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Ed Webb

Under Sisi, firms owned by Egypt's military have flourished - 0 views

  • Maadi is one of dozens of military-owned companies that have flourished since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former armed forces chief, became president in 2014, a year after leading the military in ousting Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
  • In interviews conducted over the course of a year, the chairmen of nine military-owned firms described how their businesses are expanding and discussed their plans for future growth. Figures from the Ministry of Military Production - one of three main bodies that oversee military firms - show that revenues at its firms are rising sharply. The ministry’s figures and the chairmen’s accounts give rare insight into the way the military is growing in economic influence.
  • Some Egyptian businessmen and foreign investors say they are unsettled by the military’s push into civilian activities and complain about tax and other advantages granted to military-owned firms
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  • In 2016, the military and other security institutions were given exemptions in a new value-added tax (VAT) law enacted as part of IMF-inspired reforms. The law states that the military does not have to pay VAT on goods, equipment, machinery, services and raw materials needed for the purposes of armament, defense and national security.

    The Ministry of Defense has the right to decide which goods and services qualify. Civilian businessmen complain that this can leave the system open to abuse. Receipts for a cup of coffee at private sector hotels, for example, add 14 percent VAT. Receipts at military hotels do not. Employees at the military-owned Al-Masah Hotel in Cairo told Reuters that no VAT was charged when renting venues for weddings and conferences.

  • The Ministry of Military Production is projecting that operating revenues from its 20 firms will reach 15 billion Egyptian pounds in 2018/2019, five times higher than in 2013/2014, according to a ministry chart. The ministry does not disclose what happens to the revenues. The chairmen of two of the firms said profits go to the ministry or are reinvested in the business.
  • “I don’t want to be a local shop. I want to be a company that has the capacity to export and compete internationally.”
  • Egypt’s military, the biggest in the Arab world, has advantages.

    It enjoys financial support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, staunch supporters of Sisi since he toppled the group they see as a threat to the Middle East, the Muslim Brotherhood. Western powers see Cairo as a bulwark against Islamist militancy. Egypt receives $1.3 billion in military aid annually from the United States alone.

  • Among projects the Ministry of Military Production announced in 2017 was a plan to plant 20 million palm trees with an Emirati company and build a factory to make sugar from their dates. It agreed with a Saudi company to jointly manufacture elevators. The military inaugurated the Middle East’s biggest fish farm on the Nile Delta east of Alexandria.
  • The Ministry of Military Production signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s GCL Group last week to build a solar panel factory worth up to $2 billion. The military has taken over much of the construction of intercity roads from the Ministry of Transport and now controls the toll stations along most major highways.
  • Economists and investors say reforms tied to a $12 billion three-year IMF program signed in Nov. 2016 should lay the ground for economic expansion. But foreign investors are still shying away from Egypt, apart from those focusing on the more resilient energy sector. Non-oil foreign direct investment fell to about $3 billion in 2017 from $4.7 billion in 2016, according to Reuters calculations based on central bank statistics.  
  • foreign investors were reluctant to invest in sectors where the military is expanding or in one they might enter, worried that competing against the military with its special privileges could expose their investment to risk. If an investor had a business dispute with the military, the commercial officer said, there was no point in taking it to arbitration. “You just leave the country,” he said.

  • The chairmen of two military engineering companies, Abu Zaabal Engineering Industries Co and Helwan Engineering Industries Co, said in recent years it had become much easier to access financing through the Ministry of Military Production.
  • In 2015, the defense minister issued a decree exempting nearly 600 hotels, resorts and other properties owned by the military from real estate taxes
  • Military companies receive an exemption from import tariffs under a 1986 law and from income taxes under a 2005 law. Cargoes sent to military companies do not have to be inspected.
  • At bustling Cairo squares, people line up to buy subsidized meat and other food handed out from trucks sponsored by the military. Sisi said he had instructed the military to enter the market “to supply more chicken to push down prices.”

    Some disagree with such measures on the grounds the military’s mission is to protect the country from external threats.

    “We have reached a point where they are competing even with street vendors,”

Ed Webb

Mega-donor Adelson, with access and influence, scores two pro- Israel victories | McCla... - 0 views

  • Adelson quietly slipped into the White House for a private meeting with Trump and three top administration officials: Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and an Adelson favorite, National Security Adviser John Bolton, according to two conservative sources familiar with the previously unreported private event
  • questions about the appearance of foreign policy being linked to big donations to Trump and other Republicans. Adelson, who will turn 85 this August, has been an influential donor with GOP political leaders who have courted him assiduously for almost a decade. But the casino tycoon seems to have reached new levels of cachet with the Trump administration in office.
  • Adelson’s cash also helped elect Trump — even though during the campaign Trump often asserted his independence of big donors to portray himself as a self-styled populist
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  • In 2016, Adelson gave almost $83 million in publicly disclosed funds to Republican groups and candidates, including $20 million to Future 45, a super PAC that backed Trump. He also threw in a record $5 million to the inaugural committee, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics
  • Last week’s visit to the Trump White House wasn’t the first for Adelson; he was also there, meeting and discussing policy with Trump and several advisers, in October.

    Today, he was in Israel with a delegation of several dozen board members from the RJC, another nonprofit he has generously bankrolled.

Ed Webb

Europe moves to safeguard Iran interests after U.S. pullout | Reuters - 0 views

  • “There is a realization among all European states what we cannot keep going in the direction we are headed today whereby we submit to American decisions,”
  • Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said transatlantic ties had been gradually damaged by shifts in U.S. policy. “We are prepared to talk... but also to fight for our positions where necessary,”
  • Paris was seeking U.S. waivers and longer transition periods over Iran for French companies including Renault (RENA.PA) and Total (TOTF.PA), while pressing for European Union measures to improve the bloc’s “economic sovereignty” in the longer term.
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  • French exports to Iran doubled to 1.5 billion euros ($1.79 billion) last year, driven by jets and aircraft and automobile parts, according to customs data.
  • Exports of German goods to Iran rose by around 400 million euros to 3 billion euros. Around 120 German firms have operations with their own staff in Iran, including Siemens (SIEGn.DE), and some 10,000 German companies trade with Iran.
Ed Webb

Revealed: Trump team hired spy firm for 'dirty ops' on Iran arms deal | UK news | The G... - 0 views

  • Aides to Donald Trump, the US president, hired an Israeli private intelligence agency to orchestrate a “dirty ops” campaign against key individuals from the Obama administration who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal
  • People in the Trump camp contacted private investigators in May last year to “get dirt” on Ben Rhodes, who had been one of Barack Obama’s top national security advisers, and Colin Kahl, deputy assistant to Obama, as part of an elaborate attempt to discredit the deal
  • “These are extraordinary and appalling allegations but which also illustrate a high level of desperation by Trump and [the Israeli prime minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, not so much to discredit the deal but to undermine those around it.”
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  • It’s bloody outrageous
  • officials linked to Trump’s team contacted investigators days after Trump visited Tel Aviv a year ago
  • “The idea was that people acting for Trump would discredit those who were pivotal in selling the deal, making it easier to pull out of it.”
  • Investigators were also apparently told to contact prominent Iranian Americans as well as pro-deal journalists – from the New York Times, MSNBC television, the Atlantic, Vox website and Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper among others – who had frequent contact with Rhodes and Kahl in an attempt to establish whether they had violated any protocols by sharing sensitive intelligence. They are believed to have looked at comments made by Rhodes in a 2016 New York Times profile in which he admitted relying on inexperienced reporters to create an “echo chamber” that helped sway public opinion to secure the deal
  • it is not clear how much work was actually undertaken, for how long or what became of any material unearthed
  • digging up dirt on someone for carrying out their professional responsibilities in their positions as White House officials is a chillingly authoritarian thing to do
Ed Webb

Opinion | Why Are American Troops in the Yemen War? - The New York Times - 2 views

  • In the latest expansion of America’s secret wars, about a dozen Army commandos have been on Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen since late last year, according to an exclusive report by The Times. The commandos are helping to locate and destroy missiles and launch sites used by indigenous Houthi rebels in Yemen to attack Saudi cities.

    This involvement puts the lie to Pentagon statements that American military aid to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen is limited to aircraft refueling, logistics and intelligence, and is not related to combat.

    When senators at a hearing in March demanded to know whether American troops were at risk of entering hostilities with the Houthis, Gen. Joseph Votel, head of the Central Command, assured them, “We’re not parties to this conflict.”

  • In at least 14 countries, American troops are fighting extremist groups that are professed enemies of the United States or are connected, sometimes quite tenuously, to such militants. The Houthis pose no such threat to the United States. But they are backed by Iran, so the commandos’ deployment increases the risk that the United States could come into direct conflict with that country, a target of increasing ire from the administration, the Saudis and Israelis.
  • checks and balances have eroded since Sept. 11, 2001, as ordinary Americans became indifferent to the country’s endless wars against terrorists and Congress largely abdicated its constitutional role to share responsibility with the president for sending troops into battle
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  • Congress never specifically approved military involvement in the Saudi-Houthi civil war
  • While the war is effectively stalemated, Saudi Arabia’s rising new leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seems committed to a military victory despite the horrors caused by the fighting. He has been emboldened by Mr. Trump, who has been willing to sell the kingdom almost any new military hardware it wants
  • Saudi Arabia is less secure now than when it began its air campaign three years ago
  • the United Nations is planning to put forward a new proposal to restart peace negotiations. Congress could improve the chance of success by cutting off military aid to Saudi Arabia and voting to bar the use of American troops against the Houthis in Yemen
Ed Webb

Senators Demand Answers From Trump Team on Yemen - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Grilling top officials from the State Department, Defense Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed frustration that the administration could not articulate a clear strategy, use its influence with Riyadh to safeguard civilians, or promote a diplomatic settlement.

    Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the committee, said the Trump administration’s approach to Yemen was marked by an “alarming absence of strategy.”

  • Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) questioned whether the Pentagon could confidently say its efforts have reduced civilian casualties, given that it is not able to provide numbers to back up that claim.

    “The proof is in the results, and we don’t know whether the results are there or not,” he said. “This is the U.S. reputation on the line, and we expect you to know if you report something. If you can’t report it, fine. But don’t make statements that you can’t back up.”

  • the Saudi-led coalition has carried out 16,847 air raids, or an average of 15 airstrikes a day
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  • Saudi-led airstrikes were responsible for 61 percent of the civilian death toll
  • Administration officials at the hearing painted the conflict as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its regional archrival, Iran
  • Aid groups that do work in Yemen say more than 8 million people on the brink of famine, more than a million people have contracted cholera, and more than 1,300 cases of diphtheria have been reported.
  • “Absent a compelling articulation of how continued U.S. military support to the coalition is leveraging movement towards a political track to negotiate an end to the war, it is reasonable to expect that the next vote on U.S. military support may have a different outcome,”
Ed Webb

UAE and the Horn of Africa: A Tale of Two Ports - 0 views

  • On February 22, Djibouti seized control of the Doraleh Container Terminal from its joint owner and operator, the Dubai-based DP World. The seizure was not wholly unexpected and was the culmination of Djibouti's deteriorating bilateral ties with the United Arab Emirates and a lost legal battle with DP World to renegotiate the terms of the port concession that gave it a 33 percent equity stake in 2006. The London Court of International Arbitration Tribunal ruled against Djibouti's claims, lodged in 2014, that DP World paid bribes in order to secure the 30-year concession
  • Doraleh opened in 2009 and is the only container terminal in the Horn of Africa able to handle 15,000-ton container ships. It quickly became the most important entrepot for the region's largest country and economy, Ethiopia, which was rendered landlocked by Eritrea's independence in 1993. Ethiopia receives around 97 percent of its imports through Doraleh — around 70 percent of the port's activity — in what has become an unacceptable strategic reliance on a neighbor
  • the increasingly complex dynamics animating the geopolitics, and the more localized politics, being shaped by the competition among aspiring regional powers of the Middle East — particularly Gulf Arab states and Turkey — and China for influence in the Horn of Africa
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  • A year after DP World finalized an agreement with the semiautonomous region of Somaliland to develop a $442 million commercial port in Berbera, Ethiopia inked a deal with the port operator and Somaliland's government to acquire a 19 percent stake in the port. There are reportedly plans for DP World to upgrade the connectivity infrastructure linking Berbera to the Ethiopian border that would allow Addis Ababa and potentially greater East Africa to reduce their sole dependence on Djibout
  • Bashir also agreed to lease Turkey the Red Sea island of Suakin for development. Though Turkey has denied it, concerns quickly arose that Ankara planned to build a new military base on the island, which would be its second in the Horn of Africa with the first in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
  • Along with the competition by outside players has come greater leverage for Horn of Africa countries, whose elites have long been adept at playing external patrons off one another. Ethiopia has to some degree succeeded in diluting Abu Dhabi's reliance on its enemy, Eritrea, by supporting its plans for the Berbera port. In 2015, after losing access to Djibouti for military operations, the UAE constructed a base in the coastal Eritrean city of Assab, which has been vital to its operations in southern Yemen. By supporting the UAE's military and commercial infrastructure plans in Somaliland, Ethiopia — the Horn of Africa's largest and most powerful country — also contributed to the fracturing of Somalia by encouraging the de facto consolidation of Somaliland's independence
  • In Sudan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have led efforts to rehabilitate President Omar Bashir in the international community by lobbying for U.S. sanctions on Sudan to be lifted. Bashir agreed to cut ties with Iran and send troops to fight for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen
  • The intra-Gulf Cooperation Council crisis has added another destabilizing variable, as countries, parties, and elites in East Africa have been forced to choose sides
  • The confidence with which Horn of Africa elites are pursuing their own interests at the risk of angering new patrons underscores the high stakes for the participants in this so-called "new scramble for Africa," and also their long-term intent. Djibouti in particular emerged over the past decade as a strategic focal point next to the Bab el-Mandeb shipping lane, existential for the flow of Gulf energy to Europe and goods between Asia and Europe. It has leveraged its location for lucrative basing deals for current and emerging world powers alike. The United States, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and former colonial ruler France all have bases in Djibouti.
  • the UAE's longer-term interests — as well as those of its competitors — are economic and strategic. The country is working to make itself an essential component of China's Belt and Road Initiative and secure Dubai's Jebel Ali as the key logistics and trade hub linking Asia to Africa via DP World infrastructure, in the face of competition by a glut of new ports built by rivals with similar ambitions in IranPakistanOman, and elsewhere along the Horn of Africa
  • ports projects in Rwanda, Mozambique, Algeria, and Mali
  • State-backed and private investors from the UAE have invested in a wide range of non-energy sectors, from finance and banking to construction, tourism, food, entertainment, and agri-business
  • The UAE is also trying to make the nature of its engagement more attractive for African governments and private sector partners: Rather than following the path of China, which has been perceived negatively as following a pseudo-colonial model in Africa, it is looking more toward the Turkish model. Investments such as DP World's in Somalia or military bases come with packages of infrastructure investment, training, and education for workers and security forces, as well as inducements such as greater numbers of visas to the UAE
  • Food and water security continues to be an important interest for the UAE and other Gulf countries in East Africa. Emirati companies are seeking to avoid the political pitfalls that have caused past investments in land for food production to fail. Privately owned Al Dahra Holding, which owns farmland in Africa, claims to use a 50-50 sharing formula for produce with local companies and hires local workers
Ed Webb

Russia Is in the Middle East to Stay - Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • two radically different conceptions of Russian power have emerged. Within the Beltway, many analysts have come to understand the Russian demonstration of power and influence in the Middle East as an indicator that the global rivalry between Washington and Moscow of the past is also the present and future. Yet there also remains a small group of dissenters — Russia specialists, former U.S. officials, and journalists — to this view. They believe the Russians are actually quite weak, financially strapped, and caught in Syria. The best they can say is that Putin is playing a bad hand well
  • it’s payback time for almost three decades of Moscow’s humiliation. And what better place to start than the Middle East, where the United States is already widely resented even among its allies
  • Since Moscow’s demonstration of strength (with Iran’s help) in Syria, the Russians have asserted themselves as a credible alternative to the Americans with traditional U.S. allies. With arms sales, economic deals, and diplomatic maneuvering, Russia has been effective in pulling Turkey and Egypt away from the United States, though not completely, and closer to Russia’s orbit
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  • now that the United States is the world’s leading producer of petroleum, there is likely to be more cooperation between the Russians and the Arab Gulf states in an effort to ensure that global oil prices are favorable to their interests
  • In the span of less than a decade, the Middle East has gone from a region in which the United States was overwhelmingly predominant to one that Washington and Moscow contest
  • The Russians are not going away, they have a strategy to weaken the West, and it starts in the Middle East. Moreover, Moscow no longer has the ideological baggage of communism, making it easier for it to make inroads in the region
  • The Turks, Egyptians, Israelis, Saudis, and Emiratis are sophisticated observers of American politics. They recognize that the political dysfunction of Washington can affect bilateral relations. Over the last decade, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel have become divisive topics in the United States. There is also the spectacle of the American legislative and executive branches being unable to manage the most routine tasks of governance without getting bogged down in ideological warfare. This makes leaders in the Middle East who have long relied on American security nervous that the United States is in decline, and they have thus begun to pursue, however tentatively, another option — Russia.
  • Leaving the Saudis to bleed in Yemen is not just a strategic gain for Tehran, but also for Moscow, which would be only too happy to see Washington’s primary Arab ally stuck there and in need of a lifeline that U.S. policymakers are too ambivalent to provide
  • Moscow’s demonstration of military force in Syria is primarily against poorly trained militias, bands of extremists, and innocent children. The gunfight between Russian “mercenaries” and American soldiers in February that reportedly killed most of the Russian forces and no Americans indicates that whatever brute force Russia can bring to bear, they are simply no match for the United States. This is a fact that the U.S. ambassadors, envoys, and sons-in-law need to convey to decision-makers in Cairo, Ankara, and other capitals where Moscow is selling its military hardware.
  • the United States has to make it clear that there are consequences for this military trolling. There are, of course, risks of escalation in this approach, but there are also significant disadvantages to demonstrating weakness in the face of Russian provocations
  • If the United States is, as Secretary of Defense James Mattis averred in January, in a new era of great power competition, it is time the United States treated the situation as seriously as it is. Putin must be disabused of the notion that the Middle East is the most propitious place to begin weakening the West and the United States. Americans once before contained and rolled back Moscow’s influence in the region; there is no reason to believe that they cannot do it again — but only if they have the wisdom to recognize what is important in the world right now and the collective stomach to meet the challenge. It is no longer clear to those in the Middle East that they do.
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    I know and like Steve. I don't agree with all of this, but it is a productive intervention.
Ed Webb

Qatar, UAE spend heavily on lobbyists amid a war of words | News & Observer - 1 views

  • a multimillion-dollar battle for influence in Washington between bitter rivals Qatar and the United Arab Emirates
  • On Qatar's roster: Republican former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose law firm received a $2.5 million retainer, and ex-advisers to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

    The UAE has an arrangement with The Harbour Group, a public relations and public affairs firm, for up to $5 million annually. The UAE's ambassador to the United States also relies heavily on his former director of legislative affairs, Hagir Elawad. She's now a registered lobbyist who earns $25,000 a month as the embassy's chief liaison to Capitol Hill.

  • a business associate of Broidy's, George Nader, had wired $2.5 million for an influence campaign Broidy was coordinating in Washington that accused Qatar of being a state sponsor of terrorism. Nader is a political adviser to the UAE and now a witness in the U.S. special counsel investigation into foreign meddling in American politics
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  • a top fundraiser for Trump filed a lawsuit against the government of Qatar and several lobbyists working for Qatar, claiming they hacked his and his wife's emails. Elliott Broidy alleged that hackers from Qatar broke into their email accounts and Qatar's lobbying team then distributed the emails to journalists in an effort to discredit him.
  • Agents of foreign governments are required to register with the Justice Department before lobbying so that there is a public record of their activities. But neither Broidy nor Nader is registered
  • Qatar has been under siege since early June, when the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and its other neighbors severed ties over claims the small, gas-rich monarchy was funding terrorism, disrupting Gulf unity and fomenting opposition across the region. They cut Qatar's air, sea and land routes, creating a de facto blockade. The countries vowed to isolate Qatar economically until it heeds their demands.

    But Qatar, which has denied supporting or funding terror groups, has insisted it can survive indefinitely on its own. The crisis, according to Qatari officials, was triggered nearly a year ago when hackers took over their state-run news agency and posted fabricated comments attributed to Qatar's ruler that called Iran an "Islamic power" and said Qatar's relations with Israel were "good."

Ed Webb

Leaving - 0 views

  • It will seem counterintuitive to many that someone would trade “senior official” status for a job in a “think tank” to exert more influence. But I had concluded in the late summer of 2012 that President Barack Obama’s words of a year earlier about Assad stepping aside were empty, and that my efforts in government to bring dead words to life were futile. 

    Instead of implementing what had sounded like the commander-in-chief’s directive, the State Department was saddled in August 2012 by the White House with a make-work, labor-intensive project cataloguing the countless things that would have to be in place for a post-Assad Syria to function. But how to get to post-Assad? The White House had shut down the sole interagency group examining options for achieving that end.
  • My job since April 2009, as a deputy to Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell, was to build a foundation for Syrian-Israeli and eventually Israeli-Lebanese peace. Progress on the former seemed to be happening. Yet by using deadly force on his own citizens, Assad ended, perhaps forever, a process that might have recovered for Syria the territory lost by his Minister of Defense father in 1967. 

    When the full story of Syria’s betrayal by a family and its entourage is written, the decision of Assad to sink a potentially promising peace mediation will merit a chapter.
  • President Obama would caricature external alternatives by creating and debating straw men: invented idiots calling for the invasion and occupation of Syria. 

    He would deal with internal dissent by taking officials through multi-step, worst-case, hypothetical scenarios of what might happen in the wake of any American attempt, no matter how modest, to complicate regime mass murder. The ‘logical’ result would inevitably involve something between World War III and an open-ended, treasury-draining American commitment. 

    The result of these exercises in self-disarmament would be Vladimir Putin and his ilk concluding that American power was, as a practical matter, equal to Palau’s; Ukraine could be dismembered, NATO allies threatened, and the United States itself harassed with impunity. He did not mean to do it, but Barack Obama’s performance in Syria produced global destabilization.
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  • It was not until the fall of 2014 when it became clear what was motivating him. The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon reported on a “secret” letter from the president to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, in which (among other things) Mr. Obama reportedly assured Khamenei that American military power aimed at ISIS (ISIL, Islamic State, Daesh) in Syria would not target the Assad regime. But why give Khamenei such a reckless assurance, one that would surely be relayed to Assad, enhancing his already massive sense of impunity, with deadly consequences for Syrian civilians?
  • if necessary, apply modest military measures to complicate civilian mass murder, and not only when the murder weapon is sarin nerve agent. 
  • The Trump administration is infinitely more open to considering policy alternatives than was its predecessor. Yet in Washington’s hyper-partisan state, some who fully understood and opposed the catastrophic shortcomings of the Obama approach to Syria reflexively criticize anything the new administration does or considers doing to end the Assad regime’s free ride for civilian slaughter. Letting Syrian civilians pay the price for self-serving political motives may never go out of style in some Western political circles.
  • I remain hopeful that American leaders will, at last, arrive at a Syria policy worthy of the United States. 

    Such a policy would stabilize a post-ISIS Syria east of the Euphrates River in a way that would encourage the emergence of a Syrian governmental alternative to a crime family and its murderous entourage. 
  • Tehran was indeed dependent on Bashar al-Assad to provide strategic depth for and support to its own jewel in the crown: Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Barack Obama feared that protecting Syrian civilians could anger Iran and cause it to walk away from nuclear talks. From his point of view, the prices paid by Syrians, Syria’s neighbors, and American allies in the region and beyond were worth the grand prize. It seems never to have occurred to him that Iran wanted the nuclear deal for its own reasons, and did not require being appeased in Syria. I was told by senior Iranian ex-officials in track II discussions that they were stunned and gratified by American passivity in Syria.
  • such a policy, while being open to any genuine offer of Russian cooperation in Syria, would recognize that (in the words of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats) “Frankly, the United States is under attack.” He was referring to Russia.
Ed Webb

The Trump administration's mixed messages on Syria - Axios - 0 views

  • President Trump, the Pentagon, and the State Department made conflicting statements about U.S. involvement in Syria on Thursday
    • President Trump: "We'll be coming out of Syria like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon we're coming out."
    • Pentagon: "Important work remains to ensure the lasting defeat these violent extremists....We cannot allow our focus to deviate from the most important task of eliminating ISIS from the region...We will continue to support the SDF."
    • State Department: Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she is unaware of any plans to pull the U.S. out of Syria. Former Secretary Rex Tillerson said at the beginning of the year that the U.S. should have a long-term military presence in the region.
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen: A view from the ground | TheHill - 0 views

  • the air campaign in Yemen is now being fought at least as cleanly as contemporary U.S. air campaigns, with stringent target vetting and, to my trained eye, extremely restrictive rules of engagement
    • Ed Webb
       
      Given what we are learning about civilian casualty rates from US (and allied) air operations in Syria and Iraq, this bar is not particularly high, and certainly is insufficient to be certain that war crimes are not being committed.
  • It is the Houthis, not the Yemeni government or the coalition that is seeding Yemen’s farmlands with tens of thousands of landmines, who are creating a whole generation of civilian amputees. It is the Houthis who are taxing and impounding humanitarian food and fuel imports, making these commodities unaffordable to Yemenis
  • As long as the Houthi rebels control the Yemeni capital and the country’s largest port, they have no incentive to negotiate: they must fear losing these prizes to return to the peace table.
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  • it is notable that the U.N. Panel of Experts on Yemen has gradually shifted towards stronger criticism of the Houthis than the coalition in its most recent annual report
    • Ed Webb
       
      A right-leaning, pro-Israel think tank. Noteworthy that Israeli and Saudi interests overlap a lot these days. That doesn't invalidate the perspective and observations. But it is important to understand the position of sources.
  • the war is poorly understood in Washington and other capitals. In fact, U.S. military support is helping to set the military and humanitarian conditions for an end to hostilities and a reduction of famine and cholera
  • Mistakes were made, but they were corrected much faster than was the case in many U.S.-led interventions over the years.
Ed Webb

Patriot Missiles Are Made in America and Fail Everywhere - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • we found that it is very unlikely the missiles were shot down, despite officials’ statements to the contrary. Our approach was simple: We mapped where the debris, including the missile airframe and warhead, fell and where the interceptors were located. In both cases, a clear pattern emerged. The missile itself falls in Riyadh, while the warhead separates and flies over the defense and lands near its target. One warhead fell within a few hundred meters of Terminal 5 at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport. The second warhead, fired a few weeks later, nearly demolished a Honda dealership. In both cases, it was clear to us that, despite official Saudi claims, neither missile was shot down
  • there is no evidence that Saudi Arabia has intercepted any Houthi missiles during the Yemen conflict
  • I am deeply skeptical that Patriot has ever intercepted a long-range ballistic missile in combat — at the least, I have yet to see convincing unclassified evidence of a successful Patriot intercept. During the 1991 Gulf War, the public was led to believe the that the Patriot had near-perfect performance, intercepting 45 of 47 Scud missiles. The U.S. Army later revised that estimate down to about 50 percent — and even then, it expressed “higher” confidence in only about one-quarter of the cases. A pesky Congressional Research Service employee noted that if the Army had correctly applied its own assessment methodology consistently, the number would be far lower. (Reportedly that number was one — as in one lousy Scud missile downed.)
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  • there was not enough evidence to conclude that there had been any intercepts. “There is little evidence to prove that the Patriot hit more than a few Scud missiles launched by Iraq during the Gulf War,” a summary of the investigations concluded dryly, “and there are some doubts about even these engagements.”

    This report — which called on the Pentagon to declassify more information about the performance of the Patriot and request an independent evaluation of the program — never saw the light of day. A fierce lobbying campaign by the Army and Raytheon spiked it, save for a summary.

  • There is enormous pressure on the Saudi government to show that it is taking steps to defend its citizens. By asserting successful intercepts — assertions that are uncritically spread in headlines — the Saudi government is able to present itself as fulfilling its obligations to protect its population. And, like in 1991, the perception that a defense is working helps keep a lid on regional tensions
  • The danger here is that leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United States will come to believe their own nonsense. Consider this: Despite that the fact that anonymous U.S. officials have confirmed that there was no successful intercept in November 2017, President Donald Trump had a very different impression: “Our system knocked the missile out of the air,” Trump told reporters the following day. “That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we’re selling it all over the world.” This is a theme Trump has returned to again and again. When asked about the threat from North Korea’s nuclear-armed missiles, Trump said, “We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time, and if you send two of them, it’s going to get knocked down.” Trump has repeatedly given every indication that he believes missile defenses will protect the United States.
  • Missile defense systems do not represent a solution to the challenge posed by growing missile capabilities or an escape from vulnerability in the nuclear age. There is no magic wand that can “knock down” all the missiles aimed at the United States or its allies. The only solution is to persuade countries not to build these weapons in the first place. If we fail, defenses won’t save us.
Ed Webb

Freelancing abroad in a world obsessed with Trump - Columbia Journalism Review - 0 views

  • “I can’t make a living reporting from the Middle East anymore,” said Sulome in mid-December. “I just can’t justify doing this to myself.” The day we spoke, she heard that Foreign Policy, one of the most reliable destinations for freelancers writing on-the-ground, deeply reported international pieces, would be closing its foreign bureaus. (CJR independently confirmed this, though it has not been publicly announced.) “They are one of the only publications that publish these kinds of stories,” she said, letting out a defeated sigh.
  • Sulome blames a news cycle dominated by Donald Trump. Newspapers, magazines, and TV news programs simply have less space for freelance international stories than before—unless, of course, they directly involve Trump.
  • Trump was the focus of 41 percent of American news coverage in his first 100 days in office. That’s three times the amount of coverage showered on previous presidents
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  • Foreign news coverage has been taking a hit for decades. According to a 2014 Pew report, American newspapers even then had cut their international reporting staff by 24 percent in less than a decade. Network news coverage of stories with a foreign dateline averaged 500 minutes per year in 2016, compared to an average 1,500 minutes in 1988, according to a study by Tyndall.

    “Clearly it’s harder for international stories to end up on front pages now,” says Ben Pauker, who served as the executive editor of Foreign Policy for seven years until the end of 2017. He is now a managing editor at Vox. From his own experience, Pauker says, it’s simply an issue of editorial bandwidth. “There’s only so much content an editorial team can process.”

  • In October 2017, Sulome thought she had landed the story of her career. The US had just announced a $7 million reward for a Hezbollah operative believed to be scouting locations for terror attacks on American soil—something it had never done before. Having interviewed Hezbollah fighters for the last six years, Sulome had unique access to the upper echelons of its militants, including that specific operative’s family members. Over the course of her reporting, Hezbollah members told her they had contingency plans to strike government and military targets on US soil and that they had surface-to-air missiles, which had not been reported before. Convinced she had struck gold, she was elated when the piece was commissioned by a dream publication she’d never written for before. But days later, that publication rescinded its decision, saying that Sulome had done too much of the reporting before she was commissioned. Sulome was in shock. She went on to pitch the story to eight other publications, and no one was interested.
  • I’ll go back to the Middle East on trips if I find someone who wants a story, but I’m not going to live there and do this full-time, because it’s really taking a toll on me
  • According to Nathalie Applewhite, managing director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the lack of international coverage has become a real problem for Pulitzer grant recipients. Those grants, she says, were established to address the earlier crisis in which news organizations were closing foreign bureaus and could no longer fund big foreign reporting projects. “Now we’re seeing an even bigger challenge,” she says. “We’re providing the monetary support, but the problem is finding the space for it.”

    Grant applicants, Applewhite adds, are finding it harder to get commitments from editors to publish their work upon completion of their reporting. And stories that already have commitments are sitting on the shelf much longer, as they are continuously postponed for breaking Trump news.

  • As the daughter of two former Middle East-based journalists, Sulome knows what it used to be like for people like her. “I grew up surrounded by foreign correspondents, and it was a very different time. There was a healthy foreign press, and most of them were staff. The Chicago Tribune had a Beirut bureau for example. So when people say we’re in a golden age of journalism today, I’m like, Really?
  • The divestment from foreign news coverage, she believes, has forced journalists to risk their lives to tell stories they feel are important. Now, some publications are refusing to commission stories in which the reporter already took the risk of doing the reporting on spec. Believing that this will discourage freelancers from putting their lives in danger, this policy adds to the problem more than it solves it.
  • “When people lose sight of what’s going on around the world, we allow our government to make foreign policy decisions that don’t benefit us. It makes it so much easier for them to do that when we don’t have the facts. Like if we don’t know that the crisis in Yemen is killing and starving so many people and making Yemenis more extremist, how will people know not to support a policy in which we are attacking Yemenis?”

  • “Whether it’s environmental, ethnic or religious conflict, these are issues that may seem far away, but if we ignore them they can have a very real impact on us at home. International security issues, global health scares, and environmental crises know no borders, and I think we ignore them at our own peril.”
Ed Webb

Bolton wants to give 'pieces' of Palestine to Jordan and Egypt - 0 views

  • Bolton is surely realistic in stating the end of the two-state solution. Though his solution to the Israel Palestine conflict is not. It is for pieces of the West Bank to be deeded to Jordan and Gaza to be deeded to Egypt, on the theory that Palestine is “bits and pieces” of the former Ottoman Empire. Neither Egypt or Jordan has accepted such a proposal; and of course Palestinians have said such an outcome is out of the question.
  • Once it becomes clear the two-state solution is finally dead, Jordan should again be asked to exercise control over suitably delineated portions of the West Bank and have the monarchy’s religious role for holy sites like the Temple Mount reaffirmed. Accepting Jordan’s sovereignty would actually benefit Palestinians, as would Egyptian sovereignty over Gaza, by tying these areas into viable, functioning states, not to the illusion of “Palestine.”
  • “Just as a matter of empirical reality, the two-state solution is dead,” Bolton told far-right Breitbart News Radio at the time. “That’s about the only thing John Kerry came close to getting right.”
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  • Bolton’s record of Islamophobia is also undeniable. He is head of an “Institute” that just yesterday said that Great Britain has become an “Islamist colony” because of its alleged failures to take on Sharia law, and has said that American neighborhoods with Muslim majorities in major cities are closed to non-Muslims.
  • Bolton has long been associated with anti-Muslim extremists Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller
Ed Webb

They're Still Pulling Bodies Out of ISIS' Capital - 0 views

  • Overall, an estimated 2,000 civilians were killed during bitter fighting for control of Raqqa, according to local casualty monitors—in an assault dominated by U.S. firepower
  • international media coverage of Raqqa dwindles away. Once the center of countless stories about the so-called Islamic caliphate, ISIS’s self-declared capital is now 80 per cent uninhabitable due to destruction from recent fighting, according to the United Nations.
  • according to an Airwars analysis, at least 95 per cent of strikes in Raqqa and all artillery strikes were American. At least 21,000 munitions—and possibly thousands more—struck the city
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  • Local monitors estimate that upwards of 2,000 were killed by all parties to the fighting
  • In Raqqa, a greater reliance on air and artillery strikes ahead of more cautious ground advances—as well as the limited firepower of local partner forces (the largest weapons wielded by the SDF were 120mm mortars)—all indicated that civilian harm would be more often tied to Coalition actions.

    Yet nine months later, only 11 percent of Coalition civilian harm assessments have resulted in an admission of responsibility. Out of 121 reports so far assessed for the Raqqa assault, the Coalition has confirmed involvement in just 13 strikes, which it says left 21 civilians dead and six injured—far short of the 1,400 likely Coalition-inflicted deaths Airwars tracked between June and October.

  • Fired from afar and usually targeted based on intelligence from local proxy ground forces,the SDF, U.S. bombs, missiles and artillery shells rained almost continuously into Raqqa. According to official figures provided to Airwars, the Coalition launched more than 20,000 munitions into the city during the five-month campaign. In August, that barrage had officially increased to more than one bomb, missile, rocket or artillery round fired every eight minutes—a total of 5,775 munitions during the month
  • During the first half of the battle for Raqqa, fire from A-10 “Warthog” ground assault aircraft accounted for roughly 44 percent of weapon use in Raqqa. The extensive use of A-10s in such an urban setting—which fire 30mm cannons and can also deploy bombs and missiles—was described by U.S. officials at the time as unprecedented
  • Quentin Sommerville, the BBC’s veteran Middle East Correspondent, reported extensively from both Raqqa and Mosul. His battlefield dispatches from deserted areas of Raqqa that had been captured from ISIS showed a city in ruins, even as fighting still raged in other neighborhoods. “24 hours of coverage wouldn’t do justice to the total devastation across Raqqa,” he tweeted from the city on Sept. 17. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
  • The so-called Islamic State bears significant responsibility for the destruction and death toll at Raqqa, according to investigators. “By deliberately placing civilians in areas where they were exposed to combat operations, for the purpose of rendering those areas immune from attack, ISIL militants committed the war crime of using human shields in Raqqah governorate,” the UN’s Commission of Inquiry for Syria noted in a recent report.

    “Despite the fact that civilians were being used as human shields, international coalition airstrikes continued apace on a daily basis, resulting in the destruction of much of Raqqah city and the death of countless civilians, many of whom were buried in improvised cemeteries, including parks,” the Commission also wrote.

  • Despite the horrors experienced by civilians during recent fighting, press reports from Raqqa have been filed far less regularly than its status as the former “ISIS capital” might have suggested. In Mosul, many more journalists covered the battle—often revealing important details about the civilian toll. In December for example, a major field investigation by the Associated Press put the overall civilian death in Mosul above 9,000.
  • “In Mosul, media were falling over each other; almost no stone was left unturned,” said Sommerville. “But Raqqa was more difficult to reach during the offensive, and is still difficult to get to. There we have barely scratched the surface. It seemed to me that wherever we went there were stories of civilian casualties. And no one was investigating.”
  • “The Coalition has not conducted interviews on the ground in or around Raqqa as part of any civilian casualty investigation,” a Coalition spokesperson told Airwars.

    “It is striking to see the Coalition continue to deny civilian casualties even after independent on the ground investigations found the contrary,” said Nadim Houry, of Human Rights Watch. “If they want to talk to survivors, they only need to visit these areas.”

Ed Webb

The Limits of Mohammad bin Salman's Vision - LobeLog - 0 views

  • Americans are being told, by their leading pundits and their government, that the future Saudi king is a bold reformer with his country’s—and the world’s—best interests at heart
  • For every highly publicized reform he’s instituted, like allowing women to drive (a reform that doesn’t actually address the deeper mistreatment of Saudi women), Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) has taken the country in the opposite direction in other ways, like his severe crackdown on free speech and his brutal suppression of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority—to say nothing of the myriad atrocities he’s perpetrated in Yemen
  • economic vision likewise blends flashy elements, like robot citizens and entire new cities, with the introduction of neoliberal austerity measures that will hurt the Saudi people (who are already struggling with high unemployment)
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  • He doesn’t want any competition, any counter-opinions, any criticism. So he’s almost shut down everybody, and he’s moving ahead with his reform. When he arrested intellectuals last September, it was meant to silence everybody. The purge on corruption was planned to make everyone dependent on his mercy. If he succeeds, he will succeed alone. If not, maybe he will include the Saudi people in his reforms. I wish he could do that today, but right now he has all the power and the international community is not pressuring him on human rights.
  • selected reforms aimed at certain purposes, but not necessarily towards developing human capital or investing in people, or women, at large
  • These reforms are not targeting the root causes of restrictions on women, but are selected to portray certain types of reforms that can be promoted in international media
  • He’s raising expectations to riskily high levels. If in two, three, five years nothing significant has really changed for the prospects of individual people looking to get ahead, they may begin to question whether Mohammad bin Salman is really the revolutionary he claims to be. We’ve seen a lot of his supporters here in Washington buying into that revolutionary, Arab Spring-like figure-of-change image, embracing his top-down approach without pausing to think about the extent to which there is a bottom-up counterpart
  • meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday was punctuated by a particularly uncomfortable exchange in which Trump went into detail about the $12.5 billion in new U.S. weapons the prince agreed to buy and then said to the prince, “that’s peanuts for you.” Ulrichsen suggested that the scene would not play well in Saudi Arabia:

    I think if I were watching yesterday’s press conference with Donald Trump, I would have been quite dismayed to have seen a U.S. president treat his Saudi counterpart as if he were just a source of opportunities for the U.S. Some of the president’s tenor and demeanor was quite remarkable.

    Khashoggi agreed that Trump’s performance was not helpful for the crown prince:

    President Trump is wrong when he says that money is “peanuts” to us. Saudi Arabia has a serious poverty problem—money is not “peanuts” to us. To spend billions of dollars on military equipment is a serious thing. Today the Saudi Shura Council is talking about 35 or 40 percent unemployment—the official figure is 12 percent. So as much as Donald Trump is concerned about providing jobs for Americans, Mohammad bin Salman should be concerned about providing jobs for Saudis.

Ed Webb

State Dept. Was Granted $120 Million to Fight Russian Meddling. It Has Spent $0. - The ... - 0 views

  • James K. Glassman, the under secretary for public diplomacy during the George W. Bush administration, said the center’s uncertain funding and temporary leadership reflected the administration’s lack of interest in countering either jihadist or Russian propaganda.

    “They’ve got the vehicle to do this work in the center,” Mr. Glassman said. “What they don’t have is a secretary of state or a president who’s interested in doing this work.”

Ed Webb

Jared Kushner's Real-Estate Firm Sought Money Directly From Qatar Government Weeks Befo... - 0 views

  • The real estate firm tied to the family of presidential son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner made a direct pitch to Qatar’s minister of finance in April 2017 in an attempt to secure investment in a critically distressed asset in the company’s portfolio
  • The failure to broker the deal would be followed only a month later by a Middle Eastern diplomatic row in which Jared Kushner provided critical support to Qatar’s neighbors. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries, with Kushner’s backing, led a diplomatic assault that culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring an end to the standoff.
  • The Gulf crisis involving Qatar and its neighbors will likely be Kushner’s defining foreign policy legacy. The crisis followed a May visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, by Kushner and President Donald Trump, who subsequently took credit for Saudi Arabia and its allies’ efforts against Qatar. The fallout has reshaped geopolitical alliances in the region, splitting the Gulf Cooperation Council and pushing Qatar, home to the Middle East’s largest U.S. military base, closer to Turkey and Iran. 
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  • This was not the first time Charles Kushner solicited funds from the Qataris, but it is the first direct pitch known to be made to the minister of finance himself. Notably, the play came after Trump’s election.
  • The news of Kushner Companies’ direct pitch to the Qatari government puts a Wednesday report from the Washington Post into broader context. U.S. intelligence services, the paper reported, had determined that officials in four countries — the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico — had been privately discussing how to use Jared Kushner’s real-estate investments as a way to gain leverage over him in order to influence official U.S. policy.
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