Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2017-10-20T07:02:09Z WordPress Juan Cole <![CDATA[George W. Bush & GOP lack standing to bash Trump for Racism]]> 2017-10-20T07:02:09Z 2017-10-20T06:55:57Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

George W. Bush gave a speech on Thursday widely interpreted as an attack on Trump in which he deplored the rise of white nationalism and bigotry in the past year. “Bigotry,” he lamented, “seems emboldened.”

George W. Bush may or may not personally be a nice guy. People used to say he was the sort of person you’d enjoy going for a beer with, and he has had close African-American and Arab friends.

On the other hand, he authorized the CIA to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammad practically to death. And, throughout his public career was complicit with the Republican Party dog whistle of racism and he wouldn’t have been president without it.

We can’t blame W. for his father’s campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988, when George H. W. Bush’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater played the race card. Republican Governor Francis W. Sargent in 1972 had signed into law a furlough program for inmates in prison, and one Willie Horton was let out for a weekend on the program when Michael Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts. Horton committed assault and rape and fled, though a Muslim police officer later shot and apprehended him.

Atwater did up campaign ads trying to tie Dukakis to Horton, and very successfully so. He said, “I’m going to strip the bark off the little bastard and make Willie Horton his running mate.” In 2016 mainstream Republican strategists were still talking about using a “Willie Horton” strategy. Atwater used to like to play Chicago blues, but after 1988 African-American musicians often avoided him like the plague. Atwater repented on his death bed and apologized for what he had done.

I’m not aware that W. ever criticized his father’s campaign for this tactic. It was very racist. I remember the ads. Horton was a disreputable-looking fellow and Atwater paired his photo up with that of Dukakis as though they were jointly on the most wanted list. The racism virtually dripped off the tv screen and pooled on the floor below.

But W. himself also does not have the standing to bash Trump on this issue, most unfortunately. This sad fact diminishes our country. I wish it were otherwise.

Exhibit A is the 2000 Republican primary campaign. Bush was running against Senator John McCain (R-AZ). McCain’s wife Cindy had visited an orphanage in Bangladesh and seen a little girl with a cleft palate who badly needed surgery. She and John adopted her and named her Bridget. Although Bridget was not raised Muslim, I think the McCains are particularly sensitive to anti-Muslim bigotry because of having a Bangladeshi in the family, and McCain refused to play the Islamophobia card in his campaign against Barack Obama in 2008.

In 2000, the McCains campaigned in South Carolina with their children, including Bridget. So Bush’s mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the idea of robo-calling voters and calling into talk radio, asking the question, “If you knew McCain had an illegitimate child with a Black woman, would that affect how you felt about him.” The Republican Party in South Carolina is solidly white, although the state is 1/3 African-American, and what they were pleased to call ‘miscegenation’ had been a crime in South Carolina until the late 1960s.

Because people had seen Bridget at the rallies, Rove’s smear was widely believed, and it contributed to McCain’s loss in the GOP primary. Bush winning South Carolina cemented his standing as a front runner.

No racism and bigotry, no Bush presidency. (McCain handily won South Carolina in 2008 when Rove was not calling the shots any more). Now you could say that Rove was behind all this and W. may not have backed it. But Bush never denounced Rove or dissociated himself from these tactics. The buck stops with him.

I agree with Bush that the poor response to Katrina by Bush and his FEMA was probably largely incompetence and that Kanye West was wrong to call him a racist over it (West has since apologized).

But Bush’s tax cuts went overwhelmingly to rich white people, and were designed to make it more difficult for the government to continue its social welfare spending, which benefits African-Americans. Structural racism was a big part of the Bush administration even if that wasn’t the lens through which W. himself saw his policies.

Moreover, Bush’s FBI wrongly targeted perfectly innocent Muslims, including those at the charity, the Holy Land Foundation, producing some of the biggest travesties of American justice since the end of Jim Crow.

The GOP had been better than most Democrats on race issues in the first half of the twentieth century. But with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Nixonian “southern strategy,” the party actively sought to become the mouthpiece for angry white men.

Trump is merely the logical conclusion of the Southern strategy, and until the Republican Party comes to terms with its decades of latent racism and its rather loud dog whistle, it will create more and more Trumps. Indeed, with Der Robert Mercer’s billions behind him, Der Steve Bannon is planning to oust GOP merely latent mild racists, and replace them with full on Nazis. The party has to decide whether it will acquiesce in this hostile takeover. If it won’t, it has to apologize for past racism and develop some other less toxic way of appealing to upper middle class voters.


Related video:

Washington Post: “George W. Bush’s ardent speech on democracy, in 3 minutes”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Are China and N. Korea biggest Winners from Trump dissing Iran Deal?]]> 2017-10-20T05:39:15Z 2017-10-20T05:38:01Z Neil Thompson | (Informed Comment) | – –

The recent move by President Trump to unilaterally decertify Iran under the 2015 nuclear agreement has predictably caused tensions between Iran and the West to rise. Trump’s unilateral jettisoning of the Obama-era deal (which has been sent back for 60-day congressional review in a bid to renegotiate parts the Trump Whitehouse dislikes) has also angered the other five powers who signed the multilateral accord, which was enshrined in a UN resolution.

