Israel frets about “Iran as Neighbor” if Aleppo falls & al-Assad Regime Wins

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

An Arabic site that aggregates Facebook and other social media postings reports that Israeli officials are filled with anxiety and consternation about the possibility that the regime of Bashar al-Assad will conquer Aleppo with Russian and Iranian help, and will go on to reconstitute itself. It would be, in the view of Israeli hardliners, an Iranian puppet and would give Lebanon’s Hizbullah a free hand in the region. Yuval Steinitz, a cabinet member with a portfolio for strategic affairs, warned that the victories of the Syrian Arab Army in the Aleppo area constitute a long-term threat to Israel.

In the aftermath, Hizbullah could be even better armed. And Iran might have a permanent military presence in Syria, putting it on the Israeli border, including possibly on the Golan Heights that overlook Israel. Steinitz said Israel would nevertheless not intervene in the Syrian civil war. He described recent SAA advances as “a change in the strategic balance.” He said he feared the price of a defeat of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) would be Iranian troops deployed along the northern border of Israel with Syria. He complained that the barbarity of Daesh has convinced the world that it must be defeated, but that this focus has taken the limelight off the threat of Iran and Hizbullah. He warned that Turkey and Cyprus are also affected if “Iran reaches the Mediterranean.”

Israel’s Hebrew Radio 2 also expressed ‘anxiety and fear’ at these developments. The report said that the allies of the Syrian rebels had abandoned them. It said that the fall of Aleppo would represent the end of any threat to the regime. It asserted that President Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry have abandoned the Syrian opposition to Vladimir Putin, allowing al-Assad and Iran to prevail over it. The report said Turkey had been too afraid to do anything about this development because it did not want to take on Russia. The station said that if, after the fall of Aleppo, the SAA turns its attention to southern Syria and secures it, Israel might be facing Hizbullah and Iran in the Golan Heights.

Hebrew Radio 10 envisaged that Bashar al-Assad could now reemerge as a strongman with a powerful army.

Yisrael Ha-Yom, the newspaper of corrupt casino moghul Sheldon Adelson (chief backer of Mario Rubio for the US presidency) concurred in the dangers and could only see one counter to an al-Assad- Russian-Iranian victory, which would be an intervention by Saudi Arabia.

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Related video:

Ruptly: “Syria: Syrian Army makes push to fully encircle Aleppo”

5 Worst Foreign Policy Moments of GOP New Hampshire Debate

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The New Hampshire GOP debate’s most charged moments were probably more domestic, as with Chris Christie putting Marco Rubio in his place as not having actually done anything and as overly reliant on his single script. But inevitably with this gang, war, torture and sundry mayhem did make an appearance. Here are the five most cringeworthy moments:

1. Virtually the only good thing anyone knows about the sleazy Ted Cruz is that he came out against torture. Last night he took it all back. Muir asked him if waterboarding is torture (it is):

“CRUZ: Well, under the definition of torture, no, it’s not. Under the law, torture is excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing organs and systems, so under the definition of torture, it is not. It is enhanced interrogation, it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture.

MUIR: If elected president, would you bring it back?

CRUZ: I would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use. And indeed, I joined with Senator McCain in legislation that would prohibit line officers from employing it because I think bad things happen when enhanced interrogation is employed at lower levels.

But when it comes to keeping this country safe, the commander in chief has inherent constitutional authority to keep this country safe. And so, if it were necessary to, say, prevent a city from facing an imminent terrorist attack, you can rest assured that as commander in chief, I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe.”

But the European Court of Human Rights has found that Bush-era ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ such as waterboarding are indeed torture. Moreover, the US Senate found that it hadn’t even worked.

2. Then Muir turned to the one person on stage who is worse than Cruz. Another even worse cringeworthy exchange took place:

MUIR: Senator Cruz, thank you. Mr. Trump, you said not only does it work, but that you’d bring it back.

TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what. In the Middle East, we have people chopping the heads off Christians, we have people chopping the heads off many other people. We have things that we have never seen before — as a group, we have never seen before, what’s happening right now.

The medieval times — I mean, we studied medieval times — not since medieval times have people seen what’s going on. I would bring back waterboarding and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.

