The death of Anwar al Awlaki shines a spotlight on Yemen's political crisis and the threat posed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - a threat which grows as the Yemeni state is unable to manage its own security or gain the respect of its citizens. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has used counterterrorism cooperation as a tool to try to tell the West that it's a choice between him or al Qaeda. In reality, Saleh's history of combatting terrorism is mixed, and the summer saw him refocus security forces from counterterrorism to regime protection. Washington has re-stated that Saleh must go and that counterterrorism efforts will continue with this or future governments. In the long run, solving the political crisis and addressing the needs of Yemen's citizens will prove best way to fight terrorism there.
There are confirmed reports that this morning in Yemen wanted terrorist Anwar al Awlaki was killed in a drone strike. Awlaki was a spiritual leader of the Yemeni branch of al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). While the extent of his operational role is disputed, his charisma and eloquent English made him a powerful recruiter in the West, with reported ties to the Christmas Day "Underwear Bomber," the Fort Hood shooter and the attempted Times Square bomber. Awlaki's death is the most recent in a series of blows to al Qaeda. It showcases the success of the administration's counterterrorism tactics and the challenges those tactics bring with them. With al Qaeda suffering severe operational blows, and growing reliance on drone strikes and focus on individual targets, the United States not only can, but must, offer clear explanations to global publics and clear legal resolution at home of how individual targetings, particularly of American citizens, are consistent with our Constitutional values.
Following Adm. Mike Mullen's comments last week characterizing the insurgent Haqqani network as a "veritable arm of the ISI," or Pakistani intelligence service, U.S.-Pakistan relations have spiraled into a series of recriminations. This crisis serves as an opportunity to reframe the relationship between the two countries, as Adm. Mullen said in his testimony. Part of that reframing is a "full-court" press which conditions any further U.S. support on Pakistani action against terrorist networks. Conditions are necessary, but they also risk widening the rift in this essential partnership further. As Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Daniel Markey notes, getting the balance right "won't be easy."
The European Union is continuing to struggle to forge a unified response to Europe's debt crisis. This week the head of Europe's central bank said the financial situation is more precarious than it was before the Wall Street bank Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, igniting the financial crisis. A consensus has grown that what is needed now is a "big bang," or a large-scale plan to address sovereign debts and calm markets. But political differences among members of the euro zone are complicating efforts to enact such a move. Countries with a trade surplus, most notably Germany, are hesitant to bail out debtor countries such as Greece -- and European publics are anxious about the further political integration that many of the bailout schemes would entail. Through our exports and our need for a functional, trust-based banking sector, the U.S. has a direct stake in Europe taking quick, strong action.
With attention focused on events at the UN in New York, the effects of the "Arab Spring" have continued to ripple across the Middle East: Yemeni President Saleh returned home to an uncertain future; Saudi women gained the right to vote in future elections; organized labor flexed its muscles in Egypt; and violence ticked up in Syria. With the hopes and allegiance of a young generation in play, the U.S. continues to face an array of unique situations and a challenge to think both pragmatically and strategically. As analyst Daniel Serwer writes, from Teheran to Washington, "there is no reason for spring to be only Arab."
This weekend Russian Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin announced that he will once again seek the presidency, essentially guaranteeing him the position. He pledged, once president, to appoint the current president Dmitri Medvedev as prime minister. This is disappointing for Russian democracy but not unexpected, and should not necessarily entail a downturn in U.S.-Russian relations.
The international scene is buzzing this week. Leaders from around the world are meeting at the UN, a political assassination rocked Afghanistan and Congress continued to debate the federal budget, which will play a significant role in determining America's strength, both at home and abroad. Tonight, candidates for the presidency will have a chance to articulate a coherent view of America's role in the world at a debate in Orlando hosted by Fox News. Below are five questions - pulled from this week's headlines - that will gauge whether candidates agree with nonpartisan security experts about how America should lead in a rapidly changing world.
President Obama stepped to the podium this morning at the United Nations General Assembly and declared, "This year has been a time of transformation. More nations have stepped forward to maintain international peace and security. And more individuals are claiming their universal right to live in freedom and dignity." Yet Iran stands out, oppressing its people, defaulting on its international obligations and sending to New York a leader who is weaker than ever before. U.S. leadership, coalition pressure and the prospect of diplomacy have put Iran under unprecedented pressure, even as outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen reminded us yesterday that diplomacy and outreach between our countries was "something we all need to spend a lot of time on."
President Obama prepares to address the United Nations General Assembly with solid public support for his national security policies. An approach that combines robust U.S. leadership with U.S. engagement at the UN and another international institutions is paying off - in progress fighting terrorism, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and supporting transitions away from dictatorship and toward democracy. The past year of transformation presents the U.S. with major new opportunities and challenges. Partnerships like those forged at the UN will be central to both promoting our interests and balancing international responsibilities with our needs at home.
This week, events in the Middle East rival headlines emerging from the UN General Assembly in New York: Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's forces have opened fire on protestors, killing more than 50 in the last two days. Syria has seen opposition forces begin to abandon peaceful protest in favor of armed struggle. Libya's transitional government is working to form civilian structures - even as military operations to root out the remaining elements of the Qaddafi government continue. In New York, these developments are reflected in a new group of more representative leaders and the relative eclipse of autocrats like Iran's Ahmadinejad - as well as the UN debate on Palestinian statehood. Together, opportunities and challenges demand that Washington re-evaluate long-held certainties and confront tough changes to regional dynamics.