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Ed Webb

Q&A: What ever happened to the Arab League? | Politics | Al Jazeera - 0 views

  • the League's paralysis reflects its irrelevance since the 2000s, and that's the unprecedented part. There have always been high points of unity spurred usually by Israel, and low points of fragmentation caused by internal rifts - for instance, Egypt in 1978, Iraq/Kuwait in 1990
  • In the past, Israel, Jerusalem and the Palestinian plight were some of the few things that could create League-wide conformity; and yet today, it is an illustration of its division.
  • it's extremely difficult to dissolve a regional organisation, once created - not due to costs, but because it requires a collective act of admission that the entire venture was a failure, and most regional states will not admit that
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  • the League still exists because, despite the decline of pan-Arabism, there is still a romantic notion among Arab intellectuals and elites that regional unity is attainable, that Arabness can still be a force for change, and that the League can continue to act as a vessel for potential cooperation
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

Mohammed bin Salman Isn't Wonky Enough - Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • Like Western investors, the kingdom’s elites are uncertain about what the new order means for the country’s economy. The new Saudi leadership has indeed created new opportunities, but many of the deep structural barriers to diversification remain unchanged. The bulk of the public sector remains bloated by patronage employment, the private sector is still dominated by cheap foreign labor, and private economic activity remains deeply dependent on state spending. Addressing these challenges could take a generation — and it will require patience, creativity, and a clearer sense of priorities.
  • While a band of Al Saud brothers used to rule collectively with the king as a figurehead, decision-making has now become centralized under one man
  • ruthlessness and willingness to take risks radically at odds with the cautious and consensual political culture of the Al Saud clan
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  • Saudi Arabia has tackled fiscal reforms more vigorously than most local and international observers expected, introducing unprecedented tax and energy price measures, including the introduction of a 5 percent value added tax, new levies on foreign workers, and increases in electricity and transport fuel prices. The government is now experimenting with new non-oil sectors with an increased sense of urgency, including information technology and defense manufacturing.
  • While space for political opposition arguably has narrowed, women will soon be allowed to drive and the religious police force that once harassed them has been almost entirely neutered. By relaxing religious controls over the public sphere, the crown prince is seeking to attract more foreign investment and facilitate diversification into tourism and entertainment
  • New policies and programs are announced constantly, while the delivery capacity of the sluggish Saudi bureaucracy continues to lag. Below the upper echelons, the Saudi state remains the deeply fragmented, bloated, and slow-moving machine that I described in my 2010 book. The government seems to have no clear strategy for reforming this bureaucracy
  • Local economic advisors fear that the majority of private petrochemicals firms — the most developed part of Saudi industry — would lose money if prices of natural gas, their main input, increase to American levels.
  • public sector employment remains the key means of providing income to Saudi nationals. Cheap foreign labor dominates private sector employment, thereby keeping consumer inflation at bay and business owners happy. Citizens, however, are parked in the overstaffed public sector. Out of every three jobs held by Saudis, roughly two are in government. The average ratio around the world is one in five. Public sector wages account for almost half of total government spending, among the highest shares in the world
  • As limits on government employment kick in, young Saudis will increasingly have no choice but to seek private jobs. But they will face tough competition on the private labor market where employers have become accustomed to recruiting low-wage workers from poorer Arab and Asian countries
  • Saudi wage demands will have to drop further if private job creation is to substitute for the erstwhile government employment guarantee. For the time being, private job creation has stalled as the government has pursued moderate austerity since 2015 in response to deficits and falling oil prices
  • The government has also underestimated how dependent private businesses are on state spending. The share of state spending in the non-oil economy is extremely high compared to other economies. Historically, almost all private sector growth has resulted from increases in public spending
  • As long as oil prices remain below $70 per barrel, the goal of a balanced budget will cause pain for businesses and limit private job creation. This will pose a major political challenge at a time when an estimated 200,000 Saudis are entering the labor market every year. More than 60 percent of the population is under 30, which means that the citizen labor force will grow rapidly for at least the next two decades.
  • It would be far more prudent to gently prepare citizens and businesses for a difficult and protracted adjustment period and to focus on a smaller number of priorities
  • The key structural challenge to non-oil growth is the way the Saudi government currently shares its wealth, most notably through mass public employment — an extremely expensive policy that bloats the bureaucracy, distorts labor markets, and is increasingly inequitable in an era when government jobs can no longer be guaranteed to all citizens. A stagnating economic pie that might even shrink in the coming years must be shared more equitably.
  • A basic income would not only guarantee a basic livelihood for all citizens, but also serve as a grand political gesture that could justify difficult public sector reforms. A universal wealth-sharing scheme would make it easier to freeze government hiring and send a clear signal that, from now on, Saudis need to seek and acquire the skills for private employment and entrepreneurship. The government could supplement this scheme by charging fees to firms that employ foreigners while subsidizing wages for citizens to fully close the wage gap between the two.
  • Focusing on such fundamentals might be less exciting than building new cities in the desert or launching the world’s largest-ever IPO — but they are more important for the kingdom’s economic future. No country as dependent on petroleum as Saudi Arabia has ever effectively diversified away from oil
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

POMED Report - Foe Not Friend: Yemeni Tribes and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula | Pr... - 0 views

  • Yemeni tribes as collective entities—as opposed to individual tribesmen—have not allied with AQAP or agreed to give its fighters sanctuary. Tribes reject the group’s radical and violent ideology and tend to see AQAP as a serious challenge to their authority.
  • AQAP has only been able to seize territory and make other gains in parts of Yemen where the tribal structure is relatively weak
  • tribes first use peaceful conflict resolution to deal with AQAP threats, and resort to force only in what they assess as particularly dire circumstances and when they have exhausted all other options. Through peaceful conflict resolution, and sometimes through force, tribes have helped to limit the spread of AQAP
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  • The report describes the evolution of al-Qaeda in Yemen since the late 1980s; what tribes are, the government’s relations with tribes, and tribes’ governance and value systems; and AQAP-tribal interactions before and during the civil war, when some tribes have coordinated with AQAP against the Houthis, a common enemy
  • Limit the use of airstrikes and raids against AQAP, especially in areas where clashes between Houthis and tribes are ongoing. Such attacks generate popular anger among tribes and other Yemenis that AQAP exploits.
  • Contrary to a common stereotype, tribal areas are not lawless
  • Tribes oppose AQAP because its presence can instigate conflict within tribes, threaten the fragile social order, and invite air strikes
  • AQAP has been able to recruit some tribal youth who, frustrated, without economic prospects, and isolated in their communities, are vulnerable to its propaganda that speaks to their social and political grievances and offers them status and material gain.
  • The preferred U.S. strategy against AQAP has been to prosecute a controversial and far-reaching air (mainly drone) strike campaign. These strikes have killed AQAP leaders, but also killed and injured many civilians in tribal areas, and caused destruction and disruption that breed deep anger among tribes toward the Yemeni and the United States governments. AQAP exploits this to build support.
Ed Webb

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: Countering Extremism: Jihadist Ideology Reig... - 0 views

  • By James M. Dorsey

    Edited remarks at India Foundation conference, Changing Contours of Global Terror, Gurugram, Haryana, 14-16 March 2018
  • Al Qaeda produced the counterterrorism industry in the context of a response that was focussed on law enforcement, security and military engagement. To be sure, that has produced significant results. It has enhanced security across the globe, stopped plots before they could be executed, driven Al Qaeda into caves, and deprived the Islamic State of its territorial base.

    All of that, however has not solved the problem, nor has it fundamentally reduced the attraction of religiously-cloaked extremism.
  • the call for a counter-narrative has produced an industry of its own. Like the terrorism industry, it has vested interests of its own: its sustainability is dependent on the continued existence of perceived real threats.
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  • The notion that one can eradicate political violence is illusionary. Political violence has been a fixture of human history since day one and is likely to remain a fact of life. Its ebbs and flows often co-relate to economic, social and political up and down turns. In other words, counterterrorism and counternarratives will only be effective if they are embedded in far broader policies that tackle root causes.

