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History > 2013 > USA > International (IV)




Supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi count bodies in a makeshift morgue

after police swept into their encampment with armored vehicles and bulldozers

in the Nasr City district of Cairo Aug. 14.


Manu Brabo/Associated Press

Boston Globe > Big Picture > Bloodshed in Egypt        August 14, 2013















Democracy in Egypt Can Wait


August 16, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — THE Egyptian military’s bloody crackdown on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood is yet another sign of the dark side of the Arab awakening. Across the Middle East, glimmerings of democracy are being snuffed out by political turmoil and violence.

That reality requires a sobering course correction in American policy. Rather than viewing the end of autocracy’s monopoly as a ripe moment to spread democracy in the region, Washington should downsize its ambition and work with transitional governments to establish the foundations of responsible, even if not democratic, rule.

Ever since the Egyptian military seized power last month, the United States government, backed by much of the country’s foreign policy elite, has demanded the restoration of democratic rule. President Obama instructed Egypt’s generals “to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government.” The Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina visited Cairo to press the new government to restore democratic rule and have called for cutting off aid if it doesn’t.

But while Washington must unequivocally condemn the violence unleashed by the Egyptian military, clamoring for a rapid return to democracy is misguided.

To be sure, the American creed favors the promotion of democracy, and democracies do have a track record of better behavior than autocracies. But the penchant for rushing transitional states to the ballot box often does more harm than good, producing dysfunctional and illiberal regimes. Egypt’s recently deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, may have been fairly elected, but he presided over the near collapse of the Egyptian state and ran roughshod over his political opponents.

Rather than cajoling Cairo to hold elections and threatening to suspend aid if it does not, Washington should press the current leadership to adhere to clear standards of responsible governance, including ending the violence and political repression, restoring the basic functions of the state, facilitating economic recovery, countering militant extremists and keeping the peace with Israel. At this fragile moment in Egypt’s political awakening, the performance of its government will be a more important determinant of its legitimacy and durability than whether it won an election.

More generally, Washington should back off from its zealous promotion of democracy in Egypt and the broader Middle East for three main reasons.

For starters, even if liberal democracies do tend to provide good governance at home and abroad, rapid transitions to democracy historically have had the opposite effect: disorder at home and instability beyond the countries’ borders. In nations that lack experience with constitutional constraints and democratic accountability, electoral victors usually embrace winner-take-all strategies; they shut out the opposition, govern as they see fit and unsettle their neighbors. In one case after another — Bosnia, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, Egypt — newly democratic governments have demonized opponents and ruled with an iron fist.

Incremental change produces more durable results; liberal democracies must be constructed from the ground up. Constitutional constraints, judicial reform, political parties, economic privatization — these building blocks of democratic societies need time to take root. The West’s own experience provides ample evidence. England became a constitutional monarchy after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, but did not mature into a liberal democracy until the 20th century.

Moreover, transitions to democracy in the Middle East will be more perilous than those elsewhere because of factors unique to the region: the power of political Islam and the entrenched nature of sectarian and tribal loyalties.

Islam and democracy are by no means incompatible. However, religion and politics are intimately interwoven throughout the Middle East. Islamic tradition makes no distinction between mosque and state, helping Islamists win elections throughout the region. One result is a debilitating struggle between empowered Islamists and fractured secularists that is playing out in Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia and just about everywhere else.

Absent the Western tradition of separating the sacred from the secular — which came about only after the bloody wars of the Protestant Reformation — pitched battles over the role of Islam in politics will bedevil aspiring Middle East democracies for generations to come.

So, too, will sectarian and tribal politics make successful democratic transitions in the Middle East especially elusive. A sense of national belonging is the twin sister of democracy; nationalism is the social glue that makes consensual politics work. Egypt, like Turkey and Iran, is fortunate to have a strong national identity dating back centuries. But Egypt is nonetheless stumbling as it tries to put down robust democratic roots.

Social cohesion will be even harder to come by in many of the region’s other states — like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon — which are contrived nations cobbled together by departing colonial powers. They risk being split asunder by sectarian, ethnic and tribal cleavages.

Finally, Washington’s determined promotion of democracy compromises its credibility because doing so is often at odds with its own policies. Its closest allies in the Arab world, the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, are the region’s least democratic states. When Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, America promptly sought to undermine the new government.

These departures from democratic principles are, as they should be, guided by concrete national interests. But as the Arab awakening unfolds, Washington’s leverage will further diminish unless its rhetoric catches up with its actions.

The United States should do what it can to shepherd the arrival of liberal democracy in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. But the best way to do that is to go slow and help the region’s states build functioning and responsible governments. Democracy can wait.


Charles A. Kupchan is a professor of international affairs

at Georgetown University, a senior fellow at the Council

on Foreign Relations and the author of “No One’s World:

The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn.”

    Democracy in Egypt Can Wait, NYT, 16.8.2013,






Egypt’s Blood, America’s Complicity


August 15, 2013
The New York Times


CAIRO — FOR millions of Egyptians still reeling from the shock of Wednesday’s state-led massacre, which killed at least 600 peaceful protesters and possibly many more, the questions are now very basic: How do you reconcile with people who are prepared to kill you, and how do you stop them from killing again?

I represent an alliance of Egyptians who oppose the military coup that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in July. Over the last two weeks, we have met with foreign diplomats, including Bernardino León, the European Union envoy, and William J. Burns, the American deputy secretary of state, who were invited by the coup’s leaders to mediate. We respectfully listened, honestly communicated our assessment of the situation and emphasized our desire to find a peaceful solution.

But those efforts were doomed by the bad faith of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s military ruler. It was he, not the alliance, who rejected the mediators’ proposals.

The mediation efforts have been problematic. Diplomats and journalists continue to speak about negotiating only with the Muslim Brotherhood, even though the protesters come from all over the political spectrum; 69 percent of the country opposed the coup, one Egyptian poll showed.

Worse, shocking and irresponsible rhetoric from the State Department in Washington and from other Western diplomats — calling on the Brotherhood and demonstrators to “renounce” or “avoid” violence (even when also condemning the state’s violence) — has given the junta cover to perpetrate heinous crimes in the name of “confronting” violence. The protest sites have been teeming with foreign correspondents for the last several weeks, and there has not been a shred of evidence suggesting the presence of weapons, or of violence initiated by protesters.

The mediators’ most disastrous error was their choice to put pressure on the victims. In their eyes, we were the cause of the crisis, not the illegal putsch that suspended the Constitution and kidnapped the president.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s astonishing remark on Aug. 1 that the coup was “restoring democracy,” despite a disavowal from the White House, did not leave the impression that America was on the side of the peaceful protesters.

If only we could accept the coup as a fait accompli, we were told, all would be well. There would be “good will gestures” from the military, and there would be an “inclusive” democracy.

We have heard all those promises before. The military and so-called liberal elites have shown time and again that they believe they are entitled to a veto over Egyptians’ choices. But the general who betrayed his oath and held the only elected president in the history of Egypt in extralegal detention cannot be trusted to let an opposition movement survive, let alone thrive.

For those seriously interested in a way out of this crisis, some hard facts must be acknowledged.

First, this is a battle between those who envision a democratic, pluralistic Egypt in which the individual has dignity and power changes hands at the ballot box and those who support a militarized state in which government is imposed on the people by force.

Second, this coup has already sent Egypt back into the dark ages of dictatorship — with tight military control over both state-owned and private media, attacks on peaceful protesters and journalists, and detention of opposition leaders without criminal charges or due process.

Third, there is no promise that General Sisi can make that he hasn’t already betrayed. He took an oath to uphold the Constitution; he suspended the Constitution. He took an oath to loyally serve in the government; he toppled that government. And in the classic doublespeak of military juntas, he loudly condemned the opposition for dealing with foreign powers, while he was actively seeking the help of Western diplomats as well as the Persian Gulf sheikdoms that largely financed his coup.

Through all this, the United States government has pleaded impotence. Hardly a day goes by without some press officer, analyst or public official pushing the idea that Washington’s influence really isn’t that decisive with the Egyptian generals. This cop-out simply won’t do. America had influence and still does. It was an American official, not an Egyptian one, who informed President Morsi’s staff of the finality of the coup decision.

There is only one way forward in Egypt today. The legitimate government must be restored. Only then can we hold talks for a national reconciliation with every option on the table.

The reinstatement of Mr. Morsi is not about ideology or ego. It is not political grandstanding. It is not a negotiating tactic. It is a pragmatic necessity.

Without this crucial step, without accountability for those responsible for the bloodshed and chaos facing Egypt today, none of the promises of inclusion, democracy, liberty or life can be guaranteed.

What the United States ultimately decides to do with its diplomatic relations or foreign aid is President Obama’s decision. But Americans need to recognize that every passing day solidifies the perception among Egyptians that American rhetoric on democracy is empty; that American politicians won’t hesitate to flout their own laws or subvert their declared values for short-term political gains; and that when it comes to freedom, justice and human dignity, Muslims need not apply.

The regime we are facing in Egypt is not new. It is one with which we are intimately familiar. Its leaders are selling torture, repression and stagnation. We are not buying. And America shouldn’t either.


