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Archive for April, 2013

Boston, Our Lives, Our World

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

So sad, in so many ways.

Have heard all the warnings about this is our new life and our new world.

Guess I’d like to view it a little differently, and offer a word of hope and encouragement. Nothing new, but maybe timely.

There is more than enough anger and unhappiness in our world, many angry people.

Maybe, if each of us in this little community, do only one tiny good deed, one unnecessary nice act toward someone else, each day we will take just a tiny bit of the anger and unhappiness out of the system.

That’s part of a full and good life. And it’s always been a good idea to live each day to the fullest.

Take good care…of one another.

More on Africa: “From Chaos to Cohesion: A Regional Approach to Security, Stability and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa”

Monday, April 15th, 2013

This wonderful paper, written by Diane Chiodo and published by the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, includes four key assertions with which I hole-heartedly agree;

  • Don’t lose sight of where Africa is in its history.  Think of the US up to and including the Civil War.
  • Conflicts are regional in nature, not country specific.
  • Re-integration of fighters into societies is a critical requirement.
  • Improving the circumstances that give rise to unrest and threats will take decades, and will depend on the development of an African middle class.  

 I’ve pulled a set of quotes from the paper to give you a feel for some of the good thinking it includes.

Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press





Diane E. Chido


April 2013

“The arbitrary dividing of African geography has separated

historical lands, tribes, and even families into forced

concepts of “nations” that have not entirely taken

hold in the post-colonial period.


The long-standing competitive and complementary

relationships that developed over millennia across

Sub-Saharan Africa to survive climate changes and

other adversity have evolved into myriad specializations

and identities that we call ethnic divides today.

Throughout the colonial period, Europeans saw Africans

as a single, monolithic, sub-human group ripe

for exploitation and controllable across wide swathes

of territory, with no concern for existing ties.

“An uncertain sense of national identity and community

in multiethnic states that can divide societies” when

constituent ethnic groups “do not see each other as

interdependent parts of a single national entity, [but]

often perceive members of other communities as ‘outsiders’,

or, in the extreme, as dehumanized and threatening

hostile adversaries.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is the least secure, stable, and

economically developed geographic region in the

world, with its long-standing problems exacerbated

by recent unrest in Northern Africa, the prevalence of

well-armed African mercenaries, ungoverned spaces

that are a natural draw for terrorist groups and insurgencies,

frequent conflicts over resources, and the

region’s own demographic disadvantages. Both increasing

Islamic extremism and disparities in income

and opportunity are also found in the governable and

least governed areas alike.


Conflicts and extremism are almost certain to continue

to rise in Africa, especially with instability resulting

from the cascade of unrest across North Africa

and the Middle East, the burgeoning youth bulge in

Sub-Saharan Africa, African mercenaries, rising Islamic

extremism, myriad wild, ungoverned spaces,

and increasing resource shortages resulting from

human activities and climate change across the Continent.

In order to protect our troops while ensuring

stability in the region, we must develop the capacity

of a Pan-African force to deal effectively with these

and other likely problems as they arise.


Positive engagement in this often misunderstood

region requires a clear understanding of local decision-making

environments and the stresses and influences

under which such leaders or leaders-to-be may

be operating.



Prevention is the key to effective policies in Africa,

whether the issue is equitable resource exploitation,

ethnic conflict, infectious diseases, or famine. Beginning

now to develop well-trained, disciplined, and

well-equipped military and police forces that can

ensure stability in place of our own troops in future

conflicts and emergencies is a long-range stabilizing

method certain to pay for itself in the long-term. This

monograph provides a path toward developing a viable

African Union capable of serving as a supranational

governing body to drive stability, security, and

economic development by strengthening the capability

of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as the

first step in a longer-term integration process.


Carefully implementing such a pan-continental

strategy is highly likely to have the net effect over the

next 20 years of attaining a considerable competitive

advantage for the U.S. economically, militarily, and

politically, with a corresponding increase in stability,

security, and economic opportunity in that region.


The post-Gaddafi era provides an opportunity for

the United States to carefully guide the process of filling

the power vacuum with a sensible pan-continental

approach to Africa’s problems of resource exploitation,

governance, and delivering real political power

to the African people.



Although the AU has been in existence in name

for over 10 years, it remains a quasi-body, adept at

pronouncing initiatives to which it agrees but never

ratifies or moves to implement.

