Corri Zoli

Professor Corri Zoli: US Intelligence Warns of Foreign Election Interference

With less than 100 days to go before the US election, US intelligence officials are warning of attempted election interference by Russia, China and Iran, according to an update from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Professor Corri Zoli’s research focuses on contemporary problems of warfare from an interdisciplinary social science, public policy, and law perspective, and one track of her research investigates the changing nature of the US military force structure and the challenges of asymmetric warfare for military personnel.

“Director Evanina’s message is also designed to educate Americans and all private and government entities to adopt an aware and ‘hardened’ posture.”

“Election interference from foreign actors is a common and persistent concern in the United States (as well as in other democracies),” says Zoli. “Open systems with free markets, free speech, and robust public spheres are always subject to influence operations by actors, state and non-state, with their own agendas. These influence agendas may be motivated by political and economic interests, an opportunity for peer competitors to gain an advantage or edge over the US, or they may be efforts to simply test the strength and resilience of US public democratic institutions and processes, to see how far they can exercise power and influence on an unsuspecting American public.

“The recent statement by William Evanina, at the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence Director of National Counterintelligence and Security Center, should be read as a positive, proactive posture on the part of the federal government. It indicates that US Intelligence professionals are ready and aware of these multifaceted election threats. Part of the purpose of Evanina’s message is to publicize the issue—to make ordinary Americans aware that bad actors will try to influence them through information campaigns, including on social media platforms.  

“The reach of those influence campaigns also includes cyber acts targeting election systems and infrastructure. The US is somewhat distinctive in the diversity of our election systems among municipalities and states, with multiple redundancies and post-election auditing procedures, all of which makes voter fraud less likely. There are recent cases of US based election interference by vote tampering, evident in recent prosecutions of individuals, including over 900 criminal convictions across the US of individuals attempting to change or remove votes (false registration, buying votes, misuse of absentee ballots, etc.)—but still the scope of that problem is relatively small.

“Director Evanina’s message is also designed to educate Americans and all private and government entities to adopt an aware and ‘hardened’ posture about foreign influence campaigns in social and traditional media designed to shape US voters’ perspectives and preferences by manipulating fears—about COVID-19 and the pandemic response, recent protests and riots across the nation, political division, etc.”

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Professor Corri Zoli Helps Empower Veterans at Virtual Academic Boot Camp

Professor Corri Zoli was among University faculty who, for the sixth year in a row, helped teach in the esteemed Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP), a no-cost academic boot camp for first-year student veterans. Normally held on campus to allow for a comprehensive campus experience, the program was moved online this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hosted at 18 select institutions nationwide, WSP empowers enlisted military veterans by providing them with a skill bridge to enable a successful transition from the battlefield to the classroom, maximizes their education opportunities by making them informed consumers of education, and increases the confidence they will need to successfully complete a rigorous four-year undergraduate program.

This year’s cohort of nine included four active duty incoming students, four veterans and a reservist, all members of the US Army, US Navy or the US Marine Corps. Participants attended virtually from Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, Washington DC, Nevada, Ohio and Iowa.

The project at Syracuse University is a collaborative effort of the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences. Syracuse faculty who taught during this year’s program include, among others:

  • Corri Zoli, Associate Teaching Professor, College of Law and Maxwell School
  • Tessa Murphy, Assistant Professor, Maxwell School
  • David Bennett, Professor Emeritus, Maxwell School
  • Eileen Schell, Professor, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Genevieve García de Müeller, Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Sciences

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Chinese Hacking Indictments: Professor Corri Zoli Speaks to SCMP

US indicts Chinese hackers on charges of targeting coronavirus vaccine data and defence secrets

(South China Morning Post | July 22, 2020) The US government has indicted two Chinese nationals in connection with long-running cyber espionage operations that aimed to net information on Covid-19 vaccines, military weapons and human rights activists, in what is the second Justice Department indictment against individuals from China in recent days.

“You’re seeing more inter-agency cooperation to manage this threat.”

Li Xiaoyu, 34, and Dong Jiazhi, 33, were charged with 11 counts of conspiracy, identity theft and fraud related to operations carried out from China since 2009, some in conjunction with China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), according to an indictment filed on July 7 with the US District Court for the Eastern District of Washington and unsealed on Tuesday …

…“This is information warfare so there’s a lot of evasion and distraction going on here,” said Corrinne Zoli, director of research at the Institute for Security Policy & Law at Syracuse University in New York. “I think the issue is not that the Chinese need more clinical data to sort out their own vaccine programmes.”

