Russia on Thursday pushed back against President Obama’s state plans for taking on the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) in Syria.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich remarked on television: “The US president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the US armed forces against ISIL positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government,” “This step, in the absence of a UN Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”
Russia is divided over the new US initiative. It is desperately afraid of ISIL (in which Chechen fighters serve) and happy enough that the US had decided to intervene against it. But it doesn’t want the US overthrowing Bashar al-Assad and trying to turn Syria into a US sphere of influence.
ISIL in Iraq is unambiguous, and there the Obama administration has Russia and Iran as behind the scenes allies in defeating the terrorist organization. ISIL in Syria is also opposed by Russia and Iran, but they want the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad to be the beneficiary of ISIL’s defeat. The Obama administration imagines that there is still a “moderate” opposition that it can back against both ISIL and al-Assad.
In essence then, in Iraq the outside great powers are on the same page. But in Syria, the Obama administration is setting up a future proxy war between itself and Russia once ISIL is defeated (if it can be), not so dissimilar from the Reagan proxy war in Afghanistan, which helped created al-Qaeda and led indirectly to the 9/11 attacks on the US. Obama had earlier argued against arming Syrian factions. My guess is that Saudi Arabia and other US allies in the region made tangible backing for the Free Syrian Army on Obama’s part a quid pro quo for joining in the fight against ISIL.
In Jedda, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that if the situation in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine were not so tragic, Russian expressions of concern over international law in Syria would be laughable. Kerry secured support for the US push against ISIL from 10 Middle Eastern countries in Jedda, though it remains to be seen whether this resolution is more than lip service.
From a language of containing ISIL, he was forced to speak of degrading and destroying it. He went back and forth between trying to reassure the left wing of the Democratic Party that he had not suddenly been possessed by the ghost of Dick Cheney and assuring the skittish American people that he was going to make mincemeat of the terrorist American-beheaders.
Analysts will focus on his four-step program of fighting ISIL, but it is in the president’s analogies to his present battle that we find clues to what he really expects to happen. He says that this is not a war as Iraq and Afghanistan were wars, i.e. with the commitment of several divisions of conventional US ground troops. He cautioned:
“But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”
Invoking Yemen and Somalia is a signal of minimalism in every way. On MSNBC, veteran, experienced and brilliant correspondent Richard Engel took apart this analogy. He pointed out that Yemen and Somalia are holding actions but that in Iraq the US and its allies would have to take territory.
But what if Obama is talking big but carrying a soft stick? What if he really does mean he has a Yemen-like situation in mind?
What if Obama wants to prevent the fall of Baghdad, Erbil and even Riyadh? What if he is privately skeptical about Baghdad recovering Mosul any time soon? He has after all used drones in Waziristan in northwest Pakistan not to inflict military defeat but for tactical advantage. Iraq and Syria are the new Waziristan.
Yemen is of course a mess. In the north you have a Zaidi Shiite rebellion, the Houthis, who recently have threatened the capital, Sanaa. In the south you have secessionists of various stripes, some nationalists and some fundamentalists. On the Red Sea coast you have Sufis and some Salafi fundamentalists, the latter shading at one end of the spectrum into al-Qaeda. You also have al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsuala (AQAP) in the south and east. A third of Yemenis go to bed hungry every night. The country suffers from lack of water. Oil exports are limited. It is the poorest Arabic-speaking country. US air strikes and drones have arguably alienated and radicalized more Yemenis than they have killed al-Qaeda members.
The best that can be said for US actions against AQAP in Yemen is that they may have forestalled AQAP and kindred groups from taking and holding some provinces. For instance, AQAP took over Zinjibar and some other towns in Abyan Province in 2011, but in 2012 a government offensive backed by US air power and aided by grassroots anti-al-Qaeda popular committees expelled AQAP from Abyan.
True, AQAP relocated east to Hadramawt, and it still kills Yemeni soldiers, but it is farther from Sanaa now and it really did lose Abyan province, which it had hoped to make a caliphate.
Obama hinted in his speech that he wants to help Baghdad and Erbil take back towns from ISIL just as Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the president of Yemen, took back Zinjibar. And just as AQAP hasn’t disappeared in Yemen, Obama expects ISIL to be around for a while. In essence, the Yemen policy has de facto yielded a sort of containment with regard to AQAP, though how successful it will be in the long run can be questioned.
What if Obama is a sharper reader of the Middle East than his critics give him credit for? He knows ISIL is likely not going away, just as, after 13 years, the Taliban have not. US military action may even prolong the lifetime of these groups (that is one argument about AQAP) even as it keeps them from taking more territory.
Don’t listen to his expansive four-stage program or his retooled, stage-managed John Wayne rhetoric. Look at his metaphors. He is telling those who have ears to hear that he is pulling a Yemen in Iraq and Syria. He knows very well what that implies. It is a sort of desultory, staccato containment from the air with a variety of grassroots and governmental forces joining in. Yemen is widely regarded as a failure, but perhaps it is only not a success. And perhaps that is all Obama can realistically hope for.
Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura at WaPo report on a Monday evening dinner at the White House attended by foreign policy experts, in which President Obama expressed confidence that he had the authority to bomb ISIL positions in Syria.
In other reports, Obama officials have leaked that they think this is a 3 years war. (Ronald Reagan began vastly increasing the aid to Afghan rebels against the then Communist government in Kabul in 1982, and US counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency in that country is still going on in 2014, 32 years later; so three years have a way of becoming multiplied by 10).
At the same time, Obama appears to envisage arming and training the “moderates” of the Free Syrian Army, who have consistently been pushed to the margins by al-Qaeda offshoots and affiliates. Private billionaires in the Gulf will continue to support ISIL or its rival, Jabhat al-Nusra (the Succor Front, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda). Strengthening yet another guerrilla group will, again, likely prolong the fighting. Moreover, in the past two years, Free Syrian Army moderate groups have gone radical and joined Nusrah or ISIL at an alarming rate. Defectors or defeated groups from the FSA will take their skills and arms with them into the al-Qaeda offshoots.
In Iraq, while giving the Kurds and the Iraqi army close air support against ISIL has already borne fruit when the local forces were defending their ethnic enclaves, it hasn’t helped either largely Kurdish forces or the (largely Shiite) Iraqi army take Sunni Arab territory. Several campaigns against Tikrit have failed. The only thing worse than this failure might be success.
Success would mean smart phone video making its way to YouTube showing US bombing urban residential buildings full of Sunni Arab families in support for a motley crew of Kurdish (non-Arab) fighters and Shiite troops and militiamen. Helping such forces take Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, would make for a very bad image in the Sunni world.
US hopes of enlisting Sunni “tribes” led by people like Ahmad Abu Risha are probably not very realistic. Sunni notables in the cities and ex-Baath officers need to be convinced to break with ISIL. One might ask where all the Iraq oil money has gone. With Brent crude mostly over $100 a barrel in recent years, and Iraq exporting 3 mn barrels a day or so, the government should be enormously wealthy. But Sunni Arabs complain of poverty, unemployment and no services or electricity. What’s wrong with this picture? Inefficiency and corruption are part of the story of the disaffection of the Sunnis in Iraq; and those faults are in the main US ally!
Giving close air support to Middle Eastern groups requires US special forces on the ground, to paint lasers on the targets. And if the campaign isn’t finished in 3 years, there will be pressure from Washington hawks to commit troops (there already is). Governments don’t like to be seen failing, and sometimes will double down in a gamble.
There are reasons, however, to be cautious about pinning too many hopes on the new government. Although al-Abadi is a more congenial and less paranoid figure than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, he derives from the same fundamentalist Shiite political party, the “Islamic Call” or “Islamic Mission” (al-Da`wa al-Islamiya), founded around 1958 with the aim of creating a Shiite state. The Da`wa Party did very well in securing cabinet appointments.
The cabinet lacks a Minister of the Interior (akin to the US FBI or Homeland Security director) and a Defense Minister, because the parties could not agree on the names that had been put forward. Hadi al-Ameri, the head of the Iran-backed Badr Corps militia, had been bruited as an Interior Minister, but apparently calmer heads prevailed (or perhaps there was severe American pressure). The Badr Corps in the past has been accused of involvement in torture, and it is despised by many of the Sunni Arabs.
Given the revolt of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs this summer, that anyone even considered al-Ameri for such a sensitive position is astonishing. During the first Ibrahim Jaafari government, the Badr Corps was accused of abuse and the extra-judicial jailings of Sunni Arab rebels.
If the Iraqi elite were smart they’d put a Sunni Arab in as head of the Department of Defense.
Not only does al-Abadi have to gain the trust of the Sunni Arabs, he has to regain that of the Kurds, as well. For many months, Iraq has not paid the civil servants in the Kurdistan superprovince. And in June the Kurds too control of Kirkuk province and are involved in disputes with Baghdad over the future of Kirkuk and also over whether they can export their oil without the involvement of the Iraqi minister of petroleum. The Kurds have given al-Abadi a short deadline to settle these disputes and to convince them not to just secede and leave Baghdad to face ISIL on its own.
It remains to be seen whether the Iraqi Army can become less sectarian, whether it will fight for al-Abadi.
1. On Sunday evening, BBC reports that Iraqi fighter jets bombed the villages of al-Riyadh and al-Nirab in the vicinity of Hawija, north Iraq, leaving 14 dead and 10 wounded. Hawija is a largely Sunni Arab town near the city of Kirkuk (Kirkuk is controlled now by the Kurdistan Peshmerga paramilitary). The Baghdad government, which is dominated by Shiite Arabs, has a substantial advantage over extremist ISIL fighters in having fighter jets and helicopter gunships, but has not successfully deployed them against the violent gang since it took over northern and western Iraq in June. Presumably the ability of Baghdad to scramble jets and hit these villages, putting pressure on ISIL to withdraw further from the Kurdish front, has to do with the hundreds of US special forces troops that President Obama has sent to Baghdad, since some must be trainers trying to get Iraqi pilots up to speed. Assuming that the jets actually bombed ISIL positions and did not just manage to kill civilians, this bombing raid represents an upping of the Baghdad military’s game.
2. The US carried out air strikes on ISIL positions near Haditha in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam. Keeping the dam out of ISIL hands is a key objective of the current campaign, since it could be used to blackmail Iraqis. Sheikh Ahmed Abu-Risha, who claims to be the leader of the Sunni Arab, pro-Baghdad “Awakening,” said that tribal forces confirmed that two ISIL units had been targeting the dam, and that the US air strikes destroyed them. This report suggests that ISIL is sometimes attempting to act like a conventional military, marching on targets in platoons that then become vulnerable to air attack because they are in the open and bunched up. The group’s guerrilla experience would not be useful, however, in taking a dam– it is better deployed in a big population center like Mosul.
4. The mufti or chief legal adviser of Saudi Arabia on Islamic law (Sheikh Abd al-Aziz Al Sheikh) gave a fatwa or ruling on Sunday that ISIL is just a band of rebels and murderers who have blood in their hands. Those Western pundits demanding evidence that Muslims have condemned ISIL should take note. The mufti of a Wahhabi country has done so, showing that the Saudi elite has had a scare thrown into it, even if some Saudis secretly support ISIL.
5. The Arab League declared its enmity with the so-called “Islamic State.” All the governments are afraid of ISIL. Although Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Alaraby met with US Secretary of State John Kerry, however, it is not clear what exactly the body can do in any practical way for the war effort. The state best poised to intervene against ISIL, Jordan (which borders Iraq and has a good little military and intelligence capabilities) is at least in public begging off, for fear of ISIL reprisals in Amman.
FDL Book Salon Welcomes Juan Cole, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East
Sunday, September 7, 2014 12:15 pm Pacific time
Welcome Juan Cole (Informed Comment)(twitter) and Host Charles Tuttle (CTuttle)(twitter)
The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East
In his new book, Professor Cole charts the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, touching upon Syria and Yemen. He credits the Millennial Generation (those born between 1977 and 2000) as a major force behind the varying attempts to change the status quo. As he wrote, “the millennial generation of young Arabs took to the streets, in the millions, chanting ‘bread, freedom and social justice.’ Basically calling for ‘dignity’ (karama), a sense of personal autonomy and rights to freedom of one’s person and one’s political beliefs that must not be infringed by the security forces of each ‘Republican Monarchy.’” Utilizing the latest social media tools on the internet, the youth were very adept at networking and coordinating the numerous direct actions that rattled the regimes.
As Prof. Cole wrote, “Young people are the key to the rapid political and social change in the Arab countries that have been in turmoil since 2011,” Arguing that members of this “Arab Generation Y” are more literate than their elders, more urban and cosmopolitan, more technologically savvy and less religiously observant than those over 35. He further states that many Arab millennials, a generation suffering from “Depression-era” rates of unemployment, used their free time to agitate for democratic change:
they were ‘biographically available’ for meetings, Internet communications, and small demonstrations
In extensive interviews with many student activists and bloggers in Cairo, Benghazi, Tripoli, Tunisia, and even Paris, often during the height of the Arab Spring, Prof. Cole takes the reader inside the youth movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, showing us how activists used technology and social media to amplify their message and connect with like-minded citizens across the region. As he wrote in his preface:
The rise of the internet may not have been as central to these social movements as some Western press coverage assumed. Nevertheless the revolutions were at least to some extent enabled by blogging, Facebook and Twitter campaigns, satellite television, and smartphones. New media allowed activists to get the word out about torture and corruption in ways that the state-dominated press would not have. The internet worked in tandem with popular social and political movements that moved like deep currents to produce these waves of change.
In closing Prof. Cole wrote about the seriousness of the times, “The rise of crime and of political terrorism from Muslim extremists and the constant instability and changes in the executive, while serious problems, should not blind us to the achievements of the youth in putting increased personal autonomy and dignity on the table for societal negotiation. They have kicked off what is likely to be a long inter generational argument, in which there will be both advances and setbacks. We are still two or three decades from the time when the Arab millennials will come to power, but they have laid down markers on the future of the region.”
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
78 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Juan Cole, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East”
BevW September 7th, 2014 at 1:49 pm
Juan, CT, Welcome back to the Lake.
CT, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon. . . .
CTuttle September 7th, 2014 at 1:53 pm
In response to BevW @ 1
Aloha, Bev, Juan and FDL pups…!
CTuttle September 7th, 2014 at 1:57 pm
Prof. Cole in your book you cited many wikileaks cables, how widely read were/are they in the various countries…?
dakine01 September 7th, 2014 at 2:00 pm
Good afternoon Juan and welcome back to Firedoglake this afternoon. Good afternoon CTut!
Juan, I have not had a chance to read your book but do have a question and forgive me if you address this in the book. So often in the reporting by the Traditional Media, we see the stories about groups like ISIS and how they are fighting the West and do NOT see the stories about the non-violent social change, even as they did manage to topple long time dictators.
Does the non-violent social change just not resonate with the Traditional Media and US political forces?
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 2:03 pm
Hi, Charles. Thanks so much for doing this.
Many of the youth activists in the Arab world were very wired. Some were even members of the local Pirate Party or had serious, let us say, internet skills. So they knew immediately about the State Department cables published by Wikileaks and began locating and translating the ones relevant to their critiques of the dictators they opposed. In fact, Nawaat.org re: Tunisia spent much more time on the Wikileaks revelations about Zine El Abidine Ben Ali than on the death of Tarek (“Mohammad”) BouAzizi in fall of 2010.
CTuttle September 7th, 2014 at 2:05 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4
While reading the book, dakine, JFK’s famous quote; “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make revolution inevitable” resonated throughout…!
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 2:09 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4
The Arab and Muslim worlds constitute 1.5 billion people, sort equivalent to of Europe, North America and South and Central America taken together– so it is just an enormous swathe of the world. Obviously they have all kinds of societies. The ones I was talking about (mainly Egypt and Tunisia) are highly institutionalized with strong central states, and fairly educated and urbanized. So there, in North Africa, nonviolent social and political movements are common. The US public has mainly recently dealt with much more rural societies like Afghanistan or al-Anbar Province in Iraq, where clan violence is common. It has given them a skewed view of the region, sort as if you were to generalize about Buenos Aires from an experience in Honduras.
