This Week in D.C. August 31-Sept. 3

This week, people are slowly coming back from their August vacations and gearing up for a well-rested Congress and a President determined to make his mark in the Middle East. Tonight, Obama will give his second-ever speech in the Oval Office on the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq starting in September. On Wednesday, The White House will host the first of many Middle East peace talks with both leaders of Palestine and Israel. Will it only take a year? Probably not, but it’ll be interesting to see what kinds of negotiations come from these talks and how the world will react–especially in light of our activity in Pakistan, the recent “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy and increased terror plots.

For Tuesday

*8:00 tonight: President Obama addresses the nation on Iraq from the Oval Office

From 10:00 AM-11:30 AM, Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute will hold a briefing on the hill on “Muslims in America: Myths and Realities” organized by the Congressional Muslim Staff Association in 2325 Rayburn.

From 12:00PM-1:00 PM, the Federation for Defense Democracies’ Jonathan Schanzer hosts a lunch discussion on how the  “under-reported Palestinian civil war undermines President Obama’s Mideast Agenda” at the Capitol, room H-137.

12 p.m. – 2 p.m. WORLD BANK – WATER — The World Bank Group Water Strategy Review holds a panel discussion and presentation of Sustaining Water for All in a Changing Climate, hosted by Inger Andersen, the Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development.

Location: World Bank Headquarters, 1818 H Street NW; Room MC 13 – 121

Contacts: Christopher Neal (, 202-473-2049

From 12:30 PM-2 PM, Africa Action, the TransAfrica Forum and IPS’ Foreign Policy in Focus host a debate on “Globalization: Threat or Opportunity?” between Rick Rowden and Eugene Kyambal at the IPs Conference Room, 1112 16th St. NW

at 2:00 PM, the National Democratic Institute will hold a discussion on Kenya’s new constitution with guest speaker Elkanah Odembo, the Kenyan ambassador to the U.S.  The event will be held at the National Democratic Institute at 2030 M. st. NW.

From 2:00 PM-3:30 PM, CSIS will hold a talk on “North Korea and the U.S. Nuclear Umbrella: Extended Deterrence in East Asia” with Dr. Patrick Morgan from UC-Irvine, Jofi Joseph, senior advisor to the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and CSIS experts. The event will take place at CSIS on 18th and K st.

The Heritage Foundation will hold a discussion on former President Carter’s trip to North Korea and its impact from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM at 214 Mass Ave NE.

ALSO at 2 PM-3:30 PM, the USIP will hold a panel discussion on “Haiti: Security after the Quake? Addressing Violence and Rape in Haiti.” The panel will feature speakers from the UN Humanitarian Response, Global Consortium on Security Transformation and USIP experts.

After the State Department briefing at 1:15 with Assistant Secretary Crowley, Sec. Clinton will hold a bilateral meeting with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and later at 3:00 with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

At 6:15 PM, Clinton will meet with Quartet Representative Tony Blair at the State Department and then launch the first in a series of bilateral meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 7:45 PM.

For Wednesday

Brookings will hold a discussion on the recent floods in Pakistan from 10:00 AM-11:30 AM with panelists Michael Young of the International Rescue Committee and Gen. Jehangir Karamat.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) will hold a news conference in Washington, D.C., to launch a national public service announcement (PSA) campaign featuring Muslim 9/11 first responders and designed to challenge the growing anti-Muslim rhetoric sparked by opposition to the planned Park51 project in Manhattan at the National Press Club Zenger Room at 10:30 AM.

There will be a telephonic press conference with faith and military leaders at 11:00 AM urging the construction of the Ground Zero Mosque as a community center Notes: 888-674-0222, call ID: Values and Security RSVP.

From 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM, Egyptian Americans for Change will hold a press conference to discuss Egypt’s political future and regional stability at the Press Club’s Murrow Room.

The Hudson Institute will host a discussion from 12:00 Pm to 2:00 PM on the impact of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) on Taiwan’s standing with China.  Professor William Rowe of Johns Hopkins University a leading historian of late imperial China will give a historical perspective and address Taiwan’s socio-economic relations with Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. The event is located at the Hudson Institute at 1015 15th St. NW.

For Thursday

The Hudson Institute will hold a discussion on “Borders and Bridges: Recent Shifts in North American Relations,” and changes in security relations with Canada, the US and Mexico at 12:00 PM.

