Some Lessons about Alliances, Human Rights, and North Korea from President Obama’s Iran Policy

June 13 2018

In the aftermath of the Singapore summit, Elliott Abrams reflects on what role human rights should play in U.S. policy toward “the most brutal regime on earth”:

[R]aising human-rights issues will not destroy the effort to change North Korea’s nuclear conduct. President George W. Bush raised freedom of religion repeatedly with Chinese leaders, and that did not prevent a working relationship. President Reagan put human-rights issues at the center of his relations with the Soviets, and that did not prevent remarkable progress in the relationship. . . .

[Furthermore], how we act toward North Korea must reflect who we are as Americans, even if the impact over there is slight. . . . The Trump administration must recognize that among our nation’s greatest assets is our association with the cause of liberty. Working for the peaceful expansion of the frontiers of liberty is not a sucker’s game, or a disadvantage or liability, or a waste of resources. It is in very concrete ways one of the greatest advantages of the United States in world politics. It is ultimately what ties allies like Australia, South Korea, and Japan to us: the knowledge that what we seek for them is what we seek for ourselves—peace, security, and liberty.

The alternative is to leave those allies, and others, with the sense that our relations with North Korea exclude them and their interests, which we have forgotten. That is what happened in the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran: close allies situated near Iran, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel, came to believe their own interests were simply being forgotten. We saw in 2009 that the Obama administration viewed protests in Iran askance, not as the people’s call for freedom but as an inconvenience to negotiations with the regime. Japan and other allies in Asia have critical security interests at stake in our relations with North Korea, and we should always give pride of place to maintaining close and longstanding alliances as we undertake to open new relationships with hostile powers.

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Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Barack Obama, Human Rights, Iran, North Korea, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy