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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

America's Forever Wars - The New York Times - 0 views

  • it’s time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary, how long it should continue and whether there is a strategy beyond just killing terrorists. Which Congress, lamentably, has not done. If the public is quiet, that is partly because so few families bear so much of this military burden, and partly because America is not involved in anything comparable to the Vietnam War, when huge American casualties produced sustained public protest. It is also because Congress has spent little time considering such issues in a comprehensive way or debating why all these deployments are needed
  • President Trump, like his predecessor, insists that legislation passed in 2001 to authorize the war against Al Qaeda is sufficient. It isn’t. After the Niger tragedy, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, has agreed to at least hold a hearing on the authorization issue.
  • “a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.”
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  • 6,785 Afghan security force members died in 2016 and 2,531 died in the first five months this year, according to the United States and Afghan governments. Tens of thousands of civilians also perished at the hands of various combatants, including in 2017, but the figures get little publicity. Most Americans tend not to think about them.
  • Senators who balk at paying for health care and the basic diplomatic missions of the State Department approved a $700 billion defense budget for 2017-18, far more than Mr. Trump even requested.

    Whether this largess will continue is unclear. But the larger question involves the American public and how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate.

Ed Webb

Just What The Middle East Needs -- $110 Billion More In Weapons | HuffPost - 1 views

  • It appears the Trump administration is counting on the country with the worst human rights record in the region to enforce peace and security in the Middle East.
  • Piled on top of this enormous arms lot are precision-guided munitions that President Obama would not sell the Saudis. That’s not because the Obama folks didn’t like selling weapons to the Saudis — Obama sold more weapons and gear to Saudi Arabia in eight years than all other previous administrations combined. No, Obama withheld precision-guided munitions because the Saudis were using U.S.-provided munitions to repeatedly target civilian and humanitarian sites in their bombing campaign inside Yemen, despite regular protests from the United States.
  • millions of Yemenis are being radicalized against the country they blame for the civilian deaths: the United States. By selling the Saudis these precision-guided weapons more not fewer civilians will be killed because it is Saudi Arabia’s strategy to starve Yemenis to death to increase their own leverage at the negotiating table. They couldn’t do this without the weapons we are selling them.
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  • The Saudis’ obsession with Iran, and the proxy wars (like Yemen) that flow from this obsession, mean that they have little bandwidth to go after extremist groups. Meanwhile, the Saudis continue to export a version of Islam called Wahhabism that is a crucial building block for the perversion of Islam parroted by groups like al Qaeda
  • we have to ask whether continuing to fuel the growing proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is the right way to bring peace to the Middle East. To the extent this conflict is going to continue, we are clearly on the Saudis’ side, but the inarguable effect of selling more capable weapons to the Saudis is the acceleration of weapons build-up in Iran
  • feeding the arms race between the two nations probably isn’t the best long-term strategy
  • What do we have to gain by going in so enthusiastically with the Sunnis against the Shia in their fight for power in the Middle East? This isn’t our fight, and history suggests the U.S. military meddling in the Middle East ends up great for U.S. military contractors, but pretty miserable for everyone else.
  • $110 billion could educate every single one of the 30 million African primary school age children who has no access to school today...for five years
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.
Ed Webb

Hitting the Reset Button on the International Order | Foreign Policy - 1 views

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    Good, if gloomy, discussion on prospects for the U.S.-led international order under the Trump administration.
Ed Webb

How Trump can deal with Iran-GCC conflict - 1 views

  • Coupled with Trump’s desire for regional allies to do more to provide for their security is an explicit understanding he has that US military intervention in the Middle East has achieved little and comes at far too great a cost. “We’ve been fighting this war for 15 years,” he told "60 Minutes" Nov. 13. "We’ve spent $6 trillion in the Middle East, $6 trillion, we could have rebuilt our country twice.”
  • Recently, I attended the Third Annual Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, where hundreds of regional Arab participants claimed that Iran is bent on regional hegemony and interferes in the affairs of Arab countries. Additionally, they blamed the United States for attacking Afghanistan and Iraq and handing the region to Iran. As the only Iranian at the conference, I reminded them that the US war on terror was triggered by the Sept. 11 attacks, which was carried out by 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudis. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was for years also a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ally, which supported him throughout the brutal eight-year Iran-Iraq War. Afterward, when Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, the GCC called on the United States and its allies to come to their rescue and push back Saddam. In the case of two other Arab countries — Liby