Amr Darrag is a member of the executive board

of the Freedom and Justice Party,

which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

He was Egypt’s minister of planning

and international cooperation

under President Mohamed Morsi.

    Egypt’s Blood, America’s Complicity, NYT, 15.8.2013,






His Options Few,

Obama Rebukes Egypt’s Leaders


August 15, 2013
The New York Times


CHILMARK, Mass. — President Obama announced Thursday that the United States had canceled longstanding joint military exercises with the Egyptian Army set for next month, using one of his few obvious forms of leverage to rebuke Egypt’s military-backed government for its brutal crackdown on supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi.

Though the decision is an embarrassment to Egypt’s generals, and will deprive Egypt of much-needed revenue, it lays bare both the Obama administration’s limited options to curb the military’s campaign against Islamists in Egypt and the United States’ role as an increasingly frustrated bystander.

Repeated pleas from administration officials to the generals to change course have gone unheeded, and the United States’ first punitive measure, a Pentagon delay in the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian Air Force, also had no effect.

Mr. Obama, interrupting his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to address the violence, struck a now-familiar balance. He expressed outrage at the harrowing scenes this week in Cairo and other cities, while taking pains to preserve the American relationship with the Egyptian armed forces, which are underwritten by the vast bulk of the $1.5 billion a year in military and economic aid.

With the death toll in Egypt soaring and no sign that the country’s generals are heeding American calls to stop the violence, however, administration officials said they now faced a more wrenching choice: to keep backing the generals, whatever the cost, or to admit that the current relationship is no longer tenable.

“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” Mr. Obama said, reading a statement in front of his rented vacation house here, the sun-splashed trees an incongruous backdrop for his stark message.

In his remarks, Mr. Obama noted “it’s tempting” inside Egypt to blame the United States, saying that protesters accused it alternately of backing Mr. Morsi or colluding with those who ousted him. But Mr. Obama’s reluctance to be drawn into conflicts in the Mideast, from Syria to Bahrain, has frequently been criticized.

Until the latest eruption of violence, White House officials were still uncertain whether the Egyptian military might yet rewind history and give democracy a fresh chance, or if it was simply restoring the sort of autocracy that has dominated Egypt in the past. Now they said they seem to have the answer.

But while their frustration is palpable, officials said there were voices in favor of working with Egypt and of cutting off its aid, and they expected the debate would take time to play out.

White House officials said Mr. Obama issued the order to pull the United States out of the military exercises, known as Bright Star, in a phone call with his national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, on Wednesday evening. The Egyptians were notified before the president’s announcement, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel later spoke by telephone with Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi.

Despite the large scale of the exercises, and the fact that they date to the 1980s, administration officials said they had few illusions that the decision would by itself stop the crackdown. Egypt’s military leaders, they said, regard the Islamist protests as an “existential threat” to the nation, which they must crush at all costs.

Mr. Obama said he had instructed his national security staff to weigh additional measures. He did not specify what those could be, though he said nothing about suspending the military aid. “We’ll be looking at both the case-by-case examples but also the more fundamental relationship,” said a senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “There’s a basic threshold where we can’t give a tacit endorsement to them.”

Given the deep schism in Egypt, this official said, the White House is still skeptical that cutting off aid would compel the generals to return the country to a democratic transition. And it could destabilize the region, particularly the security of Israel, whose 1979 peace treaty with Egypt is predicated on the aid.

For weeks, officials from Israel and several Arab countries have pressured the administration to maintain the flow of aid. If it were cut off, they said, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates would move quickly to make up the shortfall — and then some.

Saudi Arabia and the emirates pledged $8 billion in grants and loans to Egypt’s post-Morsi government last month: $5 billion from Saudi Arabia in grants and loans; $3 billion from the emirates. That is more than enough, analysts say, to offset any cutoff from the United States, even if the two countries do not fulfill their entire pledges.

Shutting off the aid spigot now would not have an immediate impact on the Egyptian military, defense officials say, because this year’s military assistance has already been delivered. Beyond money, Arab officials worry that a rupture between Washington and the Egyptian military would further erode American influence in a country that has historically been a bellwether in the Arab world, and would open the door to rivals like Russia or China.

“If the aid gets cut, you can be sure that Putin will arrive in Cairo in two or three months,” one senior Arab official said. “And he will give aid with no strings attached.”

Still, even with the aid flowing, Defense Department officials fear that whatever leverage the Pentagon might have had with Egypt’s military leadership is ebbing quickly. Since the military’s ouster of Mr. Morsi on July 3, Mr. Hagel has had more than 15 phone calls with General Sisi, pleading in vain for him to change course.

Mr. Hagel, in a statement on Thursday, said that in his latest exchange with the general, “I made it clear that the violence and inadequate steps towards reconciliation are putting important elements of our longstanding defense cooperation at risk.”

While administration officials acknowledge that Egypt could replace the lost American military aid, they said it would pay a long-term price in lost foreign investment and a ruined tourism industry — a point that Mr. Obama made in his statement on Thursday.

Some analysts said the administration had hurt itself by not undertaking a thorough review of its policy toward Egypt after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The United States, they said, was too wedded to the privileges it gained from the relationship, like fly-over rights and fast-track transit through the Suez Canal.

“They’ve limited their own options by believing the idea that in order to influence things, you need to remain engaged,” said Steven A. Cook, an expert on Egypt at the Council on Foreign Relations. “We’ve never tested the proposition of cutting them off.”

Other experts said Mr. Obama had few attractive alternatives and mainly wanted to keep out of the situation.

“Anything they do that is dramatic puts the United States in the middle of a story that we really don’t want to be in the middle of,” said Steven Simon, a former National Security Council official under Mr. Obama who is now head of the Washington office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Heather Hurlburt, a former Clinton White House official who is now the executive director of the National Security Network, said the administration should cut off “targeted” cooperation with Egypt’s military without halting all aid. “No matter where you’re coming from ideologically,” she said, “the playing field we face in the Middle East is not the playing field we faced a month ago.”

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who just returned from a trip to Cairo at Mr. Obama’s request, was sharply critical of the president for not acting more forcefully against the military takeover, citing a law requiring the cutoff of American aid to countries where a military coup has dislodged an elected government. Mr. McCain has said the Muslim Brotherhood needs to accept that Mr. Morsi will not be returned to power, but he has also urged the military to establish a democratic process. “We violated our own rule of law by not calling it for what it is,” Mr. McCain said on CNN. “We undercut our own values.”


Mark Landler reported from Chilmark,

and Peter Baker from Washington. Eric Schmitt

and Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington,

and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.

    His Options Few, Obama Rebukes Egypt’s Leaders, NYT, 15.8.2013,






Islamists Debate Their Next Move

in Tense Cairo


August 15, 2013
The New York Times


CAIRO — Gathering Thursday morning around a mosque used as a morgue for hundreds killed the day before, many Islamists waited confidently for a surge of sympathetic support from the broader public. But it failed to materialize.

With their leaders jailed or silent, Islamists reeled in shock at the worst mass killing in Egypt’s modern history. By Thursday night, health officials had counted 638 dead and nearly 4,000 injured, but the final toll was expected to rise further.

A tense quiet settled over Cairo as the city braced for new protests by supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, after the Friday Prayer. The new government authorized the police to use lethal force if they felt endangered.

Many of those waiting outside the makeshift morgue talked of civil war. Some blamed members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority for supporting the military takeover. A few argued openly for a turn to violence.

“The solution might be an assassination list,” said Ahmed, 27, who like others refused to use his full name for fear of reprisals from the new authorities. “Shoot anyone in uniform. It doesn’t matter if the good is taken with the bad, because that is what happened to us last night.”

Mohamed Rasmy, a 30-year-old engineer, interrupted. “That is not the solution,” he said, insisting that Islamist leaders would re-emerge with a plan “to come together in protest.” Despite the apparently wide support for the police action by the private news media and much of Cairo, he argued that the bloodshed was now turning the rest of the public against the military-appointed government.

“It is already happening,” he said.

The outcome of the internal Islamist debate may now be the most critical variable in deciding the next phase of the crisis. The military-backed government has made clear its determination to demonize and repress the Islamists with a ruthlessness exceeding even that of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the autocrat who first outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood six decades ago.

How the Islamists respond will inevitably reshape both their movement and Egypt. Will they resume the accommodationist tactics of the Muslim Brotherhood under former President Hosni Mubarak, escalate their street protests despite continued casualties, or turn to armed insurgency as some members did in the 1990s?

President Obama, interrupting a weeklong vacation to address the bloodshed, stopped short of suspending the $1.3 billion in annual American military aid to Egypt but canceled joint military exercises scheduled to take place in a few months.

Instead of “reconciliation” after the military takeover, he said, “we’ve seen a more dangerous path taken through arbitrary arrests, a broad crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s associations and supporters, and now tragically the violence that’s taken the lives of hundreds of people and wounded thousands more.” Mr. Obama added that “our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.”

