Skip to main content

Home/ International Politics of the Middle East/ Group items tagged Brookings Institution

Rss Feed Group items tagged

Ed Webb

Trump tightens the screws on Iran's oil - 0 views

  • the White House is embarking on an economic offensive intended to collapse the Iranian government, which is already contending with a steady tempo of internal unrest driven by economic and political frustrations
  • Those who have lamented Obama’s restraint in the Middle East will now have another taste of its antithesis: the purposeful American disruption of the status quo underpinned by the assumption that things can only get better. Unfortunately, that rarely holds true in the Middle East
  • It’s not just oil: U.S. sanctions will be felt across every aspect of the Iranian economy, although in theory, agricultural products, medicines, and medical devices are exempted. In practice, the repercussions are sweeping and unpredictable
  • ...6 more annotations...
  • This time around, Washington has chosen to go it alone on Iran, after an intense but ultimately fruitless effort by Britain, France, and Germany to devise a compromise to save the nuclear deal. That awkward episode, in which the president appeared wholly uninformed about the talks, was a feature, not a bug; spurning compromise is the modus operandi for U.S. policy toward Iran, as the latest U.S. statements ruling out sanctions waivers or exemptions make clear.
  • without the reinforcement of multilateral measures or broad diplomatic support, the Trump administration is deploying U.S. sanctions on Iran as a bludgeon rather than a scalpel in hopes of wreaking maximum havoc on Iran as quickly as possible. The financial measures targeting Iran effectively cast a much wider net than traditional trade sanctions, and the risk of steep fines or worse—loss of access to the U.S. economy—acts as a powerful deterrent for individual and firm decisionmaking even in the absence of government buy-in.
  • Iran sends its largest oil volumes to China and India, where diverse and reliable energy supplies are critical components of economic growth and national security. Both governments can draw upon ample access to bespoke financial institutions and other creative workarounds that sustain trade with Iran and are likely to seek to exploit the opportunity to press Iran for discounts and favorable payment arrangements
  • As Iran’s OPEC governor, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, observed: “You cannot place sanctions on two OPEC founder members and still blame OPEC for oil price volatility. … this is business, Mr. President—we thought you knew it.”
  • Through considerable internal turmoil and external conflicts, Iran has been a mainstay of global energy markets for a century; the only previous sustained rupture in Iranian supply came at the hands of a British embargo in 1951-53. That blockade ended with official American conspirators helping to effect the ouster of a troublesome Iranian leadership. At the time, this seemed like a victory for Washington; over the long term, that U.S. intervention to topple nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq proved to be a disaster for American interests and for Iran.
  • America’s open antagonism provides Tehran with another excuse to intensify repression and divert blame for the country’s woes
Ed Webb