CTuttle September 7th, 2014 at 2:11 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 5
One thing that impressed me was how much the internet empowered many Arab women, do you think they’ll keep the gains made and will continue to have a voice against the rapid rise in the Salafist extremism…?
BevW September 7th, 2014 at 2:11 pm
As background for the book, how did you define “millennial generation” of young arabs?
bigbrother September 7th, 2014 at 2:14 pm
Hi Juan thanks for bringing some light to the ME torment. I find your blog informed comment helpful in getting my brain around a complex set of circumstances that are interrelated. Thank you for this diary. I read the conclusion of your book on Amazon. Why do the super powers keep pouring gasoline on the fires of ME discontent? What solutions do you see as alternative?
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 2:17 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 8
Salafis and other really hard line Muslims hostile to women having a public role are a tiny minority in Tunisia; the interior minister estimated them at 5,000 in a population of 10.5 million. There are more in Egypt, but even there they are not a big group, proportionally.
On the other hand, Arab Muslim societies do have a lot of patriarchs in them uncomfortable with women in the public sphere, even where the patriarchs aren’t that religious. For young women, the internet has been a place where they can exercise leadership and make themselves heard. A YouTube rant can after all be more effective than a speech in a square on a soapbox. A lot of women have blogs or are active on Twitter or Facebook and can garner huge followings. This is a new arena of leadership for them that cannot so easily be blocked.
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 2:20 pm
In response to BevW @ 9
Hi, Bev. These generations are often defined by marketers who are trying to sell them things based on generational interests and networks. The Millennials or Gen Y are defined as people born roughly 1977 – 2000. Because they came of age after the end of the Cold War and at a time when the Internet was coming on line, I do think they have some things in common as a group that distinguish them at least somewhat from their elders.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 2:20 pm
I am interested in knowing if less water intensive methods of farming like vertical farming with drip irrigation is of interests to Arabs or will they stay with their current methods of farming. High prices for food, Fuel and lack of jobs were all cited as reasons for Arab Spring.
bigbrother September 7th, 2014 at 2:22 pm
The Saudi Sunni brand of Muslim seems very supportive of extremists. The Iran Shites has their own pet extremist. Gaza massacre victims seem to be ignored by both. Mind commenting on this?
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 2:24 pm
Next about Jobs what are the young Arabs ideas for creating more jobs? Is there a difference between Young blogger ideas, Young Fundamentalist ideas and Young supporters of the current regime’s ideas on how, what kind of jobs to create plus how and who should pay for those jobs?
Glenn September 7th, 2014 at 2:25 pm
Prof. Cole, the United States and other Western countries have had a profound impact on Arab countries in a variety of ways, ranging from providing a role model, to having supported some dictatorial regimes like Saudi Arabia, to using military force both covertly and overtly to try to overthrow other regimes like Iraq, Libya and Syria. What do you think the US should have done differently than it has? Do you, in hindsight, wish you personally had given any different advice to Western policy makers at the time than you actually did, especially in cases like the US’s wars of aggression against Iraq and Libya?
RevBev September 7th, 2014 at 2:25 pm
To follow bigbrother at 10, is there a big contrast in the way ME has to reacted to W and to Obama?
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 2:26 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 10
The great Powers all think they have interests in the Middle East, and one of those interests is not being displaced by other great Powers.
But I wouldn’t overestimate external impacts on the region. Iraq is an obvious place where outside meddling made things much worse. On the other hand, I think Syria’s collapse is largely because of problems in Syria, not least the impact of Climate Change in causing a long term drought that drove farmers from their land to urban slums in search of non-existent work as construction workers.
Once a conflict like Syria breaks out, the great Powers take stances toward it. Syria had been a Soviet and then Russian client, and Putin did not want the Baath government to fall, so he gave it a lot of money and weapons without which the regime might well have collapsed. Iran likewise needs Syria as a land bridge to Hizbullah in Lebanon and so supported Damascus in key ways.
In Tunisia and Egypt, I don’t think the US or the Russians were that important, but there was a rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar for influence over the outcome of the 2011 upheavals that proved ruinous for Egypt’s hopes of democratic transition. Still, even there, internal Egyptian developments were more important than Gulf money.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 2:26 pm
I just started reading the book and I was very struck with how much Young Arab bloggers are similar to bloggers on the internet. That suggest something to me maybe we both view our ruling classes the same way since we have similar responses to our ruling classes? Just wondering if I’m on the ball or out in Left field.
CTuttle September 7th, 2014 at 2:28 pm
One thing that I’d noted in most cases was the fact that the initial protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere, were based on Israeli actions in Lebanon, Gaza and/or the West Bank…! It seemed like they first cut their teeth on the Israeli wars…!
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 2:29 pm
In response to ThingsComeUndone @ 13
The Arab world is in a long-lasting Arid Zone that is becoming more arid because of human-caused climate change and other developments. Rivers like the Tigris and Euphrates are being dammed near their headwaters or irrigated off of in ways that reduce water flow. Iraq is facing soil salinization as a result. Rain, never abundant, is becoming scarcer in Syria. Much more efficient use of water is crucial, but even that may not be enough to deal with the crisis.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 2:32 pm
What do Arab bloggers think about ISIS some of us think America and the Saudi’s created, funded, armed them. What do they think of America first wanting to attack Iran and Syria now barely a year later we want their help with ISIS?