Soon after the president’s speech, the State Department issued an advisory warning United States citizens living in Egypt to leave “because of the continuing political and social unrest.”

The military-appointed government in Cairo accused Mr. Obama of failing to grasp the nature of the “terrorist acts” it said Egypt is facing.

A statement issued by the office of the interim president, Adli Mansour, said Mr. Obama’s remarks “would strengthen the violent armed groups and encourage them in their methods inimical to stability and the democratic transition.”

In Europe, some officials called for a suspension of aid by the European Union, and at least one member state, Denmark, cut off support. The British and French summoned their Egyptian ambassadors to condemn the violence. In Ankara, Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ideological ally of Mr. Morsi’s, called for an early meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss what he called a “massacre.”

Egyptian Islamists continued to lash out across the country. Scores of them blocked a main highway circling the capital. In Alexandria, hundreds battled with opponents and the police in the streets and health officials said at least nine died. Others hurled firebombs that ignited a provincial government headquarters near the pyramids in Giza. In the latest in a string of attacks on Coptic Christian churches and businesses, at least one more church was set on fire, in Fayoum.

Outside the mosque in Cairo, some Islamists contended that the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, had appeared to endorse the crackdown, and they portrayed attacks on churches around the country as a counterattack. “When Pope Tawadros comes out after a massacre to thank the military and the police, then don’t accuse me of sectarianism,” said Mamdouh Hamdi, 35, an accountant.

The Islamist movement, usually known here for its tight discipline, appeared to slip loose from its leaders, entering perilous new ground, said Ali Farghaly, 47, an executive at a multinational company who was waiting outside the mosque. “Forget the leaders now,” he said. “The streets are leading this, and when things get out of the control of the leaders no one can predict the situation.”

But if the Islamists hoped that Wednesday’s violence would turn the rest of the country against the military-dominated government, there were few signs of it on Thursday. Mohamed ElBaradei, the interim vice president and a Nobel Prize-winner, was the only official to resign over the crackdown, and he was widely criticized for it in both the state and the private news media.

The ultraconservative Nour Party, the liberal April 6 group and the far-left Revolutionary Socialists spoke out against the killings. But most other political factions denounced the Islamists as a terrorist threat and applauded the government action.

With the main Islamist satellite networks shut down by the new government, Egyptian state and private television coverage focused on unsubstantiated allegations that the Islamist sit-ins had posed a terrorist threat, or that their participants shot first at the police. Unlike newspapers around the world, none of the major Egyptian dailies put a picture of the carnage on their front pages on Thursday.

Veterans of Gamaa al-Islamiya, the ultraconservative Islamist group that waged a terrorist campaign in Egypt two decades ago and later renounced violence, said that since the military takeover they had been warning angry jihadis to shun their group’s former tactics.

“Because of our experience and the position that we have against the use of violence, we persuaded them that Egypt can’t stand fighting, that an armed conflict is a loss to everybody,” said Ammar Omar Abdel Rahman, a leader of Gamaa al-Islamiya and the son of the blind sheik convicted of terrorism in the United States 20 year ago.

But Wednesday’s crackdown had made that argument much harder to win, Mr. Rahman said. The security forces “are the aggressors,” he said. “Being a military doesn’t give you the right to kill and exterminate whoever you want.”

By late morning, patches of blackened ground were still smoldering on the grounds where tens of thousands had camped for the six weeks since Mr. Morsi’s ouster. More than 240 bodies lay in rows in the mosque-turned-morgue, wrapped in white sheets as teams moved coffins in and out to remove the dead for burial.

Many were charred beyond recognition by the fires that Egyptian security forces set to eradicate the tent city. Some had blocks of ice on their chest to slow decomposition in the intense midday heat and volunteers moved through the room spraying antiseptic. Behind a display of recovered identification cards used to aid identifications, a young boy slept amid the dead.

Hundreds had gathered outside to try to find missing friends of relatives, or to stand in solidarity with the lost. A voice over a loudspeaker repeatedly urged the crowd to disperse, to march off with the departing coffins. A sign on the door pointedly declared that the assembly was not a sit-in or a demonstration but just a place to claim the dead, presumably to avoid attracting another police crackdown.

After the 9 p.m. curfew, the police moved in, firing tear gas into the mosque, seizing control and removing the remaining bodies, television news coverage showed. It was not clear where they were taken, or why.


Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris,

and Mayy El Sheikh and Kareem Fahim from Cairo.

    Islamists Debate Their Next Move in Tense Cairo, NYT, 15.8.2013,






Military Madness in Cairo


The New York Times


With yet another blood bath in the streets of Cairo on Wednesday, Egypt’s ruling generals have demonstrated beyond any lingering doubt that they have no aptitude for, and apparently little interest in, guiding their country back to democracy. On the contrary, the political obtuseness of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s de facto leader, and the brutal repression he has unleashed now threaten to produce the worst of all possible outcomes to an already inflamed situation: a murderous civil war.

That would be a tragedy for Egypt, which until recently believed it was on a path to ending decades of repression and dictatorship. And it would be a foreign policy disaster for the United States. Egypt is the most populous and influential country in the Arab world. It is also Israel’s most strategically important neighbor.

President Obama must make clear his unequivocal opposition to the Egyptian military’s conduct. He can do so by immediately suspending military aid and canceling joint military exercises scheduled for September. These steps can be reversed if the generals change their ways, but, until then, the United States should slam the door on an aid program that has provided the Egyptian military with a munificent $1.3 billion a year for decades.

Those who argue that this aid gives the United States leverage can no longer do so with a straight face. Time and again, repeated phone calls from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to General Sisi asking for restraint and similar exhortations by Secretary of State John Kerry have been ignored.

Mr. Kerry spoke out again on Wednesday, but it is now up to Mr. Obama to act. A cautious statement from a deputy press secretary in Martha’s Vineyard that the Obama administration “strongly condemns” the violence and is reviewing the aid program is unlikely to get the generals’ attention. Canceling next month’s joint exercises, which is now being considered, might. And if suspending a $1.3 billion subsidy does not do the trick, it will at least tell rank-and-file Egyptians that the United States is no longer underwriting repression.

Hundreds of peaceful demonstrators were killed Wednesday when military and police units used helicopters, snipers, bulldozers and tear gas to evict them from two camp areas in Cairo. The military proclaimed a monthlong nationwide state of emergency, while the “transitional government” named 25 new provincial governors — 19 of them generals.

The transitional government is little more than window dressing for military rule. Those liberals and moderates who have enabled and emboldened the military have been complicit in this deception. One prominent liberal democrat, Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Prize winner, resigned Wednesday as interim vice president.

The Muslim Brotherhood must also share responsibility. Since the July 3 coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi, it has shown too little interest in negotiating a peaceful path out of the crisis. And even before that coup, Mr. Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders had displayed little interest in reaching out to Egyptians of different political and religious persuasions.

But the major blame rests with General Sisi. He seized power from a democratically elected government. He controls the security forces that have persecuted and brutalized political opponents. And he approved orders for heavily armed forces to use deadly force against peaceful protesters with a very legitimate political grievance — the ouster and secret detention of Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

Washington’s influence on Egyptian public opinion generally is limited. That has less to do with the low-key tone Mr. Obama has taken than with the preceding decades of uncritical United States support for past dictators like Mr. Mubarak and the military forces supporting them, to the neglect of most of Egypt’s 84 million people. It is past time for Mr. Obama to start correcting that imbalance. Suspending assistance to Egypt’s anti-democratic military would be a good place to start.

    Military Madness in Cairo, NYT, 14.8.2013,






U.S. Condemns Crackdown

but Announces No Policy Shift


August 14, 2013
The New York Times


EDGARTOWN, Mass. — The Obama administration on Wednesday condemned the Egyptian military’s bloody crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters, but showed no signs of taking any tough steps, like suspending American aid, in response.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the violence in Cairo was “deplorable” and ran “counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy.” He said the United States strongly opposed the military’s imposition of a state of emergency, calling on all Egyptians to “take a step back.”

But Mr. Kerry announced no punitive measures, while President Obama, vacationing here on Martha’s Vineyard, had no public reaction. As his chief diplomat was speaking of a “pivotal moment for Egypt,” the president was playing golf at a private club.

With few levers of influence over Egypt’s generals, the American response consisted of a flurry of phone calls by Mr. Kerry to European and Arab foreign ministers, including Egypt’s interim foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy. State Department officials did not disclose details of the conversation, but there was no indication that Mr. Fahmy offered assurances that the crackdown on supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, had ended or would be limited in scope. Mr. Kerry said he implored Egyptian officials to avoid violence .

The harrowing images from Cairo put Mr. Obama in an awkward but familiar place: on vacation, confronting a wave of bloodshed in the Middle East. The last time he was on Martha’s Vineyard, in 2011, he stepped before cameras to speak after rebels seized the Libyan capital, Tripoli, sending Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi into hiding.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Obama was briefed on the situation by his national security adviser, Susan E. Rice. But he appeared determined not to allow events in Egypt to interrupt a day that, besides golf, included cocktails at the home of a major political donor, Brian Roberts. A White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, told reporters, “We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint and for the government to respect the universal rights of its citizens.”