Just because Africa marks time on the same calendar

we do, does not mean all the 21st century developments

have occurred to bring it to the place where

we are now. While the United States is now far less

violent than it was a century ago, it is still three times

more violent than its northern neighbor or than Western

Europe. Pinker argues this is due to the shorter

time the United States has had since consolidation to

benefit from civilizing influences. America has had

over 200 years to become only three times as violent

as Europe, where violence began to diminish only in

the mid-1600s as city-states consolidated and Hobbes’

leviathan began to develop, while African states have

only had, in most cases, 30-50 years, and we wonder

why they have not yet caught up.



 Africa could also avoid some of

the violent destruction that the United States underwent

during its civil war, and achieve a resulting political

federation of independently operating but mutually

dependent states with diverse cultures intact.


The optimal economic, political, and social development

model for Africa, rather than the EU, therefore,

could be the United States. Individual U.S. states

are responsible for education, healthcare, and providing

social services and police to varying degrees as

mandated by each state’s electorate. American states,

for instance, are free to engage in their own international

trading regimes and support the trading businesses

in their jurisdictions, but they can also rely on

the Federal Government to provide assistance and

create the environment in which smaller entities can

more effectively operate. The Federal Government

is primarily responsible for continental defense and

emergency and natural disaster prevention, planning,

and response, as well as consistency in administration

of public land and its use, international trade, and

energy policy.


Identifying additional opportunities to build

African capacity and enhance the ubiquity of U.S. tactics

and methods through regional blocs, rather than

simply with individual states, should be a priority of

AFRICOM’s leadership and planning staff in order to

ensure the broadest possible U.S. engagement.



While this monograph is focused on Sub-Saharan

Africa, the effects of recent unrest in northern Africa

cannot be ignored. Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia,

and most significantly Libya, have undergone dramatic

change since the start of 2011. While these “revolutions”

have brought varying degrees of change,

outcomes remain far from certain. Indeed, they all had

“organic” origins, but saw differing levels of international

assistance (or meddling, depending upon your

perspective), with Libya the extreme case of Western



A robust and independent AU would have been

the most appropriate organization to lead an intervention

in Libya. However, the AU was one of the

last organizations willing to act in this case as it was

fully under the sway of the funding and influence of

Libya’s Gaddafi.


AFRICOM should continue to engage with the

RECs to enhance security sector reform and civil

society development programs to enable REC leadership

to more effectively manage conflicts in their

respective regions.


The recent coup in Mali is the result of the return

from Libya of Tuareg mercenaries, with equipment

and experience enabling them to outperform the poorly

equipped Malian military units that were deployed

to suppress the Tuareg uprisings.


On the other hand, Niger, which has also had a

history of Tuareg rebellion, dealt with their heavily

armed returnees from Libya through a proven post-

conflict disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration

(DDR) strategy. The Niger government disarmed

Tuareg groups as they entered the country and integrated

their leaders into the government, including

the new Tuareg prime minister appointed in April

2011 and the majority of local officials in Agadez, the

Tuareg-majority region.



The key for the RECs, therefore, is to identify and

prioritize the most lawless or “ungoverned” spaces

within their respective region, and with U.S. assistance

to develop action plans to “tame” these areas

in order to reduce their attractiveness to destabilizing

forces, such as insurgent, extremist, or criminal

groups that naturally gravitate toward them for bases

of operation, as is being done in the Sahel.


This situation can be reversed across

REC areas with a concentrated effort to develop human

capacity, which will enhance the attractiveness

of investment, reduce the instability caused by unemployment,

and raise the level of economic development

within the regions in the long term.


Africa has thus far failed to develop a robust industrial

base to enable it to evolve beyond a commodity

provider, which keeps export prices low and devalues

individual African currencies. This in turn, reduces

interest in investing in African industry beyond commodity

extraction, and maintains a lower standard

of living for the majority of Africans.


British economist Barrington Moore stated in

1967, “[C]ertain historical processes need to develop,

notably the emergence of a large middle-class, in order

to sustain a viable democratic state.”   The keys

to creating opportunities for producing that middle

class include security, stability, and infrastructure,

not more aid.


Robert Berschinski’s 2007 Strategic Studies Institute

(SSI) monograph on what AFRICOM should not

be is still fully accurate. Commingling of humanitarian

and anti-terrorist rhetoric and activities has led to

a scattershot and uncoordinated effort that has not

inspired the faith of the African audience, which still

views AFRICOM’s mission as anti-terrorism first, securing

oil reserves for U.S. exploitation second, countering

Chinese influence third, and with African interests

somewhere down the line.


