhD in cultural anthropology and speaks fluent Arabic.  She lived and worked in Saudi Arabia and traveled widely throughout the region.  She was recently named to the Board of the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani in Kurdistan.  She works closely with Barham Saleh, the former Prime Minister of the Kurdish Republic and former Deputy PM of Iraq.

/////

INDIA AND THE RISE OF NARENDRA MODI

Implications for China, the U.S. and the Asian Balance of Power

with

Atul Minocha

and a commentary by Dr. Xiaoyu Pu

The Ramada, 9:00 a.m., Wednesday, November 12th

With over 1.2 billion people, India is the second most populous country in the world but is expected to surpass China by 2025.  More than 50% of the people are below the age of 25, representing more than 2,000 ethnic groups and every major religion.  India selected the controversial Narendra Modi, former Chief Minister of Gujarat state, as its 15th Prime Minister to rule over this ethnic and religious salad bowl.  Under Modi, Gujarat became an economic dynamo, but he also presided over India’s worst communal riots in decades, a 2002 slaughter that left almost 2,000 Muslims dead.

At the same time, Modi has been widely praised for his bold economic policies, which are credited with creating an environment with a high rate of economic growth in Gujarat.  Modi also gained national significance as a key strategic leader for the BJP, the Bharatya Janata Party, and led the BJP to victory over the long ruling and very staid Congress party.  Despite being known as a Hindu nationalist, Modi’s election has been widely greeted across India’s various ethnic groups and regional variations.  He recently made a very well received state visit to the United States, made more interesting by the fact that he was on a “denied visa list” for so many years.

The selection of Modi as India’s new Prime Minister comes on the heels of the selection of Xi Jinping as China’s new President.  It will be interesting to see how the new leaders of the world’s most populous countries manage their difficult and contentious relationship, as well as relations with America.

Minocha will discuss the current political and economic order in India, and review the sensitive ethnic divide in the country.  He will focus on the rapid rise of Modi– who is he, what are his policy goals, what does his election mean for relations with China and the United States?  Xiaoyu Pu will provide us with a Chinese perspective on Modi and how that election might impact contentious relations between Beijing and New Delhi.  Both will also discuss the implications of these changes for U.S. policy in the region.

Atul Minocha was born and raised in India.  He came to the U.S. “for 2 years” in 1987 to get his MBA from Yale, and remained here since. Minocha is a partner in Chief Outsiders, a marketing consulting company, and also teaches graduate students at Hult International Business School in San Francisco.  Dr. Xiaoyu Pu is an assistant professor at UNR.  He received his PhD from Ohio State University and was a post doctoral fellow in the Princeton-Harvard “China and the World” Program.  His articles and commentaries have appeared in major journals and media outlets.

No need to RSVP now, but please mark these unique and exciting events on your calendars.