What do the Arab bloggers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain the Arab Emirates think of this?
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 2:37 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 14
The funny thing is that the Saudi leadership does not see its Wahhabi brand of Islam as extremist. They think Wahhabis are just very good (i.e. what we would call fundamentalist) Muslims who are characterized by loyalty to the king. I suppose they’re a little like some of the urban 16th century Protestant groups who were frankly fanatical but loyal to a Protestant prince, in contrast to the peasant revolutionaries.
So the Saudis are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not loyal to any monarch or government and is rather populist and sometimes revolutionary. They see the Brotherhood as the extremists.
So there are two things going on here, strictness in obedience to Muslim canon law as fundamentalists construct it, and the question of loyalty to the king or to the state. People can be quietist and apolitical and yet fundamentalist believers, as with some of the peace churches in the US.
The strain that is dangerous is what I call fundamentalist vigilantes, those who reject mainstream government authority and think individuals are authorized to act violently on their own account.
Glenn September 7th, 2014 at 2:38 pm
Prof. Cole, are there any blogs written in English by Arab or Iranian bloggers that you would especially recommend to people who don’t speak the native languages but want better insight into what the people in these countries are actually thinking?
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 2:40 pm
In response to ThingsComeUndone @ 19
There were a lot of political blogs among Arab youth, though maybe some of that energy has now gone to social media. They are diverse– leftist, liberal, fundamentalist, loyalist.
The internet was important to dissidents because the government or relatives of the president often controlled the newspapers and in-country television, and the internet allowed people to get the word out about taboo subjects like police torture. Although the tensions between netroots and the Establishment (including MSM) are structurally similar, those tensions are much more vehement and stark in a dictatorial police state.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 2:41 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 21
Vertical Farming reduces the use of water by up to 99% by using aeroponics and recycling all the water, which is not used by the plants!
I doubt the old Arab Monarchs read the latest on farming and they control the government but are the young interested, actively looking for technological solutions to their societies problems?
BrandonJ September 7th, 2014 at 2:42 pm
Hello CTuttle! Hello Professor Cole! Glad to be here for this Salon.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book since it provided great context for what was happening in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Based on the conversations so far, I cannot help but ask a question on climate change. You mentioned in the book the Milennial generation will take power in the future. However, it seems climate change will get worse as time goes on. What are Milennials doing about this?
cherwell September 7th, 2014 at 2:42 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 10
thanks for letting the FDL readers know: http://www.juancole.com/
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 2:43 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 25
Although the tensions between netroots and the Establishment (including MSM) are structurally similar, those tensions are much more vehement and stark in a dictatorial police state.
So they are more extreme versions of us very cool:)
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 2:44 pm
In response to ThingsComeUndone @ 22
You’d have to look at it on a country by country basis. The vast majority of Egyptians at the moment have a bad taste in their mouths from fundamentalist attempts at power-grabbing and they hate and fear ISIL. On the other hand, some Saudis are more aware of the oppression of the Iraqi Sunnis at the hands of the Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki and so are more sympathetic to ISIL as a Sunni backlash.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 2:45 pm
They are diverse– leftist, liberal, fundamentalist, loyalist.
Do the groups, fight, cooperate, I know its probably different in each country but what they fight about and what they cooperate on might I think have something in common and if not that information is also interesting.
TarheelDem September 7th, 2014 at 2:47 pm
Thanks for hosting this Book Salon, CTut, and thanks Prof. Cole for chatting with folks at the Lake.
I’m wary of discussions about generations. After all the rip-roaring generation that was supposed to change the world for the better (per Life Magazine) did indeed have Barbra Streisand and Yitzhak Perlman and Stephen Hawking, but it also had Dick Cheney and W.
What in the social life of the Arab world leads you to believe that the Millennial generation there will indeed make over the politics of the region in a helpful way for the people who live there?
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 2:49 pm
In response to Glenn @ 24
This is not a cop-out– really– I cite a lot of blogs in my book with URLs. But you might look at Baheyya for Egypt e.g.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 2:51 pm
Many of the Arab Monarchies have old rulers and when they die their younger brothers and or sons who are also very old as dirt will take over.
The Arab nations have a bunch of young unemployed people from what little I’ve read the young want jobs.
But from what I see on the news the old seem more intent on playing foreign policy games.
Do any of the Arab Monarchies have a plan to get their young working.
CTuttle September 7th, 2014 at 2:51 pm
It seems Tunisia was the only successful ‘Arab Awakening,’ do you forsee any hope for Libya, or even Egypt, in the near future…?
cherwell September 7th, 2014 at 2:53 pm
mr. cole — thanks for all that you fearlessly contribute as an authentic, investigative journalist aka an agent of change.
while i have not read your book — yet — reviews have stated your book is most illuminating when chronicling, in fascinating detail, their [ME] pioneering use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and cellphone technology to network and organize.
Q: if net netrality is abondoned in favor of the corporatacracy, what will be the impact in the Arab world?
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 2:54 pm
In response to ThingsComeUndone @ 31
Again, it is different in different countries and changes over time. In Egypt, the youth movements from about 2005 began trying to cooperate across ideological divides. There was some of that in Libya, as well, in 2011.
