Saturday, April 28, 2012

The US's Non-Concession Concession on Iran

From the LA Times comes the report of a "major shift" in Obama's thinking on Iran's nuclear program - that the US just might "allow" Iran to  enrich uranium up to 5 percent, which, the LAT notes, is the upper end of civilian-use enrichment.

This despite the acknolwedged fact that, no matter Netanyahu and his amen corner in the US Congress may kick and scream,  international law (the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty) entitles Iran and every other country on the planet to a civilian nuclear program, which requires, of course, enriched uranium - which Iran is entitled to produce on its own.

Good to see that some in the Israeli establishment are calling Netanyahu to account on his messianic thunderings about attacking Iran.  (IDF chief Benny Gantz may be among them, according to Haaretz;  and former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin spoke out very strongly, only to have Bibi's defenders now accuse him of doing so out of petty personal animosities.) 

But as the LAT points out, Mitt Romney and the GOP members of Congress will jump all over Obama for any perceived slacking of pressure on Iran.  But what Obama may be contemplating seems hardly worth the hits he'll be taking.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Marco Rubio: Iraq is so Yesterday

. . . or at least that's Conor Friedersdorf's take (at The Atlantic) on Marco Rubio's recent foreign-policy speech at the Brookings Institution, where the shiny bright young GOP senator evidently touted the upside of US intervention without making any mention of Iraq, whatsoever. 

Of course, in today's America of short memories and constant distraction by texting barrages and changing Facebook statuses, Rubio can easily blow off Iraq and count on lots of people having consigned its memory to that old dustbin of history.

Those Fun-loving Israeli Ultra-Orthodox are at it again

Well, at least this time they're not beating up Arabs, poisoning their water, or destroying their olive groves.  Now it's only a matter of trashing a mosaic and vandalizing associated remains from a 6th-century CE church.  Suspected culprits are haredi settlers.

Story (with pix) at YNet news.

Another Catastrophe Born of Boy George's Iraq Adventure

In today's The Independent, Robert Fisk (back in Iraq) has the story from Fallujah, where US troops now admit to using phosphorus shells in 2004.

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Review of Belen Fernandez's "The Imperial Messenger"

My thanks to Paul Woodward at War in Context for posting my review of Belen Fernandez's new book, The Imperial Messenger - a systematic, incisive take-down of the work of NYT pundit Thomas Friedman.  

And I'm happy to see that it's been re-posted at PULSE Media as well.

Friday, April 6, 2012

No Progress with Iran till after November Elections?

The always spot-on Patrick Seale writes (via Gulf News) of how the aggressiveness of US Sec of State Hillary Clinton's recent pronouncements against Iran and Syria offers little hope of resolving the ongoing crises with both countries.  Seale opens with:

Does US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton want confrontation and war in the Middle East or dialogue, reconciliation and peace? Her pronouncements and policies during her visit to the region suggest impatient belligerence. She seems intent on spreading mayhem, to the puzzlement and anxiety of many of the locals, as I discovered on a visit which coincided with hers.

He proceeds from there (read the rest here) to detail Hillary's belligerence, and how it achieves nothing in terms of progress towards pacifying the region.

Seale might also have suggested, though, that Hillary's tone might be due just as much to the approach of the fully fledged electioneering season, with Mitt Romney steadily emerging as the GOP's presidential candidate. Gingrich is toast.  So is Santorum, whose only possible role at this point is as self-appointed sanctimonious standard-bearer of the hyper-Christian-conservative Right.  To channel Glenn Close, they will not be ignored, even if it means scrambling the GOP convention in Tampa, dividing their party, and ensuring an Obama victory in November.

Nonetheless, Obama's advisors know that they dare not simply dismiss Romney's chances against Obama.  Romney has already pumped himself as the steadfast adversary of Iran and its allies, more than ready to launch a military attack against them if only because of Iran's putative existential threat to Israel.  Hillary's statements work to the effect of pre-emptive strikes to dullen the impact of Romney's attacks on that front.

Expect more of the same right up to November . . . especially if future reports on job creation are as lukewarm as was today's.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Looming US-Saudi Confrontation?

Dan Murphy of the CSM reports on how members of Iraq's Sunni tribes (largely from Anbar province in the west) are funnelling weapons - and warriors - to the Sunni rebels who are trying to take down the Shi'i Iran-backed Assad regime in Syria.  These Iraq Sunni tribesmen have themselves been hammered in recent years by the Shi'a-dominated Maliki regime in Baghdad, which also supports Assad by and large, even if it does nonetheless call for violence in Syria to end.