First of all, that some fringe group somewhere behaves barbarically does not require us to behave barbarically. In fact, the American advantage over the fascist mass parties of the 1930s and 1940s is precisely that for the most part we refused to become fascists to fight fascism. How could you defeat Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) in the eyes of the world if you are just as bad?

Second, what Trump is promising is to commit crimes . Promising to commit crimes against people even in the absence of practical action can be the basis for an arrest and for punishment. The Allies executed a Nazi newspaper owner who spread around horrible anti-Jewish propaganda. But that was all that he had done. Trump is in his league.

3. Then Ted Cruz was asked about his widely panned argument for carpet-bombing Iraq and Syria, which would kill perhaps tens of thousands of innocents.

“As you know, in the first Persian Gulf War, it was 1,100 air attacks a day. Obama is launching between 15 and 30. Now, when I say saturation carpet bombing, that is not indiscriminate.

That is targeted at oil facilities. It’s targeted at the oil tankers. It’s targeted at command and control locations. It’s targeted at infrastructure. It’s targeted at communications. It’s targeted at bombing all of the roads and bridges going in and out of Raqqa. It’s using overwhelming air power.”

Carpet bombing does not, of course, actually refer to precision bombing. And in the Gulf War the US for the first time used a significant amount of “smart” weaponry, so that wasn’t carpet bombing. Cruz just wants to impress his Republican audience with his bloodthirstiness and willingness to deploy massive force against enemies. But the officer corps has over-ruled him on his terminology and his plan, so he had no choice but simply to lie and mischaracterize his own argument so as to foil the critiques.

4. Then Rubio was asked about fighting Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). The fact is that Barack Obama is doing pretty much everything against it he can practically do, and all the plans put forward by his critics are basically just iterations of his plan. Rubio said,

“RUBIO: Well, first, we need to understand who they are. ISIS is not just a jihadist group, they’re an apocalyptic group. They want to trigger a showdown in a city named … [Dabiq] between the west and themselves which they believe will trigger the arrival of their messianic figure.

And I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen. The reason why it’s important to understand that is because these are not groups that are just going to go away on their own. They are going to have to be defeated. And I believe they need to be defeated on the ground, by a ground force, made up primarily of Sunni Arabs.

It will take Sunni Arabs to reject them ideologically and defeat them militarily. That will require a coalition of Iraqis and Syrians, that are also Sunnis, but it will also require the cooperation of Jordanians, Egyptians. We should ask more of the Saudis.”

That Daesh is an apocalyptic group tells us absolutely nothing about their longevity. Some apocalyptic groups collapse abruptly.

The Sunnis don’t want to fight Daesh. Jordan is a tiny country and can’t afford to get involved militarily with infantry in Syria, because the stuff would blow back on Amman. Bernie Sanders keeps talking about Jordan, too. If Jordan, which has a border with Daesh, were going to take military steps, it would already have done so.

Obama tried to recruit Syrian Sunnis to fight Daesh, and most of them turned out to want to fight Bashar al-Assad more. The program collapsed because of this. Iraqi Sunnis were already screwed over by the ‘Sons of Iraq’ program and are reluctant to take the lead again, because Bush hung them out to dry by agreeing to leave Iraq without making any provision for them.

So it is nice that Rubio knows about Dabiq and that it would be good to have some Sunnis in the fight, but there is no way on God’s green earth that his vague imagining of an actual multi-country Sunni army marching on Daesh will become a reality. And anyway, this is just an element of the current Obama plan, not something new.

5. When Ohio Governor John Kasich was asked about North Korea, he suggested unleashing Japan on them:

“KASICH: We’ve gotta to be very tough on this. And frankly, I think we could have — I think we could have let the Japanese know that if you want to take action on that — on that missile that’s rising, you want to take action — you will have our support, if that’s what you think is the best thing to do. We cannot continue to be weak in the face of the North Koreans, or, frankly, in the entire rest of the world.”

Even with the small changes in the legal interpretation of the pacifist Japanese constitution instituted last fall by PM Shinzo Abe, it would not be constitutional for Japan to simply go to war against North Korea. The Japanese public wouldn’t put up with it. Kasich seems completely unaware of what talking about Japanese taking military action against N. Korea looks like to Asia, including to Beijing. All this is not to mention that North Korea has an atomic bomb, whereas Japan does not. Kasich is often forced by the bloodthirsty war cries of his rivals to pledge to do something completely unrealistic.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

ABC News: “Republican Candidates Take on ISIS at ABC News Debate”

Syria Rebels face Collapse as Thousands flee North Aleppo

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

On Friday, the Syrian Arab Army and its Hizbullah and Iranian/ Afghan allies made further progress in taking the area just north of Aleppo. They were apparently mainly fighting al-Qaeda, which had a stronghold in the city of Ratyan. The Russians subjected it to intensive bombing and the SAA and allies ultimately took it. Al-Qaeda (the Nusrah Front) said it had killed 25 of its attackers.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 3.48.21 AM
Via Google maps (click)

In New York, as the Syrian peace talks collapsed, the Russian envoy asked out loud why even the opposition was not happy at the defeat and rollback of al-Qaeda.

The answer is, of course, that the Nusra Front has a long history of winning battles against the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad, and so it is useful to the opposition, even if it is, like, al-Qaeda. Moreover, they don’t take its ties to Ayman al-Zawahiri, now the leader of the organization, very seriously.

Unfortunately for us, I think the US is more or less indirectly backing al-Qaeda in Syria (not ISIL but the Nusra Front).

Jenane Moussa, who has reported from inside Syria, pointed out that government troops still hadn’t surrounded Aleppo to the east, and made us a map of what she thinks the situation looks like.

AFP interviews experts who concur that the Syrian regime is now likely to subject the 360,000 people in eastern Aleppo to a blockade and siege, as it had done successfully to Homs, until it can kill off the guerrillas opposing it.

The Syrian Human Rights observatory maintains that some 20,000 Syrians have fled the villages and small towns just north of Aleppo. Several thousand are stuck on the Syria side at the main Turkish border checkpoint, in cold weather, and they face exposure. Turkey, which already has 2.5 million Syrian refugees, has closed the border to them.

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related video:

20,000 Syrian refugees stuck on Turkish border after fleeing Aleppo

Syria: The Mother of all Battles for Aleppo is Joined

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Aided by a massive Russian bombing campaign and Hizbullah and Iranian (or likely actually Afghan) reinforcements, the Syrian Arab Army has broken out of the siege imposed on West Aleppo by rebel forces toward the north, and now seems positioned to besiege East Aleppo, which is under rebel control. The Lebanese newspaper al-Nahar reports on the situation based on a range of Arabic wire services.

In early October, the shoe had been on the other foot, and rebels had cut the Damascus-Aleppo road to the south, depriving regime-held West Aleppo of food and supplies, so that it could have fallen to the Free Syrian Army. Russian aerial bombardment and government troops along with auxiliaries like Hizbullah took back control of the road and allowed deliveries to West Aleppo.

But the western enclave was still besieged from the north, as were two Shiite villages, Nubl and Zahra.

In the past couple of days, the army and its paramilitary allies, especially Hizbullah, relieved Nubl and Zahra. They had been under siege by al-Qaeda (the Nusra Front) since 2012 and only survived via airdrops of food. Had they fallen, hyper-Sunni al-Qaeda would likely have committed bloodthirsty reprisals against the Shiites there, who are said to have organized pro-regime local militias.

Then on Thursday the Syrian Arab Army took Mayer and Kafr Naya, putting the army and its allies in a position to cut off the roads north of Aleppo to Turkey and so put east Aleppo under effective siege.

Al-Nahar alleges that US military supplies have flowed to the rebels consistently during this fighting, but the small and medium weapons (including T.O.W. anti-tank weaponry) were insufficient in the face of 200 Russia air raids in a matter of hours.

It also quotes a source alleging that the Jerusalem (Quds) Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was absolutely central to the new government advance and that its leader, Qasem Soleimani, is on the battlefield. Al-Nahar also reported that IRGC Brigadier General Mohsen Qajarian was killed north of Aleppo during the fighting.

Steffan de Mistoura suspended the Geneva peace talks in the face of the Russian bombing campaign and advances on the battlefield. It is alleged that the latter were in part made possible because the Russians tricked the US into pressuring Turkey and Saudi Arabia to halt temporarily resupply of the Aleppo rebels while the talks were going on.

I talked a couple years ago to a journalist who had been in Aleppo, embedded with the rebels, and he told me that the rebel forces ran low on supplies every day, but that there appeared miraculously every morning shipments of ammunition. The implication was that they were being resupplied from Turkey, and very efficiently so. That resupply is now in danger.