    And that is where the shoe pinches. To develop policies that tackle root causes, that are inclusive and aim to ensure that at least the vast majority, if not everyone, has a stake in society, the economy and the political system involves painful decisions, revising often long-standing policies and tackling vested interests. Few politicians and bureaucrats are inclined to do so.
  • militants have benefitted from the fact that the world was entering a cyclical period in which populations lose confidence in political systems and leaderships. The single largest success of Osama bin Laden and subsequent militants is the fact that they were able to disrupt efforts to forge inclusive, multicultural societies, nowhere more so than first in Europe, then the United States with the rise of Donald Trump, and exploit ripple effects in Asia
  • what makes this cycle of lack of confidence more worrisome and goes directly to the question of the ideological challenge is how it differs from the late 1960s, the last time that we witnessed a breakdown in confidence and leadership on a global scale.

    The difference between then and now is that then there were all kinds of worldviews on offer: anti-authoritarianism, anarchism, socialism, communism, concepts of extra-parliamentary opposition, and in the Middle East and North Africa, Arab nationalism and Arab socialism. Today, the only thing on offer are militant interpretations of Islam and jihadism
  • With democracy on the defense, free market enterprise having failed significant segments of the public, and newly found legitimacy for prejudice, bias and bigotry, democratic governments are incapable of credibly projecting a dream, one that is backed up by policies that hold out realistic hope of producing results
  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared to be holding out a dream for his kingdom. But that dream increasingly is being shattered both in Yemen and at home. Autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa are about upgrading and modernizing their regimes to ensure their survival, not about real sustainable change
  • populists and nationalists advocating racial, ethnic and religious purity and protectionist economic policies are unlikely to fare any better
  • Creating a policy framework that is conducive to an environment in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia that would favour pluralism and respect of human rights and counter the appeal of jihadism and emerging sectarian-based nationalism is not simply a question of encouraging and supporting voices in the region, first and foremost those of youth, or of revisiting assumptions of Western foreign policies and definitions of national security. 

    It involves fostering inclusive national identities that can accommodate ethnic, sectarian and tribal sub-identities as legitimate and fully accepted sub-identities in Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian, as well as in Western countries. It involves changing domestic policies towards minorities, refugees and migrants
  • Instead of reducing the threat of political violence, the largely military effort to defeat Al Qaeda produced ever more virulent forms of jihadism as embodied by the Islamic State. It may be hard to imagine anything more brutal than the group, but it is a fair assumption that defeating the Islamic State without tackling root causes could lead to something that is even more violent and more vicious.
  • an approach that focuses on the immediate nature of the threat and ways to neutralize it rather than on what sparked it
  • Norway’s response to right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik’s traumatic attacks in 2011 that killed 77 people stands as a model for how societies can and should uphold concepts of pluralism and human rights. Norway refrained from declaring war on terror, treated Breivik as a common criminal, and refused to compromise on its democratic values. In doing so, Norway offered a successful example of refusing to stigmatise any one group in society by adopting inclusiveness rather than profiling and upholding the very values that autocrats and jihadists challenge
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 Reverse Midas Touch of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Is Turning the Middle East to Dust - 0 views

