Opinion

David Rohde

A feckless response to Egypt’s avoidable massacre

David Rohde
Aug 15, 2013 15:18 UTC

Tepid rationalizations that the United States has “limited leverage” in Egypt or that the Arab Spring is “failing” do not change a basic fact: a U.S.-funded “ally” has carried out one of the largest massacres of protesters since the 1989 assault on Tiananmen Square.

It is time for Obama to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt. Ending assistance will not curb the behavior of Egypt’s increasingly autocratic military ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Nor will it ease that country’s political divide or reduce anti-Americanism. But it will say that the United States actually stands for basic international principles.

Wednesday’s killing of 638 people and recent events in the Middle East point to an alarming trend for the Obama White House: Its drone and surveillance-centric approach to counterterrorism is failing. A grim reality is emerging. George W. Bush’s invasion-centric method of countering militancy failed. And so is Obama’s cautious, middle of the road approach.

From massacres in Cairo to prison breaks across the region, the United States is more hated and less secure. At the same time, al Qaeda affiliates are gaining fighters, propaganda victories and recruiting tools.

The message the White House sent to young Islamists in Egypt this week was clear: What jihadists have been telling you about American hypocrisy for years is true. Democratic norms apply to everyone but you. Participating in elections is pointless. Violence is the route to power. Wherever he is hiding in the mountains of Pakistan, Ayman al Zawahiri is likely pleased.

Obama’s overdue step on drones

David Rohde
May 24, 2013 20:45 UTC

President Obama’s decision to restrict drone strikes and again try to close the Guantanamo Bay prison are overdue steps in the right direction. Myself and many other analysts have called for these very measures over the last year.

Obama must actually follow through on implementation of his proposals, including pressuring Congress to close Guantanamo. And he should fully enact changes that can be carried out by the executive branch, such as handing over responsibility for drones strikes to the U.S. military and making them fully public.

As already occurs in American air strikes in Afghanistan, the military should fully investigate claims of civilian deaths and pay compensation where innocents are killed.  The current practice of keeping CIA drone strikes secret allows militants to exaggerate the number of civilians who die. Drone strikes do kill senior militants at times, but using them excessively and keeping them secret sows anti-Americanism that jihadists use as a recruiting tool.

Syria demands a new policy

David Rohde
Feb 21, 2013 22:38 UTC

Typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks are spreading. An estimated 70,000 people are dead, and another 850,000 are refugees. After covering the battle for Damascus for a month, my colleague – photographer Goran Tomasevic – declared the situation a “bloody stalemate” this week.

“I watched both sides mount assaults, some trying to gain just a house or two, others for bigger prizes, only to be forced back by sharpshooters, mortars or sprays of machine-gun fire,” Tomasevic, a gifted and brave photographer, wrote in a chilling first-hand account. “As in the ruins of Beirut, Sarajevo or Stalingrad, it is a sniper’s war.”

The Obama administration’s policy toward Syria is a failure. Iran, Hezbollah and Russia are funneling more aid, armaments and diplomatic cover to Bashar al-Assad. And Syrian rebels who once hailed the United States now loathe it.

The ‘trust me’ administration

David Rohde
Feb 6, 2013 21:21 UTC

In a bold second inaugural address, one line was my favorite.

“We will defend our people and uphold our values,” President Barack Obama declared, “through strength of arms and rule of law.”

Obama was right to describe the “rule of law” as a weapon the United States can use to defend itself. But the administration’s insistence on enveloping its counter-terrorism efforts in excessive secrecy flouts the rule of law. A proud American ideal is being turned into a liability, not an asset.

“It’s not sufficient for the administration to say, ‘Trust us, we’re taking care of it,’ ” said Amrit Singh, author of a new Open Society Institute report that raises numerous questions about the United States’ use of rendition and torture since 2001. “There needs to be greater transparency.”

Trying to have it both ways in Syria

David Rohde
Aug 23, 2012 15:43 UTC

Amid the daily reports of clashes and killings in Syria, a subtler message is emerging: America is increasingly irrelevant.

Inside Syria, opposition fighters complain that the United States is doing little to help them, according to intrepid reporting by correspondents for Reuters, the New York Times and Foreign Affairs. Instead, funds and arms from Qatar and Saudi Arabia are turning jihadists into a growing presence. Among international observers, Washington is seen as insignificant.

“On the ground, really, this administration has been essentially irrelevant, locked into its own perpetual debate on what to say and what to do,” said Peter Harling, Syria analyst for the International Crisis Group. “I think generally this administration in the Arab Spring has spent a huge amount of time trying to analyze events instead of shaping them.”

The way out of the Afghan abyss

David Rohde
Mar 16, 2012 00:05 UTC

To a growing number of Americans, Afghanistan is a festering pit where the United States has no vital interests. To a growing number of Afghans, the United States is a self-absorbed and feckless power that is playing games in their country.

Both caricatures are wrong. Yes, American troops should gradually withdraw from Afghanistan. And yes, the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai remains corrupt and largely ineffective. But what is needed is a decisive agreement between the Afghan and American governments on the way forward, not sniping at each other in public and pandering to domestic political audiences.

First, let’s discard some myths:

Afghanistan is strategically unimportant to the United States: For even the most cynical Americans, a stable Afghanistan is important because of the roughly 100 nuclear warheads sitting in neighboring Pakistan. If hardline Taliban regain control of southern Afghanistan, it will be a safe haven for Pakistani Taliban and foreign militants. Attacks against Pakistan will definitely be plotted, and attacks on the United States could be planned from there as well.

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