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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.
Ed Webb

US breaks ground for new permanent base in Israel - 0 views

  • U.S. and Israeli officers broke ground in Israel on Monday for a permanent U.S. Army base that will house dozens of U.S. soldiers, operating under the American flag, and charged with the mission of defending against rocket and missile attack.
  • the new U.S. base marks the first to be co-located within an Israeli base and the first in which active interceptors are to be deployed, the U.S. military has operated an independent facility for nearly a decade in the same general area of Israel’s Negev desert. That facility — which is operated only by Americans without an Israeli presence — houses the U.S. AN/TPY-2, an X-Band radar that is integrated with Israeli search and track radars to augment early warning in the event of ballistic missile attack from Iran.
Ed Webb

It's about time we all admit that Putin has prevailed in Syria | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • In Syria, Russia strode in where the west was hesitant, and just over two years on from the riskiest move in post-Soviet Russian foreign policy, the end game is clear. Assad, Russia and Iran will emerge victorious, and that is a direct result of Moscow’s decision to intervene in 2015 when its long-term ally, Assad, was on the ropes and struggling to survive.

  • Russia didn’t have to worry about the Turkish-Kurdish dimension, it was too busy steamrolling Syria’s disjointed opposition. ISIS to Russia was no different to other rebel groups; in the eyes of Moscow they were all a threat to Assad and warranted an iron fist.

    As Russia began to crush the anti-Assad opposition, the west could only watch from afar as the balance of power tilted in favour of the Syrian government.

  • the emergence of a US backed Kurdish powerhouse in the north of Syria and Turkish efforts to quell that rise. The sharp rise of ISIS and other Jihadist groups further muddied the waters, creating an extra element of risk for a possible US intervention. This all played into Putin’s hands.
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  • The Russians had an official casualty list of 41 soliders, though the real number may be higher, it is far removed from the thousands killed in the Soviet Union’s long and brutal insurgency war in Afghanistan.
  • Russia also has one eye on the future. In December it confirmed it will maintain a permanent military presence at its air and naval bases in Syria. The agreement signed for 49 years with Damascus will allow Moscow to harbour eleven warships in Tartus including nuclear ships.
  • Moscow ensured a position of strength for itself in Syria’s geo-political war, in the greater scope of things, it emerged victorious from a risky and dangerous decision to enter a foreign conflict.
  • Russia is also set for a long term economic investment in the country and has secured a long-term foothold in Syria’s energy sector potentially making Syria a future long term transit hub for oil and gas shipments to Europe. This allows Russia to expand and cement its control over a European gas supply.
Ed Webb

Can Russia Succeed Where America Failed in the Middle East? - LobeLog - 0 views

  • Specific criticisms included the claim by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that while Russia and Iran were working together to combat terrorism in Syria, U.S. policy was actually supporting it there. Sergey Karaganov, one of Moscow’s most important exponents of the Kremlin’s foreign-policy thinking, described American power as declining and hence ineffective while that of Russia, China, and India as rising in the Middle East. And several Russian speakers described Moscow as better placed to resolve the various conflicts in the Middle East since Russia has good relations with virtually everyone there (except, of course, the jihadists) while the U.S. has poor relations not just with its traditional adversaries in the region, but also with its traditional allies including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
  • In the panel on Yemen, Ali Nasser Mohammad (former president of South Yemen) recalled how in the latter stages of the North Yemeni civil war in the 1960s, the opposing Yemeni sides failed to reach agreement through bilateral negotiations. It was only when their main external patrons, Egyptian President Nasser and Saudi King Faisal, reached an agreement on ending the conflict that progress was made in the inter-Yemeni dialogue. He suggested that similar agreements between external actors in the Middle East’s ongoing conflicts would be needed to facilitate conflict resolution between internal antagonists as well.
  • Russia is clearly in no position to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians so long as Israel continues to receive strong support from the U.S. Nor does there appear to be any other case in which all the main local participants in a Middle Eastern conflict prefer to work exclusively with Russia and not with the U.S.
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  • Russian-American cooperation in the Middle East will be difficult to achieve when their relations are hostile in other areas, including Europe. And even if they could come to any such agreement, it is doubtful that they could impose the terms on the region’s many strong-willed actors. The leaders of Iran and Turkey in particular seem willing and able to defy both Washington and Moscow if they choose to do so.