While the U.S. Army and Special Operations community

already play a significant role in AFRICOM

activities, especially logistical support for missions

across the continent and military-to-military training,

there is more the Army can do to enhance security

and stability in Africa, especially through its strategic

analysis capabilities. While the Army continues its efforts

to prepare for smaller conflicts by cross-training

personnel, it has recognized that the more cross-cultural

competency the service can impart before deployment

to those on the ground in Africa, the greater

the chances of operational success. This is clearly

manifested through the Army’s regional approach to

using Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), particularly the

1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade dedicated to Africa,

which has proven to be successful in working in

this multicultural environment.


However, it is increasingly critical for success in forward deployed

operations to have personnel trained to operate with

more integrated personnel from various contributing

countries in many alien environments and not just in

“hot” war operations. As the United States expanded

its interest in Africa, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine

Command’s (TRADOC) Culture Center began developing

blocs of language and culture training with limited

resources for “phase zero” target locations, such

as Africa and the larger Middle East.

We’d love to hear your views, and share them with our readers.  Please send me a note, at, and I’ll publish your comments.



Africa: Contextual, Authoritative Analysis and Reporting That Gets Us To Situaltional Understanding

Monday, April 8th, 2013

We’ve talked a great deal here about the US’s need for an adequate contextual understanding of Africa that can be utilized across the policy, military and intelligence communities.  This shared, in-common baseline would include maps, tribal, socio-cultural, religious, natural resources, financial, news, incident and other data, social media, trend and sentiment, expert reporting, commentary and analysis by SMEs, analytics platforms to do preliminary sensemaking, and visualization and presentation. This is necessary for us to do all-of-government planning and involvements in Africa that will be effective and “successful.”

Following is one great example of the kind of authoritative reporting and analysis that’s necessary.

Sudan: African Sequel to the Arab Spring?

by Jason B. Nicholson

Small Wars Journal, March 29, 2013

Following the Arab Spring’s sweep through North Africa, many observers questioned if the unrest would spread to southern Africa. While that has not come to pass, the Arab Spring winds are strongly buffeting Sudan. It occupies a unique place in the geopolitical landscape of Africa. Sudan is the Sub-Saharan country that most resembles those of North Africa, with its shared religion, culture, and language. An Arab Spring in Sudan could result in a more authoritarian dictatorship, a theocracy, or a failed state in which extremists are free to train and operate.

Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, despite having many authoritarian regimes where living conditions remain mired in poverty and high single digit GDP growth, has proven resistant to the widespread social protests that toppled regimes in North Africa. Despite similar political environments in many northern and southern African nations, there are important reasons why the Arab Spring has not spread south of the Sahara.

In Africa, most governments are formed on traditional social hierarchies, relying upon devolved power to local elites at multiple complimentary levels such as tribe, clan, and social class. Sub-Saharan countries do not often possess the highly centralized state structures found in North Africa. There are many reasons for this, but key traits are homogenous ethnic identity and shared religion. Despite significant exceptions to both in North Africa, the diversity of religions and ethnicities in Sub-Saharan Africa is much greater.

Many Sub-Saharan countries have widespread corruption, governments intolerant of personal freedoms, and stifled political opposition. However, these conditions alone do not lead directly to an environment conducive to abrupt political change. One must have a catalyst, such as Bouazizi’s sacrifice in Tunisia that gives people the motivation to put their lives at risk to affect change. One also needs a way to spread the call to action – a task much easier in North Africa, with its much deeper penetration of social media and higher rates of education.

Many Sudanese view the Arab Spring’s ‘successes’ with envy. Sudan is more susceptible to influence of the Arab Spring than other Sub-Saharan African nations is its Arab culture, linguistic and identity ties matter. Sudanese feel it is their time to choose a government representative of their own desires. However, the lack of political space has stifled almost all legitimate protest or dissent, leaving the population little choice, but to use other means in its challenges to the ruling regime.

 Sudan is deeply affected by legacy ideologies from the Cold War. It’s highly educated urban population are increasingly informed about the wider world through the same lens as their North African cousins via television channels such as Al Jazeera. Additionally, Islam had been intertwined with the political development of Sudan through both its direct and indirect involvement in politics. This created an autocracy wrapped in Islamist trappings. Both Qaddafi’s Libya and Sadat’s Egypt claimed to be Islamic but were essentially secular in governance.  

The National Congress Party (NCP) leads the government in power in Sudan. It derives its platform directly from the Muslim Brotherhood, the name it went under in the 1970s. The party came to power in 1989 during a military-coup, led by Omar al-Bashir, who is currently under indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur. Much like Mubarak in Egypt, Bashir’s power base in Sudan is grounded in a vast system of patronage within the military and other security apparatus.  These stakeholders are heavily invested in Sudanese industries. Sudan’s systems of patronage and control resemble the “Deep State” under Mubarak in Egypt or the Generals in Turkey.

