Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 08:22:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Iran: US War Hawks go on Offensive after Nuclear Energy Talk Deadlines are Postponed Tue, 25 Nov 2014 05:58:31 +0000 by Jim Lobe | (Inter Press Service) | —

Buoyed by the failure of the U.S. and five other powers to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme after a week of intensive talks, pro-Israel and Republican hawks are calling for Washington to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran even while talks continue, and to give Congress a veto on any final accord.

“We have supported the economic sanctions, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, in addition to sanctions placed on Iran by the international community,” Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, three of the Republican’s leading hawks, said in a statement released shortly after the announcement in Vienna that the one-year-old interim accord between the so-called P5+1 and Iran will be extended until Jul. 1 while negotiations continue.

“These sanctions have had a negative impact on the Iranian economy and are one of the chief reasons the Iranians are now at the negotiating table,” the three senators went on.

“However, we believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval. Every Member of Congress should have the opportunity to review the final deal and vote on this major foreign policy decision.”

Their statement was echoed in part by at least one of the likely Republican candidates for president in 2016.

“From the outcome of this latest round, it also appears that Iran’s leadership remains unwilling to give up their nuclear ambitions,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a favourite of pro-Israel neo-conservatives.

“None of this will change in the coming months unless we return to the pressure track that originally brought Iran to the table.”

At the same time, however, senior Democrats expressed disappointment that a more comprehensive agreement had not been reached but defended the decision to extend the Nov. 24, 2013 Joint Programme of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany – and Iran – an additional seven months, until Jul. 1.

Echoing remarks made earlier by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has held eight meetings with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, over the past week, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein noted that “Iran has lived up to its obligations under the interim agreement and its nuclear programme has not only been frozen, it has been reversed. Today, Iran is further away from acquiring a nuclear weapon than before negotiations began.

“I urge my colleagues in Washington to be patient, carefully evaluate the progress achieved thus far and provide U.S. negotiators the time and space they need to succeed. A collapse of the talks is counter to U.S. interests and would further destabilise an already-volatile region,” she said in a statement.

The back and forth in Washington came in the wake of Kerry’s statement at the conclusion of intensive talks in Vienna. Hopes for a permanent accord that would limit Iran’s nuclear activities for a period of some years in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran rose substantially in the course of the week only to fall sharply Sunday when Western negotiators, in particular, spoke for the first time of extending the JPOA instead of concluding a larger agreement.

Neither Kerry nor the parties, who have been exceptionally tight-lipped about the specifics of the negotiations, disclosed what had occurred to change the optimistic tenor of the talks.

Kerry insisted Monday that this latest round had made “real and substantial progress” but that “significant points of disagreement” remain unresolved.

Most analysts believe the gaps involved include the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme – specifically, the number of centrifuges it will be permitted to operate — and the number of years the programme will be subject to extraordinary curbs and international inspections.

Kerry appealed to Congress to not to act in a way that could sabotage the extension of the JPOA – under which Iran agreed to partially roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of some sanctions – or prospects for a successful negotiation.

“I hope they will come to see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted and cause miscalculation,” he said. “We would be fools to walk away.”

The aim, he said, was to reach a broad framework accord by March and then work out the details by the Jul. 1 deadline. The JPOA was agreed last Nov. 24 but the specific details of its implementation were not worked out until the latter half of January.

Whether his appeal for patience will work in the coming months remains to be seen. Republicans, who, with a few exceptions, favoured new sanctions against Iran even after the JPOA was signed, gained nine seats in the Senate and will control both houses in the new Congress when it convenes in January.

If Congress approves new sanctions legislation, as favoured by McCain, Rubio, and other hawks, President Barack Obama could veto it. To sustain the veto, however, he have to keep at least two thirds of the 40-some Democrats in the upper chamber in line.

That could pose a problem given the continuing influence of the Israel lobby within the Democratic Party.

Indeed, the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Robert Menendez, who reluctantly tabled a sanctions effort earlier this year, asserted Monday that the administration’s efforts “had not succeeded” and suggested that he would support a “two-track approach of diplomacy and pressure” in the coming period.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading Israel lobby group, also called Monday for “new bipartisan sanctions legislation to let Tehran know that it will face much more severe pressure if it does not clearly abandon its nuclear weapons program.”

Its message echoed that of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had reportedly personally lobbied each of the P5+1’s leaders over the weekend, and who, even before the extension was officially announced, expressed relief at the failure to reach a comprehensive accord against which he has been campaigning non-stop over the past year.