  • A CSCE-type process for the Persian Gulf — one which includes Iran, Iraq and the six states of the GCC — can be a way toward fostering a stable regional order. While much separates these states today, a gradual process that begins with their simply holding regular meetings where they can communicate their security grievances can result in more cooperative relationships' developing over time.
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    Fascinating proposal from a seasoned Iranian diplomat. I don't see the GCC or Iran's hardliners going for it. But no harm to float the idea.
Ed Webb

'Atlantic' editor says that Israel's 1948 expulsion of Palestinians was not 'a tragedy' - 0 views

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    Mondoweiss is a pro-Palestine website, so bear that in mind when reading this analysis of Goldberg's positions.
Ed Webb

Donald Trump Is the First Demagogue of the Anthropocene - The Atlantic - 1 views

  • Jürgen Scheffran, a professor of geography at the University of Hamburg, has been investigating whether climate change makes armed conflict more likely for more than a decade. In 2012, he worked on a team that analyzed all 27 empirical studies investigating the link between war and climate change.

    “Sixteen found a significant link between climate and conflict, six did not find a link, and five found an ambiguous relationship,” he told me. He described these numbers as inconclusive. Trying to prove that climate change is linked to war, he said, would be like trying to prove that smoking causes cancer with only one available case study.

  • there is only one world, and not a million worlds, in which the temperature is rising, and you cannot associate a single event—like a single hurricane or a single conflict—to climate change. It’s a statistical problem, and we don’t have enough data yet
  • the U.S. Department of Defense already considers global warming a “threat multiplier” for national security. It expects hotter temperatures and acidified oceans to destabilize governments and worsen infectious pandemics
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  • Martin O’Malley was mocked for suggesting that a climate-change-intensified drought in the Levant—the worst drought in 900 years—helped incite the Syrian Civil War, thus kickstarting the Islamic State. The evidence tentatively supports him. Since the outbreak of the conflict, some scholars have recognized that this drought pushed once-prosperous farmers into Syria’s cities. Many became unemployed and destitute, aggravating internal divisions in the run-up to the war
  • Scheffran underlined these climate connections but declined to emphasize them. “The Syrian War has so many complex interrelated issues—and most of them are political and economic—that the drought is just one contributing factor to the instability in the region,”
  • it’s all about the exogenous shock. We were all interested in, to what extent does a big event like a flooding or a drought undermine society, or trigger a conflict outbreak?
  • Heatwaves, droughts, and other climate-related exogenous shocks do correlate to conflict outbreak—but only in countries primed for conflict by ethnic division. In the 30-year period, nearly a quarter of all ethnic-fueled armed conflict coincided with a climate-related calamity. By contrast, in the set of all countries, war only correlated to climatic disaster about 9 percent of the time
  • climate disaster will not cause a war, but it can influence whether one begins
  • Models predict that northern Africa and the Levant, both already drought-prone, will dry out significantly over the course of the century. On the phone, Schleussner also cited southern Africa and south-central Asia as regions to watch. (It’s no coincidence that some of the largest, longest wars this century have occurred in those places.)
  • a drought-and-flood-fueled armed conflict near the Mediterranean Basin could send people toward Western Europe in the hundreds of millions
  • “I wouldn’t say that there would be a mass migration to Europe, but I would expect to see a large number of people being displaced within Africa,”
  • There is literally, in legal parlance, no such thing as an environmental refugee,” says Edward Carr. “To meet the international standard for refugee, a changing environment is not a forcing. It doesn’t count.”
  • When would you attribute the decision to move to changes in the climate? Does a place have to be dry for five years? For 10 years? Does someone have to have three children die, and then they decide to move?
  • Climate change could push Western politics toward demagoguery and authoritarianism in two ways, then. First, it could devastate agricultural yields and raise food prices; destroy coastal real estate and wash away family wealth; transform old commodities into luxury goods. Second, it could create a wave of migration—likely from conflict, but possibly from environmental ruination—that stresses international reception systems and risks fomenting regional resource disputes.
  • it could erode people’s sense of security, pushing them toward authoritarianism
  • Like the CEO in the 1950s who predicted that America would see flying cars and three-day workweeks by the year 1999, I’ve assumed that every ongoing trend line can be extrapolated out indefinitely. They can’t. The actual future will be far stranger.
  • climate change must be mitigated with all deliberate speed. But he also suggests certain cultural mechanisms. Some Americans may favor more restrictive immigration policies, but—in order to withstand against future waves of mass migration (and humanely deal with the victims of climate change)—racist fears must be unhooked from immigration restrictionism. In other words, as a matter of survival against future authoritarians, white supremacy must be rejected and defeated.
  • Improving the United States’s immune response to authoritarian leadership—a response that could be repeatedly tested in the century to come—can follow from weaving its civic fabric ever tighter. I don’t know what this will look like, exactly, for every person. But here are some places to start: Volunteer. Run for local or state office. Give to charity (whether due to religion or effective altruism). Organize at work. Join a church or a community choir or the local library staff. Make your hometown a better place for refugees to settle. Raise a child well.
  • climate realists have always split their work between mitigation—that is, trying to keep the climate from getting worse—and adaptation—trying to protect what we already have
connelth