Rebel forces in east Aleppo, mostly locals and mostly Free Syrian Army rather than Saudi-backed Salafi Jihadis, are now in danger of falling to a regime reconquest of Syria’s largest city. This could be horrible in its reprisals and torture, and thousands of Syrians are already fleeing north to Turkey, but the border there is closed and they are willy nilly camped in the wilderness.

At the same time, the Kurdish YPG militia has seen an opportunity to unite its Kobane enclave with Afrin to the west, north of Aleppo, and it is also moving into the area above the city, which will reinforce a blockade of rebel-held east Aleppo.

The intrepid Liz Sly at WaPo, among our more experienced and insightful Middle East war correspondents, thinks that the battle of Aleppo could, if the regime wins it, be a turning point in the civil war. The regime could win it all.

Syria’s population was only 22 million before the war, of whom a good 4 million are now outside the country, leaving 18 million. Greater Aleppo before the war had 4 million people. It may still be about that, since people have come in from the insecure countryside. That would be 22 percent of the remaining in-country population. The regime probably has 5 million under its control in Greater Damascus, another couple million in Homs and Hama, and nearly 2 million in Latakia province (which it has completely secured in the past month). That’s 13 of the 18 million, nearly three quarters of the in-country population. It is hard to see how, thereafter, Idlib (1.5 million) and Deraa (1 million) hold out (the regime has already struck into central Deraa in the past couple weeks).

The US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries appear now to have a choice of acquiescing in a Russian fait accompli in restoring Syrian regime control to much of the country, or of attempting to greatly increase rebel capabilities. The latter want anti-aircraft manpads, which the US has so far declined to supply. Liz Sly seems to think that in any case that the supply routes are being cut, and the battle will be over before such materiel can reach the FSA units, even if the US changes its mind about supplying it.

These dramatic events may have impelled the Saudis to talk about sending troops to fight Daesh (ISIL, ISIS), which controls areas east and southeast of Aleppo. The presence of Saudi troops on Syrians soil might at least give Riyadh some say in the post-war settlement and prove an impediment to a mere restoration of the status quo ante. This scenario strikes me as far-fetched and desperate; the Saudi infantry is not known for boldness.

On the other hand, given the massacres committed by the regime and its mass murder of POWs, and recent indiscriminate Russian air strikes on civilian areas, I just find it difficult to believe that it can be restored to power in any straightforward way. Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have a Chechnya strategy in mind, with Bashar al-Assad playing Ramzan Kadyrov, the secular Chechen strong man ruling Chechnya as a comprador for Moscow after Putin crushed the Muslim fundamentalist second Chechen uprising in the early zeroes.

But Syria is bigger and more complex than Chechnya, and aside from al-Qaeda and perhaps some Gulf donors, outsiders recognized it as Russian province.

The Resistance could go underground and go on fighting, using covert tactics and terrorism, as happened in Sunni areas of Iraq during the prime ministership of Nouri al-Maliki.

The Fat Lady hasn’t sung yet, by a long shot.

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Related video

AFP: “Syria troops advance on Aleppo, threatening siege of rebels”

Obama Condemns hatred of Muslim-Americans, Affirms their Importance to Nation

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Obama spoke Wednesday at a Baltimore mosque in an explicit pushback against the hatred for Muslims being promoted by billionaire real estate developer Donald J. Trump and others among the Republican presidential candidates.

Trump has scapegoated all Muslim-Americans for the violence committed by a tiny fringe. He has called for Muslims to be excluded from coming to the United States from abroad, and said he would “look into” closing all US mosques. All Christians are not tagged with the killings at Planned Parenthood, but because Muslims are a minority about whom there is much ignorance in the US, the trope of collective guilt hasn’t been immediately rejected by most Americans. I hope that Obama’s speech will change that.

Obama slammed Trump’s rhetoric as inexcusable and said it had no place in the United States:

“And of course, recently, we’ve heard inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country. No surprise, then, that threats and harassment of Muslim Americans have surged. Here at this mosque, twice last year, threats were made against your children. Around the country, women wearing the hijab — just like Sabah — have been targeted. We’ve seen children bullied. We’ve seen mosques vandalized. Sikh Americans and others who are perceived to be Muslims have been targeted, as well.”

Threats were made against their children . Anybody listening to that who has children of their own, or nieces and nephews etc., should get chills on hearing those words. They are a sign of a society beset by thugs.

Obama pointed out that American Muslims are our physicians and our community leaders.

In fact, there are about 800,000 active physicians in the US and 20,000 of them are Muslims, or about 2.5 %.

Obama went on to root American Islam in American history. He pointed out that many (as many as 20%) of African slaves brought to this country were Muslims, and they built the United States. We have some Arabic documents about their experiences written by some of them in their American exile (some had been elite in places like Senegal or Mali or Nigeria before being kidnapped). The president might have added that some significant number of the Hispanic settlers in the Southwest were Spanish of Arab/Berber and Muslim heritage. Although their families or they themselves were coerced into converting to Catholicism, they often kept some secret Muslim beliefs and rituals. We know about historical persons of this sort right from the 1500s. I was born in Albuquerque, N. M., a major American city with an Arabic name (likely al-Barquqi or the owner of an apricot orchard).

Here’s another fact: Islam has always been part of America. Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim. And even in their bondage, some kept their faith alive. A few even won their freedom and became known to many Americans. And when enshrining the freedom of religion in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, our Founders meant what they said when they said it applied to all religions.

Back then, Muslims were often called Mahometans. And Thomas Jefferson explained that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom he wrote was designed to protect all faiths — and I’m quoting Thomas Jefferson now — “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan.” (Applause.)

Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran. Benjamin Franklin wrote that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.” (Applause.) So this is not a new thing.

I’ve been pointing to texts like those for years. It is clear that the Founding Fathers simply had nothing against Islam and Muslims, as Enlightenment deists, and that in fact it was an important case for them in their imagination of the expansion of liberty. That is why Franklin says “even if”.

It is true that there were no Muslim signers of the Declaration of Independence or of the Constitution, but that was because they did not form part of the British landholding elite of the Thirteen Colonies, not because they weren’t here and productive. in the mid-1700s, Muslim slaves from West Africa taught the Europeans in the Carolinas how to better grow rice innovated in ironsmithing, and introduced the swept earthen floor. They were not recognized as free citizens in the Constitution written by the landholding white elite, but they made an enormous contributions to the health and well-being of that society. They are a key part of the people’s history of the United States.

The silly Glenn Beck riposte about the US having gone to war against the Barbary Pirates doesn’t deserve an answer. The Founding generation of Americans knew the difference between fighting some corsairs and fighting a whole faith. That is, before the last decade most American political figures of any weight knew what prejudice and stereotyping are.

Obama went on to point to the long history of Muslim worship in the US:

“Generations of Muslim Americans helped to build our nation. They were part of the flow of immigrants who became farmers and merchants. They built America’s first mosque, surprisingly enough, in North Dakota. (Laughter.) America’s oldest surviving mosque is in Iowa. The first Islamic center in New York City was built in the 1890s. Muslim Americans worked on Henry Ford’s assembly line, cranking out cars. A Muslim American designed the skyscrapers of Chicago.

In 1957, when dedicating the Islamic center in Washington, D.C., President Eisenhower said, “I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution … and in American hearts…this place of worship, is just as welcome…as any other religion.”

I’ve visited the mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, perhaps the oldest one in continuous operation.

I met a resident of Dearborn once of Lebanese Shiite extraction whose ancestor came to the US in the 1880s. The man went out west and became a cowboy. We don’t usually think about the Lebanese Shiite cowboys. Of course, many cowboys were African-Amrericans, and some of those of Muslim background, who contributed their own specialized knowledge to that craft.

As I mentioned in Engaging the Muslim World , Eisenhower saw Muslims as key partners in the Cold War and was unhappy when pilgrimage to Mecca fell off, so that the US State Department actually gave money to improve the railroad to Mecca.

Obama roundly condemned Islamophobia and fear-mongering against Muslim Americans. Perhaps that is the most important thing he could do as president, simply to say that prejudice and discrimination are wrong and to tell the Muslim-Americans that they are an important and accepted part of the American fabric.

” Some of them are parents, and they talked about how their children were asking, are we going to be forced out of the country, or, are we going to be rounded up? Why do people treat us like that? Conversations that you shouldn’t have to have with children — not in this country. Not at this moment.