Since independence in 1956, most of Sudan’s history has been marked by civil war. Following two prolonged periods of conflict, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005 that eventually led to South Sudan’s independence. South Sudanese petroleum production provided approximately 75% of revenue for Sudan. The years of war and the loss of South Sudan have left the government in Khartoum destitute.

Additionally, the scale and scope of the wars left infrastructure underdeveloped, as the diversion of resources to the military over such a long period resulted in underinvestment in the population. Today, Khartoum remains engaged in multiple concurrent armed and political conflicts internally and externally, such as in Darfur, where, due Their presence highlights Sudan’s unresolved internal stability problems, which also include many internally displaced persons throughout the country.  These conflicts distract the government from delivering services and opportunities for prosperity. This particularly affects the urbane, Islamist, and increasingly connected urban population that forms the NCPs support base. As dissent is met with repression, the currents of discontent are strengthened; eventually these could become self-defeating.

Focused on multiple simultaneous conflicts, the stilted NCP government cannot produce meaningful improvements in quality of life. Political isolation of Sudan keeps away most donors except for Chinese parastatals, whose main interest is in extractive industry, not development. For a country where 42% of the population is below the age of 14, problems associated with lack of economic opportunity will compound difficulties in the future.

Highly stove-piped state institutions have formed very narrow power bases for important ministers. The dependency of the government’s ministers and stakeholders on Bashir increases daily as Sudan remains isolated. Increasingly the government controls the only revenue streams available to serve as sources of patronage. The lack of broad popular support has created a precarious situation where the government is strong, but rests upon a weak foundation. Even Islamist parties are abandoning the NCP; this is striking for a party that was an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and in a country Al Qaeda once called home. Many of these same parties serve as the base of support for Bashir and the NCP.

Recent events in Sudan show the social strain influenced by the Arab Spring. Protests initially broke out in Sudan in early 2011, reflecting the unrest throughout much of the Arab world. They have continued off and on since then, through 2012, and into 2013. The epicenter for these protests has been Khartoum. The regime draws most of its support from the “Arab” tribes of the central region of Sudan. These are also the most populous groups in the country.

Various student movements have played a pivotal role in leading protests. It must be noted that previous popular revolts, in both 1964 and 1985, have resulted in removals of government. In both 1964 and 1985 popular uprisings overthrew Sudanese governments.  This influences every decision made by the NCP government regarding how to contain on-going protests.

In September 2012, Sudan, like Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and countries throughout the Muslim World, was wracked by violent protests in response to the release of a film seen by many Muslims as blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed. In Khartoum, both the US and German embassies security walls were breached. The missions were vandalized heavily and lit on fire. This protest involved an estimated crowd of between 10,000 and 15,000 people. Coming just after the US Ambassador to Libya’s killing in Benghazi, these protests attracted significant attention internationally.

During the protests, Sudanese government security forces intervened to protect the two embassies and three protesters were killed. As news of the protester’s deaths spread, the crowd turned from anti-Western to anti-Bashir chants. Direct criticism of Bashir has been rare during previous periods of unrest. Ironically, the Sudanese government itself had called for protests, albeit peaceful ones. The storming of the embassies and quick turn of the crowd to anti-Bashir chants shows the political volatility underlying Sudanese society. It is apparent that strong popular currents of dissent exist. Residual protests continued throughout 2012 into late December.

What could tip the balance in Sudan to spark more widespread protests? Clearly, economic pressure will directly impact the population. In an already poor country, additional fiscal burdens could drive many unemployed people to extremes. This is particularly true of young unemployed men. The near tripling of the minimum wage will severely limit job growth in 2013. The huge deficit in the annual budget will also impact the ability of the government to provide basic services.

The increasing frequency of protests in Khartoum could indicate a lessening of fear towards the regime. The examples from the revolutions in North Africa, coupled with the loss of South Sudan and inability to end fighting in Darfur could make the once unthinkable a viable future course of action. If history is a guide, the Sudanese regime’s reaction will not deescalate the situation in any meaningful way.

The NCP is unwilling or unable to make the compromises necessary to address the long-term political and economic fixes that address legitimate grievances.  An unforeseen variable will provide the specific catalyst that could eventually lead Sudanese protests to resemble those of their northern neighbors. It is inevitable that any subsequent regime will also be Islamist inspired. The Islamist movements are more highly organized than pro-democracy ones and Sudanese civil society is highly religious in its own right. In the event of a revolution, Sudanese civil society would have to ensure Islamic extremists do not hijack their future.