China is more likely to be “trying to probe the US response to what really is an economic and security threat that is the pandemic”, she added. “They’re trying to figure out if the response is leading to the US to be more stable or unstable, if their response is indicative of a government that resilient or a government that’s in crisis” …

… “What you’re seeing now is just an administration that’s got a more of a forward posture … you’re seeing more inter-governmental operability, you’re seeing more inter-agency cooperation to manage this threat,” said Zoli. “Any nation state that has capacity, and usually that’s any nation state with a developed military, is going to have some information warfare capacity,” including the US.

The difference, she added, is that while the US government limits cyber espionage to the countering of national security threats, China is more inclined to hack for economic and commercial secrets as well.
“That’s where I think they are in a league of their own,” she said …

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Corri Zoli Discusses Arrest of Chinese Researcher with SCMP

US ties activities of arrested Chinese military officer to those by defendant in Boston case

(South China Morning Post | June 25, 2020) US federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have tied the activities of an arrested Chinese military officer conducting research at the University of California to that of a Chinese defendant charged in another high-profile case, in what Washington sees as a coordinated pattern of spying.

The indictments reflect the US government’s efforts to prevent advanced technologies developed in America from being transferred to China’s military, as lawmakers and government officials all the way up to President Donald Trump warn of Beijing’s attempts to undermine national security …

… Corri Zoli, director of research at the Institute for Security Policy & Law at Syracuse University in New York, went further: “I can’t imagine that the Chinese government would be sending active-duty military officers to academic tech programmes, who are on their payroll and engaging is some sort of transfer of research technology, and they’re not somehow involved” in an orchestrated tech transfer strategy, she said.

“These efforts are very much a kind of fourth-generation warfare or information-warfare-type strategy, and this is the way of our contemporary world,” Zoli added.

“It’s not just China doing this. It’s everybody. This is the way that we’re evolving into a new battlespace, but China happens to be very effective at it.”

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Corri Zoli Awarded US Intelligence Community Grant to Offer Geopolitical Simulation

Professor Corri Zoli, Syracuse University College of Law Director of Sponsored Research, has been awarded an Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence (ICCAE) Program Office grant for a 2020 Virtual Summer Session Simulation project she is spearheading entitled “Strategic Triangulation in Central, South, and East Asia.” The award is made through the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which directs the national ICCAE program. 

The nationwide ODNI ICCAE Summer Session takes place across 26 July and 7 Aug., 2020. The simulation, which will be presented to ICCAE students twice, draws on the international security subject matter expertise of Zoli, a Co-Investigator for the Syracuse University ICCAE, and Robert B. Murrett, Professor of Practice in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and SU ICCAE Primary Investigator. Also helping to design the simulation are Professor James Edward Crill II, Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute (FNSSI), College of Arts and Sciences; Professor Margaret Hermann, Director of the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs, Maxwell School; Professor Michael Marciano, Associate Director of FNSSI Research; and Professor Robert A. Rubinstein, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Professor of International Relations, Maxwell School. 

“The ODNI ICCAE online simulation scenario reflects today’s highly dynamic strategic environment and the stressors currently faced by the 17 elements of the US Intelligence Community (IC) and our national security institutions,” explains Zoli. “This environment is characterized by complexity and unpredictability, asymmetric actors, transformative technology, and global economic and public health variables, to name just a few challenges.” To provide a realistic geopolitical theater, the simulation begins with a recent real-world event: on April 2, 2020, an Indian quadcopter was shot down by the Pakistan Army after it violated Pakistan’s airspace in the Sankh district and entered 600 metres into Pakistan’s territory to conduct surveillance. 

“As the simulation unfolds, ICCAE students will discover, through plot-twists and seemingly unrelated incidents in Afghanistan—including the release of a modified vaccinia virus and the recovery of fissile material from a dirty bomb—that China is influencing actors in the background,” explains Zoli. The students, adopting various roles in the IC community, must puzzle their way through this combustible mix of events, involving operationalized chemical and nuclear capabilities, illicit global economic collaboration, disrupted supply chains, and the role of transnational critical infrastructure, such the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. 

