Friday 23 Aug 2019 | 23:04 | SYDNEY
What's happening on
Rodger Shanahan's picture
People | experts Rodger Shanahan
Research Fellow, West Asia Program
Lowy Institute
Rodger Shanahan's picture
Areas of ExpertiseMiddle East security issues; Political Islam; Shi’a Islam

Syria: Vote 1 Bashar

Despite everyone telling him that he's got to go, Syria's President Bashar Assad has been steadfast in his refusal to do so, claiming that the only ones who can tell him it's time to leave are the Syrian people. They will get their chance in the presidential elections slated for mid-2014, which he

Talking to Iran is good, right?

It is right to be cautious about Iran's post-Ahmadinejad willingness to negotiate on the nuclear issue. And while a combination of the sanctions regime and the election of Hassan Rouhani as president has enabled negotiations to occur, the West should be alert to where Iran sees itself positioned

Iran: Rouhani's dance of the seven veils

Just as the dance of the seven veils was designed to gradually reveal the performer, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been doing the same in a political sense. There has been the release of some political prisoners in his first month in office, the appointment of technocrats to cabinet and of a

Syria: (Nearly) everyone's a winner

There is a yawning chasm between the hope of eliminating all of Syria's CW and the practicalities of achieving it. Still, the idea that a state could renounce the use of such weapons and allow them to be destroyed proved too tantalising for the US and Russia to pass up. As with any political

Syria: Hypocritical pragmatism

The downside of taking sides in the Middle East is that democratic states which value individual freedom often need to ally themselves with undemocratic states against other undemocratic states. It also means that the occasionally selective adherence to international norms is publicly highlighted.

Syria: Baddies vs baddies

I am on the record as saying that I think punitive strikes to dissuade Assad from the future use of chemical munitions is the best of a bad lot of policy options. The problem is going to be how much force is too much. A worse outcome than leaving the chemical attacks unpunished could well be to

Syria: Ready, aim...wait a minute

To say that Saturday's White House decision to delay a military strike on Syrian targets in order to seek Congressional approval was unexpected would be an understatement. But when you are the commander-in-chief of a very powerful military and the political leader of a democratic country that is at

Obama's Syria problems just get worse

For all the talk of his need to exhibit global leadership in responding to allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian Government, it is sometimes easy to forget that President Obama is elected by a domestic constituency whose views need to be taken into account. As a second-term president,

Syria: Chemical weapons and Obama's 'red line'

Following claims of an Assad regime chemical weapons attack in Syria, calls are intensifying (particularly in France) for something to be done in response. Certainly US social media is intimating that moves are afoot to take some form of limited military action. There is of course the small

Manning and Snowden: Traitors or whistleblowers?

I find this debate nonsensical. In one case a uniformed soldier downloaded a raft of classified information and gave it to a non-government organisation. The Guardian refers to Manning as a whistleblower, and Crikey does likewise, even calling him a hero. Paul McGeogh went so far as to describe

The Anglosphere and the Ashes

Much has been made of the defence and security aspects of the Anglosphere and the other commonalities that bind us together. But within the Anglosphere there is one aspect of the relationship that is both so endearingly anachronistic and so politically incorrect that it is interesting it has stood

Syrian tit-for-tat in Lebanon

Although Hizbullah forces have been active in Syria for a long time, they had largely been confined to training and advisory roles, usually under the cover of protecting the Sayyida Zainab shrine in Damascus or Lebanese Shi'a villages which, by some quirk of cartography, were actually within Syrian

Gulf states: The money or the vote?

As political unrest and violence hits much of the Arab world, the Gulf states (with the exception of Bahrain) have been able to sit back more or less serenely and use their immense wealth to stave off any serious calls for political reform. This week it was reported that the Saudi Government had

Hugh White's Middle East doesn't exist

I really enjoy reading Hugh White's work on regional security, but as a Middle East analyst, he makes a good China pundit. While I agree with Hugh that these are troubled times, the Middle East is hardly in the process of disintegrating. Hugh's view that modern state structures are collapsing is

Syria: West takes sides in sectarian war

In 1968 a US Army major said of the attack on Ben Tre that 'It became necessary to destroy the town to save it'. Whatever the accuracy of the quote, it summed up well the popular perception that the US in Vietnam had lost sight of the value of human life, and thought only in terms of short-term

Syria: It's the ground war, stupid

The Syrian civil war is a land battle. Comparisons with Libya and talk of no-fly zones (NFZ) as some kind of low-risk game changer ignore this fact. As the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted recently, 90% of the casualties inflicted by the regime (and 100% of those killed by the

Rouhani: The style/substance divide

Hassan Rouhani's first-round success in the Iranian elections has sent an strong message to the regime. On the face of it, the process went well. Having ensured that the list of candidates was not going to offer any existential threat to the system, Ayatollah Khamenei needed to ensure that this

Advice to McCain on Syria: Trust no one

It sounded so perfect. The hawkish Republican war hero John McCain visiting rebel-held Syrian territory to show the locals that not all US politicians are lily-livered liberals who have doubts about arming the Syrian freedom fighters. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which McCain is a

Syria: Hizbullah's line in the sand

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's speech on Sunday (which the Iranians would have you believe was watched by Obama live) merely formalised what everyone has known for a while now: Hizbullah and its chief sponsor Iran no longer believe Assad is a lost cause. During my recent trip to