  • Moscow may not actually want to resolve them since it is the continuation of these conflicts that allows Moscow entrée into the region by stimulating demand from local antagonists for Russian support
Ed Webb

Qatar Crisis: A Cautionary Tale - 0 views

  • As ties with the Obama White House deteriorated, ruling circles in Gulf capitals became increasingly muscular in pursuing their own regional interests. This was, in part, a reaction by Saudi and Emirati officials to Qatar’s assertive approach to the uprisings in North Africa and Syria between 2011 and 2013
  • The second phase of the Gulf states’ regional assertiveness (after Qatar’s activist approach in 2011 and 2012) played out in Libya, Yemen, the Gulf and Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the UAE funneled tens of billions of dollars in financial aid and investment in infrastructure designed to kickstart the ailing Egyptian economy. The UAE coordinated closely with Egypt and Russia to triangulate support for the Libyan strongman, Khalifa Haftar, as he battled Islamist militias in eastern Libya, carving out a largely autonomous sphere of influence separate from the internationally backed political process in Tripoli. The Saudis and Emiratis, together with the Bahrainis, withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014 and accused Doha of interfering in the domestic affairs of its regional neighbors.
  • On the international stage, King Salman of Saudi Arabia made clear his displeasure with the Obama administration by canceling his planned attendance of the US-GCC summit at Camp David in May 2015. Six weeks earlier, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had launched Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. The Yemen war was designed to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, ousted in 2014 by the tactical alliance of Iran-allied Houthi rebels and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s armed loyalists. Launched just five days before the initial deadline (later extended to July 2015) in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the decision to take military action to counter and roll back perceived Iranian influence in Yemen represented a Saudi-led rebuke to the Obama administration’s belief that it was possible to separate the nuclear issue from Iran’s meddling in regional affairs.
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  • Another UAE-based visitor during the transition was Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos (President-elect Trump’s nominee as secretary of education). Prince had been hired by Abu Dhabi to develop a private security force after the demise of Blackwater in 2009. He “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis” and met with a Russian official in a UAE-brokered meeting in the Seychelles shortly before the inauguration, reportedly as part of an effort to establish a backchannel of communication over Syria and Iran.
  • In the early weeks of the administration, Kushner also reached out to Saudi policymakers, including Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud — like Kushner an ambitious millennial who had entered policymaking from a business background. They shared uncannily similar nicknames: “Mr. Everything” (MBS) and the “Secretary of Everything” (Kushner). The two men grew close and reportedly stayed up until nearly 4am “swapping stories and planning strategy” during an unannounced visit Kushner made to Saudi Arabia in October 2017.
  • A president and his senior staff determined to do things their way and bypass the traditional playbook of US foreign policy and international diplomacy offered a potentially rich opening for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as did the political inexperience of many of the new appointees in the White House
  • The expectation in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi that the Trump presidency would adopt hawkish positions on regional issues such as Iran and Islamism that aligned closely with their own was reaffirmed by the appointments of James Mattis as secretary of defense and Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA
  • President Trump discussed Qatar’s “purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States. And for us that means jobs, and it also means frankly great security back here, which we want.” The president’s comments made his subsequent swing against Qatar, after the Saudi and Emirati-led diplomatic and economic blockade began on June 5, 2017, even more surprising to observers of the presidency’s transactional approach to diplomacy.
  • the McClatchy news agency reported that SCL Social Limited, a part of the same SCL Group as Cambridge Analytica (the data mining firm where Bannon served as vice president before joining the White House) had disclosed a $330,000 contract with the UAE National Media Council. The contract included “a wide range of services specific to a global media campaign,” including $75,000 for a social media campaign targeting Qatar during the UN General Assembly. McClatchy observed, too, that Bannon had visited Abu Dhabi to meet with MBZ in September 2017, and that Breitbart (the media platform associated with Bannon both before and after his brief White House stint) had published more than 80 mostly negative stories about Qatar since the GCC crisis erupted
  • a striking element about the Saudi-Emirati outreach is the limited success it achieved. Officials may have seized the opportunity to shape the administration’s thinking and succeeded temporarily, in June 2017, in getting the president to support the initial action against Qatar, but that proved a high watermark in cooperation that did not lead to any substantive follow-through
  • The transactional approach to policymaking taken by the Trump presidency is not necessarily underpinned by any deeper or underlying commitment to a relationship of values or even interests. An example of this came in July 2017 when President Trump told Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network that he had made his presence at the Riyadh summit conditional on $110 billion in arms sales and other agreements signed with Saudi Arabia. “I said, you have to do that, otherwise I’m not going,” bragged the president.
  • Although the crisis in the Gulf may have passed its most dangerous moment — when for a few days in June 2017 the possibility of Saudi and Emirati military action against Qatar was deemed so serious by US officials that Secretary of State Tillerson reportedly had to warn MBS and MBZ against any precipitous action — it has had significant negative consequences for both the region and Washington. In the Gulf, four decades of diplomatic and technocratic cooperation among the six GCC states has been put at risk, threatening the survival of one of the hitherto most durable regional organizations in the Arab world.