They point out that international inspectors say Iran is in technical compliance with the accord and that the nuclear agreement will remain valid regardless of President Trump’s actions. The air of international exasperation with the cranky US President, who has also withdrawn America from the Paris climate accord and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (and started renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement) in pursuit of his “America First” campaign pledges, is palpable.

But the biggest damage to US credibility has probably been done far away from Iran, the Middle East or even Great Power political circles. Instead it is in East Asia where the terrible diplomatic precedent of an American leader trying to unilaterally renegotiate a functioning international nuclear accord will be felt the most. A binding multilateral nuclear agreement was meant to restrain a rogue state’s sovereignty to pursue nuclear development; but it promised regime security in exchange.

Hardliners in authoritarian countries who pointed out that Saddam Hussein and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had both been invaded and overthrown after giving up their weapons of mass destruction were placated with the promise that any international agreement was permanent and binding. That promise has now been demolished by a US president who often seems bent on simply tearing up everything his predecessor accomplished before him, regardless of the cost to others.

The American breach with Tehran is therefore a propaganda gift to the hereditary Stalinist dictatorship of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who has spent the last few months trading insults with President Trump over his own country’s nuclear and missile programmes. The North Korean leader has already tested more rockets than his father and grandfather’s regimes did combined.

Indeed, since his accession to power in 2011, North Korean foreign policy has seemingly revolved around acquiring a nuclear deterrent capable of hitting the American homeland before any resumption of diplomatic relations. While it is unlikely that a revival of the Six-Party Talks or some other multilateral forum could now dissuade Pyongyang from its attempts to achieve this, the North Korean regime now has the perfect riposte for any who even try; America doesn’t keep to its international agreements unless deterred by fear of mutual catastrophe.

But strengthening the North Korean government’s diplomatic hand looks even more foolish strategically when one takes into account the fact that Trump is counting on North Korea’s enabler China to rein in the regime. With exquisitely bad timing Trump announced he was ditching the Iran nuclear deal (to which China is a signatory) just before China’s leader Xin Jinping was to begin celebrating the end of his first term in office at the Chinese Communist party’s 19th party congress.

Meant to celebrate a new era of Chinese strength and prosperity, this congress is also crucial to the Chinese president’s personal political future. Five of the seven members of the central Politburo Standing Committee and six of the 25 strong Politburo are due to stand down in accordance with the party’s unofficial rules on retirement; President Xin therefore has an unusually large number of places he can fill with personal loyalists.

During this transformative “patriotic” period there is no way that anyone in Beijing can be seen to break ranks with an East Asian communist regime in its own back yard, especially not for the Americans. Yet even as he restarted the US confrontation with Iran, Trump was also seeking ways to pressure China into cutting off the economic lifelines the North Korean elite rely upon to keep their dysfunctional country up and running. In September the US threatened to target major Chinese banks over their ties to North Korean actors. This followed actual American sanctions on China’s Bank of Dandong, for allegedly helping North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. Neither move will have been well received by Beijing, which has many options for retaliation against American firms once its party congress is over.

It is extremely unlikely that a rising China (with a sovereignty-obsessed ruling class) will accept the demands of America’s extraterritorial legal and financial systems in the way that smaller states in Europe and Asia have. North Korea may thus end up becoming the geopolitical flashpoint that spurs China into formally creating it’s own global business architecture and cross-border payment systems, independent of the US neo-liberal order.

This process will be aided by the global perception that under Trump the United States is a law unto itself, but one which is happy to hold states hostage by their economies until they submit to American demands. Trump’s recent threat to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization like al Qaeda or the Islamic State is another gift to hardliners in Beijing and Pyongyang both.

If the US can unilaterally designate a branch of the armed forces of a UN-member nation an illegal organisation and impose sanctions, then it is taking upon itself the right to decide who is, and is not, a legitimate state actor; neither China nor North Korea will ever accept this state of affairs and if Trump carries out his threat against the IRGC both states will feel more justified than ever in looking to the only weapons proven to be capable of deterring a hostile US; nuclear ones. The “grown ups” in the Trump Whitehouse should consider the cost to America elsewhere of the president’s chest-beating over Iran. It may help save the American led global system they are supposed to be protecting.

Neil Thompson is a freelance writer who has lived and travelled extensively through East Asia and the Middle East. He holds an MA in the International Relations of East Asia from Durham University, and is now based in London.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGTN: “China calls on US to maintain commitment to agreement on Iran nuclear deal”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Why is Saudi Arabia suddenly so paranoid?]]> 2017-10-20T05:37:28Z 2017-10-20T05:37:28Z By James L. Gelvin | (The Conversation) | – –

In the past, Saudi Arabia depended upon its enormous oil wealth and the United States for its security. It used the former to buy friends and pay off enemies and potential enemies. It used the latter to guarantee its survival. With a few exceptions, Saudi Arabia did not involve itself directly in the affairs of its neighbors.

Over the course of the past decade, however, that has changed. Saudi Arabia intervened militarily in Bahrain and Yemen. It helped finance the 2013 coup d’état launched by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt. It has supported insurgents in Libya and Syria and put together an international coalition purportedly to fight terrorism. And it led the Gulf Cooperation Council’s campaign against its tiny neighbor, Qatar.

Why the sudden change?

Based on recent developments, it is evident that Saudi Arabian officials assume that they can no longer depend on their traditional security safeguards of oil and U.S. might. They seem to imagine that the only guarantee for their security is their own muscular response.

As a historian of the modern Middle East who has researched and taught about the region for over 30 years, I believe there are three causes for the shift in Saudi Arabia’s security stance: the Arab uprisings of 2010 and 2011, the policies of the Obama administration and the collapse of oil prices.

A perceived threat

Saudi Arabia looked at the Arab uprisings as a potential calamity. The Saudis support the status quo in the region and Saudi-Western leadership there. The uprisings endangered not only Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian allies such as Egypt and Bahrain, but the regional order and the foundations of Saudi Arabia’s legitimacy as well. The uprisings also threatened to expand the realm of democratic and human rights in the region – something which the Saudi regime fears.

Furthermore, the Saudis feared the uprisings would open the way for the expansion of Iranian influence throughout the region. That led to the Saudi intervention into Yemen, where they believe the Iranians have meddled. In reality, local grievances, not Iranian meddling, precipitated Yemen’s current civil war. Saudi Arabia made the same accusation with regard to Bahrain, although a royal commission appointed by the king of Bahrain failed to find any evidence of Iranian subversion there.

Just as serious for the Saudis, the uprisings threatened to empower Muslim brotherhoods and Muslim-Brotherhood-style movements throughout the region. The Saudi royal family believes this movement provides a model for reconciling religion and politics that competes with its own vision of the proper relationship between the two. While the brotherhoods have linked religion and politics, the Saudi royal family has sought to distance one from the other to prevent the emergence of potentially destabilizing Islamist movement. This has been the royal family’s survival strategy since 1932.

At the behest of Abdulaziz ibn Al Saud, the founder of the current Saudi state, Saudi religious scholars have emphasized the doctrine that Muslims should passively obey their leaders so long as those leaders are also Muslim. That is still their position.

The Saudis were outraged by what they claimed was American support for the Arab uprisings. While the American government was, in fact, ambivalent about the uprisings because friendly autocrats have furthered American interests in the region since World War II, the Saudis were outraged that the United States did not give its unconditional support to the authoritarian governments it had long supported.

Saudi Arabia versus Obama

This brings us to the second reason for Saudi paranoia and assertion in the region: the Middle East policy of the Obama administration.

Obama sought to reverse the fixation of his predecessor, George W. Bush, on the Middle East. He believed that the United States should focus its attention on East Asia, where the global future will be determined, not on a region as conflict-prone and economically stagnant as the Middle East.

And so Obama was looking to reduce America’s commitments in the region and resolve or at least smooth over conflicts so that the United States could turn its attention elsewhere. This is one of the reasons why he signed the Iran nuclear deal and tried to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Most of all, he sought to have American allies take more responsibility for their own defense.

Obama’s grand strategy, however, made America’s traditional allies in the region fear abandonment. The Saudis found his comment that they would have to learn to “share the neighborhood” with Iran particularly horrifying.

Saudi Arabia’s oil dependency

The final reason for Saudi paranoia has to do with the collapse of oil prices. From June 2014 to April 2016, oil prices dropped 70 percent for a variety of reasons, including a glut in the market, alternative sources for fuel and conservation.

Most economists think the price of oil will rebound, although not to peak levels. But this hasn’t prevented oil-producing states from following the advice of the International Monetary Fund to take steps to diversify their economies.

Saudi Arabia has been particularly receptive to IMF entreaties. In spring 2016, then-Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman unveiled a plan titled “Vision 2030.” “Vision 2030” is hardly innovative. It includes a list of the same tired free-market recommendations that have been applied internationally since the 1970s.

The plan calls for privatizing government assets, including education and 5 percent of the national oil company, Saudi Aramco; reducing and targeting subsidies on oil, electricity and water; introducing an income tax; and creating 450,000 new private sector jobs, among other proposals.

The odds that Saudi Arabia is capable of transforming its economy to become globally competitive in 13 years are not high. This would mean, among other things, discarding the most effective tool the Saudi government has to gain that population’s consent – buying it. When the Arab uprisings threatened to spread to Saudi Arabia, for example, the Saudi government distributed US$130 billion worth of grants to its population to maintain their loyalty. It would also mean ensuring a free flow of information in a country in which transparency on all levels of governance and commerce is rare. In 2017, Saudi Arabia ranked 168th out of 180 countries surveyed in terms of press freedom. Finally, it would mean changing attitudes toward work in a country in which women make up only 22 percent of the workforce – compared to close to 40 percent globally – and foreigners literally do all the heavy lifting.

The ConversationMuhammad bin Salman has already had to back away from some of the proposals outlined in “Vision 2030.” It is unlikely this vision will be any more successful than Saudi Arabia’s failed Yemen war, for which the crown prince is also responsible.

James L. Gelvin, Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History, University of California, Los Angeles

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

TRT: “Roundtable: Can Saudi Arabia reform?”

contributors <![CDATA[Kirkuk Kurds Anguished about Future of Province]]> 2017-10-20T05:27:42Z 2017-10-20T05:27:42Z By Shalaw Mohammed | ( | (Kirkuk) | – –

People in the northern city of Kirkuk have lived through a lot, including attacks by the Islamic State. But for many, last weekend was the last straw.