And that’s an anxiety echoed in letters I get from Muslim Americans around the country. I’ve had people write to me and say, I feel like I’m a second-class citizen. I’ve had mothers write and say, “my heart cries every night,” thinking about how her daughter might be treated at school. A girl from Ohio, 13 years old, told me, “I’m scared.” A girl from Texas signed her letter “a confused 14-year-old trying to find her place in the world.”

These are children just like mine. And the notion that they would be filled with doubt and questioning their places in this great country of ours at a time when they’ve got enough to worry about — it’s hard being a teenager already — that’s not who we are.

We’re one American family. And when any part of our family starts to feel separate or second-class or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation. (Applause.)

It’s a challenge to our values — and that means we have much work to do. We’ve got to tackle this head on. We have to be honest and clear about it. And we have to speak out. This is a moment when, as Americans, we have to truly listen to each other and learn from each other. And I believe it has to begin with a common understanding of some basic facts. And I express these facts, although they’d be obvious to many of the people in this place, because, unfortunately, it’s not facts that are communicated on a regular basis through our media.”

Obama did not name Trump, but he was stepping into the breach with all his personal charisma and charisma of office to be the anti-Trump.

It was an important moment in American history, and one that historians will long note and analyze. It will not end the current wave of Islamophobia, but it is the lengthiest and most thoroughgoing speech ever given by an American president about the importance of Islam and of Muslim-Americans to the United States. Above all, it was a decent speech, which restored some decency to our public discourse at a time of casual racism and unchallenged fascist sentiments being spouted by lesser men, by demagogues and psychopaths, who threaten our society with division and the creation of second-class citizens and a new Jim Crow. Obama is a symbol of how we got past the original Jim Crow. We will not be dragged back to that, no matter how many billions proponents of such reactionary politics may have.

——

Related video:

The White House: “The President Speaks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore”

“Ai Weiwei Will Not Let You Forget About Europe’s Refugee Crisis (AJ+)”

AJ+ | (video News report) | – –

Ai Weiwei reminds the world about the ongoing refugee crisis sparked by a mass exodus of peoples from Syria, who are fleeing a land mired in conflict.

1. Report by Al Jazeera+

See also:

2. Channel 4 News:

“Sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei say they’re disappointed with the response so far – and called for more imagination and humanity.”

Channel 4 News: “Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor walk to help refugees”

Foreign Policy Winners and Losers in Iowa

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Iowa Caucus voters likely voted mainly on domestic policy issues, though security and terrorism have been a big part of the campaigns as well. Now that the smoke is clearing, it is worth considering the foreign policy implications of the winners of the primary.

Iowan conservatives awarded the victory to Ted Cruz. Cruz has pledged to carpet-bomb eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq to get at Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), leveling e.g. Mosul (a city, in 2013, of 2 million, i.e. the size of Houston). Cruz also hinted that he might drop a nuclear bomb on eastern Syria (he wondered if the desert sands would glow thereafter). The population of al-Raqqa Province in eastern Syria before the rise of Daesh was roughly 900,000, of whom I figure a good half have fled the brutal rule of the phony ‘caliphate’. The province is thinly populated. The capital, also called al-Raqqa, probably had a population of 220,000 before Daesh took it. My guess is that at least half the people have run away. In any case, a nuclear bomb would kill everyone left in al-Raqqa and the radioactive fallout will likely land on Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey– American allies.

On the other hand, Cruz is sanguine about allowing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to remain in power.

So Iowans chose the Mad Bomber over everyone else.

The second place was taken by that yuuuge loser, Donald J. Trump. Me, I like people who don’t come in second place. Trump advocates turning Syria over to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump wants to start major trade wars with Mexico and China. He wants to abrogate the Iran deal and take over Middle Eastern oil from its owners. He will charge Saudi Arabia for supplying it with an American security umbrella.

Third place went to Marco Rubio.

Marco Rubio has said of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), “This group needs to be confronted and defeated. They are not going to go away on their own. They’re not going to turn into stockbrokers overnight or open up a chain of car washes. They need to be defeated militarily, and that will take overwhelming U.S. force. ” He insults Iran’s Shiite Islam.” Rubio wants to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as soon as possible. Rubio wants to exclude Syrian refugees from the US, except for Christians, orphans and the elderly.

Rubio’s major backer is corrupt Likudnik casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who also gave us Bibi Netanyahu, so he would further crush and immiserate the Palestinians.

