Category Archives: Middle East

Why not an independent Kurdistan?


Following our presentation on ISIS/The Islamic State, many of you showed considerable interest in knowing more about the Kurdish people and prospects for an independent Kurdistan.

William Galston at the Council on Foreign Relations has advocated for U.S. recognization of an independent Kurdistan, arguing that, “The Middle East is being remade, and the U.S. needs all of the friends it can get”. Galston argues that multi-ethnic democracy is a noble idea, but it doesn’t seem feasible in current circumstances. For the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, he argues that having large multi-ethnic countries inevitably will lead to dictatorship or anarchy. He said there is nothing sacred about the post Ottoman State system in the Middle East, “and no good reason why the U.S. should be worshiping at it’s alter”.

Of course constructing an independent Kurdistan would be extremely difficult, as the Kurdish people live in four major countries and have a presence in several others. Still, the Kurds are clearly one of our few friends in the Middle East, and maybe it is time to look more closely at what an independent or semi-autonomous Kurdistan might look like. This is more feasible considering the improved relationship between Turkey, where the majority of the Kurds live, and various Kurdish political entities.

We asked Larry Martines, our resident expert on the Kurds, to prepare a background paper on the Kurdish situation in view of the changing relationship with Turkey, driven largely by the ISIS advances. Click Here to Download

I think that you will find the attached paper on the Kurds to be of great interest and worth a serious look.


August 7th Forum (Final Reminder)


Radical Islam at War with the World


John Jandali, Lawrence Martines, and Richard Hobbs

The Ramada     Thursday, August 7   9:00 am

The “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIS) emerged as an off-shoot of Al Qaeda (which has disavowed it) and has become one of the major jihadist groups fighting government forces in Syria and Iraq. The militant group has secured significant territorial gains in a surprisingly short period of time, as well as seizing enormous caches of money in the regions it has occupied. ISIS, now known as the Islamic State, is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has proven his talents as a battlefield commander, leading ISIS/IS in taking key Iraqi cities such as Mosul.

This session will bring three experts together to discuss the historical origins of ISIS, its relations with Al Qaeda, its current military strengths and financial resources, and its battlefield successes. They will analyze the nature, mode of operation, and ultimate goals of ISIS, its resources and bases of support, and the challenges it poses to existing regimes in the region. The group will also analyze the movement’s ability to gain popular support, particularly in Sunni areas, as well as its stated objectives in the Arab Middle East (and beyond). Attention will also be given to what the rise of ISIS/IS means for the Kurds (significant shift to separate nation?), Israel, and the West. Finally, they will address the question of what the region would like under an ISIS Khalifa regime

Larry Martines is a retired LE executive and CIA contractor who was involved in both domestic and international counter terrorism investigations. He was also a member of a RAND Corporation think tank on International Terrorism and has been published in several CT journals and professional LE magazines. Syrian-born Dr. Jandali received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin and taught at both UNR and Wisconsin. More recently, he has spent many years in the restaurant and entertainment business. Col./Dr. Richard Hobbs is a retired combat infantry officer, professor, and businessman. He has worked, taught, and written in the international arena for over fifty-five years, including assignments at the Pentagon, the State Department, and in global operations in the private sector.

Please join us for what will be a very interesting discussion. A full breakfast will be served ($15 Members, $25 Non-Members, and $10 for students with ID and military personnel in uniform; free for WWII veterans). We recommend that you arrive by 8:30 to enjoy some breakfast, coffee and conversation.

To RSVP, please click here You may also RSVP e-mailing Just a reminder, after the forum, we will be accepting new and renewal membership applications for the July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015 period. Forms will be available at the forum, though you can also access the application form by clicking here. For your convenience, we accept cash, check and credit card payments for both the breakfast and membership fees.


The National Security Forum presents


 Power and Violence in Iran, Syria & Beyond


With Eliot Assoudeh

PhD Candidate, University of Nevada, Reno

The Ramada, Thursday, January 9, at 9:00 am

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) maintains a major role not only in Iran’s politico-military areas, but is a dominant factor in the economy as well. The Revolutionary Guards oversee the Quds force and its activities in neighboring countries, directs the Basij in domestic oppression, conducts religious indoctrination internally, and owns a significant part of the Iranian economy—including the agro, industrial and military sectors.

