Four Middle East crises will face the next President Immediately

American politics is mainly about domestic issues, and the presidential election season has caused a sort of black out of international news on US networks for the most part. But the planet is still out there, even if inhabitants of the large island that is the United States may find it difficult to believer (or difficult to take interest in). Whoever wins the presidency will have to deal with a whole passel of crises that have worsened in the past month.

1. The Syrian revolution/ civil war is lurching from violent to more violent. On Monday, AFP reports two car bombings an air raid, and other fighting. A car bomb in the Mazzeh district killed 11. That neighborhood is largely Alawi Shiite, but it also has some embassies. Some 11 bystanders were killed. President Bashar al-Assad and the elite of the ruling Baath Party belong to the Alawi sect, though the regime still has significant Sunni support. In Hama, a big bomb killed 50 Syrian soldiers, according to opposition sources in Britain, though the regime contested this body count, saying only 2 were killed. The Hama bombing was thought to be the work of al-Nusra Front, a radical Sunni Muslim group. The regime also bombed rebel positions in Idlib province from the air, killing 20 rebel fighters in one town, and killing 14 civilians in another. Fighting continued in Aleppo, the country’s largest single city.

Aljazeera English has video:

The Baath regime seems to me to control marginally less territory every day, and seems to be in very slow motion collapse.

Meanwhile, in Doha, Qatar, opposition leaders met in hopes of broadening the current Syrian National Council, expatriate dissidents, and making it more effective.

2. The Bahrain version of the Arab Spring continues to boil along, with the Shiite majority and its Sunni dissident allies demanding more democracy and fairer policies from the authoritarian Sunni monarchy. On Monday, five small homemade bombs were set off in the capital, Manama, killing two South Asian guest workers and wounding a third. The violence comes after the government banned all protests. Anti-government rallies have gone on being held, especially in Shiite towns and villages outside the capital.

Aljazeera English reports:

Only when the Sunni king offers more genuine democracy for his majority-Shiite population will this violence die down. Since the ruling family cannot see the dangers here, it is up to the US president to try to resolve the dispute. The HQ of the US Fifth Fleet is at Manama, the capital of Bahrain.

3. Although most Americans don’t seem to realize, or want to know, that we are fighting a fairly major and ongoing war in Afghanistan, it is still there. The country suffers from an erratic president, a resurgent Taliban movement, and truly impressive levels of corruption. The US plan, of training up a 400,000-man army and security force that could successfully repress the neo-Taliban, is probably unrealistic. But with a December 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops, The plan is going to be sorely tested over the next few months.

4. Iran is still out there, and says it is willing to hold talks with the US over what it says is a civilian nuclear enrichment program. Diplomacy is likely the only way effectively to resolve the Iran crisis, and the US and its allies should get Iran back to the bargaining table.

Although the Obama administration says it wants to ‘rebalance’ toward the Pacific rim nations, the Middle East continues to be a strategic concern of the US. The next president will have to decide almost immediately how to react to these crises.

29 Responses

  1. You forgot the “forgotten people,” the Palestinians
    whose plight must be address by the new administration.
    Obama tried and failed in 2009, it remains to be seen
    if he will try again if he gets a second term. It seems
    Romney prefers that the Palestinians remain forgotten.
    Best regards,
    Michael Jansen
    Regional Analyst

    • Forgotten by whom? But if it is perhaps its geographical location has something to do with it. It’s on the far southern corner of the Arabian peninsula with sea on two sides and sand on the other–most of that sand is known as Rub el-Khali (the Empty Quarter). While its capital is in the mountains of the interior its main cities are ports on the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Its foreign relations (as in trade) have historically been with the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula rather than other Arab countries to the north of the Arabian Peninsula.

  2. I’m not sanguine about the prospects, but who knows?
    Israeli and Iranian officials are taking part in a nuclear non-proliferation meeting in Brussels on Monday, in the hope of paving the way for a full international conference in the next few months on banning nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East.

  3. Interesting that Palestine isn’t one of them. I wonder how long it will be before that one blows up again. Seems that blow-ups are the only way it merits sustained official US attention.

  4. “American politics is mainly about domestic issues, and the presidential election season has caused a sort of black out of international news on US networks for the most part.” Because that IS the ELEPHANT.

  5. How about Kuwait, Professor Cole? It seems like it’s simmering to a boil.

    Perhaps the best thing the US can do is to detach from its autocratic “allies” and stop selling weapons to them, while removing all our military facilities from the region (except perhaps in Turkey and India, which are probably democratic enough to survive). Seems unlikely that any administration will be sane enough to do that.

  6. On a different topic, I just read this article of yours: link to juancole.com

    It’s a great summary. I have one important and scary thought, though. Capitalist dictatorship is remarkably unstable: it is prone to both economic destruction (due to its ‘all the money in a few hands’ philosophy’) and violent collapse (due to the lack of nonviolent outlets for complaint).