“ICCAE students will play US intelligence analysts from many of the 17 IC agencies and must make sense of the threats and opportunities that these kaleidoscopic challenges create,” says Zoli.

Zoli explains that in the interdisciplinary spirit of the SU ICCAE program, the simulation exercise is the result of a collaborative partnership that includes faculty from the College of Law, College of Arts and Sciences, and the Maxwell School. Zoli adds that several of her College of Law colleagues also will share their expertise with participating ICCAE students from across the nation. Furthermore, SU ICCAE graduate students have been invited to join with and mentor ICCAE summer session students during the simulations. 

About SU ICCAE

Recently renewed for year two, the Syracuse University Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence (SU ICCAE) is a Congressionally-mandated, $1.5 million federal award program designed to increase the recruitment of diverse candidates into US public service and the 17 agencies of the Intelligence Community. SU ICCAE—which includes minority-serving partner institutions CUNY Grove, CUNY John Jay, Norfolk State University, and Wells College—is open to all Syracuse University faculty and students. Embracing a broad understanding of diversity, SU ICCAE prioritizes the central role and contribution of diversity to public service, building next-generation knowledge professionals, and the ethics and rule of law tradition essential to US security policy and governance.

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World War III Alarmism: It’s Time to Press for Sober, Rational, & Contextual Analysis of the Iran Situation

By Corri Zoli

Let’s begin with the obvious to self-aware observers of the region: “Iran’s so-called retaliation was not smart, to say the least. It was theater for its gullible constituents, and the US seems willing to let it slide.” So said Hassan Hassan about Iran’s ballistic missile attacks on Iraqi bases (Ain Assad and Erbil), which house US forces.

“To state this point as clearly as possible: we are not on the verge of World War III with Iran, despite social media trends.”

Hassan directs the Non-State Actors Program at the nonpartisan Center for Global Policy, focused on improving Mideast governance and US foreign policy. As if on cue, however, Iran’s state media is reporting “heavy US military casualties.”

Hassan is not the only one piercing the veil of alarmism (largely coming from US observers), confusion and ignorance, and disinformation (coming from Iran).

Ali Vaez, Director of the Iran Project at the CrisisGroup, explains Iran’s need for “face-saving measures” and symbolic revenge. Likewise, Illan Goldenberg at the Center for New American Security (CNAS), decodes Iran’s strategy: “This is our response, don’t hit us back. Regional players stay out or suffer the consequences. This may not be escalation just the response they felt they needed to make. Again, everyone CHILL.”

Pentagon officials, as Jake Tapper reported, explain that “Iran deliberately chose targets that would not result in the loss of US life,” emphasizing “[d]eliberate targets, minimum damage, maximum warning/effect.” Even Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif is eager to announce the attacks as “concluded,” even while he justifies this newest round of missile attacks once again on Iraq (after the Dec. 27, 2019, Kirkuk airbase and December 31 embassy attack) as “self-defense.”

“Facing complex conflict dynamics also means we must be open to unexpected or countervailing developments.”

To state this point as clearly as possible: we are not on the verge of World War III with Iran, despite social media trends.

Quite the opposite, the US government has set limits—first economically, now militarily with the Soleimani strike—on Iranian regional escalation dynamics at least since 2017, which caused a bipartisan Congress to reissue sanctions. Historically and in recent years, Iranian asymmetric warfare—with Soleimani at the helm—has hurt stability in the region. It has also become increasingly brazen—targeting Saudi refineries, downing US and Israeli drones, attacking vessels in the Gulf of Oman, and going after civilians in Syria.

Reasonable people can disagree over whether the best US-Iranian foreign policy approach today is limit setting to reestablish deterrence, as per the Trump Administration, or appeasement, engagement, and integration into the geopolitical community, for the previous Obama Administration.

Every public policy—particularly in the demanding domains of international security and foreign affairs—has strengths and weaknesses. What is not fair or good faith analysis, however, is to ratchet up global public fears about impending war as a way to win support for one’s “side.” That confuses policy with politics, without doing the hard, nonpartisan analytical work of contextual analyses, producing facts and evidence, and trying to include multiple—often contradictory—perspectives.