In the middle of the night of October 16, the people of Kirkuk were glued to their televisions and computers. News about Kirkuk was being continuously updated and nobody really knew what was happening. All they knew is that they were hearing about fighting and a possible civil war.

Would the Iraqi government, upset with the fact that the country’s Kurds had held a referendum on independence and possibly had plans to secede from the country, actually go to war with those living in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan?

For a while it looked like they might. At approximately one in the morning on the night of Monday, October 16, there was a confrontation between the Iraqi Kurdish military and Iraqi government forces. More specifically the clash occurred between the special commando forces belonging to Division 70 of the Iraqi Kurdish military with the Kurdish 2nd support battalion and members of the East Tigris troops of the Iraqi army as well as fighters from the Shiite Muslim militias.

“One of our officers refused to withdraw, saying he would die here rather than let them pass. The commander said that if he did not withdraw, he would come down there and kill him, himself. So we withdrew.”

The Iraqi government soldiers were headed towards Kirkuk airport and the Kurdish military, also known as the Peshmerga, was trying to prevent them from getting there.

“We headed to the Taza sub district to try to stop the army and the militias from going to the airport and there was a confrontation near the bridge to the industrial district,” confirms Rasoul Karkui, commander of the Iraqi Kurdish military in Kirkuk; he is also known as Wasta Rasoul. “A violent clash took place and heavy weapons were used.”

However, after only a few hours, orders came from the senior commanders in the Kurdish military that the Kurdish troops should leave the area immediately. The Iraqi army and the Shiite Muslim militias were then able to move onto their destinations without any further issue.

“We were putting up stiff resistance when we got a call from a commander who told us to withdraw,” one of the Kurdish soldiers told NIQASH, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media. “One of our officers refused, saying he would die here rather than let them pass. The commander said that if he did not withdraw, he would come down there and kill him, himself. So we withdrew.”

Karkui told NIQASH that he and his men also heard that Shiite Muslim militias were attacking other Kurd-controlled areas around Kirkuk, including Bashir, Tal al-Ward, Mullah Abdullah and Maktab Khalid. That was another reason they decided to withdraw.

“We knew we were fighting three big enemies, who had all decided that Kirkuk needed to go back to the way it was before,” Karkui said, referring to Iraq, Iran and Turkey. “We had no other choice,” he said of the withdrawal.

The details remain murky but it appears that a deal had been made on Saturday that the Kurdish troops would withdraw and the Iraqi troops would take their place. This deal was agreed upon by Iraqi authorities and Kurdish politicians and it was apparently brokered by Iranian mediators. Representatives of both of Iraqi Kurdistan’s largest political parties, who rule the semi-autonomous northern region, were there when the deal was done: That is, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK. The deal was done only a few hours before the aforementioned fighting started. The meeting was held under the supervision of senior Kurdish politician, Fuad Masum, who is also the president of federal Iraq.

However, both the KDP and the PUK won’t give any further details about any such deal or whether in fact the deal was done at all.

Meanwhile Kurdish soldiers are blaming the politicians. They are asking why they were sent to fight when this agreement was already in place, especially because the fighting led to the deaths and injuries of their colleagues-in-arms. Numbers are hard to get but there are apparently 32 dead Kurdish soldiers, 100 injured and 17 missing in action.

“On the first day of the operation we received orders from the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces about returning federal authority, and deploying our forces, to certain specific locations,” an Iraqi major general, Ali Fadhil Omran, told NIQASH. “That is contrary to the rumours spread about us that said we came here to kill and torture Kurdish citizens. We won’t stay inside the city,” he added. “And we will hand the city back to province’s police forces.”

On October 17, the day after the withdrawal, the general command of the Iraqi Kurdish military issued statement in which they said the attacks were launched by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, supported by Iraq’s pro-government forces. The statement also accused some senior members of the Kurdish military of “treason”.

The commander of the 70 division of the Kurdish military, Sheikh Jaafar Mustafa, gave a statement saying that the withdrawal was solely his responsibility and that he had ordered it to save the lives of his men.

After the Kurdish military withdrew, Kurdish citizens of Kirkuk also fled. The drive between Kirkuk and Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, usually takes around one hour. That day it took nine.

“After the Islamic State attacked Kirkuk and despite all of the threats that Kirkuk faced, we always saw a clear direction for the Kurds and a brighter future,” explains Azad Hama Amin, a 37-year-old Kirkuk local who owns an auto accessories store in the city, but who decided to leave for Erbil that day. “But this time, having seen the Peshmerga defeated and officials admit their failures and also leave Kirkuk, we decided it was best we leave the city too.”

“And we can’t return right now,” Amin says, “because we have heard rumours that anyone who voted “yes” in the referendum will be punished and so will members of the security forces.”

Still, the next day a large number of those who had fled their homes in Kirkuk did return. Many said that the Iraqi soldiers and militia members did not treat the returnees badly and that they were generally respectful.

However, some Kirkuki Kurds, who stayed in the city, said that they were insulted and they felt that the Kurdish were disrespected, especially with the removal of the Kurdish flag.