Putin in Syria: Chechnya All Over Again - 0 views

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    The difference between Aleppo now and Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, at the turn of the millennium is that Western leaders are at least trying to save the Syrians trapped in the besieged city. A decade and a half ago, there were precious few diplomatic missions for the Chechens.
Ed Webb

Obama's Syria Strategy Is the Definition of Insanity | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • The Russian government, much less the Assad regime, has never been a reliable partner for peace in Syria. But even after Russia’s alleged bombing of the aid convoy, U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration is still plowing its energies into a deal that aims to work with the Russian government.
  • The Obama administration has viewed the Syrian crisis through the lens of counterterrorism. But diplomatic failures such as this one continue to embolden extremist actors like al Qaeda, which has purposely presented itself as a reliable and necessary opposition ally, seemingly dedicated only to the cause of ridding Syria of the Assad regime. By so deeply embedding within Syrian revolutionary dynamics and claiming to fill the vacuum left behind by insufficient foreign support or protection, al Qaeda’s narrative is constantly strengthened by perceptions of American inadequacy. Thus, U.S. failures do not exist in a vacuum — our adversaries quickly translate them into their own victories.
  • the Russian government is not the key to controlling the Assad regime’s heinous behaviors. For a week straight, the Syrian government consistently ignored Moscow’s demands and destroyed a cease-fire deal that had been largely of Russia’s making. The regime also reinforced its troop positions around Aleppo and amassed forces opposite the strategic northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, and its aircraft were blamed for bombings around Aleppo, north of the city of Homs, and in parts of southern Daraa governorate. And after the Assad government declared the cease-fire over, Russia ferociously destroyed an aid convoy intended for 78,000 civilians
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  • Bashar al-Assad does not intend to step down from power, and he will use any means at his disposal to prevent that from happening
  • Five years ago, Syria was a local problem; today it is an international one. U.S. indecision, risk aversion, a total divergence between rhetoric and policy, and a failure to uphold clearly stated “red lines” have all combined into what can best be described as a cold-hearted, hypocritical approach. At worst, Washington has indirectly abetted the wholesale destruction of a nation-state, in direct contradiction to its fundamental national security interests and its most tightly held values.
  • U.S. commitment remained negligible when compared with our often uncoordinated regional allies, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. It seems U.S. officials wanted Assad out but wanted others — whom administration officials would say in private they did not trust — to do it for them
  • The result? Nearly half a million people dead, more than 1 million people living under siege, and 11 million people displaced. Catastrophic refugee flows have led to an anti-immigrant backlash in Europe and the rise of far-right politics while Syria is now home to perhaps the greatest concentration of jihadi militants in any single country ever
  • Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — formerly the Nusra Front — the most capable, politically savvy, and militarily powerful al Qaeda movement in history. Al Qaeda’s central leadership has also revitalized itself inside Syria, with the international terrorist organization’s newly named deputy leader almost certainly residing in the country. The correlation is simple: U.S. shortcomings equal al Qaeda’s success in Syria.
  • most Syrians living in opposition areas now view al Qaeda as a more trustworthy and capable protector of their lives than the United States. If there were ever a sign of policy failure, this would be it.
  • there will be no purely military solution to Syria’s conflict — a negotiated settlement is the only feasible path toward stability. However, Assad will never treat a political process with any level of seriousness until placed under meaningful pressure, which the United States has thus far done everything in its power not to do.
  • Opposition to partition is arguably the single issue that unites communities supportive of and opposed to Assad
  • combating al Qaeda in Syria cannot be done solely with bullets and bombs. Defeating it is instead an issue of providing a more attractive and sustainable alternative to the jihadi group’s narrative. Given its successful efforts to embed within the opposition and build popular acceptance as a military (not a political) ally, al Qaeda does not represent a conventional counterterrorist problem
  • If Assad remains in place indefinitely and the conflict continues or worsens, the Islamic State will undoubtedly live to fight another day
  • Civilian protection should remain the core focus of any broad-based strategy, but it must be backed up by real and discernible consequences for violators
  • Skeptics of a more assertive approach to the Syrian crisis can deride their critics as much as they want — but one would hope that after five years of failures, they would at least admit that they have got something wrong
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