Such an approach reveals a lack of genuine concern about the people facing conflict dynamics first-hand in the Middle East, those who already face extensive human rights violations and are currently protesting such conditions, caused most often by their own leadership and unaccountable forms of governance.

Just last month Iran faced what The New York Times called its “worst unrest in 40 Years,” with anti-government protests across 21 cities—not to mention across the region—followed by the typical “brutal crackdown,” with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps help, resulting in more than 1,500 protesters killed.

For deeper analysis of how Iran and Soleimani’s approach to covert asymmetric warfare destabilized and stalled progress in governance across the Middle East, there are plenty sources for thoughtful, contextual analysis. Hassan’s Guardian essay explains the blow in the defeat of Soleimani to Iranian regional hegemony, domination, and military imperialism. Such an ambitious project was already facing grassroots challenge in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria from cross-community protests. Moreover, Kim Ghattas notes that Soleimani was not only a problem for the US, but “haunted the Arab world,” so that his death has been greeted with often quiet “elation.”

Facing complex conflict dynamics also means we must be open to unexpected or countervailing developments.

Some analysts see the post-Soleimani moment as a win for the region, whether for a stronger Iraq, or a weakened Quds Force. Even non-Trump supporters—such as political risk analyst, Ian Bremmer—note that while there is no “end” to the US-Iran conflict, no “mission accomplished” yet, “for everyone who thought killing Soleimani was going to lead to war, no; it established red-lines and deterrence,” and, more importantly, potentially opened “ a real window” for diplomacy. Ultimately, Bremmer sees the Iran choice as a big “win” and a “big opportunity going forward.”

While it is a bit early to tell, scholars at their best have a public duty to pursue the truth wherever it leads—which may result in inconvenient facts and discoveries—but that ultimately helps to advance society in some way. As a cross-culturally focused law and security scholar, I believe that truth-seeking must include multiple and diverse perspectives, particularly needed to get a complete picture of “wicked problems” or complex social phenomenon, like conflicts.

Yet, the public should also ask hard questions about information accountability today, particularly as information technologies disrupt traditional news reporting standards and methods: why ratchet up ordinary Americans’ fears? Who is responsible and what is their motive for spreading such fear? Is it just to get “clicks” or are we purposely misunderstanding a situation that involves the most serious issues as war, peace, life, and death?

I won’t answer those questions in this analysis, but we all need to insist that public—especially expert commentary and journalism—elevates the discussion and that analysts base their claims in facts, evidence, and informed inquiry, particularly when understanding is such a priority in cases of active conflict.

 

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The Soleimani Airstrike: An End to His Signature Middle East Strategy?

By Corri Zoli

Less well-known than Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden or ISIS’s Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, the covert Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani had widespread strategic influence throughout the Middle East. He was responsible for standing up and activating a clandestine infrastructure of organized armed groups from Hezbollah to Hamas and for ongoing instability and insurgency in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and elsewhere. It is for this reason that several terrorism scholars and expert observers—myself included—have identified the Soleimani airstrike as far more significant than that of Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

“Critics of this action will fixate once again on the Trump Administration’s strategy, positing the US as responsible for Mideast conflict and crisis. Some of these critics ignore Soleimani’s two decades of militant infrastructure-building.”

While the repercussions of his death for Mideast dynamics are still unknown, even in these polarized times, the defeat of Soleimani should warrant a clear-eyed recognition that his two decades of orchestrating a covert signature strategy for Mideast insurgency and instability has come to an end.

First, the facts as currently known. On Jan. 3, 2020, Soleimani—head of the elite, external clandestine Quds Force, a division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—was targeted and killed by a US drone airstrike, authorized by President Donald J. Trump. The strike happened as Soleimani and four Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) members—including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) Commander Jamal Jafaar Mohammed Ali Āl Ebrahim (Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis)—exited their aircraft at Baghdad International airport.

The five has just arrived from Lebanon or Syria, signaling coordination between Iran’s IRGC and the Iraqi-state supported umbrella PMF, often called the new Iraqi Republican Guard. PMF includes more than 40 largely Shia militia and terrorist groups, including Iran-supported KH, the Khazali Network, and Badr Brigades.