But perhaps this is not so surprising. In March this year Kirkuk’s Kurdish governor, Najmuddin Karim, who has since been dismissed from the post, caused headlines when he raised the Kurdish flag at state-owned buildings around Kirkuk. The city has mixed demographics and locals of Turkman and Arab ethnicity were offended by the governor’s actions. They were also upset by the referendum on Kurdish independence, which many felt had been pushed onto the city. Kirkuk is not actually part of Iraqi Kurdistan – it is one of Iraq’s so-called “disputed territories”. That is, the Kurds believe it is part of their region but Baghdad thinks it is part of Iraq proper. Having said that, the Kurds have been in control of Kirkuk for the past few years, despite a population of mixed ethnicities.

So, it is not surprising that other ethnic groups in the city were happy to see pro-government forces enter Kirkuk, remove the Kurdish flags from public institutions and raise the Iraqi flag again.

“Turkmen and Arabs have every right to celebrate,” Arshad al-Salihi, a senior Turkman politician in Kirkuk, told NIQASH. “The administration and the security forces here were monopolised by the Kurdish officials and the lives of our leaders were never protected. Many of our senior people were assassinated during and after the fight against the Islamic State group.” Al-Salihi adds that he is completely opposed to any kind of punishment of Kurdish locals in Kirkuk.

Although there were some attacks on Kirkuk residents by members of the militias, this didn’t lead to widespread antipathy among locals. In fact, when some Kurds left their homes, their Arab and Turkmen neighbours contacted them to ensure they had arrived safely inside Iraqi Kurdistan and to assure them they were watching out for their houses and property. A lot of locals launched campaigns on social media calling for unity in Kirkuk.

One of the pictures that was particularly widely shared showed a local man writing, in Arabic, on the door of a Kurdish neighbour: “Nobody is allowed to enter the home of my Kurdish brother. This is an order given by his displaced brother, a son of Hawija”.

Hawija is a nearby Sunni Muslim-majority city that was, until very recently, a stronghold for the IS group.

So what happens now? Since the day and night of the withdrawal, the two parties who played a role in it have been trading insults and recriminations. The KDP has used its media channels, Rudaw and Kurdistan24, to spread misinformation and to blame the PUK for collaborating with the Iranians. The PUK has used their channel, Kurd Sat, to ask questions like this: If the withdrawal was made by secret agreement that excluded the KDP, then why were the areas defended by KDP troops, also handed over without a fight?

While the leader of KDP, Massoud Barzani, says that certain persons from a certain party were to blame – it was clear he meant the PUK – military leaders from the PUK have said that Barzani agreed to the troop withdrawal too, but is now denying it.

Meanwhile ordinary Kurds are far from pleased with their political class; there have calls for the politicians, who did this deal in such an underhand, unilateral way, to resign and activists have launched a campaign on social media demanding this.

Whether that happens or not, it is clear that Kirkuk will not be returning to the way it was for the past three years. Right now, the city is calm and ordinary people are waiting to see what will happen.

There is talk of three possible scenarios. Firstly, that the city will remain under the control of federal authorities. Secondly, that the Iraqi Kurdish military will try and take the city back by force, which seems highly unlikely given the current mood. And thirdly, and probably most likely because of the demographic makeup of the city, Kirkuk will come under some kind of joint administration, with both Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan playing a role.

In the end, the most unfortunate thing is that those who fell in the fighting were not aware of the secret deal. Kurdish officer, Aziz Ali, who commanded a regiment of the 102nd brigade, spoke to NIQASH last Friday, expressing his concerns about the burning of the Kurdish flag; he perished in the fighting over the weekend.

And other locals who suffered similar losses in the fighting that was all, apparently, for nothing, are very angry. As the crying mother of one of the soldiers killed said at her son’s funeral this week: “If you had reached a deal, then why did you need to burn up our hearts?”



Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: “Balance of power shifts in Iraq’s multi-ethnic Kirkuk”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Beyond the “Me Too” campaign: Sexual harassers and adult bullies]]> 2017-10-20T05:12:23Z 2017-10-20T05:12:23Z By Gail Ukockis | (Informed Comment) | – –

His name was Jesse. I would have considered him to be handsome but for his dark eyes, which looked at me in a predatory manner. Dressed in his blue security guard uniform at the downtown Denver library, he looked official and authoritative. I was only sixteen, an ugly duckling who wore an ugly mustard-yellow shelver’s jacket. At first, the attention from this older man was flattering. Then I grew afraid.

He would find me downstairs in the dimly lit corridors of the library basement. Alone and vulnerable, I just stood there as he crept closer and closer to me. He enjoyed my discomfort, a discomfort made obvious by my nervous giggles and scared looks. I had no idea of how to handle these encounters. Fortunately, he never touched me—just intimidating me gave enough pleasure to this creep. This was the late 70s, when his behavior was considered harmless. A librarian told me later that she had transferred to another library branch just to avoid him. Even this adult did not think of reporting him to his employer. He had not only the physical power to invade our space, but the institutional power of a system that would have dismissed our complaints.

The “Me too” campaign, recently launched in reaction to the Harvey Weinstein controversy, invites anyone who had been harassed or attacked to declare their status to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the problem. This campaign has reminded me of Jesse’s bearded face and heavy breathing as he edged toward me. Why did he choose to harass me? According to an expert on sexual assault, a perpetrator may use three criteria for the victim: vulnerability, accessibility, and the lack of credibility. On all three counts, then, I was certainly an ideal target for his cruel game because I was only a kid.