  • It is hard to see how the GCC can recover after the sub-regional institution has failed to prevent three of its members from turning on a fourth twice in three years, and when it has been absent at every stage of the crisis, from the initial list of grievances to the subsequent attempts at mediation.
  • Washington’s policy approaches toward Qatar appear now to have settled on the view that the standoff is detrimental to American strategic interests both in the Gulf and across the broader Middle East and should be resolved by Kuwaiti-led mediation. However, the confused signals that came out of the Trump administration during its first six months in office do constitute a cautionary tale. They illustrate the vulnerability of a new and inexperienced political class to influence, which came close to jeopardizing a key US partnership in the Middle East. Unlike, say, the US and Iran, there are no clearly defined good and bad sides the US should support or oppose in its dealings with the GCC members, all of whom have been pivotal, in different ways, to the projection of US power and influence in the region.
Ed Webb

A Former Peace Negotiator Muses on Trump and the Future of the Israeli-Palestinian Peac... - 0 views

    Recommended podcast episode
Ed Webb

Alia Awadallah on Twitter: "Victory for Jordan securing a five year MOU. Higher aid lev... - 0 views

  • Victory for Jordan securing a five year MOU. Higher aid levels than previous MOU & longer by 2 years. Plus follows Jordanian opposition to Jerusalem move. Was far fetched that the administration would withhold aid to Jordan, but with this president you never know.
Ed Webb

Syrian frontline town divides NATO allies Turkey and U.S. - 0 views

  • A dispute between Turkey and the United States over control of a north Syrian town has put the NATO allies on opposing sides of the conflict’s front line, deepening a diplomatic rift ahead of a visit to Turkey by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
  • Turkish and U.S. troops, deployed alongside local fighters, have carved out rival areas of influence on Syria’s northern border. To Ankara’s fury, Washington allied itself with a force led by the Kurdish YPG, a militia which Turkey says is commanded by the same leaders overseeing an insurgency in its southeast.
  • Washington says it has no plans to withdraw its soldiers from Manbij, and two U.S. commanders visited the town last week to reinforce that message
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  • the Syrian town of Manbij
  • also warned that Turkey’s air and ground offensive in Afrin risks exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Syria and disrupting one of the few corners of the country that had remained stable through seven years of civil war
  • As the grievances between Washington and Ankara have escalated, Turkey has built bridges with rival powers Russia and Iran - even though their support has put Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the ascendancy while Turkey still backs the weakened rebels seeking his downfall
  • Relations with the United States were “fragile and frustrating because pledges have been unfulfilled and there is a lack of coherence between the White House and the military”
  • a country where 83 percent of people view the United States unfavorably, according to a poll published on Monday.

  • “The U.S.-Turkey alliance can no longer be taken for granted,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, which promotes transatlantic cooperation, wrote in a report published ahead of Tillerson’s trip.

    “That this relationship has endured several stress tests in the past is no guarantee that it will survive this one”.

Ed Webb

Oil World Turns Upside Down as U.S. Sells Oil in Middle East - Bloomberg - 1 views

  • in a trade that illustrates how the rise of the American shale industry is upending energy markets across the globe, the U.A.E. bought oil directly from the U.S. in December
  • The end of a ban on U.S. exports in 2015 coupled with the explosive growth of shale production, has changed the flow of petroleum around the world. Shipments from U.S. ports have increased from a little more than 100,000 barrels a day in 2013 to 1.53 million in November, traveling as far as China and the U.K.