While some commentators have pointed to a post-US strike escalation of tensions, the drone strike that killed Soleimani and company was in fact a response to KH’s provocative 31 Dec., 2019, attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad—a breach of international law—and its 27 Dec., 2019, attack on the Iraqi K-1 Air Base in Kirkuk, which hosts US Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) personnel. During that attack, KH rockets—more than 30—killed a US civilian contractor and injured four US and two Iraqi military personnel. It is for these immediate precursor reasons that the Department of Defense has characterized the Soleimani strike as “defensive.”

Forgotten in recent news, however, were a series of highly provocative attacks since 2017 by IRGC across the region. Last year alone, these include the May 2019 Gulf of Oman oil tanker attacks damaged six commercial ships, including two Saudi Aramco oil tankers; the May 2019 Saudi pipeline attack and the Sept. 14, 2019, unprecedented drone hit on Saudi Aramco’s two major oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais; and the June 20, 2019, attack on a US RQ-4A Global Hawk surveillance drone for which Trump intended to respond but reversed his decision, instead requesting a United Nations Security Council closed-door meeting on Iranian regional escalation. This pattern is why former US military commanders in the region, such as Gen. David Petraeus, have framed the Soleimani strike as a need to reestablish “deterrence.”

From a broader strategic perspective, for those unfamiliar with the region, the killing of Soleimani uncovers plenty of questions about the region’s politics and conflicts: Why in the world would Iran sponsor an irregular militia to attack a sovereign embassy, which Iraq as the host nation is required to protect? Why would Iran support the targeting of a neighbor’s military airbase, particularly when the world’s most powerful military force is on base? Broadening the aperture, why would Iran—with Soleimani as its operational mastermind—ally with Russia to support Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, since 2012, in the Syrian Civil War with brutal atrocities against his own people? Moreover, why would Iran seek to destabilize Yemen—supporting the Houthi insurgency—at Saudi Arabia’s doorstep, thus drawing the Gulf Arab states into the fray?

Welcome to the dynamics of proxy warfare and Soleimani’s signature strategy in the Middle East. At its core, Soleimani aimed to blend the power of the state (Iran, and its political power) with the dynamic activism of violent extremist and militant groups, much like the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon, as Middle East expert Ali Soufan observed. That strategy alone—where nonstate groups can draw on the power of a state—warrants a more disruptive response which utilizes all instruments of national power, including economics and kinetics.

Still one of the best strategic profiles of Soleimani is Dexter Filkins’s 2013 New Yorker essay, “The Shadow Commander” in which Filkins explains how Soleimani was shaped by the 1980s Iran-Iraq War (with its use of chemical weapons) and then tasked as early as 1998 to advance the 1979 Iranian Revolution and reshape the Middle East into the Shia Crescent zone of influence. As part of this vision, Soleimani went on—all at the same time—to help direct and fund Assad’s war in Syria, Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon, and the ongoing insurgencies against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq (since 2001).

Soleimani’s endgame was to reshape the Mideast into a zone of Iranian influence, thus, advancing the Iranian revolutionary flame ever forward. While this goal is by no means unique to Soleimani—Iran’s Supreme Leaders share this core aspiration—what was unique to the general was his powerful execution of this goal by building a vast covert organizational infrastructure of dozens of Iran-backed militant and terrorist organizations. These proxies and special groups have been increasing at rapid rates due to fighting against US coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Syria and against Islamic State.

In light of Soleimani’s long-term signature strategy, it is not surprising to see successive US administrations designate these proxy and covert forces as terrorist organizations. On April 8, 2019, Soleimani’s IRGC and Quds Force were both designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, augmenting earlier Obama-era Treasury designations in 2007 and 2010. Likewise, in July 2009 under executive orders 13438 and 13224—covering those who threaten stabilization efforts in Iraq—the Obama Administration designated Kata’ib Hezbollah a terrorist organization, the only Iraqi Shiite militia so designated by the US. Soleimani himself was a “specially designated national” (SDN) since 1999, again in 2010 under EO 13382, with additional sanctions after his foiled plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in the United States.

Such tactics also were used at home. In early December the world witnessed an Iran “convulsed” by what The New York Times called its “worst unrest in 40 Years,” with anti-government protests across 21 cities. These protests were followed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “brutal crackdown”—with IRGC involvement—resulting in more than 1,500 protesters killed. Iranians were protesting rising fuel prices, the result of economic mismanagement and EU and US sanctions issued in response to IRGC provocations. These included the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which passed overwhelmingly by both houses in 2017 (including sanctions against Russia and North Korea).