An African sequel to the Arab Spring in Sudan would most likely resemble those in Egypt and Tunisia. The majority of the regime’s supporters would simply quit acting against their own countrymen. Internal collapse of support for the NCP government would provide a brief window of political uncertainty. Competing stakeholders, from regime revanchists to radical Islamists, will maneuver for dominance when the Arab Spring winds stop blowing.

Sudan lies at the heart of the greater Horn of Africa and East Africa, with many ongoing and frozen conflicts. Future challenges of religious tension, resource scarcity, and international geo-political competition are all represented in microcosm in Sudan. The international community must be prepared to provide political and development support, while ensuring the country can continue to provide security for its people. Failure to address these challenges could result in Sudan’s becoming a conduit for an immense wave of societal change throughout the continent. Many Africans, increasingly connected to the global community, are watching the winds of change blow.

The Author

Major Jason B. Nicholson is a US Army Sub-Saharan Africa Foreign Area Officer currently posted to US Embassy Uganda. His previous posts include US Embassy Tanzania, the Army Staff, and the Joint Staff. He particularly follows stories connecting the Gulf and Levant to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Let us know your thoughts, and we’ll share them with our readers.  Send me a note at



What Happens After Syria’s Assad Is Gone? Better? Worse? Unknowable?

Monday, April 1st, 2013

There have been so many indications over the past two years that our nation needs much more data to have sufficient basic information and context about Africa. We have to figure out how to obtain the data, and create the information and knowledge and understanding before we can make sensible policy, strategy, priority or involvement decisions and launch into planning and missions. Just a couple of examples of this today, and I have 2-3 more notes planned for later this week.

From last week’s note:

I see that the Syrian Opposition Leader resigned. According to the Wall Street Journal today, “Syria’s interim government-in-exile was in disarray on Sunday after its leader resigned and the main rebel fighting force declined to recognize its prime minister days after he was elected…..Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, a former cleric from Damascus who draws support from Western powers and is popular among the more moderate opposition factions, said he stepped down due to deepening divisions within the Syrian National Council, the opposition coalition…..A united opposition is regarded as a crucial precursor to securing international funding, legal recognition and arms from major Western powers.”  Everyone agrees on the need to end the Assad regime, but what will take its place?

The Day After Assad: What to Expect Based on Events in Post-Saddam Iraq

By Robert Tollast and Nathaniel Rosenblatt

Small Wars Journal

March 14 2013

“Early signs of reconciliation?

RT: An early harbinger of how dangerous Iraq would become occurred in 2003 when Sayyid Abdul Majid al-Khoie travelled to Najaf with a wish to start national reconciliation, having remarked “”We are looking for a new Iraq in which everyone has a share… we want to forget the past and shake the hand of everyone.” But at the Shrine of Iman Ali, the very people who should have listened to this message took part in a deranged attack on his group. Much more horror followed across Iraq, fuelling a terrifying civil war. In Syria however, despite the shocking bloodshed we already have the offer of peace talks. Compared to the sentiment of so many Shia Iraqis toward Baathists, this looks very hopeful (an offer of talks to Saddam would have been unimaginable in the event of a successful anti Baathist uprising, although Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani was willing to deal with him.) But is the offer of talks really a sign of hope or is reconciliation going to be a much tougher challenge?

NR – Sayyid Abdul Majid al-Khoie’s death was less a story about revenge killings that led to sectarianism than it was a tragedy of the chaos and violence that ensued in Iraq after Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi opposition had relatively less interest in negotiating with the Ba’athists because they had a much stronger hand – the US was essentially going to fight their battle for them. They didn’t need to consider coming to the table. The Syrian opposition doesn’t have the luxury of US support, and so must more seriously consider the option of talks.

Moreover, I don’t think the offer of talks is necessarily a “sign of hope,” but another fracture point between opposition groups who call for negotiations and those who urge armed groups on the ground to keep up the fight. For the Syrian Opposition Coalition, this will be a particularly dangerous balance to strike and will require very accurate reporting from their connections on the ground in order to try to effectively represent the sentiment of those who support them. One potentially ugly scenario is if the opposition strikes a deal with the regime that local anti-Assad militia groups reject on the ground.

