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Showing posts from July, 2012

Intervention in Syria: Challenges and Lessons Learned

Syria is gripped with unrest and rebellion. Rebels and government forces fight city by city, exchanging weapons and mortar fire. On the surface, these circumstances seem quite similar to those in Libya ahead of the overthrow of Muammar el-Qaddafi. Compared to the full-scale ground invasion and occupation of Iraq, the conflict in Libya seems like a blueprint for how Western nations should help local dissent coalesce into regime change. Overthrowing the Syrian government might weaken the influence of Iran in the Middle East and replace a hostile government with a more democratic one indebted to the West, but it also may aid in the dispersal of deadly chemical weapons, small arms and unemployed combatants throughout the region. Many other factors make an intervention in Syria more difficult to mount: limited international support, including adamant opposition in the Security Council; the threat to Israel of a destabilized Syrian border; the military power of the Assad regime, and the nat…

Al-Qaeda, the franchise

The 9/11 attacks in New York burned the name Al-Qaeda into the minds of many Westerners as the source of militant Islamism and the root of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism worldwide. In the years that followed, seemingly every region and nation with a significant Islamist presence has acquired a declared branch of Al-Qaeda. The different offshoots seem to share an affinity for militancy and a deep belief in a universal and fundamentalist version of Islam. Beyond tactics and a religious cant, however, it's not clear what these often geographically isolated units share. Other Islamic organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood, are bound internally by common elements: leadership, goals, literature, communications, funding, etc. In contrast, Al-Qaeda is more like an ideological trademark; a moniker or brand that implies certain broad motives and tactics, but little else in the way of cooperation or shared purpose.

To the extent that the original Al-Qaeda was a c…