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Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category

Top Five Washington Assumptions on Mideast that Are not True

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Andrew Bacevich writes at Informed Comment:

“Iraq no longer exists.” My young friend M, sipping a cappuccino, is deadly serious. We are sitting in a scruffy restaurant across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  It’s been years since we’ve last seen each another. It may be years before our paths cross again. As if to drive his point home, M repeats himself: “Iraq just doesn’t exist.”

His is an opinion grounded in experience.  As an enlisted soldier, he completed two Iraq tours, serving as a member of a rifle company, before and during the famous Petraeus “surge.”  After separating from the Army, he went on to graduate school where he is now writing a dissertation on insurgencies.  Choosing the American war in Iraq as one of his cases, M has returned there to continue his research.  Indeed, he was heading back again that very evening.  As a researcher, his perch provides him with an excellent vantage point for taking stock of the ongoing crisis, now that the Islamic State, or IS, has made it impossible for Americans to sustain the pretense that the Iraq War ever ended.

Few in Washington would endorse M’s assertion, of course.  Inside the Beltway, policymakers, politicians, and pundits take Iraq’s existence for granted.  Many can even locate it on a map.  They also take for granted the proposition that it is incumbent upon the United States to preserve that existence.  To paraphrase Chris Hedges, for a certain group of Americans, Iraq is the cause that gives life meaning. For the military-industrial complex, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Considered from this perspective, the “Iraqi government” actually governs, the “Iraqi army” is a nationally representative fighting force, and the “Iraqi people” genuinely see themselves as constituting a community with a shared past and an imaginable future.

Arguably, each of these propositions once contained a modicum of truth.  But when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and, as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell predicted, broke the place, any merit they previously possessed quickly dissipated.  Years of effort by American occupiers intent on creating a new Iraq out of the ruins of the old produced little of value and next to nothing that has lasted.  Yet even today, in Washington the conviction persists that trying harder might somehow turn things around.  Certainly, that conviction informs the renewed U.S. military intervention prompted by the rise of IS.

So when David Ignatius, a well-informed and normally sober columnist for the Washington Post, reflects on what the United States must do to get Iraq War 3.0 right, he offers this “mental checklist”: in Baghdad, the U.S. should foster a “cleaner, less sectarian government”; to ensure security, we will have to “rebuild the military”; and to end internal factionalism, we’re going to have to find ways to “win Kurdish support” and “rebuild trust with Sunnis.”  Ignatius does not pretend that any of this will be easy.  He merely argues that it must be — and by implication can be — done.  Unlike my friend M, Ignatius clings to the fantasy that “Iraq” is or ought to be politically viable, militarily capable, and socially cohesive.  But surely this qualifies as wishful thinking.

The value of M’s insight — of, that is, otherwise intelligent people purporting to believe in things that don’t exist — can be applied well beyond American assumptions about Iraq.  A similar inclination to fanaticize permeates, and thereby warps, U.S. policies throughout much of the Greater Middle East.  Consider the following claims, each of which in Washington circles has attained quasi-canonical status.

* The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.

* The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.

* Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.

* The interests of the United States and Israel align.

* Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.

Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up.  To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy — or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the upcoming Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.

Let’s examine all five, one at a time. . .

Continue reading. He effectively demolishes each of the claims as a pernicious pipe dream.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2014 at 3:06 pm

Wow! Great column carefully explaining what’s going on (and why) in Saudi Arabia

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You seldom see such a good summary. And it comes from a good source:

Toby Matthiesen is a research fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. He is the author of The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism, which outlines the history of political movements among the Shiites of Saudi Arabia and their relationship with the Saudi state. It will be published by Cambridge University Press in January 2015.

He writes in the Washington Post:

On Oct. 15, Nimr al-Nimr, a Saudi Arabian Shiite cleric, was sentenced to death by the Special Criminal Court in Riyadh. Since 2011, Nimr has become the figurehead of a protest movement centered in eastern Saudi Arabia that has been largely denied coverage by mainstream media. The sentencing has implications far beyond Nimr’s personal fate. The Saudi crackdown is important because it has set a precedent for how the kingdom deals with political dissent and not just because it is another example of Saudi anti-Shiism.

The timing of the sentence is puzzling. Saudi decision-making works in myriad ways. Some observers feel that Nimr’s death sentence is intended to show the Sunni population that alongside a number of long prison sentences issued against Sunnis who had supported Islamic State militants or al-Qaeda, the government is also being tough on Shiites. But this sectarian logic only further entrenches divisions and hostilities that have fueled the rise of extremist Islamic groups and the regional sectarian war.

The Saudi-sponsored doctrinal and strategic anti-Shiism has recently backfired at home, too. On Nov. 3, one day before Ashura, one of the holiest days in the Shiite Muslim calendar, Sunni militants opened fire on a crowd leaving a Shiite prayer hall in the al-Ahsa oasis in eastern Saudi Arabia. Several Shiites were killed, including a number of minors, and scores wounded. While the Shiites in Saudi Arabia experience institutional and religious discrimination, the state’s security forces had hitherto protected them against attacks by Sunni militants. Al-Qaeda and its various offshoots had for years planned attacks on Shiites in the Eastern Province, aiming to increase sectarian tensions in the kingdom and possibly provoke armed retaliation from the Shiites. Several such plots, including one believed to have been targeting senior Shiite cleric Hassan al-Saffar, were foiled in the past.

All official organs of the state, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2014 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Interesting Israeli idea: Punish the parents of criminals

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I wonder if this will catch on in the US. Jodi Rudoren reports in the NY Times:

Moving ahead with a revival of a controversial policy suspended a decade ago, Israeli security forces early Wednesday demolished the East Jerusalem family home of a Palestinian man who plowed his car into pedestrians last month, killing a baby and a young woman.

Inas al-Shaloudy, the mother of the driver, Abdel Rahman al-Shaloudy, said border police officers arrived “in large numbers” on Wednesday at 1 a.m. and evacuated about 50 people from her five-story building and nearby structures. Huddled with the group in a protest tent, she said she heard an explosion at 4 a.m. and returned an hour later to find her apartment filled with broken glass, its inner walls destroyed, and those of her neighbors cracked.

“This is not only collective punishment, it is a call for a violent reaction,” said Ms. Shaloudy, 43, who teaches English.

Israel sealed or destroyed the homes this summer of four other Palestinians who killed Jews, and did so twice in 2009, after halting the widespread practice in 2005 when a commission found that it rarely worked as a deterrent and instead inflamed hostility.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vowed to renew the policy as part of a wider crackdown following a wave of deadly attacks over the last month, the latest killing four worshipers and a police officer at a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday. . .

Continue reading.

Is Israel capable of not over-reacting? Destroying people’s homes—people who committed no crime other than being Palestinian—is not going to bring peace, but it is increasingly obvious that Israel is not interested in peace: it wants Palestinian lands, and it wants to get rid of the Palestinians.

I condemn the recent attacks by Palestinians—but in response to destroy the apartment of the man’s mother? What are they thinking? How is that just?

Maybe they think this sort of action will deter attacks. I would say it is more likely to encourage attacks.

UPDATE: OTOH, will Israel security forces will totally destroy the apartments of the mothers of the three Jews who burned a Palestinian boy alive? I somehow doubt it. In Israel, the line between Chosen People and Master Race grows increasingly blurred.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2014 at 10:29 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Israel’s Ban on Norwegian Humanitarian Dr. in Gaza spells ‘trouble for gov’t’

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Once governments start hiding from public view what they are doing, the nation is on a downward path. Sunlight really is the best defense against oppressive government—and one clear danger sign in the US is the increasing secret activity of the government and the vicious persecution of whistleblowers.

Juan Cole notes:

RT reports –

“Israel has permanently banned Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert from entering Gaza. He told RT that he has become “a great problem for the Israeli government” because he documents the atrocities he sees in Palestine.”

 

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2014 at 8:08 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

The Slim Fast Billionaire and the Scandal-Plagued Former Israeli Prime Minister

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Fascinating look at how money travels along the corridors of power. Uri Blau writes in Pacific Standard:

An American foundation paid a firm owned by Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, $1.25 million for “consulting” services, U.S. tax records show. The money was transferred to Olmert’s company in 2012 and 2013, years in which Israeli authorities were prosecuting Olmert for bribery, tax evasion, and fraud.

The private foundation is funded by S. Daniel Abraham, the 90-year-old billionaire and founder of the company that created the Slim Fast diet products. It sponsors the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, a Washington-based institute. Under U.S. tax law, Abraham is entitled to take a deduction from his personal returns of the $5 million he gave the foundation over those years.

That means U.S. taxpayers subsidized Abraham’s payments to the former prime minister’s company.

