Sunday 16 May 2021 | 05:48 | SYDNEY
People | experts Rodger Shanahan
Research Fellow, West Asia Program
Lowy Institute
Areas of ExpertiseMiddle East security issues; Political Islam; Shi’a Islam

Syria: Canada sensible independence

I like the independence of Canadian policy in the Middle East on some big issues. Exhibit A has to be the decision to refuse to join the US-led invasion of Iraq. Canadian independence of action is once again on display over the question of Syria. When President Obama gave the Syrian opposition

Bahrain and the 'Australian pledge'

Australia (and in particular Labor icon Herbert Vere Evatt) was instrumental in drafting key elements of the source documents for the UN, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So it would be interesting to know what Doc Evatt would make of contemporary Australian attitudes to human

First Israel, then Iran, then...

While I agree that a nuclear-capable Iran may not be the world-ending scenario that some postulate (it depends on which side of the sword vs shield argument you take), I would add to the doubts expressed by Stephen Walt about Sam Roggeveen's case for Middle Eastern nuclear disarmament. Sam sees 

Syria: The clouds darken for Assad

The focus on Gaza over the last two weeks shifted the spotlight away from Syria, but for those still watching, the momentum appears to be shifting towards the rebels.  The opposition appears to have redoubled its military and political efforts over the past few weeks. It is no coincidence that

New Syria opposition credible but shaky

Yesterday's announcement from Qatar that the disparate Syrian opposition has united to a degree previously unseen is replete with possibilities. But it's easy to get carried away with the deal at such an early stage, and I think it is too early to describe it, as one diplomat did, as having crossed

Bob Carr Arab democracy conundrum

Australia's successful ascent to the UN Security Council will require it to address issues it had previously been happy to simply let pass by. One of these is the increasingly hypocritical attitude Western states have adopted towards democratisation in the Middle East.  While I was taught many

Syria: How not to cut the Gordian knot

If any more evidence was needed about the difficulty of finding a solution to the ongoing fighting in Syria, then the last few weeks have provided some excellent examples.  For Assad's backers such as Iran, the situation is pretty straightforward.  Provide the core government forces with weapons,

Netanyahu: The PM who cried wolf

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the UN General Assembly last week, which set a red line for Iranian nuclear capability using a prop that appeared to be straight out of the Warner Brothers graphic design department, provided Israeli satirists with plenty of ammunition. The

Iran-US: Two 'exceptional' enemies

Jerry Nockles' excellent post on American exceptionalism gives an insight into the way the US perceives its role in the world. And in his selection of quotes from contemporary US politicians, the degree to which they pay homage to this concept shows that it remains a real issue. The inevitable

The Arab Spring needs statesmen

In an opinion piece in The Australian, Lowy Institute Non-resident Fellow Dr Rodger Shanahan writes that there is an opportunity for nascent Arab democracies' leaders to exhibit some real leadership

Where are the Arab statesmen?

A little over three years ago, President Obama gave a much anticipated speech in the hall of Cairo University that was titled 'A New Beginning'. It was designed to signal a break from the confrontational approach to the region adopted by the Bush Administration, and followed on from a Persian New

Iran: NAM, bam, thank you ma'am

It is sometimes said that the thing Iran hates most is being ignored. Iran\'s view of itself as a country of stature, with a rich culture and history of artistic and literary endeavour, demands attention. Which is why this week\'s hosting by Tehran of the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (

Syria: Who are the good guys again?

The air is thick with the stench of hypocrisy over Syria. For a country whose own politicians often refer to it as \'The City Upon a Hill\' for its role as a moral exemplar, the US risks losing what remains of its moral authority in the Middle East through its hypocritical policy in Syria. Perhaps

Australia uses China policy on UAE

If our relations with China have taught us one thing, it is that politics is politics and business is business. This means that the economic benefits of a close relationship with a rich partner might necessitate skipping over such unpleasantness as autocratic rule and the odd human rights abuse

Lies, damn lies and Syria

You know your credibility is seriously in doubt when you have to rely on the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) for accurate information. When French cameraman Gilles Jacquier was killed in Homs in January, SANA was quick to blame rebel mortar fire while the Syrian National Council blamed the

Syria: Can Assad suppress the panic?

