Massenbach-Letter: NEWS 10/01/14


Udo von Massenbach

DefenseNews: NSA Scandal Hurts US Exports

Iraq: Maps

Guten Morgen.

Massenbach* The Saudi challenge to US Syria policy

Saudi Arabia proposes a military force to deter Iran and assist rebel forces to overthrow the Syrian government. Arabia begins 2014 with plans for an assertive regional policy which include continuing the war in Syria until president Bashar al-Assad is deposed.

Nawaf Obaid, a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, and someone with deep knowledge of Saudi decision-making, writes this week: “Of utmost importance for stability in the Arab world is the creation of a military force that can successfully deter Iranian activities and assist the Syrian rebels in bringing down the Assad regime in Damascus. A military command based at its new headquarters in Riyadh will be established in 2014. The Gulf command will be built into a 100,000 standing military force with the Saudis contributing anywhere between 50,000 to 75,000 troops. The ultimate objective is to guarantee that this new global powerhouse bloc will effectively dominate and significantly alter the political, economic and security landscape of the MENA region.”

The plan for a 100,000-strong Gulf command force, based in Riyadh, raises several questions about Saudi capabilities and intentions.

First, will other Gulf countries contribute to a regional army designed to challenge Iran and assist Syrian rebels and foreign fighters to overthrow Assad? As this column reported last month, the trend in the Gulf may be in following the US lead and testing Iran’s diplomatic openness, and combating terrorism, rather than initiatives that contribute to even further tensions.

Second, is Saudi Arabia really considering bringing 25,000-50,000 foreign fighters for training in the kingdom to deter Iran and fight in Syria? Where would these fighters come from, and what would be the consequences of such an initiative, domestically and regionally, for Saudi Arabia? How might Iran respond?

Third, how effectively can Saudi Arabia project military power beyond its borders, besides Bahrain, and given its mixed military record in dealing with Yemen? The Turkish port of entry for Syrian fighters may narrow and soon close, a trend Al-Monitor has been covering. As Semih Idiz reports this week, a new report that the Turkish government is arming jihadists for Syria will likely result in further pressure on Turkey to crackdown on the border traffic of fighters and arms to Syria, especially as Ankara seeks to both keep the US close and improve ties with Iran, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces the worst domestic scandal of his premiership.

Or maybe the Saudi intention is simply to strengthen its leverage in advance of the Geneva II conference on Jan. 22. The Syrian National Council, a Saudi-backed bloc in the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, announced on Jan. 5 that it would not participate in the Geneva II conference

Geneva II got a potential boost on Jan. 5 when US Secretary of State John Kerry hinted that Iran might assist from the "sidelines," if not as a full participant in Geneva II. Al-Monitor broke the news of Iran’s welcoming the Geneva II initiative in an interview with Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations, in May. In an interview with Al-Monitor in September, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran is ready to help on Syria and would participate in Geneva II, but only if asked, and without conditions.

In addition to a possible role for Iran, the other good news for US Syria policy is that US Russia cooperation has allowed a re-energized Geneva diplomatic process which produced the US-Russia Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons, leading to UN Security Council Resolution 2118 and thereby avoiding the uncertain consequences of a US military strike. There are of course those who complain that the absence of a US strike on Syria was somehow a sign of American weakness, although the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons is on course, and, according to a CBS/New York Times poll at the time, 68% of Americans did not believe the US had an obligation to “do something” in Syria and 82% supported the US-Russia agreement.

The Obama administration is crystal clear on the links between Syria and the expansion of terrorism in the region, especially following the escalation in violence in Iraq and Lebanon last week. In response to a question on Iraq, Kerry said on Sunday, “This is a fight that is bigger than just Iraq. This is part of the reason why the Geneva conference is so critical, because the rise of these terrorists in the region and particularly in Syria and through the fighting in Syria is part of what is unleashing this instability in the rest of the region. That’s why everybody has a stake. All of the Gulf states, all of the regional actors, Russia, the United States, and a lot of players elsewhere in the world have a stake in pushing back against violent extremist terrorists who respect no law, who have no goal other than to take over power and disrupt lives by force.”

