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Ed Webb

Senate Democrats hold up arms sales for Saudi war in Yemen - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of t... - 0 views

  • Congress was notified Aug. 19 of the Obama administration's intent to provide Riyadh with thousands of precision-guided munitions. The sale is linked to the administration's effort to placate Gulf countries' concerns about the Iranian nuclear deal, but it has hit a snag with Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who want to see the Saudi-led campaign reeled in.
  • “I fear that our failure to strongly advocate diplomacy in Yemen over the past two years, coupled with our failure to urge restraint in the face of the crisis last spring, may put the viability of this critical [US-Saudi] partnership at risk,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “The Leahy Law prohibits US security assistance — and many forms of defense cooperation — with forces that have engaged in gross violations of human rights. If reports are accurate, the Saudi indiscriminate targeting in the air campaign and an overly broad naval blockade could well constitute such violations.”
  • While the sale is almost certain to go through eventually, they hope to use it as leverage to win concessions on kick-starting political negotiations with the Houthis and lifting the blockade
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  • Critics of the sale in particular point out that Riyadh has been able to derive extra legitimacy from the US support for its campaign.

    “We are very careful in picking targets. We have very precise weapons,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CBS News after an airstrike killed more than 130 people at a wedding reception. “We work with our allies, including the United States, on these targets.”

  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. “It's not all bad that the Saudis decided that they wanted to act immediately in Yemen. I don't think we need to be 'mother may I' in terms of folks acting in their own security interests in the region. But I am struck by the level of their response compared to what I view as an extremely tepid response to Sunni extremism. It's not just Iranian influence in the region that should trouble us.”
Ed Webb

Yemen Doesn't Need the Obama Administration's 'Deep Concern' | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • more than 21 million of Yemen’s 25 million people now require some form of aid to survive, and more than 1.5 million have fled their homes
  • The responsibility for Yemen’s descent into wanton destruction lies not with the United States, but with Yemen’s government in exile, the Houthis, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and other Yemeni political and military leaders; they are each pursuing their own short-sighted interests at the expense of an equitable and inclusive peace. But thanks to the U.S. government’s deep involvement in what many Yemenis call the “Saudi-American” military campaign, American hands are far from clean
  • To truly stand with Yemenis, the Obama administration must adopt a radically different course: withdraw its support to the coalition including the transfer of arms to belligerent parties, publicly demand the free flow of commercial goods into all ports, and rally support at the United Nations Security Council for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire and inclusive political process to bring an end to the war.
Ed Webb

Syrian Kurdish leader: Moscow wants to work with us - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Midd... - 0 views

  • Ilham Ehmed, a senior member of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), told Al-Monitor in a brief interview Oct. 8 that “Russia says it wants to work with us” to combat the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) and other extremist organizations.
  • According to the Kurds, the United States has also frustrated their desire to expand their area of control in Syria,
  • While the United States supported the PYD in expelling IS from Kobani and in capturing Tell Abyad east of Kobani, Washington has promised Turkey not to allow the Kurds to move west toward Afrin in return for allowing the United States to fly bombing runs from Incirlik Air Base, Balanche said. He added that the PYD would face other obstacles in such an operation. “There are 500,000 people between Azaz, al-Bab, Manbaj and Jarabulus, including a Turkmen minority,” he said. “It would be very difficult for the Kurds to capture this area without heavy US support.”

    Balanche wrote recently that if the United States does not back the Kurdish advance, the PYD will look to Russia and Assad “if that is its only path to a continuous territory in the north.”

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  • the Obama administration needs the Kurds for a planned major offensive against the IS stronghold of Raqqa
  • Ehmed said that the Kurds are seeking “self-administration, not autonomy,” along the lines of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. “We want to stay in Syria with our culture and our language,”
  • Turkey “opened the border for terrorism,” she said. “Terrorism didn’t come from the sky.”
  • The dispute between Turkey and the Kurds has undermined the US goal of closing a 68-mile section of the Turkey-Syria border that has been controlled by IS and used for the transit of foreign fighters into Syria.
Ed Webb

Putin is filling a vacuum in Syria, but what is Moscow's endgame? | The National - 2 views

    Read in the light of Lustick's article on the absence of great powers in MENA.
Ed Webb

Lebanon reaps weapons windfall from Congress - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 1 views