The foundation’s tax returns did not describe the scope and purpose of the consulting, but a spokesman for the center said it had “engaged Olmert to promote its mission of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict by speaking before influential audiences at distinguished institutions throughout the United States.”

It is not clear how many lectures Olmert delivered. The spokesman named 10 institutions and organizations, which would work out to $125,000 per speech.

They were: Stanford University; Columbia University Law School; the 92nd Street Y, The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Council on Foreign Relations (all in New York City); The United States Institute of Peace; The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; The McCain Institute for International Leadership; the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (all in Washington, D.C.); and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Amir Dan, a spokesman for Olmert, declined to elaborate or say whether the consulting services went beyond the speeches. “Mr. Olmert is a citizen and an owner of a consulting firm. He files the reports on the company businesses to the authorities.”

Olmert became Israel’s prime minister in May of 2006 after Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke and was incapacitated. Olmert resigned from office in 2009 to defend himself against a spate of corruption charges arising from both his years as mayor of Jerusalem and his tenure in the Israeli cabinet. He was acquitted of some charges but was sentenced to six years in prison earlier this year after he was found guilty of accepting bribes while mayor.

Prosecutors appealed his conviction and the Israeli Supreme Court ordered Olmert to return to court to face additional corruption charges.

That trial opened at the beginning of September. On Monday, November 3, the court heard testimony from Shula Zaken, a former aide to Olmert who had not previously cooperated with prosecutors.

Earlier this year, Olmert was interrogated by Israeli police about whether he had arranged for Abraham to pay $50,000 to Zaken for her legal fees. Olmert denied organizing that payment but confirmed he was aware of it, saying, “I knew about it and gave my blessing to it. I am not trying to distance myself from this.”

Abraham is best known for introducing the world to Slim Fast diet products almost 40 years ago. Forbes valued his fortune at $2 billion. He is a philanthropist who supports educational programs both in the U.S. and in Israel. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2014 at 9:28 am

Starving Gazans of Protein: Israeli Navy destroys Palestinian Fishing Boat

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I don’t really see this action as “defending Israel.” It seems more aimed at killing Gazans, part of the ethnic cleansing that Israel seems to have embarked upon.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2014 at 11:50 am

Israel continues its unremitting aggression again Palestinians

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Two posts by Juan Cole at Informed Comment are well worth reading with respect to peace prospects in the Mideast. It is clear that Israel has zero interest in a peaceful solution and have abandoned that approach:

Netanyahu Calls for Stripping Palestinian-Israelis of Citizenship – The column begins:

On Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he was looking into whether Israel could strip citizenship from those who speak out against the continued statelessness of the Palestinians. (There are millions of stateless Palestinians outside Israel.

Netanyahu began his political career as a far-right Likud politician calling for the forced deportation of the 20% of the Israeli population that is of Palestinian heritage. He said Sunday,

“Israel is a nation of law. We will not tolerate disturbances and rioting. We will act against those who throw stones, block roads and call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of the State of Israel. Whoever does not honor Israeli law will be punished with utmost severity. I will instruct the Interior Minister to evaluate revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu’s remarks were made in the context of Palestinian-Israeli demonstrations in Kafr Kanna inside Israel, over a Ferguson, Mo., sort of incident. Police shot dead a 22 year old man whom they accuse of menacing them (videotape does not support the police story).

So this would be as though at the height of the Ferguson controversy, US leaders had threatened African-Americans with being declared stateless and being deported if they did not fall silent. . .

In Creeping Annexaton, Israel Plots to Apply Israeli Law in Palestinian West Bank -

Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said Sunday that a proposed Knesset bill to apply Israeli laws to West Bank settlements was dangerous and aimed to eventually annex the territory.

“The (Palestinian) Authority completely opposes applying the Israeli law to settlements in the West Bank because this creates a political context where these settlements become a part of Israel,” Shaath said.

“Israel is disregarding all international pressure and carries on with its occupation projects.

“Palestinians are suffering since the Camp David agreement with Egypt in 1979, especially in the West Bank as Israel has kept us under temporary measures and autonomy.

“They are stealing the land, water, materials, and all natural resources in the West Bank”, he added.

Israeli media reported Sunday that an Israeli ministerial committee on legislation approved a proposed bill that would apply all laws passed by the Knesset to the settlements. . .

UPDATE: Another story, though the Gazans not this time the target.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2014 at 11:05 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

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