Above all else, I would just underscore the takeaway lesson from Sayyid al-Khoie’s death: that prominent advocates for non-violence are often targets in intense, ungoverned conflicts. Sayyid al-Khoie was irreplaceable, and you have to be very concerned when prominent Syrians put their lives on the line to help resolve conflicts, such as with long-time respected dissident Michel Kilo in Ras al-Ayn.

A paramilitary security solution?

RT: One of the biggest concerns in a post Assad Syria is security. In Iraq we saw time and time again how a lack of security hampered and decimated often badly thought out reconstruction projects. These projects might have been able to fumble along if there had been peace on the streets, but with the growing crime/ looting/ insurgency they often went nowhere fast, wasting billions in reconstruction funds.

The Day After Project mentions the threat of a security vacuum and wisely calls for a plans to secure documents in ministries- key for reconstruction and reconciliation, as well as securing key infrastructure and prisons. This would have been a great move in 2003, but the coalition did not have the troop numbers and often did not think to secure vital areas, amazingly including huge arms dumps! Vital documents like payrolls and lists of Ba’athists were stolen or burned, further slowing transition. In Basra, a British officer found a resourceful policeman who had made copies of his staff roster and working together, the two men made a temporary security force that proved very effective until the CPA shut it down, saying essentially the new state has monopoly on violence, not militias.

There then followed some years of fumbling trying to build a competent ISF, and only much later during the surge, the Sahwa militias proved to be Iraq’s best force multiplier in reducing violence. But that has not come without problems that we increasingly see today- the government do not trust them. Hastily assembled militia forces could be hard to control and dangerous, but I feel in the short term they might be the only option for Syria until a new army/police are constructed with a solid code of ethics and national loyalty. What kind of dangers do you see with transitional security provided by paramilitaries in a post Assad Syria? The obvious danger is perhaps infiltration by extremists among local transitional security forces, or the risk that some of these groups may completely reject government initiatives and make their own laws…

NR- It seems like the security sector reform solution in Syria has to be somewhere to the right of Libya’s in terms of building stronger central government control over the “monopoly on violence” without being so ideologically committed to the concept that it ends up hurting rather than helping the reconstruction process. In theory this should be possible: Syria is much smaller and more densely populated than Libya (four times as many people in a country a tenth of Libya’s size), so the country should be more easily governable. In practice, however, there are tremendously complex problems associated with this process. Let’s look at three major ones:

First, we are already seeing divisions emerge between local groups that had participated in the armed opposition at a very early stage and larger governance structures. It is easier to fight than it is to govern: the bigger challenge will not be using the militias of the Free Syrian Army to fight the regime but forcing them to make the necessary compromises in peacetime.

If foreign-based members of the Syrian Opposition Coalition become key leaders in the transitional government, their demands for disarming militias that participated in the uprising will seem ludicrous because they didn’t participate in the fighting. In that light, they will have no choice but to work with these militia groups to remain popular and effective, but once you give these groups power it is hard to take it back.

Second, which militias do you empower? There is a growing lawlessness in Syria perpetrated by armed gangs who steal to make a living. Will the post-Assad state prosecute them? How will they divide those gangs that steal from those that sell sheet metal confiscated from an Aleppo factory in order to buy bullets to fight the regime? How will it distinguish those groups from ones that haven’t taken anything? What will they do when they realize that many of the ones with the “cleanest” record are the extremist groups? The transitional government will have to build an adaptive approach to dealing with these militias while still building local faith in the fairness of the new system.

Third and finally is the challenge of foreign influence. In Libya, foreign countries pay and train their own extragovernmental tribal militias. In Syria today, militia groups are for sale. This has created armed factions that respond to foreign government agendas rather than a local or national one. The transitional government in a post-Assad Syria will have to contend with militant groups that respond to foreign government agendas. Syrian political parties post-Assad will be armed.

These problems are of course interrelated: a transitional government will need legitimacy if it is to carry out unpopular demobilization reforms of militant groups that fought in the revolution. They will also need to make compromises with foreign powers to bring them and their militias to the table. But there are other complicating factors: Syrians have a strong suspicion of western countries, particularly should they attempt to assert their authority in security sector reform and demobilization efforts. The problem is that there is a lot of expertise in these developed countries, but a strong disinterest within Syria to incorporate their potentially useful lessons learned and best practices. Also, unlike Iraq and Libya, Syria has very little natural resource wealth. They have a destroyed economy that will not recover quickly. They cannot afford to fix the problem with money: when there are problems in the security sector in Iraq or Libya, they raise salaries and pension benefits. Syria literally cannot afford this option.

Top down or bottom up?