The priority for Geneva II, especially given the terrorism in Iraq and Lebanon, let alone the devastating humanitarian tragedy in Syria, should be a cease-fire and discussions of a transition to internationally supervised elections in Syria, as advocated by former US President Jimmy Carter, among others, including this column.

The US does not have an interest in supporting a continuation of the war until Assad is overthrown. There is no strategic rationale or moral high ground in fighting Assad until the end, or in not dealing with Assad, when the real-life consequences of a military solution are more war, more death, more refugees, and more terrorism for Syria and the region. As former US diplomat Ryan Crocker wrote in The New York Times last month, “We need to come to terms with a future that includes Assad — and consider that as bad as he is, there is something worse.”

The verdict on war crimes by the Assad regime and other warring parties can and should be dealt with by the Syrians themselves, assisted by the UN and the international community, following a cease-fire and transition.

Proponents of a military solution may rally to reports that Islamic Front forces have joined with the Free Syrian Army to battle Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in northern Syria, as if this will give a second wind to the secular opposition, which are, regrettably, in decline and disarray. To the contrary, if true this trend, over time, would instead be more likely to contribute to the partition of Syria, to the continuation of the war, to the empowerment of Islamists with no democratic inclinations, and to the strategic benefit of Assad, who can sit back and let his adversaries fight in areas he may be willing to concede, at least for now, while the war rages for years, as he does not appear to be going anywhere.

The US needs Saudi Arabia on board for the success of any political process in Syria, and for reducing tensions with Iran. The Obama administration should continue to reassure Riyadh it is not being left behind and prefers it to be a full partner for potentially historic changes in 2014. But Washington should also make clear that its strategic and moral interests are in ending a war, not continuing it, and that the US will not be party in Syria to another costly regime change fantasy fueled by a centuries-old Sunni-Shiite conflict in which the US has no stake.


Europäische Presseschau vom 07/01/2014


Syrien-Konferenz ohne Iran
Die UN haben am Montag 30 Nationen zur Teilnahme an der Syrien-Konferenz in der Schweiz eingeladen, nicht jedoch Iran. US-Außenminister John Kerry bot der Teheraner Regierung an, indirekt an den Gesprächen am 22. Januar teilzunehmen, was diese ablehnte. Eine Lösung des Syrien-Konflikts ist nur mit den Regionalmächten Iran und Saudi-Arabien möglich, betonen Kommentatoren und drängen die USA zu vermitteln.

Wiener Zeitung – Österreich
Teheran und Riad müssen sich verständigen
Anders als Iran ist Saudi-Arabien unter den 30 Nationen, die zur Syrien-Friedenskonferenz eingeladen wurden. Doch eine Verständigung zwischen den beiden Regionalmächten ist für einen Frieden in Syrien unerlässlich, meint die staatliche liberale Wiener Zeitung: "Der Abzug der US-Truppen aus dem Irak markiert das Ende der Pax Americana im Nahen Osten. … Nun wetteifern die kommenden Regionalmächte Saudi-Arabien und Iran darum, das Vakuum … zu füllen. Syrien ist heute Schauplatz eines blutigen Stellvertreterkrieges zwischen Sunni-Protektor Saudi-Arabien und der Schiiten-Schutzmacht Iran. Irak und der Libanon sind längst Teil dieses immer mehr ausfransenden Konflikts, in dem im Irak die USA längst der auch von Teheran unterstützten Regierung von Nuri al-Maliki Beistand leisten. Die Saudis unterstützen jene radikalen Dschihadisten, die in einer koordinierten Aktion im Irak und in Syrien gerade bekämpft werden. Nicht zuletzt, um den Konflikt in Syrien zu lösen, muss ein Modus vivendi zwischen Teheran und Riad gefunden werden." (07.01.2014)