“The agreement that Iran was aiming for was very bad indeed,” he told BBC, adding that “the fact that there’s no deal now gives [world powers] the opportunity to continue …to toughen [economic pressures] against Iran.”

The Iran task force of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), co-chaired by Dennis Ross, who held the Iran portfolio at the White House during part of Obama’s first term, said, in addition to increasing economic pressure, Washington should provide weaponry to Israel that would make its threats to attack Iran more credible.

The hard-line neo-conservative Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) said Congress should not only pass new sanctions legislation, but strip Obama’s authority to waive sanctions.

“There’s no point waiting seven months for either another failure or a truly terrible deal,” ECI, which helped fund several Republican Senate campaigns this fall, said.

“Congress should act now to reimpose sanctions and re-establish U.S. red lines that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. To that end, such legislation must limit the president’s authority to waive sanctions, an authority the president has already signaled a willingness to abuse in his desperate quest for a deal with the mullahs.”

Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran, strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who oppose accommodation and favour accelerating the nuclear programme.

“The worst scenario for U.S. interests is one in which Congress overwhelmingly passes new sanctions, Iran resumes its nuclear activities, and international unity unravels,” wrote Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on the Wall Street Journal website Monday.

“Such an outcome would force the United States to revisit the possibility of another military conflict in the Middle East.”

Such arguments, which the administration is also expected to deploy, could not only keep most Democratic senators in line, but may also persuade some Republicans worried about any new military commitment in the Middle East.

Sen. Bob Corker, who will likely chair the Foreign Relations Committee in the new Congress, issued a cautious statement Monday, suggesting that he was willing to give the administration more time. Tougher sanctions, he said, could be prepared “should negotiations fail.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at He can be contacted at

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Licensed from Inter Press Service


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: “Iran nuclear deal deadline extended”

]]> 0
The Ferguson, Mo. Shooting in American History: What to Tell the Children Tue, 25 Nov 2014 05:34:41 +0000 By Julian Hipkins III (Zinn Education Project)

In light of the grand jury decision, we share this collection of teaching ideas and resources, originally published by Teaching for Change in August of 2014.

By Julian Hipkins III

As the new school year begins, first and foremost on our minds and in our hearts will be the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Teachers may be faced with students’ anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, and questions. Some students will wonder how this could happen in the United States. For others, unfortunately, police brutality and intimidation are all too familiar.


Here are a few ideas and resources for the classroom to help students think critically about the events in Ferguson and ways they can be proactive in their own communities. We welcome your additional suggestions.


Police Brutality. The Black Panther Party’s 1966 platform, known as the ten-point program, included the demand: “#7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people, other people of color, and all oppressed people inside the United States.” The issue of police brutality in communities of color has a long history and the Panther platform gives an example of how to turn grievances into a clear set of goals for meaningful change. The lesson “‘What We Want, What We Believe’: Teaching with the Black Panthers’ Ten Point Program” by Rethinking Schools editor Wayne Au introduces students to this history and invites them to create their own list of demands.

Credit: Reuters.

Credit: Reuters.

History of Racism. An exploration of U. S. history can help students understand how racism, while not natural, has always played a key role in this country (predating 1776) and how it became embedded in all of our institutions, including the criminal justice system. “The Color Line” is a lesson by Rethinking Schools editor Bill Bigelow (available from the Zinn Education Project) on the origins of racism in the United States and who benefits. Students hopefully will see that if racism is learned and reinforced by laws, it can also be unlearned and dismantled.

International Human Rights. Upon his return from Mecca in 1964, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) stated that he wanted to bring charges against the United States for its treatment of African-Americans. He believed that it was “impossible for the United States government to solve the race problem” and the only way to get the United States to change its racist ways was to bring international pressure. He made the clear distinction between civil rights and human rights.

In an earlier example, on October 23, 1947, the NAACP sent to the U.N. a document titled “An Appeal to the World,” in which the NAACP asked the U.N. to redress human rights violations the United States committed against its African-American citizens. W.E.B. Du Bois, who drafted the NAACP petition with other leading lawyers and scholars, intended to focus attention on the U.S.’s systematic denial of human rights to its African American citizens. They presented in the petition facts about lynching, segregation, and the gross inequalities in education, housing, health care, and voting rights. DuBois stated, “It is not Russia that threatens the United States so much as Mississippi…[I]nternal injustice done to one’s brothers is far more dangerous than the aggression of strangers from abroad.” [Read more about this petition at the University of Chicago Library News.]

