Posted tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

Weak News

January 2, 2019

The President has made a lot out of labeling “news” he does not like as “fake”.  The implication is the “news” is false, incorrect, or at a minimum, misleading.  The President’s view should not be discounted out of hand since over a wide range of statements, President Trump has demonstrated little affinity for facts, and the media has printed his statements. 

So what is “fake” about some news?

Journalism is a profession taught in major institutes of higher education.  Practitioners, however, need not have a Journalism degree nor even a college degree.  Writing in local papers “Man bites dog” does not require more talent than to be able to read the local police log.  Writing for trade publications can be as easy as paraphrasing or outright copying an already written (by the company releasing the information) “news release”.

Coverage of President Trump, in his first days as President, was straight forward.  “President Trump today said blah, blah, blah”.  What the President said was by definition news.  Ironically what the President said was invariably “fake news” since the most basic of fact checking screamed “liar, liar, pants on fire”.  President Trump is a special case in terms of total aversion to speaking factually. Simply reporting President Trump’s words also represents “weak news”.

What about the news not centered on him?

The first thing one must remember is that regardless of what journalism standards are applied, news reporting is at the end of the day “a product and a business”.  If the business does not make money, it ceases to exist.  And, if the product (the news report) is not accurate and relevant, readers will disappear and sooner or later, the business will lose money and cease operations.

So here is a non-Trump example of “weak news”.

Yesterday, there were “breathless” reports that investigations had found evidence that Yemeni rebels had stolen foreign aid supplies from the port of Hodeidah and had sold the food stuff for a profit.  Hmmm.  What else would an occupying force do?  What had ISIS occupiers done?  This is either an example of “weak” news or news that missed the real point.

The Yemeni civil war has brought devastation to an entire nation.  Yemeni civilians have been indiscriminately slaughtered and destruction is near complete. Long ago “real” news reports called into question Saudi tactics and US involvement for the humanitarian consequences.  Hmmm.

While there are no justifications for stealing food aid and then reselling it, is this theft a greater wrong than bombing a country to dust?

ISIS’ Last Stand?

June 9, 2017

The long awaited attack on Raqqa, seat of the ISIS provisional government, is about to, or has just begun. After months of pondering, “do we arm the Syrian Kurds or not”, the US has done so and the battle which will ultimately oust ISIS leaders, is at hand. Will ISIS collapse or move to another spot is unclear. Whether the ousting will put an end to terrorist activity, however, is problematic. Why is that and does it matter?

Before there was ISIS, there was al Qaeda. And while ISIS and al Qaeda did their thing, there was also al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and the Taliban. All these organizations have applied extreme Islamic fundamentalists thinking to the secular world. All of these organizations have tried to carve out a more comfortable life for themselves at the expense of someone else. Sound like thugs or common criminals?

A few days ago, a terrorist attack took place in Iran, a country run by religious extremists. ISIS claimed responsibility thereby pleading guilty to these senseless killings.

Do you think this operation was the dying gasps of a defeated organization?

The Iranian attack served a useful, but unintended, consequence. The attack pointed to a source predating al Qaeda, ISIS and all the rest. Wahhabism.

Wahhabism lives in a symbiotic relationship with the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia. In a “give to Caesar what is due” type of arrangement, the royal Saudi family supports, to the exclusion of others, the Wahhabi version of Islam. In return, the Wahhabi clerics support the royal family and look the other way should a royal sheik go over the line with cigarettes or alcohol or whatever.

So, no matter what happens with ISIS, the beacon of ultra conservative Islam, and any ridiculous or anti-social behavior one associates with ISIS or Saudi Arabia (like women’s covering and societal restrictions) will have a sponsor, who from time to time, will think god wants them to enforce such beliefs on the “infidels”. A nuisance for sure, but not an existential threat, to be sure.

Consider that last week a single armed person went into a Florida business and shot four innocent people before taking his own life. In another shooting this week in Pennsylvania, a single armed person went to a grocery store after-hours. This person barricaded the exits and then began shooting, killing three people, before taking his own life. Both of these mass killings had the markings of terrorist inspiration but alas, both turned out to be just home grown insanity.