Mr. Earnest did not signal any shift in administration policy, which has been to keep open lines of communication to Egypt’s generals. Like other administration officials, he would not call the military’s ouster of Mr. Morsi a coup, to avoid a designation that could prompt a cutoff of $1.3 billion a year in American military aid.

The United States has walked a fine line in dealing with the Egyptian military, urging the generals to avoid violence and release Mr. Morsi from detention, but stopping short of suspending military and other aid, in part because of fears that doing so could destabilize the region.

“We are continuing to review our posture and our assistance to the Egyptians,” Mr. Earnest said.

In the administration’s only punitive measure to date, the Pentagon has held up the delivery of four F-16 fighter planes to the Egyptian Air Force. An American official said Wednesday that the Pentagon was considering delaying or canceling American involvement in the Bright Star military exercise next month. Bright Star, the major biennial training exercise led by American and Egyptian forces, dates to the early 1980s.

Analysts said the ferocity of the latest crackdown would put the White House’s strategy to its sternest test yet. “If it looks like the U.S. effectively colluded in a counterrevolution, then all the talk about democracy and Islam, about a new American relationship with the Islamic world, will be judged to have been the height of hypocrisy,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In his remarks, Mr. Kerry said, “The only sustainable path for either side is one toward a political solution,” adding, “I am convinced that that path is in fact still open,” even if the bloodshed of the last 24 hours had made it far more difficult.

Mr. Kerry, according to a State Department spokeswoman, talked on the phone with Mohamed ElBaradei, who resigned his post as Egyptian vice president to protest the military’s action. Mr. ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was viewed as a critical moderate voice in the interim government.

The spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Mr. ElBaradei’s resignation was a “concerning development,” noting that he and Mr. Kerry shared a desire “to get back on a productive path.” But she said Mr. Kerry did not ask Mr. ElBaradei to reconsider his decision.

Mr. Kerry also conferred with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s senior foreign policy official, and Qatar’s foreign minister, Khalid al-Attiyah, and he was scheduled to speak with the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who has been sharply critical of the administration’s policy and who recently visited Cairo, suggested that Mr. Kerry might share some responsibility for the crackdown.

“As we predicted and feared, chaos in Cairo,” Mr. McCain said on Twitter. “Sec Kerry praising the military takeover didn’t help.” During a recent visit to Pakistan, Mr. Kerry said the Egyptian military had been “restoring democracy” when it ousted Mr. Morsi.

Traveling in Amman, Jordan, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he had not yet spoken with his Egyptian counterparts. Other Pentagon officials said the Egyptian authorities had given them no official notification that their efforts to clear the pro-Morsi demonstrators were under way.

Asked by reporters what he planned to say to Egyptian military leaders, General Dempsey said, “It’s really the same message: The path forward for Egypt that will allow us to maintain our close military relationship and allow them to achieve their goals is the commitment to a road map, keeping violence levels as low as possible.”

“That’s a challenge, of course,” he added.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been a key interlocutor with Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, and he has spoken with him 15 times since Mr. Morsi was ousted on July 3. Mr. Hagel is on vacation but is talking to aides and plans to be in touch with General Sisi soon, an official said.


Mark Landler reported from Edgartown, and Michael R. Gordon from Washington. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Thom Shanker from Amman, Jordan.

    U.S. Condemns Crackdown but Announces No Policy Shift, NYT, 14.8.2013,






Arab Spring Countries

Find Peace Is Harder Than Revolution


August 14, 2013
The New York Times


BEIRUT, Lebanon — In Libya, armed militias have filled a void left by a revolution that felled a dictator. In Syria, a popular uprising has morphed into a civil war that has left more than 100,000 dead and provided a haven for Islamic extremists. In Tunisia, increasingly bitter political divisions have delayed the drafting of a new constitution.

And now in Egypt, often considered the trendsetter of the Arab world, the army and security forces, after having toppled the elected Islamist president, have killed hundreds of his supporters, declared a state of emergency and worsened a deep polarization.

It is clear that the region’s old status quo, dominated by imperious rulers who fixed elections, ruled by fiat and quashed dissent, has been fundamentally damaged, if not overthrown, in the three years since the outbreak of the uprisings optimistically known as the Arab Spring. That was amply illustrated on Wednesday in Egypt, where a reversion to the repressive tactics of the past was met with deep outrage by Islamist protesters who had tasted empowerment.

What is unclear, however, is the replacement model. Most of the uprisings have devolved into bitter struggles, as a mix of political powers battle over the rules of participation, the relationship between the military and the government, the role of religion in public life and what it means to be a citizen, not a subject.

Middle East historians and analysts say that the political and economic stagnation under decades of autocratic rule that led to the uprisings also left Arab countries ill equipped to build new governments and civil society. While some of the movements achieved their initial goals, removing longtime leaders in four countries, their wider aims — democracy, dignity, human rights, social equality and economic security — now appear more distant than ever.

“The old regional order has gone, the new regional order is being drawn in blood, and it is going to take a long time,” said Sarkis Naoum, a political analyst at Lebanon’s An Nahar newspaper.

“All the people in those countries lived under similar suppression despite the differences in their regimes, so the uprisings were contagious,” Mr. Naoum said. “But nobody in Syria, Libya, Egypt or Tunisia who wanted to get rid of the regime was prepared for what came next.”

In many ways, the Arab Spring has revealed and exacerbated deep societal splits, between secularists and Islamists and between different religious sects.

“This is political polarization on steroids,” said Jeffrey Martini, a Middle East specialist at the RAND Corporation. “You’ve got both sides trying to banish each other from politics.”

In Tunisia, the birthplace of the uprisings, the moderate Islamist party now in power has been unable to build sufficient consensus to draft a new constitution, and opposition leaders have been assassinated. And in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, overwhelming force by the ruling Sunni monarchy has failed to silence dissent by the country’s Shiite majority.

Political exclusion has also afflicted Egypt’s transition. After winning post-revolutionary elections, Mohamed Morsi, the now-deposed president, and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood faced fierce opposition from those who accused them of perverting democracy as a way of monopolizing power.

Throughout the region, the upheavals have so far failed to address the demands of millions of ordinary citizens who had clamored for change — for jobs, food, health care and basic human dignity. If anything, their grievances have worsened.

“Most Middle East economies buffeted by the Arab Spring were already going in the wrong direction,” said Joshua M. Landis, director of the Center of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Economic distress caused by swelling youth populations, joblessness, rising prices and drought, he said, had done as much to cause the uprisings as political oppression.

In many ways, he said, “the Arab Spring is the canary in the mine shaft for a broader problem — fragmented countries, too much population growth, terrible education systems, too little water — these countries are the losers.”

The current turmoil has left many Arab activists disillusioned with the movements for which they had invested tremendous effort and often risked their lives.

This is increasingly the case in Syria, where an originally peaceful pro-democratic uprising has evolved into a sectarian civil war, with extremist rebel groups that reject democracy playing an increasing role on the battlefield.

“In the beginning it was a real revolution — I was excited to work, I bought a weapon from my own pocket and sold land to buy ammunition,” said Soheil Ali, who until recently led a small rebel group in northern Syria. “Now it is completely different.”

Mr. Ali quit the fight in frustration over what he called corruption among the rebels’ nominal leaders and the tendency of some groups to stockpile arms instead of fighting to topple their common adversary, President Bashar al-Assad.

Historians note that fundamental political change anywhere can take decades or generations. The Prague Spring of 1968 may have failed, for example, but it was a catalyst for changes in Eastern Europe that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

The European revolutions of 1848, a series of popular upheavals that were the most widespread revolutionary wave in European history, affected more than 50 countries but soon collapsed under the repression of military forces loyal to royalties and aristocracies. Nonetheless, they sowed the seeds of progressive political ideas that would help shape European history for the next hundred years.

Historians said that given the repressive autocracies among Arab countries, the convulsions in Egypt and elsewhere were painful but inevitable.

“I am not writing these transitions off; I just think we’re heading into a period of extreme unrest,” said Mona Yacoubian, a senior Middle East adviser at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.

Others noted that such turmoil often obscured subtle but profound societal changes. For example, Ziad al-Ali, a Cairo-based constitutional expert, said it had now become normal for citizens of Arab Spring countries to insult their rulers — unthinkable only a few years ago.

“This dynamic of free expression, of political liberalization where now you have lots of political parties and people expressing themselves freely, this will lead us in a positive direction in the long run,” he said.

Mohammed al-Sabri, an opposition leader in Yemen, where protests pushed the longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power last year, said this general sense of empowerment was the most significant accomplishment of the uprisings so far.

“The elites and the leaders in any society, whether it is revolutionary or not, can resign and say, ‘I’m done,’ ” he said. “But the people cannot resign.”

Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut.

    Arab Spring Countries Find Peace Is Harder Than Revolution, NYT, 15.8.2013,






Hundreds Die

as Egyptian Forces Attack

Islamist Protesters


August 14, 2013
The New York Times


CAIRO — Egyptian security officers stormed two encampments packed with supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, on Wednesday in a scorched-earth assault that killed hundreds, set off a violent backlash across Egypt and underscored the new government’s determination to crush the Islamists who dominated two years of free elections.