However, my story is not about the experience of being harassed (it was a minor event for me) but about the dynamics of bullies. The “Me too” campaign is trying once again to educate males about respecting women: do not catcall, do not follow too close behind, etc. Although this approach might work for the oblivious male who should know better by now, it ignores the reality of what happened to me and perhaps others. Jesse knew exactly what he was doing and he had fun doing it. He was clearly conscious of my reaction, which was far more gratifying to him than a kiss or touch. Telling a man like Jesse that his behavior was harmful would only increase his pleasure. He was not a clueless or awkward geek, but simply a bully.

By defining “bullying” as intentional cruelty that is done repeatedly to make somebody feel worse off, I am stressing the aggressiveness of both children and adults who bully. The traditional view of bullies is that they are insecure, so they build up this self-esteem by harassing others. My research into bullies (especially adult ones) contradicts this assumption because bullying has several rewards. The bad news is that it feels good to put somebody else down, either through violence or putdowns. The popularity of wrestling, for example, derives from the vicarious joys of watching one person smash another one into the ground. Verbal attacks on reality shows and sitcoms highlight the thrills of diminishing another person.

The social rewards of bullying also deserve attention, especially in a culture that emphasizes that nice guys finish last. People laugh at mean jokes directed at some poor schmuck. In countless movie scenes, the man who wins the fight gets the girl. (My choice of the words “man” and “girl” is deliberate, since the man dominates the girl.) Researchers note that no matter the gender, workplace bullying can improve your career. In fact, some European countries call workplace bullying “mobbing” to stress the herd mentality within an office.

As a form of bullying, sexual harassment has its own rewards. Admiration of a man’s alleged virility (i.e., he did it because he’s a man’s man) can override the condemnation of his boorish behavior. Bill O’Reilly, for instance, has a tough persona that was reinforced by the lawsuits involving sexual harassment; his recent actions indicate that he plans a comeback despite being fired in disgrace. I also wonder how many people envied Harvey Weinstein for his casting couch privileges instead of being sickened by this abuse of power.

Deliberate cruelty in the context of bullying, then, is another aspect of sexual harassment that merits an in-depth discussion. The assumption that all bullies/harassers simply need a good lesson on respecting others will not solve the problem of men who like to corner teenaged girls in a library basement. Jesse had taken a sick pleasure in stalking me–what do we do to stop men like him?

Gail Ukockis, PhD, MSW, MA, is an educator and social worker with an eclectic background that includes graduate studies in history. For eleven years, Dr. Ukockis taught a women’s issues course at Ohio Dominican University, which served as the foundation for this textbook. Her research interests also include HIV/AIDS, cultural competence, and human trafficking. She is author of Women’s Issues for a New Generation: A Social Work Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Good Morning America: “Alyssa Milano reacts to viral #MeToo movement”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Iran’s Khamenei: We’ll observe Deal if Europe does, despite “Charlatan,” Trump]]> 2017-10-19T06:27:32Z 2017-10-19T06:27:32Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iran’s clerical Leader, Ali Khamenei, said on Wednesday that he did not intend to engage in a tit for tat with Donald Trump, who had attacked Iran in a speech last week.

“Naturally, I do not want to spend time right now in replying to the fables and falsehoods of this charlatan president of the republic. . .” He added that replying to such as Trump is “a waste of time.”


He complained that the US has gone about roiling the Middle East, supporting Israeli oppression of the Palestinians and of Lebanon, and creating ISIL [this is a false allegation — JC] and supporting extremist groups that routinely excommunicate Shiites and other Muslims from the religion. He said the US regime is angry with Iran because Tehran had foiled their dastardly plots in the region, including in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. He quoted sardonically former secretary of state Condi Rice’s saying that a new Middle East is being born. Sure it is, he said, and it isn’t the one Washington imagined.

Khamenei said that the new US president had shown himself to be a moron, but nevertheless, Iranians should not let their guard down in the face of the sly tricks of the US.

He seems worried that Iranians will discount the danger the US poses to the Iranian state because the American leader is clearly a stupid individual.

He said that there will be no conventional war, but that things might take place that are just as important.

He complained that the US threatened enmity if Iran did not sign the nuclear deal, but after Tehran signed, the enmity redoubled.

He praised European countries for standing by the nuclear deal. He said that Iran welcomes European steadfastness in the face of Trump’s threats to simply tear up the deal. But, he said, standing by their own treaty is not enough. He pointed out that the deal is in the interest of the Europeans and the Americans.

He added of the Europeans, “We also naturally said that as long as this side does not tear it up, neither will we.” If it is torn up [by Europe] then Iran will also shred the agreement. (US news outlets are mistranslating this part as saying that If Trump tears up the deal, so will Iran; Khamenei is clearly speaking of Europe here).

That is not enough, he said. If the US Congress contravenes the agreement by imposing substantial new sanctions on Iran, he said, he expects the Europeans to step up and foil them. He rejected Western concerns about Iranian missiles, on the grounds that all the Western countries also have rockets and missiles and no one is sanctioning them over it.

contributors <![CDATA[Volcano-driven Climate Change Defeated Egypt’s Ptolemies]]> 2017-10-19T04:27:07Z 2017-10-19T04:27:07Z By Steven Young | ( The Watchers) | – –

Around 245 BCE Ptolemy III, ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, made a decision that still puzzles many historians: After pursuing a successful military campaign against the kingdom’s nemesis, the Seleucid Empire, centered mainly in present-day Syria and Iraq, Ptolemy III suddenly decided to return home. This about-face “changed everything about Near-East history,” says Joseph Manning, a historian at Yale University.