There’s no doubt Soleimani will be replaced, but his successor will have very large strategic shoes to fill. Reports indicate that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has regrouped and will replace the head of its agile, covert militant network with Quds Force deputy Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani.

Governments in and beyond the region are collectively holding their breath, hoping that violence will not escalate. Some—such as Russia, Iran’s ally in Syria—criticized the US action and, in turn, praised Soleimani for having “faithfully served and defended the national interests of Iran.” Any realistic account must address the conflicting, multiperspectives in the region. In addition to celebrations among communities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere, journalist Kim Ghattas notes that Soleimani was not only a problem for the US, he “haunted the Arab world,” so his death has been greeted with often-quiet “elation.” While Iraq’s parliament will ask for the removal of US forces, some see the post-Soleimani moment as a win for a stronger Iraq. No doubt, US military servicemembers, directly targeted by the IRGC especially in Iraq, offer important insights.

Critics of this action will fixate once again on the Trump Administration’s strategy, positing the US as responsible for Mideast conflict and crisis. Some of these critics ignore Soleimani’s two decades of militant infrastructure-building or the audacity of Kata’ib Hezbollah to target its neighbor’s embassy and airbase. They also forget that KH Commander Muhandis—killed along with Soleimani—was the alleged mastermind of the US and French embassy bombings in Kuwait in 1983, as well as the assassination attempt on Kuwait’s emir in 1985. Such forces have been hard at work for a long time.

While we do not know what happens next, with Soleimani’s demise, Iran and its proxies have lost their strategic architect.

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Corri Zoli’s Expertise in Demand as Media Make Sense of Iran Crisis

Corri Zoli, Director of Research for the Institute for Security Policy and Law, helped local media make sense of the Jan. 3, 2019, assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the subsequent Iran Crisis, and what this US military action means for the security of an already volatile Middle East region.

SU Professor: “Something Had to be Done” to Stop Gen. Soleimani’s Influence in Middle East Conflicts

WAER | Jan. 6, 2020

“Something had to be done. Former General David Petraeus was in the news the other day saying, listen, we had to reestablish deterrence somehow because the moves were getting more and more audacious. Closer and closer to US civilian populations, closer and closer to armed forces.”

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SU Counterterrorism expert: Soleimani death may be more significant than Osama bin Laden

CNYCentral | Jan. 3, 2020

… Zoli says Soleimani had even greater military reach throughout the region. He was a man, Zoli says, who helped support unrest in Yemen, Syria and was a key figure behind insurgencies against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The IEDs were as a tactical strategy in the field was pioneered by Soleimani. So many American service members think of him as responsible for these,” Zoli said.

She says Soleimani was covert but calls him an operational mastermind who built an enormous infrastructure of terrorist groups throughout the Middle East …

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What Led to Airstrike That Killed Iranian Military Commander?

Spectrum News | Jan. 3 2020

“I think everyone is holding their breath in the Middle East right now, there’s significant concern that there will be increased conflict, escalation, dynamics that will involve retaliation,” said Zoli. “There’s no doubt that the US is preparing for that.”

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The Burden of a Militarized US Foreign Policy

By Corri Zoli

(Re-published from Medium.com | Oct, 30, 2019) What role should American troops play — some would say, standing in the crossfire — between distant governments and groups engaged in protracted armed conflicts, whose grievances long predate 9/11? What US obligations are owed to parties of these conflicts, even partners, particularly if their issues — which they believe are worth fighting and dying for — have little to do with US national strategic priorities? How many of the long-term conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which the US is often expected to manage, are defined by the same, solvable problems — ethnic strife, capitulation on human rights, bad actors using political violence rather than building pluralistic consensus — which could be solved if local governments would simply govern their own diverse constituencies with care and accountability? In the Mideast in particular, these “conflict drivers” create economic-conflict traps and erode region-wide stability. Should the US then pick up the pieces?

“What is bizarre about the uproar over the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out the small number of remaining US troops (1,000–1,500) in Northern Syria is that very few of these questions have even been asked, let alone answered.”

