Ilan Berman
Ilan Berman
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Pundicity: Informed Opinion and Review

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Tehran Sets The Table In Vienna

November 30, 2021  •  Washington Examiner

What precisely does the Biden administration want to accomplish in its diplomacy with Iran? With new talks over Iran's nuclear program now underway in Vienna, it's a question worth asking. To hear the White House tell it, the current talks are the only way to put Iran's increasingly mature nuclear program back in a box, despite new evidence that — despite its denials — the Islamic Republic is, in fact, pursuing an offensive nuclear capability. From this standpoint, America's 2018 abandonment of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (as the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers is known) represented an egregious strategic error, and the "maximum pressure" policy that followed was an abject failure. It's a narrative the Iranian side has been only too happy to nurture. Iranian officials have railed against the "inhuman" measures levied against them by "the aggressor" United States and have called for an end to U.S. sanctions as a precursor to any deal.

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Iran, Like China, Isn't A Responsible Stakeholder

November 26, 2021  •  Newsweek

In a much-publicized address in 2005, then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick laid out the prevailing wisdom in Washington regarding the proper way to approach the People's Republic of China (PRC). "Chinese leaders have decided that their success depends on being networked with the modern world," Zoellick argued before the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. As a result, he contended, the U.S. needed to make every effort to turn the PRC into a "responsible stakeholder" on the world stage. That belief helped inform U.S. policy toward China for more than a decade, with Washington trying repeatedly to coax Beijing into behaving better through expanded trade and closer integration in various multilateral institutions. Only in the past couple of years has China's behavior (from its predatory economic practices to its ongoing persecution of its Uyghur Muslim minority) sparked a serious rethinking of the American approach toward China—and prompted a tilt toward strategic competition with it. But in Washington, bad ideas never really go away. That's why, even though the "responsible stakeholder" idea is no longer being applied to the PRC, it's now being recycled by the Biden White House in its dealings with another hostile nation: Iran.

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The Criminalization Of The World Economy
A review of Servants of the Devil: The Facilitators of the Criminal and Terrorist Networks by Norman Bailey and Bernard Touboul, World Scientific Publishing, 2021.

Fall 2021  •  The International Economy

Between 2014 and 2016, when it was at the pinnacle of its power, the Islamic State was estimated to be generating as much as $2 billion in annual revenue, a sum that made it the best-funded terrorist group in recorded history. It did so through a variety of means, ranging from informal value transfer networks such as hawala to the taxation of the captive citizens under its control. In all, according to a 2016 report by the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, the Islamic State's complex financial infrastructure encompassed seven distinct pillars: black market oil and natural gas; black market commodities; antiquities; extortion, taxation, and robbery; kidnappings for ransom; support from nation-states in the Gulf; and fraudulent financial activities. Fast forward half a decade, and the situation remains far too familiar. Despite the ignominious end of its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria, Islamic State is still fiscally solvent—and dangerous. Just this spring, the U.S. Treasury department estimated that, in spite of the international community's best efforts, the world's most notorious terror group still had access to around $100 million in cash reserves in safe havens across the Middle East, more than enough to enable it to carry out global operations on an ongoing basis. Moreover, the government memo laid out, these funds are being replenished by multiple sources, including associates in Turkey, smugglers in Iraq, and other facilitators. The Islamic State's ongoing solvency owes a great deal to the contemporary economic environment, where the lines between licit and illicit commerce have become progressively blurred, and where the connections between criminal groups and terrorist organizations are increasingly intimate. That nexus is the subject of Servants of the Devil, a collection of studies curated by veteran financial experts Norman Bailey and Bernard Touboul. Their central contention is stark but compelling: that the global economic context has changed fundamentally. Gone, they argue, are the days when criminals and terrorists represented qualitatively different things, with separate worldviews and agendas. Instead, propelled by rapid globalization, we are now witnessing growing interplay among—and cooperation between—a wide range of malicious actors.

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Egypt's Biggest Worry Is Its Population

October 27, 2021  •  Al-Hurra Digital

Today, the Egyptian state faces no shortage of strategic threats, ranging from instability emanating from the ongoing crisis next door in Libya to an escalating conflict with nearby Ethiopia over access to the Nile. Yet its biggest long-term challenge is a distinctly domestic one: the quickening pace of its own population. Earlier this month, Hussein Abdel-Aziz, an advisor to Egypt's official statistics bureau, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), told a call-in show that rising birth rates have put the nation on track for a population explosion of unprecedented proportions over the next decade. Currently, according to Abdel-Aziz, Egypt's population stands at some 102.5 million people, on account of a fertility rate that – at 3.2 births per woman – is among the highest in the region. If that birth rate continues to rise, Abdel-Aziz warned, Egypt's population could increase by more than 20 percent, to 130 million, by the beginning of the 2030s. Yet, he noted, even if it declines appreciably, the Egyptian population is still expected to swell by 20 million souls and reach 123 million by 2032.   These statistics are hardly a surprise. For nearly half-a-decade now, CAPMAS has been warning that the country's population is ballooning. The findings of its 2017 national census confirmed that the Egyptian state is in the throes of a protracted population boom, with the number of citizens basically doubling between 1986 and 2016. That surge has continued, threatening to undermine the country's political and economic stability in the process.

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Toward A Public Diplomacy Strategy For The 21st Century

October 2021  •  AFPC Defense Dossier

Today, American public diplomacy is in crisis. Official outreach to foreign publics represents one of the most potent instruments of "soft power" available to the United States. Yet U.S. public diplomacy has eroded significantly since its heyday at the height of the Cold War, when American broadcasts and messaging engaged foreign publics behind the Iron Curtain and played an integral role in shaping the ideas that brought down the Soviet bloc. Through a combination of bureaucratic reshuffling and official neglect, the post-Cold War era has seen an erosion of the efficiency, vision and impact of American strategic communications. The aggregate result was that, by 2003, a high level governmental advisory panel had already concluded that the United States had undergone a process of "unilateral disarmament" in "the weapons of advocacy." Yet the situation has only worsened in the years since, as the proliferation of new communications technologies, the rise of social media platforms, and the spread of "fake news" and disinformation have made the international media environment more contested — and more saturated — than ever before. Competing in this new, hostile terrain requires the United States to rebuild the vibrancy, impact and persuasive potential of its international outreach. Such an effort begins with an accurate understanding of today's more congested, adversarial and crowded global media environment.

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Books by Ilan Berman

Cover of Iran's Deadly Ambition Cover of Implosion Cover of Winning the Long War Cover of Tehran Rising

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