Also bear in mind that the Saudi royal family - they of the very deep pockets - have set themselves up as the quartermasters of the Syrian Sunni rebels.  And the US is on board with those rebels being provided with the weapons they need to take out Assad.

But what happens if Assad indeed goes down, and well-armed Sunnis in Syria - some of them Syrian, some Iraqi, many of them tribal brothers - turn their attention to the afore-mentioned Shi'a-dominated Maliki regime in Iraq?  It's apparent that Maliki is not prepared to make significant political space for Sunni Arabs in his government.  It's also apparent that Iraq's Sunni Arabs largely resent the ascent of the Shi'a - and the US's role in that ascent - and are determined either to wrest back control of the state or else to cut themselves off from its control via partition or federalism.  Maliki has made it plain that he will find neither of those options acceptable.

It's also well known that the Saudi royals detest the idea of a Shi'a- (and Iran-)dominated Iraq.  The Shi'a are heretics in the eyes of the Wahhabi religious leaders who underpin the al-Sauds' legitimacy as rulers.

So . . . what happens when well-armed and battle-tested Sunni fighters, likely with Saudi backing, turn their attention to Iraq?  Could Maliki's military deal with that?

And how might the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq's north respond to a resurgence of Iraq's Sunni, at whose hands the Kurds historically have suffered so severely?

Does the US hedge its bets?  Does it rush military aid to Maliki to counter a Sunni resurgence - and in the process, reassure the US's long-time Kurdish allies?  Or does it ditch Maliki in favor of a Sunni resurgence that might lead to a reconstructed Sunni Arab bulwark against Shi'i Persian Iran?  The Three Amigos (McCain, Lieberman, Graham) could tout this as a perfect opportunity to re-insert a US military presence into Iraq - specifically, into a Kurdistan that would be highly concerned about Sunni spill-over.  

And, of course, throwing Maliki under the bus would earn the US the gratitude - and freely flowing oil - of the Saudis.

It would also put paid to the idea of a unitary state of Iraq.

Again, to channel Gen. Petraeus: tell me how this ends.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Assad's fall = Good for Israel? Hmmm . . . .

Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, predicts the demise of Assad in Syria, but cites the need to manage the aftermath carefully.  His most important desideratum?  That Iran's ties to Syria be severed.  Predictable enough.  Most Israelis would see an elimination of Iranian influence in Syria as a victory for Israel - and justifiably so.

But might this be short-sighted?  As Syria's zero-sum politics now seem to stand, Bashar's demise will produce a backlash against the Shi'a-derived Alawis who have dominated the Assad regime since 1970, and an ascendancy of Sunni Arabs,  many of them allied with the Muslim Brotherhood.  The Muslim Brotherhood is on the rise in Egypt, where their representatives have made it clear that they will have very little truck with Israel.  Although Bashar (and his father before him) made a big show of their role leading the resistance against Israel, in point of fact the Assads tended to be reasonably accommodating with the Israeli leadership whenever it served the interests of regime survival.

Odds are that a predominantly Sunni conservative regime in Syria - one with close ties to, or even dominated by, the Muslim Brotherhood - may turn its back on Iran, but by no means can it be assumed that they automatically will bring a happy result for Israel.  To quote an old dictum: Be careful of what you wish for, or you will surely get it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Foreign Aid as "Bait"

As end of semester crunch approaches, my blogging time evaporates.  But it's hard to pass up a Thomas Friedman piece (in today's NYT) that instructs the US (which is here and always, in Friedman-speak, "we") in how to use US foreign aid:

For instance, we should be transitioning away from military aid to regimes like Egypt and focusing instead on enabling more sectors of that society to have a say in politics. Right now, I’d argue, our foreign aid to Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan is really a ransom we pay their elites not to engage in bad behavior. We need to turn it into bait.

I can only imagine the kinds of hay that people like Rami Khouri ought to make with a metaphor that characterizes major Muslim countries as so many fish or similarly dumb animals to be lured and then reeled or snagged.

That this quasi-jingoist has somehow risen to the top of the pile as a supposed expert on US foreign relations should tell us all we need to know about the need to better educate the American public. 

And, again, I cannot recommend highly enough Belen Fernandez's dissection of TF in her recent book, The Imperial Messenger.

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