The attack, the third mass killing of Islamist demonstrators since the military ousted Mr. Morsi six weeks ago, followed a series of government threats. But the scale — lasting more than 12 hours, with armored vehicles, bulldozers, tear gas, birdshot, live ammunition and snipers — and the ferocity far exceeded the Interior Ministry’s promises of a gradual and measured dispersal.

At least one protester was incinerated in his tent. Many others were shot in the head or chest, including some who appeared to be in their early teens, including the 17-year-old daughter of a prominent Islamist leader, Mohamed el-Beltagy. At a makeshift morgue in one field hospital on Wednesday morning, the number of bodies grew to 12 from 3 in the space of 15 minutes.

“Martyrs, this way,” a medic called out to direct the men bringing new stretchers; the hems of women’s abayas were stained from the pools of blood covering the floor.

Adli Mansour, the figurehead president appointed by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, declared a state of emergency, removing any limits on police action and returning Egypt to the state of virtual martial law that prevailed for three decades under President Hosni Mubarak. The government imposed a 7 p.m. curfew in most of the country, closed the banks and shut down all north-south train service.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamist group behind Mr. Morsi, reiterated its rejection of violence but called on Egyptians across the country to rise up in protest, and its supporters marched toward the camps to battle the police with rocks and firebombs.

Clashes and gunfire broke out even in well-heeled precincts of the capital far from the protest camps, leaving anxious residents huddled in their homes and the streets all but emptied of life. Angry Islamists attacked at least a dozen police stations around the country, according to the state news media, killing more than 40 police officers.

And they lashed out at Christians, attacking or burning seven churches, according to the interior minister. Coptic Christian and human rights groups said the number was far higher.

The crackdown followed six weeks of attempts by Western diplomats to broker a political resolution that might persuade the Islamists to abandon their protests and rejoin a renewed democratic process despite the military’s removal of Mr. Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president. But the brutality of the attack seemed to extinguish any such hopes.

The Health Ministry said that 235 civilians had been killed and more than a thousand others had been wounded across Egypt. But the rate of dead and seriously injured people moving through the field hospitals at the sit-ins seemed to promise the true numbers would be much higher.

The assault prompted the resignation of the interim vice president, Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Prize-winning former diplomat who had lent his reputation to selling the West on the democratic goals of the military takeover.

“We have reached a state of harder polarization and more dangerous division, with the social fabric in danger of tearing, because violence only begets violence,” Mr. ElBaradei wrote in a public letter to the president. “The beneficiaries of what happened today are the preachers of violence and terrorism, the most extremist groups,” he said, “and you will remember what I am telling you.”

The violence was almost universally criticized by Western governments. A spokesman for President Obama said the United States was continuing to review the $1.5 billion in aid it gives Egypt annually, most of which goes to the military. The spokesman, Josh Earnest, said the violence “runs directly counter to pledges from the interim government to pursue reconciliation” with the Islamists.

He said the United States condemned the renewal of the emergency law and urged respect for basic rights like the freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstrations. But he stopped short of writing off the interim government, saying the United States would continue to remind Egypt’s leaders of their promises and urge them “to get back on track.”

Analysts said the attack was the clearest sign yet that the Egyptian police state was re-emerging in full force, overriding liberal cabinet officials like Mr. ElBaradei and ignoring Western diplomatic pressure and talk of cutting financial aid.

“This is the beginning of a systematic crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, other Islamists and other opponents of a military coup,” said Emad Shahin, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.

“In the end,” he added, “the West will back the winning side.”

The attack began about 7 a.m. when a circle of police officers began firing tear gas at the protest camps and obliterating tents with bulldozers. Although the Interior Ministry had said it would move only gradually and leave a safe exit, soon after the attack began several thousand people appeared trapped inside the main camp, near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, as snipers fired down on those trying to flee and riot police officers with tear gas and birdshot closed in from all sides.

“There is no safe passage,” said Mohamed Abdel Azeem, 25, a wholesaler, who had braved sniper fire to reach a field hospital.

For a time in the late afternoon, the Islamists succeeded in pushing the police back far enough to create an almost safe passage to a hospital building on the edge of what remained of their camp. Only a roughly 20-yard stretch in front of the hospital doors was still vulnerable to sniper fire from above, and a series of Islamist marchers from around the city flowed back into the encampment, bolstering its numbers.

But shortly before dusk, soldiers and police officers renewed their push, and the Islamists were forced at last to flee.

Three journalists were reportedly killed in the fighting: a cameraman for Sky News, the Britain-based news network; a reporter for a newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates; and a reporter for an Egyptian state newspaper. Several others were arrested.

Egyptian state news media played down the violence, reporting that the police were clearing the camps “in a highly civilized way.” In a televised address, Mohamed Ibrahim, interior minister under Mr. Morsi and now under the new government, said his forces “insisted on maintaining the highest degrees of self-restraint.”

Later, state television showed footage of a group of dead bodies it said were discovered under the main stage of the Islamist sit-in, corroborating dark rumors in the anti-Islamist news media. But it appeared to be a gruesome setup: journalists, including a reporter for The New York Times, had visited the area below the stage repeatedly in recent days and found it empty, without any bodies. Although journalists saw at least a few Islamists with guns on Wednesday, there was also no evidence that the Islamists had stockpiled large numbers of weapons inside the camp, as Egyptian state news media had said before the attack.

But in a televised statement, Hazem el-Beblawi, the interim prime minister and a Western-trained economist who had been considered a liberal, cited the Islamists’ supposed stockpiling of weapons and ammunition to argue that the use of force was justified to protect the rights of other citizens.

“Things were spiraling out of control, and we decided to take a firm stance,” he said.

By nightfall the Islamists had established new sit-ins outside a landmark mosque in Cairo and others in cities around the country, defying the new curfew and the interior minister’s vows to break up any such assemblies.

“Is this closer to being resolved tonight than last night?” asked Michael Wahid Hanna, a researcher on Egypt with the New York-based Century Foundation who was visiting Cairo. “Obviously not. I don’t think anybody has thought this through fully.”


Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.

    Hundreds Die as Egyptian Forces Attack Islamist Protesters, NYT, 14.8.2013,






Obama, Snowden and Putin


August 13, 2013
The New York Times


You only get one chance to make a second impression. It seems to me that Edward Snowden should use his and that Russian President Vladimir Putin has blown his.

Considering the breadth of reforms that President Obama is now proposing to prevent privacy abuses in intelligence gathering, in the wake of Snowden’s disclosures, Snowden deserves a chance to make a second impression — that he truly is a whistle-blower, not a traitor. The fact is, he dumped his data and fled to countries that are hostile to us and to the very principles he espoused. To make a second impression, Snowden would need to come home, make his case and face his accusers. It would mean risking a lengthy jail term, but also trusting the fair-mindedness of the American people, who, I believe, will not allow an authentic whistle-blower to be unfairly punished.

As for Putin, he blew his second impression — the reset in U.S.-Russian relations — long before he granted Snowden asylum. Dealing with Putin always involved a certain trade-off for America: accepting a degree of Putin authoritarianism in return for cooperation on global issues that mattered to us, as long as Putin “sort of” kept Russia moving toward a more open, consensual society. But the balance is not there anymore. Putin’s insistence on blocking any diplomacy on Syria that might move out “his guy,” President Bashar al-Assad, his abuse of Russian gays and lesbians, and his blatant use of rule-by-law tactics to silence any critics mean that we’re not getting anything from this relationship anymore, nor are many Russians.

But rather than punch Putin in the face, which would elevate him with his followers, it would be much better to hit him where it would really hurt by publicly challenging the notion that he is making Russia strong.

Here’s what Obama could have said when asked about Putin last week: “You know, back in 1979, President Putin’s brutal Soviet predecessors sent us Sergey Brin and his family. As you know, Brin later became the co-founder of Google. That was Russia’s loss, but a gift to us and to the world. We could not have enjoyed the benefits of search had the Soviets not made life so unattractive for Brin’s family. I make that point because Putin doesn’t seem interested in making life attractive in today’s Russia for the Sergey Brins of his generation. Putin only seems interested in sticking pipes in the ground and extracting oil and gas — rather than the talents of his own young people — and making sure that he and his cronies get their cut of the oil flow.

“Look what Putin just did. Sergei Guriev is one of the most talented of Russia’s new-generation economists. He was rector of one of the few world-class academic institutions left in Russia today: the New Economic School. Guriev was a loyal, liberal adviser to former President Dmitri Medvedev, but after he co-authored a report that criticized the conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned oil magnate, Putin’s goons began to harass him. He said they even demanded his e-mails going back five years. (Snowden beware.) Well, in the spring, Guriev fled to France, saying he feared losing his freedom, and he says he’s not going back.