Indeed, the U.S. government is quick to condemn human rights violations in other countries, but seldom expects to be accountable to the world for actions within its own borders. A lesson by the Stanford University Liberation Curriculum Project engages students in a discussion about the human rights violations perpetrated against African Americans during the 1950s and 1960s — and can serve as a springboard for looking at human rights today.

On November 11, 2014, Michael Brown’s parents testified at a United Nations Committee Against Torture session in Geneva, Switzerland about the killing of their son. Brown’s father stated, “I would like to see the United States make a commitment to address racial discrimination in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.”

Another lesson that highlights this American exceptionalism is “Whose Terrorism?” by Bill Bigelow of Rethinking Schools. (Posted on the Zinn Education Project website).

New Jim CrowMilitarization of the Police. In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander describes the militarization of the police, foreshadowing the heavy weaponry used by police in Ferguson. In the section titled “Waging War” in Chapter 2, Alexander states,

The transformation from “community policing” to “military policing,” began in 1981, when President Reagan persuaded Congress to pass the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, which encouraged the military to give local, state, and federal police access to military bases, intelligence, research, weaponry, and other equipment for drug interdiction.

That legislation carved a huge exception to the Posse Comitatus Act, the Civil War-era law prohibiting the use of military force for policing.

Students and teachers can read this chapter to explore how many police departments “seek and destroy” in some neighborhoods while they “protect and serve” in others.

Illustration: Alain Pilon. (c) Rethinking Schools.

Illustration: Alain Pilon. (c) Rethinking Schools.

Student Fear and Resilience. One of the toughest challenges for teachers and counselors is to create a safe space for students in an unsafe world. New York teaching-artist Renee Watson used poetry to help her students deal with the very real fear for their own safety. In The Murder of Sean Bell: From Pain to Poetry (Rethinking Schools) she describes this process,

“I’m afraid that one day I’ll be shot by the cops for no reason,” a 7th-grade student blurted out in our class discussion. My teaching partner and I had asked students to call out their hopes and fears. “What do you hope for your community? What is it about your community that makes you afraid?” we asked. I wrote their answers on chart paper and by the end of the discussion, our class list included better schools, more parks, peace, and safer neighborhoods. Our list also included violence, drugs, bullying, and police brutality.

Housing inequality. African-Americans have often been the victims of housing discrimination in Ferguson and countless other towns and cities across the country. The discrimination has occurred through laws and sometimes violence.


Tulsa, Oklahoma.

This violence has a long history. For example in 1921, a mob of deputized whites looted and burned to the ground a black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This included the destruction of 40 square blocks of 1,265 African American homes, including hospitals, schools, and churches, and 150 businesses. By the time the terror ended, 300 African-Americans had been killed. Here is an article and lesson for high school classrooms called “Burning Tulsa: The Legacy of Black Dispossession.”

In “The Making of Ferguson,” Sherrilyn Ifill and Richard Rothstein show that government actions—such as racially explicit zoning, public housing segregation, and federal requirements for white-only suburbs systematically segregated African Americans—and set the stage for the conditions in Ferguson.

In The Case for Reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates addresses laws such as restrictive covenants in the section titled Making the Second Ghetto. The tactics used to bar African-American from communities are outlined highlighting housing discrimination in Chicago during and following World War II.

For ongoing news and on the ground interviews about Ferguson, follow Democracy Now!, AlJazeera, and Colorlines. For more teaching ideas, see What Happened in Ferguson and Why? from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. For more resources and to contribute your own, follow #FergusonSyllabus on twitter, launched by Dr. Marcia Chatelain of Georgetown University.

Mirrored from “Teaching about Ferguson” (Zinn Education Project)


Related video added by Juan Cole:

HLN: “Ferguson: Seeking progress after grand jury decision”

]]> 0
Sen. Lindsey Graham furious GOP House Benghazi Report Shows He Wasted All our Time & Money Tue, 25 Nov 2014 05:28:08 +0000 The Young Turks | —

“”Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday blasted a House GOP-led investigation that recently debunked myths about the 2012 Benghazi attack.

“I think the report is full of crap,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The House Intelligence Committee released a report on Friday evening, which took two years to compile, that found there was no outright intelligence failure during the attack, there was no delay in the rescue of U.S. personnel and there was no political cover-up by Obama administration officials.

After Graham was asked whether the report exonerates the administration, he initially ignored the question, and then eventually said “no.”
The House Intelligence panel, Graham said, is “doing a lousy job policing their own.” “* The Young Turks hosts John Iadarola (TYT University), Ben Mankiewicz and Steve Oh break it down.”