London, Manchester, and Paris have experienced “ISIS inspired” despicably violent acts recently. Despite large sums of money and hard work by anti-terror professionals, tragic incidents have still occurred. These tragedies are red meat for clever politicians who only too gladly paint the world filled with terrorists, like they are behind every tree. Regrettably, it appears the world is also filled with gullible people only to ready and willing to swallow this populist bait and accept shallow recommendations from these dangerous, self serving politicians.

Candidate Trump and his many right wing supporters were only too ready to talk tough towards ISIS while campaigning. Now as President, Trump continues to talk tough but has little to show for it. For the rest of us, former President Obama less inspirational tones that required one to think about the real nature of terrorism, resonate as wise and informed.

  • Extreme Islam is a problem for everyone including non-extreme Muslims.
  • Extreme Islam’s threat to America pales in comparison to tragedies of everyday American life.

Middle East Puzzle

October 24, 2013

There’s an old baseball story about a manager trying to defend one of his decisions.  It seems the game was tied with runners of first and second, one out.  The manager asks the gathered reporters what should the short stop do if the ball was hit to his right?  Should the short stop throw to third base for one out, or to second trying for a double play, or to first base for a sure single out?  About one third of the reporters picked “throw to third”, one third picked “throw to second” and one third picked “throw to first”.  There you have it said the manager, regardless of my choice, two thirds of you will find it wrong.

The story bears a more than slight resemblance to the Middle East.  What course should the Obama Administration being following?  As with this baseball story, what ever course the Administration picks, more than half of the Middle East players will be against the US choice.

Looking at Syria, it should be clear that the insurgents will be as bad a nightmare or worse than the current Assad regime.  They are unfit to rule.

Should Iran agree to certain concessions, and the Western powers accept these concessions and reduce the sanctions, you can be sure Israel and Saudi Arabia will be opposing any reductions in sanctions.

The clearest case for opposing an Iran compromise comes from the Saudis.  While the Saudis are Sunnis, they are first and foremost a regime that demands stability and status quo.  The Saudis are not in favor of popular vote (in the Middle East that exists today).  invading Iraq, aiding the Syrian insurgents, and encouraging the Muslim Brotherhood.  There were all actions the Saudis saw as very dangerous and totally misguided.

To a large extent, this is also how Israel see the Middle East.  Unfortunately, Israel did lobby for Iraq regime change and so its position is a little manufactured.  Also, the Israeli position versus Iran’s nuclear program is compromised.  Were Israel to say, if Iran gives up (and we can verify) its nuclear programs, we will do the same, there might be a basis for a brighter future.  Such a position would for sure put Israel in a less hypocritical position.  Middle East stability, not democracy, is what Israel thinks is in its best interest.

So that’s the lay of the land.  No matter what the Obama Administrations proposes, there will be a number of countries that object.  Hmmm.

Don’t forget, President Obama “leads from behind”.  In other words, the President tries to “react” to world events rather than precipitating them.  So how should he resolve the Syria uprising, the Iranian nuclear issue, the Palestinian-Israeli peace accords, the Iraq unrest, the Egyptian failed democracy, or pick any country in Africa’s lawlessness?

So, who again is worried about the delayed start-up of the Affordable Care Act web site?


Things They are A-Changing

April 30, 2011

The Middle East is a mess.  Well, that ‘s not new news.  What is news, however, is where it is becoming messier.   US foreign policy is between a rock and a hard place.  Our past 12 years of Middle East policy seems will produce an unexpected and unwanted outcome.

Tunisia and Libya are inching towards civil war.   Somalia could be their model in time.  Syria is killing their own citizens.  The numbers are rising each day.  Yemen is fighting a civil war quietly and spilling blood in their streets in order to quiet protesters.

Egypt has now raised its hand.  It says it will open its communications with Hamas and open the boarders with Gaza.  Potentially this can have devastating consequences to Israel.

For sure it will show what bad things happen when religious views are mixed with affairs of State.  Israelis will see what a huge mistake they have made by not having negotiated in good faith and reached an agreement with the Palestinians long ago.

Iraq is currently not involved.  They are so far content to count the days until American troops are fully withdrawn.  Iraq will wait and see what happens.  Iran’s shadow will drive the Shiites and Saudi Arabia will quietly fund a Sunni resistance.  Every so often, both sides will delight in killing each other and taking shots at Israel.

All of this is made possible by the abundance of oil and the unresolved issue of Israel’s right to exist.