But after the revolutions, when the question was not just getting rid of the dictator but of what came next, cooperation was hard to sustain. The left and liberal youth broke with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 2012-13 when the latter came to power and cracked down on dissent. Libya is now riven by a fight between nationalists and fundamentalists that even has a regional/ clan substrate, thus Zintanis versus Misratans.
Twain September 7th, 2014 at 2:56 pm
Prof. Cole, I haven’t read your book yet but wanted to say thank you for Informed Comment. It is a must-read every day. Excellent information.
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 3:01 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 35
I argue that it is way too soon to tell which of these movements was successful, and of course it depends on what you think their goal was. Ahmad Maher in Egypt (now unfortunately in jail) said that Jan. 25, 2011, was originally about getting rid of the Interior Minister. So obviously that succeeded.
And, it is very early days. At this stage in the American Revolution, the British still held Staten Island.
Tunisia has had the best (though still very rocky and imperfect) transition to greater democracy, but it is an open question about whether the elected government will be able to grow the economy fast enough to suit the youth.
Egypt seems to have gone authoritarian but when I was there in March there were massive and widespread labor strikes, including by postal workers (very debilitating to business), and the military clearly did not dare move against them. That is, spaces have opened that it is hard even for the generals to close back down. I don’t think the youth have gone anywhere, nor have their aspirations, and the old guys at the top won’t be there forever…
So, let’s keep an open mind about the changes kicked off in 2011. The story isn’t over. One thing seems clear though– presidents for life and their sons inheriting the presidency is not going to be the new paradigm for the region.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:01 pm
Scientists from the United Arab Emirates have shown that greening arid and semi-arid areas has led to a 2 to 3°C reduction in temperature. The governments of these countries, therefore, have proposed that up to 10% of their region should be planted up, with the ambitious aim of reducing the ambient temperature by 8 to 12°C. In fact, a “Green Belt Project” sponsored by Abu Dhabi and Dubai, whereby all major cities will be planted with a perimeter of trees, shrubs and grass, has already been initiated.
Can you suggest where I might read more on this subject? Also does the government controlled media in the Arab world report on this subject? Are Arab Bloggers talking about the possibilities of this and vertical farming.
Producing food greening the desert can create jobs and provide Arab society much needed products like food.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:03 pm
Overall will things get better or are will the Arab world get torn apart by war?
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 3:03 pm
In response to cherwell @ 36
Ending net neutrality would harm the world wide web as a place for effective dissent, but the Net is such that people will still find ways to communicate on it. You might have to be patient while the non-MSM site you want to read loads into your browser. Or maybe we have to go to peer to peer filesharing, or torrents. Anyway, it would be bad but not fatal.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:05 pm
Many Arab Monarchies have huge sections of their populations that are guest workers who are treated worse than illegal Mexican Immigrants are in America. How or do the Arab Bloggers have any ideas about improving their status?
Glenn September 7th, 2014 at 3:07 pm
Prof. Cole, on the subject of blogs, what do you think of the ways The Vineyard of the Saker is covering the wars in Ukraine and Iraq?
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:07 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 39
Tunisia has had the best (though still very rocky and imperfect) transition to greater democracy,
Is America helping, hindering the transition to democracy and what help we do give are we giving it based on actual performance or based more on our geopolitical fears?
How are we helping, hindering?
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:09 pm
Is the NSA helping the Arab governments spy on their bloggers? If so how which Arab governments are cracking down the hardest on the internet? Which are the most effective at cracking down on the internet and how do they do it?
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 3:09 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 32
Good point. My book really isn’t about the generation so much as the youth movements that members threw up to organize it and make claims for its aspirations. Those youth movements will be consequential for politics for a long time to come. Most of the really effective ones are left or liberal, moreover.
Moreover, in the Arab world, generational change is much more stark than in the industrialized West. Egypt’s population in 1980 was 40 million; it is now 85 million or so. A whole new Egypt has been added, of Millennials. And these new Egyptians are *much* more urban, literate and wired than their parents, and somewhat, at least, less religiously observant. That is, the social statistics suggest a genuinely different generational set of values– though of course there is as you say a spectrum and some a quite conservative or reacting against the New Left or the liberals.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:12 pm
In response to ThingsComeUndone @ 40
How much of the world’s desert’s would we have to reforest to reduce temperature increases from climate change I think the United Arab Emirates is onto something here.
CTuttle September 7th, 2014 at 3:12 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 39
One thing seems clear though– presidents for life and their sons inheriting the presidency is not going to be the new paradigm for the region.
That is a definitely a step forward…!
I remember an old Ali Abuminah article on “Where is Gaza’s Gandhi?” and basically he said they were all locked up in Israeli jails, individuals like Barghouti and other peace activists…! It seems that is the same MO throughout the MENA…!
mulp September 7th, 2014 at 3:13 pm
What hope is there when Assad, ISIS, al qaeda, the House of Saud, the Shia parties in Iraq, the emirate leaders, see the millennials as a greater threat than radical islamists and mass murdering terrorists from the West’s disaffected discriminated millennials who are liberated to murder without reservation because they have no connection at all to those they are murdering?
Assad and ISIS have found common cause: killing the millennials who look West to find their social and political values, and thus they leave each other alone for now.