They gave fourth place to Dr. Ben Carson. It is genuinely difficult to know what Carson’s policies are, since he is a confused conspiracy nut. I mean moreso than the first three. But anyway he is not going to be president.

Neither in all likelihood are the first three. They’ve alienated the Latinos, African-Americans, women, gays, non-religious, youth, and other major constituencies. To win they would have to get the three million votes out there that Mitt Romney couldn’t. Instead they’ve chased those 3 million away again plus lots of others. Romney would have done worse if Latino youth had voted in greater numbers (as they did in 2008), and the word is that Trump has galvanized them to register and participate in this one. W. called the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign a “seven-spiral crash.” This one has more spirals.

Iowan Republicans gave short shrift to the least hawkish and interventionist Republican candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, though I argue that he is more hawkish and interventionist than he is typically depicted.

As for the Democrats, whatever the final vote tally they more or less tied. So Iowan Democrats can’t make up their minds between a dovish Sanders who opposes most interventions in the Middle East and the more hawkish Hillary Clinton. But note that both support the Iran nuclear deal and neither would put ground troops into the Middle East. Both are therefore way less hawkish than most of the Republican candidates.

So, to sum up. Iowa Republicans had difficulty making up their minds between crazy and completely insane. More reasonable conservatives like Kasich and Paul were dismissed from the field.

Iowa Democrats just had difficulty making up their minds, though there was a powerful generational divide, with young Dems going for Bernie and those over 45 favoring Hillary. Since, with the exception of 2008, most elections in the US are dominated by older, wealthier voters, that is bad news for Bernie in my view.

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBSN: “Ted Cruz delivers victory speech in Iowa”

ISIL kills 70 in bombing of Shiite Area, Damascus, in bid to derail Talks

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) claimed responsibility Sunday for bomb attacks in the Syrian capital of Damascus that seem likely to have aimed at derailing the tentative talks in Geneva.

First, a Daesh agent set off a car bomb next to a bus transporting Shiite fighters for the regime of Bashar al-Assad, killing 25. Then, when people gathered to give medical and other help, two assailants set off their belt bombs, killing more dozens.

Some 60 persons were injured in the bombings, some critically.

Lady_zaynab_mosque

Syria has many ethnic groups and sects. Some 10% to 14% are Alawite Shiites, the group from which the upper echelons of the regime and the officer corps are drawn. There are also other sorts of Shiite or offshoots of Shiism, including Twelvers (the kind that predominates in Iran and Iraq), Druze and Ismailis. Add them all up and they come to as many as 18% of the population.

Shiites give special honor to the family of the Prophet Muhammad, and they often erect shrines over their tombs. Zaynab bint Ali (d. 681) was the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Her shrine is in a district of Damascus, and the neighborhoods around it are heavily Shiite. In the past decade the area, known colloquially as Sitt Zaynab, has attracted expatriate Shiite communities such as refugees from the Iraq War and Lebanese Shiites. Most of those residents have had to leave because of Syria’s civil war and because the hard line Salafi Jihadis (who are hyper-Sunni and typically despise Shiites) have targeted the neighborhood, as they did again yesterday. But some expatriate remain, including fighters of the Hizbullah party-militia of Lebanon and volunteers from south Iraq. It was the latter that Daesh was targeting.

Likely the bombings were intended to throw a wrench into the negotiations that opened Monday in Geneva between the rebels and the Syrian regime, by heightening sectarian passions.

The talks were in trouble for other reasons. The Saudis sent Syrian members of the High Negotiations Commission to Geneva, but appointed as their spokesman Muhammad Alloush, leader of the hard line Salafi Army of Islam (Jaysh al-Islam), which attacks the idea of democracy.

The Bashar al-Assad regime and its Russian backers see the Army of Islam as a terrorist group no different from Daesh or al-Qaeda, and refuse to negotiate with it.

UN special envoy Steffan de Mistura dealt with this problem by engaging in a kind of shuttle diplomacy, going to see the regime representatives, and then after a decent interval visiting the rebels.

The rebel side insisted that the regime fulfill its commitments and lift the siege on 45,000 residents of rebel-held areas. It is a war crime for Syria to starve civilian populations as part of the war effort. The rebels also have some civilians under siege, especially in Shiite areas.

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