The Young Turks: “Conspiracy-Debunking Benghazi Report Whips Lindsey Graham Into A Tizzy”

]]> 0
Iraq: A Bigger Threat than Extremists? Economy on Verge of Collapse Tue, 25 Nov 2014 05:27:58 +0000 By Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | via

The Iraqi dinar: there might not be enough oil revenue coming into Iraq next year.

The high cost of fighting the extremist Islamic State group, the worldwide decrease in oil prices, corruption and a lack of sensible economic forward planning mean that Iraq may be on the verge of major economic disaster.

Over the past week or so the Iraqi government has been busy discussing the state of the country’s economy. After a number of meetings with his new Cabinet, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that his government would be adopting a set of austerity measures. But the salaries of civil servants and the military were safe, he added.

Despite this though, many local economists and business people fear that an economic downturn is coming. There are several major issues with Iraq’s economy right now. The most important of these include fluctuations in world oil prices, the high cost of the current security crisis and the Iraqi military’s fight against extremists –plus the fact that the previous government, headed by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, never managed to approve 2014’s national budget.

International organisations also seem concerned. Last week the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, predicted that Iraq’s economy would shrink by 2.75 percent in 2014 – its first contraction since 2003and the US-led invasion of the country that wreaked major economic havoc.

Global oil prices have been declining for several months now and have dropped to around US$80 a barrel for Brent crude. Because most of the country’s income is provided by oil sales and the oil industry, Iraq is obviously impacted by falls in price.

Another problem lies in the way that the previous Iraqi government estimated its national budget. To come up with estimated incoming revenues, financiers would subtract US$15 off the real price of each expected barrel to be produced and sold.

According to Akram al-Hiti, a lecturer at Baghdad University’s College of Engineering, specializing in the oil industry, that is a problem. Other oil producing countries estimate the price per barrel at far less than the actual price so that they can deal with any fluctuations in price, al-Hiti told NIQASH.

Over the past few days it was announced that for 2015, the budget estimates will be based on oil prices of US$80 per barrel. The 2013 budget and the un-ratified 2014 budget were based on prices of US$90 per barrel. In June this year, the actual price per barrel was around US$115. According to the IMF, Baghdad’s fiscal breakeven price in 2014 is $109.4 a barrel.

The other big problem for the oil industry is the fact that the extremist group known as the Islamic State, or IS, has taken control of parts of the country near to oil production areas and caused issues in other places like Kirkuk.  As the Washington Post reported recently, “the main oil-related casualty of the fighting has been the disruption of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline that runs through Turkey. This has been the target of repeated attacks and has been shut down since March”. Some estimates suggest that the country is losing US$1.2 billion per month because of this.

Another reason for Iraq’s current budget woes is the lack of serious economic planning. The national budget has been rising steadily and there are hardly any cash reserves.

This means there is nothing extra to deal with situations like the decrease in oil prices and the security crisis. The Iraqi government has not made any announcements about how much the security crisis is costing the nation. But if it is costing the US between US$7 million and US$10 million per day, it is bound to be a lot for Iraq too.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency early in November Iraq’s Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that the former Iraqi government had wasted billions on paying and arming irregular forces that make up the Shiite Muslim militias. These militias have played a key role in fighting the IS group, when the real Iraqi army has not been successful. But they have also been criticised for their sectarian policies.

“Part of the economic and financial problem we have is this expenditure on the popular committees, on the militias on the army, on the contracts,” Zebari told Reuters. “The key area where the budget was recklessly spent was on these military efforts without proper planning and on the volunteers. I think they are paying their salaries, their food, their clothes and weapons and so on. Over US$1 billion since June for the militias.”

Another reason as to why the Iraqi government has not made an announcement about spending on the security crisis is that it may not know what is being spent.

Under al-Maliki, Baghdad kept spending money – even though the national budget had not been passed in Parliament. Apparently around 65 percent of Iraq’s planned budget has already been spent, but this has been spent illegally, without any official oversight.

“The last government spent an estimated US$70 billion worth of oil revenues but it did so without fulfilling its own obligations and without clear documentation that could show the money’s paper trail,” says Anwar Saeed, a local economist.

There is no doubt that the whole country could soon be dealing with very serious economic problems that will affect locals for some time to come. Three provinces have already declared that they’re out of funds: Anbar, Karbala and Wasit. Others are expected to join them soon if the government doesn’t manage to pass the budget for 2015 and address the shortage of funds.  