“Sergei Guriev, come to America. Bring your friends. Bring the members of that band Putin put in jail, Pussy Riot, too. No creative person has any future in Putin’s Russia because he doesn’t understand the present: There are no ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries anymore. There are only H.I.E.’s (high imagination-enabling countries) and L.I.E.’s (low imagination-enabling countries). That is, countries that nurture innovation and innovators and those that don’t — in a world where so many more people can turn ideas into products, services, companies and jobs faster and cheaper than ever. Putin is building a political monoculture that will make Russia the lowest of low imagination-enabling countries.

“Putin prefers to rely instead on less educated, xenophobic rural populations, who buy into his anti-American, anti-gay trope that the world just wants to keep Russia down. As the revolution in hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling and energy efficiency spreads around the world, and oil and gas prices fall, Putin’s failure to invest in Russia’s human talent — which he won’t do because it means empowering and freeing them from his grasp — will become a big problem for Russia.”

That’s what I would have said. Do we lose anything by not having Putin’s help? You bet. Those who say we don’t need Russia are wrong. There is no major problem in the world today — Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, cybercrime, climate or drugs — that would not be easier to solve if the U.S. and Russia worked together. (It’s why I opposed NATO expansion.) But running against America is now essential to Putin’s domestic survival.

So there is no sense wasting more time with him. While he will not help us, he can’t do us serious harm. He can and is doing serious harm to Russia, by putting loyalty to him before competence. Any system that does that for long, dies.

You can Google it.

    Obama, Snowden and Putin, NYT, 13.8.2013,






Shortsighted Thinking

on Israeli Settlements


August 12, 2013
The New York Times


There was a certain internal political logic to two announcements made by the Israeli government, just days before Wednesday’s scheduled resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians. Early Monday, the government released a list of 26 Palestinian prisoners to be released Tuesday, most serving sentences for murder and other violent crimes. A few hours before that, the government published bids for the construction of more than 1,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and existing West Bank settlements — a move apparently designed to mollify right-wingers who would oppose the prisoner release.

This balancing act may have made sense in the narrow world of the Knesset. But, in the broader world beyond Israeli domestic politics, giving the green light to more settlement construction in contested territory is not just untimely but a fresh cause for pessimism about the prospects for successful peace negotiations.

Secretary of State John Kerry has set an ambitious goal of reaching a comprehensive peace settlement within nine months. In any conceivable agreement, at least some West Bank settlements will have to be uprooted. And East Jerusalem is where Palestinians hope to locate the capital of their eventual state.

Why further complicate these already complicated negotiations three days before they start? And why add to the abundant distrust that already divides the two sides after nearly two decades of failed peace efforts? Mr. Kerry’s timetable may be overoptimistic, but no two-state solution can ever be reached if Israel expands its settlements on territory that will eventually become part of a Palestinian state. True, they can be removed, as they were when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005. But every increase in the settlement population expands the already politically powerful block of settler voters who will resist removal.

Knowing this, many Israelis also expressed dismay at the settlement announcement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s finance minister and coalition partner, Yair Lapid, rightly complained that it would “needlessly challenge the Americans” and “poke sticks in the wheels of peace talks.” Announcing settlement bids now embarrasses Mr. Kerry, who worked very hard to persuade the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, to drop his earlier demand for a settlement freeze. It also unhelpfully embarrasses Mr. Abbas, whose good faith now appears to have been abused and who may now find it harder to sell difficult-but-necessary compromises to his people.

No one is under any illusions that reaching a peace agreement will be easy. Both sides must summon the courage to tackle extremely sensitive issues, like settlements. Mr. Netanyahu can show his by freezing the construction bids before any actual building begins.

    Shortsighted Thinking on Israeli Settlements, NYT, 12.8.2013,






One-State Dream, One-State Nightmare


August 12, 2013
The New York Times


TEL AVIV — Let us deal, on the eve of the first direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in almost three years, with the idea of one state. It hovers out there — as dream and as nightmare — and is best laid to rest.

First the dream: That somehow after all the wars and accumulation of hatred, Israelis and Palestinians can learn overnight to live together as equal citizens in some United States of the Holy Land, a binational and democratic secular state that resolves their differences and assures their intertwined futures.

Oh, what a seductive illusion (at least to some). Let’s set aside for a moment that the regional examples of such multiethnic states — Lebanon, Iraq and Syria come to mind — are not encouraging. Let’s set aside that such a state would have a hard time every May deciding whether to mark a Day of Independence for its Jewish citizens or a Day of Catastrophe for its Arab citizens.

Let’s set aside whether the Jabotinsky Streets of the imaginary country dear to the one-state brigade would become Arafat Streets, or vice versa, and whether to have a Begin Avenue or a Grand Mufti al-Husseini Boulevard. Let’s even set aside the fact that the two principal communities would be in constant, paralyzing battle, causing the best and the brightest to go elsewhere in search of opportunity and sanity.

The central issue is this: One state, however conceived, equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state, the core of the Zionist idea. Jews will not, cannot and must not allow this to happen. They have learned how dangerous it is to live without a certain refuge, as minorities, and will not again place their faith in the good will of others, nor trust in touchy-feely hope over bitter experience.

That is the ineradicable legacy of diaspora persecution and of the Holocaust. Emerging in the 19th century from the static ghetto into the Sturm und Drang of the modern world, the Jews saw two principle routes to emancipation: assimilation and Zionism.

The former was seductive. At first it offered rapid advancement, before it became clear that in this very advancement lay danger. It was a wager on acceptance that the Jews of Europe lost to Hitler: No citizen was more patriotic than the prewar German Jew.

Zionism, by contrast, placed no faith in others’ good will. It sought, rather, to usher Jews to the full realization of their nationhood and so, in a sense, normalize them — make them patriotic about something that was their own.

The world, in the form of the United Nations, upheld this quest in 1947, voting for the division of Mandate Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Arab armies went to war — and the rest is history, including the now almost half-century-old occupation of the West Bank and Israeli dominion over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians.

And that brings us to one state as nightmare, which is what Israel, an extraordinary success story in many regards, faces today. The only way out of this nightmare is two states, one Israeli and one viable, contiguous Palestinian state living in peace and security beside it.

I sat with Yair Lapid, Israel’s centrist finance minister, son of a survivor of Nazi-occupied Hungary, grandson of a Hungarian Jew slaughtered in the camps, and he told me of his father’s repeated lesson: that he came to and fought for Israel so that Jews would “always have a place to go to.”

He said: “I have a lot of respect for the ethos of Greater Israel. I grew up in a house using this language. But we do understand that in the long term, if we stay there, that will be the end of the Zionist idea. We cannot live in one state. This will be a version of one state for two nations, and that this is the end of Zionism. Eventually the Palestinians will come to us and say, O.K., you decided we are not going to have a country at all, so we want to vote. If you say no, you are South Africa in its worst days. If you say yes, it is the end of the Jewish country, and I want to live in a Jewish country.”

Lapid argued that the all-the-land absolutists — Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin among them — are, in their rejection of the two-state idea, undermining the idea of a Jewish state over time and so undercutting the core of Zionism and his own father’s life-shaping message. He is right.

Lapid later issued a statement criticizing Israel’s decision to publish construction bids Sunday for more than 1,000 housing units in contested East Jerusalem and several West Bank settlements. “To poke sticks in the wheels of peace talks is not right,” he said, “and not helpful to the process.” Right again.

One state as delusional fantasy of some Middle Eastern idyll and one state as nightmarish temptation involving the indefinite Israeli subjugation of another people are equally unacceptable.

As the Talmud says, hold too much and you will hold nothing.


You can follow me on Twitter or join me on Facebook.

    One-State Dream, One-State Nightmare, NYT, 12.8.2013,






Car Bombings Kill Scores Across Iraq


August 10, 2013
The New York Times


BAGHDAD — As Iraqis flooded the streets of their capital and other cities on Saturday to celebrate Id al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a string of car bombs struck in mostly Shiite neighborhoods, killing more than 60 people, officials said.

The bombings were the latest in a surge of attacks in Iraq this summer — before, during and after Ramadan — that have brought monthly death tolls to levels not seen in nearly five years, according to United Nations figures.

The attacks on Saturday killed at least 61 people and wounded more than 200 across Iraq, an Interior Ministry official said.

Nine car bombs struck around Baghdad, the capital, at public markets and near a city park, and many exploded in Shiite neighborhoods that have borne the brunt of the increasingly violent Sunni insurgency led by Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate, killing at least 35 people. Other attacks — in the northern city of Tuz Khurmato, in Hilla, Karbala and Dhi Qar in the south — killed at least 26.

The State Department condemned the attacks and noted that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate, is now based in Syria.

The United States has offered a $10 million reward for information “that helps authorities kill or capture” Mr. Baghdadi and is prepared to work with the Iraq government to counter the threat from Al Qaeda, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement Saturday night.

That reward is second only to the one that the United States has offered for information leading to Ayman al-Zawahri, the head of the Qaeda network.

According to the United Nations, 1,057 Iraqis were killed and 2,326 were wounded in attacks in July, the highest monthly casualty figures since 2008.

“We haven’t seen such numbers in more than five years, when the blind rage of the sectarian strife that inflicted such deep wounds on this country was finally abating,” Gyorgy Busztin, the acting United Nations representative for Iraq, said recently.


Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from Washington,

and Yasir Ghazi from Baghdad.

    Car Bombings Kill Scores Across Iraq, NYT, 10.8.2013,






Iran’s Plan B for the Bomb


August 8, 2013
The New York Times


TEL AVIV — IS Iran finally ready to talk? Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has said he’s ready for nuclear negotiations. And in recent weeks, the Iranian government has repeatedly expressed its desire to reach a deal on its uranium enrichment program.

A few days after Mr. Rouhani’s election victory, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, stated that Iran was prepared to limit its enrichment to a level below 20 percent, which is the main goal of a future agreement between the West and Iran. And last month, Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, reportedly told the White House that Iran wanted to begin direct nuclear negotiations with the United States.

But it would be dangerous to think that Iran’s proposal for negotiations alone would pave the way for a deal. What matters is not the talks but the outcome.

Whoever negotiates with Iran must acknowledge that the enrichment of uranium from a low level (3.5 percent to 19.75 percent) to weapons-grade level (90 percent) is only one of three dimensions of Iran’s nuclear strategy. A second dimension is Iran’s progress toward a quick “breakout capability” through the stockpiling of large quantities of low-enriched uranium that could be further enriched rapidly to provide weapons-grade fuel. Third, Iran also appears to be pursuing a parallel track to a nuclear capability through the production of plutonium.

If there is going to be a nuclear deal with Iran, all three parts of its strategy must be addressed.

In the past year, Iran has installed thousands of centrifuges, including more than 1,000 advanced ones. A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency states that Iran already has enough low-enriched uranium to produce several nuclear bombs if it chooses to further enrich the fuel. Iran has deliberately refrained from crossing what is perceived as Israel’s red line: 240 kilograms (about 530 pounds) of uranium enriched to a level of 19.75 percent.

Nonetheless, Western experts like Graham T. Allison Jr. and Olli Heinonen estimate that if Iran decided to develop a bomb today, it could do so within three to five months. That is assumed to be sufficient lead time for the West to detect and respond to an Iranian decision.

But a recent report from the Institute for Science and International Security estimates that at the current pace of installation, Iran could reduce its breakout time to just one month by the end of this year. The report also estimates that at that pace, by mid-2014 Iran could reduce the breakout time to less than two weeks.

Any agreement must ensure that an Iranian breakout is detected quickly enough to allow for a Western response — meaning that the international community must be able to uncover any concealed facilities and activities for the production of fissile material.

A solution will also have to address the potential for a plutonium bomb. In May, Iran announced that the heavy-water reactor in Arak would become operational early next year. Some American and European officials claim that Iran could produce weapons-grade plutonium next summer. These two announcements indicate that Iran is making progress on this alternative track. So far, the West has not paid much attention to the potential for a plutonium-fueled weapon. Now it must do so.

A functioning nuclear reactor in Arak could eventually allow Iran to produce sufficient quantities of plutonium for nuclear bombs. Although Iran would need to build a reprocessing facility to separate the plutonium from the uranium in order to produce a bomb, that should not be the West’s primary concern. Western negotiators should instead demand that Iran shut down the Arak reactor.

This is crucial because the West would likely seek to avoid an attack on a “hot” reactor, lest it cause widespread environmental damage. Once Arak is operational, it would effectively be immune from attack and the West would be deprived of its primary “stick” in its efforts to persuade Iran to forgo a military nuclear capability.

Of the three countries that have publicly crossed the nuclear threshold since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty entered into force in 1970, two — India and North Korea — did so via the plutonium track. In order to deny Iran this route, any agreement between the West and Iran must guarantee that Iran will not retain a breakout or “sneak out” plutonium-production capacity.

At the United Nations last September, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, focused only on uranium enrichment, reinforcing a one-dimensional perception of the Iranian nuclear program. This narrow perception is already widespread in the West and could enable Iran to attain a swift breakout capability using uranium or to build a plutonium bomb without detection.

Negotiations with Iran should resume, and the sooner the better. But Western leaders must maintain their current leverage — sanctions and a credible military threat — and ensure that any future agreement with Iran addresses all three dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. Moderate messages from Tehran should not be allowed to camouflage Iran’s continuing progress toward a bomb.


Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence

is the director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies,

where Avner Golov is a researcher.

    Iran’s Plan B for the Bomb, NYT, 8.8.2013,






As Foreign Fighters Flood Syria,

Fears of a New Extremist Haven


August 8, 2013
The New York Times


BEIRUT, Lebanon — As foreign fighters pour into Syria at an increasing clip, extremist groups are carving out pockets of territory that are becoming havens for Islamist militants, posing what United States and Western intelligence officials say may be developing into one of the biggest terrorist threats in the world today.

Known as fierce fighters willing to employ suicide car bombs, the jihadist groups now include more than 6,000 foreigners, counterterrorism officials say, adding that such fighters are streaming into Syria in greater numbers than went into Iraq at the height of the insurgency there against the American occupation.

Many of the militants are part of the Nusra Front, an extremist group whose fighters have gained a reputation over the past several months as some of the most effective in the opposition.

But others are assembling under a new, even more extreme umbrella group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, that is merging some Syrians with fighters from around the world — Chechnya, Pakistan, Egypt and the West, as well as Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgent group that rose to prominence in the fight against the American occupation in the years after the 2003 invasion. The concern is that a new affiliate of Al Qaeda could be emerging from those groups.

It was the fear of militants coming to dominate the opposition that caused the United States and its Western allies to hold off providing lethal aid to the Syrian opposition, at least until now. But as a result, counterterrorism analysts say, they lost a chance to influence the battle in Syria. Even Congressional supporters of the C.I.A.’s covert program to arm moderate elements of the Syrian opposition fear the delivery of weapons, set to begin this month, will be too little, too late.

The stakes are high. American intelligence officials said this week that Ayman al-Zawahri, the overall leader of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, has had regular communications with the Nusra Front in Syria, reflecting how favorably the Qaeda leadership views the long-term potential for Syria as a safe haven. Juan Zarate, a former senior counterterrorism official in the George W. Bush administration, said that Syria lay in the center of an arc of instability, stretching from Iran through North Africa, and “in that zone, you may have the regeneration and resurrection of a new brand of Al Qaeda.”

In Syria, the battle lines have hardened in recent months. The Syrian government, backed by Iran and Hezbollah, has seized new momentum and retaken territory in the south and east from the rebels. At the same time, power within the badly fractured opposition, numbering about 1,200 groups, has steadily slipped into the hands of the jihadists based in the northeast, where this week they seized a strategic airport in the area. They also hold sway in the provincial capital of Raqqa.

The idea that Syria could supplant Pakistan as the primary haven for Al Qaeda someday, should the government fall, is a heavy blow to the Western-backed Syrian opposition and its military arm, the Free Syrian Army. It plays directly into the hands of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, whose government has sought to portray itself as the only alternative to Islamic extremism and chaos and has made the prospect of full-on American support even more remote than it already was.

Mr. Assad’s argument “began as a fiction during the period of peaceful, unarmed protests but is now a reality” because of Mr. Assad’s own efforts to divide the country as well as the success of the extremists, Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, wrote in a recent essay that appeared in The National.

In Raqqa recently, a commander of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria sipped coffee after breaking the Ramadan fast, wearing a Pakistani-style outfit. The commander, Abu Omar, was Syrian, a member of a tribe in the area, but he described his movement’s goals as reaching far beyond the country’s borders.

He did not speak of attacking the United States. But he threatened Russia, and he spoke of a broad-based battle against Shiite-led Iran and its quest to dominate the region, and said Sunnis from across the world were justified in flocking to Syria to fight because of the government’s reliance on Shiite fighters from Lebanon and Iraq.

He rejected calls from some in the Syrian opposition to keep the fighting focused inside Syria and aimed at toppling Mr. Assad. “We have one enemy,” Iran, he said, “and we should fight this enemy as one front and on different fronts.”

He also seemed to suggest that Russia would be a legitimate target for its role in supporting Mr. Assad and for its brutal suppression of Muslim militants in the Caucasus.

“Russia is killing Muslims in southern Muslim republics and sends arms and money to kill Muslims in Syria as well,” he said. “I swear by God that Russia will pay a big price for its dirty role in the Syrian war.”

The leader of the Free Syrian Army, Gen. Salim Idris, recently accused the jihadists of working for or receiving aid from the Assad government, not a completely far-fetched proposition, given that Western officials widely believe the Assad government played a major role in funneling Syrians and other foreigners into Iraq during the insurgency there. Some rank-and-file rebels say that government artillery and warplanes attack them fiercely while largely leaving jihadist positions alone.

Free Syrian Army fighters have clashed with jihadist groups in recent weeks over weapons and supplies, and civilian anti-Assad activists have struggled with them over their efforts to impose religious rules on society. The groups have kidnapped and imprisoned dozens of activists.

Yet the lines dividing the Free Syrian Army from jihadist groups are fluid, and the conflicts have not stopped F.S.A. leaders from working with their fighters, whose fierceness on the battlefield is undisputed. That has helped create a divergence between statements by exile opposition leaders rejecting extremists and their ideology and actions by ground commanders eager for any help they can get.