  • U.A.E. crude production was 2.85 million barrels a day in January, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Output has declined from 3.07 million at the end of 2016 as OPEC and allies cut production to reduce a global glut and prop up prices.
Ed Webb

Military audit confirms US tanks ended up with Iran-backed militias - 0 views

  • As many as nine US tanks provided to Iraq’s military for the fight against the Islamic State (IS) have ended up in the hands of Iranian-backed militants, a government audit revealed on Monday.

    The latest quarterly inspector general report for the US mission in Iraq and Syria confirms a string of on-the-ground reports that M1 Abrams battle tanks and other lethal equipment provided by the US government have ended up with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). The news adds credence to recent reporting by Iraq’s Al-Ghad news agency that Abrams manufacturer General Dynamics has suspended maintenance support for 160 of its tanks amid allegations that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) broke an agreement on their use.

  • In 2015, Iraqi Hezbollah brigades showed up in YouTube videos driving American-made M1 Abrams tanks, armored personnel carriers, Humvees and Canadian MRAP all-terrain vehicles, sparking concerns from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz
  • The State Department gave Iraq’s military $3.8 billion from 2015 to 2017 as it cleared out IS strongholds such as Mosul, Tal Afar and Fallujah. Iraq’s military now possesses more than 250 battle tanks and 1,000 armored personnel carriers.

    But even as support to Iraq’s military increased to root out IS in urban centers, the Defense Department has had limited “direct insight” into how effective more than 120,000 US-trained troops in Iraq will be, according to the inspector general report. That’s “mainly because the US military relied on Iraqi information and self-reporting to determine the skill and readiness of ISF troops,” the report found.

Ed Webb

Avalon Project - Truman Doctrine - 0 views

  • At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.

    One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.

    The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio; fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.

    I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

    I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

    I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.

Ed Webb

DoD Unprepared For The Global War On Terror's Next Front: Africa - 1 views

  • It appears that Africa will almost certainly become the next major front in the Global War on Terror. According to Congressional Research Service Africa analyst Lauren Ploch, the return of foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria to their home countries in Africa will pose a huge problem for DoD. Tunisia has the highest recorded number of foreign fighters who have traveled to Iraq and Syria ever; Libya’s weak borders and milieu of non-state armed actors make it an appealing safe haven for ISIS escapees; in the Lake Chad Basin, Boko Haram has split into two factions aligned with ISIS and al Qaeda, respectively; Somalia remains fertile ground for al Shabaab terror recruits; even Egypt may reach the limit of its security capabilities in responding to cascading regional threats.
  • U.S. involvement in the Saudi military intervention in Yemen has plunged the Pentagon into two distinct engagements: one in support of the Saudis, and one against al Qaeda and ISIS. These tensions are most pronounced not in the Lake Chad Basin, according to Ploch, but the Horn of Africa and countries bordering the Red Sea that are subject to the overlapping geopolitical rivalries the Trump administration detailed in its National Defense Strategy.
  • “Waterfront property in the African countries along the Red Sea seems to be an increasingly hot commodity: The U.S. and France have had military facilities in Djibouti for over a decade, but the country is getting increasingly crowded. China just opened a base and Saudi Arabia is in talks for one.”
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  • “Fragile states, governments not in control of their territory …  People can set up camp and do whatever they want. Nothing will change in Libya or Somalia or parts of the Sahel like Mali or Niger. There are terror groups operations there that aren’t even connected to international terror … who we used to go in and target in places like the eastern Congo. We’re not doing those things. There’s no appetite for that.”
  • “In terms of AFRICOM’s ‘bread and butter’ activities — namely security cooperation — it is still somewhat unclear how DoD and the [Trump] administration will prioritize limited resources; AFRICOM’s security cooperation spending was down in 2017 from the previous few years.”
  • These training missions “are five guys deploying to a country they’ve never heard of and trying to professionalize military justice, or even just get troops to walk in a straight line,” she told Task & Purpose. “[AFRICOM] was given an impossible task and no money to do it, and they have to deal with lots of people who like to operate without oversight and take advantage of this. It is not their fault.”
  • ‘training and equipping’ — or more often ‘equipping and training’ — isn’t enough,”
Ed Webb

Spurned by Trump, Europeans ponder how to meet Iran ultimatum - 0 views

  • With Trump warning of a last chance for “the worst deal ever negotiated”, Britain, France and Germany have begun talks on a plan to satisfy him by addressing Iran’s ballistic missile tests and its regional influence while preserving the 2015 accord that curbed Iran’s nuclear ambitions for at least a decade.