» zum ganzen Artikel (externer Link, deutsch)
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Alle verfügbaren Texte von » Thomas Seifert

Corriere della Sera – Italien
Dialog mit Iran wird möglich
Das Angebot von US-Außenminister Kerry an Iran, eine Rolle am Rande der Verhandlungen zu spielen, birgt nur auf den ersten Blick weiteres Konfliktpotenzial in den Syrien-Gesprächen, analysiert die liberal-konservative Tageszeitung Corriere della Sera: "Die Einlassung Kerrys verstimmt Saudi-Arabien und veranlasst den Syrischen Nationalrat, den Block der syrischen Oppositionskräfte, der von den Saudis unterstützt wird, nicht an der zweiten Genfer Konferenz teilzunehmen. Doch gerade die Radikalisierung der Position von Riad veranlasst die USA, in der gemarterten Golfregion einen neuen Gesprächspartner zu finden. Der Dialog mit dem Regime von Teheran bleibt höchst schwierig, doch die Amerikaner versuchen zu zeigen, dass es möglich wird, die Rolle des Iran als Regionalmacht anzuerkennen, wenn dieser auf seine radikalen Positionen verzichtet und eine konstruktive Rolle zu spielen versucht." (07.01.2014)

» zur Homepage (Corriere della Sera)
Mehr aus der Presseschau zu den Themen » Internationale Beziehungen, » Krisen / Kriege, » Naher und Mittlerer Osten, » Iran, » Syrien, » Saudi-Arabien
Alle verfügbaren Texte von » Massimo Gaggi

Dagens Nyheter – Schweden
Gefährlicher Stellvertreterkrieg in Syrien und Irak
Die Eroberung der irakischen Stadt Falludscha durch islamistische Rebellen zeigt, dass um den Bürgerkrieg in Syrien ein grenzenloser Konflikt und zugleich ein Stellvertreterkrieg zwischen Iran und Saudi-Arabien entstanden ist, meint die liberale Tageszeitung Dagens Nyheter und fordert die USA auf, zu vermitteln: "Dieser Stellvertreterkrieg hat schon zu Tausenden Toten in der Region geführt. … Und dass die beiden autoritären Regime die religiösen Gegensätze zwischen Schiiten und Sunniten zynisch für die eigenen geostrategischen Interessen ausnutzen, wird weitere Tausende das Leben kosten. Praktisch können nur die USA zu einer diplomatischen Lösung beitragen. Die USA sind seit Langem mit Saudi-Arabien verbunden, das Öl gegen Dollar und Militärhilfe liefert. Aber die USA haben auch ein gemeinsames Interesse mit Iran: die irakische Zentralregierung zu stützen und zu verhindern, dass dort eine Freistatt für al-Qaida entsteht. Den Nahen Osten sich selbst zu überlassen, ist keine Alternative – weder aus sicherheitspolitischer noch aus humanitärer Sicht." (07.01.2014)

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Star – Türkei
Erstarken al-Qaidas erzwingt Lösung
Das Erstarken der Terrororganisation al-Qaida in den beiden an die Türkei grenzenden Ländern Syrien und Irak sieht die regierungsnahe Tageszeitung Star als beunruhigende Entwicklung, die dennoch die Chance auf eine Lösung des Syrien-Konflikts bietet: "Man darf nicht vergessen, dass al-Qaida eine universelle Bedrohung darstellt und ihre Präsenz und ihr Gewicht das Potenzial haben, die Interessen aller zu gefährden. Sie hat im Libanon die iranische Botschaft bombardiert und ist bis an die türkische Grenze gekommen. Einige glauben sogar, dass der Anschlag in Reyhanlı von al-Qaida-Verbündeten verübt wurde. Aber genau wegen dieser Organisation gibt es nun zugleich auch einen Hoffnungsschimmer. Denn jetzt sind auch die USA, Russland und Iran ernsthaft an einer Lösung des Problems interessiert, da sie befürchten, irgendwann selbst davon betroffen zu sein. Das deutlichste Anzeichen dafür ist, dass der US-Außenminister Kerry nun von Iran Unterstützung für eine Lösung gefordert hat." (07.01.2014)