The International Monetary Fund will hold a book forum on “Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy” at 4:00 PM at the IMF Headquarters (720 19th st. NW).

The George Washington University Ambassadors Forum will be held at 5:00 PM with Ambassador Erlan Idrissove, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the U.S. who will speak on Kazakhstan’s Emerging Leadership Role and Its International Implications. The event will take place at Linder Family Commons on 1957 E St. NW.
WHERE: George Washington University, Lindner Family Commons, Room 602, 1957 E Street, NW, Washington, DC.
CONTACT: RSVP to; web site:

Ambassador Erlan Idrissov, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United States

Topics will include Kazakhstan’s emerging leadership role, particularly now that the country holds the 2010 rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The discussion will center on both Kazakhstan’s recent achievements and the various challenges that the country still faces.

Please send RSVP to:

Progress in Afghanistan: Will the U.S. Strategy Succeed?

Many apologies for the delayed posts. August is a bit of a lazy month in Washington–especially in terms of the Hill and think tanks. This week, there weren’t too many events to cover, seeing as Obama has been on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. Next week, we kick things off with some action in the Middle East–Obama is set to start peace talks again b/w Palestine and Israel, and he’s going to make a big speech on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

Brookings held an interesting discussion on success in Afghanistan from the perspective of a former Pakistani general and a State Department official. Also, one of my favorite speakers on foreign policy, Steve Coll, spoke at the widely-attended event.

Vali Nasr, a senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke, said that the U.S. has had more success in Pakistan because the interactions have been between the two governments with limited military and civilian interaction. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has been accused of causing high numbers of civilian causalities and not mingling well with the Afghans who either see the troops as saviors or invaders.

“Overall, we are doing well. The strategy is still moving forward,” he said. “we’re seeing much more impact of our efforts to change our relationship with Pakistan.”

This assessment came around the same time that reports were released of Taliban members plotting to attack aid workers who are assisting in flood relief efforts. An interesting article also came out this week on why fewer people are donating to Pakistan than the crisis in Haiti. Essentially, people aren’t as heartbroken over the Pak floods because they are less catastrophic than the massive earthquake in Haiti and the Haitians are seen as entirely helpless and “innocent” compared to people in Pakistan, where some of the population is associated with the Taliban (this is from the article, not my personal assessment). Because of tension between Pakistan and the U.S., some people feel less inclined to donate. But with that being said, the U.S. has donated so much to Pakistan because if radical Islamic groups donate more, it could have a great outcome on our “war against terrorism.”

“Obviously we are very concerned that this does not have a long-term impact on stability and institutions,” Nasr said of the floods. “But the way in which the U.S. has reacted in some ways shows the importance of the strategy. The U.S. reacted quickly because of the interagency teams it had put together. It made for a much quicker turnaround.”

Gen. Jehangir Karamat (ret.) said that the U.S.’s efforts in Pakistan will have a great impact on its success in Afghanistan.

“I really think there’s no real alternative to what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan,” he said. He said a lot of the negativity towards the U.S. in Pakistan is linked to the public’s ignorance of the intricacies of the relationship.

Right now, the government is heavily reliant on the U.S. to take care of the floods. “I think what happens between Pakistan and the U.S. on the positive side doesn’t come up in Pakistan media and in discussions. That is driving the opinion.”

He said the biggest issue to the people of Pakistan in the coming months will be recovery efforts and the rebuilding of their economy.

Coll concluded the discussion with a fundamental question he felt would dictate the path of the U.S/Pakistan relationship in the midst of flood relief and potential talks with the Taliban.

“We need to ask whether as partners with the state of Pakistan, as provisioners of generous aid, is the Pakistani state doing EVERYTHING it could be reasonably asked to do to contain and break down the historical relations with these groups?”

Debate inside the U.S. continues over this very issue, but Karamat asserted that “without unraveling the state, Pakistan is doing everything possible to support the US strategy in Afghanistan and to work things out with India.”

On Iraq: Experts Weigh in on Risks and Benefits of the Pull Out

Recent bomb attack in Kut near Bagdad

Iraq has sprung back into the forefront of news recently after Obama announced last week that America’s mission in Iraq will change. Although it was my understanding that the mission “changed” long ago, this speech seemed to steer the debate towards the reality of the pull out.

Can American troops withdraw from Iraq, train their forces, create institutional structures and stabilize the government in a year without insurgents taking charge?