    It is hard to say what might mollify the Trump administration, which is split between those who would like to tear up the agreement and those who wish to preserve it and which has said inconsistent things about its demands to keep the accord, U.S. and European officials said.

    Under U.S. law, Trump must decide again whether to renew the U.S. sanctions relief every 120 days, giving Congress, as well as U.S. and European diplomats, until mid-May to see if there is a way to finesse the issue.

    But the Brussels meeting has left European powers wary that whatever they agree, it may not be enough.

  • A collapse of the nuclear deal could see a breakdown in the relations between the United States and Europe that have underpinned the West’s security since World War Two, European diplomats and the senior U.S. official said, and could confirm Europe’s fears that it can no longer count on U.S. leadership
  • Washington wants U.N. nuclear inspectors to be able to visit military sites as part of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s verification of the nuclear deal. The IAEA says it does not distinguish between military and non-military sites and has repeatedly said Iran is honoring its commitments under the deal.
Ed Webb

Erdogan vows to 'destroy all terror nests' in Syria - 0 views

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to “destroy all terror nests” in Syria today, as he kept up his verbal attacks against the United States over its continuing support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

  • followed a night of shelling by Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army allies targeting Afrin, the Kurdish-majority enclave on the Turkish border that is under YPG control
  • Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack Afrin and Manbij, an Arab-majority town that lies further east and is also under YPG control. But so far its actions have been limited to sporadic artillery strikes initiated from the Turkish side of the border and from within the Euphrates Shield zone run by Turkey and its rebel allies.
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  • Russian forces patrol the skies over the region and are present on the ground. Similarly, targeting Manbij could trigger a confrontation with hundreds of US special forces deployed in the YPG-controlled areas, which extend from Manbij all the way to Iraq
  • “The feeling, increasingly even within traditionally cautious Turkish Foreign Ministry circles, is that Turkey’s prestige is on the line. And that an operation is feasible.” Russia may well consent to a limited and clearly defined Turkish foray
  • Erdogan took direct aim at the United States. “Lower your flags over the terrorist [YPG] bases so that we are not forced to hand them over to you ourselves, so that we are not forced to bury those who stand by the terrorists in the ground,” he warned. “The Turkish Armed Forces will settle the Afrin and Manbij affairs in the shortest possible time. The offensive can begin any second.”
  • Turkey has so far swallowed the US partnership with the YPG — albeit kicking and screaming — on the assumption that it would end once IS was vanquished and that the United States would not embark on any form of nation-building that would cement the Kurds’ territorial and political gains. But recent statements from top US officials suggest the United States is reviewing its options
Ed Webb

Is war about to break out in the Horn of Africa? Will the West even notice? - - 0 views