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole:

WochitGeneralNews: “Iraqi Finance Minister Says Deal Reached to Ease Tensions Over Kurdish Oil”

]]> 0
As SecDef Hagel Exits, an Iraq Daesh/ISIL Scorecard Tue, 25 Nov 2014 05:08:18 +0000 By Juan Cole | —

Mosul rose up in alliance with Daesh /ISIL against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on June 9 of this year, sparking a crisis in Obama administration foreign policy. Obama had been open to keeping some troops in Iraq, but the Iraqi parliament did not want that, and Obama acquiesced in the legislature’s decision. (Obama is criticized for giving in, but it is not clear how he could have kept troops in Iraq over the objections of the Iraqi parliament without exposing them to war crimes trials in Iraqi courts whenever anything went wrong on the battlefield.)

It is not clear how central Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was to crafting a response. But he must have been intimately involved in aspects of it. I don’t see anyone talking about how that response has gone. Here are what seem to me the major outcomes of the new Defense Department involvement in Iraq:

In mid-June, Daesh (what Arabs call ISIL or ISIS) made a move toward Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and initially defeated lightly armed Peshmerga national guard troops.

The Obama administration, of which Hagel was a key principal, decided to use the US air force in the response. Obama has an aversion to getting too deeply involved in Iraq, but he could not afford to run the risk that the siege of, e.g., Iraqi Kurdistan would turn into a rout and result in large numbers of people killed.

The air intervention pushed Daesh back from the Kurdistan capital. It improved the morale of the Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga, so that it began taking further territory after an earlier collapse of esprit de corps. That intervention to save Kurdistan has to be pronounced a success so far.

Threats that Daesh might go on down and try to take Baghdad itself receded.

The US military hoped also to stiffen the backbone of the Iraqi army (which had collapsed in June), retrain Iraqi army troops and to help them deploy to stop the march of Daesh on Baghdad and points south.

Whether the US is responsible or not, the Iraqi military and allied Shiite militias and the Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga (one who stands before death) have now taken territory back away from Daesh.

The Iraqi forces loyal to Baghdad have had some successes. The Shiite militiamen appear to have taken the lead in Jurf al-Sakhr, where a Sunni town of 80,000 that had thrown in with Daesh a couple years ago, was subjected and Daesh and expelled. Jurf al-Sakhr was a radical Sunni base from which attacks on Shiite interests in the south were launched. The political fallout of Shiite militias taking a Sunni town is probably negative, but in purely military terms this was a success; Daesh no longer has a major base south of Baghdad.

Iraqi troops and militiamen, along with Sunni Arab tribal levies, also took back the oil refinery in Beiji in Salahuddin Province, which they had previously relinquished to Daesh. Crude oil is not valuable and cannot be smuggled, whereas refined petroleum products like gasoline can be sold to other countries. Without the refinery, Daesh may not be able to make as much by gasoline smuggling.

Just on Monday, the Kurdish town of Jalawla in Diyala province fell to a mixture of Iraqi forces, including IA, Peshmerga and Shiite militias. Diyala is a mixed province but the northwest had begun falling to Daesh in June and ripostes had earlier been ineffective. Now Daesh is losing towns there.

So in Diyala and Salahuddin Provinces, Hagel and his allies have had some success.

In contrast, Daesh has strengthened its positions among Sunni Arabs in Al-Anbar Province, and no progress has been made toward dislodging it from the populous Ninewah Province in the north.

It is a mixed bag of a story, but the long and short of it is, that Hagel at Defense has some genuine achievements, or at least that counter-Daesh strategy on the ground has, with Hagel’s DoD providing close air support in many instances. Whatever the reasons for Hagel’s departure, it is hard to see how this record in Iraq, where Daesh has largely been contained and even slightly rolled back, can be it.


Video added by Juan Cole:

Kurds Ambush ISIS Near Sinjar, Iraq

cheers Juan

]]> 1
Top Five Washington Assumptions on Mideast that Are not True Mon, 24 Nov 2014 05:35:34 +0000 By Andrew J. Bacevich ( | –

“Iraq no longer exists.” My young friend M, sipping a cappuccino, is deadly serious. We are sitting in a scruffy restaurant across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  It’s been years since we’ve last seen each another. It may be years before our paths cross again. As if to drive his point home, M repeats himself: “Iraq just doesn’t exist.”

His is an opinion grounded in experience.  As an enlisted soldier, he completed two Iraq tours, serving as a member of a rifle company, before and during the famous Petraeus “surge.”  After separating from the Army, he went on to graduate school where he is now writing a dissertation on insurgencies.  Choosing the American war in Iraq as one of his cases, M has returned there to continue his research.  Indeed, he was heading back again that very evening.  As a researcher, his perch provides him with an excellent vantage point for taking stock of the ongoing crisis, now that the Islamic State, or IS, has made it impossible for Americans to sustain the pretense that the Iraq War ever ended.