In a speech at the national convention of the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta, Obama sounded hopeful about the situation in Iraq, at least compared to conditions in the other countries in the region (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran). He said we will begin drawing down combat troops by the end of the month, leaving 50,000 troops behind to train Iraqi security forces and provide security for diplomats. He promised in the speech that all U.S. troops would be gone from Iraq by the end of next year.

“Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility, and I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end,” said the President. “And that is exactly what we are doing, as promised and on schedule.”

By September, the White House says there will be 146,000 troops on the ground. Obama said by then, he will have brought home 90,000 troops since he took office (but he didn’t mention the call for 30-some-odd thousand troops he wants in Afghanistan).

Obama asserted that violence in Iraq has reached its lowest rates in years, which is a sign that it’s time for U.S. troops to come home. However, new numbers released by the Iraqi ministries of defense, interior and health indicate that Iraqi casualties have reached a two-year high since May 2008. I also follow Arwa Damon on Twitter, who is a CNN correspondent currently in Iraq, and she paints a rather dim picture of human rights and the lack of hope once U.S. troops leave.

Robert Tait, a correspondent for RFE/RL wrote an excellent piece the other day on the potential for an insurgent uprising in Iraq because of the weak government and the contradictory casualty numbers.

The article said that violent military groups could seek to fill the vacuum created by Iraq’s stalled political process. There’s been a prolonged disagreement between the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki and his main competitor, Ivad Allawi, who should form the next government after the March elections.

Brigadier General Ralph Baker said the government’s failure accompanied with U.S. pullout could spring a new wave of violence. Baker predicted that insurgent groups would attempt to “discredit the government and discredit the security forces” in an effort to gain a foothold.

“We believe that one of the aims of the criminals and the terrorists and the insurgents is to take advantage of the concern and the angst that the citizens have right now about the government’s formation in an attempt to intimidate them. And the reason they want to intimidate the population is because the citizens in Baghdad, for the last six to eight months, have been instrumental in sharing information with the security forces which has led to some very effective targeting against Al-Qaeda and other militia groups.”

Brookings here in Washington, D.C. held an online chat with David Mark, a senior editor at POLITICO and Kenneth Pollack of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy about his recent trip to Iraq. I posed questions about the disputed death toll and risks of withdrawing too soon.

“It’s certainly possible, but it’s going to be hard—and risky. I am actually pretty comfortable with the drawdown to 50K.  I think they can deal with the most likely violence,” he said. He argues that the stability of Iraq in terms of violence will depend heavily on how the elections pan out. The stability of the political process will ensure peace.

He says as a fellow at Brookings, he goes to Iraq every 4 to 6 months and has noticed a remarkable change. He also expressed confidence that the Iraqi military could handle any insurgent backlash (more “brutally” even than U.S. forces)or attempts from other groups  to come in and invade once the U.S. withdraws. In fact, U.S. troops should be more worried about keeping things cool between different political and ethnic groups inside Iraq rather than enemies outside its borders.

“No one knows how the Iraqi military is going to behave once the US military is truly gone–and that is a very big question mark. We have seen militaries that everyone thought were completely professional turn around and overthrow a democratic government within months of the departure of US troops. So we can’t be glib about this problem,” he said.

“The problem is that if it goes badly, it absolutely could push the country back to civil war,” he said.

Arab Countries: A Nuclear Iran Would be “Positive”

A majority of the Arab population support Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, says a new study by the University of Maryland and Zogby International.

Shibley Telhami, the principal investigator of the 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll announced at the unveiling of the study at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. that an overwhelming number of Arabs feel that Iran has the right to pursue a nuclear program, even if the program is not for peaceful purposes.

This study goes against the opinion of many experts who say that Arab nations would oppose a nuclear-armed Iran, including Mustafa Alani, research director at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, who said “We have a shared interest in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power”.

The poll indicates that 77 percent of the surveyed Arab population think Iran has the right to pursue a nuclear program, which jumped up from 53 percent last year. More than half also acknowledged that Iran is likely pursuing a nuclear program for non-peaceful means. A majority (57 percent) also said it would be “more positive” for the Middle East region if Iran had a nuclear weapon. Last year, only 29 percent of the population felt a nuclear-armed Iran would be “positive” for Middle Eastern countries. A mere 20 percent say that Iran should be pressured to stop its program.

The survey focused on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the UAE between June 29 and July 20 of this year.

