Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:05:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.10 In Apocalyptic Vandalism, ISIL blows up 800-year-old Nuri Mosque in Mosul https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/apocalyptic-vandalism-mosque.html https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/apocalyptic-vandalism-mosque.html#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:05:19 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=169116 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

al-Hayat (Life) reports that on Wednesday evening around 9:30 pm local time, Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) blew up the Nuri Mosque in Mosul.

The destruction of the 800-year-old edifice was undertaken at a time when Iraqi government troops were closing in on this area in Mosul’s Old City, the last remaining bastion of Daesh there, where 3,000 fighters are still keeping some 100,000 people as human shields. That is about a tenth the strength they initially had.

I once called the destruction by the US Air Force of the annex to the Iraqi National Archives where 19th century administrative documents were housed a “cliocide,” a killing of history itself. The razing of the Nuri Mosque is another act of cliocide. Ironically, I also once suggested that the main antecedent for Daesh, of a state that held both Mosul and Aleppo, was the Zangid polity before the rise of Saladin Ayyubi. Daesh emulated the Zangids geographically and now they have wiped out one of their major surviving architectural legacies.

Iraq prime minister Haydar al-Abadi remarked that the terrorist organization was by this act announcing its own defeat.

This is a fair observation. Daesh was proud of having captured Mosul and of having taken that mosque, built in the rule of Nur al-Din Zangi, a Muslim ruler who held Mosul and Aleppo during the era of the medieval Crusades. They would not have destroyed the mosque where their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his claim to the caliphate (a lapsed medieval institution akin to the Christian papacy) unless they knew they were about to lose control of it.

Daesh has beheaded and otherwise slaughtered so many real, living human beings that it is perhaps wrong to concentrate on the destruction of a mere building.

But historical consciousness matters, and helps make us who we are. Mosulis were fiercely proud of the great mosque. Its minaret famously leaned, and that seems to have started happening soon after it was built. The medieval traveler Ibn Battuta spoke of seeing a leaning structure at the city’s citadel, and he likely was referring to this mosque.

The siege of Daesh has gone on for months, and the Iraqi counter-terrorism brigades are exhausted. They continue to fight on, and will eventually liberate all of Mosul.

Daesh sought support from sympathizers by falsely claiming that the US struck at the mosque. The US Air Force, however, denied that it was running any bombing raids in that part of Mosul.

We are seeing the slow destruction of Daesh as a territorial state. Eventually West Mosul will fall (though they have put up a more bloody-minded and dogged existence than anyone would have imagined.). Daesh believes that the last days are upon us, and its destruction of the mosque is likely an announcement of the near advent of the Judgment Day in their eyes. But actually we’ll all be around for a while to do ordinary non-apocalyptic politics.

But the grievances that gave rise to Daesh and led to the establishment of this iniquitous city-date are still there. How Baghdad treats post-war Mosul will be crucial.

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Related video:

CBS Evening News: “Iraqi military says ISIS blew up iconic mosque in Mosul”

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All Signs from Trump Point to a Coming Conflict with Iran https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/signs-coming-conflict.html https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/signs-coming-conflict.html#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 05:51:22 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=169113 By John Feffer | Foreign Policy in Focus | – –

Behind all of Trump’s boneheaded policies in the Middle East is an unmistakable urge for confrontation with Iran.

The Saudi war in Yemen is really directed at…Iran. Donald Trump’s first overseas visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel was specifically targeted at…Iran. The Saudi-led isolation of Qatar is actually about…Iran.

The escalation of U.S. military actions against the Syria government is… well, do I really need to spell this out any further?

Donald Trump has identified several number-one enemies to target. Throughout the campaign, he emphasized the importance of throwing the full weight of the Pentagon against the Islamic State. More recently, his secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, identified North Korea as “the most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security.”

Other threats that have appeared at one time or another in the administration’s rotation include China, Cuba, the mainstream media, former FBI director James Comey, and Shakespeare (for writing Julius Caesar and then somehow, from the grave, persuading the Public Theater to run a scandalous version of it).

Through it all, however, Iran has loomed as the primary bogeyman of the Trump crowd. Fear of Iranian influence has prompted the administration to all but cancel the 2015 nuclear deal, intensify a number of proxy wars, consider pushing for regime change in Tehran, and even intervene in the mother of all battles between the Shia and Sunni variants of Islam.

You’re worried about Trump and the nuclear football? The prospect of blowback from an all-out U.S. assault on the Islamic State keeps you up at night? A preemptive strike against North Korea, which Mattis acknowledges would be disastrous, has you rethinking that upcoming trip to Seoul?

Sure, those are all dystopian possibilities. But if I had to choose a more likely catastrophe, it would be a direct confrontation between the United States and Iran. After all, everything seems to be pointing in that direction.

The Fate of the Deal

The nuclear deal that Iran signed with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and the European Union is hanging by a thread. Trump made no bones about his distaste for this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He promised to tear it up.

He hasn’t done so. It’s not just that he’s gotten pushback from the usual suspects in Washington (diplomats, foreign policy mavens, talking heads, journalists). Even members of his inner circle seem to see value in the agreement. Mattis, who is otherwise hawkish on Iran, has stood by the JCPOA and diplomacy more generally. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has, albeit reluctantly, acknowledged that Iran has lived up to its side of the agreement. Then there are all the American jobs on the line from the Iranian purchase of Boeing jets.

Even though Trump hasn’t torn up the agreement, he has certainly attempted to give it a good crumple. He has directed the Treasury Department to apply additional sanctions on Iran’s missile program. He’s considering the option of declaring the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. Congress, meanwhile, is pursuing its own complementary set of sanctions against Iran (though, because it’s bundled with sanctions against Russia, the legislation may not meet Trump’s approval).

None of this violates the terms of the JCPOA. But it challenges the spirit of the accord.

Adding insult to injury, Trump damned Iran with faint condolences after the recent terrorist attacks in Tehran. “We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times,” Trump wrote. “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”

Talk about bad taste. After September 11, Iranians gathered for candlelight vigils to mourn the mostly American victims of the attacks. The Iranian government didn’t say anything about chickens coming home to roost after U.S. military interventions in the Middle East, for that would have been inappropriate (though accurate).

But Iran might yet have to make a statement that echoes Trump’s tone-deaf remark: States that tear up international agreements risk falling victim to the evil they promote.

Proxy Wars

The conflict is escalating in Syria, where Iran backs the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the United States supports a shifting set of anti-regime groups.

Both countries could decide to team up against the Islamic State. And indeed, Iran launched a missile attack against ISIS in Syria this last weekend in retaliation for the terrorist attacks in Tehran. As after September 11, when Tehran and Washington briefly worked together, cooperation against Sunni extremists would seem a no-brainer.

But the would-be caliphate, having lost most of Mosul and now teetering on the verge of conceding its capital in Raqqa, is shrinking at a rapid clip. Which may well explain why the United States has been wading deeper into the Syrian conflict. For the first time since the war in Syria began, U.S. forces shot down a Syrian government plane this last weekend. It’s only the latest in a series of attacks on Assad’s forces, according to The Atlantic:

Three times in the last month, the U.S. military has come into direct conflict with the combined forces of the Assad regime, Iran-supported Shiite militias, Hezbollah, and possibly even Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The clashes have reportedly resulted in the deaths of a small number of pro-regime forces, and are much more strategically important than the much-ballyhooed U.S. air strike on the al-Shayrat airfield back in April in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.

Several administration figures, notably Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Derek Harvey in the National Security Council, are eager to confront Assad and his Iranian backers more aggressively. Mattis, however, has reportedly opposed several of their risky propositions. Regardless of the Pentagon chief’s somewhat more risk-averse behavior, both Iran and the United States are maneuvering to control as much territory as possible in the vacuum created by the collapse of ISIS.

Even The Washington Post, which generally supports the JCPOA, is enthusiastic about the U.S. intervening more forcefully in the new great game in Syria. “The United States doesn’t have a strategic reason to control southern and eastern Syria,” The Post editorial board opines, “but it does have a vital interest in preventing Iran from establishing a dominion from Tehran to the Mediterranean with Russia’s support.”

How soon the Post forgets. The Iraq War against Saddam Hussein begat the war against the anti-occupation forces, which in turn generated a war against the Islamic State, which now promises to escalate into a war against the axis of Russia, Iran, and Syria. Thus have so-called national interests morphed into endless war.

Meanwhile, over in Yemen, the Saudis are bogged down in a war of their own that’s going nowhere (except in producing a severe humanitarian crisis). The Trump administration has been mulling for several months a boost in U.S. participation in that war. At the least, this would mean lifting certain restrictions on the assistance Washington is already providing the Saudi-led coalition — surveillance, refueling, and the like. Then there are the additional arms that Trump wants to provide Riyadh.

Now that the Navy SEALS have conducted two raids in Yemen under Trump — the most recent taking place last month — the prospect of more permanent boots on the ground may not be far off. Recall how the United States became involved in Vietnam to help out the failing French in order to prevent presumed Soviet expansion.

Yemen, where we may yet send troops to help the failing Saudis prevent presumed Iranian expansion, is the very definition of quagmire.

Regime Change?

Last week, Rex Tillerson was testifying in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In response to a query from Ted Poe (R-TX), a big fan of the Iranian radical group Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and its efforts to destabilize Iran, Tillerson said,

Our policy towards Iran is to push back on this hegemony, contain their ability to develop obviously nuclear weapons, and to work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.

It was the first public indication of regime-change sentiment from the administration.

But it’s not the only sign. Cohen-Watnick, the liaison on the NSC to the intelligence community, has reportedly confessed to other administration officials of his desire to oust the Iranian regime through espionage. And the fellow that’s now leading the Iran operation at CIA is Michael D’Andrea, otherwise known as the “dark prince,” a long-time operative who is fully capable of pursuing the harder line that Cohen-Watnick wants to see.

But wait, didn’t Iranians just overwhelmingly back the reformist Hassan Rouhani in elections last month? This popular government has engaged in domestic reforms and external engagement of the “Great Satan.” In other words, Iranians have changed their own regime — peacefully — since the days of the more confrontational Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Of course, Washington has overturned the wishes of Iranian voters in the past, helping to overthrow Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953.

Whenever oil interests (Tillerson) intersect with chickenhawk ambitions (Bannon), talk of regime change is sure to follow.

Clash of Civilizations

When Donald Trump said a few nice things about Islam on his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, liberals back home breathed a sigh of relief. At least the new president wouldn’t follow senior advisor Steve Bannon’s more extreme narrative of a new crusade against the infidels.

“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,” Trump said. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil.”

But even as he rejected the larger religious frame, Trump has embraced a different kind of war: a clash within a civilization. The battle lines between Sunni and Shia have hardened throughout the Middle East, and Trump is wading into this mess firmly on the side of the Sunni. And not just any Sunnis, but the most extreme Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam as represented by the ruling sheikhs of Saudi Arabia.

Let’s be clear: Trump is not making a doctrinal statement by siding with extremist Sunnis. He knows nothing about Islam and is not interested in learning. This is about power — who will control the Middle East.

In the past, however, the United States in its infinite naiveté thought that it could control outcomes on the ground in the region. Today, that naiveté has developed into a kind of aggressive ignorance as the Trump administration simply follows the Saudi lead, with Israel pushing from behind. In this way, the United States will be propelled toward war with Iran.

But wait, actually, Donald Trump himself anticipated this outcome.

Back in 2013, Trump said,

We will end up going to war with Iran because we have people who don’t know what the hell they are doing. Every single thing that this administration and our president does is a failure.

Who knew that Donald Trump could be so prescient? The president has proven himself high-performing in at least this one regard: self-fulfilling prophecies.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Foreign Policy in Focus

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Tensions high in Syria as Iran targets ISIL, US shots down government jet”

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What to do when anti-Muslim Hate Speech now passes the Dinner Table Test? https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/anti-muslim-hate.html https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/anti-muslim-hate.html#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 05:19:39 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=169110 By Chris Allen | (The Conversation) | – –

On hearing the news that Darren Osborne was arrested for terror offences including attempted murder following an attack on a group of Muslims near the Finsbury Park Mosque, it would have been easy to jump to the conclusion that the act was motivated by far-right ideologies.

But, while it would appear Osborne followed both Paul Golding and Jayda Francis – two leaders of the far-right group Britain First – on Twitter, officials said the suspect had no concrete links with any far-right group nor was he known to the security services. The investigation will now turn to what motivated the attack, which has rightly been described as terrorism.

The night out test

For almost two decades, my research has shown how anti-Muslim views have become increasingly unquestioned and accepted in both the public and political discourse. In this respect, despite being roundly criticised by the right-wing press, Sayeeda Warsi, former co-chair of the Conservative party, was right when she said in 2011 that Islamophobia had passed the dinner table test.

I would go further and say that it had in fact passed the playground test, the workplace test, and the night out test. This is because those in positions of influence have historically been far too lenient in allowing things to be said about Muslims that they would not have tolerated were they said about others.

This “white noise” about Muslims and Islam was allowed to form a seedbed from which much of today’s Islamophobic discussion and rhetoric subsequently emerged. It has become the norm. In an overwhelmingly negative and dangerously stereotypical way, Muslims and Islam have routinely and repeatedly been positioned as the undeniable “other” to who we were, what we stood for, how we lived our lives, and what we held dear in terms of our values. In essence, Islamophobic notions and expressions were seen to “make sense” in Britain.

Far-right airtime

There can be little doubt that one of the main contributors to this “white noise” has been far-right groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. Without any constraints being placed on them, they were only allowed to become ever more confrontational and aggressive towards Muslims and mosques. The mainstream media gave them a platform from which to voice their explicit and divisive message about Muslims and Islam.

The day after the Finsbury Park attack, the former leader of the EDL, Tommy Robinson, was invited onto ITV’s Good Morning Britain. While the show’s host, Piers Morgan, rightly chastised Robinson for the bigoted views he expressed, there can be no doubt that he was invited on to do exactly that. His track record shows that objectivity and sensitivity are not two of his better known qualities.

Robinson had posted a video online shortly after the recent terror attacks in London and Manchester stating that “if we don’t get this issue dealt with, the British public will,” before adding: “They [the white British] will end up taking matters into their own hands”.

After the Finsbury Park Mosque attack, Robinson said it was one of “revenge”, a point reiterated by the leader of the South Wales National Front, Adam Lloyd. While denying any links to the suspect, Lloyd said: “Anyone with a right mind can see this is not a terrorist attack but a revenge attack.”

By stating that the attack was an act of revenge, both are suggesting that the attack was justified in that it was carrid out in return for the violence committed by Muslims. Not some Muslims, but all Muslims without differentiation: the core tenet of Islamophobia is clearly evident.

A change in tone

Following the Finsbury Park attack, Theresa May, said there had been “far too much tolerance of extremism in our country over many years – and that means extremism of any kind, including Islamophobia”. The prime minister said her government would act to “stamp out extremist and hateful ideology”.

A number of suggestions come to mind. First, May and her political colleagues could begin to think about Islamophobia away from the spectre of extremism. Islamophobia isn’t a form of extremism, nor is it synonymous with extremism. It doesn’t only occur after terror atrocities – Islamophobia affects the day-to-day lives of many Muslims going about their business – and it isn’t only perpetrated by those we might define as being extremists.

Second, they might consider the tone of the way they talk about Muslims in Britain. Rather than being used as scapegoats for the actions of criminals, Muslims need to be spoken about and referred to as being a part of who “we” are in the 21st century – and as partners rather than enemies.

Third, we need to limit the disproportionate airtime afforded far-right extremists such as Robinson. This is not to suggest that free speech should be curtailed, just that measures that seek to provide balance are assessed proportionately. The same needs to be applied to those celebrities, personalities and commentators who become famous solely for making bigoted public statements. These would include Katie Hopkins among others. Hate should not be given preference or legitimacy.

Not allowing hateful messages about Muslims – or indeed any other group – to be broadcast or widely shared will help to ensure that the white noise is neither seen to be normal, nor justified.

The ConversationNow is the time to take Islamophobia seriously.

Chris Allen, Lecturer in Social Policy, University of Birmingham

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

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBTN: “Organizations in Spain strive to erase ‘Islamophobia’”

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Will New Crown Prince in Riyadh Usher in Open Saudi-Israeli Alliance? https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/prince-israeli-alliance.html https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/prince-israeli-alliance.html#respond Thu, 22 Jun 2017 04:59:07 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=169102 TeleSur | – –

The young Saudi king-in-waiting has been hailed as a “modernizer” for his open support of normalizing ties with the Israeli occupation, first and foremost.

The Gulf Arab “game of thrones” took a dramatic turn Tuesday in Riyadh with the sudden ousting of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and the issuance of a decree by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud naming his son, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, as the next in the line of succession.

mohbibi

Analysts across the region have responded with a range of predictions, with some claiming that the appointment of the inexperienced young royal will upend the regional balance of forces and others hailing a man they expect to be a “modernizer” in the benighted, monarchy-plagued gulf. However, judging by the reactions from the Israelis, one thing is clear: Crown Prince Mohammed bears the official stamp of approval from Tel Aviv and the settler-colonial project in Palestine.

The deputy crown prince, only 31 years old, had already built up quite a name for himself in the short span of time since his octogenarian father, King Salman, assumed the height of power in the absolute monarchy. As Saudi minister of defense, Mohammed launched the ill-advised Operation Decisive Storm against Yemen, a futile effort meant to crush the Houthi Ansarullah movement – Zaidi Shia rebels whom Riyadh groundlessly accuses of being “Iranian proxies” – and foist a puppet government on the Yemeni people.

The war has proceeded swimmingly in terms of wreaking havoc on civilian infrastructure, eliminating the poor people of Yemen through indiscriminate airstrikes, causing famine and cholera, and empowering local terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. The Saudi rulers, however, remain no closer to achieving Mohammed’s goals of conquering their southern neighbor.

The crown prince earned further praise as a “modernizing” enlightened despot for ramming through the privatization of flagship state oil firm Aramco and imposing austerity measures on the government amid record-low oil prices.

Nevertheless, the most fawning praise was reserved for Mohammed’s inclination toward normalizing ties with the Israeli occupation, with whom the Wahhabi kingdom shares numerous goals.

In recent weeks, media outlets have hailed a new “springtime” in Saudi-U.S. relations, ushered in largely by U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh, where the former reality TV host and Mohammed discussed a wide-ranging peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, with the Gulf Arab rulers holding the whip hand over unruly groups like Hamas, whom the Saudi rulers and their junior partners in Cairo and Dubai see as Iran and Qatar-backed conspirators.

Indeed, the “rapport” between crown prince Mohammed and top White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner are already well-known, with the two reported to have already held wide-ranging discussions on the normalization of ties between the Israeli occupation and the Saudis. According to some reports, Mohammed has even met with senior Israeli officials.

“For the Americans to abandon Mohammed bin Nayef and choose this young prince, he has to offer them something no one has managed or even dared to offer before,” a former prime minister of a non-Arab country reportedly told Jamal Elshayyal, a senior producer at Al Jazeera English. “He has to recognize Israel. If he does that then the Americans will support him, they’ll even crown him themselves.”

Across the Arab world, reports have swirled about a significant faction among Saudi royals hoping to move forward with the Israelis to carve out a nominal “Palestinian state” within the Occupied Territories, which in reality would be an Israeli-dominated enclave and “gussied up Palestinian prison” with a “fife-and-drum corps, and control over nothing” that Palestinian American historian Professor Rashid Khalidi has spoken of.

The establishment of this “state,” in the minds of Trump and the faction Mohammed allegedly represents, would then usher in the normalization of ties between the Israelis and the Saudi alliance comprising the kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain. Indeed, the Saudi-Israeli “condominium” has long worked in concert against their common foes in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

“Salman’s appointment means more economic cooperation in the Middle East, and not just regarding oil,” Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said in a statement cited by the Times of Israel. “The strengthening of relations with the Trump administration is the beginning of a new and optimistic time between Saudi Arabia and regional states, including Israel and the Jewish people.”

Of course, such a plan could lead to a disaster for the king-in-waiting, who would encounter significant pushback if not a fully-fledged palace coup resulting from such an open betrayal of the Palestinian people.

A more likely scenario, and prudent course for Mohammed, would be a gradual economic rapprochement paired by a continuation of the de facto military alliance between anti-Iran and sectarian anti-Shia forces in the region. However, for a young prince known to be erratic and aggressively impulsive, one can expect that the drama will continue for many “seasons” to come.

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Financial Times: “Saudi succession change | World”

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The Millennial’s Palace Coup in Saudi Arabia: How Dangerous? https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/millennials-palace-arabia.html https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/millennials-palace-arabia.html#comments Wed, 21 Jun 2017 06:40:42 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=169095 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The epic battle in the Trump White House between Jared Kushner, the Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, and Steve Bannon, the alt-NeoNazi White House strategist, is hard to top.

But Saudi Arabia just topped it?

Saudi Arabia just topped it.

King Salman just fired the crown prince and made his son, Muhammad bin Salman, heir apparent.

the new crown prince is a foreign policy adventurer and hard liner who said just last month that there can be no compromise with Iran.

The octogenarian King Salman acceded to the throne in January of 2015. He has made several changes in his cabinet since then, but by last year the two most important figures in it were Muhammad bin Naif, 57, his nephew and the crown prince, and Muhammad bin Salman, 32, his son.

Muhammad bin Naif had become the minister of the interior, a position his father had also filled at one point, and was known as master of the deep state. He had taken the lead in the war on terror in 2003-2006 when al-Qaeda launched a concerted attempt to undermine the kingdom through terrorism. He was known for his iron fist policy and for filling jails with suspects. US CIA director Mike Pompeo recently gave him an award.

Muhammad bin Salman did not have much of a resume before his father made him minister of defense. In spring of 2015 he launched a devastating air war on the Houthi guerrilla group in northwest Yemen believing it was a slam dunk. It is still dragging on with no end in sight. The war has disregarded humanitarian considerations and deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure. At one point after he launched the war, Muhammad bin Salman went off on vacation to the Maldives and US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter couldn’t get hold of him despite the urgency of the situation.

Both men seem to have supported the Yemen War. Muhammad bin Naif had a longer history in the Syrian conflict, but both seem to have backed Salafi jihadis like the Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) and the later formation of an alliance of the Freemen of Syria with the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Syrian Conquest Front (formerly Nusra).

Muhammad bin Salman was identified in addition with a scheme to cut pensions and benefits for government workers and to begin privatizing the state owned petroleum giant. The king undid the pension and benefits cuts just before making his son the crown prince, and gave him the credit for the change.

It isn’t clear that the two cousins had any strong ideological differences with one another, but they just did not like one another. Muhammad bin Salman seems to be as ambitious as he is sloppy, and wanted to move his cousin out of the way.

Saudi Arabia had been using an agnatic succession model, where the brother of the king is given preference over the son of the king.

The Third Saudi kingdom was founded by Ibn Saud in 1902. He and his ancestors had an alliance with the ultra-conservative Wahhabi clerics. He initially only had Najd in the interior, but in 1913 he added Shiite Eastern Arabia (where the oil turned out to be), and in 1924-6 added the Sunni Hejaz on the Red Sea littoral. In 1932 a united Saudi Kingdom was announced. Ibn Saudi died in 1953. One of his many wives, Hassa bint Ahmad al-Sudairi, had given him 7 sons, the largest bloc of men eligible for the throne, who tended to support each other vis-a-vis other branches. From the 1930s, Saudi Arabia struck oil and the royal family became fabulously wealthy. Sometimes some members of it have caused scandals with how they have spent it.

Salman is a Sudairi, as are Muhammad bin Naif and Muhammad bin Salman; the latter were the first of Ibn Saud’s grandsons to have a shot a the throne.

Muhammad bin Salman is also the first Millennial (born in 1985) to have the prospect of succeeding to power. His father is advanced in age.

The new crown prince is known to be both reckless and sloppy. His irrational hatred for Iran could well lead to a military confrontation. His Yemen and Syria policies are in tatters. He has fallen out with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. He is trying to squash the independence of neighboring Qatar. Some European investment firms are afraid he will upset the world’s apple carts so much it will hurt all our retirement accounts.

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Related video:

Bloomberg: “Saudi Arabia Names Mohammed Bin Salman as Crown Prince”

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Trump’s Love Affair With the Saudis https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/trumps-affair-saudis.html https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/trumps-affair-saudis.html#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 04:19:00 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=169091 By William D. Hartung | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

At this point, it’s no great surprise when Donald Trump walks away from past statements in service to some impulse of the moment. Nowhere, however, has such a shift been more extreme or its potential consequences more dangerous than in his sudden love affair with the Saudi royal family. It could in the end destabilize the Middle East in ways not seen in our lifetimes (which, given the growing chaos in the region, is no small thing to say).

Trump’s newfound ardor for the Saudi regime is a far cry from his past positions, including his campaign season assertion that the Saudis were behind the 9/11 attacks and complaints, as recently as this April, that the United States was losing a “tremendous amount of money” defending the kingdom.  That was yet another example of the sort of bad deal that President Trump was going to set right as part of his “America First” foreign policy.

Given this background, it came as a surprise to pundits, politicians, and foreign policy experts alike when the president chose Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, as the very first stop on his very first overseas trip. This was clearly meant to underscore the importance his administration was suddenly placing on the need to bolster the long-standing U.S.-Saudi alliance.

Mindful of Trump’s vanity, the Saudi government rolled out the red carpet for our narcissist-in-chief, lining the streets for miles with alternating U.S. and Saudi flags, huge images of which were projected onto the Ritz Carlton hotel where Trump was staying. (Before his arrival, in a sign of the psychological astuteness of his Saudi hosts, the hotel projected a five-story-high image of Trump himself onto its façade, pairing it with a similarly huge and flattering photo of the country’s ruler, King Salman.)  His hosts also put up billboards with pictures of Trump and Salman over the slogan “together we prevail.”  What exactly the two countries were to prevail against was left open to interpretation.  It is, however, unlikely that the Saudis were thinking about Trump’s much-denounced enemy, ISIS — given that Saudi planes, deep into a war in neighboring Yemen, have rarely joined Washington’s air war against that outfit.  More likely, what they had in mind was their country’s bitter regional rival Iran.

The agenda planned for Trump’s stay included an anti-terrorism summit attended by 50 leaders from Arab and Muslim nations, a concert by country singer Toby Keith, and an exhibition game by the Harlem Globetrotters. Then there were the strange touches like President Trump, King Salman, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi laying hands on a futuristically glowing orb — images of which then circled the planet — in a ceremony inaugurating a new Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology, and Trump’s awkward participation in an all-male sword dance.

Unsurprisingly enough, the president was pleased with the spectacle staged in his honor, saying of the anti-terrorism summit in one of his many signature flights of hyperbole, “There has never been anything like it before, and perhaps there never will be again.”

Here, however, is a statement that shouldn’t qualify as hyperbole: never have such preparations for a presidential visit paid such quick dividends.  On arriving home, Trump jumped at the chance to embrace a fierce Saudi attempt to blockade and isolate its tiny neighbor Qatar, the policies of whose emir have long irritated them.  The Saudis claimed to be focused on that country’s alleged role in financing terrorist groups in the region (a category they themselves fit into remarkably well).  More likely, however, the royal family wanted to bring Qatar to heel after it failed to jump enthusiastically onto the Saudi-led anti-Iranian bandwagon.

Trump, who clearly knew nothing about the subject, accepted the Saudi move with alacrity and at face value. In his normal fashion, he even tried to take credit for it, tweeting, “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology.  Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”  And according to Trump, the historic impact of his travels hardly stopped there.  As he also tweeted: “So good to see Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries paying off… Perhaps it will be the beginning of the end of the horror of terrorism.” 

Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution hit the nail on the head when he commented that “the Saudis played Donald Trump like a fiddle.  He unwittingly encouraged their worst instincts toward their neighbors.” The New York Times captured one likely impact of the Saudi move against Qatar when it reported, “Analysts said Mr. Trump’s public support for Saudi Arabia… sent a chill through other Gulf States, including Oman and Kuwait, for fear that any country that defies the Saudis or the United Arab Emirates could face ostracism as Qatar has.”

And Then Came Trump…

And what precisely are the Saudis’ instincts toward their neighbors?  The leaders in Riyadh, led by King Salman’s 31-year-old son, Saudi Defense Minister and deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, are taking the gloves off in an increasingly aggressive bid for regional dominance aimed at isolating Iran.  The defense minister and potential future leader of the kingdom, whose policies have been described as reckless and impulsive, underscored the new, harsher line on Iran in an interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV in which he said, “We will not wait until the battle is in Saudi Arabia, but we will work so the battle is there in Iran.”

The opening salvo in Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iran campaign came in March 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition, including smaller Gulf petro-states (Qatar among them) and Egypt, intervened militarily in a chaotic situation in Yemen in an effort to reinstall Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi as the president of that country.  They clearly expected a quick victory over their ill-armed enemies and yet, more than two years later, in a war that has grown ever harsher, they have in fact achieved little.  Hadi, a pro-Saudi leader, had served as that country’s interim president under an agreement that, in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2012, ousted longstanding Yemeni autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh.  In January 2015, Hadi himself was deposed by an alliance of Houthi rebels and remnants of forces loyal to former president Saleh.

The Saudis — now joined by Trump and his foreign policy team — have characterized the conflict as a war to blunt Iranian influence and the Houthi rebels have been cast as the vassals of Tehran.  In reality, they have longstanding political and economic grievances that predate the current conflict and they would undoubtedly be fighting at this moment with or without support from Iran.  As Middle Eastern expert Thomas Juneau recently noted in the Washington Post, “Tehran’s support for the Houthis is limited, and its influence in Yemen is marginal. It is simply inaccurate to claim that the Houthis are Iranian proxies.”

The Saudi-Emirati intervention in Yemen has had disastrous results.  Thousands of civilians have been killed in an indiscriminate bombing campaign that has targeted hospitals, marketplaces, civilian neighborhoods, and even a funeral, in actions that Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) has said “look like war crimes.”  The Saudi bombing campaign has, in addition, been enabled by Washington, which has supplied the kingdom with bombs, including cluster munitions, and aircraft, while providing aerial refueling services to Saudi planes to ensure longer missions and the ability to hit more targets.  It has also shared intelligence on targeting in Yemen.

The destruction of that country’s port facilities and the imposition of a naval blockade have had an even more devastating effect, radically reducing the ability of aid groups to get food, medicine, and other essential supplies into a country now suffering from a major outbreak of cholera and on the brink of a massive famine. This situation will only be made worse if the coalition tries to retake the port of Hodeidah, the entry point for most of the humanitarian aid still getting into Yemen. Not only has the U.S.-backed Saudi war sparked a humanitarian crisis, but it has inadvertently strengthened al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has increased its influence in Yemen while the Saudi- and Houthi-led coalitions are busy fighting each other.

Trump’s all-in support for the Saudis in its war doesn’t, in fact, come out of the blue. Despite some internal divisions over the wisdom of doing so, the Obama administration also supported the Saudi war effort in a major way. This was part of an attempt to reassure the royals that the United States was still on their side and would not tilt towards Iran in the wake of an agreement to cap and reverse that country’s nuclear program.

It was only after concerted pressure from Congress and a coalition of peace, human rights, and humanitarian aid groups that the Obama administration finally took a concrete, if limited, step to express opposition to the Saudi targeting of civilians in Yemen.  In a December 2016 decision, it suspended a sale of laser-guided bombs and other precision-guided munitions to their military.  The move outraged the Saudis, but proved at best a halfway measure as the refueling of Saudi aircraft continued, and none of rest of the record $115 billion in U.S. weaponry offered to that country during the Obama years was affected.

And then came Trump.  His administration has doubled down on the Saudi war in Yemen by lifting the suspension of the bomb deal, despite the objections of a Senate coalition led by Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Al Franken (D-MN) that recently mustered an unprecedented 47 votes against Trump’s offer of precision-guided bombs to Riyadh.  Defense Secretary James Mattis has advocated yet more vigorous support for the Saudi-led intervention, including additional planning assistance and yet more intelligence sharing — but not, for the moment, the introduction of U.S. troops.  Although the Trump foreign policy team has refused to endorse a proposal by the United Arab Emirates, one of the Saudi coalition members, to attack the port at Hodeidah, it’s not clear if that will hold.

A Parade for an American President?

In addition to Trump’s kind words on Twitter, the clearest sign of his administration’s uncritical support for the Saudi regime has been the offer of an astounding $110 billion worth of arms to the kingdom, a sum almost equal to the record levels reached during all eight years of the Obama administration. (This may, of course, have been part of the point, showing that President Trump could make a bigger, better deal than that slacker Obama, while supporting what he described as “jobs, jobs, jobs” in the United States.)

Like all things Trumpian, however, that $110 billion figure proved to be an exaggeration.  Tens of billions of dollars’ worth of arms included in the package had already been promised under Obama, and tens of billions more represent promises that, experts suspect, are unlikely to be kept.  But that still leaves a huge package, one that, according to the Pentagon, will include more than 100,000 bombs of the sort that can be used in the Yemen war, should the Saudis choose to do so.  All that being said, the most important aspect of the deal may be political — Trump’s way of telling “my friend King Salman,” as he now calls him, that the United States is firmly in his camp.  And this is, in fact, the most troubling development of all.

It’s bad enough that the Obama administration allowed itself to be dragged into an ill-conceived, counterproductive, and regionally destabilizing war in Yemen. Trump’s uncritical support of Saudi foreign policy could have even more dangerous consequences. The Saudis are more intent than Trump’s own advisers (distinctly a crew of Iranophobes) on ratcheting up tensions with Iran.  It’s no small thing, for instance, that Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has asserted that Iran is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East,” and who advocated U.S. military attacks on that country during his tenure as head of the U.S. Central Command, looks sober-minded compared to the Saudi royals.

If there is even a glimmer of hope in the situation, it might lie in the efforts of both Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to walk back the president’s full-throated support for a Saudi confrontation with Qatar. Tillerson, for instance, has attempted to pursue an effort to mediate the Saudi-Qatari dispute and has called for a “calm and thoughtful dialogue.” Similarly, on the same day as Trump tweeted in support of the Saudis, the Pentagon issued a statement praising Qatar’s “enduring commitment to regional security.”  This is hardly surprising given the roughly 10,000 troops the U.S. has at al-Udeid air base in Doha, its capital, and the key role that base plays in Washington’s war on terror in the region.  It is the largest American base in the Middle East and the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command, as well as a primary staging area for the U.S. war on ISIS. The administration’s confusion regarding how to deal with Qatar was further underscored when Mattis and Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah signed a $12 billion deal for up to 36 Boeing F-15 combat aircraft, barely a week after President Trump had implied that Qatar was the world capital of terrorist financing.

In a further possible counter to Trump’s aggressive stance, Secretary of Defense Mattis has suggested that perhaps it’s time to pursue a diplomatic settlement of the war in Yemen.  In April, he told reporters that, “in regards to the Saudi and Emirati campaign in Yemen, our goal, ladies and gentleman, is for that crisis down there, that ongoing fight, [to] be put in front of a U.N.-brokered negotiating team and try to resolve this politically as soon as possible.” Mattis went on to decry the number of civilians being killed, stating that the war there “has simply got to be brought to an end.”

It remains to be seen whether Tillerson’s and Mattis’s conciliatory words are hints of a possible foot on the brake in the Trump administration when it comes to building momentum for what could, in the end, be a U.S. military strike against Iran, egged on by Donald Trump’s good friends in Saudi Arabia.  As Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group has noted, if the U.S. ends up going to war against Iran, it would “make the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts look like a walk in the park.”

In fact, in a period when the turmoil has only risen in much of the rest of the Greater Middle East, the Saudi Arabian peninsula remained relatively stable, at least until the Saudi-led coalition drastically escalated the civil war in Yemen.  The new, more aggressive course being pursued against the royal family in Qatar and in relation to Iran could, however, make matters much worse, and fast.  Given the situation in the region today, including the spread of terror movements and failing states, the thought that Saudi Arabia itself might be destabilized (and Iran with it) should be daunting indeed, though not perhaps for Donald Trump.

So far, through a combination of internal repression and generous social benefits to its citizens — a form of political bribery designed to buy loyalty — the Saudi royal family has managed to avoid the fate of other regional autocrats driven from power.  But with low oil prices and a costly war in Yemen, the regime is being forced to reduce the social spending that has helped cement its hold on power. It’s possible that further military adventures, coupled with a backlash against its repressive policies, could break what analysts Sarah Chayes and Alex de Waal have described as the current regime’s “brittle hold on power.” In other words, what a time for the Trump administration to offer its all-in support for the plans of an aggressive yet fragile regime whose reckless policies could even spark a regional war.

Maybe it’s time for opponents of a stepped-up U.S. military role in the Middle East to throw Donald Trump a big, glitzy parade aimed at boosting his ego and dampening his enthusiasm for the Saudi royal family.  It might not change his policies, but at least it would get his attention.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and 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 Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 William D. Hartung

Via Tomdispatch.com

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1/2 of World’s Civilian War Deaths were in Syria, Iraq & Yemen during past Half-Decade https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/worlds-civilian-deaths.html https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/worlds-civilian-deaths.html#respond Wed, 21 Jun 2017 04:17:38 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=169086 By IPS World Desk | (Inter Press Service) | – –

ROME/GENEVA (IPS) – Between 2010 and 2015, nearly half of all civilian war deaths worldwide occurred in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, a major independent, neutral organisation ensuring humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war and armed violence informs.

According to a new report ‘I Saw My City Die‘ by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), five times more civilians die in offensives carried out in cities than in other battles.

“Over the past three years, our research shows that wars in cities accounted for a shocking 70% of all civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria”, said the ICRC’s Regional Director for the Middle East, Robert Mardini.

“This illustrates just how deadly these battles have become. This is all the more alarming as new offensives get underway in cities like Raqqa in Syria, or intensify in Mosul, Iraq. A new scale of urban suffering is emerging, where no one and nothing is spared by the violence.”

The research findings are based on preliminary analysis of battle trends and data over the past three years in Iraq and Syria.

The report includes testimony from residents in Syria’s Aleppo, Iraq’s Mosul and Yemen’s Taiz, and expert analysis. It vividly illustrates the effects of siege warfare, the use of explosive weapons and the extensive damage caused to key infrastructure.

The conflicts in these countries have resulted in internal displacement and migration levels unprecedented since WWII, says the Geneva-based ICRC.

Ahmad Ali has just arrived home with a bag of Kudam, a local Yemeni bread. His dry lips tell of his fatigue and the difficult life he leads. He earns a pittance working as a cobbler. “I keep hoping we can soon go back to our home town and the peaceful lives we used to lead. Life here is very difficult. There is no water, no food, no medicine, and no stability,” he says. Credit: CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Mohammed Yaseen

17 Millions Fleeing Home

More than 17 million Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis have fled their homes. And these battles risk becoming even more protracted if real political solutions are not found soon, says the report.

Wars in cities are so devastating because of the way in which they are being fought. Armed parties are failing to distinguish between military objectives and civilian infrastructure – or worse, they are using or directly targeting them, it adds.

“It’s beholden on those with power to act. Warring sides must realise the full impact the fighting has on the people they ultimately hope to govern. Will the victors be able to keep the peace if people feel they have respected neither the law nor the basic humanity of local citizens? The consequences of this violence will resonate for generations and there is the very real danger that cities experiencing these conflicts will simply act as incubators for further violence in the future”, said Mardini.

“States supporting parties to conflict must also do their utmost to restrain their allies and ensure better respect for international humanitarian law. And once the guns fall silent, it is local people and organisations which must play a full part in the rebuilding of the communities.”

The report also considers Lebanon’s 15-year civil war and examines the lessons Beirut can offer to help ensure the recovery of urban communities after such overwhelming and protracted violence.

According to ICRC, findings on the proportion of civilian casualties in cities are based on preliminary research in the Iraqi provinces of Anbar, Ninewah and Salahuddin and Syrian governorates of Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Rif Damascus and Damascus, based on data available between January 2014 and March 2017.

The proportion of deaths in Iraq, Syria and Yemen is based on a yearly average of around 90.000 global conflict-related deaths between 2010 and 2015, during which time the yearly average of deaths in Iraq, Syria and Yemen was of 42.000 conflict-related deaths i.e. 47 per cent of the total casualties worldwide.

Licensed from Inter Press Service

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: ” UN decries ‘staggering loss of civilian life’ in Raqqa”

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3 mn will own 70% of US Wealth generated by 320 mn by 2021 https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/will-wealth-generated.html https://www.juancole.com/2017/06/will-wealth-generated.html#comments Wed, 21 Jun 2017 04:07:56 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=169088 TeleSur | – –

Even though the rising inequality is a global phenomenon, it is especially pronounced in the United States, the study noted.

According to a new study, the 1 percent in the U.S. will control 70 percent of the nation’s private wealth by the year 2021, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm.

Currently, an estimated 18 million households hold at least $1 million in assets –revealing the staggering rate at which the disparity between the rich and poor is widening.

The study also stated that an estimated 70 million people were found to control 45 percent of the world’s US$166.5 trillion in wealth, linking the skyrocketing gap to economic and political instability.

It noted that even though the rising inequality is a global phenomenon, it is especially pronounced in the United States.

A 2014 study by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center warned that rising inequality could lead to an unsustainable use of resources and the “irreversible collapse” of global industrial civilization, according to Mint Press News.

Over the past 30 years, the world’s wealthiest people have occupied a growing share of the global economic pie. The combined share of the national income of the top 1 percent in the U.S. and the U.K. has doubled. The world’s 1,200 billionaires hold economic firepower that is equivalent to a third of the size of the U.S. economy, the Guardian reported.

The U.S. is significantly more unequal than most other countries, with the nation’s elite currently holding 63 percent of the private wealth, while their share of national wealth is also growing much faster than the global average.

The wealth gap has soared but without wider economic progress. Excessive levels of inequality and economic crisis have been linked to the relationship between wages and productivity. The “wage-productivity gap” offsets the natural mechanisms that are required to achieve economic balance, the Guardian reported.

Via

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: ” New Data Tracks Inequality Over Centuries”

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