Unfortunately, there are far too many wars to which these questions apply — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen (between Saudi Arabia, the Houthis, and Iran), Pakistan and India, in fractured Syria, lawless Libya, Sudan, and South Sudan, even the longstanding Israel-Palestinian conflict. If we broaden the lens to include — not just active wars and internal strife — but low-intensity conflicts and hybrid threats, the numbers rise to include post-Arab Spring Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, and the Syrian-Civil War spillover into Lebanon. Is it reasonable to expect American servicemembers to protect and police these nations’ in light of their security threats, much of which stems from internal governance deficits? Can the American public feasibly support US intervention — at a cost of trillions, not to mention in lives — in 10 Mideast conflicts out of 16 nations?

What is bizarre about the uproar over the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out the small number of remaining US troops (1,000–1,500) in Northern Syria is that very few of these questions have even been asked, let alone answered. Few analysts mention the dismal empirics of war, the backdrop for weighing the merits of any lasting US presence in Syria, from policy, strategic, democratic, and other perspectives. From a democratic perspective, for instance, American voters have spoken, twice, in the last two elections, supporting both Obama and Trump Administrations’ promise of “no new wars.” From a policy perspective, the picture is even more bizarre: despite Obama’s best intentions, his own political appointees would not let him extricate the US from the Mideast. Hence, Obama called his Libyan intervention the “worst mistake” of his presidency, even as he initiated this and two other new US interventions in Syria and Yemen, adding three more wars to US ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (which Obama tried unsuccessfully to end in 2011). Biden, who presided over Obama’s withdrawal ceremony in Iraq in December 2011, said: “thank you, Obama, for giving me the opportunity to end this goddamn war.” Such a sentiment was short-lived and, as most analysts believe, the prerequisite for the rise of ISIS in the Levant.

These examples illustrate how easy it is for all of us — even Presidents with foreign policy authority — to get lost in the mixed media messages, the twists and turns of self-serving politics, the topsy-turvy world of policy recommendations, and the “fog of war” complexities of conflict, all of which inexorably push for more war …

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Second Thoughts About Taliban Peace Talks

By Corri Zoli

(Re-published from Newsday | Sept. 9, 2019) Two U.S. soldiers were killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, from small-arms fire during combat late last month. We likely won’t know specific details about the service members’ identities or circumstances for some time.

“The deaths of the U.S. soldiers run against the grain of many Americans’ usual assumptions about war.”

But what we do know is that ongoing attacks by the Taliban will test America’s resolve to end what President Donald Trump has called an “endless” war. In fact, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly is reluctant to sign an “agreement in principle” between the Taliban and the United States, brokered by U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. And, the president has decided to cancel peace talks with the Taliban, at least for now.

Secondly, the deaths of the U.S. soldiers run against the grain of many Americans’ usual assumptions about war — and this post-9/11 war in particular — and most Americans’ feelings about losing service members in asymmetric conflicts.

The two service members were fighting on behalf of NATO’s Operation Resolute Support — a noncombat “train, advise, and assist” mission of more than 17,000 troops in Afghanistan, which started Jan. 1, 2015, after the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) ended Dec. 28, 2014.

While commanded by U.S. Army Gen. Austin Scott Miller, as the name suggests, this is a NATO mission. NATO allies with the Afghan government made the decision in 2012 (it has been reaffirmed frequently) to develop Afghan military capacity to defend and protect its citizens.

While Americans’ own security interests are at stake in this mission — no one wants to see another attack like 9/11 by al Qaeda operatives harbored in Afghanistan — the enormous investment in Afghanistan’s military capacity and security infrastructure comes at great price to Americans and citizens from other NATO-member states who have died in these combat and noncombat missions. Clearly, even this noncombat mission is beset with the armed conflict and violence associated with combat missions.

Of the 17,000-plus troops, the United States (8,475), Germany (1,300), and the United Kingdom (1,100) have provided the vast majority of “boots on the ground.” NATO members France and Canada, for instance, have zero troops in the fight. When U.S. administrations from Clinton to Trump pressure NATO members to contribute more to their own defense, the issue is not only about raising their GDP percentage contribution to NATO’s defense budget, it is also who is actually fighting in these security initiatives that European and NATO partners have deemed a priority …

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