Eight is enough: Iran's elections

Iran's Guardian Council has stayed true to form, rejecting the vast majority of the 600 candidates who nominated to run in next month's presidential elections and approving just eight. The most contentious refusal was that of the former two-term president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who held the

Syria: A week is a long time

In order to make any sense of a conflict it is necessary to take the long view; snapshots at any particular time can skew one's perspective. But having said that, this week has been of particular interest for Syria watchers because of the range of issues raised, all of which further illustrate why

Talks are only Syrian solution

In an opinion piece in The Australian, Rodger Shanahan write that US Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Russia and the subsequent announcement of a peace conference to be attended by Assad government officials and opposition members is a welcome chink of light in an otherwise bleak outlook

Iran elections: Rise of the guardians

Given Australia's unofficial nine-month long election campaign, it is worth noting that, six weeks out from the Iranian presidential election, the names of the candidates are not even known yet. Registration of presidential candidates was conducted between 9-11 May, at which point the Guardians

Syria: Claims, damned claims and reality

I wrote previously about the philosophical reluctance of President Obama to use US power unless key US interests were at stake. Martin Indyk's excellent talk at the Lowy Institute last Thursday gave us more insight into the way Obama views the Middle East in general, and Syria in particular. It

The politician as painter

Sam Roggeveen's post raises an interesting question as to whether George W Bush would have been more inquisitive (and hence made better decisions) if he had taken up painting before his presidency. The argument being that the painter's need to determine perspective is a good grounding for looking

All who went ashore at Gallipoli

In response to Robert Lewis' Reader Riposte about my criticism of the Department of Veterans' Affairs' website: I did go to the website before I wrote the post, and the words written there are as I noted. The site refers to those who 'went ashore at the Gallipoli Peninsula', of which Cape


I enjoy ANZAC Day as much as the next person. Dawn service is great, a few beers and tall tales even better. And I am the first to acknowledge how bloody good Australian soldiers are, having been one.  But at least I also acknowledge that perhaps other countries have played pretty big roles in

Syria and the Obama Doctrine

My colleague Anthony Bubalo has taken President Obama to task for failing to put his political-diplomatic shoulder to the wheel in seeking a resolution to the Syria crisis. It is fair criticism. There is an overwhelming focus in the Middle East on the need for some type of US-led military

Qatar: The mouse that thinks it's a lion

Five years ago I wrote a post outlining how Qatar was using its wealth to act as a regional mediator, raising its profile and as a consequence ruffling the feathers of some of its neighbours. During my current trip to the region, a recurring theme has been the widespread view that Qatar is no

How popular is Bashar Assad?

This is, on the face of it, a silly question. Popular wisdom, fueled by an aggressive media campaign by Gulf-owned media outlets, journalist embeds with rebel forces and opposition social media outlets have dominated the discourse on Syria.  Regime paranoia and intransigence has limited any

Australia in Iraq: The Ostrich approach

I'm in the Middle East doing research for a forthcoming paper on Syria that I'm writing with my colleague Anthony Bubalo. My early impression is that there appears to be a complete absence of rational (let alone unified) policy views about what anybody wants or believes will be the case 'the day

Syria's war: Extremist proving ground

The consequences of the Syrian civil war are going to be felt for years to come, even outside the immediate region. The longer the Syrian civil war has continued, the less appealing the armed opposition has become. A large part of the problem has been that, despite claims of a unified military

Iraq: (Neo) conservative estimates

As Matt Cavanaugh points out in his response to my post, the difficulty in determining civilian casualties in any conflict (including Iraq) is enormous. My point was that Jim Molan had made an assertion that violence was worse under Saddam without a reference point, no feel for what the

Iraq violence appalling by any standard

I admire Jim Molan for his dynamism and command experience, however I was left scratching my head over his pronouncements regarding the legacy of violence that Iraq suffers from ten years after the invasion.  When he claimed that 'the violence in Iraq today is far less than during Saddam's time,

Bob Carr's selective indignation

Violence happens around the world each and every day. Sometimes it gets reported in the media, and on special occasions it is deemed worthy of official condemnation. No government has time to condemn each and every action, so the incidents they do condemn should have some resonance with the

Iran: Suspicious minds

One thing every thinking person should have learnt from the Iraq intelligence debacle was to treat claims of state support for external armed groups with caution (see Wikipedia for a run-down of debunked allegations that Saddam's regime supported al Qaeda). Some simple questions about the sourcing

New pope's global spiritual empire

With Pope Benedict announcing his retirement, all eyes turn towards his successor. The position of pope carries with it enormous power, for he is in effect an autocrat ruling over a global spiritual empire that is as heavily bureaucratised as any temporal empire ever was. Some articles talk of the

The Syrian deadlock (part 2)

Part 1 of this series, which focuses on the political aspect of the conflict, is here. Part 2 looks at the military dimension. Civil wars are never clean wars (if there is such a thing), and the Syria conflict has proven no exception. It is reminiscent in some ways of the Lebanese civil war in

The Syrian deadlock (part 1)

The second anniversary of the Syrian civil war is looming and the political and military situation remains deadlocked. The Assad regime's superiority in conventional weapons has meant that, while government forces have ceded ground, they have denied the rebel groups control over any of the main

Iran and the cyber Cold War

Concerns over Iran's nuclear program, proven support for Shi'a groups in Lebanon and Iraq, support for the Assad regime in Syria and alleged support for just about every other opposition group in the region will ensure that, just as in 2012, Iran will continue to feature as the main security focus