How powerful is the IRGC in Iranian politics? Can they sabotage the temporary agreement with the West halting the Iranian nuclear weapons program?  It would seem that while the Guards are enormously powerful, and indeed oppose the nuclear agreement, President Rouhani seems to have the overwhelming support of the populace who want relief from the impact of sanctions, from the incessant propaganda, and from the “national fatigue” after eight years of rule by Mahmoud Ahmandinejad. Can the IRGC and its allies continue to hold the “commanding heights”? Can the U.S. influence events in Iran?

Iranian born Eliot Assoudeh is focusing his research as a PhD candidate on the structures of Iranian political, religious and military elites.

Assoudeh will analyze the current role of the IRGC in Iranian society, the economy, intelligence agencies and the politico-military sectors. A key question will also revolve around the relationships between the IRGC and President Rouhani, and more importantly with the Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Please join us for what will be a very interesting discussion. A full breakfast will be served ($15 Members, $25 Non-Members, and $5 for students with ID; free for WWII veterans), so recommend you arrive by 8:30 to enjoy some coffee and conversation.

Kindly RSVP on our website by clicking here or you may RSVP by phone (775) 746-3222 or email We are also now accepting credit cards at the door for your convenience.


The Islamic Revolutionary Guards



The Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (IRGC), while officially a branch of the Iranian military, has far reaching powers and functions within the Islamic Republic of Iran. The IRGC has a core responsibility of protecting the Islamic establishment, in addition to more traditional military functions such as border security, preventing foreign intrusions, and protection of the national command authorities—especially the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The IRGC is much more than a traditional military service, as Eliot Assoudeh denotes in this perceptive and very informative analysis (attached). Assoudeh demonstrates that the Guards not only rule over the conventional military, but have assumed many key economic and governmental functions in society. The Guards intervene in domestic as well as international affairs without much restriction, and are deeply involved in a wide range of economic activities. Its economic pursuits are so vast that it is regarded as the “third wealthiest organization” in Iran!

The IRGC performs many more ideologically oriented functions in Iranian affairs, including insuring the loyalty of the regular military. It has oversight of the intelligence organizations, maintains the long range missile stockpile, and supports Islamic causes abroad. In addition, it maintains its own ground, aerospace, and naval forces, as well as the paramilitary Basij militia. The Guards also have a primary responsibility to stifle domestic dissent.

In this regard, the future relationship between the Guards and the new Presidency of Rouhani will be of key importance. As Assoudeh notes, the IRGC has expressed strong criticism of the recent conversations that Rouhani had with President Barack Obama.

Iranian born Eliot Assoudeh provides the readers of this Forum with a most interesting overview of the founding and evolution of the Revolutionary Guards, with an emphasis on the expanded role the IRGC has taken in both domestic and foreign affairs. He examines the Guards’ influence in neighboring countries, some of that exercised through its elite Quds Force and its commander, General Soleimani. Now a PhD candidate at the University of Nevada-Reno, Eliot Assoudeh will be a welcome speaker at an upcoming Forum on this topic.

I am certain you enjoy his analysis!

–       Ty

CLICK HERE:  Assoudeh: Iranian Revolutionary Guards

Ty Cobb on a Russian Brokered Agreement with Syria

Why Not Give Russia the Lead?


By Tyrus W. Cobb


Moscow tabled, and the US accepted, a proposal that if the United States were to postpone a planned military strike against Syria, Russia would help broker an agreement in which the Assad regime would place its chemical weapon stocks under UN supervision. The end goal would be the total destruction of the Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles.

Everyone knows the agreement contains a number of challenges that seem daunting. Indeed, even the task of identifying, let alone securing, Syrian chemical weapons in the middle of a war zone appears unreasonable. At some point Syria may even insist on conditions that could collapse the agreement or fail to provide a complete accounting of its weapons.

The punditocracy decried the agreement! Gads, we hear, it gave Moscow a new lead role to play in global politics, perhaps at the detriment of the U.S. Really, tell me how giving Moscow a positive role to play is a bad thing?

We heard that the agreement signed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lacked definitive steps that needed to be accomplished? Au contraire, my friends, it includes a number of concrete actions that need to be taken by Syria.

And guess what? That seems to be happening, and at lightning speed! The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that included legally binding demands, specifically that the Syrian government agree to relinquish its chemical weapons stockpile and that independent inspectors be given unrestricted access. The Lavrov-Kerry accord required that, first, an inventory of Syrian chemical weapons be undertaken, and then, that the Syrian stockpile be placed under international control.

