Opinion

David Rohde

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.

“More than any words he might say, Rouhani’s greatest gesture would be shaking hands with President Obama,” Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iran at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in an email Thursday. “It would be one of the most significant geopolitical handshakes in years.”

For both Obama and Rouhani, the stakes are high. The war in Syria is metastasizing into a regional Sunni-Shia conflict. A Middle East conflagration could derail a tepid American economic recovery. And sweeping Western sanctions have devastated Iran’s economy. Each leader also faces bitter opposition from domestic conservatives — ready to pounce if either president blinks in the three-decade cold war between the two nations.

For Obama, a contradiction too many

David Rohde
Sep 6, 2013 23:01 UTC

President Barack Obama will have to deliver one of the finest speeches of his presidency next Tuesday if he hopes to win Congressional support for a strike against Syria. Out of nowhere, the Syria vote has emerged as one of the defining moments of Obama’s second term.

With three years remaining in office, the vote will either revive his presidency or leave Obama severely weakened at home and abroad.

There are legitimate criticisms of Obama’s initial response to the Syrian government’s barbaric August 21st gas attack outside Damascus. The president should have demanded that Congress be called back from recess immediately. He should also have immediately made a far more personal and passionate case for strikes.

Has Iraq shackled American power?

David Rohde
Aug 29, 2013 22:19 UTC

In an extraordinary series of disclosures this week, Obama administration officials said that the United States will launch only cruise missile strikes in Syria. The attacks will last roughly two or three days. And the administration’s goal will be to punish President Bashar al-Assad, not remove him from power.

But those clear efforts to placate opponents of military action appear to be failing. Warnings of “another Iraq” are fueling opposition to the use of force on both sides of the Atlantic. And the Obama administration’s contradictory record on secrecy is coming back to haunt it.

In Washington on Wednesday, one-third of the members of Congress asked that they be allowed to vote on any use of American force. In London on Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron’s effort to gain support in Parliament for strikes failed, despite the release of an intelligence assessment which said Assad had used chemical weapons fourteen times since 2012.

From Afghanistan to Syria, an anemic U.S. civilian effort

David Rohde
May 2, 2013 22:45 UTC

Rear Admiral Gregory Smith (L), director of the Multi-National Force – Iraq’s Communications Division, and Denise Herbol, deputy director of USAID – Iraq, in Baghdad January 13, 2008. REUTERS/Wathiq Khuzaie/Pool

After helping coordinate the American civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya, Mark Ward arrived in Turkey last year to oversee the Obama administration’s effort to provide non-lethal assistance to Syria’s rebels. Unwilling to provide arms, Washington hoped to strengthen the Syrian Opposition Coalition. Led by moderates, the group was seen as a potential counterweight to jihadists.

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Ward, a 57-year-old senior official in the U.S. Agency for International Development, had seen the successes and failures of similar post- September 11 programs. He was determined to get it right in Syria

The Iraq war’s most damaging legacy

David Rohde
Mar 19, 2013 14:46 UTC

American households will be blanketed this week by a torrent of coverage, commentary and regret about the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war. Liberals claim that Twitter – if it had existed – could have stopped the invasion. Conservatives argue that the links between Saddam Hussein and terrorism have, in fact, been underplayed.

The glaring lesson of the war is that American ground invasions destabilize the Middle East, instead of stabilizing it. The 100,000 Iraqis who perished, the 4,500 American soldiers killed and the $1 trillion spent should have halted what Tufts University professor Daniel W. Drezner has called the “creeping militarization of American foreign policy.” Instead, the civilian American institutions that failed us before Iraq have grown even weaker.

The State Department is the first example. Drezner correctly argues that as the Pentagon’s budget has ballooned in the post-9/11 decade, so has its influence over American foreign policy. Too many former generals, he contends, have occupied foreign policy important positions.

An American intervention gone partly right

David Rohde
Apr 27, 2012 12:27 UTC

SARAJEVO – Seventeen years and $17 billion later, Bosnia is at peace today, but it is stillborn.

After an international intervention nearly two decades long, Bosnia offers lessons for American officials as they wrestle with continuing violence in Syria, volatile post-Arab Spring transitions and leaving behind a relatively stable Afghanistan. Stopping the killing here proved easier than expected. But halting corruption, sparking economic growth and curbing poisonous local political dynamics has proved vastly more difficult.

Today, the economy is stalled, with half of business activity generated by state-owned companies and unemployment hovering at 25 percent. The country is divided between a Serb entity whose leader talks openly of secession and a Muslim-Croat federation with worrying rifts of its own. And corruption is endemic among senior government officials on all sides.

from The Great Debate:

The 9/11 generation

David Rohde
Sep 8, 2011 16:16 UTC

By David Rohde
The opinions expressed are his own.

In a speech last week at the American Legion convention in Minneapolis, President Obama rightly hailed what he called “the 9/11 generation,” the five million Americans who served in the military over the last decade.

“They’re a generation of innovators,” he declared. “And they’ve changed the way America fights and wins at wars.”

The following day, at a ceremony marking his retirement from the military, Gen. David Petraeus affirmed Tom Brokaw’s similar praise as the two men toured Iraq in 2003.

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