Playing Russian Roulette: Russia’s Involvement In Syria

Following is a Q&A with National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations Founding President & CEO Dr. John Duke Anthony regarding Russia’s interests and involvement in Syria.

Q: What characterizes Russia’s relationship with the Bashar al-Assad regime?

A: Out of the 22 Arab countries, 28 Middle Eastern countries, and 57 Islamic nations, Russia’s allies are few. Moscow’s relations with Damascus are closer than its relations with the capitals of other Arab countries. Indeed, they are closer than its relations with other Middle Eastern countries as a whole. As a result, Russia’s military actions in Syria aim to protect Assad and the country’s leadership and to keep Syria strong.

Other nations may not approve of this stance, but it must be acknowledged that Moscow has interests in Syria that it wishes to protect as well as the goal of further strengthening and expanding an allied relationship. What is also important and largely missing from or downplayed by the mainstream media is that Moscow, in standing with Damascus, provides the Syrian leadership with a rebuttal to the other UN Security Council Permanent Members (China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States) who state or imply that Syria lacks international support.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015. ©REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin.

Q: What are Russia’s particular interests in Syria and are they of recent or older vintage?

A: They are numerous and date back to the respective reigns of Catherine and Peter the Great. Both sought ports in southern climes that could facilitate and sustain Russian east-west and west-east maritime ventures involving trade, rest, and resupply. During the Cold War, in addition to these commercial and economic objectives, interests of a military nature – aeronautical and naval, mainly – manifested themselves in the construction of port facilities to accommodate Russian ships traversing the waters southward from Turkey and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean. As a matter of course, Russia used these port facilities also to build the country’s air defense system and weaponry as well as to ensure provisions for armaments, munitions, training, and maintenance for the system and the country’s defense establishment as a whole.

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NCUSAR’s Summer 2016 Washington, DC Internship Program – Applications Due February 26

Opportunity for Students:

Washington, DC Summer Internship Program
May 23 – July 29, 2016

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ Washington, DC Summer Internship Program offers undergraduate and graduate students a ten-week professional, academic, and career opportunity internship in the nation’s capital. The program features a demanding mix of professional involvement, intellectual challenge, career exploration, and cultural encounters designed to provide interns with a rich and varied experience during their time in Washington.

  • Professional workplace experience: Interns are placed with one of over a dozen Near East and Arab world-related organizations in Washington, D.C., where they are expected to work 35-40 hours/week under the direct supervision of their host organizations.
  • Academic seminars: Interns take part in twice-weekly seminar sessions designed to provide them with greater depth of knowledge about the Arab world, to underscore the cultural, economic, and political diversity of Arab states, and to explore the intricacies of Arab-U.S. relations. There will be a particular emphasis, though not exclusively, on Arabia and the Gulf.
  • Site visits: Interns receive a behind-the-scenes look at many of the central institutions of federal government, national security policymaking, international diplomacy, and international business.

About the Program

The National Council’s Summer Internship Program offers professional work experiences combined with twice weekly evening seminars that bring academic experts and experienced foreign policy practitioners to meet with the interns in candid off-the-record discussions and freewheeling question and answer sessions. Our goals are: (1) to provide a realistic Washington, D.C. work experience that will pave the way to career development; (2) to provide interns with first-hand experience behind-the-scenes of the foreign policy analysis and advocacy process in Washington, D.C.; (3) to provide a strong academic component dealing with U.S. political, economic, and cultural relations with Arabia and the Gulf region; (4) to help participants begin the process of career networking by introducing them to working professionals in government, business, journalism, and NGOs; and, (5) to highlight the wide range of career opportunities awaiting those who aspire to work in the field of U.S.-Arab relations as well as to provide counseling on the graduate school and fellowship application processes.

As complements to the program, interns will also be exposed to D.C. in a less formal manner via films, cultural events, embassy and museum visits, off-the-record conversations with former diplomats, group dinners, and suggestions for exploring the sights and sounds of Washington, D.C. This allows students not only to experience living and working in the city but also encourages them to appreciate the cultural diversity of the urban environment and the exciting cultural, educational, and recreational opportunities available in the nation’s capital.

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Proposing Solutions: The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ Model Arab League

By Alex Cosio-Marron

The League of Arab States’ Joint Defense Council (JDC) Chair recognizes the delegate from Lebanon, who stands and thanks the Council for its collaboration in drafting and passing Resolution I/A. The delegates had been tasked with “reviewing progress and defining benchmarks for a unified Arab force.” After hours of debate, the JDC adopts its first resolution. Resolution I/A provides clear recommendations for the formation and administration of a Joint Arab Military Force. The authors are the delegates from Tunisia, Iraq, Qatar, and Oman.