The agreement appears to on track for implementation. Just this week a team of 20 international disarmament experts arrived in Syria, the advance element of the group that is charged with impounding, dismantling, removing or destroying Syria’s CW arsenal. Another team of 20 is slated to arrive shortly to begin dismantling the equipment used to assemble these weapons. This has never happened before, let alone in a war zone.

And this is a black eye for the U.S.? Someone please tell me why.

Moscow takes center stage—and why is this bad?

I am amazed at the speed of events that have occurred since the signing of the Lavrov-Kerry pact, and the responsibility Russia has assumed in the process.  As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius has written, “Russia has been drawn into the process of collecting and destroying Syrian chemical weapons”.

We would be well advised to encourage the continuation of this process, including the elevation of the Kremlin to a key role in the implementation.

The question that arises, of course, is can we trust Moscow to serve as an honest broker and assist in securing an agreement that catalogs and ultimately destroys Assad’s chemical weapons?

Of course no one wants to put full faith and trust in the hands of the Kremlin. In following President Reagan’s dictum, “Trust but Verify”, we will want to verify the implementation of the mandated steps rather than rely on “trust”. With an emphasis on verification.

President Obama’s off-hand characterization recently of Russian President Vladimir Putin as the “angry kid who sits in the back of the classroom throwing spitballs” is most apt. Russia has not been constructive in diffusing international disputes, it has threatened its neighbors, and has exaggerated the intent behind US deployments of a missile defense system.

But maybe part of the reason Moscow has acted so petulant is that it really hasn’t been given any opportunity to play a more positive role. Now it has–Russia has accepted a key role in the process of collecting and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.

No one should be so naïve to think that Moscow has suddenly become an impartial player in the Syrian crisis, or that the Assad regime has warmly welcomed this international intrusion. However, both Moscow and Damascus believe that the threat of a devastating American military strike remains real, which may or may not be the case. But they seem to believe that President Obama will, in fact, order a punitive strike, if chemical weapons are employed again. I certainly hope that he would. And no going to Congress—just do it!

Further, it reflects the conclusion by the Assad regime that from a military standpoint, the employment of chemical weapons really does not alter the course of the tactical struggle. They have minimal military significance.  But they do invoke the passionate ire of the international community when employed! Do they really have any tactical utility? Are they worth keeping? Probably not.

So, critics, tell me what Plan B is

The agreement gave the US some badly needed breathing space after a politically damaging series of shifts by the White House.

President Obama retreated from his initial inclination to immediately attack Syria for crossing the infamous “red line”, employing chemical weapons on its own populace. Then, overriding his closest advisors, the President decided to seek more backing for the strikes from Congress, our allies, and perhaps even the United Nations. None of these alternatives panned out.

Despite initial strong support for a strike, France, Germany, and the UK all retreated in the face of wide-spread parliamentary and public opposition. Backing from the Sunni Arab nations proved equally ephemeral, quickly dissipating from a call for action to reservations over any western military intervention. Finally, any hopes of securing UN backing in the face of likely Russian and Chinese opposition was abandoned.

More importantly, domestic US public opinion swayed decisively to the side of non-intervention. Most Americans—and those in Congress– just want the issue to go away

Without a realistic alternative, the U.S. should support implementation of the agreement

In reality, here is where we are. First, President Obama has little support from any constituency for a strike on Syria. Second, President Assad still maintains control over considerable stocks of chemical weapons. Further, his hold on power seems only to have been strengthened over the past year, thanks to the intervention of the Iranian Quds Force and by Hezbollah. Third, the rebel coalition itself is wracked by serious internal fractionalization and is losing ground. More worrisome is that it is increasingly dominated by elements associated with Al-Qaeda and other radical Sunni groups.

In the end, the Russian brokered agreement that is intended to remove chemical weapons from Syria may fail. The Assad regime may remain in power despite US efforts to see him removed. But the prospects for a transition to a representative democracy in Syria does not seem promising, certainly no more so than it was in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Egypt.

So I ask again, if you “don’t trust Russia” and believe that the agreement only buys time and space for Assad, then what is your preferred alternative?

I doubt you have one.

In this light, I recommend that we give support to the Russian brokered agreement and see where it leads. If the demilitarization of Syrian chemical weapons succeeds against the obvious odds, then that would have the added value not only of securing this horrific arsenal, but would have the added benefit of bringing Russia into playing a more positive role on the world stage.


Dr. Tyrus W. Cobb served as Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan for National Security Affairs, and as Director of Soviet, European and Canadian Affairs on the NSC.