  • Can you get more “impulsive” than rounding up 11 fellow princes, including one of the world’s richest men and the commander of the national guard, and holding them at the Ritz Carlton on charges of corruption? Especially since MBS, who ordered the arrests only a few hours after his father set up an anti-corruption committee and put him in charge of it, isn’t exactly a paragon of probity and transparency himself
  • That the crown prince of Saudi Arabia can, essentially, kidnap the elected leaders of not one but two Middle Eastern countries — and, incidentally, put the leading Saudi royal he replaced as crown prince under palace arrest — speaks volumes about not just his “impulsive intervention policy” but the shameless pass he gets from Western governments for such rogue behavior. Imagine the reaction from the international community if Iran had, say, detained the Iraqi prime minister on Iranian soil after forcing him to resign on Iranian television. Yet President Donald Trump has gone out of his way to tweet his support for the crown prince and his father: “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing.”
  • The crown prince and his cronies had assumed that tiny, defenseless Qatar would be brought to heel within a matter of weeks, if not days. Five months on, however, the Qataris, continue to reject the long list of Saudi/UAE demands — including the closure of the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera media network — and have retreated into the warm embrace of the MBS’s key regional rivals, Iran and Turkey
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  • Yemen has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis — which MBS, as defense minister, shamefully intensified with his order last week to blockade all entry points into the country
  • the much-lauded MBS has in fact proved to be the reverse Midas — everything he touches turns to dust. Maybe the authors of that scathing BND memo underestimated just how much of a disaster this favored son of Salman would be both for the kingdom and for the wider region. The inconvenient truth about the crown prince is that he isn’t only impulsive, he’s incompetent; he isn’t only ambitious, he’s reckless. He is also a nationalist and a hawk who is bent on turning the long-standing Saudi/Iran cold war into a very hot war — and is even willing to ally with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel in order to do so. If MBS is the new “leader of the Arab world”… then Allah help the Arab world.
Ed Webb

What Saudi Arabia's purge means for the Middle East - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Though seemingly unprecedented, the weekend’s developments follow the pattern Mohammed bin Salman has used since the beginning of his rapid ascent to power in 2015. In both domestic and foreign affairs, he has consistently undertaken sudden and wide-ranging campaigns for unclear reasons which shatter prevailing norms. At home, this audacious political strategy has proven relatively successful — at least in the short term. Abroad, foreign policy gambits such as the intervention in Yemen and the blockade of Qatar have rapidly degenerated into damaging quagmires. This combination of domestic success and foreign policy failure helps makes sense of this weekend’s blizzard of activity and may help preview what comes next.
  • Where Saudi state institutions are strong enough to mitigate the effects of provocative policies, international politics are less forgiving and have fewer safety nets. Virtually every major foreign policy initiative Mohammed bin Salman has championed has proved disastrous, often producing precisely the negative results that the move had been designed to prevent
  • The intervention in Yemen has been an unmitigated disaster
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  • The Qatar campaign has been similarly disastrous, effectively destroying the Gulf Cooperation Council in a quixotic effort to impose Saudi-UAE leadership. Despite the promise of rapid Qatari capitulation, the conflict quickly settled into an entrenched stalemate that has paralyzed the GCC and escalated the toxic polarization of regional politics. This quagmire exposed Saudi Arabia’s weakness and its inability to play the role of regional hegemon to which it aspired
  • Many regional observers therefore fear that Hariri’s resignation, announced in Riyadh with a sharply anti-Iranian speech, could trigger a political crisis intended to end with a military campaign against Hezbollah. Such a move would fit the pattern of bold foreign policy initiatives launched in the expectation of a rapid, politically popular victory. It would also very likely follow the pattern of such initiatives rapidly collapsing into a bloody, destabilizing quagmire.
Ed Webb

The Siege of Doha « LobeLog - 0 views

  • Despite all the onerous sanctions that the US has imposed against Iran over the years, which verge on economic warfare, there has never been a formal restriction on sales of food or medicine, including by US companies. The Saudi-UAE boycott, however, closed off food and medicine shipments to Qatar wherever possible, in the middle of Ramadan. I don’t know if this technically constitutes a breach of international humanitarian law, but it is certainly drastic by modern standards of political conflict.
  • it is striking that the attacks on dissident forces in Yemen have employed the same tactics. Access to food and medicine have been denied routinely in the name of military expediency, reducing the population to near starvation and subject to outbreaks of cholera and other epidemics
  • In political and social terms, these demands are more stringent than the documents of surrender that the United States and its coalition allies imposed against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq at Safwan in 1991 after one of the greatest defeats in military history. There was no attempt to dictate to the Iraqis what they could say, or what they could believe, or who they could have as friends. This appears to be the equivalent of regime change, even if that is not the stated intention.
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  • in light of the background and history of the ultra-wealthy Arab Gulf kingdoms, it is very difficult to accept at face value this newfound determination to defeat terrorism by humiliating a smaller neighbor whose differences consist primarily of alternative choices of distasteful proxies
  • the Saudi-UAE siege appears to be a reckless act of coercion by two of the largest and wealthiest states in the region against a smaller, but also vastly wealthy state that chose an alternative political path. It has split the Gulf Cooperation Council down the center and seems to be signaling that membership in this club implies not cooperation so much as unswerving obedience to the Saudi metropole. That goes beyond a mere dynastic spat between rival domains and raises serious questions about the future of the institution itself
Ed Webb