Few in Washington would endorse M’s assertion, of course.  Inside the Beltway, policymakers, politicians, and pundits take Iraq’s existence for granted.  Many can even locate it on a map.  They also take for granted the proposition that it is incumbent upon the United States to preserve that existence.  To paraphrase Chris Hedges, for a certain group of Americans, Iraq is the cause that gives life meaning. For the military-industrial complex, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Considered from this perspective, the “Iraqi government” actually governs, the “Iraqi army” is a nationally representative fighting force, and the “Iraqi people” genuinely see themselves as constituting a community with a shared past and an imaginable future.

Arguably, each of these propositions once contained a modicum of truth.  But when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and, as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell predicted, broke the place, any merit they previously possessed quickly dissipated.  Years of effort by American occupiers intent on creating a new Iraq out of the ruins of the old produced little of value and next to nothing that has lasted.  Yet even today, in Washington the conviction persists that trying harder might somehow turn things around.  Certainly, that conviction informs the renewed U.S. military intervention prompted by the rise of IS.

So when David Ignatius, a well-informed and normally sober columnist for the Washington Post, reflects on what the United States must do to get Iraq War 3.0 right, he offers this “mental checklist”: in Baghdad, the U.S. should foster a “cleaner, less sectarian government”; to ensure security, we will have to “rebuild the military”; and to end internal factionalism, we’re going to have to find ways to “win Kurdish support” and “rebuild trust with Sunnis.”  Ignatius does not pretend that any of this will be easy.  He merely argues that it must be — and by implication can be — done.  Unlike my friend M, Ignatius clings to the fantasy that “Iraq” is or ought to be politically viable, militarily capable, and socially cohesive.  But surely this qualifies as wishful thinking.

The value of M’s insight — of, that is, otherwise intelligent people purporting to believe in things that don’t exist — can be applied well beyond American assumptions about Iraq.  A similar inclination to fanaticize permeates, and thereby warps, U.S. policies throughout much of the Greater Middle East.  Consider the following claims, each of which in Washington circles has attained quasi-canonical status.

* The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.

* The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.

* Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.

* The interests of the United States and Israel align.

* Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.

Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up.  To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy — or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the upcoming Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.

Let’s examine all five, one at a time.

The Presence of U.S. Forces: Ever since the U.S. intervention in Lebanon that culminated in the Beirut bombing of October 1983, introducing American troops into predominantly Muslim countries has seldom contributed to stability.  On more than a few occasions, doing so has produced just the opposite effect. 

Iraq and Afghanistan provide mournful examples. The new book “Why We Lost” by retired Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger finally makes it permissible in official circles to declare those wars the failures that they have been.  Even granting, for the sake of argument, that U.S. nation-building efforts were as pure and honorable as successive presidents portrayed them, the results have been more corrosive than constructive.  The IS militants plaguing Iraq find their counterpart in the soaring production of opium that plagues Afghanistan. This qualifies as stability?

And these are hardly the only examples.  Stationing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia after Operation Desert Storm was supposed to have a reassuring effect.  Instead, it produced the debacle of the devastating Khobar Towers bombing.  Sending G.I.’s into Somalia back in 1992 was supposed to demonstrate American humanitarian concern for poor, starving Muslims.  Instead, it culminated in the embarrassing Mogadishu firefight, which gained the sobriquet Black Hawk Down, and doomed that mission.

Even so, the pretense that positioning American soldiers in some Middle East hotspot will bring calm to troubled waters survives.  It’s far more accurate to say that doing so provides our adversaries with what soldiers call a target-rich environment — with Americans as the targets.

The Importance of the Persian Gulf: Although U.S. interests in the Gulf may once have qualified as vital, the changing global energy picture has rendered that view obsolete.  What’s probably bad news for the environment is good news in terms of creating strategic options for the United States.  New technologies have once again made the United States the world’s largest producer of oil.  The U.S. is also the world’s largest producer of natural gas.  It turns out that the lunatics chanting “drill, baby, drill” were right after all.  Or perhaps it’s “frack, baby, frack.”  Regardless, the assumed energy dependence and “vital interests” that inspired Jimmy Carter to declare back in 1980 that the Gulf is worth fighting for no longer pertain.