    The P.W. Boetha regime fell peacefully when his successor dismantled it, but every other one you mention — and every other one I can think of — collapsed violently.

    The Park Chung-Hee regime in South Korea managed to avoid economic destruction through a focus on manufacturing and transportation, but that’s also an exception: the others actively courted economic destruction.

    “Attempts to limit the franchise, to ban unions, and to manipulate the electorate with bald-faced lies are all signs of a barracuda business class that secretly seeks its class interests above all others in society, and which is not afraid of workers and middle classes because the latter are apolitical, apathetic and disorganized.”

    But the barracuda business class should be afraid. Tick off enough people — and the would-be capitalist dictators are ticking off the military rank-and-file too — and eventually it doesn’t matter how apolitical and disorganized they are, someone will shoot you. King Louis XVI also wasn’t afraid of workers or middle classes.

    Capitalist dictatorship is an inherently unstable and self-destructive “system”.

    • The thing to remember about the barracudas and vampire squids is that they have no reason to fear any consequences. First, humans live maybe 80-odd years, and once they’re dead they are immune to any retribution or restitution. So these folks just have to maintain their pre-eminence, and deflect the righteous anger of the REAL wealth generators, for the 50-odd years they are in full predator-and-parasite mode.

      There are lots of “people” more than happy to sign on to protect their masters’ sorry arses and advance their masters’ interests via lobbying and all the elements of kleptocratic hegemony, buying the “law” that suits them and so forth. They are without empathy (spare me any crap about the self-serving “generosity” of Bill’n’Melinda and such-like).

      And why the foolish belief that these people are in any way aligned with any “national interest?” They are post-national people, at the top of the world food chain, unconcerned that their pleasure-and-power-seeking behaviors threaten the life of everything and everyone else, who have prepared nice places to jet off to, like the former war chief of Iraq who took off on his private paid-for-by-US-taxpayers jet, to where, Dubai maybe, with billions in US dollars and “his people’s” wealth when it appeared he might be indicted for excessive corruption. so reminiscent of the Roman senators and the Bourbons and the Nazis and the Romanovs, who, if and when the crap actually hits the fan and their “people” lose their grip on the myths and machinery that keep the proles in their places, run off to Argentina and Bali with everything of value they can carry or keep covert in the banking system.

      In case any of you with short-term memory deficits have already forgotten, the catch phrase amongst the Bankstas (remember THEM? speaking of immunity from consequences) was AND IS “IBG-YBG.” Simply, “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone,” so screw the Dumb Money Muppets they take full leveraged advantage of.

      It’s an old story, an old theme, repeated maybe endlessly until the final meltdown. Here’s the (short) classicist’s view, again, of the antecedents and successive apparitions of “Apres moi le deluge,” which is arrogance and unconcern writ really large:

      link to tradicionclasica.blogspot.com

      Why is our species stupid and venal enough to go through this same round of misery and loss over and over? We are supposed to be capable of learning — damn little evidence of it.

  7. I totally agree with you, Professor, that the plan to train Afghan army and security personnel to successfully suppress the Taliban and extend Kabul’s mandate into provincial governments throughout Afghanistan is unrealistic. There is no sense of national purpose among Afghan army and security forces, and they are not dependable, melting away whenever they feel like it or when the going gets tough.

    The counter-insurgency program was doomed from the beginning because of the feckless leadership of Karzai and the nature of Afghan society. After 2014, without ISAF to hold it together, Afghanistan will once again devolve into provincial satrapies, each with its ruling Taliban leader or warlord going his own way, owing only nominal allegiance to Kabul. Our only role should be to continue the counter-terrorism program in the Pakistani tribal belt and extending it into Afghanistan after 2014, if the Afghan government proves unable or unwilling to prevent Al-Qaeda and its affiliates from establishing a presence again.

    • Gee, too bad you and people who think the way you do didn’t acknowledge the futile nature of the Big Great Networked Battlespace Game from the git-go. It would have saved the rest of us maybe $3 or $4 trillion, and thousands of Our Troops’ lives, not to mention all those “wogs,” and gee, there’s this thing about history, the sandpaper of time, that will wear down and soften the Taliban thing like it has done so many times in so many places before. Without the “intervention” of people who think like you and have the power if not the wisdom to act on that “inspiration.” (Hint: Notagainistan does not need to “devolve” into those “satrapies:” that condition sure appears never to have changed, in all the time “we” have been paying your “Unlawful Baddies” not to attack “our” fuel and munition convoys, and have been delivering large blocks of used, non-sequential $100 bills to various loading docks and dark corners as part of your idiot Game. And what “law” says those people we kill so blithely are “Unlawful,” again?)