The Oil for Security Myth and Middle East Insecurity - MERIP - 0 views

  • Guided by the twin logics of energy security and energy independence, American actions and alliances in region became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The very thing the United States sought to eliminate in the Middle East—insecurity—became a major consequence of America’s growing and increasingly militarized entanglement.
  • In effect, the essential relationship of dependency between the United States and the Middle East has never been “oil for security.” It has in fact been oil for insecurity, a dynamic in which war, militarization and autocracy in the region have been entangled with the economic dominance of North Atlantic oil companies, US hegemony and discourses of energy security.
  • Although the destabilizing contradictions of this dependency have now undercut both American hegemony and the power of the North Atlantic hydrocarbon industries, the oil-for-insecurity entanglement has nonetheless created dangerously strong incentives for more conflict ahead.
  • ...18 more annotations...
  • Oil’s violent geopolitics is often assumed to result from the immense power its natural scarcity affords to those who can control it. Recent developments in global hydrocarbon markets, which saw negative prices on April 20, 2020 have once again put this scarcity myth to bed
  • In a series of studies that began in late 1980s, economists Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler charted the extent to which the world’s leading oil companies enjoyed comparatively handsome rates of returns on equity—well ahead of other dominant sectors within North Atlantic capitalism—when major wars or sustained unrest occurred in the Middle East.
  • When oil prices began to collapse in the mid-1980s, the major oil companies witnessed a 14-year downturn that was only briefly interrupted once, during the 1990-1991 Gulf War.
  • The events of September 11, 2001, the launching of the global war on terror and the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq reversed the fiscal misfortunes of the North Atlantic oil companies in the previous decade. Collectively, they achieved relative returns on equity several orders of magnitude greater than the heyday of 1979 to 1981. As oil prices soared, new methods of extraction reinvigorated oil production in Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. In effect, war in Iraq made the shale oil revolution possible
  • fracking—not only benefitted from sky-high oil prices, generous US government subsidies and lax regulation, but also the massive amounts of cheap credit on offer to revive the economy after 2008
  • In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran hostage crisis, the Carter Doctrine declared America’s intent to use military force to protect its interests in the Gulf. In so doing, Carter not only denounced “the overwhelming dependence of the Western democracies on oil supplies from the Middle East,” but he also proposed new efforts to restrict oil imports, to impose price controls and to incentivize more fossil fuel extraction in the United States, all in conjunction with solidifying key alliances (Egypt, Israel and Pakistan) and reinforcing the US military presence in the region.[5] In effect, America would now extract geopolitical power from the Middle East by seeking to secure it.
  • In denouncing certain governments as “pariahs” or “rogue states,” and in calling for regime change, American policy has allowed those leaders to institute permanent states of emergency that have reinforced their grip on power, in some cases aided by expanded oil rents due to heightened global prices
  • A 2015 report by the Public Accountability Initiative highlights the extent to which the leading liberal and conservative foreign policy think tanks in Washington—the American Enterprise Institute, Atlantic Council, Brookings, Cato, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Council on Foreign Relations and Heritage Foundation—have all received oil industry funding, wrote reports sympathetic to industry interests or usually both