“We are getting big accusations that we are implementing foreign agendas to divide the Syrian rebel groups or we are agents for the Assad regime,” Abu Omar said. “But we are the ones who made the big military operations against the Assad regime. When we fight any military position we get it or die for God’s sake.”

This week, the jihadist group Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, or the Army of Emigrants and Supporters, led by a fighter from the Caucasus known as Abu Omar al-Shesheni — the Chechen — worked with Free Syrian Army battalions to take the Menagh air base in Aleppo Province after 10 months of trying.

What appeared to turn the battle around, said Charles Lister, an analyst with IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center, were the relentless suicide vehicle bombings on the walls of the base — five or six times in the past two weeks, he said.

After the battle, Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, the head of the United States-backed opposition’s Aleppo military council, appeared in a video alongside Abu Jandal, a leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

In camouflage, Colonel Okaidi offered thanks to “our brothers al-Muhajireen wal Ansar and others,” adding: “We’re here to kiss every hand pressed on the trigger.” He then ceded the floor to Abu Jandal and a mix of jihadist and Free Syrian Army leaders, who stood together, each praising his men, like members of a victorious basketball team.

Such cooperation has complicated efforts to isolate the jihadists within the insurgency, where commanders of all political stripes realize they have little choice but to collaborate with any ally available.

“There’s an awful lot of pragmatism on the ground,” Mr. Lister said. “There’s a realization that without extensive coordination on the ground this could go on for years and years or the opposition could be defeated, so no matter what the long-term objective, it might be still worth it in the medium term to coordinate across groups.”

But that same pragmatism, Mr. Ibish said, suggests there is hope that many of the Syrians fighting alongside extremists are not ideologically committed to those groups’ goal of an Islamic state, and could peel away from it if offered an alternative.

The extremist ideology, he said, “runs counter to most traditional culture and lived realities of modern Syria, which is a heterogeneous and typically tolerant society.”

Abu Omar, in Raqqa, laid out his vision for the future: women must cover their hair, but are not required to cover their faces; bars and nightclubs and eating during the Ramadan fast are forbidden.

“Everyone is free in his house but not free to break God’s law in public,” he said “The Shariah law is the best justice, not the Western democracy which gives us bad regimes like Assad’s.”


Anne Barnard reported from Beirut,

and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

An employee of The New York Times

contributed reporting from Raqqa, Syria.

    As Foreign Fighters Flood Syria, Fears of a New Extremist Haven,
    NYT, 8.8.2013,






Ties Fraying,

Obama Drops Putin Meeting


August 7, 2013
The New York Times


President Obama on Wednesday canceled next month’s Moscow summit meeting, ending for now his signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.

Four years after declaring a new era between the two former cold war adversaries and after some early successes in forging fresh cooperation, Mr. Obama concluded that the two sides had grown so far apart again that there was no longer any point in sitting down with President Vladimir V. Putin. It was the first time an American leader had called off such a trip in decades.

The immediate cause was Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed secret American surveillance programs. But like many broken marriages, the divorce was a long time coming. The two sides have been at loggerheads over arms control, missile defense, Syria, trade and human rights, and Obama aides said Moscow was no longer even responding to their proposals. And the president has privately expressed exasperation at the way Mr. Putin has dealt with him.

The cancellation of the Moscow meeting was not a complete break in relations. Mr. Obama will still attend the annual conference of the Group of 20 nations in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5 and 6, and his secretaries of state and defense will still meet with their Russian counterparts in Washington on Friday. But Mr. Obama will not even meet with Mr. Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 gathering, as is customary.

“We weren’t going to have a summit for the sake of appearances, and there wasn’t an agenda that was ripe,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser.

“We’re not in any way signaling that we want to cut off this relationship,” he added, but meetings from now on will be held at lower levels. “We’ll continue to calibrate whether or not the relationship improves to the point where we can reopen the prospect of a presidential initiative.”

Russian officials blamed Mr. Obama for the deadlock and suggested he was motivated by domestic politics. Yuri V. Ushakov, an adviser to Mr. Putin, faulted the United States, saying it did not want to build stronger ties between the two countries.

“This very problem underlines the fact that the United States is still not ready to build relations on an equal basis,” he told reporters after Ambassador Michael McFaul delivered news of Mr. Obama’s decision in Moscow.

Aleksei K. Pushkov, chairman of the Russian Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said the move heralded the end of the Obama administration’s “reset” policy. “The bilateral relationship has come to an impasse,” he said in a telephone interview. “It makes it all the more necessary for the two presidents to meet and to try to work out a new agenda for the relations.”

The White House had already planned to review the relationship after the September meeting to decide whether it was still worth as much of Mr. Obama’s limited time and political resources. The cancellation made clear that the White House decided it was not, a calculation crystallized when American officials learned of Russia’s asylum decision in Mr. Snowden’s case at the same time the news media did.

“Snowden was obviously a factor, but this decision was rooted in a much broader assessment and deeper disappointment,” said an administration official who was not authorized to be identified. “We just didn’t get traction with the Russians. They were not prepared to engage seriously or immediately on what we thought was the very important agenda before us.”

Andrew C. Kuchins, director of Russia studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the administration would leave the ball in Mr. Putin’s court. “At some point you’ve just got to make the judgment that it’s not working, it’s not going anywhere,” he said. “Why don’t we let him hang in the breeze for a while?”

Mr. Obama came to office in 2009 vowing to rebuild ties after years of tension. Working with Mr. Putin’s successor, Dmitri A. Medvedev, Mr. Obama signed the New Start treaty slashing nuclear arsenals, established a critical supply corridor for troops in Afghanistan, helped Russia finally join the World Trade Organization and agreed on sanctions on Iran.

But Mr. Putin’s return to power last year signaled a return of hostility. The Kremlin threw out American aid and democracy organizations, cracked down on internal opposition and backed President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war. Mr. Putin skipped a Group of 8 summit meeting hosted by Mr. Obama at Camp David last year.

For his part, Mr. Obama did not attend an Asia-Pacific meeting hosted by Mr. Putin last fall, although it was during his re-election campaign and he had never planned to go. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act imposing sanctions against Russian human rights violations and Moscow retaliated by cutting off American adoptions of Russian children.

Mr. Obama reached out recently to no avail. He sent his national security adviser to Moscow in April with a plan to share missile defense data and made a speech in Berlin in June proposing further nuclear arms reductions. But officials said Russia had offered no substantive response. The Kremlin’s handling of Mr. Snowden, one official said, was “the most provocative cold war manner of the choices that they had available to them.”

Andrei A. Piontovsky, a political analyst, said the cancellation underscored a visceral personal enmity between the two leaders. “Putin openly despises your president, forgive my bluntness,” he said.

He added that Russia sensed weakness in Mr. Obama that could lead to more dangerous confrontations.

“The fact is the relations were completely broken for a very long time,” he said. “The main raison d’être of Putin’s policy now is to make an enemy of the United States.”

The lack of prospect for agreement in Moscow in September was reinforced Monday when Rose Gottemoeller, the under secretary of state for arms control, met with Sergei Ryabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, in Brussels. Aides said Mr. Obama decided that same day to cancel the summit meeting. By Tuesday night, he was venting his irritation with Mr. Putin on “The Tonight Show.”

“There have been times where they slip back into cold war thinking and a cold war mentality,” Mr. Obama said. “And what I consistently say to them, what I say to President Putin, is that’s the past and we’ve got to think about the future, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to cooperate more effectively than we do.”

The cancellation was accompanied by a decision by Mr. Obama to visit Sweden instead, and the president has also invited leaders of Russia’s Baltic neighbors to visit the White House, both moves that the Kremlin may see as jabs.

But Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will go ahead with a planned meeting on Friday with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu. Officials said the meeting would test whether relations could move forward now that they had been downgraded.

Arms control advocates urged the two sides to pursue further nuclear cuts anyway.

“We cannot afford to be spending money on maintaining an arsenal of cold war dimensions,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “Neither can Russia. Both countries have an interest in reducing these stockpiles.”

But Mr. Obama’s decision received support among both Republicans and Democrats. Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state under Bill Clinton and now president of the Brookings Institution, said a Moscow meeting “would have been more happy talk than was merited.”

David J. Kramer, a former Bush administration official and now president of Freedom House, said Mr. Obama’s reset policy made important accomplishments.

“But it’s exhausted itself,” he said. “It sort of reached a point where the administration lived up to Einstein’s theory of insanity — they kept repeating the same thing over and over expecting different results.”


Peter Baker reported from Nantucket, Mass.,

and Steven Lee Myers from Moscow.

Michael D. Shear contributed reporting from Washington,

and Elisabeth Bumiller from Aspen, Colo.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 8, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled

the surname of the deputy secretary of state

under President Bill Clinton who approved

of President Obama’s decision to cancel

his planned meeting with Russia’s president.

He is Strobe Talbott, not Talbot.

    Ties Fraying, Obama Drops Putin Meeting, NYT, 7.8.2013,




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