RT: After the fall of Saddam, the CPA focused on a number of national level projects: privatising industry, putting a transitional assembly together and de- Baathification to name a few. Eventually the CPA became bogged down in minutiae like a new traffic law and re-decorating Baghdad airport as the situation deteriorated and Bremer was rapidly swamped by crisis. At the same time, local security was looked after by contractors and coalition partners who were rapidly recruiting police and trying to train a new army, with an emphasis on numbers.

Only years later, it had become apparent that rapidly recruited (and therefore not properly vetted) security forces were carrying out mass violence on a sectarian basis or failing to secure neighbourhoods because of poor training. This has been characterized as a “top down” approach, one focused heavily on the national level- a national army, police force and ultimately what Toby Dodge has characterised as “an elite bargain.” Much later it became clear that a lot of the best solutions in Iraq were at the local level, provided by local tribal leaders who were able to provide security, root out terrorists from their communities and oversee reconstruction projects by taking on the role of contractor.

The Day After Project focuses very much on the local: Rule of law monitors and committees, economic regeneration in the hands of local actors, and interim security in the hands of transitional local forces prior to their being reintegrated into a new security force or civilian society. On the one hand I can see how this local approach makes sense: in the absence of a state (and in the presence of conflict) power melts away from the centre and into the hands of tribal leaders or resistance leaders, and this was the case in Iraq where opportunists made money from smuggling like Sheik Sattar Abu Risha or the famous “Prince of the Marshes,” Abu Hatem.

But the coalition soon learned that local actors also had immense capacity for corruption, while others wavered in their commitment to the government, or worse became sidelined by the leaders in Baghdad. This has sometimes been as damaging as the severe corruption at the government level. In my opinion, despite the corruption of some of these local actors, a local focus would still have been preferable because at the national level a lot of the politicians (and coalition civilians) gradually became detached from the growing, dangerous problems on the Iraqi street.  With the Syrian National Council saying they need $60 billion for reconstruction, do you think the localised focus is the best opportunity for Syria, or should the immediate focus be at the government level- getting a national dialogue going on and rebuilding ministries etc. The hardest and best approach would perhaps be a combination…

NR- Libya is a great example of the challenges to this “bottom up” approach to security. The Libyan National Transitional Council – the first post-Gaddafi interim government – was so unwilling to force a nation-wide agenda without an elected mandate that they effectively subcontracted out security to local militias. Even the Tripoli airport was guarded by a tribal militia! After forming a government several months following the summer 2012 elections, the General National Congress (GNC) has consequently been at a distinct disadvantage. So powerless are they in exerting authority that since February 2013 injured revolutionary fighters have occupied the parliament in Tripoli demanding better pensions. Now they’ve had to suspend parliamentary activity because armed groups concerned with the influence of former Gaddafi officials in the current government kicked them out of their temporary offices (a Tripoli hotel). These groups even fired at President Mohamed Magarief’s convoy as it fled the protests.

There is great appeal to the localized approach: it is flexible and responsive. Caerus Associates’ recent study of governance in Syria even suggests that at present there is not enough capacity to manage a national portfolio. In our study we found that 50,000 is a magic number: any area more populated than that and governance structures really struggle to meet resident needs. In that light, not only is hyper-local governance the preferable solution, but the only manageable one at present.

But, as we’ve seen in Libya, authority is hard to bestow and even harder to take back. Local actors do not have national-level institutional development goals and are much more susceptible to control by interest groups. Benghazi, for example, is essentially run by armed gangs. Criminality is rife. In the past several months alone these armed gangs have killed dozens of national police officers and security officers. Some security challenges are too great for these “bottom-up” local actors to solve on their own.

Information is the key to building durable local-national relationships in such a complicated environment. The Day After Project’s intent to develop hyper-local monitors and committees that can sense what specific communities need is important, what remains to be seen is how willing a central authority will be to a) protect these community monitors, b) read their reports, and c) be interested in/able to implement their recommendations. This said, The Day After (TDA) project advisors have told me they are working hard on this, which they call “phase two” – or the implementation of their concepts. In the past few weeks, they have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Syrian Opposition Coalition that will allow them to begin working on technical assistance for reconstruction issues like Rule of Law, Security Sector Reform, and Transitional Justice. There will be a lot more action from TDA in the coming months.

RT: Some opposition leaders have pledged to protect religious sites. Any attacks on religious sites are of course inflammatory, but for many people an attack on the Sayyidah Zainab shrine is the nightmare scenario, evoking the horror in Iraq after the al-Askari shrine attack in Iraq. Do you see any way this site could be protected in the coming months, perhaps a greater commitment from Syrian opposition that these sites will be secured?