  • For some 50 years, the United States has been able to extract geopolitical power from Middle Eastern oil by posing as the protector of global energy security. The invention of the concept of energy security in the 1970s helped to legitimate the efforts of the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations to forge new foundations for American hegemony amid the political, economic and social crises of that decade. In the wake of the disastrous US war efforts in Korea and Southeast Asia, Henry Kissinger infamously attempted to re-forge American hegemony by outsourcing US security to proxies like Iran under what is referred to as the Nixon Doctrine. At the same time, regional hegemons would be kept in check by “balancing” competing states against each other.
  • The realization of Middle Eastern insecurity was also made possible by the rapid and intensive arms build-up across the region in the 1970s. As oil prices skyrocketed into the 1980s, billions of so-called petrodollars went to purchase arms, primarily from North Atlantic and Soviet manufacturers. Today, the Middle East remains one of the most militarized regions in the world. Beyond the dominance of the security sector in most Middle Eastern governments, it also boasts the world’s highest rates of military spending. Since 2010, Middle Eastern arms imports have gone from almost a quarter of the world’s share to nearly half in 2016, mainly from North Atlantic armorers.
  • For half a century, American policy toward the Middle East has effectively reinforced these dynamics of insecurity by promoting conflict and authoritarianism, often in the name of energy security. High profile US military interventions—Lebanon in 1983, Libya in 1986 and 2011, the Tanker Wars in the late 1980s, the wars on Iraq in 1991 and 2003, Somalia in 1993, Afghanistan since 2001, the anti-Islamic State campaign since 2014 and the Saudi-Emirati war on Yemen since 2015—have received the most scrutiny in this respect, alongside the post-2001 “low intensity” counterterrorism efforts worldwide
  • cases abound where American policy had the effect of preventing conflicts from being resolved peacefully: Trump’s shredding of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement with Iran comes to mind; the case of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara have likewise become quintessential “peace processes” that have largely functioned to prevent peace.
  • the myth of authoritarian stability
  • A year after the unexpected 2011 uprisings, the IMF’s former director Christine Lagarde admitted that the Fund had basically ignored “how the fruits of economic growth were being shared” in the region
  • What helps make energy security discourse real and powerful is the amount of industry money that goes into it. In a normal year, the oil industry devotes some $125 million to lobbying, carried out by an army of over 700 registered lobbyists. This annual commitment is on par with the defense industry. And like US arms makers,[9] the revolving door between government, industry and lobbying is wide open and constantly turning. Over two-thirds of oil lobbyists have spent time in both government and the private sector.[10]
  • From 2012 to 2018, organized violence in the Middle East accounted for two-thirds of the world’s total conflict related fatalities. Today, three wars in the region—Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan—now rank among the five deadliest since the end of the Cold War. Excluding Pakistan, the Middle East’s share of the worldwide refugee burden as of 2017 was nearly 40 percent at over 27 million, almost double what it was two decades prior.
  • profound political and financial incentives are accumulating to address the existing glut of oil on the market and America’s declining supremacy. A major war in the Middle East would likely fit that bill. The Trump administration’s temptation to wage war with Iran, change Venezuela’s regime and to increase tensions with Russia and China should be interpreted with these incentives in mind.
  • While nationalizing the North Atlantic’s petroleum industries is not only an imperative in the fight against climate change, it would also remove much of the profit motive from making war in the Middle East. Nationalizing the oil industry would also help to defund those institutions most responsible for both disseminating the myths of energy security and promoting insecurity in the Middle East.
Ed Webb