  • Now an actual conflict over H2O may be boiling, but no one in Washington has put down Michael Wolff’s book long enough to notice. Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia may come to blows — with the help of Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project
  • The Nile is so important that, setting aside terrorism and internal stability, Egypt’s most significant security concerns lay largely to the south and are directly related to the unimpeded flow of the river’s waters
  • When GERD is completed, it will reduce Egypt’s share of Nile water by 22 billion cubic meters per year, devastating Egyptian agriculture and hydroelectric production, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources. This is obviously of critical concern to Egypt’s leaders, but they have not been able to reach a diplomatic solution to the problem. The country has been preoccupied with internal developments since the uprising in 2011 that pushed President Hosni Mubarak from power. In addition, the issue of the Ethiopian dam has been managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is not as influential as it once was, especially in comparison to the Ministry of Defense and the General Intelligence Directorate. There was an effort to resolve the problem in 2015, with Sudan acting as a broker between Egypt and Ethiopia, but that failed.
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  • The Sudanese recently welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Khartoum, where he signed a number of security-cooperation agreements, including a provision to allow the Turks to administer Suakin Island, located at a strategic point in the Red Sea between Egypt, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. The island used to be home to an Ottoman naval base, and the Egyptians fear the Turks plan to renovate the island and establish a permanent military presence there.
  • Egyptians deployed a helicopter carrier in the Red Sea and sent troops to an Emirati base in Eritrea. This in turn angered the Ethiopians. Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1993 and the two countries fought a border war in the late 1990s that killed an estimated 80,000 people. In 2016 they briefly clashed again, killing hundreds more. In response to the presence of Egyptian troops in Eritrea, the Ethiopians not only rejected a Cairo proposal to cut Khartoum out of negotiations over GERD, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn hosted the Sudanese defense minister and vowed to speed up dam construction. All the while the Sudanese deployed thousands of troops to its border with Eritrea
  • tension between Cairo and Khartoum over the Hala’ib and Shalateen disputed zones, which are located on the border between Egypt and Sudan but administered by the Egyptians
  • Qatar also upgraded its security relations with Sudan
  • It is not hard to imagine how all this escalates into warfare. We are not dealing with the best militaries in the world, which reduces the margin for error and miscalculation. It is also a potential conflict that involves a number of important American allies against each other. Turkey, a NATO ally, and Qatar, which hosts the largest American military base outside the United States, have aligned themselves with Sudan and by extension with Ethiopia, another American ally. On the other side we have Egypt, a longtime partner of the United States in the Middle East, and Eritrea. The United Arab Emirates, a critical player in the Persian Gulf and beyond, would also likely be involved given its ties to Egypt and Eritrea.
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
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  • 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

The Uncounted - The New York Times - 0 views

  • one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition
    • Ed Webb
      A remarkable and alarming discrepancy. We must treat military claims with great skepticism, unfortunately.
  • a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all
  • the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants
  • ...31 more annotations...
  • “In the middle of the night,” he wrote, “coalition airplanes targeted two houses occupied by innocent civilians. Is this technology? This barbarian attack cost me the lives of my wife, daughter, brother and nephew.”
  • two direct hits. “O.K., this is my house, and this is Mohannad’s house,” he recalled. “One rocket here, and one rocket there. It was not a mistake.”
  • in 2003, the United States invaded. One night just a few months afterward, the Americans showed up at the Woods and took over a huge abandoned military barracks across the street from Basim’s property. The next morning, they started cutting down trees. “They said, ‘This is for our security,’ ” Basim recalled. “I said, ‘Your security doesn’t mean destruction of the forest.’ ” Walls of concrete and concertina wire started to appear amid the pine and chinar stands.
  • When the Americans withdrew in 2011, Basim felt as if almost everyone he knew harbored grievances toward the occupation.
  • “Radical Islamists grew as a result of this war, and many ideas grew out of this war which we have never seen or heard before,”
  • During the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, war planners began to focus more seriously on condolence payments, seeing them as a way to improve relations with locals and forestall revenge attacks. Soon, American forces were disbursing thousands of dollars yearly to civilians who suffered losses because of combat operations, for everything from property damage to the death of a family member.
  • In 2003, an activist from Northern California named Marla Ruzicka showed up in Baghdad determined to overhaul the system. She founded Civic, now known as the Center for Civilians in Conflict, and collected evidence of civilians killed in American military operations. She discovered not only that there were many more than expected but also that the assistance efforts for survivors were remarkably haphazard and arbitrary. Civic championed the cause in Washington and found an ally in Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. In 2005, Ruzicka was killed by a suicide blast in Baghdad, but her efforts culminated in legislation that established a fund to provide Iraqi victims of American combat operations with nonmonetary assistance — medical care, home reconstruction — that served, in practice, as compensation.
  • not a single person in Iraq or Syria has received a condolence payment for a civilian death since the war began in 2014. “There really isn’t a process,” a senior Central Command official told us. “It’s not that anyone is against it; it just hasn’t been done, so it’s almost an aspirational requirement.”
  • While assisting civilian victims is no longer a military priority, some authorities appear to remain concerned about retaliation. About a year after the strike on Basim’s house, his cousin Hussain Al-Rizzo, a systems-engineering professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, received a visit from an F.B.I. agent. The agent, he said, asked if the deaths of his relatives in an American airstrike made him in his “heart of hearts sympathize with the bad guys.” Hussain, who has lived in the United States since 1987, was stunned by the question. He said no.
  • Because there was no established mechanism for Iraqi victims to meet American officials, his appointment was at the American Citizen Services section. He pressed against the window and showed the consular officer his dossier. One page contained satellite imagery of the Razzo houses, and others contained before-and-after photos of the destruction. Between them were photos of each victim: Mayada sipping tea, Tuqa in the back yard, Najib in a black-and-white self-portrait and a head shot of Mohannad, an engineering professor, his academic credentials filling the rest of the page. The most important issue, Basim had written, was that his family was now “looked at as members of ISIS” by the Iraqi authorities. This threatened to be a problem, especially after the city’s liberation.

    The consular officer, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, was moved. “I have people coming in every day that lie to me, that come with these sob stories,” the officer remembered telling him, “but I believe you.”

  • when Basim’s case was referred to a military attorney, the attorney replied, “There’s no way to prove that the U.S. was involved.”
  • we wrote to the coalition ourselves, explaining that we were reporters working on an article about Basim. We provided details about his family and his efforts to reach someone in authority and included a link to the YouTube video the coalition posted immediately after the strike. A public-affairs officer responded, “There is nothing in the historical log for 20 SEP 2015,” the date the coalition had assigned to the strike video. Not long after, the video disappeared from the coalition’s YouTube channel. We responded by providing the GPS coordinates of Basim’s home, his emails to the State Department and an archived link to the YouTube video, which unlike the videos on the Pentagon’s website allow for comments underneath — including those that Basim’s family members left nearly a year before.
  • Over the coming weeks, one by one, the coalition began removing all the airstrike videos from YouTube.
  • An alarm blares occasional high-temperature alerts, but the buildings themselves are kept so frigid that aviators sometimes wear extra socks as mittens
  • Most of the civilian deaths acknowledged by the coalition emerge from this internal reporting process. Often, though, watchdogs or journalists bring allegations to the coalition, or officials learn about potential civilian deaths through social media. The coalition ultimately rejects a vast majority of such external reports. It will try to match the incident to a strike in its logs to determine whether it was indeed its aircraft that struck the location in question (the Iraqi Air Force also carries out strikes). If so, it then scours its drone footage, pilot videos, internal records and, when they believe it is warranted, social media and other open-source information for corroborating evidence. Each month, the coalition releases a report listing those allegations deemed credible, dismissing most of them on the grounds that coalition aircraft did not strike in the vicinity or that the reporter failed to provide sufficiently precise information about the time and place of the episode.
  • They speak of every one of the acknowledged deaths as tragic but utterly unavoidable. “We’re not happy with it, and we’re never going to be happy with it,” said Thomas, the Central Command spokesman. “But we’re pretty confident we do the best we can to try to limit these things.”
  • Airwars, a nonprofit based in London that monitors news reports, accounts by nongovernmental organizations, social-media posts and the coalition’s own public statements. Airwars tries to triangulate these sources and grade each allegation from “fair” to “disputed.” As of October, it estimates that up to 3,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes — six times as many as the coalition has stated in its public summaries. But Chris Woods, the organization’s director, told us that Airwars itself “may be significantly underreporting deaths in Iraq,” because the local reporting there is weaker than in other countries that Airwars monitors.
  • the coalition, the institution best placed to investigate civilian death claims, does not itself routinely dispatch investigators on the ground, citing access and security concerns, meaning there has not been such a rigorous ground investigation of this air war — or any American-led air campaign — since Human Rights Watch analyzed the civilian toll of the NATO bombing in Kosovo, a conflict that ended in 1999
  • we selected three areas in Nineveh Province, traveling to the location of every airstrike that took place during ISIS control in each — 103 sites in all. These areas encompassed the range of ISIS-controlled settlements in size and population makeup: downtown Shura, a small provincial town that was largely abandoned during periods of heavy fighting; downtown Qaiyara, a suburban municipality; and Aden, a densely packed city neighborhood in eastern Mosul. The sample would arguably provide a conservative estimate of the civilian toll: It did not include western Mosul, which may have suffered the highest number of civilian deaths in the entire war. Nor did it include any strikes conducted after December 2016, when a rule change allowed more ground commanders to call in strikes, possibly contributing to a sharp increase in the death toll.
  • In addition to interviewing hundreds of witnesses, we dug through the debris for bomb fragments, tracked down videos of airstrikes in the area and studied before-and-after satellite imagery. We also obtained and analyzed more than 100 coordinate sets for suspected ISIS sites passed on by intelligence informants. We then mapped each neighborhood door to door, identifying houses where ISIS members were known to have lived and locating ISIS facilities that could be considered legitimate targets. We scoured the wreckage of each strike for materials suggesting an ISIS presence, like weapons, literature and decomposed remains of fighters. We verified every allegation with local administrators, security forces or health officials
  • During the two years that ISIS ruled downtown Qaiyara, an area of about one square mile, there were 40 airstrikes, 13 of which killed 43 civilians — 19 men, eight women and 16 children, ages 14 or younger. In the same period, according to the Iraqi federal police, ISIS executed 18 civilians in downtown Qaiyara
  • in about half of the strikes that killed civilians, we could find no discernible ISIS target nearby
  • By the time the information made its way to the coalition and it decided to act, the mortar had been moved.