How Different-and Dangerous-Is Terrorism Today? | The New Yorker - 2 views

  • terrorism is now a standard feature of asymmetric warfare, with fewer wars pitting states against each other and more of the combatants being non-state actors with less traditional forms of weaponry
  • while the absolute number of attacks is down, the lethality of terrorism has risen sharply in the past two years
  • “There may have been, in aggregate, more terrorism in the seventies and eighties, but it was discriminate,” he said. “They kept their terrorism within boundaries related to their cause. Today it’s different. It’s less predictable, less coherent and less cohesive. It leaves the impression of serendipity. ISIS posts pictures of a vehicle and says get in your car and drive into people—and that’s all it takes.”
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  • professional or experienced terrorists are being supplemented by a proliferating array of amateurs
  • Today’s third generation is engaged in plots that are simpler yet more widespread than the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda, Watts told me. “They’re not as sophisticated as in the Al Qaeda era, when complex operations were well coördinated and carried out by a few designated men. Now, some are not even trained or formally recruited. They’re self-empowered.” As a result, killing people on a bridge may not have the same impact or symbolic emphasis as an attack on a U.S. Embassy or the World Trade Center. But the reaction can be just as profound.
  • “The West can do things on the margins to be safer,” Berger said, but it still faces another “five or ten years of potentially dangerous situations. There’s not any silver bullet that will reduce the occurrence of these events in the short term. We need to be thinking about resilience—and how we’re going to assimilate events when they happen.”
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    Wright is well-informed on foreign affairs, security, and terrorism.
Ed Webb

Qatar's Gulf Allies Have Had Enough of Doha's Broken Promises - 1 views

  • Citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states woke up on Monday morning to what is the most severe crisis in the regional block’s 38 year history to date. In a closely coordinated series of statements, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, along with Egypt, announced the severing of ties with the peninsular state of Qatar.
  • In what may be the most debilitating move, Qatar’s border with Saudi Arabia—which is its only land border —has been shut and all flights over Saudi and UAE airspace has been closed off to Qatar bound flights and Qatar Airways. Qatari citizens have been given two weeks to leave Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE and all travel by these countries citizens to Qatar is now prohibited.
  • Other Qatar backed networks that were accused of incitement on official Gulf TV channels include Al Quds Al Arabi (Arab Jerusalem) newspaper which was founded in London in 1989, online Arabic news portal Arabi 21, the London based website Middle East Eye, the Arabic version of Huffington Post which is headed by former Al Jazeera boss Waddah Khanfar and Al Khaleej Al Jadeed (the New Gulf).
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  • It is likely that this time the Gulf States will demand the complete shuttering of the Al Jazeera TV Network before any mediation can take place. Additionally, the plug will have to be pulled on networks funded by Qatar such as Al Araby Al Jadeed (The New Arab), originally set up to compete with Al Jazeera and headed by former Arab Israeli politician Azmi Bishara.
  • will also demand the expulsion of all Muslim Brotherhood leaders and their Hamas affiliate figures from Qatar, along with Azmi Bishara and Islamist writer Yasser Al-Za'atra. Other demands will include the sacking of Al Arab newspaper editor Abdullah Al Athba
  • It seems though the initial pressure has already somewhat worked on Qatar. Last week Doha deported Saudi activist Mohammed Al-Otaibi who arrived in Qatar in March, while a number of Hamas officials have left Qatar at the country’s request.
  • Qatar imports over 90 percent of its food, and by one estimate about 40 percent of that comes from the its only land border, which is now closed. Within hours photos started circulating on social media of Qatari supermarket aisles that have been emptied by panicked shoppers. Furthermore Gulf media has hinted at an escalation of the dispute with Qatari commercial and trade ties being severed next.