This week\'s events in Damascus have struck at the heart of the regime, both mentally and physically. The deaths of the security officials overnight are raising some questions: why hasn\'t President Assad appeared on state TV to speak to the people? Did last night\'s assassinations occur as was

Syria: Bob Carr rush to judgment

It would be nice to believe that the entirely abhorrent Assad regime in Syria is being opposed by a group of morally upright freedom fighters rigorously observing the rules of war. The reality is otherwise. While Syria has been a ruthless mukhabarat state for decades, the fact that the regime has

Real power behind Tehran tirades

In an opinion piece in The Australian, Lowy Institute Non-resident Fellow Dr Rodger Shanahan writes that wiser men behind the Iranian President will keep his finger off the nuclear button

Syria opposition: Death and squabbles

If the US has learnt one thing from its experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that putting a country back together is much harder than tearing the it apart. Which is why Washington is much less keen to tear down Syria\'s Ba\'thist regime until there is at least some semblance of a plan

Syria: It all in the wording

One could be forgiven for thinking that an agreement had been hammered out and that international unity had triumphed over regional rivalries in the wake of the recent Geneva conference on Syria. Our own ABC announced that \'an international deal had been reached on peace for Syria\', while The

Iran: Shi'a Islam, Eagles and puffer fish

Contemplating the nature of Iranian religiosity as I visited the Iranian shrine cities of Mashad (top photo) and Qum (lower photo) this past week proved more difficult than I had imagined. Whether it was the pulse of the sub-woofer in my right ear as the taxi driver turned up the volume on \'

What makes Iranians tick?

In grand debates about foreign policy, we concentrate on leaders but often lose sight of the people and of what constitutes the \'national psyche\'. Yet understanding the national psyche tells us a lot about the formulation of a state\'s policy and what impact certain actions may have. 

Saudi money and Syrian frogs

Once again, in the space of a day, Lebanon has provided the glorious contrasts and inconsistencies that make it such a compelling and yet frustrating place to research, visit, or have any contact with.  During lunch at a lovely seaside restaurant in Beirut on a lazy summer Saturday afternoon

Syria and the sectarian question

I\'m in Beirut on a research trip and, despite all of the turmoil surrounding it, Lebanon remains an island of relative calm. I was last here a year ago, when Syria was grappling with the emerging insurgency. And whereas much of the Lebanese Shi\'a community then saw the fall of the Assad

Syria horror exposes West inability to protect the innocent

In an opinion piece in The Australian, Dr Rodger Shanahan, Non-resident Fellow at the Lowy Institute, argues that countries like Australia who are loud advocates of R2P in relatively straightforward circumstances need to be equally as vocal in dealing with difficult situations such as Syria.The

R2P, Syria and the real world

I hate taking the apparent position of R2P naysayer because I think the concept is a moral, even noble, one. But the world is full of ignoble individuals and nation-states are driven by realpolitik as much, if not more, than they are by multilateral nobility. Which is why, with very few exceptions,

Situation dire as Al Qaeda rises in Yemen

In an opinion piece for The Drum, Dr Rodger Shanahan writes that if anyone ever needed a reminder that relying on technology to fight a war can achieve tactical successes while strategic failure threatens, Yemen has provided such a reminder this week.The Drum, 10 May 2012

Al Qaeda makes gains in Yemen

While the West congratulates itself on two Yemen-related counter-terrorism successes — the alleged foiling of a sophisticated bomb plot against an airliner and the killing by drone strike of Fahd al-Quso, one of the architects of the 2000 USS Cole bombing — the security

Syrian conflict enters Lebanon phase

Syria appears to be entering a new phase in its insurgency. And this one is taking the uprising further away from a simple question of political reform and toward what is looking increasingly like the early stages of a Lebanese-style civil war.  All the ingredients are there: sectarian

Where there a will, there insurance

One of the EU\'s successes in its tougher sanctions on Iran has been the extension of the ban to shipping insurance, more than 90% of which is controlled through Europe. Without being able to insure ships carrying Iranian oil, shipping owners are naturally reluctant to take the risk of an

Why so many JSFs, subs?