NR- Of all the things that really resonated with Iraqis that I met while living there was the bitter memory of the looting and the attacks directed at religious sites. There are certain things that cannot be replaced, and there will be spoilers in Syria who seek to destroy these cultural artefacts to inflame local frustrations or sow intercommunal tensions. The question is who should be held responsible to protect them during and after the conflict.

Telling armed combatants to mind UNESCO heritage sites is like advising race car drivers not to get into accidents: almost everyone wants to avoid them, but some destruction will happen in an increasingly violent conflict. Even if groups recognize their importance there’s no guarantee they’ll avoid them. These are the key issues that the international community can really get behind and support vigorously. The destruction of Aleppo’s souqs is a worldwide tragedy. No one wants Syria’s rich heritage to be a victim of the conflict. I would also add here that educational initiatives are another neglected but highly important issue that the international community should vigorously support. Protect Syria’s physical heritage and nurture its future, these could be ways the international community could support the reconstruction and win points with Syrians.

RT: The Day After Project mentions stopping regime elements wanted for crimes against humanity from leaving Syria, but there is not an emphasis on securing Syria’s borders which have been penetrated by fanatical fighters not only of the Salafi jihadi variety, but also by numerous Shia groups from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. Considering where the various rebel groups are located and their allegiance, how hard do you think it will be for a transitional force to secure Syria’s border region? Perhaps close cooperation with neighbouring countries such as Iraq would be a priority, to stop the transit of AQ and other groups…

NR-The border issue is going to be extremely challenging for two basic reasons (though there are many):

1) There are highly evolved smuggling routes across all of Syria’s borders that will be impossible to shut down for the foreseeable future. Right now, the Jordanian and Iraqi borders are probably the most permeable because they are the largest and least governable. But this can be addressed with better border monitoring technology that can effectively police borders that are, effectively large unpopulated swaths of flat desert.

The Lebanese and Turkish borders are much more challenging in the long term because they are rugged. There are old and intricate smuggling routes across those borders and will be nearly impossible to monitor even with high tech equipment and training.

2) In some cases, Syria’s neighbors do not necessarily share a common regional interest in policing these borders. Iraqis know that the Syrians long allowed safe passage for the jihadist groups that still plague their country. The Lebanese, Turkish, and Jordanian governments likewise will be driven by prevailing national interests. The Lebanese, for example, through Hezbollah’s smuggling networks in the Beka’a Valley, will be key for Iran to be able to support its constituencies in Syria.

The short answer is that, both because of the very evolved nature of the smuggling networks and the divergent interests among Syria’s neighbors, if you want to get something or someone into Syria, chances are it or they will get in.

RT: How wide is the appeal of groups like the Muhajireen Group and Jabhat al Nusra among Syria’s Sunnis? My sense is that if they start imposing strict Islamic law, most people will ultimately reject it, as we saw eventually in Iraq at the beginning of the Sahwa movement against AQI.

NR-These Islamist Jihadist groups are well respected by Syrians for their fighting prowess and their discipline. They confront the Syrian army on the front lines of some of the most visible and important conflicts. Moreover, where other armed groups might steal community resources for funding, Islamist groups like Nusra (they are of course very diverse, Nusra is shorthand) generally doesn’t because they are disciplined and well-funded. The longer the conflict goes on, the more popular groups like Nusra will become.

Will the Syrians reject their extremist ideology? That is one of the biggest questions in the conflict. It can still go either way at this point – but there is clear evidence that groups like Nusra are trying to learn their lessons from their failure in Iraq, the question of how well they can implement them will be key in determining whether they will become spoilers or political power brokers in the post-Assad Syria.

About the Authors

Robert Tollast

Robert Tollast is an occasional contributor to The Small Wars Journal. He writes Mesopotamia Monthly, a monthly Iraq update for the Global Politics journal, as well as having written for the Defence Management Journal. He lives and works in London.

Nathaniel Rosenblatt

Nathaniel Rosenblatt leads Caerus’s research and analysis initiatives focusing on the Middle East and Northern Africa. Prior to joining Caerus, Nate spent three years developing research capacity at The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). He received his MA in International Relations with a Middle East concentration from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where he wrote his dissertation on opposition politics in Syria. In addition to working at the university, Nate participated as an international elections observer in Iraq’s national elections in March 2010 and co-edited a journal on the impact of the Arab Spring in November 2011. A Middle Eastern food junkie, Nate is on a constant, world-wide search for authentic kibbeh.

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