Now, Manning and his colleagues have identified a possible reason for Ptolemy III’s trek back to Egypt: volcanoes. It’s a strange link, but one borne out by evidence. Massive eruptions, a new study suggests, can disrupt the normal flow of the Nile River by cooling the planet’s atmosphere. In Ancient Times, that may have led to food shortages and heightened existing tensions in the region. The research, published Tuesday, October 17 in Nature Communications, links eruptions not just to the end of Ptolemy III’s war, but to a series of violent uprisings and other upheavals that rocked Ptolemaic Egypt – an empire that extended over large portions of Northeast Africa and the Middle East.

The study creates a strong case that sudden shifts in climate can have big impacts on human society. And it’s remarkable, Manning says, for doing so by drawing on a wide range of methods and evidence – from ice core records to Egyptian papyri.

“That’s the beauty of these climate records. For the first time, you can actually see a dynamic society in Egypt, not just a static description of a bunch of texts in chronological order,” Manning says. “This is of absolutely enormous importance.”

This research is a product of the Volcanic Impacts on Climate and Society working group of Past Global Changes (PAGES), a global research project of Future Earth.

At the heart of that dynamic society was the Nile River, the lifeblood of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. This empire arose in about 305 BCE, not long after the death of Alexander the Great, and ended around 30 BCE with the death of Cleopatra. During this period, Egyptian farmers depended on the yearly flooding of the Nile in July through September to irrigate their grain fields – inventing systems of channels and dams to store the river’s overflow.

“When the Nile flood was good, the Nile valley was one of the most agriculturally-productive places in the Ancient World,” says Francis Ludlow, a climate historian at Trinity College in Dublin and a co-author of the new study. “But the river was famously prone to a high level of variation.”

In some years the Nile didn’t rise high enough to flood the land, and that could lead to trouble. Historical records suggest, for example, that a shortage of grain and the unrest that followed were behind Ptolemy III’s return to Egypt. And Ludlow had reason to think that volcanoes could be behind some of those bad years.

The reason comes down to a squiggly band of monsoon weather that circles the planet’s equator called the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ). Every year around summer in the northern hemisphere, this band moves up from the equator. That, in turn, soaks the headwaters of the Blue Nile River, a major tributary of the Nile. But when volcanoes erupt, they blast out sulfurous gases that, through a chain of events, cool the atmosphere. If that happens in the Northern Hemisphere, it can keep the monsoon rains from moving as far as they usually do.

“When the monsoon rains don’t move far enough north, you don’t have as much rain falling over Ethiopia,” Ludlow says. “And that’s what feeds the summer flood of the Nile in Egypt that was so critical to agriculture.”

But how often would eruptions diminish the river’s flooding? To find out, Ludlow, Manning and their colleagues turned to computer simulations and real-world measurements of the Nile River that date back to 622 CE. The team discovered that poor flood years on the Nile lined up over and over with a recently published timeline of major volcanic eruptions around the world. That evidence suggested that when volcanoes explode, the Nile tended to stay calm.

The team then dug further to see if that might have an impact on Egyptian society during the Ptolemaic era, which is rich in papyri and other written records. They include the trilingual Rosetta Stone. Again, the timelines matched: Volcanic eruptions preceded many major political and economic events that affected Egypt. They included Ptolemy III’s exit from Syria and Iraq – just after a major eruption in 247 BCE – and the Theban revolt, a 20-year uprising by Egyptians against Greek rule. The researchers then examined how likely it was that these events occurred so close in time to eruptions, finding it “highly unlikely to have occurred by chance, such is the level of overlap,” Ludlow says.

The volcanic eruptions didn’t cause these upheavals on their own, both Ludlow and Manning stress. But they likely added fuel to existing economic, political and ethnic tensions. For historians, “it’s like we’ve all been in a dark room bumping into furniture, and now we have a candle lit,” Manning says.

The results may also have implications for the modern era. Currently, Ethiopia is in the middle of building a humongous dam called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD, on the Blue Nile. Tensions are already high between the nation and Egypt over how the water resources of the river will be distributed. A sudden change in climate, such as from a volcanic eruption, could make these “fraught hydropolitics even more fraught,” Ludlow says.

“The 21st century has been lacking in explosive eruptions of the kind that can severely affect monsoon patterns. But that could change at any time,” he says. “The potential for this needs to be taken into account in trying to agree on how the valuable waters of the Blue Nile are going to be managed between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.”

Via The Watchers

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Classics and Ancient History @ Warwick | Ptolemy I, 367 BCE to 283 BCE

contributors <![CDATA[Is racial bias driving Trump’s neglect of Puerto Rico?]]> 2017-10-19T03:21:37Z 2017-10-19T04:24:00Z By Lauren Lluveras | (The Conversation) | – –

The morning after Hurricane Maria blasted through Puerto Rico, I emailed my aunt to ask if she was safe. That was Sept. 21. I heard back from her on Oct. 10. She was fine, she assured me, but “Puerto Rico is destroyed.” After that, my tia and I again lost contact; her email had come through during a brief moment of cell service.