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 3:14 pm
In response to ThingsComeUndone @ 34
Of the some 350 million Arabs (depending on how you count), very few live under monarchies. Morocco is the most populous monarchy, at 32 million. The Saudis maybe have 22 million citizens. After that they are tiny. Qatar has like 250,000 citizens.
The oil monarchies are typically very young demographically, with big youth bulges, and are more dynamic and changing rapidly than they seem on the surface. Employment is a problem in part because of the “Dutch disease”– having a pricey primary commodity hardens your currency and hurts handicrafts, industry and agriculture by making those goods expensive to other countries and hard to export.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:15 pm
How do top down government hierarchies respond to a lateral I think is the term organization? I assume mistakes in intent are made by both sides which unfortunately makes conflict more likely.
Are there any examples of governments in power interacting with and actually cooperating with their young bloggers across political religious divides?
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 3:16 pm
In response to ThingsComeUndone @ 46
Regimes like that of Ben Ali in Tunisia were intensively spying on the internet right from the beginning and could have taught the NSA some things. Turns out, if enough of the population wants a change in government, merely spying on the population won’t keep you in power– they overwhelm you.
BrandonJ September 7th, 2014 at 3:19 pm
There’s been good amount of coverage on Egypt and Libya, however Tunisia has been underreported.
Are there any major changes in Tunisia since the book?
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 3:23 pm
In response to mulp @ 50
Thanks for your observation, but it seems to me you are being too pessimistic.
First of all, the Arab Millennials got rid of four, count them, four “presidents for life” backed by police states, militaries, and corrupt elites. They also provoked constitutional change in Morocco. They had a positive effect on the lives of 150 million people despite the forces arrayed against them.
Syria is an enormous tragedy, but it isn’t very much like the rest of the region, in having a minority community at the head of the government and having an old Soviet-style one-party state. 40% of the population is probably not Sunni Arab, and the Sunnis are split between nationalists and fundamentalists, between wealthy and poor.
cherwell September 7th, 2014 at 3:26 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 42
many thanks! [NNTR]
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:26 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 51
Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, estimated to number about 7.5 million as of April 2013,
So about a little more than 1 out of three are foreign workers who unlike the Saudis are all in their prime working years not children not to old to work. They are treated worse than Mexicans somehow I think this will be a problem for the Saudis.
Qatar has over 1.5 million people, the majority of whom (about 90%) live in Doha, the capital. Foreign workers with temporary residence status make up about four-fifths of the population.
I could go on and on but you get the idea. Does the Arab Spring even consider foreign workers?
cherwell September 7th, 2014 at 3:26 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 55
CTuttle September 7th, 2014 at 3:27 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 53
You mentioned in the preface that many bloggers are still behind bars, what kind of sentences are they facing, Juan…?
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:28 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 53
Great News I hope you expand more on that in your book. Both how people got around the spying and Arab attempts to spy that were not thought of by the West. To many books ignore non Western innovations and assume everything came from and is about the West.
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 3:29 pm
In response to BrandonJ @ 54
As the book went to press, the new constitution had just been passed by parliament, which is very good on freedom of conscience and women’s rights (there is no longer a government agency in charge of internet censorship!) The elected religious-right government stepped down in January in favor of a caretaker cabinet of technocrats who will oversee the next elections, in October. While the youth activists continue to be worried about police brutality and controversies over the limits of free speech, the political transition is going well in my view.
The worrying thing is that Libya has collapsed politically and its faction-fighting and refugees could spill over on Tunisia in destabilizing ways. So far, it hasn’t happened.
Ironically, Algerian and Libyan tourists have boosted Tunisia’s tourism economy this summer, since both those countries are pretty dreary right about now…
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 3:31 pm
In response to ThingsComeUndone @ 57
The small oil monarchies didn’t have an Arab spring. It was the big republics that had the upheavals.
The youth bloggers are very exercised about workers rights, and their promotion of labor unions and strikes was key to the emergence of youth organizations into the political limelight in both Tunisia and Egypt. There is a lot about the youth-Labor coalition in my book.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:36 pm
The small oil monarchies didn’t have an Arab spring. It was the big republics that had the upheavals.
Good to know if you try and see patterns. Still I can’t help thinking the small Arab Monarchies are sitting on a bomb.
CTuttle September 7th, 2014 at 3:36 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 62
What’s happening in Bahrain and their brutal suppression should shock one’s conscience…! 8-(
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:38 pm
Do the Arab Governments have Fox News type channel that lies and tries to divide people foreign and domestic by hate or do they do propaganda a different way to maintain power. i assume the young distrust and dislike the government propaganda.
ThingsComeUndone September 7th, 2014 at 3:39 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 64
CTuttle September 7th, 2014 at 3:40 pm
In response to Juan Cole @ 61
The worrying thing is that Libya has collapsed politically and its faction-fighting and refugees could spill over on Tunisia in destabilizing ways. So far, it hasn’t happened.
I’d posit that it was all those Iraqi refugees from our illegal invasion, that seriously destabilized Syria…!