“This does not mean they like Iran. Arabs have mixed feelings,” said Telhami. “This is highly correlated to how they feel about the U.S. and their hopefulness of U.S. foreign policy.” According to the poll, the greatest foreign policy issues that disappoint the surveyed countries are the Palestine/Israeli conflict and the War in Iraq. While the war in Afghanistan overwhelmingly trumps Western headlines, only 4 percent of the surveyed population said they were disappointed with Obama’s handling of Afghanistan.

Additionally, the surveyed countries feel that the U.S. and Israel pose a greater threat to Middle East peace than Iran. While Israel scored 88 percent, Iran scored 10 percent.

“What you have is an evaluation of Iran through the lens of bigger threats—when over 80 percent are worried over Israel, the Iran issue seems marginalized. So the evaluation isn’t really about Iran—a lot of it is “the enemy of my enemy.”

The poll suggests that the Arab community has also dropped in its support and optimism for the Obama Administration because of his handling of Iraq and relationship with Israel.

“This disappointment comes from the outcome of the Iraq elections. I don’t think we get it sometimes. It’s not that Arabs don’t care about Afghanistan, but it’s not the prism they evaluate American foreign policy,” said Telhami. “It’s not the main issue to them.”

63 percent are discouraged by Obama’s policies towards the Middle East, which changed dramatically from 15 percent in 2009.

To view the complete report, visit Brookings.

Preview: Brookings Releases Middle East Public Opinion Poll

Tomorrow at 10 AM, Brookings will formally release their findings of the 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll that details views of the Obama Administration, the War in Afghanistan and Iran’s Nuclear program from the perspective of major Middle East countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and UAE.

They did release some key findings ahead of time, including a noticeable change in views towards Obama as President and head of the US military.While in 2009, 51% expressed optimism, that number has plummeted to 16%. More than half say they are “discouraged” by his performance.

However, the most interesting finding to me was that “A majority of the Arab Public now sees a nuclear-armed Iran as being BETTER for the Middle East.” This view contradicts many of the events I went to last month where experts said Middle Eastern countries fear a nuclear Iran.

The percent of Middle Easterners who feel Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon would be “positive” increased from 29-57% since last year.

Find out more info on the event here

This Week in D.C. July 26-30

Special thanks to Drew Herrick from RFE for contributing to list

For Monday

Rediscovering Preventive Diplomacy for Peace in the World’s Hotspots, Brookings Institution, 2:00PM to 3:30 PM

USIP will hold an event on verifying the START treaty with Rose Gottemoeller from 2:00-4:00

New America will hold a talk on Human Rights and Settlements in the Occupied Territories at their offices on 19th and K st 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM

The Potomac Institute will hold a talk at 3:00 on intelligence management and oversight (most likely in response to last week’s Washington Post investigative story on “Private America”)

For Tuesday

A hearing on Considering Afghanistan’s Reconciliation Options will be held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 09:30 AM

A hearing on Achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 9:30 AM –

A panel discussion on “Enforcing US and EU Sanctions Against Tehran” will be held in Rayburn 2252, sponsored by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM

At MEI, there will be a discussion on “US Military Approaches to Occupation in Iraq” from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Internet Activists and Authoritarian Regimes; Who’s Winning? will be held at the Foreign Policy Initiative for cocktails and a panel from 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM

For Wednesday

Counterterrorism in the Obama Administration will be hosted at the Heritage Foundation from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Brookings will hold a live webchat on the Middle East Peace Process: A Live Web Chat with Martin Indy from 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM

New America will hold a talk on “Digital District: Local News and Online Media Access in Washington, from 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies will show a screening of “Voices of Palestine at The Jerusalem Fund, 2425 Virginia Avenue NW at 6:30

For Thursday

The Kashmiri-American Council will hold a discussion on India-Pakistan relations at 8 AM

The Wilson Center will hold a discussion at 8:30 AM on “African Growth and Opportunity Act Civil Society Forum 2010 “A Decade of Progress in Bridging the U.S.-Africa Trade Gap””

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Improving the Federal Gov’s Foreign Language Capabilities from 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM

The hearing, “Examining the Implementation of Iran Sanctions
will be held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee featuring Amb. Stuart Eizenstat and Mark Dubowitz  from the FDD event on Tuesday. 10:00 AM

Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism will be held at the  Heritage Foundation, 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM

CATO will hold an event on “Strategic Counterterrorism: The Signals We Send” from 12:00 PM –

MEI will hold a special presentation of “Photography through the Eyes of Saudi Arabian Woman” at 12:00 PM

New America will hold a talk on Public Opinion in Pakistan from 12:15 PM – 1:45 PM

CSIS will hold a talk on global public health at 4:00

For Friday

The Wilson Center will continue its Africa event from Thursday at 8:30 AM

The Kashmiri-American Council will continue its event on India-Pakistan at 9:00 AM

This Week in DC: July 5-9

Did I forget something? Email me at to list a foreign policy event.