In his most recent Lowy lecture, Alan Dupont advocated a re-evaluation of the need for 12 submarines and 100 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) in light of the economic and strategic circumstances Defence is likely to face. His argument was not that there was no need for these hugely

The brief bloom of Arab multilateralism

If anyone thought the Arab League had finally been able to \'get it together\' and become an effective multilateral body, as some posited following its endorsement of military action against Libya and its imposition of sanctions against Syria, they should think again.  The Arab

One size does not fit every Arab Spring

In an opinion piece in The Australian, Lowy Institute Non-resident Fellow Rodger Shanahan writes that a united front by the world in response to Syria is by no means easy to achieve.The Australian, 8 February 2012, p. 10

Syria: If not Bashar, then whom?

For all the talk of replacing the Ba\'thist regime, there is only so much that can be done to force a change of leadership when that very regime has ensured that no opposition of any consequence has been allowed to develop. The result has been plain: a rather amorphous, lightly-armed opposition that

Suppose Iran held an election and nobody came?

The problem with the Middle East is not a lack of voting; even Saudi Arabia had a vote for (some) municipal council seats in 2005. The problem is that the votes rarely mean anything.  Amid the fighting in Syria, voters are going to the polls to vote in a referendum that President

India: The weakest link?

While no economic sanctions regime can ever be watertight, the ones enacted against Iran have been well targeted and undoubtedly have caused pain. But the problem with unilateral action, or multilateral action without UN agreement, is that the impact of sanctions dissipates as states assert

Syria: United we stand, divided they fall

The Assad survival strategy has always been to hang tough and hope that circumstances change around you. While this has worked in the past, the world in which Bashar operates is much changed from that of his father, and the unprecedented opposition the Syrian Government now faces is

Riyadh Syria policy: It personal

Saudi Arabia, taken by surprise by the early casualties of the Arab Spring, has now adapted and become convinced that regime change can be a good thing, so long as it removes your enemies and not your friends. Saudi Arabia has adopted the most hawkish of stances against the Assad regime during the

Fayrouz sings Jingle Bells

For a bit of Christmas and Middle East thrown together, here\'s Jingle Bells being sung in Arabic by Fayrouz, perhaps the most famous female Arab singer alive: (H/t Middle East Institute blog

Iran on America borders (no, really)

America\'s containment strategy against the Soviet Union during the Cold War was a remarkable success. Indeed, so successful was it that it is being reprised with respect to Iran. Tehran must feel almost claustrophobic, as this little map from Juan Cole\'s blog illustrates (stars represent US

The intelligence risk of downed drones

There is a sense that the use of drones is risk-free warfare, given that humans are no longer in the cockpit. But as last week\'s capture by the Iranians of a US RQ-170 Sentinel shows, there are some downsides to drone warfare that don\'t exist (or at least, not to the same extent) for manned

Iran gets room to manoeuvre in phantom war

In an opinion piece in The Australian, Lowy Institute Non-resident Fellow Dr Rodger Shanahan argues that US pullouts from Iraq and Afghanistan may boost Tehran's influence.The Australian, 8 December 2011, p. 8

Islam straining at the seams

Context is everything. So it is worth pausing for a moment to understand some of the elements that influence the minds of politicised Shi\'a in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and elsewhere. Just as many in the Sunni world harbour a deep dislike of the Shi\'a as dissenters from \'orthodox\' Islam

Who likes Damascus?

With the sanctions noose closing ever more tightly around the neck of the Assad regime, it is remarkable that Damascus can count on any support from its fellow Arab states. But even when the Arab League voted last week to impose sanctions on Syria, it was not unanimous. Two of Syria\'s three

Drones not just for the good guys

Reading the series of posts about the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, I couldn\'t help but think that it betrayed a degree of cultural superiority, with discussion centred on coalition strikes in Pakistan/Afghanistan against ideologically committed but