Ed Webb

Trump has vowed to eradicate 'radical Islamic terrorism.' But what about 'Islamism'? - ... - 1 views

  • The very notion of Islamism often elicits fear and confusion in the West. Used to describe political action where Islam and Islamic law plays a prominent public role, it includes everyone from the European-educated “progressives” of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party to the fanatics of the Islamic State. Not surprisingly, then, “Islamism” can confuse more than it reveals.
  • The “twin shocks” of the Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State have forced mainstream Islamists — Muslim Brotherhood-inspired groups that accept parliamentary politics and seek to work within existing political systems — to better articulate their worldview and where it converges and diverges with the post-World War II liberal order.
  • While the Islamists we talked to unanimously opposed the Islamic State and were disgusted by its brutality, some couldn’t help but look with envy at the group’s ability to shatter “colonial impositions” — the Islamic State’s symbolic razing of the Iraq-Syria border, drawn up by Europeans, is perhaps the most infamous example. It’s not so much the arbitrariness of state borders as much as the fact that they exist.
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  • A general dislike of modern borders has been a feature of Islamist politics for some time now, and not just among the young and zealous. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for example, has been candid on how Turkey’s “emotional borders” extend far beyond those drawn on the map.

  • After the Arab Spring, a growing number of Islamists have begun to challenge what they see as uncreative approaches to the state — an overly centralized state, and one which, in its very constitution, is unable to tolerate dissent or alternative approaches to organizing society. There is a sense, as one participant put it to us, that the state actively interferes with everything, including religion.
  • What’s discomforting is that many Muslims — and not just the Islamic State or card-carrying Islamists — might prefer, in an ideal world, to be free to pledge their ultimate loyalty to the ummah in the abstract, rather than to a nicely bounded nation-state. And while survey data shows the overwhelming majority of Muslims strongly oppose the group, the Islamic State nonetheless draws strength from ideas that have broader resonance among Muslim-majority populations
  • The Islamic State’s model is actually quite modern, with government control taking precedence over social and religious institutions rising organically from the grass roots.
  • As the scholar Ovamir Anjum has argued, pre-modern Muslim thought was not concerned with “politics” in the traditional sense, but with the welfare of the ummah — what he cleverly calls “ummatics.”
  • a sort of libertarian streak
  • Maybe the reason Islam hasn’t fallen in line isn’t just the poverty, the lack of education, colonialism or wars. These all play a role, of course. But maybe the ideas Islamism brings to the fore also have a resilience and appeal that we have been reluctant to admit. And maybe the liberal order is not as desired, inevitable or universal as we thought.
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    Islamists pose intellectual challenge to liberal world order
Ed Webb

Trump's Syria Strike Was Unconstitutional and Unwise - The Atlantic - 3 views

  • Congress erred by doing nothing when Obama waged war illegally in Libya. It will compound that error if there are no consequences now for Trump.  Every legislator who has expressed the belief that it would be illegal to strike Syria without their permission should start acting like they meant what they said. Given what recent presidents have been permitted, impeachment over this matter alone would understandably lack popular legitimacy. But I wouldn’t mind if anti-war legislators created a draft document titled “Articles of Impeachment,” wrote a paragraph about this strike at the top, and put Trump on notice that if he behaves this way again, a coalition will aggressively lobby their colleagues to oust him from office.
  • The alternative is proceeding with an unbowed president who is out of his depth in international affairs, feels entitled to wage war in ways even he once called illegitimate, and thinks of waging war as a way presidents can improve their popularity.
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