For Tuesday:


(Latest from the AP) Netanyahu is in Washington–Jewish groups pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop archaeological digs and construction that’s said to be desecrating ancient Jewish cemeteries in the Holy Land will gather in front of the Israeli embassy, rally in front of the White House, and march to the State Department.

At 2:15, Netanyahu will be at the Pentagon with Sec. Gates for an honor cordon.

UPDATE: In the afternoon, Secretary Geithner will meet with Heng Swee Keat, the Managing Director of Singapore’s Monetary Authority, and Chan Heng Chee, Singapore’s Ambassador to the United States, at Treasury. Closed press.

The USIP hosts “Counter-narcotics in Afghanistan” where they discuss a new Center for International Cooperation (CIC) report entitled “Drug Production and Trafficking, Counterdrug Policies, and Security and Governance in Afghanistan.” It will discuss, according to USIP:

  • Current counternarcotics policy in Afghanistan is financially benefiting – rather than hurting – insurgents;
  • Rural development efforts should be focused on assisting rural populations – aid should not be conditioned on desistance from poppy-growing; and
  • Counternarcotics policy should be refocused to discriminate against illegal armed groups and corrupt officials in enforcement.

The event will be held at USIP from 10:00-11:30

CSIS will hold a talk on the need for an OSCE head of state summit in light of recent events in Kyrgyzstan. At the Ministerial Meeting in Athens in December 2009, Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev of Kazakhstanreiterated the proposal of President Nursultan Nazarbayev that the OSCE hold a summit of heads of state and government during 2010. The event will take place between 12:15 and 1:45 at CSIS.

For Wednesday

I will be at the 2010 Campus Progress conference hearing an inspiring panel of young leaders who were hand selected from hundreds of applicants. They’ll talk about important issues like immigration, climate change, LGBT issues, foreign policy and the war in Afghanistan. I’ll be live blogging from here, of course. More details on the event here.


New: At 10:00 am, there will be a briefing on Afghanistan with Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and deputy commander, U.S. Forces at the Pentagon.

Also interesting: The Voice of America, at its huge, nice headquarters, will have a press conference on AIDS in preparation for the international AIDS conference. The speaker will be Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health and one of the key advisors to the White House and Department of Health and Human Services on global AIDS issues.

Carnegie is hosting a talk on Cross-Strait relations between China and Taiwan. It is an all day panel with lunch included from 10-5:00 at Carnegie. More info here.

Brookings is holding an event on the African economy from 2-4. Find more info here.

CSIS will be holding a talk on the recent elections in Mexico from 3:00-4:30. For some news on the elections, I recommend following Jeff Antebi on Twitter. Very interesting person to follow!

At night, Young Professionals in Foreign Policy will hold a talk on the convergence of foreign policy and economic policy from 7-8:30.

For Thursday

I’m really excited about USIP’s Thursday event on bloggers in war zones called “Blogs and Bullets.” I hope to attend and hear many bloggers from the Middle East share their stories and possibly write a post on it for RFE. The event will be webcasted and if I can, I will surely live Tweet it. More info here.

Also on Thursday, a talk on the U.S.’s partnership with Hungary at the Potomac Institute with the Ambassador to Hungary.

The Berkeley Center will hold a talk on women’s roles in religion and peace building, Brookings will hold an event on Japan, The Stimson Center will hold a talk on Pakistan and Busboys and Poets will feature a documentary on children in Gaza.

For Friday

From July 8-9, the Greek Deputy Foreign Minister will be in town, meeting with the Assistant Secretary for Trade Promotion and Director General of the US & Foreign Commercial Service, Suresh Kumar, at the Department of Commerce.

USIP will hold two events tomorrow–one on Southern Sudan and building an education system in conflict at 10:00 and another on war torn societies at 1:00 featuring the release of a framework for Measuring Progress in Conflict Environments (MPICE) developed by the United States Institute of Peace in collaboration with the Department of State, Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute.