Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 15 Aug 2018 07:44:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Trump wouldn’t have let her in the Country, but Ilhan Omar is Likely joining Congress Wed, 15 Aug 2018 07:43:33 +0000 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Ilhan Omar, a refugee and a Somali-heritage Muslim woman who veils, has won the Democratic primary for Minnesota’s Fifth District congressional seat, hoping to succeed Keith Ellison. The district, which includes Minneapolis, typically votes heavily Democratic, so she has a good shot at winning the seat.

Somalia is one of five Muslim-majority countries from which immigration is currently banned, though immigration is restricted from Venezuela (a few officials) and North Korea, as well. The actual targets of the ban are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Under Trump administration policy, in other words, Ilhan Omar would not have been allowed to enter the country as an immigrant. Under Trump, she also would have been highly unlikely to be granted refugee status and asylum in the US. In 2016, the US admitted some 85,000 refugees, about evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Based on the first five months of this year, it is likely that the US will admit only 45,000 refugees in 2018, and that only 17% of them will be Muslim. The open racism and bigotry of this administration is already being enshrined in our immigration statistics. Legal immigration is on track to be cut 12% from Obama’s last year in office, and the number of Muslim immigrants has fallen by 33%– nearly three times as much as over-all immigration. European immigrants are slightly up, though still dwarfed by Asia and Latin America. It is remarkable that for all his rhetoric, Trump hasn’t managed substantially to cut legal immigration, and his own Republican Congress has rebuffed the bills he submitted to abolish certain kinds of immigrant visas.

But African immigration is down, and Muslim immigration is down, and Ilhan Omar is precisely the demographic that Trump (and his horrid mini-me Stephen Miller) have targeted.

Ilhan Omar did not win because she compromised but because she boldly took stances approved by the public, even if the class of cranky rich old white people thinks them utopian or too costly (something they never say about the Pentagon budget or our forever wars).

She is for medicare for all. She endorses abolishing ICE, which was only created in 2004.

Minneapolis is about 64% white, 5 percent Asian, and only 18% African-American, so Ms. Omar’s victory was in no way based on identity politics. She was largely elected by Protestants, Catholics and agnostics of European heritage.

Some voters interviewed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune said that they voted for her because they saw in her the vigor and the forcefulness to take on Trump.

Ilhan Omar is humane where Trump is selfish. Ilhan Omar is high-minded where Trump is in the gutter. Ilhan Omar stands for American unity across races and religions. Trump stands for a hierarchy, with white northern European Christians at the top and everyone else a second-class citizen or worse.

Ilhan Omar is the future of America. Trump is the last gasp of the 19th century Know-Nothing bigots.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

WCCO CBS: ” Ilhan Omar Wins DFL Primary In 5th District”

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Turkey’s Pres. Erdogan announces Boycott of US Electronic Goods Wed, 15 Aug 2018 06:41:30 +0000 Istanbul (AFP) – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said Turkey would boycott US electronic goods in retaliation for punitive sanctions by Washington against Ankara over the detention of an American pastor.

“We will boycott US electronic goods,” Erdogan said in a televised speech, raising the stakes in a spat that has seen the Turkish lira plunge to record lows.

“If (the United States) have the iPhone, there’s Samsung on the other side,” he said, referring to US giant Apple’s iconic phone and the top South Korean brand.

“We (also) have our Venus and Vestel,” he said about homegrown Turkish electronics brands.

Relations between the two NATO allies have plummeted in one of their worst crises in decades after the detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson on terror-related charges, sending the Turkish lira into free fall against the dollar.

Erdogan has been repeatedly photographed with Apple products including the iPhone and iPad.

He also made his now famous speech on the night of the July 2016 failed coup calling citizens out into the street through Facetime, an iPhone app.

The lira’s plunge — which had been ongoing for weeks — was turned into a rout on Friday when US President Donald Trump tweeted that Washington was doubling aluminium and steel tariffs for Turkey.

Turkish Airlines also announced on Twitter that it would join a campaign circulating on social media with a hashtag #ABDyeReklamVerme (don’t give ads to America).

“We, as the Turkish Airlines, stand by our state and our people. Necessary instructions on the issue have been issued to our agencies,” Yahya Ustun, spokesman for the country’s flag-carrier, wrote on Twitter.

Erdogan said Turkey was facing an “economic attack” and a “bigger, deeper operation” but showed no sign of making concessions to the United States.

“They don’t hesitate to use the economy as a weapon,” he said. “What do you want to do? What do you want to achieve,” he added, referring to the US.

Erdogan admitted the Turkish economy had problems — including a widening current account deficit and inflation of almost 16 percent but added: “Thanks to God, our economy is functioning like clockwork.”

Featured Photo: TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/AFP / KAYHAN OZER. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been repeatedly photographed with Apple products including the iPhone and iPad.

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How Trump is Turning US Diplomats into Arms Merchants to the World Wed, 15 Aug 2018 05:56:25 +0000 New York ( – American weapons makers have dominated the global arms trade for decades. In any given year, they’ve accounted for somewhere between one-third and more than one-half the value of all international weapons sales. It’s hard to imagine things getting much worse — or better, if you happen to be an arms trader — but they could, and soon, if a new Trump rule on firearms exports goes through.

But let’s hold off a moment on that and assess just how bad it’s gotten before even worse hits the fan. Until recently, the Trump administration had focused its arms sales policies on the promotion of big-ticket items like fighter planes, tanks, and missile defense systems around the world. Trump himself has loudly touted U.S. weapons systems just about every time he’s had the chance, whether amid insults to allies at the recent NATO summit or at a chummy White House meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose brutal war in Yemen is fueled by U.S.-supplied arms.

A recent presidential export policy directive, in fact, specifically instructs American diplomats to put special effort into promoting arms sales, effectively turning them into agents for the country’s largest weapons makers. As an analysis by the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy has noted, human rights and even national security concerns have taken a back seat to creating domestic jobs via such arms sales. Evidence of this can be found in, for example, the ending of Obama administration arms sales suspensions to Nigeria, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. The first of those had been imposed because of the way the Nigerian government repressed its own citizens; the second for Bahrain’s brutal crackdown on the democracy movement there; and the last for Saudi Arabia’s commission of acts that one member of Congress has said “look like war crimes” in its Yemeni intervention.

Fueling death and destruction, however, turns out not to be a particularly effective job creator. Such military spending actually generates significantly fewer jobs per dollar than almost any other kind of investment. In addition, many of those jobs will actually be located overseas, thanks to production-sharing deals with weapons-purchasing countries like Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and other U.S. allies. To cite an example, one of the goals of Saudi Arabia’s economic reform plan — unveiled in 2017 — is to ensure that, by 2030, half the value of the kingdom’s arms purchases will be produced in Saudi Arabia. U.S. firms have scrambled to comply, setting up affiliates in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and in the case of Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky unit, agreeing to begin assembling military helicopters there. McClatchy news service summed up the situation in this headline: “Trump’s Historic Arms Deal Is a Likely Jobs Creator — In Saudi Arabia.”

For most Americans, there should be serious questions about the economic benefits of overseas arms sales, but if you’re a weapons maker looking to pump up sales and profits, the Trump approach has already been a smashing success. According to the head of the Pentagon’s arms sales division, known euphemistically as the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Department of Defense has brokered agreements for sales of major systems worth $46 billion in the first six months of 2018, more than the $41 billion in deals made during all of 2017.

And that, it seems, is just the beginning.

Slow Motion Weapons of Mass Destruction

Yes, those massive sales of tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft are indeed a grim wonder of the modern world and never receive the attention they truly deserve. However, a potentially deadlier aspect of the U.S. weapons trade receives even less attention than the sale of big-ticket items: the export of firearms, ammunition, and related equipment. Global arms control advocates have termed such small arms and light weaponry — rifles, automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and handguns — “slow motion weapons of mass destruction” because they’re the weapons of choice in the majority of the 40 armed conflicts now underway around the world. They and they alone have been responsible for nearly half of the roughly 200,000 violent deaths by weapon that have been occurring annually both in and outside of official war zones.

And the Trump administration is now moving to make it far easier for U.S. gun makers to push such wares around the world. Consider it an irony, if you will, but in doing so, the president who has staked his reputation on rejecting everything that seems to him tainted by Barack Obama is elaborating on a proposal originally developed in the Obama years.

The crucial element in the new plan: to move key decisions on whether or not to export guns and ammunition abroad from the State Department’s jurisdiction, where they would be vetted on both human rights and national security grounds, to the Commerce Department, whose primary mission is promoting national exports.

The Violence Policy Center, a research and advocacy organization that seeks to limit gun deaths, has indicated that such a move would ease the way for more exports of a long list of firearms. Those would include sniper rifles and AR-15s, the now-classic weapon in U.S. mass killings like the school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Newtown, Connecticut. Under the new plan, the careful tracking of whose hands such gun exports could end up in will be yesterday’s news and, as a result, U.S. weapons are likely to become far more accessible to armed gangs, drug cartels, and terrorist operatives.

President Trump’s plan would even eliminate the requirement that Congress be notified in advance of major firearms deals, which would undoubtedly prove to be the arms loophole of all time. According to statistics gathered by the Security Assistance Monitor, which gathers comprehensive information on U.S. military and police aid programs, the State Department approved $662 million worth of firearms exports to 15 countries in 2017. The elimination of Congressional notifications and the other proposed changes will mean that countries like Mexico, the Philippines, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as various Central American nations, will have far easier access to a far wider range of U.S. firearms with far less Congressional oversight. And that, in turn, means that U.S.-supplied weapons will play even more crucial roles in vicious civil wars like the one in Yemen and are far more likely to make their way into the hands of local thugs, death squads, and drug cartels.

And mind you, it isn’t as if U.S. gun export policies were enlightened before the Trump era. They were already wreaking havoc in neighboring countries. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, an astonishing 50,000 U.S. guns were recovered in criminal investigations in 15 Western Hemisphere nations between 2014 and 2016. That report goes on to note that 70% of the guns recovered from crimes in Mexico are of U.S. origin. The comparable figures for Central America are 49% for El Salvador, 46% for Honduras, and 29% for Guatemala.

While Donald Trump rails — falsely — against a flood of criminals washing across the U.S.-Mexico border, he conveniently ignores this country’s export of violence in the other direction thanks to both legal and illegal transfers of guns to Mexico and Central America. The U.S. has, in short, already effectively weaponized both criminal networks and repressive security forces in those countries. In other words, it’s played a key role in the killing of significant numbers of innocent civilians there, ratcheting up the pressure on individuals, families, and tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have then headed for the United States looking for a safer, better life. Trump’s new proposal would potentially make this situation far worse and his “big, fat, beautiful wall” would have to grow larger still.

In the past, congressional awareness of foreign firearm deals has made a difference. In September 2017, under pressure from Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the Trump administration reversed itself and blocked a sale of 1,600 semiautomatic pistols to Turkey because of abuses by the personal security forces of that country’s president, Recep Erdogan. (Those included what the New York Times described as “brutal attacks” on U.S. citizens during Erdogan’s May 2017 trip to Washington, D.C.) Similarly, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) persuaded the Obama administration to halt a deal that would have sent 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines, where security forces and private death squads, egged on by President Rodrigo Duterte, were gunning down thousands of people suspected of (but not charged with or convicted of) drug trafficking. As Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin has noted, under the new Trump rules, it will be nearly impossible for members of Congress to intervene in such a fashion to stop similar deals in the future.

On the implications of the deregulation of firearms exports, Cardin has spoken out strongly. “The United States,” he said, “should never make it easier for foreign despots to slaughter their civilians or for American-made assault weapons to be readily available to paramilitary or terrorist groups… The administration’s proposal makes those scenarios even more possible. The United States is, and should be, better than this.”

The Trump plan is, however, good news for hire-a-gun successors to Blackwater, the defunct private contractor whose personnel killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in a notorious 2007 incident. Such firms would be able to train foreign military forces in the use of firearms without seeking licenses from the State Department, allowing them to operate in places like Libya that might otherwise have been off-limits.

Embracing the Gun Lobby

Not surprisingly, Trump’s proposal to make it easier for global gunrunners to operate from U.S. soil has been greeted with jubilation by the National Rifle Association and U.S.-based firearms manufacturers. The NRA has been a staunch opponent of efforts to place any kind of controls on the global trade in guns since at least the mid-1990s. That was when the United Nations first addressed the impact of the global trade in small arms and light weapons, which ultimately led to the passage of an international Arms Trade Treaty in 2014. Though the Obama administration signed it, the Senate refused to ratify it, in large part thanks to an NRA lobbying campaign.

Now, the NRA has an enthusiastic ally in the president. And that organization, which vigorously backed him in the 2016 election campaign, spending over $30 million on ads praising him or trashing Hillary Clinton, is backing his efforts to deregulate gun exports to the hilt. In a June 2018 letter from its Institute for Legislative Affairs, the NRA urged its supporters to weigh in favorably during the public-comment period on the new rules, describing them as “among the most important pro-gun initiatives by the Trump administration to date.” That’s no small claim, given the president’s enthusiastic embrace of virtually every element of the NRA’s anti-gun-control agenda.

The National Sports Shooting Federation (NSSF), the misleadingly named trade association for U.S. gun manufacturers, is also backing Trump’s efforts to boost firearms exports. The federation’s president, Lawrence Keane, has asserted that the administration proposal will be “a significant positive development for the industry that will allow members to reduce costs and compete in the global marketplace more effectively, all while not in any way hindering national security.”

Among the biggest threats posed by Trump’s approach to guns is his administration’s decision to settle a case with Defense Distributed, a Texas-based firm run by gun advocate Cody Wilson, and so usher in “the age of the downloadable gun.” Though a Seattle-based judge intervened to stop him for the time being, the government had green-lighted Wilson’s posting of designs on the Internet that could be used to produce plastic guns on 3-D printers. If it does happen, it will undoubtedly prove to be a global bonanza for anyone in need of a weapon and capable of purchasing such a printer anywhere in the world.

Arms control and human rights groups have joined domestic gun control organizations like the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in trying to block the change, which will dramatically undermine efforts to limit the proliferation of guns at home and abroad. If they fail, it will suddenly become much easier to produce untraceable plastic firearms — from handguns to AR-15s. The administration even agreed to pay Cody Wilson’s legal fees in the dispute, a move former congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) has described as “a particularly galling example of Mr. Trump’s obsequiousness to the most extreme fringe of the gun lobby.”

Congress could seek to blunt the most egregious aspects of the Trump administration’s deregulation of firearms exports by, for instance, ensuring that oversight of the most dangerous guns — like sniper rifles and AR-15 semiautomatic weapons — not be shifted away from the State Department. It could also continue to force the administration to notify Congress of any major firearms deals before they happen and pass legislation making it illegal to post instructions for producing untraceable guns via 3-D printing technology.

In a political climate dominated by an erratic president in the pocket of the NRA and a Congress with large numbers of members under the sway of the gun lobby, however, only a strong, persistent public outcry might make a difference.

In the meantime, welcome to the world of American gunrunning and start thinking of Donald Trump as our very own gunrunner-in-chief.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Copyright 2018 William D. Hartung



Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Cato Institute: “Risky Business: The Role of Arms Sales in U.S. Foreign Policy”

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Saudi Women can Finally Drive, But are their Voices Being Heard? Wed, 15 Aug 2018 05:44:17 +0000 By Nermin Allam | –

Earlier this summer, Saudi Arabia lifted the decades-long ban on women’s driving. The move is part of a series of reforms that the country has been implementing. In April the kingdom loosened male guardianship laws – under which women need the permission of a male guardian to work, travel or marry. And in 2015, women were granted the right to vote and run for elections. The reforms serve to revamp the image of Saudi Arabia in the international arena.

More recently, however, in a diplomatic spat, Canada has criticized Saudi Arabia for human rights violations. Saudi officials have responded by cutting all economic and diplomatic ties, withdrawing investments and stopping flights. One of the main issues for the Canadians is the arrest by Saudi authorities of two prominent women’s rights activists. Tweets by Canadian diplomats called on the kingdom to release the activists. Saudi Arabia arrested several women’s rights activists in weeks prior and following the lifting the ban on women’s driving.

As a scholar of gender politics in Middle Eastern societies, I argue that all this goes to show that the kingdom is extending limited reforms to women to represent itself as modern but is adamant on not opening space for more voices.

Women, nationalism and modernization

Historically, the status of women has often served as a measure of social progress.

Take for example, the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who served as president of Egypt from 1956, until his death in 1970. Nasser promoted the participation of women in the public sector as a symbol of the success of the regime in modernizing Egypt.

Under Nasser, the state adopted a series of laws to encourage women’s participation in the workforce. Between 1961 and 1969, the participation of women in the labor force increased by 31.1 percent.

Paid maternity leave was granted to working mothers during the day and child care was made available. Children and child rearing was no longer the sole responsibility of women, but increasingly that of the state and its institutions as well. There was no discussion, however, of men’s responsibility or how to balance work and family.

Scholars, thus, argue that these reforms were not genuine efforts by the regime to alter gender inequalities. Rather, they were important symbols in representing the Egyptian society as modern, socialist and progressive, where men and women were seen to work next to each other.

Also, the reforms did not include meaningful political rights. For example, while women were granted the right to vote in 1956, unlike men, they had to petition the state to include them on the list of registered voters. The regime also moved to suppress independent feminists such as Doria Shafiq, who campaigned for women’s suffrage for years.

Using women for politics

It was the same in many Middle Eastern and North African societies. The image of the woman was often constructed based on a political need at a given time and later deconstructed as well.

In Tunisia, for example, Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s nationalist leader and president, and after him President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali presented the image of the unveiled Tunisian women as a symbol of modernization, secularism and democracy.

Following Tunisian independence in 1956, Bourguiba rejected the veil and viewed it as a barrier to his modernizing project. In his Dec. 5, 1957, speech, he described the veil as an “odious rag” and an obstacle to the country’s path to modernization secluding women from participation in public space.

Bourguiba’s earlier views on the veil were, however, different. At the height of the nationalist struggle, during the 1930s to the 1950s against French colonial rule in Tunisia, Bourguiba emphasized the significance of the traditional Tunisian veil, the sefsari, as a symbol of national identity. The nationalist leader encouraged women to wear the sefsari as a way to oppose the colonial view. The colonial powers pushed for unveiling women and viewed it as part of the modernizing process.

Crackdown on feminists

Coming back to Saudi Arabia, the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has introduced Vision 2030 an ambitious social and economic reform plan, that he first announced in 2016. His goal is to liberalize the Saudi petro-state and open its centralized oil market to foreign investment. His promise is to bring larger parts of the Saudi population – especially women and youth – into the labor force.

At this juncture, reforms in women’s rights demonstrate that the kingdom is en route to modernizing. However, some of the actions of Saudi authorities – such as the arrest of prominent activists that Canada has expressed concerns over – are seemingly at odds with the image the reforms want to project.

The arrests started less than a month before the kingdom was due to lift the ban on women’s driving, when the authorities arrested some of the feminists who had campaigned for women’s rights to drive. Several pro-government social media groups were alleged to have launched a smear campaign tarnishing the activists’ reputation and branding them as “traitors” and “agents of foreign embassies.

The list of detained activists included high-profile feminists such as Loujain al-Hathloul – a vocal Saudi activist who since 2014 has been arrested numerous times for defying the ban on women driving.

Following the decision to lift the ban on driving, the authorities approached the women who had been arrested, in addition to others who previously participated in protests against the driving ban and demanded that they completely refrain from commenting on the decision.

Media coverage has made no mention of the role of activists who had long campaigned for women’s right to drive. Rather, it praised the crown prince for lifting the ban.

The ConversationIn my view, there are many contradictions that surround these recent reforms. By silencing activists, the crown prince appears to tie the decision to allow Saudi women to drive to burnishing his own legacy. More importantly, by imprisoning high-profile feminists, the monarchy attempts to weaken, if not abolish, the ability of women’s groups to organize, advance their rights and be heard.

Nermin Allam, Assistant Professor of Politics, Rutgers University Newark

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


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World Now: ” Saudi Arabia detains two more women activists”

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Defying Trump, Iraq’s PM walks Back Pledge to Boycott Iran, says will avoid Dollar Trade Tue, 14 Aug 2018 08:11:25 +0000 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Iraqi caretaker prime minister Haidar al-Abadi on Monday walked back his pledge last week that Iraq would participate in the US sanctions regime imposed on Iran.

Al-Abadi now will only say that Iraq will not trade with Iran in dollars.

I suppose that the two could instead use Euros or Chinese Yuan for their bilateral trade, without that harming the volume of trade or detracting from its value.

Al-Abadi’s original boycott announcement had startled observers, given the close ties between the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and the Shiite clerical government of Iran. It seems unlikely that Iraq could have defeated ISIL in only 3 years had it not been for Iranian help. But most of all, several Iraqi Shiite political parties and militias are closely tied to Iran.

Iraq had elections, but there was a recount, which set back the formation of a new government. Al-Abadi and his party lost badly to Muqtada al-Sadr and his coalition, which includes Communists.

Likely, al-Abadi thinks that Trump can help him keep his job as prime minister, and hence al-Abadi’s willingness to throw Iran under the bus. Personally, I think al-Abadi may well not continue as prime minister. And after his announcement of sanctions on Iran, a lot of Shiite politicians will want to see him unseated.

The Shiite newspaper Sot al-Iraq (The Voice of Iraq) caled al-Abadi’s initial statement “a kiss of death” politically for him, however. So far in Iraq, parliament really has elected the prime minister, and it is hard to see how Trump (or Mattis) could just shoehorn al-Abadi in by fiat.

Iran is Iraq’s third largest trading partner, with Iranian goods accounting for 16% of Iraq’s imports in 2016. Iran is typically exporting some $6 bn. of goods to Iraq annually. The total value of the trade between the two countries during the past 12 months was about $13 bn.

The Financial Tribune reported that “food exports constituted 19% of Iran’s non-oil exports to Iraq in the past three years followed by agro products (15%), chemical products (15%), energy products (11%), construction materials (10%), machinery and vehicles (5%), home appliances (4%), textiles (3%) and other products (18%).”

Only Turkey and China are bigger trading partners for Iraq.

At the Iraq reconstruction conference held in Kuwait last February, the Trump Administration refused to offer Iraq any recover aid at all, which surely increased Iraqi dependence on Iran.

Iraq doesn’t need Iranian oil, so that part of US sanctions is irrelevant. But ordinary trade looks likely to continue, with US banks and the US dollar excluded.

My guess is that when the dust settles, Leader Khamenei of Iran will have a distinct advantage over Trump in Iraq, in part because of the soft power of shared Shiite Islam.

Trump 0.

featured Photo: AFP/File / Haidar HAMDANI. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi delivers a speech in the holy city of Najaf on January 7, 2018.

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Is the US-Turkish Military Alliance Doomed? Tue, 14 Aug 2018 07:29:54 +0000 by Thomas WATKINS | –

Washington (AFP) – The crisis in US-Turkish relations, which already has put Turkey’s economy under massive strain, also risks souring military ties between the two NATO allies, unleashing unknown geopolitical consequences.

US President Donald Trump last week announced new tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum, causing the country’s currency to plummet, over his frustration with Ankara’s continued detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

Then on Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote in The New York Times that unless Washington can “reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect,” Turkey will “start looking for new friends and allies.”

The warning came after Erdogan held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss economic and trade issues, as well as the Syria crisis.

Military ties between Turkey and the US are already fraught over Washington’s support to Syrian Kurdish fighters known as the YPG, which Ankara sees as little more than an offshoot of the “terrorist” Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

And tensions were heightened further after Turkey, despite being a NATO ally, entered into an understanding to buy Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense system.

Such a move would defy US sanctions on Moscow, and Turkey’s increasingly cozy relationship with Putin has alarmed both the US and the European Union.

Trump on Monday signed a defense authorization act that notably prohibits the delivery of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Turkey if it goes ahead with the S-400 purchase.

Retired Admiral James Stavridis, an ex-NATO supreme allied commander, urged Washington and Ankara to do all they can to improve relations.

“To lose Turkey would be a geopolitical mistake of epic proportions,” he told MSNBC on Monday.

“Hopefully we can pull them back, but Turkey has to make the first step at this point.”

Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton met with Ambassador Serdar Kilic of Turkey on Monday to discuss “Turkey’s continued detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson and the state of the US-Turkey relationship,” the White House said.

Turkey’s dialogue with Russia has led some to question its reliability as a NATO partner, and even whether it should remain in the alliance.

But Joshua Landis, director of Center for Middle East Studies, told AFP that Turkey’s ejection from NATO would be disastrous.

“There’s no upside to kicking Turkey out, it’ll just force Turkey into Russia’s hands,” he said.

– Key air base –

Experts are looking to Incirlik, a Turkish air base in southern Turkey, just 70 miles (110 kilometers) from the border with war-torn Syria. The base has been a frequent pawn during decades of ups and downs in US-Turkey relations.

Incirlik’s location relative to the Middle East makes it a key strategic asset for the US military and for NATO, and the United States until recently flew bombing runs from there as it fought the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Separately, the facility is thought to hold a stockpile of about 50 American nuclear bombs.

The arrangement works for Turkey too, as the US military provides Turks with intelligence and drone surveillance over the border region, and helps Ankara monitor the outlawed PKK.

Last year, Muharrem Ince, the main opposition candidate in Turkey’s presidential election, threatened to shut Incirlik unless the US extradited Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Muslim preacher Ankara blames for an attempted coup in 2016.

Ince went on to lose the election to Erdogan by a large margin, but Incirlik remains a key issue.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish base commander at Incirlik was arrested on suspicion of complicity in the plot.

And according to Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, pro-Erdogan lawyers have filed a lawsuit calling for the arrest of US troops at Incirlik on similar suspicions.

Both sides stand to lose if US-Turkey military relations go south, but experts say it would hurt Turkey more.

For instance, the diplomatic crisis with Turkey could jeopardize a $1.5 billion deal that Ankara has made with Pakistan to sell 30 Turkish-made helicopter gunships.

Because the choppers use US parts that require an export license, the sale could ultimately be at risk.

“Turkey is going to be hurt the most because it’s weaker and America is just a big elephant,” Landis said.

In situations like this, it “ultimately hurts the smaller countries a lot more.”

Featured Photo: AFP/File / TARIK TINAZAY. A file photo shows US air tankers lining up to take off from the Incirlik Airbase in southern Turkey.

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Elon Musk says in Talks with Saudis on Taking Tesla Private Tue, 14 Aug 2018 07:19:47 +0000 By Rob Lever | –

Washington (AFP) – Tesla chief executive Elon Musk disclosed Monday that he was in talks with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and other investors to take the electric automaker private.

The revelation came after Musk claimed in an August 7 Twitter post that financing for a deal to take Tesla private had been “secured.”

Musk said in a blog post on Monday he had “no question” that the Saudis would finance such a transaction following a July 31 meeting.

“I continue to have discussions with the Saudi fund, and I also am having discussions with a number of other investors, which is something that I always planned to do since I would like for Tesla to continue to have a broad investor base,” Musk wrote.

“It is appropriate to complete those discussions before presenting a detailed proposal to an independent board committee.”

The transaction would be structured with equity so as not to burden Tesla with crushing debt, Musk added.

Musk’s surprise comments last week sparked speculation he would need to borrow massive amounts to take Tesla private, a move that could allow the company to operate without requirements for financial reports and other pressures of a publicly traded firm.

But the comments also raised questions about whether Musk ran afoul of securities laws by claiming backing without a firm financial commitment.

The disclosures about Saudi interest “helps reduce the legal risk fallout for Tesla,” said Efraim Levy, an equity analyst at CFRA Research.

“It also helps clarify the going private situation even if the transaction is ultimately not consummated.”

But Levy said taking the company private would be a mixed blessing for Tesla and Musk — the company could avoid short-term pressures from Wall Street but also reduce its access to capital markets.

“They’ve had significant benefits from having access to capital markets, and the media attention has provided priceless free advertising,” Levy said.

“Despite Musk protestations, we think remaining public has and will benefit Tesla,” he added.

Tesla shares failed to sustain an early surge and ended with a small gain of 0.26 percent at $356.41.

– Less than $70 billion –

AFP/File / SAUL LOEB. If Tesla goes private, it would avoid many of the requirements and scrutiny of a publicly traded firm but could also limit its access to capital.

In his blog post Monday, Musk said that reports that more than $70 billion would be needed to take Tesla private “dramatically overstate the actual capital raise needed” because he expected some shareholders to remain invested in the firm.

His comment that he wanted to launch a buyout at $420 a share “would only be used for Tesla shareholders who do not remain with our company if it is private,” Musk said in the post.

“My best estimate right now is that approximately two-thirds of shares owned by all current investors would roll over into a private Tesla.”

Musk added that the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund “has approached me multiple times” starting in early 2017 about taking Tesla private and had already taken a stake of nearly five percent though share purchases.

He said the Saudis were interested “because of the important need to diversify away from oil” and added that the sovereign fund “has more than enough capital needed to execute on such a transaction.”

Loup Ventures analysts Gene Munster and Will Thompson said in a research note that Musk has answered the question “where would the money come from?” but still faces a number of challenges.

“If Musk can help it, we believe he will limit additional investors to 20 percent equity (he owns 22 percent), which implies the Saudi fund could only invest $16 billion,” the analysts wrote.

“We still believe there is a greater than 50 percent chance Tesla is private in a year, and the blog post slightly increased those odds.”

California-based Tesla has become one of the most valuable automakers on expectations it will disrupt the industry, although it produced only slightly more than 100,000 vehicles last year.

The company has been struggling to boost production of its Model 3, which is less expensive than its first models and could held expand Tesla’s base.

Featured Photo: AFP/File / DAVID MCNEW. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said he was in talks with the Saudi government’s sovereign wealth fund as part of his efforts to take Tesla private.

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UK Labour’s Corbyn Refutes Netanyahu’s Smears, Calls out Policy of Shooting Gaza Kids Tue, 14 Aug 2018 07:11:34 +0000 London (Middle East Monitor) – Israel’s nation-state law discriminates against the country’s Palestinian minority, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Monday, Anadolu reports.

Corbyn made the remarks on Twitter in reply to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who joined the criticism against Corbyn over his alleged participation in a wreath-laying ceremony in Tunisia four years ago to honour the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.

“The nation-state law sponsored by @Netanyahu’s government discriminates against Israel’s Palestinian minority. I stand with the tens of thousands of Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel demonstrating for equal rights at the weekend in Tel Aviv,” Corbyn said.

British tabloid the Daily Mail published photos of Corbyn at the ceremony holding a wreath while standing near the graves of members of the Black September group. The event took place in 2014 before he was elected Labour leader.

The Black September group is believed to be behind a deadly terrorist attack that targeted Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics in Germany which left 11 dead.

“The laying of a wreath by Jeremy Corbyn on the graves of the terrorists who perpetrated the Munich massacre and his comparison of Israel to the Nazis deserves unequivocal condemnation from everyone,” Netanyahu said on Twitter.

However, Corbyn told the British press that although he was present at the ceremony, he was not involved.

The Daily Mail cited sources close to Corbyn as saying that he was at a service to commemorate the 47 Palestinians who were killed in an Israeli airstrike in 1985 on a Tunisian base of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The monument to the airstrike victims is only yards away from a plaque that lies beside the graves of the Black September members.

An Israeli airstrike killed 47 people and wounded 65 others on 1. Oct0ber 1985, according to official sources in Tunisia.

Corbyn said “wreaths were laid at the graves of those who died” in the airstrike and “on the graves of others killed in Paris in 1992”, referring to PLO members killed by Mossad agents.

“I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere.

“Because we have to end it. You cannot pursue peace by a cycle of violence. The only way you can pursue peace is by a cycle of dialogue,” he said.

“Israeli PM @Netanyahu’s claims about my actions and words are false,” Corbyn also said on Twitter in his response to Netanyahu.

“What deserves unequivocal condemnation is the killing of over 160 Palestinian protesters in Gaza by Israeli forces since March, including dozens of children,” Corbyn said, referring to the Israeli army’s killing of unarmed Palestinian protesters during the Great March of Return gatherings earlier this year.

Corbyn was referring in his tweet to thousands of people, mostly Israeli-Arabs, who demonstrated in Tel Aviv last Saturday against the controversial nation-state law which was passed by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, last month.

The law defines Israel as a Jewish state with a “united Jerusalem” as its capital. It also promotes Hebrew as the only official language, stripping Arabic as an official language while recognizing its “special status”.

The legislation risks further alienating the Arab minority, who argue that they already face discrimination from Israeli Jews and the government and feel as though they are second-class citizens.

Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship comprise 21 per cent of the population and are known as Israeli Arabs and have members in the Knesset.

Read: Israel killed 4 Gaza children without authorisation, secret report reveals

The accusations directed at the Labour party are not new, but they grew after Labour’s success in last year’s snap election with the party winning 262 seats in the House of Commons and attracting attention as an alternative to the current Conservative government.

In a 2016 renewed leadership contest following resignations from his shadow cabinet, Corbyn secured his position as the leader with 61.8 per cent of the votes from party members.

A joint editorial published last month by The Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph that appeared on the front pages of all three papers under the headline “United We Stand” described the Labour Party as the “natural home” for Britain’s Jewish community but claimed the party had “seen its values and integrity eroded by Corbynite contempt for Jews and Israel”.

“The stain and shame of antisemitism has coursed through Her Majesty’s Opposition since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015,” the editorial charged.

Accusing the party of becoming “institutionally racist,” the editorial underlined “the strong concerns raised in the Jewish community”.

Read: Israel awaits outcome of talks before hitting Hamas leadership

The latest row over anti-Semitism accusations by the UK’s Israeli lobby arose over Labour’s refusal to accept the full text of the working definition of anti-Semitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

The party expressed concern over creating a code of conduct that could be “used to deny Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel and their supporters, their rights and freedoms to describe the discrimination and injustices they face in the language they deem appropriate”.

Corbyn signaled that three of the four IHRA examples of anti-Semitism would be added to the party’s code of conduct, namely “comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of Nazis,” “suggesting Jewish people are more loyal to Israel than their home country” and “holding Israel to different standards to other democratic countries”.

But Corbyn also signalled that he would continue to reject the fourth example: “Denying Jewish people have a right to self-determination – for example by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a ‘racist endeavour’.”

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Middle East Monitor


Bonus Videos added by Informed Comment:


Jeremy Corbyn Calls Out Netanyahu On Twitter


Al Jazeera English: ” Exclusive: Israel’s parliamentary plot against UK politicians”

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Iran’s Khamenei Pledges No War with US, but Rejects Talks under Sanctions Shadow Tue, 14 Aug 2018 06:53:13 +0000 Tehran (AFP) – Iran’s supreme leader said Monday there would be neither war nor negotiations with the United States, and that the country’s problems were the result of government mismanagement more than renewed sanctions.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments add to the pressure on President Hassan Rouhani following a collapse in the currency and widespread protests over high prices and corruption.

They also appeared to rule out any hope of fresh talks with Washington, which US President Donald Trump had proposed after walking out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions.

“Beside sanctions, they are talking about war and negotiations… let me say a few words to the people: THERE WILL BE NO WAR, NOR WILL WE NEGOTIATE WITH THE U.S.,” Khamenei said via his official Twitter account in English.

There was also a show of military resolve as Defence Minister Amir Hatami unveiled a next generation short-range ballistic missile and vowed to further boost the country’s missile capabilities.

State broadcaster IRIB said the new Fateh Mobin missile had “successfully passed its tests” and could strike targets on land and sea.

– ‘Problems are internal’ –

Despite renewed sanctions, many Iranians — including many at the highest levels of the establishment — see US hostility as only a contributing factor to long-standing problems inside the country.

“Today’s livelihood problems do not emerge from outside, they are internal,” Khamenei said in another tweet.

AFP / ATTA KENARE. A man exchanges Iranian rials for dollars at a money changer in Tehran on August 8, 2018.

“Not that sanctions don’t have an impact, but the main factor is how we handle them,” he added.

Khamenei mirrored recent criticism of Rouhani’s economic management from senior members of the clergy and the Revolutionary Guards — particularly over the collapse of the rial, which has lost around half its value since April.

A fortnight ago, Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari told Rouhani to take “revolutionary actions to control prices and prevent the enormous increase in the price of foreign currency and gold,” in an open letter published by the conservative Tasnim news agency.

But Khamenei criticised conservatives who called for Rouhani’s resignation, saying they were inadvertently “playing into the hands of the enemy”.

“The government must stay in office and powerfully carry out its duties to resolve the problems,” he said.

– Crackdown –

Part of the strategy has been an effort to show action against Iran’s deeply entrenched corruption, which Khamenei once described as “a seven-headed dragon”.

The judiciary said Sunday it had arrested 67 people under a sweeping corruption crackdown and prevented 100 government employees from leaving the country.

Khamenei approved a written request from the head of the judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, to set up special revolutionary courts to try people quickly for economic crimes.

Some lawmakers have criticised the move, with high-profile MP Ali Motahari saying on Monday that parliament must not be “by-passed” when writing new rules.

With the nuclear deal crumbling, Rouhani finds himself with little to show for his five years in power and increasingly under fire from all sides.

Although the other parties to the agreement — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — have vowed to resist US sanctions, many foreign companies have already abandoned projects in Iran for fear of US penalties.

A significant cut in oil sales is also expected when the US reimposes a second phase of sanctions in November — with some analysts estimating a drop of 700,000 barrels per day from its current level of 2.3 million.

State news agency IRNA reported on Monday that Iran is offering oil and gas at a discount to Asian customers in a bid to retain sales.

Khamenei’s tweets followed a speech in Tehran, in which he described Trump’s offer of talks as “a dangerous game” and his administration as a “bullying, fraudulent regime”.

“Even if we ever — impossible as it is –negotiated with the US, it would never ever be with the current US administration,” he added.

Featured Photo: KHAMENEI.IR/AFP / – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gestures during a rally in the capital Tehran on August 13, 2018.

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