Nearly a month after the hurricane, Puerto Rico still is still struggling with a near-total information blackout. Some 85 percent of the island lacks electricity, and several remote mountain communities have yet to be visited by relief workers.

The death toll has risen from 16 to nearly 50 as lack of fuel, food shortages and infectious illnesses take their toll. Over 100 people are still missing.

The island is so crippled in part thanks to the federal government’s underwhelming early hurricane response. The historic storm played its role, of course, destroying homes, triggering mudslides and rendering roadways impassable.

But the Trump administration delayed dispatching military personnel and material relief until after the hurricane made landfall, and let the Jones Act waiver lapse, reducing the number of ships that can bring aid to the island. These actions have slowed recovery considerably.

Numerous commentators – including Ret. Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who ran the U.S. military’s 2005 Hurricane Katrina relief operation – have criticized the Trump administration’s Puerto Rico storm response. Others have contrasted it with the all-hands-on-deck support seen by Harvey and Irma victims in Texas and Florida.

Based on my experience researching equity and inclusion in U.S. policy, racial bias may explain these disparate relief efforts, at least in part. Environmental disasters lay bare existing inequalities like prejudice and poverty. So in a place like Puerto Rico, where nearly 99 percent of the population is Latino, discriminatory decision-making can hurt the community’s capacity to recover.

An unflattering comparison

In Texas and Florida, the president responded swiftly, visiting these southern states in a matter of days. In Puerto Rico, on the other hand, President Trump arrived to survey the wreckage two weeks after Maria struck.

Likewise, while the president vowed to stand with Texas and Florida “every single day” to help them “restore, recover and rebuild,” he seemed to mock Puerto Ricans’ plight at an Oct. 6 Hispanic Heritage Month event.

Most recently, Trump even threatened to withdraw federal aid from Puerto Rico altogether, even though some communities have yet to see a penny.

There is empirical evidence that skin color impacts federal assistance. A 2007 study performed by researchers at Stanford and UCLA found that Americans are less willing to support extensive taxpayer-funded disaster relief when the victim population is not white.

Signs of racial bias in the current federal relief efforts go beyond Puerto Rico. The U.S. Virgin Islands, where 98 percent of the population identifies as black or of African ancestry, were also battered by both Hurricanes Irma and Maria, leaving residents “in survival mode.” The Trump administration has also largely ignored their suffering.

Separate and unequal

There are likely other explanations for why America’s Caribbean citizens are seeing such disparate post-storm treatment.

One is political clout. These two U.S. territories were inevitably facing an uphill disaster recovery process because – unlike Texas and Florida – Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands don’t have representatives defending their interests in Congress.

Partisanship is another likely factor. Facing historic disapproval ratings, President Trump’s agenda has also narrowed toward rallying his base. It’s predictable, then, that the president worked diligently to help Texas and Florida – states that supported him in 2016 – while neglecting Caribbean residents, who cannot vote in a presidential election.

But I would contend that the differential post-hurricane treatment transcends these political disadvantages and reflects racial bias.

Throughout the disaster relief effort, President Trump’s rhetoric has highlighted just how different Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are from mainland America. He has called the islands’ leadership “poor” and “opportunistic” and blamed Puerto Ricans for the financial crisis that’s now confounding the island’s recovery.

Trump has also railed on Puerto Ricans for “wanting everything to be done for them” and failing to contribute more to the relief efforts. According to the president, not aid workers but Puerto Ricans themselves should be out distributing food and water. I have spent a decade studying urban policy toward communities of color, so coded language like this raises red flags for me.

It is especially concerning given President Trump’s own problematic history dealing with race. On the campaign trail he antagonized the Black Lives Matter movement, and as president he defended the violence of white supremacists in Charlottesville.

Flint lives matter

Recent U.S. history also offers examples suggesting that communities of color are neglected when disaster hits.

New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is the classic case study. After the city’s evacuation plan failed, black Americans were left stranded and desperate for up to 14 days while the federal government’s belated and dysfunctional rescue operation flailed.

Assessing the situation, rapper Kanye West famously went off script at a live fundraiser for hurricane victims, declaring, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

More recently, in April 2014, residents of Flint, Michigan, a predominantly black community, began falling ill after the highly contaminated Flint River became their only water source. Community members raised concern about the foul-smelling water coming out of their faucets, and doctors alerted state and federal officials about elevated lead levels in the water.

Even so, state officials did not acknowledge Flint’s crisis until September 2015, after 91 residents had been diagnosed with waterborne bacterial illnesses. And only this year did the city finally agree to replace their water lines. The city won’t have clean water until 2020.

In short, though environmental disasters don’t see race, people do – and if bias influences the decision-making of those in power, survivors will feel it.

The ConversationPuerto Rico’s demographics diverge from that of the U.S. general population, where just 18 percent of people identify as Latino and 13 percent as black. President Trump’s behavior seems to reflects that racial difference, whether he knows it or not.

Lauren Lluveras, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, University of Texas at Austin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Democracy Now! “As Puerto Rico Faces $95 Billion Cleanup, Exposé Reveals Vulture Firms Who Own Its $74 Billion Debt”