Juan Cole September 7th, 2014 at 3:41 pm
In response to RevBev @ 17
Hi, Bev. In 2011 the youth revolutionaries for the most part focused on domestic grievances and tried not to let the regimes distract the public with foreign policy issues. The US wasn’t very relevant to Tunisia, which is more in the French zone. The Left youth were scathing about both, and I don’t think they much cared whether it was Bush or Obama. I asked them if they felt better about the French socialists than about Sarkozy and they blanched. One said, “I’m quite sure we despise the French socialists.” Obama had some popularity after his Cairo speech but it quickly wore off for lack of follow through. In Egypt, there was some anti-Obama graffiti and sentiment in January of 2011, but once Obama urged Mubarak to go, he largely went away as an issue (the youth did refuse to meet with Hillary Clinton when she came to Cairo, because of her support for Mubarak). When I was in Egypt in March, everyone was mad at Obama. The fundamentalists thought he must have been behind the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood. The nationalists thought he was trying to impose the Muslim Brotherhood on Egypt in hopes that if the fundamentalists dedicated themselves to civil politics they would leave the US alone. Both are crackpot theories but widely believed.
2. US air strikes on ISIL in Iraq have alternated with Iranian air strikes on ISIL positions. It seems likely to me that the two air forces are coordinating in at least a minimal way, otherwise there would be a danger of them hitting each other rather than ISIL.
3. Qasem Sulaimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ “Jersualem Brigade” or special forces, was at the Amerli front coordinating with Shiite forces– US air strikes in support of the Amerli campaign were in part helping the IRGC!
4. Iran was the first country to send extra arms to Iraqi Kurdistan after the fall of Mosul. Iran is close to the Kurds, and the efforts of the US to arm and protect from air Iraqi Kurdistan are simply a continuation of US policies in previous decades. The Kurds thus are being supported by both the US and Iran, which makes the two de facto allies.
5. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, is alleged to have just authorized Iranian forces to coordinate with American ones. The denials from other Iranian politicians are likely merely camouflage for a policy that would dismay Iran hardliners.
Clean Technica points out that the battery-making factory is on track to reduce battery prices by 30% by 2017, making EVs indisputably cheaper than fossil fuel-driven internal combustion, at less than $100 per kilowatt hour. (Of course, if externalities are taken into account, like the cost of environmental disruption caused by global warming, EVs are already far, far cheaper than gasoline engines. Moreover, if coupled with rooftop solar panels, i.e. with free fuel, their pay-off time is even quicker and households can cut tons of CO2 emissions each year).
Not only will the gigafactory lead to cheaper auto batteries, it will also lead to better battery storage for home solar panels so you can store solar power and use it at night.
Some states now give tax benefits to buyers of EVs or mandate a percentage of EVs on the road by a date certain. But what is really needed is onerous taxes on fossil-fuel-driven vehicles to reinforce the savings consumers will derive from EV ownership and drive EV ownership up toward the millions of vehicles.
The US emits 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, or about 16 tons per per person, the highest per capita in the advanced industrial world. Some 28% of that, or 1.4 billion metric tons, derives from transportation emissions.
If you are an American, I repeat, you are putting out 16 tons of CO2 every year. You’re a big part of the global warming problem. Middle class homeowners who put solar panels on their roofs and get an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid can substantially cut that number, and will actually save a lot of money doing so. While moving to downtown Portland and using public transportation may be even better, not everyone can do that, and it will take time to de-suburbanize the US and move habitations and jobs back into manageable cities. The world doesn’t have that much time, which is why the gigafactory is very, very good news.
British prime minister David Cameron joined Barack Obama in castigating NATO members for paying ransoms to ISIL and for not stepping up to deal with it. Cameron is said to be canvassing his backbenchers in parliament about whether they would accept a Royal Air Force role in bombing ISIL positions in Iraq. He has to do this because last year this time the British parliament shot down any British role in bombing Syria in response to the Bashar al-Assad regime’s use of poison gas. Parliament’s reluctance played a role in forestalling an Obama intervention in Syria.
Cameron and Obama expect Haydar al-Abadi to form a government of national unity in Iraq within the next few days. At that point, they expect al-Abadi formally to invite Western air power into the country to combat ISIL, which has taken 40% of the country.
Germany has already been prevailed upon to send some military equipment to the Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga. Other NATO members may well offer military aid to the Iraqi army.
The big question is Syria. As I argued yesterday, there are important questions about whether a Syrian intervention would comport with international law. While this consideration is not important in the United States, the European Union states have incorporated much international law into EU legal codes, and leaders who infringe against it could find themselves in court.
My reading of the reporting from Wales is that most NATO states have little intention of intervening directly in Iraq and most of them have no intention to get involved in Syria. The US and Britain (and, far from Europe, Australia) are the most likely to commit to the Iraq front. The NATO country closest to ISIL territory, Turkey, seems reluctant to get involved in directly fighting ISIL (and critics of the religious Right party, AKP, which is in power, suggest that behind the scenes President Tayyip Erdogan is supporting the hard core Muslim rebels in Syria.
Despite all the vehement talk, the US likely will have few allies in the air in Iraq as President Obama seems to be stampeded (by the Washington hawks and fear of losing the midterms for looking weak) into a wide-ranging new Iraq war that seems likely to spill over into Syria.
The biggest problem the US faces, however, is the lack of effective allies on the ground in Iraq. The ragtag assemblage of radical Shiite militias, Iranian advisers, Kurdistan paramilitary and regular Iraqi army troops that broke the siege of Amerli then went on to attempt to take Tikrit from ISIL. They fairly quickly failed in this further campaign. Apparently it is important to them to fight for a grateful Shiite population, but they don’t do nearly as well when fighting ISIL in Sunni Arab areas. But the latter is the ultimate objective. Air power can’t do the job, you need effective troops on the ground. Where will Mr. Obama find them?