    Such intelligence failures suggest that not all civilian casualties are unavoidable tragedies; some deaths could be prevented if the coalition recognizes its past failures and changes its operating assumptions accordingly. But in the course of our investigation, we found that it seldom did either.

  • On the evening of April 20, 2015, aircraft bombed the station, causing a tremendous explosion that engulfed the street. Muthana Ahmed Tuaama, a university student, told us his brother rushed into the blaze to rescue the wounded, when a second blast shook the facility. “I found my brother at the end of the street,” he said. “I carried him.” Body parts littered the alleyway. “You see those puddles of water,” he said. “It was just like that, but full of blood.” We determined that at least 18 civilians died in this one attack and that many more were grievously wounded. News of the strike was picked up by local bloggers, national Iraqi outlets and ISIS propaganda channels and was submitted as an allegation to the coalition by Airwars. Months later, the coalition announced the results of its investigation, stating that there was “insufficient evidence to find that civilians were harmed in this strike.” Yet even a cursory internet search offers significant evidence that civilians were harmed: We found disturbingly graphic videos of the strike’s aftermath on YouTube, showing blood-soaked toddlers and children with their legs ripped off.
  • Human rights organizations have repeatedly found discrepancies between the dates or locations of strikes and those recorded in the logs. In one instance, the coalition deemed an allegation regarding a strike in the Al-Thani neighborhood of Tabqa, Syria, on Dec. 20, 2016, as “not credible,” explaining that the nearest airstrike was more than a kilometer away. After Human Rights Watch dispatched researchers to the ground and discovered evidence to the contrary, the coalition acknowledged the strike as its own
  • The most common justification the coalition gives when denying civilian casualty allegations is that it has no record of carrying out a strike at the time or area in question. If incomplete accounts like these are standard practice, it calls into question the coalition’s ability to determine whether any strike is its own. Still, even using the most conservative rubric and selecting only those 30 airstrikes the Air Force analysts classified as “probable” coalition airstrikes, we found at least 21 civilians had been killed in six strikes. Expanding to the 65 strikes that fell within 600 meters — for example, the strikes on the home of Inas Hamadi in Qaiyara and the electrical substation in Aden — pushed that figure to at least 54 killed in 15 strikes. No matter which threshold we used, though, the results from our sample were consistent: One of every five airstrikes killed a civilian
  • “We deeply regret this unintentional loss of life in an attempt to defeat Da’esh,” Scrocca wrote, using another term for ISIS. “We are prepared to offer you a monetary expression of our sympathy and regret for this unfortunate incident.” He invited Basim to come to Erbil to discuss the matter. Basim was the first person to receive such an offer, in Iraq or Syria, during the entire anti-ISIS war.
  • “This situation of war,” he continued, “big corporations are behind it.” This is where the real power lay, not with individual Americans. He’d come to believe that his family, along with all Iraqis, had been caught in the grinder of grand forces like oil and empire, and that the only refuge lay in something even grander: faith. He had rediscovered his religion. “There was some bond that grew between me and my God. I thanked him for keeping my son alive. I thanked him that my operation was successful. Now I can walk.”
  • In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date, deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”
  • The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.
  • Our own reporting, conducted over 18 months, shows that the air war has been significantly less precise than the coalition claims. Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014.
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