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Alle verfügbaren Texte von » Mensur Akgün



Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* DefenseNews: NSA Scandal Hurts US Exports

Underscored by Brazilian Fighter Bid Loss

To assess the impact of the National Security Agency scandal on US defense sales abroad, one need not look any further than Brazil. The December announcement that Boeing lost a multibillion-dollar bid to supply the Brazilian military with its next fighter jet fleet to Swedish defense company Saab is clearly a major setback for the American manufacturer.

But it is also the latest ex­ample of the negative fallout from the Edward Snowden revelations on the US defense industry.

Of course, the Brazilian decision to purchase the Swedish Gripen plane instead of the American F/A-18 was based on several factors, including price, maintenance costs and the potential for technology transfer. Still, Brazilian officials did not hide the fact that the NSA scandal also played a key role.

No surprise here. The Snowden documents allegedly revealing unprecedented US spying programs overseas have caused an enormous backlash around the world, even among America’s traditional friends and allies.

Brazil’s reaction has been especially vocal. Earlier in 2013, President Dilma Rousseff (whose personal email account and phone were allegedly tapped by the NSA) decided to cancel her planned trip to Washington in what can only be seen as a personal snub to President Barack Obama.

Moreover, Brazilian officials have publicly discussed the need for local Internet data storage for American tech companies like Google and Facebook to keep information safe from the NSA’s snooping. While Boeing’s lost bid in Brazil is a major setback for the company, it is merely the latest example of how the Snowden revelations are hurting US strategic interests abroad.

Clearly, the still unfolding NSA scandal has become a huge liability for US defense companies seeking to sell their products and systems to other countries.

In another example, US tech exports by companies such as Cisco and IBM experienced difficulties selling in China. The Chinese reluctance in this case was also attributed to the Snowden scandal.

No one should be surprised if other nations decide to follow suit with the same rationale that left Boeing empty-handed in Brazil.

If so, this would be detrimental for the US defense industry. As the Pentagon’s budget is projected to shrink over the coming decade, overseas exports will become all the more important for US defense companies.

As the world’s leading producer and exporter of defense products, and with a strong research and development (R&D) and high-tech base, the US has plenty to offer to the rest of the world.

Exporting American defense systems also gives the United States strategic leverage and eases military interoperability between US and foreign militaries. For these reasons, the US cannot afford to see its defense exports take a heavy toll as a result of the political and diplomatic crisis that the Snowden scandal has triggered.

Of course, defense exports are not the only ones hurt by the NSA scandal — other sectors are affected as well. But defense export is a peculiar case as it goes to the very core of national sovereignty issues. Mutual trust is an important element in defense trade. And it is trust that the NSA scandal has undermined and which must be restored abroad.

In response to the NSA scandal, the US needs to take swift, bold action. Merely reassuring words from Obama are not going to cut it this time to allay allies’ fears.

Stronger judicial oversight of the NSA’s intelligence-gathering activities is a starting point. The current review of NSA by the White House is therefore an opportune moment to address NSA practices and put in place stricter guidelines.

A guiding principle must be that intelligence efforts, such as tapping foreign leaders’ personal communications, take place only when they are merited by the presence of a significant national security threat.

Clearly, the NSA scandal has been costly to the American reputation abroad.

But also it has cost Boeing billions of dollars in Brazil. If left unaddressed, the spying crisis will continue to hurt America’s defense industry abroad.

This would be very unfortunate as a strong defense industrial base is crucial to US global leadership over the coming decades. Let’s therefore quickly get past the current mess and move on.


Erik Brattberg is a resident fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council in Washington.



Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat* Dangerous Ground: The Spratly Islands and U.S. Interests and Approaches

U.S. Army War College >> Strategic Studies Institute >> Publications

Brief Synopsis

View the Executive Summary

The Spratly Islands warrant better understanding by U.S. policymakers in order to discuss nuanced responses to the region’s challenges. To attain that needed understanding, legal aspects of customary and modern laws are explored to analyze the differences between competing maritime and territorial claims and why and how the parties involved stake rival claims or maritime legal rights. Throughout the monograph, the policies of the United States are examined through its conflicted interests in the region. Recommendations for how the United States should engage these issues, a more appropriate task than trying to solve the disputes outright, are then offered.



Suter* Making work more attractive: increase the VAT and reduce labor taxes

by IZA Press

money-167733_150What is the right mix between direct taxes, such as personal income taxes or social security contributions, and indirect taxes like the Value Added Tax (VAT)? This question is controversially discussed in both the economic literature as well as among policy-makers, since direct and indirect taxes affect work incentives and people’s budgets in different ways. Proponents of indirect taxes argue that shifting taxation from labor to consumption would increase work incentives by lowering marginal tax rates and hence increase competitiveness and employment. Opponents however object that increasing consumption taxes would increase income inequality, since the ratio of consumption taxes paid over disposable income is typically higher for low-income households. Hence, a shift from direct to indirect taxes is associated with the classical trade-off between efficiency and equity. This implies that the extent to which potential increases in employment incentives are outweighed by adverse distributional impacts is an empirical question.

In a recent discussion paper, IZA researchers Nico Pestel and Eric Sommer provide such an analysis and investigate the mechanisms of the efficiency-equity trade-off for Germany. Using IZA’s behavioral microsimulation model IZAΨMOD, they simulate the effects of an increase in the standard VAT rate while simultaneously reducing either personal income taxes (PIT) or social security contributions (SSC). They show that reducing progressive income taxation and increasing the VAT leads to a higher level of inequality: rich households benefit while low-income earners, pensioners and unemployed are found to be the main losers in such a scenario. However, reducing social security contributions instead of income taxes yields distributional outcomes, which are far less severe, since SSC are themselves a regressive form of taxation.

Pestel and Sommer therefore conclude that reducing payroll taxes seems particularly promising, given that SSC reductions affect household budgets already at a rather low income level, and therefore bear a higher potential for increasing work incentives than lowering income tax rates for the rich. This is especially true for a country like Germany with a comparatively high level of payroll taxes. Moreover, from a distributional perspective, reducing social security contributions is superior to a shift from personal income taxes. Still, shifting taxes from labor to consumption would imply negative distributional effects for a significant share of the population, mainly pensioners, who do not benefit from lower direct taxes but would be burdened with higher consumption taxes. For that reason, the authors believe that policy-makers would have to work out compensations for the losers to make such a reform politically feasible.

Read abstract or download discussion paper.



Middle East

Al Qaeda proclaims first Islamic state from Iraqi Falluja

DEBKAfile January 4, 2014, 12:53 PM (GMT+02:00)

After seizing the heart of the western Iraqi town of Falluja, Al Qaeda’s local branch (ISIS) Friday night decreed it the capital of a new independent caliphate. The jihadists continue to push Iraqi forces out of another western Sunni town, Ramadi. To cover up the army’s inability to stop Al Qaeda’s advance, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Saturday reported that the jihadists had sustained heavy losses and that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad had been killed in battle. DEBKAfile: Western sources counter this claim with a report that Al Baghdadi is still orchestrating the counter-offensive against the Iraqi army from Baqouba in the eastern province of Diyala. If this is confirmed, it would mean that al Qaeda continues to seize territory. Read full report.





