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Waiting room

November 1, 2011

So while things here may have been quiet lately, it’s not because I’m not writing anything. I have two pieces up on other sites that you may want to check out.

First up is this article I did on the US drawdown from Iraq for Umair Jamil’s Letter to a Disciple. The primary focus is the question of Iranian influence and what options the US realistically has for confronting a problem that has been looming large in US regional strategy since its decision to oust Saddam in 2003:

… The geographic, historical and cultural realities of Iraq dictate some form of Iranian influence, to be sure. Iran will take advantage of geographic proximity, mutual concern about rogue Kurdish elements, and shared religion to further its goal of pushing back US and Arab Sunni containment. Yet it would be misleading to think that American withdrawal in and of itself is a huge victory for Iran. It is a marginal – and likely insignificant – advance in Iranian freedom of action compared to the enormous gift the US handed the country when it toppled the most vehemently anti-Iranian state in the region. If the US plan was to make up for the loss of Saddam’s regime as the front line against Iran and the preferred Sunni Arab client for pushing back against it was to station thousands of troops in the country indefinitely, it is well and good for the United States that the sovereign Iraqi government rejected it…

What I end up advising is a revival of US unconventional and proxy warfare capability, more modeled on the actual Iranian conduit of influence within the country. A somewhat controversial proposition, but a preview of some thoughts I’m hoping to have up here later this week. One of the great unspoken options in debates about how to respond to proxy warfare and support of terrorism by relatively powerful state entities has been the similar employment of proxy and non-state groups. While it’s undoubtedly a complicated question, the realities of reduced resources and political willpower for sustained conventional engagement may bring about a resurgence in US proxy warfare – a development that might even be worth welcoming, depending on what lessons are taken away from our prior experience.

The second piece I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to write with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross (though his biography at Gunpowder and Lead is far more accurate, let’s be real) about the emerging US strategy for Somalia – yes, we actually have one, though it’s important to note we’re seeking to explain, not exculpate, the incipient US strategic approach to the Horn of Africa.

After years of strategic drift in Somalia, the U.S. appears to have developed a new strategy for this battle-torn country. This four-part approach, which is based on our research and confirmed by U.S. government sources, has greatly increased pressure against the militant group al-Shabaab. But Kenya’s invasion of Somalia earlier this month could complicate that effort.

The government of Kenya, after several kidnappings in its territory by the Somalia-based Islamic militant group al-Shabaab, has launched a military incursion into its fractious neighbor’s territory. The purpose of the invasion, according to Kenya, is to capture the key port city of Kismayo from Shabaab — and Kenya appears to be closing in on this objective. Kenya’s actions have proven controversial in the region — Somali president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has decried Kenya’s presence in his country, though this may or may not be mere political posturing. A number of analysts and commentators have publicly raised questions about whether the U.S. is playing a role in the invasion.

Read on to see the four major prongs of the US strategy and the blind spots we identify. One of the important aspects of this piece (here I’m speaking for myself), besides revealing a US strategy that, by its very nature, hasn’t been articulated in a public forum, is that it examines US policy in the Horn of Africa in a relatively comprehensive manner without going into the pitfall of trying to overdetermine US strategy from any kind of “grand strategy” or “Obama Doctrine.” If such a doctrine existed, it was not until very recently that it really informed events in Somalia, and its adoption does not automatically signal a new doctrine, as foreign policy commentators are wont to attempt with every new international incident.

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