With Lebanon making fragile progress, now is the wrong time to pull US assistance - 0 views

  • The proxies of Iran and Syria in Lebanon, after years of solidarity, show tentative signs of diverging. With even Shia protesters on the street, and with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s calls to disperse unheeded, Hezbollah’s façade of invincibility is showing cracks. The Lebanese army and security forces have responded with admirable courage, restraint, and independence in defying calls by Hezbollah leaders and private pleas from the presidential palace to clear the streets. In contrast with unprecedented and overt criticism of Hezbollah, public support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is soaring.
  • rather than reinforcing them, the White House, in an astonishingly ill-timed decision, suspended $105 million in U.S. security assistance to the very institutions that have defied Hezbollah’s demands to end the protests
  • some of Syria’s traditional allies in Lebanon, including Bashar al-Assad’s childhood friend Sleiman Franjieh, have remained conspicuously silent or even sent relatives to join the demonstrations
  • ...11 more annotations...
  • LAF pride and capabilities, both linked to years of sustained U.S. support, endanger Hezbollah’s “resistance” narrative.
  • For years, Iranian and Syrian interests and tactics in Lebanon have largely coincided: They seek to discredit and divide the so-called “March 14” movement that emerged against Damascus and Tehran in the aftermath of the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005; “resist” U.S. and French efforts to bolster’s Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence; and use Lebanon to threaten Israel.
  • Hezbollah has expanded its influence in, and in some cases control over, Lebanon’s domestic institutions via its 2006 memorandum of understanding with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party.
  • Since 2006, Aoun and his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassile, have been reliable fronts for Hezbollah’s and thus Iran’s interests in Lebanon
  • gives both Damascus and Tehran the gift of a unifying message to the Lebanese about America’s unreliability as a partner.
  • The value of Hezbollah’s FPM-provided Christian veneer has declined precipitously, with Bassile now a favorite target of the protesters as a symbol of everything that ails Lebanon
  • it would not be the first time that regional actors used Lebanon as the theater for their competition
  • Two Lebanese politicians speculated about a connection to what is happening in the Alawite regions of Syria, where Bashar al-Assad may view Iranian influence and Shia proselytizing as a threat to his secular, Alawite base
  • Assad, who would have considered Hezbollah a junior partner during the pre-2005 Syrian occupation of Lebanon, may also resent the current strength and presence of Hezbollah in Syria: Who’s the junior partner now? How much control can Assad exert over Hezbollah inside Syria? Given that Assad still needs Iran’s and Hezbollah’s help in Syria, he can, according to this theory, use Lebanon to send a message.
  • The presumed candidacy of Lebanese Army Commander Joseph Aoun, with his enhanced credibility for independence, would be more aligned with the sentiments of the street. But the Lebanese president is elected by parliament, not the people. While the current Lebanese parliament reflects the very establishment that the protesters wish to topple, one hopes that the members of parliament will think about protesters’ views if they are put in a position as to whether to choose between Damascus, Tehran, or their own Lebanese constituents.
  • There’s an argument for the United States maintaining a low profile, to undercut Nasrallah’s predictable arguments about a U.S. conspiracy, and a guiding principle should always be “do no harm” when trends emerge that are clearly in U.S. interests. Instead, the White House suspension of security assistance at this of all times, gives Damascus’ and Tehran’s Lebanese allies a message around which to re-unite: that the United States is an unreliable partner and that the LAF will not get needed assistance, meaning Hezbollah’s arsenal remains essential to Lebanon’s security. American officials who are seeking to promote U.S. interests in Lebanon face a strange set of bedfellows — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and apparently the White House — and face the difficult task of pushing back against all four.
Ed Webb

Donald Trump's Year of Living Dangerously - POLITICO Magazine - 0 views

  • One year in, Trump’s much-vaunted national security team has not managed to tame the president or bring him around to their view of America’s leadership role in the world. Instead, it’s a group plagued by insecurity and infighting, publicly undercut by the president and privately often overruled by him. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, is regularly reported by White House sources to be on his way out, with his demoralized, depleted State Department in outright rebellion. Meanwhile, the brawny military troika of White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general; Defense Secretary James Mattis, another retired four-star Marine general; and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a serving Army three-star general, has managed to stop the chaos of the administration’s early days while crafting a national security policy that gets more or less solid marks from establishment types in both parties. The problem is, no one’s sure Trump agrees with it.
  • sanctions remain in place despite, not because of, the White House, and sources tell me Trump personally is not on board with many of the more hawkish measures his team proposes to counter Putin, a fact underscored by his eyebrow-raising signing statement in December objecting to several tough-on-Russia provisions in a defense bill
  • The language of "principled realism" put forward by McMaster is so un-Trumpian that a top adviser who received a copy told a reporter it was simply “divorced from the reality” of the Trump presidency. “It’s the first time, maybe in history, key advisers have gone into the administration to stop the president, not to enable him,” says Thomas Wright, a Brookings scholar who has emerged as one of the most insightful analysts of Trump’s foreign policy
  • ...10 more annotations...
  • One leading European official who came to town last January looking for answers told me that, at the time, the establishment types urged him to have “strategic patience”—not coincidentally the same phrase foreign policy hands used to use about North Korea’s nuclear program. By December, he was tired of waiting for Trump to improve. “When, finally, will this strategic patience pay off?” he asked.
  • Over their year of living dangerously with Trump, foreign leaders and diplomats have learned this much: The U.S. president was ignorant, at times massively so, about the rudiments of the international system and America’s place in it, and in general about other countries. He seemed to respond well to flattery and the lavish laying out of red carpets; he was averse to conflict in person but more or less immovable from strongly held preconceptions. And given the chance, he would respond well to anything that seemed to offer him the opportunity to flout or overturn the policies endorsed by his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
  • Another conversation, with Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law who had been given an expansive international portfolio ranging from restarting Middle East peace talks to dealing with Mexico and China, was just as troubling. Kushner was “very dismissive” about the role of international institutions and alliances and uninterested in the European’s recounting of how closely the United States had stood together with Western Europe since World War II. “He told me, ‘I’m a businessman, and I don’t care about the past. Old allies can be enemies, or enemies can be friends.’ So, the past doesn’t count,” the official recalled. “I was taken aback. It was frightening.”
  • The president really does see the world differently than his own national security adviser
  • “At least the first several months all of us in the building, we thought, ‘We’ve seen this movie before, it’s growing pains, we get it.’ But eventually it seemed clear this was no longer about transition, and this seemed to be about intent rather than incompetence and lack of staffing,” she says. By fall, the word in the Foggy Bottom halls was unequivocal: “The secretary has absolutely lost the building.”
  • for many the rebellion is just to quit, as Bennett has done, on the brink of serving as an ambassador for the first time in her career. On the day she left this fall, she was one of four acting assistant secretaries—all women in a field in which that is still rare—to resign. “I felt like half of my life was probably enough to serve given the climate within the department,” she says, “and given what appears to be such limited respect for expertise gained over long decades of service.”
  • disruptions with the NSC team, where McMaster grew to resent what he saw as Tillerson’s disdain for the interagency process the national security adviser oversees, and by the time the strains on Tillerson’s relationship with Trump became publicly evident over the summer, the secretary of state was losing his remaining internal defenders. The two, said an outside adviser, are now fundamentally at odds. “McMaster and Tillerson are in a death struggle,” he said, “each of them trying to get rid of the other.”
  • I recently met a senior general of a U.S. ally at a conference. What was it like to deal with Trump’s government, I asked? “It’s a vacuum, a void,” he said. “There’s a complete inability to get answers out of American counterparts who don’t know what policy is.” An international diplomat who has worked extensively on hot spots such as Afghanistan and Iraq told me he has been to Washington five or six times in recent months. His normal contacts at the State Department were so out of the loop, “Frankly, they were asking me, ‘What do you think the White House thinks?’”
  • Trump’s national security team and his allies are engaged in a silent conspiracy of sorts to guide and constrain him. America’s enemies in China and Russia have taken their measure of the man and are preparing to test him more decisively than they have yet ventured. Opportunists in the Middle East and elsewhere are taking what they can get. War talk with North Korea grows ever louder. And in Washington, the America Firsters have been purged from the White House staff—but not from the Oval Office itself.
  • “Nobody speaks for Trump,” he said. “He speaks for himself. The question is, are they allowed to do things notwithstanding? And the answer is yes, until he decides to pull the rug out from under them. Well, that’s the reality. That’s how this man works.” Isn’t that, I asked, an extraordinary statement of no confidence in the presidency they are supposed to serve? “It’s amazing,” he responded. “Look, the whole thing is amazing. We’ve never been here. But that’s where it is. So, at some point you have to sort of stop saying, you know, ‘This is terrible, it shouldn’t be this way.’ It is this way.”
Ed Webb

25 years on, remembering the path to peace for Jordan and Israel - 0 views

  • When the secret talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were divulged in 1993, Jordan’s King Hussein felt betrayed. For years he had been secretly meeting with the Israelis to broker peace; now he discovered that they were secretly meeting with the Palestinians and making a deal without consulting him. The PLO, fellow Arabs, had not consulted the king either. He was devastated.
  • In September 1993, Rabin secretly came across the border from Eilat to Aqaba to address King Hussein’s concerns and assure the Jordanians that they would be kept informed about the future of the Oslo process. The meeting was arranged by Efraim Halevy, the deputy director of the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad. Hussein had been dealing with the Mossad and Halevy for years as a trusted clandestine back-channel
  • Clinton supported the peace process enthusiastically. A Jordanian treaty would get his support and help him sell the revival of bilateral relations with Jordan to Americans still angry over the Iraq war, especially in Congress
  • ...23 more annotations...
  • Jordan had long held back from a peace treaty with Israel because it did not want to get in front of the Palestinians. It did not want a separate treaty with Israel, like President Anwar Sadat had done for Egypt. But now Arafat was engaging in direct talks with the Israelis to make a peace agreement: Jordan would not be alone. Even the Syrians were engaging with Israel via the Americans. Jordan was free to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel after decades of clandestine contacts begun by Hussein’s grandfather King Abdullah without fear of a backlash from the other Arabs
  • Jordan and Israel would keep the Americans informed, but the king did not want Washington using its leverage in a negotiation process given the Americans’ closer ties to Israel.
  • Rabin had met with the king secretly for almost two decades
  • The Rabin-Hussein relationship was crucial to the success of the negotiations. Both trusted the other. Hussein saw Rabin as a military man who had the security issues under his command. He was convinced that he had a unique opportunity to get a peace treaty and Rabin was central to the opening.
  • The king also saw the negotiation process as almost more of a religious experience than a diplomatic solution to the passions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He spoke movingly of restoring peace between the children of Abraham. He wanted a warm peace, not the cold peace between Egypt and Israel.
  • Jerusalem was also a core issue for the Hashemite family. Despite losing physical control of East Jerusalem in 1967, the king had retained influence in the Muslim institutions that administered the holy sites in the city. The preservation of Jordan’s role in the administration of the third holiest city of Islam was a very high priority of Hussein then, and still is for his son King Abdullah today
  • Clinton had studied the Jordanian wish list carefully. The top priority was for debt forgiveness, amounting to $700 million dollars. Clinton told Hussein that this would be a tough lift on Capitol Hill. If Hussein would meet Rabin at a public ceremony in the White House hosted by the president, Clinton said he could get the debt relief and progress on Jordan’s other requests.
  • The king told his aides that this was the best meeting he had had with an American president since his first with Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959. On July 9, the king told the Jordanian parliament that it was time for an end to the state of war with Israel and for a public meeting with the Israeli leadership. He wanted the meeting to take place in the region.
  • The Jordanian and Israeli peace teams met publicly on the border to start the rollout, followed by a foreign ministers meeting at the Dead Sea in Jordan — a way to bring Peres into the photo op but not the negotiations.
  • The Americans got a copy only on the night before the White House ceremony.
  • On July 25, 1994, Clinton read the declaration on the White House lawn and Rabin and Hussein signed it. It terminated the state of war. Israel formally undertook to respect the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem. All three gave speeches, but the king’s address got the most attention. His speech included a clear and unqualified statement that the state of war was over. He spoke of the realization of peace as the fulfillment of his life-long dream.
  • Clinton spoke of the king’s extraordinary courage in pursuit of peace. He compared him to his grandfather, who had been assassinated for his talks with Israel
  • Rabin and Hussein addressed a joint session of Congress. Hussein spoke about his grandfather’s commitment to peace. “I have pledged my life to fulfilling his dream.” Both received standing ovations. Behind the scenes, Halevy was lobbying Congress for debt relief. He returned to the region on the royal aircraft with the king and queen.
  • Teams from the two countries met every day, mostly at the crown prince’s house in Aqaba. Hassan supervised the day-to-day talks for his brother.
  • The toughest issues were land and water.
  • The final issues were addressed at another Rabin-Hussein summit meeting in Amman on the evening of October 16. The two leaders got down on their hands and knees to pour over a large map of the entire border from north to south and personally delineated the line. Two small areas got special treatment: Israel would lease the two areas from Jordan so Israeli farmers could continue access to their cultivation. By 4am, it was done.
  • On October 26, 1994, Clinton witnessed the signing of the treaty on the border by the prime ministers of Israel and Jordan. It was only the second visit to Jordan by a sitting American president
  • Many Jordanians felt it was dishonorable to make peace with Israel while the occupation of the West Bank continued. Some argue that it legitimates the Israeli occupation. It has gotten progressively more unpopular in the 25 years since the signing ceremony
  • Two years later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dispatched a Mossad hit team to Amman to poison a Hamas leader. The botched murder attempt created a crisis in the new peace, and Halevy had to be called back from his new job in Brussels as ambassador to the European Union to smooth out the disaster and get the Mossad team released. He would then be appointed the head of the Mossad.
  • Hussein never trusted or respected Netanyahu after it, and the peace has been cold ever since
  • Hussein’s strategic goal of restoring bilateral relations with the United States was achieved
  • in December 1999, I traveled with Clinton and three former presidents to attend Hussein’s funeral in Amman in a strong demonstration of America’s commitment to Jordan.
  • The Trump administration has tilted dramatically toward Israel on all the issues that concern Jordanians about the future of the Palestinian issue, especially the status of Jerusalem. The movement of the American embassy to Jerusalem was a particularly important shock to the peace treaty. If Israel begins to annex parts of the West Bank, as Netanyahu has promised, the Jordanians will be in a corner. The treaty may be more endangered today than ever before.
1 - 8 of 8
Showing 20 items per page