Opinion

David Rohde

Kerry’s triumph may not last long

David Rohde
Jul 19, 2013 19:11 UTC

AMMAN, JORDAN – Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that Israeli and Palestinian officials had reached an agreement that “establishes a basis” for the resumption of direct peace talks is a badly needed foreign policy achievement for the Obama administration.

The talks are not yet finalized and seem unlikely to eventually succeed, but six months of shuttle diplomacy by Kerry is the first example of successful American diplomacy in the Middle East in several years.

The difficulties Kerry faced in simply getting the two sides to resume talks three years after the last round collapsed shows how difficult the path ahead will be. The negotiations are so sensitive that he and other American officials refused to release details of the agreement on Friday.

“The agreement is still in the process of being formalized,” Kerry said, “so we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now.”

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that a release of Palestinian prisoners was a key element of the tentative agreement. In his announcement, Kerry said that “if everything goes as planned” the talks would begin in “a week or so” in Washington.

The Arab Spring is just getting started

David Rohde
Jul 19, 2013 03:43 UTC

Amman, Jordan — After the Egyptian army toppled President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the U.S. Congress expressed the sentiment of many in Washington.

“The army is the only stable institution in the country,” he said.

In the Western media, Arab Spring post-mortems proliferated, including a 15-page special report in The Economist that asked, “Has the Arab Spring failed?” The answer: “That view is at best premature, at worst wrong.”

Here in Jordan, Arab Spring inspired protests demanding King Abdullah II cede power to an elected government has petered out. A crackdown on the media that shut down 300 websites last month elicited little protest.

Gutting international justice

David Rohde
Jul 12, 2013 17:15 UTC

Over the last eight months, a series of surprise rulings at the international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has sparked extraordinary controversy in the staid world of international law.

Critics say the decisions weakened World War II-era precedents that hold commanders responsible for war crimes. Supporters say their impact is being exaggerated and the judge associated with them is being unfairly maligned.

In interviews, two former tribunal officials said the decisions reversed years of progress in the field and endangered the recent war crimes convictions of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. They said they feared that the United States and Israel pressured judges to reverse precedents that could limit both countries’ counter-terrorism operations.

Egypt needs elections, not generals

David Rohde
Jul 4, 2013 15:00 UTC

Mohamed Morsi’s one-year rule of Egypt was disastrous. He ruled by fiat, alienated potential allies and failed to stabilize the country’s spiraling economy. But a military coup is not an answer to Egypt’s problems.  It will exacerbate, not ease, Egypt’s vast political divide.

The Egyptian military’s primary interest is maintaining its privileged role in society and sprawling network of businesses. Like the Pakistani military now and the Brazilian military in the past, its desire to maintain its economic interests will slow desperately needed economic and political reforms.

There is little reason to have faith in Egypt’s broken political process at this point. But the best way to ease the country’s bitter divisions are immediate elections that include the Muslim Brotherhood.

The global middle class awakens

David Rohde
Jun 21, 2013 18:09 UTC

People stand during a silent protest at Taksim Square in Istanbul June 18, 2013.  REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Alper, a 26-year-old Turkish corporate lawyer, has benefited enormously from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule. He is one of millions of young Turks who rode the country’s economic boom to a lifestyle his grandparents could scarcely imagine.

Yet he loathes Erdogan, participated in the Taksim Square demonstrations and is taking part in the new “standing man” protests in Istanbul.

Obama’s ‘best bad choice’ in Syria

David Rohde
Jun 14, 2013 17:58 UTC

Damaged buildings and debris in Deir al-Zor, June 13, 2013.Picture taken June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

UPDATE: The final passage of this piece criticizes the “Shia fundamentalists who are holding Iran’s staged elections.” Early results from Tehran suggest that reformist candidate Hassan Rohani has achieved a stunning victory. Iran’s green movement, which was crushed in 2009, is apparently alive and well.  The country’s conservative clerics are apparently unwilling to steal another election and risk another round of protests. The results reinforce the point at the end of the piece: we focus too much on the region’s fundamentalists and too little on its moderates.

Syria, of course,  is not Iran. A peaceful protest movement has devolved into a sectarian civil war. Gen. Selim Idris, the Free Syrian Army commander who is receiving American small arms, is a moderate who taught at the Syrian Army’s Academy of Military Engineering for twenty years.  Arming Idris now may be too little, too late. But as I argued in this February 2012 piece, the US should have supported moderate members of the Syrian opposition far sooner.

The ‘secrecy industrial complex’

David Rohde
Jun 11, 2013 22:30 UTC

An undated photo of National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. REUTERS/NSA/Handout via Reuters

An odd thing is happening in the world’s self-declared pinnacle of democracy. No one — except a handful of elected officials and an army of contractors — is allowed to know how America’s surveillance leviathan works.

For the last two years, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) have tried to describe to the American public the sweeping surveillance the National Security Agency conducts inside and outside the United States. But secrecy rules block them from airing the simplest details.

Obama’s overdue reckoning on secrecy

David Rohde
Jun 7, 2013 17:01 UTC

President Barack Obama on the White House South Lawn in Washington, June 6, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

All day Thursday, officials from across the political spectrum scrambled to explain reports in the Guardian and Washington Post of unprecedented government collection of phone and Internet records.

James R. Clapper, director of National Intelligence, issued a rare public statement confirming the existence of a classified phone program but said it did not involve the surveillance of American citizens. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee, asserted that the government needed the information to catch those who might become a terrorist.

Iran’s election will not be tweeted

David Rohde
Jun 7, 2013 13:37 UTC

Co-authored by Clare Richardson.

As Iran’s tightly-controlled June 14th presidential election approaches, observers worldwide are scouring the Web for tweets, photos and videos that offer hints of events inside the country. Yet to the dismay of overseas opposition groups, the Iranian government has mounted a sophisticated — and so far largely successful — effort to choke off Internet access inside the country.

“More than a month ago, we saw how the speed of the Internet shut down,” said Trita Parsi, president of the Washington-based National Iranian American Council. “They started to make it much more difficult for people to Skype with the outside world.”

A computer engineer checks equipment at an internet service provider in Tehran, February 15, 2011. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Tech, prosperity and peace on West Bank

David Rohde
May 31, 2013 21:51 UTC

Secretary of State John Kerry (C) shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting at the Dead Sea, May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young 

RAMALLAH, West Bank – At first glance, it is a tech utopian’s dream. For the last two years, several dozen Palestinian entrepreneurs have been getting training from Israeli high tech experts courtesy of the American firm Cisco Systems.

The sessions feature no talk of politics. Instead, Israelis coach Palestinians on the latest trends in software development processes, best practices and branding.

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