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.

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.

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.

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.

Changing Assad’s calculus

David Rohde
May 23, 2013 21:31 UTC

A deserted street with building destroyed by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad , near Aleppo International airport, May 20, 2013. REUTERS/Nour Kelze

AMMAN, Jordan – Secretary of State John Kerry and 10 European and Arab foreign ministers gathered here Wednesday night to again talk about helping Syria’s rebels.

As the international community discussed “grand strategy,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was taking decisive action.

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