The West should know by now that we cannot understand the Muslim faith or why they fight amongst themselves.  The West should just stand back.  This is their fight and when it is over, we can see what might be possible.

Israel is another story.  The West cannot abandon the Jews again.  This time, however, there must be reasonable conditions.  For example, fundamentalist Jewish groups cannot be allowed to hold a peace process captive because they claim god gave certain pieces of land to the Jewish people.  This is ridiculous on the surface and totally impractical at the bargaining table.

If the West steps in to protect Israel (including supply of arms and money), then Israel must take reasonable measures at concluding a peace.  If Muslim groups choose not to cooperate, and instead fight, then force should be authorized to defend “reasonable” Israeli boarders.

What a mess.

Is Iraq Ready?

August 18, 2010

The death of 61 Iraqis lined up at an Iraqi Army recruiting center this week has underscored again the foolishness of Bush/Cheney decision to invade in the first place. Now with US troops poised to withdraw, questions are being raised on whether the Iraqi Government and its military can keep order once the US has gone home. The proper response is “who cares?”

Iraq was a mess before the invasion and is a mess now 8 years later. Only a strong and decisive government can bring order to Iraq. This type of authority most likely will look like a dictatorship since all the evidence to date suggests the separate pieces of Iraq society can not agree on anything.

Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds all want a piece of the power so that they can control the moneys associated with oil. Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran all have their strong preferences on who should run Iraq, again for reasons that best serve their own national interests. This is no country for old men.

Reports indicate that those responsible for the suicide bombing of those 61 were Sunni clans whose allegiance and good behavior the US had bought around the time of the “surge”. When things settled down, the Shiite lead government stopped paying off these clans and surprise, surprise trouble is returning.

Soon we will hear the neoconservative drum beat about why we cannot abandon Iraq. We will be told al Qaeda will return and ready themselves for attacking the US. We will not be told that staying in Iraq will require the Defense Department budget to remain bloated providing lots of jobs and profits to the military-industrial sector of our economy. We will not be told that the US has more than fulfilled its moral responsibility to rebuild what it broke in Iraq. We will not be told that these divisions within Iraq and its neighbors existed before the invasion and that there is no way for the US to fix what only Iraqis can fix.

So, to the question, “is Iraq ready”, your answer should be “who cares”?

Foreign Jobs Policy

August 2, 2010

Headlines today say the United Arab Emerates plans to shut down the use of Blackberrys. The reason suspected is that Research In Motion (who run the software used by hand held Blackberrys) is encrypted and too hard for the UAE to break, and RIM doesn’t want to help. Saudia Arabia is considering a similar action. This is just another sign that we do not understand the Middle East mentality very well.

Well, actually the action considered by the UAE and Saudi Arabia is quite easy to understand. These moves are quite consistent with their treatment of women as second class citizens and the stranglehold on power by the elite. How else can the powerful stay in power if they do not take steps to suppress any chance of others gaining power through information?

The Arab world plus Iran and Afghanistan (plus a large number of countries in Africa) fit a similar mold. These are poor countries with largely illiterate populations. The predominant religion (Islam) has done nothing (and some would argue actively thwarted attempts) to educate the population. It simply works better to keep the people poor and uneducated, and therefore much more dependent upon the Mullahs and the “warlords”. In a few countries, great wealth has been discovered (oil) but the overall picture remains the same. Keep the wealth (and power) for a few.

The US through its consumption of petroleum has found it convenient “to live and let live” the Saudi way of life. Yet for Iraq and Afghanistan, US policy sees a modernization of those societies through “nation building”. Its not going to happen in our life time.

The issue is not that Saudis, or Iraqis, or Iranians, or Afghanis are useless, dumb or evil people. Individually they possess the same potential as anyone else in the world. The issue is that these people are part of a system that is centuries old and that system rejects modernity. Until there is a grass roots movement to educate and learn from others, there is no hope that military force can alter their ways of life.

So, we need a new “Foreign Jobs Policy” that creates US jobs in alternate energy while we wean ourselves off foreign gasoline. Those countries can choose their future jobs policies without our help.  In addition, it is time to end both wars and bring home our troops.  Our new job policy will just in time to employ the soldiers no longer in harms way.