Al Qaeda defeats a major Iraqi army offensive, invades Ramadi and Falluja

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 3, 2014, 12:54 PM (IDT)

Tags: Al Qaeda in Iraq, Iraqi army, ISIS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi,

Al Qaeda battles Iraqi army for Falluja

Al Qaeda’s most significant victory in the Syrian war was achieved this week in the Iraqi arena. Its Iraq and Syrian branch (ISIS), under the command of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, resoundingly defeated the Iraqi army which two weeks ago launched a major offensive to relieve the country of the jihadist grip. Baghdadi’s troops were able to throw back the Iraqi army’s crack 7th and 1st divisions and keep going to capture large sections of Ramadi and Falluja, the key Sunni cities of western and central Iraq.
This victory enabled ISIS to forge a territorial chain of control stretching from Ramadi in central in Iraq, 110 km west of Baghdad, all the way to the northern Syrian town of Al-Raqqah, 160 km from Aleppo.

It also brought the Iraqi military offensive to a standstill. Soldiers downed arms and fled and units still intact started falling back toward Baghdad, dumping their heavy weapons to hasten their retreat.

debkafile’s military sources report that Al Qaeda owes much of its victory to the decision of the Sunni tribes of western Iraq to join and spearhead its counter-attack on Iraqi forces. After smashing whole Iraqi units in the two cities, these tribal militias opened the door for the ISIS jihadists to march in.

Ironically, the tribal militias backing al Qaeda are the same “Awakening” groups which the US army sustained and armed for the battle to root out Al Qaeda from western Iraq during the 2005-2007 landmark “surge” campaign devised by Gen. David Petraeus.
That surge wheel has clearly turned round in favor of al Qaeda. Iraq’s military downfall is the worst it has suffered since the US invasion of the country in 2003 and al Qaeda’s greatest Middle East battlefield triumph, following which its commander Al-Baghdadi has vowed to proclaim the first Middle East caliphate stretching between western Iraq and eastern Syria.

This development has many critical ramifications:

1.There is no military force in the region capable of going into Iraq and stopping al Qaeda’s advance, which was allowed to happen in consequence of the US army’s precipitate exit from the country three years ago.
2. Al Qaeda’s fortunes in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula have received a major boost. The Sinai affiliates in particular are in close touch with Al Baghdadi.
3. The hook-up between them exacerbates the terrorist threat hanging over Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

4. The Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, has acquired strategic depth in Iraq. Its leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani (Golani) is expected to announce that his movement will join the new Islamist state.

5. A merger of the Iraqi and Syrian al Qaeda branches could draw in a host of sympathetic Middle East Islamist groups.

6. The ISIS victory in Iraq represents a humiliating setback for Tehran, which heavily backed the Iraqi army offensive led by its pro-Iranian prime minister Nouri al-Maliki for cleansing the country of the violent Al Qaeda presence.
7. The US, by its decision to send weapons to the Iraqi army for its engagement with al Qaeda, was shown to have backed the losing side.
8. The Iraqi army used up all its reserves for this offensive. Its only remaining option now is to fall back to Baghdad and regroup for the defense of the capital.

9. For Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Hizballah ally, Hassan Nasrallah, the Iraqi military debacle was the worst possible news. It struck them at the tipping moment of the Syrian war. Just as they gained the advantage over the rebel movement, they were confronted with a fresh war arena against al Qaeda now invigorated by its Iraq victory.



Maliki vows to recapture Falluja from al Qaeda

DEBKAfile January 5, 2014, 4:45 PM (GMT+02:00)

In a televised speech to the nation Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed to recover Falujja and other parts of Anbar Province captured by Al Qaeda in the past 48 hours. He also appealed to the Sunni politicians and tribal chiefs who back Al Qaeda’s offensive to reconsider their actions before it is too late. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Maliki ordered the Iraqi army’s 6th Division to advance on Falluja. There are no signs of Iraqi troops in its vicinity as yet. However, Al Qaeda’s ISIS forces are expanding their presence in Ramadi and the northern oil city of Mosul. In Baghdad, two bomb cars blew up in the Shiite suburbs, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens.



see our letter on:

Wir wünschen Ihnen ein angenehmes Wochenende. Ihr Team.

Udo von Massenbach – Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster – Jörg Barandat – Edith Suter



pub1187- THE SPRATLY ISLANDS AND U.S. Interests and Approacches and.pdf