Access to Gulf oil remains critically important to some countries, but surely not to the United States.  When it comes to propping up the wasteful and profligate American way of life, Texas and North Dakota outrank Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in terms of importance.  Rather than worrying about Iraqi oil production, Washington would be better served ensuring the safety and well-being of Canada, with its bountiful supplies of shale oil.  And if militarists ever find the itch to increase U.S. oil reserves becoming irresistible, they would be better advised to invade Venezuela than to pick a fight with Iran.

Does the Persian Gulf require policing from the outside? Maybe. But if so, let’s volunteer China for the job. It will keep them out of mischief.

Arab Allies: It’s time to reclassify the U.S. relationship with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Categorizing these two important Arab states as “allies” is surely misleading. Neither one shares the values to which Washington professes to attach such great importance.

For decades, Saudi Arabia, Planet Earth’s closest equivalent to an absolute monarchy, has promoted anti-Western radical jihadism — and not without effect.  The relevant numbers here are two that most New Yorkers will remember: 15 out of 19.  If a conspiracy consisting almost entirely of Russians had succeeded in killing several thousand Americans, would U.S. authorities give the Kremlin a pass? Would U.S.-Russian relations remain unaffected?  The questions answer themselves.

Meanwhile, after a brief dalliance with democracy, Egypt has once again become what it was before: a corrupt, oppressive military dictatorship unworthy of the billions of dollars of military assistance that Washington provides from one year to the next.

Israel: The United States and Israel share more than a few interests in common.  A commitment to a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem does not number among them.  On that issue, Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s purposes diverge widely.  In all likelihood, they are irreconcilable.

For the government of Israel, viewing security concerns as paramount, an acceptable Palestinian state will be the equivalent of an Arab Bantustan, basically defenseless, enjoying limited sovereignty, and possessing limited minimum economical potential. Continuing Israeli encroachments on the occupied territories, undertaken in the teeth of American objections, make this self-evident.

It is, of course, entirely the prerogative — and indeed the obligation — of the Israeli government to advance the well being of its citizens.  U.S. officials have a similar obligation: they are called upon to act on behalf of Americans. And that means refusing to serve as Israel’s enablers when that country takes actions that are contrary to U.S. interests.

The “peace process” is a fiction. Why should the United States persist in pretending otherwise? It’s demeaning.

Terrorism: Like crime and communicable diseases, terrorism will always be with us.  In the face of an outbreak of it, prompt, effective action to reduce the danger permits normal life to continue. Wisdom lies in striking a balance between the actually existing threat and exertions undertaken to deal with that threat. Grown-ups understand this. They don’t expect a crime rate of zero in American cities. They don’t expect all people to enjoy perfect health all of the time.  The standard they seek is “tolerable.”

That terrorism threatens Americans is no doubt the case, especially when they venture into the Greater Middle East. But aspirations to eliminate terrorism belong in the same category as campaigns to end illiteracy or homelessness: it’s okay to aim high, but don’t be surprised when the results achieved fall short.

Eliminating terrorism is a chimera. It’s not going to happen. U.S. civilian and military leaders should summon the honesty to acknowledge this.

My friend M has put his finger on a problem that is much larger than he grasps. Here’s hoping that when he gets his degree he lands an academic job.  It’s certain he’ll never find employment in our nation’s capital.  As a soldier-turned-scholar, M inhabits what one of George W. Bush’s closest associates (believed to be Karl Rove) once derisively referred to as the “reality-based community.” People in Washington don’t have time for reality. They’re lost in a world of their own.

Andrew J. Bacevich, currently Columbia University’s George McGovern Fellow, is writing a military history of America’s war for the Greater Middle East. A TomDispatch regular, his most recent book is Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2014 Andrew Bacevich

Mirrored from


CBS: “War on ISIS: Rare look at training to stop Saudi-born terrorists”

]]> 18
Jerusalem: This Is Why The Temple Mount Matters To one Israeli-American Mon, 24 Nov 2014 05:28:24 +0000 AJ+ | –

“For Jews, the Temple Mount (known as Haram as-Sharif, or “Noble Sanctuary,” to Muslims) is their religion’s holiest site. The Temple Mount is on the same hilltop as Islam’s third-holiest site: the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Recent pushes by far-right Israeli Jews to pray on the Temple Mount have heightened tensions, especially as the current arrangement – which prevents Jews from praying there – has been part of a long-standing agreement between Israel, Jordan and Palestinians. Beruria Steinmetz-Silber explains to AJ+ why the contentious site is so important on a personal level.”

AJ+ “This Is Why The Temple Mount Matters To Israeli-American Beruria”

]]> 5
Syrian Refugees Between a Legal Rock and a Hard Place in Lebanon Mon, 24 Nov 2014 05:28:19 +0000 By Oriol Andrés Gallart | —

BEIRUT, Nov 21 2014 (IPS) – Staring at the floor, Hassan, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee from Idlib in northwestern Syria, holds a set of identification papers in his hands. He picks out a small pink piece of paper with a few words on it stating that he must obtain a work contract, otherwise his residency visa will not be renewed.

Hassan (not his real name) has been given two months to find an employer willing to cough up for a work permit, something extremely unlikely to happen. After that, his presence in Lebanon will be deemed illegal.

Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service … [says that] all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.

Sitting next to Hassan is 24-year-old Ahmed (not his real name) from Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, who lost his residency one month ago. Since then he has been forced to watch his movements. “I live with permanent fear of being caught by the police and deported,” he says.

Since the start of Syria’s civil war in March 2011, over 1.2 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, where they now account for almost one-third of the Lebanese population.

Particularly since May, the Lebanese government has increasingly introduced measures to limit the influx of Syrian refugees into the country. Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Oct. 23, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij announced that the government had reached a decision “to stop welcoming displaced persons, barring exceptional cases, and to ask the U.N. refugee agency [UNHCR] to stop registering the displaced.”

Dalia Aranki, Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance Advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told IPS that Lebanon “is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention” and, as a result, “is not obliged to meet all obligations resulting from the Convention.”

“Being registered with UNHCR in Lebanon can provide some legal protection and is important for access to services,” she wrote together with Olivia Kalis in a recent article published by Forced Migration Review. “But it does not grant refugees the right to seek asylum, have legal stay or refugee status. This leaves refugees in a challenging situation.”

Current legal restrictions affect the admission of newcomers, renewal of residency visas and the regularisation of visa applications for those who have entered the country through unofficial border crossings.

One aid worker who is providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Mount Lebanon told IPS that the majority of the Syrian beneficiaries they are working with no longer have a legal residency visa.

Aranki notes that fear of being arrested often forces those without legal residency papers to limit their movements and also their ability to access various services, to obtain a lease contract or find employment is severely limited. It could also impede birth registration for refugees -with the consequent risk of statelessness, or force family separations on the border.

Before May this year, Syrians could usually enter Lebanon as “tourists” and obtain a residency visa for six months (renewable every six months for up to three years), although this process cost 200 dollars a year, which already was financially prohibitive for many refugee families.

However, NRC has noted that under new regulations Syrians are only permitted to enter Lebanon in exceptional or humanitarian cases such as for medical reasons, or if the applicant has an onward flight booked out of the country, an appointment at an embassy, a valid work permit, or is deemed a “wealthy” tourist. Since summer 2013, restrictions for Palestinian refugees from Syria have become even more severe.

Under its new policy, the Lebanese government also intends to participate in the registration of new refugees together with the UNHCR. Khalil Gebara, an advisor to Minister of Interior Nohad Machnouk, says that the government has taken these measures for two reasons.

“First, because the government decided that it needs to have a joint sovereign decision over the issue of how to treat the Syrian crisis. (…) Previously, it was UNHCR to decide who was deemed a refugee and who was not, the Lebanese government was not involved in this process.”

Secondly “because government believes that there are a lot of Syrians registered who are abusing the system. A lot of them are economic migrants living in Lebanon and they are registered with the United Nations. The government wants to specify who really deserves to be a refugee and who does not”.

Ron Redmond, a UNHCR spokesperson, said that the U.N. agency has “for a long time” encouraged the Lebanese government to assume a role in the registration of new refugees and affirms that registration is going on.

“There is concern about the protection of refugees but there is also understanding on UNHCR’s part,” said Redmond. “Lebanon has legitimate security, demographic and social concerns.”

Meanwhile, accompanying the increasing fear of deportation from Lebanon, Syrian refugees have also been forced to deal with routine forms of discrimination.

Over 45 municipalities across Lebanon have imposed curfews restricting the movement of Syrians during night-time hours, measures which, according to Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Nadim Houry, contravene “international human rights law and appear to be illegal under Lebanese law.”

Attacks targeting unarmed Syrians – particularly since clashes between the Lebanese army and gunmen affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Arsal in August – have also occurred.

Given such realities, life in Lebanon for Hassan, Ahmed and many other Syrian refugees, is becoming a new exile, stuck between a rock and a hard place.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

Licensed from Inter Press Service


Related video added by Juan Cole:

VOA: “Syrian Refugees Brace for Harsh Lebanon Winter”

]]> 1