Opinion

David Rohde

Dooming the Syria talks before they begin

David Rohde
Jan 22, 2014 20:55 UTC

The United States won a short-term diplomatic victory over Iran this week. Under intense pressure from American officials, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon withdrew an invitation for Iranian officials to attend the Syria peace conference.

Disinviting Tehran is the latest example of the Obama administration’s continual search for easy, risk-free solutions in Syria. As the conflict destabilizes the region, however, Washington must finally face the hard choice: Either compromise with Iran, or decisively support and arm the rebels.

The lack of an Iranian presence in Switzerland today dooms the talks’ prospects. Whether Tehran’s actions are depraved or not, its comprehensive efforts to supply troops, munitions and funding to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad makes the Iranian government the key foreign player in the conflict.

“Iran is the sine qua non of the solution,” said an American analyst, who closely follows Syria and spoke on condition of anonymity. “They have to feel comfortable with the outcome — if there is going to be a solution.”

As fighting enters its third year, the dynamics in Syria increasingly resemble those of Afghanistan in the 1980s. During the Cold War, the United States, the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan each backed various factions in Afghanistan for its own gain. The result? Thirty years of proxy war that killed an estimated 1 million Afghans and created one of the world’s most impoverished, fragmented and radicalized societies.

Newest victim of congressional wrecking ball: Iran policy

David Rohde
Jan 15, 2014 16:37 UTC

By design or accident, it is increasingly clear that the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s second-term foreign policy is a nuclear agreement with Iran. Whether Obama can succeed, however, now depends on Congress staying out of the negotiations.

Over the last few weeks, 16 Democratic senators have supported a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. They have defied the White House’s intense campaign to block Congress from adding new conditions to any deal.

In this way, Obama is the victim of an increasingly craven Washington — where members of his own party are abandoning him out of political expedience. At the same time, the White House is also a victim of its sometimes erratic responses to events in the Middle East.

How 2013′s partisanship hurt us abroad, as well as at home

David Rohde
Jan 2, 2014 21:35 UTC

The furious partisan debate that erupted this week after a New York Times investigation questioned the central tenet of the Republican assault on the White House regarding Benghazi was a fitting end to 2013.

The lengthy article revealed that the State Department and CIA’s intense focus on al Qaeda caused officials to miss the threat posed by local militias. David Kirkpatrick’s reporting showed that Libya’s rebels appreciated the U.S. support in helping oust Muammar Gaddafi, but were strongly influenced by decades of anger at Washington’s support for dictators in the region.

Militants gained strength from Syria to the Sahel over the course of 2013. Republicans and Democrats, however, remained focused on winning their daily messaging battle in Washington.

Honor Mandela by stopping a genocide

David Rohde
Dec 11, 2013 19:53 UTC

As South Africans cheered President Barack Obama’s speech at the funeral of Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, a nation of 4.6 million people 2,500 miles north was being torn apart by religious hatred.

Muslim civilians in the Central African Republic, clutching machetes and crude, homemade weapons, prepared to fight off marauding Christians. Christians were forming self-defense militias in other parts of a country the size of Texas, to prevent Muslims from slitting their throats.

“We drove through some villages where every single person has picked up arms,” Peter Bouckaert, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told me in a telephone interview from the republic on Tuesday. “Children as young as 11 have picked up daggers or have knives or even hunting rifles.”

John Kerry has not yet saved — or destroyed — the Middle East

David Rohde
Nov 27, 2013 03:20 UTC

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry appear to have run the table in Middle East diplomacy. An interim nuclear agreement with Iran has been reached, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are underway and peace talks to end Syria’s civil war are slated to begin in January.

For an administration under siege domestically, press coverage declaring the triumph of Obama diplomacy over Bush-era militarism is a political godsend.

But talk in Washington of a legacy-defining breakthrough for Obama is overstated and premature. So are the apocalyptic warnings of Iranian hegemony now coming from Jerusalem and Riyadh.

How fear of al Qaeda hurts U.S. more than al Qaeda

David Rohde
Oct 25, 2013 23:46 UTC

Three disclosures this week show that the United States is losing its way in the struggle against terrorism. Sweeping government efforts to stop attacks are backfiring abroad and infringing on basic rights at home.

CIA drone strikes are killing scores of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.  The National Security Agency is eavesdropping on tens of millions of phone calls worldwide — including those of 35 foreign leaders — in the name of U.S. security.

And the Department of Homeland Security is using algorithms to “prescreen” travelers before they board domestic flights, reviewing government and private databases that include Americans’ tax identification numbers, car registrations and property records.

The key stumbling blocks U.S. and Iran face

David Rohde
Sep 28, 2013 01:32 UTC

A historic phone call Friday between the presidents of the United States and Iran could mark the end of 34 years of enmity.

Or it could be another missed opportunity.

In the weeks ahead, clear signs will emerge whether a diplomatic breakthrough is possible. Here are several key areas that could determine success or failure:

Enrichment in Iran?

Throughout his New York “charm offensive,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made one demand clear: Tehran will rebuff any agreement that does not allow it to enrich some uranium.

Iran’s offer is genuine — and fleeting

David Rohde
Sep 19, 2013 23:40 UTC

President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday is not expected to generate much excitement. Battered by his uneven handling of Syria, no bold foreign policy initiatives are likely.

Instead, the undisputed diplomatic rock star of the gathering will be Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani. In his first six weeks in office, the cleric has carried out one of the most aggressive charm offensives in the 34-year history of the Islamic Republic. And the Obama administration responded Thursday, saying the president would be open to having a meeting in New York.

If Obama and Rouhani, who will both address the assembly on Tuesday, simply shake hands in public, it will be the seminal event of the gathering’s first day.

From Cairo to Geneva, Obama steps back from Mideast

David Rohde
Sep 16, 2013 19:36 UTC

It started as “a new beginning” and ended as “America is not the world’s policeman.”

Between President Barack Obama’s historic 2009 address to the Islamic world in Cairo to his address to the American people on Syria last week, Obama has zigged and zagged on Mideast policy, angering supporters and detractors alike.

But he has stuck to a clear pattern: reduce American engagement, defer to regional players and rely on covert operations to counter terrorism.

Dictators never looked so good

David Rohde
Sep 12, 2013 23:43 UTC

Dictators have never looked so good.

Vladimir Putin is saving the United States from another Mideast military intervention. Bashar al-Assad promises to ‘thin the herd’ of jihadists and hold Syria together. And Egypt’s new strongman, General Abdal Fattah el Sisi, says he is sorting out the Muslim Brotherhood. With each passing month in the Middle East, it seems, authoritarianism grows more attractive.

Leaders described as “repressive” sound eminently reasonable. They promise to bring order to chaos without dirtying American hands. Putin’s op-ed article in the New York Times on Wednesday was the latest example.

Written with the help of the American public relations firm Ketchum, the piece provoked a dizzying array of reactions. Here’s one fact check by Max Fisher of the Washington Post. Here’s a take down from Human Rights Watch. And the New Yorker posted this hilarious Andy Borowitz mock Modern Love column by the macho former KGB officer.

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