The delegates, however, are not meeting in the Arab world, but in Roanoke, Virginia. They are students participating in what is known as the Model Arab League (MAL). Similar to Model United Nations, the MALs are simulations of the League’s 22 members.

Participating in simulations enables students to anticipate the likely moves and countermoves in the metaphorical international chessboard of relations between and among allies as well as adversaries. As such, simulations are a way in which to have stimulating discussions and debates on one or more topics. They constitute an effective empirical educational experience unlike any to be found in textbooks, lectures, films, or other traditional teaching and learning materials and methods.

Students across the United States participate in 22 such simulations annually. In so doing, they hone their diplomatic, public speaking, research, writing, editing, organizational, parliamentary, resolution-drafting, coalition-building, and analytical skills.

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The Passing of James Alban Bill (1939-2015): An Appreciation

He was for the longest time my buddy. We often laughed at the thought that we could have been twin brothers from different mothers, despite the fact that Jim was from Wisconsin and I was from Virginia. We were almost the exact same age. We were U.S. Army veterans of the same enlistment program. We each bore scars at the same place on our right knees from nearly identical high school athletic injuries.

We were both note-taking aficionados, opting, as such, to write most, if not all, of our empirical reports and publications based less, if at all, on library research but rather on firsthand accounts, which we knew at the time were priceless. Indeed, they resulted from the fact that we benefited from privileged access to meetings and briefings with some of Arabia and the Gulf’s top policymakers, decision makers, and strategic analysts that few others enjoyed.

In the 1970s, the two of us even co-choreographed nationwide public speaking engagements for a former guerrilla leader-turned-government official. To this day, the official has never forgotten or been unappreciative of the experience. In June 1982, in the company of the late UT-Austin geographer Paul English, we travelled together to Arabia and the Gulf – to Oman, then the UAE, then Bahrain, and then Saudi Arabia.

Each of us was and remained to the end a baseball freak; before we even met we had separately memorized the major league players’ names of a bygone era, their positions, their teams, their batting averages, their pitching records, their nicknames, their greatest feats – you name it. Often, instead of addressing each other in written letters or telephone calls with our real names, we used made-up ones like Duke Snider, Jerry Priddy, Dizzy and Paul Dean, Jackie Robinson, Harry “The Cat” Brecheen, Richie Ashburn, Del Ennis, and Willie Mays.

When Jim in 1976 invited me to teach at UT-Austin in the university’s Center for Middle East Studies a course on Arabia and the Gulf, I gladly did so and enjoyed it thoroughly, not least because it provided an opportunity for our respective families to get to know one another and, now and again, a chance for us to play a pickup baseball game with six players – his two children and mine plus ourselves – on one of the local diamonds.

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“Geo-Political Dynamics: Egypt and North Africa” – 24th Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Session on Geo-Political Dynamics: Egypt and North Africa with Ms. Ellen Laipson, Dr. William Lawrence, Dr. Dirk Vandewalle, Dr. Paul Sullivan, and Dr. Abderrahim Foukara from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 24th Annual Arab-US Policymakers’ Conference, “U.S.-Arab Relations at a Crossroads: What Paths Forward?,” on October 15, 2015, in Washington, DC.

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“Arab-U.S. Business, Education, and Healthcare Cooperation” – 24th Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Session on Arab-U.S. Business, Education, and Healthcare Cooperation with Dr. John A. Ulatowski, Mr. Khush Choksy, Ms. Nahlah A. Al-Jubeir, Dr. Randall W. Burt, Mr. Mohamed Abo Elenin, and Mr. H. Delano Roosevelt from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 24th Annual Arab-US Policymakers’ Conference, “U.S.-Arab Relations at a Crossroads: What Paths Forward?,” on October 15, 2015, in Washington, DC.

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“Gulf Cooperation Council: Role in Regional Dynamics” – 24th Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Session on Gulf Cooperation Council: Role in Regional Dynamics with Dr. John Duke Anthony, Ambassador (Ret.) Dr. Richard J. Schmierer, Mr. Khaled Almaeena, Dr. Abdullah AlShayji, and Ms. Elizabeth Wossen from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 24th Annual Arab-US Policymakers’ Conference, “U.S.-Arab Relations at a Crossroads: What Paths Forward?,” on October 14, 2015, in Washington, DC.

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“Iraq-U.S. Relations: A View from Baghdad” – 24th Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference

Session on “Iraq-U.S. Relations: A View from Baghdad” with H.E. Ambassador Lukman Faily, from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ 24th Annual Arab-US Policymakers’ Conference, “U.S.-Arab Relations at a Crossroads: What Paths Forward?,” on October 15, 2015, in Washington, DC.

Watch on C-Span

Listen to Podcast (.mp3)