      One hopes that whatever future government obtains in the US, there will be some more honest and realistic assessment of the “threats” that are trumpeted to justify your droning and the whole other clumsy, incompetent apparatus of MilitoGeopoliltics that neither protects “us” nor serves OUR interests (that you never have deigned to define for the rest of us.) And more realistic appreciations of the limits of Empire, and devotion to keeping our country alive for the long term rather than spending its virtues and fading resources in idiot “power projections.”

      And did you see the recent “Atlantic” article by military camp follower Thomas E. Ricks, titled “General Failure”? link to theatlantic.com Sure comforting to see the real nature of our military leadership, our generals in action or is it inaction, explored in such painful detail. Not that the author ever asks the question, “Is this (or any other) war necessary?” And don’t forget that retired Marine general that sunk most of the 6th Fleet in that Millenium challenge war game back in 2002: link to armytimes.com Even though the “Blue Force” called “cancel cancel” after losing, and cooked the results after cooking the rules in “our” favor.

      Not much hope of “honest” leadership or statecraft here, now is there?

      • “Gee, too bad you and people who think the way you do didn’t acknowledge the futile nature of the Big Great Networked Battlespace Game from the git-go.”

        Your quote cited above, Mr. McPhee, demonstrates how you shoot from the lip, not the hip, and without knowing the facts. We had to dislodge the Taliban from power in Afghanistan because they accommodated Al-Qaeda. Having done that, however, I was never for counter-insurgency or long-term “nation-building.” I have stated in several posts that we shouldn’t engage in counter-insurgency/nation-building, but we must enforce a robust counter-terrorism posture. That has been, and continues to be, my position.

    • a voice cries out in the wilderness:

      “Quit framing this in terms of an ‘Afghan national government’ and Pushtun rebels.

      “This is the old rivalry between the Northern Alliance and the Pushtuns. The only thing that’s changed is that the USA has declared the Northern Alliance (plus the Popalzai Tribe) as the national government. That doesn’t make it legitimate. That does not convey the consent of the governed.

      “Almost all ‘green-on-blue’ and ‘green-on-green’ attacks are explained as Pushtun vs. Northern Alliance.”

      How do otherwise well-informed observers get this so wrong ?

      • The Northern Alliance, established in 1996 by Ahmad Shah Massoud (then Afghanistan’s Defense Minister) and Abdul Rashid Dostum, no longer exists. While some elements of the former Alliance are in the national government, others splintered off and are irrelevant.

        Nevertheless, your statement about todays national government: “That doesn’t make it legitimate. That does not convey the consent of the governed,” is certainly correct. It supports my statement regarding Afghanistan after ISAF departs: “After 2014, without ISAF to hold it together, Afghanistan will once again devolve into provincial satrapies, each with its ruling Taliban leader or warlord going his own way, owing only nominal allegiance to Kabul.” Our views are closer than you seem to think.

        • The important thing to remember, Bill, about our various views, most certainly including yours, and mine too, is that they don’t mean squat. The machinery is in motion, building its own idiot momentum.

          It’s so satisfying to think you (or any of us) are part of the “winning team,” and to feel so smart and potent and all that, and lined up with the Great Exceptionalist Manifest Destiny Forces of History. But unless you are part of the ruling in-group, the Fraction-of-One-Percenters, your pronuniamentos and pontifications mean less than the stream of exhaust from the rocket motor pushing a Hellfire warhead and its “smart” electronics into the house or car or back yard of one of your “Unlawful Enemy Combatants.” You (and I) are nothing but a bunch of wealth-generating-but-not-retaining, tax-paying saps and cannon fodder, pushed around or worse, simply ignored, by Big Gamers.

          Some of us act as if we are really plugged into the Great Game, by our superior lights, but all that tough-guy, self-justifying stuff that you applaud is not doing a damn thing to make the world a more tolerable or even long-haul survivable place for humans, including my grandchildren of whom I am inordinately fond. Far as I can see, Professor Bill, that condescending grading (“Correct!” or “3×5!”) of everyone else’s opinions here is quaint, but naught but sadly humorous. But I bet your ego saves you any sense of meaningless and futility.

      • The only thing that’s changed is that the USA has declared the Northern Alliance (plus the Popalzai Tribe) as the national government.?

        Well, no. It is at least as significant that the Pakistani government has stopped backing the Taliban.

        It is at least as significant that significant parts of the Pashtun community have split off from the Taliban and support the government.

        There are things that happen in this world other than the actions of the United States.

        • And there are things that happen in the world in spite of the actions of “the United States,” or the fraction of “the United States” that is so busy stirring the big pot, in hopes of picking all the best bits out for themselves…

  8. Yes, the Middle East is still there, some of it overtly two-sidedly violent (which you’ve mentioned), some of it only one0sidedly violent (Israel/Palestine).

    But global warming is FAR, FAR, FAR more important (and far less attended to). Seems both a short-term economic thing oligarchic industrial groups refuse to stop the fossil fuel game and a psychological thing (people cannot easily see themselves as the villain).

  9. And don’t forget what happened on US general election day in 2008. The Israelis broke the ceasefire with hamas in Gaza, setting the awful Operation Cast Lead in train

  10. The greatest threats to America are not ‘out there’, but systemic, bored deeply into the very framework of America’s home, and not even a topic in the past year’s orgy of political misdirection.

    German take on the American election: “Germans see the US election as a battle between the good Obama and the evil Romney. But this is a mistake. Regardless of who wins the election on Tuesday, total capitalism is America’s true ruler, and it has the power to destroy the country.”

    Rest at:

    link to spiegel.de

  11. Then there’s the escalating hostility between Israel and Turkey:

    A Turkish court has launched the trial in absentia of four former Israeli military commanders over the deaths of nine Turkish activists on board a ship bound for Gaza in 2010. Israel denounced the move as a “show trial”.

    The court hearing, in which almost 500 people are expected to give evidence, will further strain relations between the two former allies which suffered a serious breach following the deadly assault on the Mavi Marmara.

    Tensions will be exacerbated if Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, follows through on his intention announced last week to make an official visit to Gaza in the near future. Such a move would give a significant political boost to Hamas, the Islamist faction that controls the impoverished coastal strip.

    Read in full: Turkey prosecutes Israeli commanders for Gaza flotilla deaths | World news | guardian.co.uk

    and the continuing disaster of Israel’s Bantustans:

    Israel says it is pushing forward with the construction of more than 1,200 new homes in Jewish settlements, in an apparent warning to the Palestinians to rethink their plan to ask the United Nations to recognise an independent state of Palestine.

    The Israeli government announced late on Monday that it was accepting bids from contractors to build the homes in two Jewish enclaves in East Jerusalem, Ramot and Pisgat Zeev. The homes are among 1,200 whose construction Israel ordered to be fast-tracked in November 2011 after a key UN body granted full membership to Palestine.

    While construction would take months to begin, officials indicated that the timing of the tenders was meant to signal to the Palestinians that they should consider the possible consequences of their plan to ask the UN general assembly later this month to upgrade their status to non-member observer state.

    Read in full: Israel pushes forward with 1,200 homes in East Jerusalem settlements | World news | guardian.co.uk

  12. The US plan, of training up a 400,000-man army and security force that could successfully repress the neo-Taliban, is probably unrealistic. But with a December 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops, The plan is going to be sorely tested over the next few months.

    I find reason for optimism in Iraq. The announced, sustained, gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops is, in and of itself, a powerful tool for promoting political reconciliation. It lets the insurgents know that they don’t have to drive us out, and lets the government know that they can’t depend on American “security welfare.” It splits the insurgents, leading half of more of them to choose electoral politics over violence. It makes the local government more credible and legitimate in the eyes of the populace, and allows local politics to be about something other than a pro/anti-government civil war. Think of all of the oh-so-confident predictions, from both right and far-left, about Iraq collapsing, the government falling, the society turning back into a 2006-style charnel house, and being taken over by gangs of terrorists once we left. Not so much, as it turned out.

    It is probably unrealistic that the US could stand up a force capable of suppressing the Taliban while staying in the country, but doing so on our way out the door might well work.

    Here’s hoping.

  13. The four mentioned “problems” are not difficult to solve:

    1. Do nothing. It is none of our business.

    2. Do nothing. It is none of our business.

    3. Remove all U.S. forces and equipment, immediately.

    4. Don’t launch an attack on Iran (see 1 and 2.

    There, now what’s for lunch? Oops, it didn’t take that long, so do we get pastry or fruit for the coffee break?

  14. “Four Middle East crises will face the next President Immediately”

    And unanswered, of course, is the unasked question:

    “Why are these “crises” anything to do with the US?”

    • Hey, if you’re the “Leader of the Free World” (sic sic sic) you have to do SOMEthing about controlling EVERYthing, right? To make it all come out in accordance with the Narrative and the Received Myths?

      Just think of all the briefing documents and white papers and advisers and lobbyists and generals all clamoring for Caesar to place his imprimatur on their thick sheafs of obscure importantia…

  15. There is no question but that there are at least four crises in the Middle East. My thought is that crisis #4 could have been stated more descriptively as follows: [The possible changes are in capital letters.]

    4. Iran is still out there, and says it is willing to hold talks with the US over ITS URANIUM ENRICHMENT PROGRAMS. IRAN CLAIMS IT NEEDS 3.5 PERCENT ENRICHED URANIUM TO FUEL ITS NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS AND 20 PERCENT URANIUN-235 FOR RESEARCH REACTORS TO MAKE MEDICAL ISOTOPES. Diplomacy is likely the only way effectively to resolve the Iran crisis, and the US and its allies should get Iran back to the bargaining table.

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