  • Congress over the past year has approved more than $1 billion in proposed arms sales for the Lebanese armed forces, including attack aircraft and helicopters. And lawmakers on Sept. 29 cemented Beirut's status as a key ally with the release of a compromise annual defense bill that puts Lebanon on equal footing with longtime partner Jordan
  • aircraft sales would provide the Lebanese armed forces with close air support seen as crucial for strikes against IS militants along the border. Saudi Arabia is helping foot the bill through a $1 billion grant to Lebanon.
Ed Webb

Yemen pays price for Saudis' sectarian paranoia | Middle East Eye - 1 views

  • The success of the Houthi insurgency from the north that swept the Yemeni leadership from power, taking over the capital Sanaa, was perversely treated by the Security Council as a military coup justifying the intervention by a Saudi-led coalition. Strange to recall that the 2013 undisguised military coup in Egypt, with much bloodier reprisals against the displaced elected rulers, aroused not a murmur of protest in the halls of the UN. So goes geopolitics in the Middle East.
  • the geopolitical tendency to reduce an incredibly complex national history and interplay of contending forces to a simplistic story of Sunni versus Shia rivalry for the control of the country
  • allows Saudi Arabia to portray the strife in Yemen as another theatre of the wider region proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies against Iran, which is a guaranteed way of securing US and Israeli backing
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  • not a regional politics based on sectarian priorities, but rather a pathological preoccupation with regime stability in the Saudi monarchy, with anxieties arising whenever political tendencies emerge in the region that elude its control, and are perceived as threatening
  • There is a long experience of division between the north and the south, and this means that any unity government for the whole of Yemen can only be sustained by an iron-fisted dictator like Saleh or through a genuine power-sharing federalist kind of arrangement. Beyond this, the country bears the scars of Ottoman rule intermixed with a British presence in Aden and the surrounding area, vital for colonial priorities of controlling the Suez and the trade routes to the East.

    Additionally, Yemen remains a composite of tribes that still command the major loyalty of people. The modern European insistence on sovereign states in the Middle East never succeeded in overcoming the primacy of Yemeni tribal identities. Any possibility of political stability requires subsidising Yemen’s tribes as Saudi Arabia did during Saleh’s dictatorship (1990-2012) or creating a multi-coloured quilt of autonomous tribal polities. When geography and tribalism are taken into account recourse to the Shia-Sunni divide or the Riyadh-Tehran rivalry as an explanation of Yemen’s strife-ridden country is a cruel and futile fantasy.

  • What is needed is establishing a political transition sensitive both to the North-South split and the strength of Yemeni tribes coupled with massive economic assistance from outside and the creation of a UN peacekeeping presence tasked with implementation
  • Such a rational path is currently blocked, especially by the intense militancy of the aggressive Saudi leadership of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, and his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Secretary of Defence, the apparent champion of military intervention
Ed Webb

The State of Reporting on the Middle East: A STATUS/الوضع Conversation with C... - 1 views

    Well worth listening to the conversation between experienced observers of the region, and of those reporting on it.
Ed Webb

Why the U.S. (still) can't train the Iraqi military - The Washington Post - 1 views

    Research on military effectiveness suggests that even very brave, highly motivated soldiers won't be successful in their efforts to take territory if they fail to master these key skills. It also suggests that these skills are particularly unlikely to develop in regimes that are more concerned with maintaining power, especially in the face of political threats from their own military organizations, than combating conventionally powerful adversaries. This problem has historically plagued most Iraqi efforts to generate effective military forces, dating to the time of Saddam Hussein.
Ed Webb

PYD leader: Russia will stop Turkey from intervening in Syria - Al-Monitor: the Pulse o... - 3 views

  • Returning to the negotiating table seems hard. The plan devised by the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is backed most of all by Russia. But the opposite camp, meaning Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are resisting this [plan]. If the United States wants to pave the way for a solution, it must apply certain pressure on this camp
  • Russia and the United States seem to have established their own zones of influence within Syria. The US is active in the north. The Russians will not meddle in the north. But should Turkey attempt to intervene, then they will. Russia has a joint defense agreement with Syria. They will prevent Turkish intervention not to defend us [Kurds] but to defend Syria’s border.
Ed Webb

Obama: Global arms dealer-in-chief | Middle East Eye - 2 views

  • A newly released report reveals Obama is the greatest arms exporter since the Second World War. The dollar value of all major arms deals overseen by the first five years of the Obama White House now exceeds the amount overseen by the Bush White House in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion
  • I knew there were record deals with the Saudis, but to outsell the eight years of Bush, to sell more than any president since World War II, was surprising even to me, who follows these things quite closely. The majority, 60 percent, have gone to the Persian Gulf and Middle East, and within that, the Saudis have been the largest recipient of things like US fighter planes, Apache attack helicopters, bombs, guns, almost an entire arsenal
  • The Congressional Research Service found that since October 2010 alone, President Obama has agreed to sell $90.4 billion in arms to the Gulf kingdom.

    “That President Obama would so enthusiastically endorse arming such a brutal authoritarian government is unsurprising, since the United States is by far the leading arms dealer (with 47 percent of the world total) to what an annual State Department report classifies as the world’s “least democratically governed states,” notes Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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  • In 2008, the United Nations banned the use of cluster munitions - an agreement the US is yet to ratify. Why? Cluster bombs are the number one seller for Textron Systems Corporation – a Wall Street-listed company located in Providence, Rhode Island
  • In February of this year, the Obama administration announced it would allow the sale of US manufactured armed drones to its allies in the Middle East
Ed Webb

Could We Have Stopped This Tragedy? | Foreign Policy - 5 views

  • President Barack Obama erred when he jumped the gun in 2011 and insisted “Assad must go,” locking the United States into a maximalist position and foreclosing potential diplomatic solutions that might have saved thousands of lives
  • Obama’s 2012 off-the-cuff remark about chemical weapons and “red lines” was a self-inflicted wound that didn’t help the situation and gave opponents a sound bite to use against him
  • More than 200,000 people are now dead — that’s approaching 100 times as many victims as 9/11 — and numerous towns, cities, and villages have been badly damaged, if not destroyed. There are reportedly some 11 million displaced people either internally or out of the country, about half Syria’s original population. A flood of refugees and migrants has landed in Europe, provoking a new challenge to the European Union’s delicate political cohesion and raising the specter of a sharp increase in right-wing xenophobia. The carnage in Syria has also helped fuel the emergence and consolidation of the so-called Islamic State, intensified the Sunni-Shiite split within Islam, and put additional strain on Syria’s other neighbors
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  • is it possible that those who called for swift U.S. intervention several years ago were right all along? If the United States, NATO, the Arab League, or some combination of the above had established a no-fly zone and stood ready to intervene with ground forces, might the Assad regime have fallen quickly and spared Syria and the world this bleak and open-ended disaster?
  • I still believe intervening in Syria was not in the United States’ interest and was as likely to have made things worse as to have made them better.
    I take no pleasure in my conclusions; it would be more comforting to think that even seemingly intractable problems can be solved.
    I take no pleasure in my conclusions; it would be more comforting to think that even seemingly intractable problems can be solved
  • The Limits of Air Power. Proponents of “no-fly zones” typically exaggerate their impact and in so doing overstate the capacity of air power to determine political outcomes.
  • Assad’s “Gamble for Resurrection.” From the very start, a key problem in Syria was the lack of an attractive exit option for the entire Assad regime. As the titular leader of the Alawite minority that has dominated Syria since 1970, Assad and his followers saw relinquishing power as a mortal threat.
  • What About the Jihadis? Intervening to push Assad out faced another obvious objection: It might open the door for al Qaeda or other violent extremists. This concern also complicated proposals to arm anti-Assad forces like the Free Syrian Army. How could Washington ensure U.S. weapons didn’t end up in the wrong hands?
  • only thing worse than a truly awful government is no government at all
  • Face It: The United States Is Toxic. The ineffectiveness of U.S. training efforts and other forms of advice may be partly due to the negative opinion most people in the Middle East have of U.S. policy. America may be admired for its democracy, its achievements in science and technology, and the friendliness of its people, but U.S. Middle East policy is widely reviled.
  • Whose Interests Are Truly Engaged? There is a clear humanitarian interest in ending the Syrian civil war. But neither great nor minor powers typically run big risks or bear large costs for strictly humanitarian reasons.
  • the least bad option at this point would be a re-energized effort to end the fighting. The United States should stop insisting Assad must go, and listen carefully to the other powers with a stake in the outcome, including Russia
  • I don’t know if it will be possible to reconstitute a unified Syrian state; if not, then an organized and internationally supervised partition plan will have to be negotiated and implemented
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