New Afghan Strategy

August 20, 2009

It is very difficult to avoid cynicism when discussing US national interest in Afghanistan, and the current military strategies to meet these goals. There is nothing about Afghanistan that makes it relatable to us, like Mexico or Canada, or even Russia or China. Afghanistan is not a trading partner, a vast oil reserve country, or one rich in minerals.

For example, from a cynical view, Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq is easily understood in terms of oil. Afghanistan, on the other hand is the result of following the al Qeada organization to its base. Seven years have passed and Afghanistan is no closer to being free of al Qeada or, more disturbingly,  is the Karzai government able to rule than the moon is made of blue cheese.

President Obama called for more troops and a reassessment upon taking office. In a few months, a new General, Stanley McCrystal, was placed in charge, and he called for a reassessment. We are now hearing that even more troops will be asked for. What type of strategy is that?

If you ask the military how to get a job done, you should expect a guns and tanks answer. Where are the outside the box thinkers? Look at the facts in Afghanistan. It is a country where most of the population is uneducated. It is a muslim country where stoning and second class status for women are the norm. It is a country where poppies are a cash crop and bribery is a way of government life. It is a country that is mostly rural and extremely mountainous in large areas. In a few words, it is locked in the middle ages and has almost nothing going for it to do better.

Fighting in Afghanistan is like trying to push the evening tide back. You can’t do it. The source of violence and support for al Qaeda is not the Afghan people. They would be happy to tend to their fields and keep their women in line. It is outside influences combined with a useless religion that sustains the military capability of Taliban insurgents. We do not have enough guns and tanks (nor the money) to fight this head on.

It is time to recognize that until there is real nation building in Afghanistan and the complete introduction of modernity, there can be no end to the terrorist behaviors. This task can not lie solely on the backs of Americans since the threat is global. We need to withdraw our troops, impose a blockade, and wait until other nations such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China choose to help finance the birth of Afghanistan as a modern nation, and ensure the supply of money and weapons is shut off.

The new US strategy must reflect that we will no longer be the suckers who pay and waste our soldier’s lives, and we will make life miserable for any group in Afghanistan that attempts to conduct foreign terrorism.  And we will do it from a safe distance.

The Middle East Dance

March 1, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is off to Tel Aviv and the opening official rounds of Middle East diplomacy for the Obama Administration.  Special Envoy George Mitchell has already visited and held discrete discussions, so now it is time for the signal that Israel and the Middle East are important to America.

But what a task to accomplish.  The entire Middle East has acted dysfunctionally, it seems, since 1948.  One deluded and misguided regime after another  has acted out its national aspirations using Israel as a foil.  Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran have all had a go at it.  And just when one would think that this silliness had run its course, Israel found a way to act out its own internal psychotic ambitions and regenerate opposition amongst its neighbors.  What is different now?

The answer is very little.  Israel is in the midst of a political identity crisis and unable to form a stable government.  Right wingers including the most extreme religious groups (those who claim a “god given” right to the land, and as much of the land as they want too) possess a slight majority.  Efforts to form a coalition with the center have failed and this does not bode well.  Syria is still quietly helpful of Hezbollah and Hamas even though Syria is weary of Iran’s ultimate goals.  Iran has pretty much an open playing field.  They are financing and training both Hezbollah and Hamas and using these surrogates to pursue its national ambitions.  And the Saudis simply can’t be trusted.  They claim to oppose Shiite Iran but are undoubtedly slipping money to Hamas, Hezbollah, and other extremists “just in case”.

It is an outlook like this that on first blush make George W Bush’s hands off policy look wise.  Bush’s policy, however, was not hands off, it was more like “arm the hell out of Israel and let them be the Middle East sherif.  And there in lies the current US problem.  How do you break a bad habit?

Here are three steps I would recommend

  • Cut all aid to Israel and require that any aid be renewed every 90 days.  The objective is to limit the amount of military hardware and munitions that Israel could possess that in turn could be used against the Arabs (like in Lebanon and Gaza).  The message to both sides is the US will protect (and resupply if necessary) Israel, but the US opposes Israel’s preemptive attacks on Arabs.
  • Forceably, if necessary, open Gaza’s sea coast to supervised trade.  Any and all ships entering Gaza ports would be subject to on board inspections prior to docking.  The message is that Israel could no longer use economic strangulation as a means of control and negotiation.
  • Develop economic ties and incentives with Syria in order to indirectly minimize the effective influence of Iran.  By bringing Syria out of the closet and providing them with tangible reasons to cooperate, the supply lines to Hezbollah and Hamas can be hampered.

There are certainly other approaches.  Maybe these three might be useful in trying to understand why the US selects any other approach, unless of course AIPAC tells us the reason first.    

What Does Peace Mean?

January 9, 2009

All those wringing their hands over the current Palestinian (read Hamas) – Israeli conflict are calling for a cease fire and a road to peace.  What do you think that means to them?

Does it mean that the Israelis should stop shooting and the Hamas faction should stop their rocket firings?  Is that peace?

And in a cease fire period, is it peace where one sides lives prosperously and the other side slowly wastes away in poverty?

Or is peace the situation where the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank become a State (with questionable means to survive) and the Palestinians living in Lebanese refugee camps are not allowed to return to the lands they once occupied because those lands are within Israel’s boarders?

I think that most people who are calling for a cease fire and peace really mean they do not want to see on their televisions or in their newspapers pictures of dead or dying children.  They do not want to see pathetically equipped hospitals unable to provide 21st century care.  They do not want to hear any more of suicide bombers or rocket firing extremists.  They want somehow to put the lid back on the Middle East mess and just have it go away.

I am afraid that this form of peace is not good enough.  It is truly putting a lid on the situation and simultaneously setting the conditions for an even larger conflict the next time.  The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a conflict between these two parties and also a surrogate for other neighboring countries to express their national interests.  Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and even Iraq all have a dog in this fight.  If by magic, there could be an agreement with these countries and the US, the funding that supports the arm purchases could evaporate.  The atmosphere would then be ripe for a full negotiation of all the issues supporting free Israel and free Palestinian states.  

The US is not a neighbor but since it is the largest supporter of Israel and since Israel can not reasonably expected to win over the neighboring states who were all once sworn enemies, the US must step forward and work to gain the cooperation of these neighbors and the commitment of Israel to negotiate fully and fairly. 

Respect, Cooperation, Negotiation, and Accommodation

December 29, 2008

How will President-elect Obama and Secretary of State Clinton make sense of the Middle East?  There are so many “one-offs” that the temptation will exist to make one quick resolution and hope that the others will follow.  Should they try that, they may regret it and wished they had opted for a more comprehensive approach.  Here is my recommendation.

Respect.  The first objective would wisely be a totally new approach to the world community and in particular to the Middle East countries.  Under this idea, the US government would begin to display respect for all countries and show no special favoritism towards any.  The State Department would treat the governments of Iran and Israel with the same degree of cordiality and frequency of communications.  The US would also speak to undesirable behavior by any country with objective and unemotional words.

Cooperation.  The next objective would be to find common areas where joint cooperation could be undertaken.  For examples, education, road/water/sewer construction, friendly sports matches, and cultural exchanges could be started.  Governments often mirror their behaviors after what they think their citizens would like to see, and a citizenry predisposed to cooperation with the US might cause less reasons for Governments to act hostilely. 

Negotiation.  With a good foundation of respect and cooperation, the atmosphere would be ready for tough (but respectful) negotiations.  There is no way that Syria, Iran, or Saudi Arabia are going to be helpful in stabilizing Iraq out of their good nature or their respect of Obama or Clinton.  The grand compromises will come only through deals that result from negotiations.  There must be “gain a little, lose a little”.  These negotiations will be also complex considering that the US would like Iran to not go nuclear, and to be a good neighbor to Iraq, and to help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace.  That’s a tall order.

Accommodation.  For all the parties involved (including the US), negotiations will most likely lead to agreements that are politically difficult for one or both parties.  You can be sure that right wingers (in any country) will reject any agreements arrived at by negotiators they feel are left of them.  For these agreements to work and last, all parties must find the capacity to accommodate settlements that are not 100% perfect in all respects.  The 80/20 rule must be employed.  

Of course this approach will not succeed in every case.  Some countries will still have national interests that preclude the desired agreements.  But rather than suddenly referring to those countries as part of the “axis of evil”, it would be far more productive to simply look for more areas of cooperation while still conducting negotiations.  Even when some countries engages in totally unacceptable activities (like hosting terrorist training), respect and cooperation should still be held firm even though there may need to be a specific response to eliminate the unacceptable activity.  This will require great skill and resolve.